‘The Vagina Monologues’ by Eve Ensler

‘The miracle of V-Day, like The Vagina Monologues, is that it happened because it had to happen’.

‘Introduction’ to The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

I had the pleasure of going to see a production of Eve Ensler’s world-famous play, The Vagina Monologues, last month during V-Day – a global movement, born out of the success of The Vagina Monologues, held around Valentine’s Day each year to raise awareness and end violence against women and girls. This particular production was to raise money for the Hong Kong Helpers Campaign, which helps to promote the rights of local Foreign Domestic Workers – a pressing concern in Hong Kong, particularly in the light of the recent Erwiana case.

This particular production was held at the Premium Sofa Club – a name which perfectly encapsulates the venue. In the basement of what looked like an unassuming, residential building in Sheung Wan, dozens of mismatched sofas and chairs were crammed into a tiny space. Luckily, arriving slightly late, me and my friend nabbed seats right at the front. The play itself was performed by a mixture of professional to first-time actors, from women representing many areas of the globe. For some you could visibly see their nerves, though this only added to the authenticity of the play. They were all holding their monologues on cards they had individually decorated to highlight that these stories are from real interviews, real women. As Eve Ensler mentions in the introduction to her play (which she performed in when it was first produced):

‘I had to hold 5-by-8 cards in my hands all through the performance every night, even though I had the piece memorised. It was as if the women I had interviewed were made present by those cards, and I needed them there with me’.

The stories in this play were varied and sent me on a roller coaster of emotions. However, the overall experience was empowering. Learning to talk freely, without flinching, about taboo and painful subjects – from orgasms, to shaving to the more damaging invasion and abuse of the vagina – Eve Ensler was astounded by the response she got. She was amazed by how many women openly talked about their vagina’s when given the chance.

Going to see The Vagina Monologues was definitely the best way to spend Valentines Day and the fact that Ensler allows people to put on productions over that period without the need for copyright has made it spread around the globe. I will be keeping my eyes peeled for another production next year!

I also came across Eve Ensler’s wonderful talk at the WOW Festival this year on their youtube channel. She is such a brilliant orator as she talks over her own abuse as a child, to fighting cancer and setting up the One Billion Rising project – which claims to be the biggest mass action to end violence against women in human history. An artist and activist, Ensler has stayed true to what she does best, which is inspiring people – men and women alike – all over the world. I urge anyone reading this to watch her talk:

‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ by Shirley Jackson

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‘My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead’.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Pg.1

It’s been a long time since I have felt like reading a fiction novel, which is strange for me as I so rarely read non-fiction. However, since moving to Hong Kong and starting a new job I have felt so bogged down in work that non-fiction – particularly short, digestible essays – have appealed more to me. However, I saw Shirley Jackson’s intriguing-looking novel in Kubrick and couldn’t resist buying it. I vaguely remember a resurgence of interest in this unassuming classic last year and it was this recognition that prompted me to pick up the book. Having dipped into the introduction I found myself drawn into the gothic nature with which Jackson writes. Although much of her acclaim was given posthumously, Jackson was an intriguing and introverted individual. Some of her stories were considered scandalous – I definitely want to read ‘The Lottery’, which appeared in the New Yorker amidst criticism and outrage – and We Have Always Lived in the Castle is known famously for its dark, gothic nature along with its strikingly different female leads.

‘I would not touch the ring; the thought of a ring around my finger always made me feel tied tight, because rings had no openings to get out of’.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Pg.76

Set six years after a terrible incident that killed off almost all, but three, of the Blackwood family, Mary Katherine – known more familiarly as Merricat – narrates what could be considered a confession of sorts. She draws the narrator into an enchanting and mesmerising world. One that is glaringly, obviously and wholly one-sided. A world that is constructed entirely by Merricat’s thoughts and feelings. We are her intimate. We share in the secret she so flippantly and playfully reveals to us. However, it is not till much later in the story that we realise the full extent and significance of the clues she drops right from the beginning.

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Eslite 24-hour Bookshop, Taipei

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In February, during Chinese New Year, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Taipei, Taiwan, for a couple of days. Living in Hong Kong has opened up a whole new world of places to visit. Taiwan was only an hour and a half away so it seemed silly to pass up the opportunity on the few leave-days I get. I never would have thought of going to Taiwan if I wasn’t already in the Far East but, suffice it to say, it was such a beautiful and friendly city that I would love the opportunity to go back there and explore more of it. After spending six months in a crazy, hectic city like Hong Kong, Taipei had a slower, more relaxed pace of life to it, though, granted, Chinese New Year is a very quiet time to go as many businesses shut down and people tend to spend time with families.

Before heading to Taipei I did some research around bookshops to visit. I already knew that they had a big reading culture as their biggest book retailer, Eslite, occupies a few floors of Hysan Place in Causeway Bay. However, when I looked up where to go in Taipei, I was delighted to read that the Eslite Dunhua shop was the first 24-hour bookshop in the world. As The Guardian put it: Taipei prefers all-night reading to all-night raving – my kind of place.

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I visited the Dunhua branch on my second day in Taipei. It was tucked away on the second floor of an ordinary-looking building, which I never would have known about if I didn’t look it up first. Although just an ordinary retail bookshop, this Dunhua branch of Eslite was very special. As the Guardian article highlighted, the fact that people can sit and read books off the shelf without the pressure to buy has made it a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. I was amazed at the amount of people just sitting on stairs reading the time away. It was a very unique experience.

Eslite also had a brilliant selection of English language books. I witnessed some of my favourites, like Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood, and also came across Marilynne Robinson’s newest and latest book in the Gilead trilogy, Lila, which I had been looking everywhere for in Hong Kong (I have almost finished reading it!).

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I also came across a Taiwanese book-in-translation which I found only appropriate to get. Called Rose, Rose, I Love You by the popular writer, Wang Chen-ho, it tells the tale of a village that has lost all sense of perspective when the prospect of a ship of ‘lusty and lonely’ American GIs come to town. I’m not quite sure how good this book will be but it is named as a ‘ribald satire’, so, hopefully, it will make an interesting read.

January Recap!

IMG_0290 January has seen the re-emergence of blogging in my life again! Although I am still not posting as regularly as I used to, or hope to be, I finally made the time to write a couple of blog posts. My life has been a bit hectic over the last five-six months and I haven’t had as much time to sit down and write as I would have liked to, but I have missed blogging and the blogging community, so hope to get back into it again. In terms of reading this month, I have definitely picked up the pace. I read a total of three books, which is more than I have read in the first five months of moving to Hong Kong! I also visited (or mainly stumbled accidentally across) a few new bookshops, most of them secondhand, and accumulated three new treasures which I will write about shortly. On my days off in January I have been really proactive – exploring new areas of Hong Kong and finally making the most of the brilliant hikes that are on offer here. I also ended the month back at my favourite bookshop, Kubrick, and tried out the wonderful lavender latte’s they sell. They were amazing! Currently reading:

  • The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir

Books read in January:

Bookshops visited in January:

  • Kubrick, Yau Ma Tei
  • Bookworm Cafe, Lamma Island
  • The Reading Room Bookshop, Sai Kung
  • Flow Bookshop, Central

January in pictures: January Recap Looking forward to February!

I have a lot of exciting things planned for February. Next week I am going to see The Vagina Monologues, which is being shown in Hong Kong to raise money for the Hong Kong Helper’s Campaign – a charity that advocates for the city’s domestic workers. My parents will also be visiting next week and I can’t wait! It will be exactly six months since I last saw them. Straight after they leave I will be heading to Taiwan to celebrate Chinese New Year. Hopefully I will also get some reading and blogging done in the midst of all of this excitement. I have a couple of books that I read before Christmas that I really want to write about as well as a write-up of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival from last November!

Kubrick, Yau Ma Tei

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Since moving to Hong Kong I have slowly been working my way around independent and secondhand bookshops as I couldn’t stand using my Kindle for longer than I had to. Of course, I sussed out the major book retailers in Hong Kong pretty early on, such as Page One and the Taiwanese chain, Eslite (of which there is a huge one in Causeway Bay), but I prefer the quieter, more unsuspecting, bookshops. From word-of-mouth I had heard about a little bookshop cafe hidden away in the less-bustling Yau Ma Tei area in Kowloon. After a couple of false-starts, I finally found my way to the bookshop one Thursday afternoon and it has quickly become one of my favourite places to relax and hang out in Hong Kong.

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Not only does Kubrick sell a wonderful collection of English and Chinese books – ranging from history, politics, gender studies, travel and literature – but it is also a charming little cafe, too. My staple has become the mint latte which is delicious, though I hear they also have lavender and rose latte’s which I will try as soon as it is payday! They also have a substantial food menu and everything I have tried so far is excellent.

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‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’ by Ann Patchett

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‘We are, on this earth, so incredibly small, in the history of time, in the crowd of the world, we are practically invisible, not even a dot, and yet we have each other to hold on to’.

‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’ in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, Pg.270

Ann Patchett’s collection of non-fiction is an interesting and varied insight into the well-renowned American fiction writer, best-known for her award-winning novel, Bel Canto (which I have yet to read). Although I have never read any of Ann Patchett’s novels, I knew of her and her highly-regarded reputation. She has been on my to-be-read list for a very long time and it was with pleasure that I found this hardback edition of This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage on the shelf of one of my favourite bookshop cafe’s in Hong Kong, Kubrick (which I will write about soon in a separate post).

‘The one thing I allowed myself was the certainty of future happiness. Even though the history of literature was filled with alcoholics, insane asylums, and shotguns, I could not imagine that I would be miserable if I received the only thing I wanted’.

‘The Getaway Car’ in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, Pg.20

Ann Patchett knew from a very early age that she wanted to be a writer. The first essay in the collection begins with the bitter childhood Christmases she experienced after her parents got divorced. Spending subsequent Christmas days with her mother and her new partner, as well as her partner’s kids, Patchett remembers the traditionally depressing phone calls she would have with her father. However, on this particular Christmas her father reads her a story from a newspaper – a story, she describes, as ‘the best gift I have no record of’ (pg.18). As her father reads her this story about a young orphaned girl living with nuns, she recalls the power and influence stories have had in her life from a very young age.

‘I may at times forget the details of my life but I remember the stories I read. Plots, characters, entire passages of dialogue are stencilled on my brain. They are softened now but for the most part legible. Authors – poor authors! – are gone completely. It was much, much later that I took any notice of who was doing the writing’.

‘How to Read a Christmas Story’ in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett, Pg.14

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Hong Kong!

IMG_2868I am so sorry for my absence on the blog recently! I have just moved to Hong Kong for the year to teach English as a foreign language and It has been crazy! I have been training for the past week (I will be teaching my first lesson tomorrow!) and I still have another week to go. Hopefully once I am settled in at my centre and become familiar with the syllabus I can start blogging again.

Bruges!

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A few weeks ago, in the middle of July, I travelled to Bruges with my mum for a few days break. We jumped on the Eurostar from Ebbsfleet and arrived a few hours later in the beautiful, fairy-tale town of Bruges – sometimes known as the ‘Venice of the North’. I don’t think I have ever seen a more perfect city so far in my short, travelling life. Though, not only was it a picturesque destination to visit, it was also packed full of things to do. Not one for relaxing and taking it easy (especially when time is of the essence), I pestered my mum with numerous museum and exhibition visits.

One of the first things I was eager to see, since discovering a blossoming love for Michelangelo’s sculptures in Florence, was his Madonna and Child – one of the only Michelangelo sculptures to leave Italy in his lifetime. Aside from the fact that it was sculpted by the one and only Michelangelo, the Madonna and Child also has an interesting history. Twice since its instalment in the Church of Our Lady, Bruges, it has been removed. Once by French revolutionaries in 1794 and again during the Second World War, in 1944, when it was smuggled out of the country by retreating German soldiers. Luckily, both times, it was found and returned safely in one piece.

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The Madonna and Child, Michelangelo

Keeping with the theme of art I picked out one museum I really wanted to visit. I am not an expert in Flemish painting but from my research I found that the Groeninge Museum was the best gallery to visit. Housing over six centuries of art in Belgium, from Jan van Eyck to Marcel Broodthaers, this small, spacious museum was the perfect choice to gain a taster of all things artistic that Belgium has to offer. I was also thrilled to find exhibitions (however random) of Picasso, Warhol and Salvador Dali dotted around the city centre and I made sure to visit the Old St. John’s Hospital (Sint Jans Hospitaal) which houses a few Hans Memling paintings.

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Statue of Guido Gazelle

In terms of literature I wanted to see the home of Guido Gazelle, a Bruges-born poet famous for writing in his West Flemish dialect. As the Poetry International website states, ‘Gezelle is generally considered as one of the masters of 19th-century European lyric poetry. At the end of his life and in the first two decades of the 20th century, Gezelle was hailed by the avant-garde as the founder of modern Flemish poetry, and his unique voice was also belatedly recognised in the Netherlands and often compared with his English contemporary Gerard Manley Hopkins’. I admit this was another revelation I found as I was researching what to see and do in Bruges but it was a lovely find. Gazelle’s home, on the outskirts of the city – near the four remaining windmills that line the east of the canal-ring – has been turned into a small, quirky museum. Although everything was written in Flemish, there were English booklets with some of his translated poetry in it. The gardens were also beautiful!

So, aside from gallivanting around endless exhibitions and museums and trying out some of the best fruit beers, chocolates and Belgian waffles on offer, I drove my mum crazy with the amount of pictures I took! It truly is a beautiful little city, here are just a few from my camera:

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Minnewater Lake, aka Lake of Love

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1 of the 4 remaining windmills in the city

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The Belfry

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Rozenhoedkaai – most photographed spot in Bruges

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The Beer Wall – great pub!

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Provincial Court, Markt

‘The Blind Assassin’ by Margaret Atwood

IMG_3923‘Was that the beginning, that evening – on the dock at Avilion, with the fireworks dazzling the sky? It’s hard to know. Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring’.

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood, Pg.232

The Blind Assassin begins with one of the most memorable lines I have read in fiction – ‘Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge’. Atwood doesn’t start at the ‘beginning’ but delves right into the crux of the story. Told from the perspective of 83-year-old Iris Chase Griffen who is writing down her truth for the benefit of a grandchild she hasn’t seen for decades, The Blind Assassin unpacks the difficult and precarious task of remembering. There are, in fact, numerous layers of narrative embedded in this slow-moving, yet incredibly intriguing, tale. Newspaper clippings, family history, revisited childhood memories, excerpts of ‘The Blind Assassin’ – a fictional and scandalous story presumably written by Iris’s sister, Laura, and posthumously published – and the actual blind assassin within this story-within-a-story are all threaded through a narrative that is surprisingly easy to follow. Though each layer adds to the difficulty of trying to form a coherent whole in order to find the ‘truth’, Atwood artfully achieves this seamless narrative, creating a novel that is well-deserving of the Man Booker Prize.

Spanning the breadth of the twentieth century, Iris remembers back to a time before her and Laura were born. Beginning with the inception of her grandfather’s button-factory – of which they are still reaping the benefits, though in a somewhat declining way – and the romanticised account of her grandmother Adelia, Iris paints a vivid picture of the family home she was brought up in, Avilion. She also recounts the history of her father who, along with his two brothers, enters into the First World War voluntarily and is the sole Chase survivor. On his return he takes up his father’s button-factory business and marries a sensible, religious woman.

‘[…] my father was now an atheist. Over the trenches God had burst like a balloon, and there was nothing left of him but grubby little scraps of hypocrisy. Religion was just a stick to beat the soldiers with, and anyone who declared otherwise was full of pious drivel. What had been served by the gallantry of Percy and Eddie – by their bravery, their hideous deaths? What had been accomplished? They’d been killed by the blunderings of a pack of incompetent and criminal old men who might just as well have cut their throats and heaved them over the side of the SS Caledonian. All the talk of fighting for God and Civilisation made him vomit’.

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood, Pg.96

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