‘Queen of Statue Square: New Short Fiction from Hong Kong’ edited by Marshall Moore and Xu Xi

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‘In Hong Kong, it seemed that no matter where you stood, there were people around, above, and below you. Space was the city’s hottest commodity: an inch of gold for a foot of soil, my dad would say’.

‘The Seventh Year’ by Jenn Chan Lyman in The Queen of Statue Square: New Short Fiction from Hong Kong, Pg.30

I found this collection of stories hidden away in the very commercial Dymocks Bookshop, situated in the ifc mall, Central, and thought it would be only appropriate to try and explore more contemporary ‘Hong Kong’ writers whilst living here. Although I bought a few ‘Hong Kong’ books before I arrived here, last August, I am ashamed to say I haven’t looked at any of them! Anyway, maybe after reading The Queen of Statue Square, I will be more inclined to pick up books written by Hong Kong writers.

What was most interesting about this collection was the ‘Introduction’ written by Marshall Moore and Xu Xi, who wrote The Unwalled City – a book I have yet to read on my to-be-read list. It is always exciting to learn about the reasons behind a specific anthology or collection, particularly when it comes to defining what it means to be from a particular culture or nationality. This definitely comes into acute focus and awareness when talking about what it means to be a ‘Hong-Konger’.

‘So who is a Hong Kong person, then? An important distinction is often lost: even though there is significant overlap between Hong Kong identity and Chinese ethnicity, they are different for reasons of history, culture, and law’.

‘Introduction’ by Marshall Moore in The Queen of Statue Square: New Short Fiction from Hong Kong, Pg.8

Although there are many Chinese influences and traditions upheld in this very international city, Hong Kong has a unique history. With the territory’s previous British colonial rule, Western influences sit side-by-side Chinese tradition. Hong Kong is a melting-pot of cultures and identities, inhabited by Chinese people, Western expats, residents from other Asian countries and domestic workers who are never granted permanent residence. Therefore, issues of identity are not so clear-cut. Additionally, Moore points out that many children, from a young age, are sent overseas for schooling, which adds to the difficulty of defining a ‘Hong Kong person’. Yet despite these difficulties, the theme of ‘identity’ weaves through each short story, even though this was not a criteria of the submissions.

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Shanghai Foreign Languages Bookstore, Fuzhou Lu

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I planned to spend the Easter holidays in Shanghai. Although I was only there for a long weekend, I went out of my way to fit in a bit of book-related tourism. In my research I found that Fuzhou Lu was a great street to find numerous treasures. Full of bookshops and calligraphy shops I was glad I took some time to browse around this street.

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I only went into the Shanghai Foreign Languages Bookstore but was completely unprepared for the sheer amount and quality of English-language books I found there. Not only was the selection great, but the books in China are so much cheaper than in Hong Kong!! I found a brand new edition of George Orwell’s 1984 for 22 Yuan (which is around £2.40) and the average price of books were around £5-6. Though I didn’t buy the Orwell (I already have a copy back in the UK), I did find Shirley Jackson’s short story collection named after the controversial piece, ‘The Lottery’, which I was very pleased with as I have been unable to find a hard-copy in Hong Kong.

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I have already started on The Lottery collection and can tell that I am going to love it even more than We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Jackson is an excellent short-story writer and her tales are dark and engrossing. Just by reading the first few stories on the plane journey home I was hooked.

I also stumbled across a Sherlock Holmes inspired cafe in the French Concession area which made me feel right at home. Named 221B Baker Street, this cafe (perhaps verging on the expensive side, compared to how cheap you can normally get food) served some delicious sandwiches, cakes and Sherlock-inspired coffees and cocktails. I decided on the Moriarty coffee, which consisted of iced-coffee and vanilla ice-cream with a slice of carrot cake which almost rivalled that of Kubrick‘s. This cafe has definitely inspired me to read more of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories as well as re-watch the BBC Sherlock series, which was amazing. Here are a few pictures from the cafe:

Sherlock

‘The Woman Destroyed’ by Simone de Beauvoir

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‘The world seemed to me as fresh and new as it had been in the first ages, and this moment sufficed to itself. I was there, and I was looking at the tiled roofs at our feet, bathed in the moonlight, looking at them for no reason, looking at them for the pleasure of seeing them. There was a piercing charm in this lack of involvement. “That’s the great thing about writing”, I said. “Pictures lose their shape; their colours fade. But words you carry away with you”.

‘The Age of Discretion’ in The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir, Pg.82

Simone de Beauvoir’s collection of three stories in The Woman Destroyed focuses on women who, having passed their youth, are experiencing unexpected crises. Written in three very distinct styles, The Woman Destroyed captures the moment when these women’s lives begin to crumble. Everything they thought they knew suddenly becomes alien to them as they fight to stay afloat in a world that no longer appreciates or is hostile to them.

The first story, ‘The Age of Discretion’, is narrated by an older, married woman who seemingly has everything she could ever wish for. She has a successful career under her belt, a husband who is equally successful, an adoring son, a comfortable home and loving friends. However, in the opening of this story we realise that with age comes great consequences for a woman, in particular. Having been the centre of her husband and son’s life, the narrator is slowly realising her fragile hold on what was once reality.

‘As far as I was concerned life was gradually going to take back everything it had given me: it had already begun to do so’.

‘The Age of Discretion’ in The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir, Pg.74

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March Recap!

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As you can see the month of March still hasn’t brought me any closer to blogging as regularly as I used to. I am slowly trying to make the effort to write everyday (in my draft posts), even if it is only for a short period. I am snatching moments of time to fit in reading and writing – on my lunch breaks and in the evenings after a tiring day of work. Though, recently, my reading pace has haltered as I try and read Simone de Beauvoir’s huge – in physical size and in influence – text, The Second Sex. Although I am enjoying it immensely – de Beauvoir’s intelligence and wit is astounding – I have found myself gathering a long list of secondary reading or research that I feel would help me understand the text more (and I am only 4% into my kindle edition). If anyone has any suggestions of decent ‘philosophy for beginners’-type books I would very much appreciate it! Other than that, March has been a very quiet month. I did however, find a bargain second-hand bookshop last week on Hong Kong Island called Spirit. The prices were so cheap I couldn’t believe it! I bought Charlotte Roche’s bestseller, Wetlands, for $8 Hong Kong Dollars, which works out to be around 60-70p! It took all of my strength to walk away with only the one book!

Currently reading:

  • The Bees by Laline Paull
  • The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
  • Emily Dickinson: The Complete Poems edited by Thomas H. Johnson

Books read in March (and February):

  • The Woman Destroyed by Simone de Beauvoir
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson
  • Queen of Statue Square: New Short Fiction from Hong Kong by Marshall Moore
  • This is my heart, it’s a good heart by B. Wing

Bookshops visited in March (and February):

March in pictures:

March Recap

Looking forward to April!

At the end of this week I will be taking my first step into the ‘mainland’. I will be visiting Shanghai for a nice long weekend over Easter and cannot wait to experience ‘real’ China and see how different it is to Hong Kong. Though I expect a huge city like Shanghai won’t be too much of a culture shock, I intend to spend one day outside of the city to visit one of the ancient water towns (I haven’t decided which one yet). I will also make sure to seek out any book-related tourism (if any). In mid-April I have a whole week off work as my friend from university is coming over. I can’t wait to see a familiar face and show her all the tourist ‘must-see’ sights, as well as the more hidden aspects of Hong Kong that you wouldn’t normally see if you were just on holiday for a week. I plan to take her hiking, sightseeing and, of course, no trip to Hong Kong would be complete without an afternoon at Kubrick browsing books and eating carrot cake (which is how I spent my last Sunday)! I also hope to improve upon the number of blog posts I have been uploading to my blog. It will happen slowly but surely!

‘A Very Easy Death’ by Simone de Beauvoir

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‘The sight of my mother’s nakedness had jarred me. No body existed less for me: none existed more. As a child I had loved it dearly; as an adolescent it had filled me with an uneasy repulsion: all this was perfectly in the ordinary course of things and it seemed reasonable to me that her body should retain its dual nature, that it should be both repugnant and holy – a taboo’.

A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir, Pg.19-20

I went through a Simone de Beauvoir phase back in February (and still am as I slowly make my way through her opus, The Second Sex) where I devoured two of her books back-to-back. She is such a fantastic writer whose pieces of work never fail to amaze me in their variedness and difference.

Published in 1964 – a year after her mother died – A Very Easy Death recounts, in detail, the day-by-day decline of her mother’s illness. Steeped in a tragic sense of realism, de Beauvoir narrates a painful, yet searingly truthful story of her mother’s diagnosis of cancer and subsequent fatality. Including the mundane details of hospital visits, the influx of doctors and nurses that clutter their lives as well as the changing relationship with her mother, de Beauvoir captures and does justice to an area of life that is all too hidden in the ‘sumptuous arrogance of a world in which death had no place’ (78).

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‘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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