Cha – Call for Submissions – Fifth Anniversary Issue (December 2012)

[click image to enlarge]

due out in December 2012.
Cha: An Asian Literary Journal is now calling for submissions for its Fifth Anniversary Issue (Issue # 19).

Please send in (preferably Asian-themed) poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, reviews, photography & art for consideration. Submission guidelines can be found here. Deadline: 15 September, 2012.

Cha Associate Editors Arthur Leung (poetry) and Royston Tester (prose) will act as guest editors and read the submissions with co-editors Tammy Ho and Jeff Zroback. The issue will include the winning stories of our first flash fiction contest (open for submissions until 15 July) as well as a special feature on Hong Kong poetry, curated by Tammy. Please contact Reviews Editor Eddie Tay at if you want to review a book or have a book reviewed in the journal.

If you have any questions, please feel free to write to any of the Cha staff at
— , 

World Voices: Eddie Tay | 11 August 2011

Is there space for poetry in the mental life of people in Singapore and Hong Kong? How does one survive and thrive in these two ultra-modern, pragmatic and cosmopolitan cities and stay true to one’s artistic calling? How does one balance the contemplative, aesthetic and hermit- like endeavours of a poet with globalised Asian environments that celebrate business, busy-ness, and wi-fi connections?
For the August edition of World Voices, HK-based poet, literature professor and reviews editor Eddie Tay will be reading from his recent poetry collection, The Mental Life of Cities, and talking about how he draws inspiration from urban life in these two frenetic Asian cities. 
About Eddie Tay

Eddie Tay grew up in Singapore and has been living in Hong Kong for the past eight years. As a poet, literature professor, researcher, and reviews editor of an online literary journal, he has come to see poetry (and literature) not just as words on a page, but as social and aesthetic impulses working their way through local and global communities.

Eddie Tay is the author of three poetry collections, Remnants, A Lover’s Soliloquy, and most recently, The Mental Life of Cities. The first two collections consist of free translations of Tang Dynasty poetry as well as original poems, while his most recent collection which features bilingual poems is inspired by how English and Chinese intertwine and take root in the modern Asian cities of Singapore and Hong Kong. Colony, Nation and Globalisation: Not at Home in Singaporean and Malaysian Literature, his study of colonial and contemporary literature of Singapore and Malaysia, was published this year.

Tay teaches children’s literature and the reading and writing of poetry at the Department of English, Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is a member of the Poetry OutLoud collective based in HK. He was a featured poet at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival 2011. He is also serving as Reviews Editor at the online journal, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.


Cha contributors in Asiatic

The June 2011 issue of Asiatic is now live and we are very glad to see Cha‘s Reviews Editor Eddie Tay featured prominently in the edition. His latest poetry collection Mental Life of Cities is reviewed by Phillip Holden [pdf] whilst his academic work Colony, Nation, and Globalisation: Not at Home in Singaporean and Malaysian Literature is reviewed by Bernard Wilson [pdf].
Eddie also has five new poems published in the issue. Each poem is accompanied by a photograph by the poet himself. The poems are: “end of tunnel”, “stations of the cross”, “modern concrete”, “glass city’ and “fence”. Read them here [pdf].

The issue also includes Kirpal Singh’s review of Rabindranath Tagore’s Selected Short Stories (trans. Mohammad A. Quayum). Read the article here [pdf].

  • Read Eddie Tay’s Cha profile.
  • Philip Holden’s fiction was published in Issue #4 of Cha.
  • Kirpal Singh contributed a review to Issue #9 of Cha.

Ways of walking through a wood

Re-reading Eddie’s poem “Whose Woods These Are”, I am reminded of what Umberto Eco says in Six Walks in the Fictional Woods:1

There are two ways of walking through a wood. The first is to try one or several routes (so as to get out of the wood as fast as possible, say, or to reach the house of grandmother, Tom Thumb, or Hansel and Gretel); the second is to walk so as to discover what the wood is like and find out why some paths are accessible and others are not. (p. 27)

Eco is not only talking about woods. He is comparing walking through a wood to going through a narrative text. There is a model reader of the first level: he or she wants to know how the story ends; but there is also a model reader of the second level, whose intention you can guess.

Eco might have picked up this metaphor from Frost, who we all know applied walking in a wood to life. Which kind of walker are you?

Both illustrations above are by Gustave Doré: the first depicts a scene from Red Riding Hood and the second, Divine Comedy — “Dante in the Dusky Woods”.

Speaking of Red Riding Hood, Eco mentions an ‘alchemical interpretation’ of it:

[A]n Italian scholar has tried to prove that the fable refers to the process of extracting and treating minerals. Translating the fable into chemical formulas, he has identified Little Red Riding Hood as cinnabar, an artificial mercury sulfide which is as red as her hood is supposed to be. Thus, within herself, the child contains mercury in its pure state, which has to be separated from the sulphur. […] The wolf stands for mercurous chloride, otherwise known as calomel (which means “beautiful black” in Greek). The stomach of the wolf is the alchemist’s oven in which the cinnabar is transformed into mercury. (pp. 91-92)

However, Eco points out a flaw in this theory, which was identified by Valentina Pisanty. Why is Red Riding Hood still wearing a red hood instead of silver hood when she comes out of the beast’s belly?

1Eliot’s collection of essays, published in 1922, was titled The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism.

Poetry Jam | Hong Kong International Literary Festival | Friday 11 March

Poetry doesn’t get better than this!

“Visiting and local poets read their own and others’ work in a sticky, noisy and unpredictable mix, ring-mistressed by Viki Holmes. Ticket price includes a $30 drinks voucher redeemable at the door.”

Friday, 11 March 2011
Poetry Jam

19:30 – 21:30
Fringe Club
This Friday, if you are in Hong Kong, you should attend Poetry Jam, an evening of poetry organised by Poetry OutLoud Hong Kong, hosted by Viki Holmes. The event is part of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival 2011. Eight Cha contributors will be reading — click the images below to read their works in Cha.

Other participating poets include Akin Jeje, Gillian Bickley, Jason Polley, Nashua Gallagher, and more. 

Cha contributors in The Hong Kong International Literary Festival 2011

Cha contributors Martin Alexander, Andy Barker, Viki Holmes, Wena Poon, Xu Xi, Louise Ho, Leung Ping-Kwan and our Reviews Editor Eddie Tay will be appearing in The Hong Kong International Literary Festival 2011 (8-18 March). More details can be found here.

Sapling interviews Eddie Tay

Eddie Tay, Reviews Editor of Cha, is interviewed by Sapling, a weekly newsletter about the world of independent publishing published by Black Lawrence Press. Each issue of Sapling is packed with useful information including

a literary contest currently accepting submissions; a profile of a literary journal or magazine; a profile of an independent press; an interview with a writer or editor (topics range from how to craft a convincing pitch to whether an MFA is integral to becoming an established author); a Q&A, where BLP editors will answer questions submitted by readers (recent example: What should poets look for in a contract?); and a closing note featuring the successes of our subscribers. 

You can subscribe to Sapling here.

In Eddie’s interview (see below — courtesy of Sapling), he talks about what he looks for in book reviews, the Hong Kong literary scene, A Cup of Fine Tea, his opinion on ‘real Asia’, the important thing about Cha for him, his different roles as reviews editor, events organizer, academic and poet, and lastly, the books that impressed him in 2010. 

Cha’s Ode to Hong Kong

[Click the images to enlarge.]
From Issue 1 [Link]

From Issue 1 [Link]

From Issue 1 [Read the entire poem]

From Issue 2 [Read the entire poem]

From Issue 3 [Read the entire poem]
 From Issue 9 [Read the entire poem]

From Issue 12 [Read the entire poem] [The poem is discussed here]
When I go back to Hong Kong, I wish to campaign for putting poetry, both Chinese and English, in public transport. Larger versions of these images for non-commercial purposes can be obtained from Cha editors for free. Please contact

Eddie Tay reads at Kubrick, Sunday 26 December 2010

From the Kubrick Poetry website:

時間 Time:2010/12/26 (Sun) 5:00pm-6:00pm

地點 Venue: 油麻地 Kubrick (next to Broadway Cinemathèque, 3 Public Square St.)

主持 Moderators:Polly Ho, Adam Cheung, Florence Ng, Wong Wai Yim

詩人來賓 Guest Poet:Eddie Tay

Born in Singapore, Eddie Tay is a long time resident of Hong Kong. He is an assistant professor at the Department of English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he teaches courses on creative writing, children literature and poetry. Tay is the reviews editor at Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.

Recently, he published his third poetry collection, The Mental Life of Cities. The collection is “a meditation on the modern city and creative life” and the poems are inspired by “the ways in which the English and the Chinese languages intertwine and take root in the Asian cities of Hong Kong and Singapore”. He has authored two collections of poetry: Remnants and A Lover’s Soliloquy.

You are welcome to bring your own work to share, as always.


Eddie Tay’s Colony, Nation, and Globalisation

Colony, Nation, and Globalisation: Not at Home in Singaporean and Malaysian Literature by Eddie Tay
Description and Author
The literature of Malaysia and Singapore, the multicultural epicenter of Asia, offers a rich body of source material for appreciating the intellectual heritage of colonial and postcolonial Southeast Asia. Focusing on themes of home and belong, Eddie Tay illuminates many aspects of identity anxiety experienced in the region, and helps construct a dialogue between postcolonial theory and the Anglophone literatures of Singapore and Malaysia. A chronologically ordered selection of texts is examined, including Swettenham, Bird, Maugham, Burgess, and Thumboo. The genealogy of works includes travel writings and sketches as well as contemporary diasporic novels by Malaysian and Singapore-born authors based outside their countries of origin. The premise is that home is a physical space as well as a symbolic terrain invested with social, political and cultural meanings. As discussions of politics and history argument close readings of literary works, the book should appeal not only to scholars of literature, but also to scholars of Southeast Asian politics and history.
Eddie Tay is an assistant professor at the Department of English, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is also the author of three collections of poetry.
“With this book, Eddie Tay makes a dynamic contribution to a new generation of scholarship on Malaysian, Singaporean and, indeed, historical Malayan literature and culture that is driven by the problem of history, cultural identity and subjectivity that ties colonial history and experiences to ‘globalised’ present. His focus on the literary renditions of home, the unhomely and freedom is vivid and creates a study that will be of interest to readers in the humanities concerned with the questions of the ambiguities of national and postcolonial identity.” – C.J.W.-L. Wee, Associate Professor of English, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; author of Culture, Empire, and the Question of Being Modern and The Asian Modern: Culture, Capitalist Development, Singapore

Read Eddie Tay’s Cha profile.

Lantern Review reviews Eddie Tay’s The Mental Life of Cities

Henry W. Leung, reviewer for Lantern Review, has written a review of Eddie Tay’s latest collection of poetry The Mental Life of Cities. You can read the review here. Henry also wrote a review of the current edition of Cha (Issue #12)
You might also be interested in the following discussions of works from Eddie’s book:
  • A Cup of Fine Tea: Eddie Tay’s “Night Thoughts” [Link].
  • A Cup of Fine Tea: Eddie Tay’s “Country” [Link].
  • A Cup of Fine Tea: Eddie Tay’s “Cities’  [Link].


Henry W. Leung, reviewer for Lantern Review, has written an extensive review of the current edition of Cha (Issue #12); the review is now available on the LR blog.

Henry emphasises, among other things, the Asian-themed poetry (‘Most of the poems in this issue fit the “Asian” label easily enough[.]’) and the translations (‘I laud Cha for being international and diglossic, because the presence—or shadow—of other languages encourages us to confront our own more objectively.’) in the issue as well as our critique column, A Cup of Fine Tea:

If you followed the links to these poems, you’ll know that many are paired with commentary or reviews in the correlating blog, A Cup of Fine Tea, emphasizing the dialogue that small-press literary journals are intended to be.

In the review, works by Annie Zaidi, Clara Hsu, Eddie Tay, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Helle Annette Slutz, Kim-An Lieberman, Marco Yan, Inara Cedrins and Peters Bruveris, Phill Provance, Steven Schroeder and W.F. Lantry are discussed, some very favourably. 

Henry also poses an important question to Cha editors in his review: as an Asian journal, should we be more aware of publishing pieces that fit the “Asian” label? Of course, “Asian” can be roughly interpreted at least two ways: 1) Asian-themed works and 2) works by Asian writers/artists. However, in his discussion, Henry suggests that content comes before authors’ racial make up or current location, as he points out that Annie’s and Marco’s poems, “Diaphragm” and “Remembrance” respectively, ‘don’t immediately fit any distinct cultural categories’, despite the fact that Annie is from Mumbai and Marco lives in Hong Kong. Henry reminds us, then, that a piece of work by an Asian-born or Asian-based writer does not by default make it “Asian”. I agree there is a distinction.

The discussion of “Asian-ness” reminded me of Jeff‘s editorial written for the second anniversary issue of Cha (Issue #9), in which he contemplates on the notion of “Asian writing community” in today’s globalised world:

I also had no sense of the diversity of the Asian writing community. When we began, I assumed that Asian writers were those found on the continent, locals, maybe a handful of expats. I have come to realise that this definition was far too narrow—that in a globalised world the idea of Asian writing must be more inclusive and fluid, must encompass the perspectives of writers from the diasporas, travellers to the region, even people with an interest in the continent. Asia it turns out is everywhere. All you have to do is open your doors. How else can one run a Hong-Kong based journal from a house in London?

Admittedly, the passage above does not cover works by ‘foreigners’ that are not in any way thematically relevant to Asia — a concern raised by Henry in his review of Cha. Looking through the journal’s archive, I can say that the prose pieces are all Asian-related while in other categories we have not been as strict. For example, in our selection of poetry, “Asian” is far from the first criteria that we use to judge a piece. Why is that? Henry has drawn our attention to a point that we will certainly be thinking some more. What are people’s thoughts on this?

Thank you, Henry and Lantern Review, for reading Cha so attentively and sharing your thoughts with us!

Also read “Cha A Literary Review Debate”

Launch of Eddie Tay’s The Mental Life of Cities at Poetry OutLoud

Venue: Fringe Club
Date: 3 Nov 2010 (Wed)
Time: 8pm
Akin Jeje will MC – if you’d like to read in the open mic section, please email us at

About The Mental Life of Cities
This collection is a meditation on the modern city and the creative life. The bilingual poems featured here are inspired by the ways in which the English and the Chinese languages intertwine and take root in the Asian cities of Hong Kong and Singapore.
Such a thick forest of words
we’re passing through –
is it possible to read from cover to cover?
The leaves are trembling in these hands,
waiting for a city to happen.
Born in Singapore, Eddie Tay is a long time resident of Hong Kong. He is an assistant professor at the Department of English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he teaches courses on creative writing and poetry. He is also the reviews editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, an online journal based in Hong Kong. This is his third collection of poetry.
Praise for Tay’s previous work:
One finds … many powerful and surprising effects …”
—Wong Phui Nam in The Straits Times, Singapore
… his poems are economical, full of evocative detail, and both ironic
and impassioned at one and the same time. I read them over and over
again.” —Bradley Winterton in The Taipei Times
… a balance of definition and lyricism.”

2011 Pushcart Nominations – Cha: An Asian Literary Journal

We are very pleased to announce Cha‘s nominations for the Pushcart Prize 2011. The sixth nominee was selected based on readers’ voting through email and on this blog

1) Eddie Tay, “Night Thoughts” Read an analysis of this poem. (Issue #12, September 2010)
2) Phill Provance, “St. Petersburg Has Many Churches” Read an analysis of this poem. (Issue #12, September 2010)
3) Rosanna Oh, “Etude” (issue #11, May 2010)
4) Anuradha Vijayakrishnan, “Suicide Note” Read an analysis of this poem. (issue #10, February 2010)
5) Papa Osumbal, “A Bum’s Demise” Read an analysis of this poem. (issue #10, February 2010)
6) Rumjhum Biswas, “Bones Read an analysis of this poem. (issue #12, September 2010)
Also see our Best of the Web, Best of the Net and Micro Award nominations this year.
Congratulations to all the nominees. We wish you the best of luck and thank you for letting us publish your wonderful work.

    Eddie Tay’s The Mental Life of Cities

    This post was originally posted on 22nd October, 2010. 

    click image to enlarge
    We are very pleased and proud to announce that our Reviews Editor Eddie Tay, who is also a professor teaching creative writing and poetry at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has just published his third full-length collection of poetry, The Mental Life of Cities (Chameleon Press). The collection is “a meditation on the modern city and creative life” and the poems are inspired by “the ways in which the English and the Chinese languages intertwine and take root in the Asian cities of Hong Kong and Singapore”.  
    Four poems from the collection: “Night Thoughts”, “Country”, “White Pages” and “Cities” appear in the current issue of Cha; “Night Thoughts” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize 2010.

    If you would like to receive a review copy of The Mental Life of Cities, please also write to Tammy.


    Eddie has very generously agreed to give away ONE SIGNED COPY of The Mental Life of Cities to a Cha reader. To get this special copy, please:

    1) Send an email to Tammy Ho [] with the subject line “The Mental Life of Cities”.
    2) In the body of the email, answer the following question: Cha is which city’s first online English literary journal?

    As simple as that! We will randomly choose someone from the pool of people who have written us. Deadline is Sunday 7 November, 2010. The selected reader will receive an email from us on the following day.

    Cha: An Asian Literary Journal – Call for Submissions

    DEADLINE: 15 December, 2010. Midnight, wherever you are.

    Cha: An Asian Literary Journal is now calling for submissions for its February 2011 issue (Issue 13). Please send in (preferably Asian-themed) poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, reviews, photography & art for consideration. Submission guidelines can be found here. Deadline: 15 December, 2010.

    Cha consulting editor Reid Mitchell (prose) and award-winning poet Arthur Leung (poetry) will act as guest editors and read the submissions with co-editors Tammy Ho and Jeff Zroback. Please contact Reviews Editor Eddie Tay at if you want to review a book or have a book reviewed in the journal.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to write to any of the Cha staff at

    CHA’s Pushcart Nominations 2011

    Each nominee will receive a handmade dragonfly card from Cha. The cards are made by a former contributor.

    *Voting is now closed. 

    Cha co-editors Tammy Ho & Jeff Zroback will nominate the following poems for the Pushcart Prize 2010. There is one more slot: we have several pieces in mind but would love to know your thoughts. Which piece from issue 10, issue 11 and issue 12 of the journal do you recommend?

    Leave us a comment below or send your suggestions to editorsATasianchaDOTcom (Subject line: “Pushcart”) if you prefer anonymity. If possible, please explain briefly why you liked a particular piece. We will consider your input when deciding the sixth nominee. We intend to post the nominations 1st November 2010.

    Last year, we faced the same problem and in the end only nominated five poems (see the nominees here). You can help us this time.
    Congratulations to all the nominees. We wish you the best of luck and thank you for letting us publish your wonderful work.


      Meet Eddie Tay

      Eddie Tay is the Reviews Editor of Cha and has previously contributed poetry (“Whose Woods These Are”) and reviews to the journal. In the September 2010 issue, we are very delighted to have the opportunity to feature four poems from his third poetry collection, Mental Life of Cities, forthcoming in late 2010 or early 2011. You will like these poems: the play of light and memory in “Night Thoughts”; the merging of book, body, and longing in “White Pages”; the intense and vulnerable revelations of the persona in “Country”; and the haunting meditation on city life in “Cities”.
      Bio: Born in Singapore, Eddie Tay is a long time resident of Hong Kong. He is an assistant professor at the Department of English at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he teaches courses on creative writing and poetry.

      Essays by Children’s Picture Book Authors

      Clockwise from the top left:
      Sarah Brennan,
      Adeline Foo, Margaret Lim and Emily Lim.

      In the September 2010 issue of Cha, we will be publishing essays by four children’s picture book authors: Sarah Brennan, Adeline Foo, Emily Lim and Margaret Lim. These essays are curated by our Reviews Editor, Eddie Tay, who is a professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, teaching poetry and children’s literature in the English Department.

      Poetry OutLoud – 1st September 2010

      Come to Poetry OutLoud!!!
      First Wednesday of the Month
      at 8pm at Fringe Studio, Hong Kong Fringe Club
      Next session is on the 1st of September 2010
      The MC is Eddie Tay
      If you would like to read, please contact us very soon at the address below.
      Go to the OutLoud blog page for full details!
      Poetry OutLoud meets on the first Wednesday of every month at 8pm – usually at the fringe Club, though the Fringe Club may be undergoing renovations, so please check emials for changes of venue!
      Write to PoetryOutloud@GMail.Com if you’d like to read, MC an event, or be added to the mailing list.
      Click on the link for further details:

      Eddie Tay is Reviews Editor of Cha.

      June 2010 Issue of Asiatic Journal is launched

      The June 2010 issue of Asiatic is now live. Read Eddie Tay’s review of Writing Singapore: An Historical Anthology of Singapore Literature pdf, Agnes Lam’s review of Tumasik: Contemporary Writing from Singapore pdf (edited by Alvin Pang), and a review of Double Skin: New Poetic Voices from Italy and Singapore pdf (edited by Alvin Pang and Tiziano Fratus). Also featured in the issue is poetry by Christopher Kelen pdf.
      • Eddie Tay is Reviews Editor of Cha.
      • Anges Lam’s poetry has been published in issue #2 of Cha.
      • Alvin Pang has had three poems published in issue#2 of Cha.
      • Tiziano Fratus’s poetry has been published in issue #5 of Cha.
      • Christopher (Kit) Kelen’s poetry has been published in issue #1 of Cha.


      Please note that we are no longer accepting submissions for “The China Issue”. We are, however, accepting works for the Fourth Anniversary Issue. See here.

      [Read the Chinese versions here or download the English call PDF here.]

      Cha: An Asian Literary Journal is now accepting submissions for “The China Issue”, an edition of the journal devoted exclusively to work from and about contemporary China. The issue, which will be published in June/July 2011, will feature poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, scholarly works and visual art exploring the modern Middle Kingdom. We are looking for submissions from a wide range of Chinese and international voices on the social, political and cultural forces which are shaping the country. If you have something interesting, opinionated or fresh to say about China today, we would like to hear from you. Please note that we can only accept submissions in English.

      We are pleased to announce that Cha former contributor, distinguished Chinese scholar and poet Yibing Huang will be joining Cha as guest editor for the issue (see his biography below) and read the submissions with co-editors Tammy Ho and Jeff Zroback. Huang has graciously agreed to lend us his extensive knowledge of Chinese literature and keen critical eye to help us select the pieces and shape the issue.

      The Reviews section will be devoted exclusively to books related to China. If you have a recent book that you think would be right for review in “The China Issue”, we encourage you to contact our Reviews Editor Eddie Tay at Books should be sent to Eddie before the end of March 2011.

      If you would like to have work considered for “The China Issue”, please submit by email to by 15th April, 2011. Please include “The China Issue” in the subject line of the email or your work will automatically be considered for one of the regular issues. Submissions to the issue should conform to our guidelines.

      YIBING HUANG (pen-name: Mai Mang) was born in Changde, Hunan, China and inherited Tujia ethnic minority blood from his mother. After receiving his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in Chinese Literature from Beijing University, he moved to the U.S. in 1993. He holds a second Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Los Angeles. Huang’s poetry has been published in China since the 1980s and can be found in many anthologies. As a “blindist,” he is the author of two books of poetry: Stone Turtle: Poems 1987-2000 (2005) and Approaching Blindness (2005). Most recently, he published Contemporary Chinese Literature: From the Cultural Revolution to the Future (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), a book that presents case studies of the generation of Chinese writers which spent its formative years during the Cultural Revolution and focuses on this generation’s identity shift from “orphans of history” to “cultural bastards.” A traveler in the world who has given poetry readings in China and in the U.S., Huang is currently an associate professor of Chinese at Connecticut College.
      Call also posted/mentioned in the following places:
      • Asian Australian Studies Research Network [link]
      • Asia-Pacific Writing Partnership [link]
      • Asia Writes [link]
      • Canadian Arts Connect [link]
      • China Daily [link]
      • China English [link]
      • Chinalyst: English Language China blogs [link]
      • Co-Views [link]
      • Crg Hill’s poetry scorecard [link]
      • Drunken Boat [link, link]
      • Duotrope’s Digest [link]
      • English Department, University of Pennsylvania [link]
      • Hong Kong Writers’ Circle, The [link]
      • Hot Stuff [link]
      • Jennifer Hossman’s eLearning for Writers [link]
      • just a moment [link]
      • Lantern Review Blog [link]
      • Listen and Be Heard Network Arts News [link]
      • New Pages (posted on July 10) [link]
      • New Zealand Poetry Society [link]
      • Northern Territory Writers’ Centre, The [link]
      • On The Other Side of the Eye [link]
      • Paper Republic: Chinese Literature in Translation [link]
      • Places for writers [link
      • POETICS Digest – 5 Jul 2010 to 6 Jul 2010 (#2010-157)
      • Rutgers-Newark MFA: Blog [link]
      • Simon Fraser University [link]
      • Toad Press [link]

      ASIAN CHA Issue#8 Editorial

      The current issue of Cha features a review of Todd Swift’s latest poetry collection, Seaway: New and Selected Poetry. One of the poems in the book, “Kanada Post”, offers this meditation on the expatriate experience.

      I remember some other life as if it’s mine.
      My country has become a stamp, weather,
      And what my mother says, over the phone.

      As all the editors of Cha currently find themselves living outside of their home countries, we thought it may be interesting if we each wrote our individual responses to Swift’s lines. Below you will find these responses. You are also welcome to post your own responses on here.

      I have been thinking about home a lot over the last few weeks. I guess you tend to do this when you are travelling, and the idea of home is necessarily fluid. Every few days you are faced with the prospect of finding a new place to lay your backpack (an undersized tent, an antiseptic hostel, the bed and breakfast with the dictatorial landlady), learning new streets, and locating a restaurant at 10 o’clock at night. And then after two weeks and a string of temporary domiciles, you return to your actual home—although if you are an expat, return to your place of residence is more like it. Even in your own house, you discover the idea of home is fluid.

      Stepping off the train last week at St Pancras station, being enveloped by London’s familiar unfamiliarity, I felt the ambiguity of home very strongly. I found a strange comfort in the scheduled tube station closures and obscene ticket prices, but I was still new enough to the city to be surprised by them. And I recalled similar experiences I had had while living elsewhere. Once while teaching in Korea, I had taken a ferry from Pusan to Fukoka in Japan for a brief trip. Despite having a perfectly fine time on my vacation, I was inexplicably relieved when I had set foot on the ferry back to the Hermit Kingdom; I almost enjoyed being rudely shoved by middle-aged Korean women, was at ease among men draining soju bottles. Boisterous Korea seemed much more like home than ordered Japan. But of course it wasn’t home; no one will ever confuse the Republic of Korea with Canada.

      Perhaps it was because I was consumed by these thoughts that I was so taken by the quote by Swift, a fellow Canadian: “I remember some other life as if it’s mine. / My country has become a stamp, weather, / And what my mother says, over the phone.” I think that these lines offer some of the most concise and insightful I have read on the expat experience. Perhaps as a Canadian myself, his lines struck me particularly hard: there have been times that I too felt that the second largest country in the world had been reduced to a postage stamp, remembered Canada’s climate only through discussions of unseasonal weather with my mother. But the power of Swift’s words lies in their universality, as much as their Canadianess. I am sure they would resonate with expatriates from anywhere. They certainly did with my co-editor.

      She seemed to experience the poem in a different way than I did. As someone who has been an expat for a number of years, I share the slight resignation in Swift’s tone, a sense that this disconnection from his homeland has become a matter of fact, the normal order of things. But my co-editor, who has been living abroad for a much shorter time, appeared to feel his words more directly, more poignantly. Although in the form of a shipping invoice instead of a postage stamp, her city’s post mark was very tangible; it decorated the box she received from home just last week.

      Last week, I received a parcel from my family in Hong Kong. It is the fourth they have sent me; and it is the biggest by far. The contents were nothing extravagant: some snacks, Chinese noodles, dresses, stockings, letters, pencils. Really, it was just an assortment of items my family could easily afford to lose in the post. But I would have been devastated if they had been lost. I was overjoyed for days after the box arrived. They have not forgotten me, I thought.

      Although I have only been living in London for about a year, to my consternation I have started to slowly disremember life in Hong Kong. I am now used to the inconvenience of the public transport here, even expect it. I cannot recall exactly the taste of curry fish balls from street stalls. I wonder if my old bunk bed in my parents’ home still smells the same: of mothballs, of ancient stuffed animals. Perhaps they have stored junk on it: broken electrical appliances, redundant pillows. Where did I hide my old notebooks?
      This brings me back to Todd Swift’s lines “My country has become a stamp, weather, / And what my mother says, over the phone.” However, there were no actual stamps on the parcels and I do not talk to my mom over the phone (we use MSN messenger). But there is weather, drastically different from that of London. I love to hear news of Hong Kong’s sticky summer. Has this all become “some other life”, as Swift says in his poem?

      When I first arrived several years ago, I thought I would never get used to Hong Kong, with all those pushy elbows and shoulders in the MTR. And what kind of abbreviation is “MTR” anyway? I kept thinking that the “R” had been misplaced. In Singapore, the subway is called the MRT.

      Yet my five-year-old son enjoys riding on minibuses (which are ubiquitous in Hong Kong) and the MTR. He doesn’t talk about the MRT the way he used to, and he’s picking up Cantonese. My daughter is coming into the world at the end of this month. She will, in all likelihood, spend her formative years in Hong Kong as well.

      I am beginning to think that Singapore and Hong Kong are to me what Hong Kong and Singapore will be to my children. They might grow up thinking that the MRT in Singapore is the subway with its “R” misplaced.

      What is a migrant qualified to say? It’s an anxiety that besets many the creative person too, those who have up-anchored (up-ended?) and found another country…or a series of them. Where, in fact, is home—and does it even matter? This summer in Beijing—a city I have come to adopt— midway through a short story, “Fatty Goes To China”, I came to an abrupt and frustrating halt. Writer’s block, homesickness, midlife crisis: these are not concepts I believe in. There is always something going on beneath the surface. You learn a wily stoicism.
      I needed a pilgrimage. On a sultry July morning, I trekked across this city to the National Library of China where I found, miraculously, an English copy of Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners. Here was a quirky, “grotesque” American author who never strayed far from her mother and the peacocks of her rural Georgia home. A writer’s country, she said, is “the region that most immediately surrounds him…with its body of manners, that he knows well enough to employ.”

      How well do we know where we are? This, I think, is Todd Swift’s question too. With terror that I might know nothing of Beijing, let alone China, I rather blindly drifted into the woodland behind the imposing library and came upon a lake and adjacent fishing pond. Several days later—”Fatty” sputtering still—I cashed in my hundred yuan library card and, with a Chinese friend and angler, returned to the tree-encircled watering hole. We sat there, like ducks, for hours in the torpid heat contemplating an unbobbing float, retrieving bare hook after bare hook—such a mysterious disappearing bait! Two elderly passersby—a husband and wife, serious fishermen both—had a go and fared no better.

      After an entire afternoon (and between humorous exchanges with our new friends) Lei once again idly, resignedly, pulled in the line. This time to discover a tiny fish wriggling, but hooked in its belly rather than lip. Meandering past, no doubt. We looked at one another in astonishment: the behooked, Lei and I, those elderly passersby. Couldn’t we even fish properly? How we laughed. For his part, our tiddler chuckled off the barb and swam away. Catch of the day, at the back of the National Library of China.

      As Todd Swift puts it, us migrants, travellers, may have only stamps, weather and, if we’re lucky, mother calls…as passports. We may have Rilke in our ears, “this is the way we live, forever leaving”. Yet somewhere between a fish hook in the gut and wisdom from some peacock-ruffled spinster in Georgia, there lies a country as home as it is frightening, seductive and unpredictable.

      Another life indeed. A place where you can finish even a “Fatty” story. And for all its unanswered questions, this existence is a match for “some other life…over the phone”. Defined by our “absence” from them, both are lives we crave and fear, as does Swift, betwixt and between. We find a sanctuary of our own devising, I suspect—the difficulty, as Swift implies, is whether we can recognize a “Kanada” when it comes at us sideways, as it so often does.

      Home. All ours to write about…and certainly not a catch.

      Jeff Zroback, Tammy Ho, Eddie Tay and Royston Tester / Editors and Guest Editor

      18 August, 2009