So this past week that lit, lit life took me first to Bangkok and then to Kyoto, two cities where I’m decidedly “foreign” even though I am mistaken for “local.”
But first a pause to recall Han Suyin who died at the age of 96. Never heard of her? That’s the problem with “global characteristics” for that lit, lit life because light fractures, refracts, wanes. But she is remembered by both the U.S. and China in equally lengthy obituaries.
Way to go, girl!
A Many Splendored Thing remains one of the more progressive “fictions” of transgressive love, of hybridity, of the ravages of war on ordinary lives. Now if only some publisher will bring it back in print???? It took forever to obtain permission to include a small excerpt in City Voices, an anthology of Hong Kong writing in English I co-edited (2003).
Here’s the paperback version I read as a girl in Hong Kong.
You’ll find the book second hand and in most libraries.
And here’s Ian Morrison, the man she loved.
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In Bangkok, though, the Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Association (short form: AP Writers) was “reaching the world” at our summit. We voted Hong Kong based Sri Lankan author Nury Vittachi our new chair. It was a great confab of Asia’s literati. Ran into the ever prolific Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo from Manila who claims she’s “retired” (which means she’s now directing the Center for Creative Writing at University of Santo Tomas . . .).
We were wandering through the famous Author’s Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok where Conrad and Somerset Maugham used to hang. It wasn’t quite as fancy back then. But what we ladies who lounge learned was that Colette and Edith Wharton also passed through– you don’t hear much talk about them out this way. It’s almost always all about the guys.
Anyway Cristina has a new book – essays – which I look forward to reading.
There were other women writers hanging out in this formerly male bastion as well. Christine Suchen-Lim had earlier signaled a silent hello shriek from across the aisles of some talk. She was being deservedly royal, housed at the Mandarin Oriental, as this year’s SEA Write Award winner from Singapore. A busy trip for her, but I managed to catch her for a minute or two, lurking on the stairs.
The Southeast Asia Write Literary Awards (SEA Write)
should be better known . Since 1979, it has honored writers from the ASEAN countries. This year, AP Writers held our annual meeting in conjunction with the award ceremony. The list of winners over the years reads like an ASEAN Nobel in literature.
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Meanwhile AP Writers were in full swing at Chulalongkorn University, our gracious hosts who were efficiently and remarkably calm around this horde of writers and their tantrums (Writers?? Tantrums?? Solitude gone awry).
Oh and the flowers! Even the mike was “dressed.”
One of the highlights was the presence of Jang Jin Song, the former North Korean (yes, North) poet laureate, or “court poet” to Kim Jong-Il. He risked all to defect to the South, and gave up a life of relative ease in exchange for freedom to write the truth. First world writers and their egos seem like such a bunch of spoilt brats when you hear Jang read.
A translation of a new collection is in progress. You can read some of his poems in translation in the Asia Literary Review’s recent Korean edition.
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Before I headed out to Kyoto for the 6th annual Japan Writers Conference, I managed to catch a beverage at sunset by the river with Australian author & journalist Matthew Condonwho actively advocated to reinstate a major literary award axed by the State of Queensland (that’s in between his account getting hacked on September 11 – Twitter tells all).
Matthew read from his latest novel The Trout Opera.
The global characteristics of this lit, lit life will sometimes confuse you, and for awhile I though Matthew a New Zealander. This was because of Lime Bar, his novel released in 2001 which I discovered in a Dunedin bookstore several years earlier when I used to go to the South Island. Was this yet another contemporary NZ author I hadn’t read? Before Amazon conquered the world and made books easily available no matter the author’s origins, a search for “New Zealand authors” in 2002 brought up only titles by Katherine Mansfield 1888-1923; we’ve progressed beyond the grave.
Sometimes, though, in this lit, lit life, you do find time to fall in love with a book. That was Lime Bar, a sweetly sad novel in which limes loom large and Gustav the bartender holds court. Perhaps it was the solitude, the silence, that moment of haplessness in my own life (and one should occasionally be hapless) that made the protagonist of this book memorable.
But wait long enough and you might even get to meet the author one day, as I was pleased to do in Bangkok. His latest book is a memoir titled Brisbane which is on my Kindle, and which is, clearly, 100% Australian. (The Sauvignon Blanc, however, was South African).
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So I sailed back across the river to the Bangkok subway after my drink at sunset.
And found the flight path to Kyoto and Melbourne. See you again November 30. Happy Thanksgiving.