Help! I’m appropriating my imaginary people

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I read my first Steinbeck during December’s annual bookmas, and ‘East of Eden‘ became an instant favourite. I like how the story felt coaxed through its characters; a tale that is already salacious and mad and allegorical and no less literary mastery — but the characters, full, imperfect, timeless really stood out. I love how each person wove into or contrasted against the backdrop of the Salinas Valley. It left me with a feeling of completeness, a reader’s nirvana at the end of a book.

Reading during the holidays often feels like a headfirst dive through a book, wholly immersive, with the added benefit of having the time to back-stroke through the story later on, sometimes with my writing goggles on. This is in part why I started this rather bookish instagram – to reflect and connect with other book nerds.

The Salinas Valley features heavily in Steinbeck’s work, bringing to mind the adage ‘Write what you know.’ I read The God of Small Things‘ prior to ‘East of Eden‘ – another book that’s been on my mental ‘to read’ shelf for over a decade, which features another kind of river and another parochial setting conveyed with an intimate understanding of landscape, a carbon copy memory that transfers naturally when written down, making it a richer, authentic read. It’s why I crave Japanese food after reading Murakami. Ever notice how his characters pay attention to their food? The detail is both wonderful and cruel.

This has been on my mind recently,  as a third-culture poet, writer, whathaveyou. As someone who was born in Sri Lanka, grew up in Hong Kong, and spent some of my formative years in the Philippines. Reared on a post-colonial hangover, snacking on morsels of American media. Write what you know becomes an existential balance of what you’ve observed, and what you think, and what needs context, and a voice that changes several times. How the hell does one manage that, when I can’t even tame my own accent? (Bidialectalism – see, it’s a thing.)

Ruthless rootlessness. There are several places I can pull from, but what’s right for the character can be overwhelming when there is no default setting.

Naturally the only way out of this is to write myself out of it. Narrative voice comes easy – but when dabbling in longer-form writing, my fingers stumble on my keyboard when voicing characters. Some conversations sound thin because the writing is rushed, other times it’s because of a lack of character development – and more often than not, for me it’s because I can imagine a character like an avatar builder at the beginning of a gaming console. And like in a gaming console, I can imagine that character accessing multiple worlds. Temptation is rife.

Is this why fantasy or alternative reality as a genre does so well amongst my fellow third-culture friends, not just as readers but as writers too? With the story I’m currently writing, there is temptation to move into a completely different world where place does not matter, but this would be too much of a cop-out and render the whole exercise moot. Although its obviously not the case for all writing, I’ve decided that backdrop matters to this particular piece.

The other consideration is when fantasy plays nice with reality. There is an undeniable Englishness that underpin Neverwhere, Harry Potter, the Thursday Next  and His Dark Materials series’.

So either way, I need to pick a lane and allow myself the license to stay in it.

Bugger.

HK20: A Roundup of the Best Reads

Fantastic coverage and interesting perspectives around the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover. Reflection and viewpoints from those that are still here, and from those that left. A look at the social and political climate at the time, what has changed, and what has more or less stayed the same. Great economic analysis and the current state of play, and decidedly quieter projections this time around of what could be next. Excellent writing all round.

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Image Credit: Ka Ming via Twitter

My favourites below –

Banana Blueberry Bread 


A not-too-sweet recipe which makes the fruit the star of this fluffy and moreish tea-time loaf.

Ingredients

  • 185g plain flour
  • 2.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 60g butter, melted
  • 50g packed brown sugar
  • 50g coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 mashed bananas
  • A couple of handfuls of fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees celcius
  2. Grease and flour a loaf tin.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Stir in the melted butter and sugars until combined.
  5. Add the milk, egg, vanilla and fruit and mix until just combined.
  6. Finish with a quick stir-in of the maple syrup
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.*

*Cooking time varies. I have a small oven which generally means quicker bake time. My loaf cooks in about 35-40 minutes with some tin foil introduced half way to ensure the top doesn’t burn. I would estimate a cook time closer to an hour for conventional sized ovens.

A Post US-Election Dash of Nash.

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I felt it deeply, you know.

For those of us who value diversity and have it reflected in our work, lives and communities, this was a strike against what we believed was the status quo. How has the world’s largest superpower followed an alarming global trend that supports hateful and divisive rhetoric?

I’ve been taught differently since Sesame Street. These ideals were imported in, which is perhaps why I personally felt let down by them. To expect better, to rebel against oppression, to demand more, and to be that change. My instinct tells me to reject anything that challenges these ideals unequivocally. Yet, here we are the morning after, with the realization that I could have done a lot more to understand the societal fault-lines that have brought us here.

The thing is, when you get to half the population that seemingly repudiate the values that many of us hold dear, because these are the same people that feel hard done by a society who they say has left them behind, maybe we should have asked why. This is not about dissent of the ignorant– though they are out there too – people who feel their vitriol is validated. They are part of, but not representative of the silent majority.

This rise of the far or alternative right is steadfast and widespread and I suspect for reasons beyond what is immediately apparent. We can’t blame it all on Caucasian men, or women not having other women’s backs, or anything else that can be explained neatly and tied in a bow. We also can’t blame the DNC and Clinton scandals without looking at why Trump’s were ignored.

When you boil it all down, the republicans had a candidate that its own party reviled, but whom the voters identified with. We saw the opposite with Clinton. Voter turnout did the rest.

We must let ourselves consider that people who vote for the likes of Trump or Duterte were willing to look past deplorable levels of misogyny, because of what more was promised. Those that support Pauline Hanson and Brexited were willing to bear the stigma of intolerance because they felt they had no control. Feelings of disenfranchisement in systems that are leaving them poorer and rallying around characters with perceived authenticity – despite what absolute tripe comes out of their mouths.

Maybe all they saw was an opportunity cost.  (Electing a climate change denier, as an opportunity cost – Holy shit.)

We knew enough to know this was possible, but what I ask now, and what I asked last night at Peel Street Poetry was how could we not know it was this possible. This is beyond policy – this is a problem at grassroots levels.

In Hong Kong, I feel as though we are in the midst of an ideological war. In many ways I live in a bubble within a bubble. When Brexit happened I was scandalized because I expected better. After last night I was saddened not because I was wrong to expect progress to prevail – but because I was so off the mark with what progress meant. I wanted to hear the shards from that shattered glass ceiling fall even here in Asia. That inclusion dispels fear, that love trumps hate. I wanted the US to be that example to buck the trend, not confirm it.

I am afraid of what will come next, but I also feel that this year has helped me realize that there is work to be done. Those imported ideals weren’t wrong, they just needed to be actioned.

I’ll keep doing it the best way I know how. A meeting of minds and merging of narratives. A place for expression and community.

We need our poets and artists, our photographers and storytellers. We need to let the communities we are a part of that are hurt most by this to know that we will validate their sadness,  and we will continue to be on the side of history that visibly and unequivocally stood by them to support equality, social justice and freedom of expression.

If you’re in Hong Kong, come be a part of the conversation. No surprises for next time.

Peel Street Poetry – Every Wednesday except the first Wednesday of the month @ Orange Peel.

Leftover Hack: Grainless Cauliflower Fried Rice Turns into Soup


Today’s grain-free yum fest paired with a roast chicken dinner is tomorrow’s lazy lunch time soup.

Upcycling leftovers allows you to maximize your time in the kitchen and motivates you to actually eat that same (same, but different) meal the next day. This recipe  does just that – turning cauliflower fried rice into a soup base or salad mix for later.

Ingredients

  • 1 head of cauliflower, grated or diced into a fine grain in a food processor
  • Onion, diced
  • Courgette, cubed
  • Carrot, cubed
  • Pumpkin, cubed
  • Spring onion, chopped
  • a knob of butter
  • Seasoning: salt & pepper, paprika

Quantities are to taste / number of people getting fed. Athough butter is considered a good fat again (hallelujiah) I used it in moderation,  a little at a time during the cooking process.

The below fed 4 adults and 2 children, plus some extra for tomorrow’s soup. (1 cauliflower, 1 onion, 2 courgette, 2 carrots, half a small pumpkin, and a small bulb of spring onion.

 Method

Melt butter in a wok, add the onion and cook until it starts to soften. Add the carrot and pumpkin and paprika and cover for 2-3 minutes. Uncover, add the courgette and keep uncovered as you don’t want liquid to gather.  Once the mixture softens, add the cauliflower rice and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Season once more to taste, and add the spring onion at the very end.

Variants

Use olive oil or coconut oil instead of butter for a vegan version, and if eating on it’s own add beans or pulses. I would also suggest red pepper in leiu of courgette for a dryer texture but courgette / pumpkin / carrot do play so nicely together..

Leftovers

Blend the cauliflower fried rice using a food processor  to make soup. If eating on its own consider adding black beans or lentils to bulk it up and add some protein.

Fancy a salad? It has the same texture of a cous cous salad  – add green leaves, cherry tomatoes and cucumber and you’re well on your way. Dress with lemon / olive oil.

Apparently, something happened today.

Edited 5th June 2015

26 years ago, something may or may not have happened, depending on where you were  – or are today. This is reason enough for those able to acknowledge the Tiananmen Square massacre to do so, and remain mindful of the yet formally undisclosed sacrifices made for basic civic rights. Reason enough to demand these rights are upheld, and the memories of those who perished are honoured, or at the very least, that they are one day recognized. Reason enough for those that live in a de-facto region of China who are reminded with increasing frequency to not bite the hand that feeds it, to uphold the tradition of remembrance as this young nation continues to write its own story.

Coverage of the anniversary falls in the murky waters that stem from media bias but also reader bias, from the perspective of a city of 7 million with alliances that have splintered further since the Occupy protests in 2014. Official turnout figures and those of The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China as usual vary, this year by a margin of 88,000. However, both counts agree that this years turnout was less than last year. Could this be in part to a local movement that appealed for the focus for Hong Kong’s fight for democracy to be about Hong Kong? Arguments ranging from ‘Leave China matters to China’ to ‘What will this accomplish anyway?’

Another argument is that the vigil has turned into slactivism, or that people use it to further their own agendas. Perhaps. But consider how this all contributes to a much larger story – whatever the motivation. One that deserves the attention it gets given today’s media infrastructure – for a variety of reasons; recognition for the right to demonstrate in Hong Kong, solidarity for its own fight for genuine democracy, or simply because we are still allowed to remember, for those who cannot. The one thing that must be agreed on is, given the alternative, we must never stop trying.

From The Economist circa 10th June 1989:

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“Faced with a choice between more reform and a small loosening of the party’s grip on power, Mr Deng chose to strangle reform. He could do so because China’s Communist party is still at the mercy of its leaders’ whims and fat beyond the people’s power to control. It may be premature to hope that the remarkable acts of bravery shown by Beijing’s citizens this week will soon be translated into genuine democracy. But China’s people will not stop trying.”

On a similar vein, you have four, (now three) days left to back Hong Kong Free Press: A new, non-profit, independent English language news source for Hong Kong

Motherhood: My Ten Commandments

Mother’s day eve, my husband came home with three small bouquets of flowers. One for me, one for my mother who had come round for dinner, and one for our helper – who cares for our children during the week when we are at work.

I think after eight years of adding ‘parent’ as another notch to who we are- we’ve worked out what makes us work as parents and as a family. We have a functional tribe; raising happy, curious children and despite their irritating penchant for Minecraft I think we’ll keep them. This by itself is enough reason to celebrate. With it being mother’s day I took stock of the past eight years of being part of this club and thought about what I want to impart; unconditional love and ” WOULD YOU please PUT YOUR BLOODY TOYS AWAY?!” aside.

So here are my 10 commandments for me (but really for my children.) It was a spontaneous activity on the elliptical (generally, me using an elliptical would also be considered a spontaneous activity). Some days  are better than others, but that’s kind of the point to this parenting lark.

Motherhood: My Ten Commandments

1. I refuse to be my child’s first bully.
2. I am not perfect but I am enough to get the job done, and do it well.
3. I will respect their time and be a good listener.
4. As a family we run our own race.
5. I am raising people, not just children. We will respect choices, but demand accountability.
6. Kindness, creativity, honesty, respect and perseverance – if I want my children to value these attributes, I will have to lead by example.
7. I will help them uncover their sense of self worth and learn to be kind to themselves.
8. I will always say sorry when I have been unfair.
9. I will empower their ideas, and invest in them – if they can achieve external buy-in.
10. I will continue to add, edit and work on this list, and for that I have to thank them. This is for me to keep myself in line for them, but really also for me. Because, that’s how it all works -you get as good as you give, just not how you expect it.