THAT LIT, LIT LIFE (with global characteristics) 3 (of 14)

And then you say you will / And then you won’t . . . “Undecided” (1938) by Sid Robin & Charlie Shavers

About itineraries, here’s Robin Hemley’s: He was going to stopover in Hong Kong, and then he wasn’t, and then he was, wasn’t, and finally did because a typhoon swirled in Manila and his flight was postponed. Lit life hazard 101 (with Filipino characteristics).

Ella Fitzgerald at 22 could have been singing about our airwaves:


We caught up at our watering hole on Knutsford Terrace that muggy Monday night. I had just returned from Byron Bay and Robin had just arrived from Iowa City.

Knutsford is this narrow ledge on a hillside in Kowloon. An international food street and club scene. Our bar is Open All Night (literally and figuratively). Robin and I first drank there, if memory serves, in May of 2007 when we taught together for the University of Iowa’s Overseas Writing Workshop, held in Hong Kong & Macau.

Robin and I have also drunk together in Macau, Montpelier (Vermont), Norwich (England), Iowa City, New York City, Chicago, Sacramento, almost in New Delhi, etc. . . . and we likely will again in Melbourne come November. We’re working on upping the places around the globe.

This intersection of personal histories is a curious thing, as is history, given the speed of change for “global characteristics.” Knutsford of today didn’t exist till about twenty years ago. Back then, business was slow; these days it’s packed every night. It used to be a garden slope, accessible from Observatory Road. I remember it as a quiet, residential area where my favorite Hong Kong feminist Roseanne Kao still lives – she was one of the founders of the Hong Kong Council of Women in the mid seventies, a few years after the marriage law changed so that concubinage was no longer legal.

Family Law for the Hong Kong S.A.R. by Athena Liu, Hong Kong University Press, 1999.

Hong Kong trailed China legally on this score, but the practice remains alive and well today.

* * *

Robin and I met in 2002 at the Hong Kong literary festival, founded by the remarkable Jane Camens, an Australian writer & journalist then in Hong Kong who was also ahead of her time. She later founded what is now the Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Association (formerly, AP Writers Partnership).

Meanwhile, Robin’s latest book Reply All, a collection of l-o-l fiction, is a must-read:


As is the British author James Scudamore’s Booker longlisted novel, Heliopolis, set in modern day São Paulo and now available as an E-Book.

Scudamore is a literary descendant of the Anglophone writer in South America. His book will make your mouth water, literally — I recommend it for its amazing food scenes, second only to the admirably captivating language this younger writer has at his command.

But I wouldn’t have met James if not for Robin, because the reason for almost-New Delhi was the writer’s conference we both attended, except Robin came a week earlier and taught a workshop with James . . . and so it goes.

James, by the way, really does know food. I think I’ll follow him to eat around the world, which follows his own global history as one raised in Japan, Brazil, Ecuador, and the UK. He tells me next, maybe India.

* * *

I like writing “this younger writer,”  because it’s something I didn’t get to be in Asia. This crazily lit, lit life is partly about the revenge of the Garuda (more, later). There’s a tradition of the Anglophone writer in South America, Europe and even Asia, but the faces of those writers are almost invariably white. It’s taken time for that center to shift, but it is shifting, and celebrating what I didn’t expect in my lifetime. As I edge towards almost-60, I want to toast those who will keep up this life when I’m gone.

Which brings me to another younger writer, who is Asian, and whom I met on this road. Madeleine Thien and I wandered together round the paths of Ubud in Bali together, and the malls of Hong Kong, and, one day, we’ll hopefully wander the waterfront of Montreal, where she lives. I met her in during the world tour for her debut fiction collection Simple Recipes, stories that stayed with me long after I read them.

In April this year, I had the privilege of moderating a session at the Asia Society featuring her and the Lebanese novelist Rawi Hage, who happens to be Madeleine’s partner. They each spoke about their latest novelsMadeleine’s Dogs at the Perimeter and Rawi’s Cockroach.

They’re an intriguing writer couple, because both are deeply concerned with the injustices and inequities of the worlds they traverse. Each has an exceptionally distinct voice, and both their work commands you as reader to pay attention, because what they have to say really, really matters.

So Madeleine we’ve met. When Rawi Hage won the 2008 IMPAC Dublin for his first book De Niro’s Game, I was struck by this powerful, painful voice. A voice you don’t forget and wish to meet.

And then one day, somewhere in the world, I happened to ask Madeleine, do you by any chance know Rawi Hage I think he lives in Montreal too . . . and the rest is the result of this madcap lit, lit life. World, oyster, et al.

* * *

Next week, drinks with Nigel Collett, founder of the TLG, or the Tongzhi Literary Group. What’s that you ask? Join me up in the clouds of Café Grey where the 51st shade on offer is lit by freedom, not bondage, and maybe I’ll tell you the story of the revenge of the Garuda.

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