By Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Jason Eng Hun Lee

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Author of two poetry collections, Kit Fan (范進傑) was born in 1979 in Hong Kong and currently resides in the UK. His first volume Paper Scissors Stone (Hong Kong University Press, 2011) won the inaugural Hong Kong University (HKU) Poetry Prize, and his second collection As Slow As Possible (Arc, 2018) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2018 and listed in The Guardian’s 50 biggest books of Autumn 2018 and in The Irish Times Best Poetry Books of the Year. Other accolades include being shortlisted for the 2017 TLS Mick Imlah Poetry Prize and The Guardian 4th Estate BAME Short Story Prize consecutively in 2017 and 2018. His novel-in-progress Diamond Hill, about the last shanty town in Hong Kong, received a Northern Writers Award 2018. A regular reviewer for the Poetry Review, Kit’s work traverses between Hong Kong and European cultures and histories, as well as between poetry and fiction.

As part of an ongoing collaborative project entitled ‘Anglophone City Poetics and the Asian Experience’, Kit talks to Tammy Lai-Ming Ho and Jason Eng Hun Lee about his first poetic influences, his migration to the UK as a young writer, his musings on Hong Kong from afar, and his perspectives on the evolving Asian cityscape.

Tammy Ho & Jason Lee: How long have you been writing poetry? Can you list some important moments in your early experiences as a poet?

Kit: I’ve been writing for roughly 18 years. One of my first inspirations came from a commission by Hugh Haughton who challenged me to write a poem about me being brought up by and in a library. Other important moments include: reading Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Crusoe in England’; meeting Christopher Reid who asked me to send my poems out to editors; having my poem ‘Reading Thom Gunn’s Notebooks at Bancroft Library’ published in the Poetry Review (UK).

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The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

It had been forty-two days since the incident. Pulling money out of his body became a daily routine. He had no choice. When he ignored the piece of paper sticking out, the side of his body ached, he became nauseated, forcing him to vomit. And so, every morning, he would lock himself inside the bathroom, turn on the shower, and pull out money from his body.

The first few days were challenging. He told his parents that he had a particularly bad case of the flu. He forced himself to cough hoarsely. When someone entered his bedroom, he hid under the covers, shivering, trying his best to impersonate someone who had the chills. He had hoped that his condition would pass after several days, much like the disease he pretended to have. He went online and searched for anything about humans that made money using their bodies. He found stories and interviews about prostitution. He found porno videos of Asian hookers who specialised in fetishes, from BDSM to peeing on the face of their customers. He found articles and posts about modern day slavery. He found Reddit threads filled with people who desperately hope that they could shit money, fish it out of the toilet, and purchase everything they have ever wanted. However, there was nothing about any medical condition that made a person biologically manufacture actual money. It was unnatural. He was officially a mutant, an aberration, a freak of nature. On his third “sick day,” he decided to just ignore it, like what many teenagers had done once they find something growing on their body.

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Chinese workers in the snow constructing the first American transcontinental railways

In the 1860s, roughly 20,000 Chinese from the Guangdong province were shipped to America to labour at building the transcontinental railways. They came for the lure of gold. However, few of them moved outside their camp or learnt English. They faced a lot of hardships, breaking rocks and living for a pittance. What drove them there? What did they face? 

Author Gordon H. Chang  has uncovered the plight of these workers in his latest book, Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad. Chang is Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities at Stanford University. He has written a number of books on Asian-American history and US–East Asian interactions. 

Washington Independent Review of Books says Chang “ has dedicated himself to speaking for a group that cannot speak for itself, even in absentia. He’s dubbed them the ‘ghosts’ of his title because, while the work they did was about as tangible as it gets, their individual identities have evaporated.

 

Ted Chiang is an American born Chinese writer , a technical writer in a software company, who has never written a novel, meandered through short stories and novellas and yet won multiple awards for his works. His telling centres around science fiction. 

Chiang’s parents migrated from China to Taiwan with their families during the Communist revolution and then to America.

His 1998 novella, Story of my Life, was made into a Hollywood film, Arrival,  in 2002 . Both the review and the movie were given a “10 out of 10” in the Kirkus Review. It’s major themes being language and determinism, the story is spun out by a linguist called Dr Loius Banks who has an unborn child in her womb and faces aliens. The novella has won numerous awards and accolades.

(On Bimal Roy’s 110thBirth Anniversary, Ratnottama Sengupta traces his enduring affair with books.)

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Bimal Roy (12 th July,1909 – 8th January,1966)

 

“Bimal Da and I – particularly I, being a writer – always looked to literature for story, the raw material of cinema.  People can and do write original scripts for the silver screen, but we did not prefer that because it tends to be hurried writing. We preferred to source our films from books because a writer has already worked on an idea, on the character, on the logic of their action, and its final resolution…”

–Nabendu Ghosh(1917-2007) in And They Made Classics…

He was already a recognised name in Bengali literature when Nabendu Ghosh met Bimal Roy, his film guru. Bimal Roy was a voracious reader. The reasons for this were many.

To begin with Bimal Roy, since school days, had been friends with Sudheesh Ghatak, brother of Manish Ghatak who is better known to Bengali readers as Jubanaswa, a radical writer of  the Kallol era introducing modernism, who drew litterateurs like Tarashankar Bandopadhyay (1898-1971) to his house. The entire family had the gift of story-telling — and not only the eldest brother but also his daughter Mahasweta Devi (1926-2016) and his youngest brother Ritwik Ghatak (1925-1976). Even Sudheesh Ghatak has won accolades for this art.

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Poster of Tagore’s Natir Puja from NT

Eventually, Bimal Roy’s penchant for photography took him to New Theatres (NT) which had, since its inception, transcreated the major novels and stories of writers like Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra and Sarat Chandra. In fact NT produced not only Tagore’s own Natir Puja (The Dancer’s Prayer, 1932) but also the comedy, Chirakumar Sabha (Bachelor’s Conference, 1932) and Arghya (Offerings, 1937), besides Kapal Kundala (Bankim Chandra, 1933), Dena Paona (Give and Take, 1931), Palli Samaj (Rural Society, 1932), Grihadaaha (House on Fire, 1936), Devdas (1936), Bardidi (Elder Sister, 1939), Kashinath (1943), Biraj Bou (Biraj the Wife, 1946), and Ramer Sumati (The Redemption of Ram, 1947) — all from Sarat Chandra stories.

Book Review by Mitali Chakravarty

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Title: Billionaire Raj

Author: James Crabtree

Publisher: One World, 2018

Billionaire Raj by the former Financial Times Bureau chief in India, James Crabtree,  is a journalistic assessment of not only how the British Raj in India has been replaced by entrepreneurs and politicians who work symbiotically to create a close nexus of exclusive crony capitalism but also gives an optimistic outlook for the future… with a few strings attached.

The book comes across as a series of clear well-researched articles strung together thematically in logical order. From British Raj, India moved to ‘License Raj’, where a license was needed to start any venture. Once that was lifted, the age of billionaires sets in. He has compared this period to the Gilded Age of American history, an era in the nineteenth century of robber barons and rich bankers, just after the American Civil War.

Crabtree plunges in with stories of people he calls ‘Bollygarchs’, a new term which has evolved to define billionaire-entrepreneurs with Russian oligarchic tendencies like, Vijaya Mallya, Ambani and Adnani and more. The best way to understand the Bollygarchs is perhaps to imagine the flashy Bollywood culture (like that seen in the Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham) brought to life.

“When, years later I myself became a writer and was asked, ‘Are you a Haitian writer, a Caribbean writer or a Francophone writer?’I would always answer that I took the nationality of my reader, which means that when a Japanese reader reads my books, I immediately became a Japanese writer,” said Haitian-Canadian writer Dany Laferriere in his novel I Am a Japanese Writer (2008), which was originally written in French and then translated to English.

These words were used by Teju Cole, the first Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard, to illustrate how translations bond readers and authors. Translated works transcend the barriers of language and ethos as long as they touch the human heart. By touching deep emotions they create bonds and links to mankind. He talks of how lives are lost over refugee crisis and borders and says “literature can save a life”.

Brought up between US and Nigeria, Cole developed broad world views. Cole’s forte are novels and essays, including the much acclaimed Open City (2011) which was named ‘Best Book’ in more than twenty end-of-the year lists, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Economist , Newsweek/The Daily Beast, Kirkus Reviews. It was also named a New York Times Notable Book —  one of the ten top novels of the year by both Time and National Public Radio (USA).

 

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19th century Mongolian sutra manuscript…Wikimedia commons

China has for the first time compiled Mongolian literature, including incantations, from the province of Inner Mongolia, spanning the last eight hundred years.

Eight hundred year ago, the Mongolians had invaded large parts of the world and Kublai Khan,  grandson of the conquerer Genghis Khan  had established the Yuan dynasty which not only popularised the paper currency yuan (that is what Chinese currency is still called though renminbi does replace it within China often), but also hosted  Marco Polo, the first European who left written accounts  of China.

The Mongolians founded the Yuan dynasty and ruled for nearly a century. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem Xanadu immortalised the Yuan dynasty reign in verse in the nineteenth century.

TBASS

We studied the extensive menu, which listed both international as well as local cuisine. Joe and I were fast decision makers when it came to selecting our dishes. Joe settled on rice with Crispy Catfish in Chili Paste and a side order of the ubiquitous tangy Green Mango Salad to share, while I chose rice with Red Curry of Roasted Duck, a dish Joe had suggested after describing it as a bracing Thai classic combining tender roasted duck with a perfect blend of spices, coconut milk, and pineapple. The food arrived within ten minutes of ordering, and was excellent in both presentation and taste. My duck curry surpassed Joe’s mouth-watering description. I complimented Joe on his recommendation. His quiet response was “I’m happy you liked the duck.”

Food aside, what do you talk about with a charming Thai man whom you have just met on his home turf? A lot, apparently. I told Joe about my job, and he pressed me to tell him more about the documentaries I had shot from Singapore to Bangkok. As I had at least a dozen documentaries under my belt in Singapore but only one in Bangkok, I gave Joe capsule highlights of my work. He seemed impressed. It was now Joe’s turn to talk about himself. His voice was even and fluid as he told me about his student days majoring in