It’s that time of year again when I get the pleasure of perusing which films Vancouver Asian Film Festival (VAFF) secured and selecting which one(s) I would watch. Max: two… but there’s about three I want to watch and some short films that sound intriguing but I’d only be in it for the short…!
As I did in some years passed, I searched on YouTube (not too hard) for some of the shorts – like watching VAFF at home, since usually enough are on YouTube. It’s a really nice sample and I hope you enjoy it.
Full-length short films
Trailers of short films
Trailers of feature-length films
The winner of Gordon Ramsay’s reality show featuring amateur chefs earns the title of Masterchef, walks away a quarter million dollars richer and has a cookbook deal lined up. For me, it usually ends at the finale, as in, “So nice so-and-so won…” and it leaves my memory entirely.
The 2012 winner of Season 3, however, left a larger impression. You see, Christine Hà, is blind and completely lost her vision in her 20s as a result of the autoimmune disease neuromyelitis optica. I didn’t watch most of the season but knew she had won and that she is very talented and uses the rest of her senses to deliver stellar dishes and that one contestant really tried to screw her over by giving her a live crab to work with while sighted contestants did not have to wrangle with their ingredient. Since winning the title of Masterchef, she also obtained her MFA in creative non-fiction and fiction.
Before the loss of her vision, Christine suffered a great personal loss when her mother passed away when Christine was just 13. In the context of food and cooking, it meant the recipes for delicious home-cooked dishes were lost forever. When Christine came into her own as a home cook, she worked hard at replicating the flavours her mother created. (My palate is not good enough to know and adjust my food to how my mother’s food tastes, so immediately I admire her tenacity and skill.)
While I did not leaf through my mother’s cookbooks and only started fending for myself in the kitchen when I was living on my own (and as an adult, not the university version of living alone), I think those cookbooks of yore were straightforward “recipe books” or “cookbooks”. I don’t know what to call these books published these days where there are short vignettes and chapter introductions in which the author/chef gets to infuse her personality throughout. Thus, I do mark this book in Goodreads.com as one “read” because I read all the blurbs between the ingredient lists and cooking instructions.
When I first heard the subtitle to the cookbook, “Asian and American Comfort Food”, I rolled my eyes a little. How pedestrian and cliche! On the other hand, I found myself bookmarking a lot of recipes because they sound so good and seem within my skills to make. It is, afterall, Asian food and ingredients that are more familiar to me than the next person and comfort food doesn’t have to be pretty. With a short anecdote before a a recipe, she illuminates the context of the recipe in the volume and gets you excited to make the same dish. At the end of most recipes, she provides tips about the ingredients and encouragement, like how a friend and fellow home cook will give you her spin on a recipe she found online. I liked the blurb that answered that long mystery to me, “Why doesn’t my fried rice taste (at all) like a restaurant’s?!”
Many of the vignettes go back to when she still had her vision and she describes the experiences and when I think of what she has lost since and yet writes so fondly of dishes’ appearance, I makes me admire her spirit all the more.
In the most recent completed Masterchef season, one contestant botched a dish by seasoning it with fish sauce and he claimed in defense how he knew Christine loved the flavour. Indeed. In the book, she wrote, “Because they are one of my favorite flavor profiles, having cooked with them frequently on the show, I got images of these three ingredients [garlic, fish sauce and cilantro] tattooed on me to commemorate my experience at MasterChef.” That’s kind of adorable!
“I wouldn’t normally write/talk about beauty pageants …” oh, wait, I just might. But that’s how both the morning radio hosts that broke the news to me and Angry Asian Man introduced the news item. And countless other writers/reports did as well because we all want to think we are beyond that throw-back anti-feminist spectacle, don’t we?
Of course, I cheered at the thought of a woman of colour winning the crown and I’m not the least surprised there is a backlash. If social media did not exist, it would be in the comments of the CNN/Fox/news websites or hateful letters to the editor of newspapers. Flamers/haters/what-have-you naturally come out of the woodwork and hopefully got shamed. People who mindlessly posted ignorant comments, looking to see their opinions validated, hopefully learned something new. That generally, I think, the intolerance is a minority. Perhaps I just see things through rose-coloured glasses.
It was in the Angry Asian Man blog post “Indian American Woman Crowned 2014 Miss America” that I learned that the there were two other Asians amongst the five finalists. Way to go!
And so that lead me down the rabbit hole in two different ways. I was trying to recall the Miss Universe pageant I recall most clearly and found the Missology blog post “Asian domination at Miss Universe” published just earlier this year. Besides knowing that Miss Universe is part of the Trump organization (along with Miss Teen USA and Miss USA), I also know the socially conscious Miss America gets far less media buzz on a regular year. I have no idea what network runs it while – idiot that I am – I might make a point of watching Miss Universe because I do catch an advertisement for it. Meanwhile, the Miss America contestants are probably a lot more inspiring in their accomplishments and physique!
Winner, Nina Duvaluri (Miss New York), is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in Brain Behavior and Cognitive Science. I think I read somewhere she wants to be a doctor. First runner-up (pageant speak for second place), Crystal Lee (Miss California) has two Stanford degrees – a bachelor in human biology and master in communications. Her platform is advocating the role of women in science and technology. Fourth runner-up, Rebecca Yeh (Miss Minnesota), is a native of Brainerd, MN – heh, sorry, being childish – and is currently studying towards a Doctorate in Pharmacology.
The other way I got a little obsessed was recalling “that pageant way back when when Asians dominated the finalists and Porntip won”. That would be Miss Universe 1988. We taped the show on VHS tape and I think I watched it upwards of 20 times. One of the hosts was Alan Thicke of Growing Pains and I probably enjoyed the tourism segment as the pageant took place in Taiwan that year. The five finalists (in descending winning order) included Porntip Nakhirunkanok (Miss Thailand), Chang Yoonjung (Miss Korea), Amanda Olivares (Miss Mexico), Mizuho Sakaguchi (Miss Japan), and Pauline Yeung (Miss Hong Kong). No wonder it was considered the “Year of the Far East Asians”!
And as a 1o-year-old little girl, I got the indelible notion that people I look like could be considered the most beautiful people in the world (and the next year, it was people I don’t look like but it’s all good). Truth be told, I dreamed of being the Chinese-American winner of Miss USA and make it an all-Asian finalist group! Yup, pipe dreams. :)
Image from globalbeauties.com
A few weeks ago, from an Asian American Literature Fans Livejournal post, I learned about Cara Chow’s Bitter Melon. I started reading the synopsis as written in AsAm Lit Fans and had to tear my eyes away after being hooked enough but not before the words “bat-shit crazy mother” and that the central character, Frances, should be taking AP calculus but she does something else instead…
This is a YA novel and that fits on my plate at this point in time. That would also explain how the subject could be so satisfyingly angsty.
While I was reading the novel, I wanted to keep a chart to show the differences between Frances’ life and mine. Who had it worse? Isn’t that the point of reading these novels, I tell NPY. But while most novels reach an impossible climax and then reconciliation and acceptance all around, real life (my life) neither boiled over (to the same extent) nor can be stamped “and they lived happily ever after”. A bat-shit crazy mother was a good start.
The novel starts with a conversational synopsis and I can see my life in Frances Ching’s. Her mother is a single mother after the father left the family and works all the overtime she can get and long hours not just to make ends meet but also to send Frances to private girls’ school and Princeton prep course. It’s the Chinese way to show love through sacrifice, not hugs. It’s the Chinese way to defer gratification for your children. Frances is supposed to go to Berkeley, the best school on the west coast, to become a doctor and have a better life than her mother. That also means the mother can be taken care of, her mysterious stomach ailment cured, and be able to brag about her child. It’s a blurred line who the tiger parenting really is for. Yes, this is tiger parenting in novel form complete with prohibition of dating and after-school jobs. While I griped that Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother memoir was about music, this novel was satisfying all about school.
Frances and her mother share a one-bedroom apartment, uncomfortably tight quarters but that is all she has known – on top of that, they sleep in the bedroom on a bunk bed! Her life up to senior year is very sheltered, not venturing beyond a few districts in San Francisco where she lives, goes to school and Chinatown. She has never been to a fancy restaurant and doesn’t know much besides Chinese food. At the beginning, she is her mother’s whole world and vice versa and nothing has disturbed that so far.
Then Frances accidentally gets enrolled in speech class instead of calculus and she is instantly captivated by the charismatic teacher. Theresa is also in speech class – she who is introduced as Frances’ arch-enemy because their mothers often compare the children. They quickly clear the air and Frances lets Theresa in on her secrets like taking speech class on the sly and her interest in a boy in her Princeton review class, Derek.
Frances shows quick aptitude in giving speeches and enters the competition circuit all on the sly and conveniently she has a new friend who can help her cover her tracks. Derek is also in these competitions and a friendship tentatively forms.
I totally understand that Frances’ tactic is to hide her activities from her mother. Under such smothering circumstances, it is the greatest liberty to do something right under her nose. And you can only imagine the mother’s reaction to activities not on her permissive list. Indeed, when the mother sees Frances’ success and meets a successful Chinese journalist, she changes her tune and starts pressuring Frances about her weight and appearance. I thought the novel had taken a turn for an anorexia story. But that was the only time the mother accepted something outside of her plan.
Parts of Frances’ speech is written out in full text several times in the novel to show how her state of mind is changing. At first, she wrote an irritating – but award-winning – speech hypothesizing the cause behind successful Chinese students comes from Confucian and family values while disparaging the individualistic culture of the United States leading to society’s decline. She speaks of her mother’s sacrifice and whole-heartedly believes her goals are aligned with her mother’s.
Three showdowns ensued and to be fair, Cara Chow’s scenarios are not over-the-top and cringe-worthy like fellow San Franciscan writer Kim Wong-Keltner (who is more of a comedic and satirical author). They were the right amount of awkward, what the young adult reader wants to read and sympathize with:
- when the mother finds out about speech and beats her with the trophy – in front of Theresa and her mother
- when Frances is caught sneaking home after prom – the mother berates her in the presence of the boy
- when Frances tries to run away to college but is barred by her mother who withdraws all her money from the bank – they are alone and with every defiant thing Frances says rewards her with a slap to the face
On the day that Frances plans to run away to attend the college of her choice, a brief mention of how the mother got up at 4:30 in the morning to go to work turned my head a little and while I always root for happy endings, I started to worry about the mother being hurt by the turn of events.
Frances breaks free and in the epilogue, we jump forward nearly six months and she is on campus. Is her life is better? That part is left ambiguous. She receives Chinese New Year money from her mother, either out of duty or the first gesture of reconciliation. I can’t help but be convinced that they are intrinsically linked and she’s grown up enough to make the first phone call.
A day later, I am still wondering: Who is “right”? The kind of environment that Frances mother tries to create is a suitable one for fostering excellence – the only kind the mother can afford, an environment that is controllable and has the highest likelihood for success. I find myself rooting for them to reconcile because they are almost two halves, co-dependent, not quite whole alone but now have had the chance to be independent after this time apart. Cara Chow has created the mother with just the right amount of crazy to root for Frances but also enough blind teenage willfulness and selfishness (particularly her treament of and misunderstanding Theresa) on Frances’ part to make you sympathetic for the mother.
I am reminded of Jean Kwok’s novel Girl in Translation that I read three years ago. That one also kept me in its spell for a few days, in no small part because of the devastating love story I desperately wanted to “set right”. That story was a little more fantastical and there was a more certain ending. This one uncomfortably feels more realistic with ambiguity and an ugly mother-daughter relationship. In any case, it was a good novel for young adult audiences.
I learned about Pauline A. Chen’s The Red Chamber in an Asian American Literature Fans Megareview earlier this year. I didn’t really think I would get around to this novel any time soon but I ran into a snafu getting the Crazy Rich Asians audio book and ended up with two. I selected The Red Chamber primarily because I thought it would be difficult to read (for me) and a dramatization of the saga by the reader would be engrossing. And I was correct.
Cao Xueqin’s Dream of the Red Chamber is semi-autobiographic and considered a masterpiece of Chinese literature. There is even a term for the field of study exclusively of this work, Redology. The original work has been translated to English, of course, but do you think I would read it? It is also one of the biggest works of Chinese fiction with a cast of 400 characters. Published in June 2012, The Red Chamber is Chen’s 400-page/16-hour 35-minutes reimagining of the 992 page (2010 Tuttle Publishing edition) story.
Like a good saga, there are several big storylines, each of which is fascinating and approaches from a different angle of the main themes.
The novel begins with Daiyu, the outsider cousin from Suzhou, arriving at Rongguo mansion that is filled with several of her mother’s siblings, the Jia family. Her mother, Min, was estranged from Granny Jia when she did not marry who the family wanted her to marry and Daiyu finds no favour from the matriarch either. She finds her quiet niche and proceeds to observe the drama unfolding in this opulent world so new to her.
In the Xue apartment, things kick off with Pan getting into some trouble getting into a fight and even more trouble when his victim dies. His uncle bails him out of trouble by bribing a magistrate while his sister, Baochai, and mother nervously wonder what other trouble he will bring. During a leave of absence, he meets a girl from outside of the capital and they are quickly married. Baochai and her mother’s elation is dashed when Pan all but disappears and when they track him down, the new wife shows her true colours.
Baoyu is the prized grandson and reaching maturity. He was born with a jade in his mouth and as a consequence has been spoiled rotten, especially by Granny Jia. While the other men in the family must study hard and pass the imperial exams in order to get jobs in civil service, on Granny’s command, Baoyu has slipped passed these requirements and oddly spends his time inside the usually closed to men inner chambers. His own brother is jealous of Baoyu’s automatically favoured status and his cousins and elders give him a wide berth. Only the outsider, Daiyu, tries to understand him and he finds in her a kindred spirit. However, Baochai, Baoyu’s cousin and childhood friend also has feelings for him and discovers the affair. As matters come to a head inside and outside the mansion, a match is made between Baoyu and Baochai and Daiyu is banished to the storerooms.
Lian and Xifeng are relatively newly married. Their first child died in a miscarriage and Xifeng fights to maintain her status by being a most efficient household manager. Lian slides through life without particular passion for his job and Xifeng tries to remedy some household finances by making loans and making them more official with his stamp. To increase the possibility of having a male heir, Lian takes a concubine and it is none other than Xifeng’s servant and close friend, Ping ‘er. The strain between the women tugs at your heart because neither of them can do anything about the situation and the friends have pride and constraint and that creates unnecessary friction between them. A distant cousin arrives at Rongguo and he gives Xifeng the attention she craves and they begin an illicit affair.
The women are hardly aware of the political unrest brewing outside their chambers and the beginning of the family’s hard times are precipitated by the death of the emperor and the prince son they did not support seizes the throne. A cleansing ensues as the new emperor asserts his power and the house is searched and Rongguo Jia men are taken away on charges of usury, assault, and conspiring with the enemy (with their support for one of the other princes). Rongguo mansion is seized and the women and children are suddenly living amidst reduced circumstances. Daiyu is whisked away by a sympathetic maid to stay with her humble family but her health declines rapidly as a result of the weather and her sorrow losing her parents and Baoyu.
When each woman struggles and the men are imprisoned, their strength and values are tested. Family and duty or love? You keep suspecting that Xifeng is pregnant but doesn’t know it somehow and her fall from the top of the household is dramatic with the loss of her husband, Ping’er, lover and household duties. I was a little surprised by her melodramatic departure. Meanwhile, Baochai shows her mettle and Xifeng’s fall is her opportunity to grab. When the Jia men are granted early pardon, and their fortunes are turning including the Xues who are better off than before, she makes the pragmatic decision to marry heartbroken Baoyu. Baoyu is conspicuously odd as a husband and doesn’t hide well he is not over news of Daiyu’s passing.
In the climax of the novel, Baoyu and his brother attempt the imperial exams but only one of them returns to the house after the exam sitting. Baoyu’s true motive and plan becomes clear – to leave his family with something with passing the imperial exam with flying colours and impregnating Baochai, but to run away because his broken heart will never mend. The through all the upheaval, the matriarchy passes from Granny Jia to Baochai who steadily gets stronger. Hopefully she does not harden completely like Granny and can love but circumstances like the miscarriage and being permanently alone do not encourage that.
In the epilogue, we fast forward 12 years and there are some family changes and for the better. Granny’s passing seemed to take with it old rivalries (perhaps that she fostered) and one cousin who wanted to enter the monastery finally could. Lian’s third marriage seems happy. Meanwhile, in a place unidentified, we learn that Baoyu is on the streets, begging for his living. He hasn’t gotten over his guilt for harming Daiyu and doesn’t have news from Rongguo. And – I didn’t believe it in a moment – Daiyu did not die. Close to death, her caretaker brought her back to Suzhou where her health improved and they realized their love for each other and were married. She hasn’t forgotten Baoyu and is shocked to find a stone in the market in the south that looks so much like Baoyu’s jade.
The Red Chamber is a memorable saga and I’m thankful to Chen’s re-imagining and an audiobook version because the original would be too many characters to enjoy the read and the dramatic antics in audio form were great fun to listen to while blasting through chores around the house. It is an all-encompassing story about the way of life in China in the 1700s – perhaps largely for women but with a glimpse of the men’s lives, too. I can see how a field of study can focus on the original work!
So… I was at Costco and had time to kill while others were looking at clothing. I haven’t bought books at Costco before but it’s a nice and curated collection they carry. All the books are displayed with the cover up and I am free to judge books by their covers. This cover, obviously, drew me in and I read the back for more information. Then I added it to my request list at the library.
Brandon W Jones’ All Woman and Springtime was published last year in May, a debut novel for Jones. The novel’s main protangonists are Il-sun and Gyong-Ho (known as Gi) who are orphans and friends toiling away in a garment factory. Their personalities couldn’t be more different – Il-sun was very privileged but losing both of her parents also meant loss of her status and prospects (songbun). She dreams of regaining her glory and is often insolent about her circumstances but gets away with it. Gi came from a modest family and it seems she accidentally turned her parents in to the authorities as being less than prostrate and loyal to the Leaders. She was orphaned while they were all in labour camp where unspeakable things happen to her. For Il-sun, the orphanage and nearing emancipation and factory work was about all she could legitimately obtain but she reached for more.
In dreaming of a different and less drab future, Il-sun befriends Gianni, who tricks Il-sun to flee across the border, thinking she has been accused of being anti-revolutionary. Coincidentally, Gi displeases the factory foreman who wants to take her as a wife and gets tossed in with Gianni’s group crossing the border. It turns out that Gianni sold the girls to a South Korean brothel and that is merely the beginning.
While in North Korea, each of the girls seem a little defiant of the pervasive doctrine and propaganda. But once you put them in South Korea – a technicality; otherwise, they were locked up and did not go outside – you see how strongly they believe their teachings that South Korea is to be feared for being imperialist and they find solace in North Korean ways. What we accept at face value as affluence has no context to them because they thought the gray state of North Korea was utopia. You kind of root for their ingrained beliefs to be chipped away.
The girls have to work to pay back the price paid for them, pay for their living costs and pay for the process to obtain documentation. Undocumented, they are convinced their work options are limited to the brothel, that they would be persecuted if they are caught by South Korean authorities or Americans. They are told they can safely but slowly earn money giving peep shows online or entertain “private clients”. Some parts of this exposition reads a bit like a how-to manual on the Internet porn industry.
Il-sun is the character you want to hate – beautiful but a conflicted mess who got them in the situation. Gi, who is plain-looking and been through the sadistic torture she has survived, loves Il-sun and almost worships her friend who appears “all woman and springtime.” While Il-sun is an open book and normally impulsive person, as a defense mechanism, Gi can retreat from the evils of the world by performing complex calculations in her head.
It’s a tale of the two girls’ fortunes *** spoiler alert *** and at first it looks like Gi will not survive, she who is traumatized by being tortured in labour camp cannot be around men. At first, Il-sun shows inordinate promise in the industry and is a star. But Il-sun does not have a coping mechanism and is the one introduced to heroin. When they are in the American brothel, vain about her beauty, she devises the plan to take down the madam by being the most successful girl and win the favour of the owner, but her plan backfires when the madam retaliates through her weakness (heroin addiction) and maintains control. With an unlimited supply of heroin, Il-sun crashes and fades and is kicked out of the brothel. Meanwhile, Gi is powerless to help or even talk to Il-sun and the girls’ relationship is strained. In contrast, Gi maintains a low profile, is not overly popular with clients and seems traumatized by the work but the trauma is attenuated by losing herself in calculations and working out theorems. At first I thought both girls would survive, together, and other characters would fade. After the expulsion, the point of view of the narrative switches to and stays with Gi such that we don’t ever know what Il-sun experienced on the streets of Seattle. When the Asian gangs start warring with each other, an opportunity arises for Gi to escape and that marks the beginning of the last part of the novel of her survival in the United States.
So what is the point of creating a character who is a mathematical genius? Retreating into her mind is her way of escaping the horrors of her life and she returns reserved and a little traumatized but substance-free. Her ability extends to include the ability to detect patterns in spoken English she hears on television she watches every day during her down time. When she escapes, she can communicate better than Il-sun would have. Her thirst for knowledge keeps her out of trouble when she is homeless – she discovers the Seattle Public Library and bountiful mathematical texts. And in a fantastical turn of events, at the public library, she meets and befriends a math professor and she is firmly in with the right crowd.
I am so impressed when I learn that something other than a semi-autobiographical story is an author’s debut, more so when it deviates so much from the author’s life. This was a really compelling story and I enjoyed telling NPY about it along the way. I think Jones might have struggled with how much to write in detail as I can imagine that labour camp and the sex trade is worse than he delved into. In a work of fiction, it is more important to create characters you want to continue reading about and he did in Il-sun and Gi. I wondered at the warning preceding the novel that the mature subject level might make it unsuitable for younger readers – it was an easy read not just with an interesting story but the writing might be mistaken to be targeted for a younger audience. If it was at all, was the message, “Don’t do drugs. Find something healthy to obsess over.”?
Has it really been two and a half years since that nice and controversial WSJ article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” was published? And while I got my hot little hands on the book to read to review on this blog, it seems that San Franciscan author Kim Wong-Keltner (KWW) read it and wrote a response in book form. Although Amy Chua was immediately flooded with responses and backlash, Wong-Keltner’s Tiger Babies Strike Back is a response published 28 months later. I wonder what Amy Chua has to say?
I have read all of KWW’s fiction – The Dim Sum of All Things and its sequel, Buddha Baby, and gross-out (in my opinion) I Want Candy. It is only natural that I would also read her first work of non-fiction because I do read all her writing and because I’m also a “Tiger Baby”… just not one with a child.
The title, if you missed it, is a riff on the fifth Star Wars movie, “The Empire Strikes Back” and the book is loaded with Star Wars references (no Star Trek) and other pop culture references. For example, KWW likens her sadness at a particular time to her feelings when an Ewok died and found a way to incorporate the phrase “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
When I first started reading Tiger Babies, I wasn’t sure of the direction. KWW’s style is not to have a stuffy and prim treatment or response to the subject. While Amy Chua writes elegantly as befitting a law professor at Yale, KWW has imagery and metaphors derived from pop culture and nerd humour and sometimes dipped into gutter humour. The chapters are short and the first part of the book didn’t seem specific to her own suffering/treatment. It seemed more like a empower-yourself treatise – as a Chinese American and woman. As the book progressed, it was more apparently shifting into a memoir, flowing more coherently or engagingly from one life event to the next. There’s no particular external conflict and the major events included having a child and making the decision to move three hours away from her hometown.
While I have my opinions about Tiger Parenting and how I think I might raise a child, I wanted to see how much they would align with KWW’s. These Tiger Parenting books, at the end of the day, are parenting books and I gathered that KWW’s method is the opposite of Chua’s in outward appearances. Still, I found her lessons from having a child as funny, frank and irreverent. She writes about being a hot mess and how she’s touched all of the time and she only has one child to care for. Anyone who takes parenting a little too seriously wouldn’t enjoy it but where I am right now, it rings true.
Some of the major Tiger Parenting points that raised readers’ ire were addressed in Tiger Babies, but not point-for-point. She presented her own feelings as a Tiger Baby to being called “garbage” and “disgusting” and she talks about the details of allowing playdates. Play dates upturn the house in mere minutes but the creative growth her daughter, Lucy, experiences is within KWW’s values for how she wants to raise her daughter. I found Battle Hymn to be largely focused on the daughters’ musical education and success and it was de-emphasized or non-existent for Lucy. Nevertheless, all the Tiger Babies achieved top marks and that doesn’t get particularly addressed in either books.
What I learned is that a new mother makes the best choices she can make under her circumstances and her own upbringing and – save for bad mothers – it is the right thing to do. The reaction of the child is not always going to be favourable and is child-specific. You can only hope that when the child becomes a mother, the cycle has closed somewhat and she gets to thank her own mother, understand her mother’s world in a way she couldn’t before. With any luck, the new mother gets to thank and appreciate her mother.
KWW writes in a way that hits on truths that keep me coming back – from having a similar upbringing that makes me question my self-worth outside of grades and not meeting Tiger Mother expectations to the struggle with leaving home to more curiosity than the next person about fellow Asian Americans and our collective diaspora. But not all of it is the same as since I like to recollect being a most obedient toddler, sitting quietly under mummy’s desk as she studied.
As with self-help/self-empowering books, you look for the nuggets between all the metaphors for the one that will hit the nail on the head. There were two such gems for me, neither really having to do with parenting as that is not yet applicable to me.
A description that resonated with me was KWW likening her social strategy to that of the failsafe built into five compartments of the Titanic, exposing just one section during a social interaction but never all five.
Finally, I came to appreciate the symbolism of the phoenix in Chinese arts:
“…remember that the ultimate shape-shifter is the phoenix. She is a mythical bird who incinerates herself, then rises from her own ashes. She rises again and again, no matter how often she has previously burst into flames…On textiles and porcelains given as wedding gifts, the dragon represents the husband, but the bride is a phoenix. Even in ancient China, it seems, they knew a woman would need to repeatedly rise from her own ashes.”
I first heard about Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians when Lynn Chen broke the news that she was reading for the audiobook version. With a publication date of June 11, it is just in time for summer and a light, escapism read of an Asian-American lit bend… just up my alley after the past three months.
Since I had an exam on June 14, I didn’t get the audiobook (via Audible.com) until four days after the novel’s release and I listened to the 11-hour audiobook as much as I could on the weekend!
I’ve been “racing” through reading this book because it so so very easy to digest, even though I have three months off from studying, there’s a stack of books (less easy to digest) that I want to get through, it is so very hot off the presses, and I want to be finished before the Vancouver book launch on June 20!
The story centers on Nicholas Young and Rachel Chu, professors at NYU who meet in New York and date for two years before he invites her to visit Singapore with him for a summer and where he is best man at his best friend’s wedding. She is a pretty typical Asian American woman and has no idea how much money is actually behind Nicholas who she knows only as a very good looking, well-mannered academic.
Astrid is Nicholas’ cousin and they get along famously because they are a little different from the rest of their pretentious and gaudily showy clan of elders and cousins. Her tastes run true French and she’s a syle icon among her set. Also in contrast to the rest, she married for love and doesn’t live in a mansion-come-palace with her husband, Michael, a software developer, and son Cassian. Not all is perfect, however, starting after she picks up a mobile phone when she hears the text message alert, reads the message “miss u inside me” and realizes she is holding her husband’s phone …
Eddie is another of Nicholas’ cousins and who is married to Fiona Tung and has two children. His parents are one of the more practical branches of the three families that have united in marriage and he is horribly embarrassed by them and even his own wife and children when they do not flaunt their wealth the only way he knows how to. He is eternally frustrated because he is not as wealthy as his friends while he believes he deserves their wealth more than they do; Eddie is generally a philandering and self-absorbed rat who has it coming to him somehow …
Pik Lin is Rachel’s friend and they met in the U.S. Pik Lin’s family made their money more recently and they haven’t heard of Nicholas’ family because the family is so very private. But as Pik Lin gets a whiff of the money and mystery, she and her whole family are very curious and it might have to do with Pik Lin still being single and very eligible …
Eleanor Young, who only learns about Rachel because Nicholas is bringing her to Singapore, goes into suspicious and protective mode. Who is this Rachel Chu? Her circle of cronies fan the flames of the fire and they go on a trip to Shenzhen (hilariously compared to Tijuana) to meet up with an informer who has done investigation into Rachel’s past, information that will come in handy later …
The upcoming wedding provides an excuse to have many parties for each of Nicholas and Rachel to attend and the opulence of house, entertainment and dress of jet-setting super-rich are described in great and fun detail. Jackie Collins provided a positive blurb, “Original and fun, Crazy Rich Asians is quite a roller coaster trip. I loved it!” I have not read anything by Jackie Collins but suppose Crazy Rich Asians is similar in genre?
As it turns out, June is Audiobook Month and I felt obliged from learning Lynn Chen is doing the audiobook and I’m a fan of her work, to “read” the novel in audio form. Normally (i.e., this time last year), I’d be super stoked to zone out to a fun and absorbing audiobook while working out in the condo gym or tidying up my apartment but this year I’m just surfing the net while listening – doesn’t feel quite as productive.
It’s not even the first audiobook I’ve listened to, but the experience seems strange when I would normally have read this kind of novel in print, savoured the words on paper and bookmarked my favourite passages such as “how to budget to run a crazy-rich household” and “how to follow the predetermined steps in the life cycle of a crazy rich Singaporean female”. How is everyone’s name spelled? What spelling did Kevin Kwan use for Romanization of the different Chinese dialects? Is the new ejaculation I’ve learned, “Alamak!” spelled as it sounds? (Yes.)
Were it not for the audiobook and Lynn Chen’s reading of it, I would not have imagined all of the different dialects, accents and voices people would have. Lynn differentiates from one character to another and I can laugh because when it comes to the tacky aunts’ accents, oh, I’ve heard those ones before! And I admire the effort that went into switching between accents and keeping it consistent.
My only nit-picking is Lynn’s pronunciation of the Chinese expressions peppered through the novel. A large part of my enjoyment of reading Asian-American/Canadian literature is learning about my language. A simple example is “hoisin sauce” that came late in the novel but I had already suspected something is up with her accent, and I know she speaks Mandarin and may not know any other Chinese dialect. Lynn had read “HOY sin”, kind of the way an American Anglophone might approach the word. In Cantonese, it is pronounce “hoy SEEN” and the Pinyin is “hai xian” so I wondered how Lynn was coached to pronounced a great deal of the words I’m venturing to guess she did not previously know. It was an interesting guessing game to me what the Chinese expression was, even if a definition followed and I completely understand the motivation, for the sake of the average Audible consumer, to pronounce the words as they are spelled.
Author Kevin Kwan spent his early years in Singapore so he writes from experience the excess in riches in the country (how much of his personal experience??). Novels set in Singapore are not so common as those set in China or involving Chinese or American- or Canadian-born Chinese characters. So it’s a great delight to learn in this fun format the Singaporean view of mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. I often want to just characterize Singaporeans as Chinese but they’ve certainly created a unique culture all their own.
The American cover of the novel looks dusted with gold glitter and the type is hot pink. It is a cover worthy of a Jackie Collins or Danielle Steel novel, I think. I wondered with the title and the sometime insinuation “these Asians are richer than all of you on this planet” would turn off readers who don’t want to believe that or read about that. But you know what? The crazy rich in the novel recognize the beauty in Western art and design and incorporate it into their homes – so there’s homage in that. Furthermore, it’s a satire so you know that the more dressed up a character is, the more that character really is lacking. Vulgarity of the rich, family and relationship strife, the head-slapping cattiness of women and their eventual downfall will speak across the cultures and entice all readers of this genre alike.
I just ordered this.
By some fluke of chance, because I’m not usually following Canada Post offerings, I saw a special edition, limited time offered collection featuring the Chinatown Gates in Canada. I must have it! A few weeks elapsed but I ended up remembering and ordered a souvenir sheet ($5) while I would dearly love to have the whole collection in a special folder ($88.88).
The folder, a fantastic gift for someone who is interested, includes the following:
- A numbered and imperforated pane of 8 stamps—exclusive to this set.
- A regular pane of 8 stamps, die cut in the shape of early Chinese coins, complete with centre hole.
- A 200-year-old Qing Dynasty coin and a 1,000-year-old Song Dynasty coin, like the ancient coins embedded in many of the gates.
- A 16-page full colour booklet with a history of the origins of these gates and a description of each Canadian gate in English, French and Chinese.
- A certificate of authenticity.
- A red leather-like folder traditionally embossed with a detailed image of a well-known gate in China.
- Only 8,888 Chinatown Gates Collection were produced—grab yours today!
Images from canadapost.ca.
Books are popping up on my radar and even if I had time, I couldn’t quite keep up. This is quite the good-looking and big crop this year!
(For once, I’m on top of new releases, even quite a bit ahead of some. But will I be reading them hot off the presses? No…! No time!)
Timber Hawkeye’s Buddhist Boot Camp
(February 11, 2013)
I saw this at an airport bookstore and it intrigues me. The notion of applying a bootcamp training mentality to learning and practicing a religion or system of belief strikes me as a bit gimmicky but will it be the right vehicle to guide me? I have this on hold from the library. It is a little bit of a priority of mine to find the time to at least do this kind of reading.
Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement
(November 5, 2013)
An image-only post from Asian American Lit Fans was all I needed to see. Amy Tan is coming out with her first novel in I don’t know how many years. On the major sites (fine, the Amazons) I checked and even on the author website, there is no information. I will keep checking the library to place a hold on it when it does come up.
Amy Tan’s Rules for Virgins
(December 6, 2011)
While looking for more information on The Valley of Amazement, I came across Amy Tan’s most recent work, a short story. At 43 pages, I should be able to get through this!!
Christine Reiko Yano’s Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific
(April 29, 2013)
I purchased and started reading Airborne Dreams: Nisei Stewardesses and Pan American World Airways. The writing is good and accessible but I just never finished it (yet, and Good Reads keeps reminding me of it). From stewardesses to Hello Kitty, Yano is giving Japanese culture its due recognition and treatment and I love her themes, i.e., it seems like fun research!
Kevin Kwans’ Crazy Rich Asians
(June 11, 2013)
I heard of this novel through Lynn Chen who is providing the voices for the audio book. The novel does sound a bit like fluff – perfect for summer its summer release! I’ve got it on hold at the library, hoping to get it on Audible.com on some kind of (read: free) promo.
Kim Wong Keltner’s Tiger Babies Strike Back: How I Was Raised by a Tiger Mom but Could Not Be Turned to the Dark Side
(April 30, 2013)
I think I heard about this book in a Huffington Post post or something and nary did I expect the author to be Kim Wong Keltner. Since I have read her three fiction works, I’m curious how she will treat a topic near and dear to my hear and non-fiction. In other news, are we still talking about Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother?
erin Khue Ninh’s Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian-American Literature
(March 28, 2011)
Kim Wong Keltner’s latest book reminds me (and so does my “Want to Read” list on Good Reads) of this book I’ve been curious about for several years. It’s not available at libraries but a check on Amazon shows that the Kindle edition is just $10 … I may purchase it then in the near future… not a new one, been on my list, not available in libraries but it’s a $10 Kindle – academic treatment of one of my favourite topics (see the subtitle)
Koonchung Chan’s The Fat Years
(January 10, 2012)
A dystopia set in China? Yes! I signed this out from the library but had too many other books on the go and it kind of started slow and I didn’t get very far before I had to return it and could not renew it. I’ll get back to this one yet.
Paul Yee’s Saltwater City
(April 27, 2006)
I read Chinatown: An illustrated history of the Chinese Communities of Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax and it was good. Now, but it’s no rush, it’s time to learn more about the city that will be my home for indefinite number of years.