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.
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.
20 May, 2009
Jeff Zroback / Co-editor
18 February, 2009
15 November, 2008
THE FAMILY ALBUM
While gazing on a photograph depicting a fondly remembered past event, we often experience a powerful emotional reaction. There is of course a reason that everybody takes pictures of holidays, birthdays and vacations, besides blind adherence to social norms: they are the good times we want to remember. The similarity of our photo albums surely says as much about the universality of human experience as it does about photographic conventions. But family photographs have a power beyond reminding us of our dearest recollections. They capture a past which occurred before our birth or that we cannot remember. And in this, they contain an especially potent emotional force. To see yourself when you were young, to see your grandmother when she was still beautiful, to see an ancestor on whose life your very existence depended, is an experience that is full of pathos and wonder. For me, there is no picture which encapsulates this feeling more forcefully than one of my father and I sitting in the forest, taken when I was a baby. Of the day, I have absolutely no memory; my only memory is the image itself. And yet the picture has become an emotionally charged part of my life. That I was once so small and wearing that jacket remains to this day a slightly surreal experience. But it is my father’s appearance that represents the real source of the picture’s power. There is something about him which is both familiar and strangely alien—an ambiguity which is simultaneously unsettling and deeply comforting.
I suspect it was just this ambiguity that Roland Barthes had in mind when he wrote “There is a kind of stupefaction in seeing a familiar being dressed differently.” And I suspect that despite their formality and conventional framing, it is something like stupefaction that my co-editor feels when she looks at the pictures in the masthead. Was her mother ever so young? Was her father ever so small?
Jeff Zroback / Co-editor
6 August, 2008
Why start an internet journal? Why add another voice to the cluttered and overexposed world of creative writing online? We believe that these are questions that must be considered by anyone who wants to publish literature on the web. After all, there are already thousands of online journals, blogs and websites with literary aspirations. Most of them (this website is no exception) are devoted to the commendable goal of “publishing quality literary work”. But can there really be enough good writing out there to fill thousands of empty web pages? Depends who you ask. There are many curmudgeonly internet cynics (journalists, academics, editors) who would say “No”, explaining the web is a wasteland of mediocrity, in which the cult of the amateur is destroying professionalism and quality. From the internet’s supporters (the electronic gurus, 2.0 geeks and blogists), however, we are likely to hear an enthusiastic: “Yes! Yes!” According to them, the internet is unleashing the creativity of the many and freeing us from the narrow monopoly of the professional media.
Yes, it is true that there are a limited number of English writers in Asia, but certainly not nearly as few as the more cynical commentators suggest. And the real problem with Asian writing in English is not the limited number of its writers, but the limited number of its writers that are published. This sad state of affairs is largely the result of the economic realities of English print publishing on the continent. English publishers in Asia face similar constraints to their western counterparts, only much tighter ones. Think it is difficult to sell poetry in the United States? Try selling it to a handful of English readers in Asia. It is also true that in some cases local publishers in Asia face a certain conservatism of taste—in which the reading public prefers recognisable forms and topics. This conservatism limits a publisher’s options and further compounds the difficulties of selling literature to a limited audience. The upshot of all this is that it is only financially feasible for local English publishers to support a small number of writers.
At Cha, our goal is to bring together Asia’s underpublished writers and established ones. As an online journal, we do not face the same economic constraints as local print publishers. Indeed, with almost no operating cost, we are free to take a chance on unknown or less commercial writers, which is exactly what we intend to do. We also hope to use Cha as a forum for Asia’s aspiring writers—to be one of the places where they can go to be read and to develop. Finally, we also intend to support more established authors. Within the Asian context, even the most celebrated English writers may only have a limited readership. We hope that, in our small way, we can help bring their work to a larger audience.
In the future, we can imagine an online creative writing community in Asia just as overexposed and cluttered as those in other parts of the world. We are certainly going to do our best to make it that way.
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming & Jeff Zroback / The Editors
4 November, 2007