CHA Issue #24 goes live




The June 2014 Issue of Cha is here. We would like to thank guest editors Michael Gray (poetry), Royston Tester (prose) and Reid Mitchell (prose) for reading the submissions with us and helping us put together this edition. We would also like to thank Eddie Tay for a fine selection of book reviews. The issue includes an editorial by Tammy Ho Lai-Ming titled “A Touch Of Cruelty In The Mouth” and poems from David McKirdy’s new collection, Ancestral Worship.

The following writers/artists have generously allowed us to showcase their work:

Poetry: David McKirdy, Timothy Kaiser, Kenneth Alewine, Joshua Burns, Daryl Yam, Daryl Lim Wei Jie, Insha Muzafar, David W. Landrum, Susan Kelly-DeWitt, Randy Kim, Zachary Eller, Divya Rajan, Mathew Joseph, Michael O’Sullivan, Tjoa Shze Hui
Fiction: Sarah Bower, Michael X. Wang
Creative non-fiction: Qui-Phiet Tran
: Smita Sahay interviews Tabish Khair, Usha Akella interviews Marjorie Evasco, Sharon Ho interviews the organisers of three Hong Kong poetry-reading groups
Lost tea: Jonel Abellanosa
Photography & art: Franky Lau (cover artist), Divya Adusumilli, Allen Forrest
Reviews: Grant Hamilton, Sarah Bower, Emma Zhang, Michael Tsang, Drisana Misra, Carolyn Lau, Cecilia Chan

Our next issue is due out in September 2014. We are currently accepting submissions for the Seventh Anniversary Issue and entries for the “Reconciliation” poetry contest and the “Hong Kong Isn’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon” section. If you are interested in having your work considered for inclusion in Cha, please read our submission guidelines carefully.



A Cha Poetry contest
This contest is run by Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. It is for unpublished poems on the theme of “Reconciliation”.  


  • Tammy Ho Lai-Ming is a Hong Kong-born poet. She is a founding co-editor of Cha
  • Jason Eng Hun Lee has been published in a number of journals and he has been a finalist for numerous international prizes, including the Melita Hume Poetry Prize (2012) and the Hong Kong University’s Poetry Prize (2010).


  • Each poet can submit up to two poems (no more than 80 lines long each).
  • Poems must be previously unpublished. 
  • Entry is free.
Closing date:
  • 15 September 2014
  • First: £50, Second: £30, Third: £15, Highly Commended (up to 5): £10 each. (Payable through Paypal.)
  • All winning poems (including the highly recommended ones) will receive first publication in a special section in the Seventh Anniversary Issue of Cha, due out in November/December 2014.
The prizes were generously donated by an expat reader residing in Hong Kong.
  • Submissions should be sent to with the subject line “Reconciliation”.
  • Poems must be sent in the body of the email.
  • Please also include a short biography of no more than 30 words.

Previous Cha contests:


Cha: An Asian Literary Journal is now accepting submissions for “The Ancient Asia Issue,” an edition of the journal devoted exclusively to work from and about Asia before the mid-nineteenth century.

From the beginning of the twentieth century, ancient Asia has contributed to the rebirth and re-imaginations of modern literatures, not only in English (from Ezra Pound to Gary Snyder) but in other western languages as well (Victor Segalen, Octavio Paz, Bertolt Brecht…). “The Ancient Asia Issue” of Cha seeks to revivify this tradition, featuring translations and original works of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and visual art from and about Ancient Asia, to be published in December 2013. If you have something interesting, opinionated, or fresh to say about the Asian past, 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, translator and scholar Lucas Klein 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

The Reviews section will be devoted exclusively to books related to the theme of the issue. If you have a recent book that you think would be right for review in “The Ancient Asia Issue”, we encourage you to contact our Reviews Editor Eddie Tay at Books should be sent to Eddie before the end of May 2013.

If you would like to have work considered for “The Ancient Asia Issue”, please submit by email to by 20th June, 2013. Please include “The Ancient Asia Issue” in the subject line of the email. Submissions to the issue should conform to our guidelines.


LUCAS KLEIN is a  former radio DJ and union organizer, is a writer, translator, and editor. His translations, poems, essays, and articles have appeared at Two Lines, Drunken Boat, Jacket, and PMLA, and he has regularly reviewed books for Rain Taxi and other venues. A graduate of Middlebury College (BA) and Yale University (PhD), he is Assistant Professor in the Department of Chinese, Translation & Linguistics at City University of Hong Kong. With Haun Saussy and Jonathan Stalling he edited The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: A Critical Edition, by Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound (Fordham University Press, 2008), and he co-translated a collection of Bei Dao 北島 poems with Clayton Eshleman, published as Endure (Black Widow Press, 2011). His translations of Xi Chuan 西川 appeared from New Directions in April 2012, as Notes on the Mosquito: Selected Poems (for more, see here), and he is also at work translating Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin 李商隱 and seminal contemporary poet Mang Ke 芒克.

    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
    — , 

    The things we do for love

    By Tammy Ho and Jeff Zroback

    “Not To Be Reproduced (Portrait of Edward James)” (1937/) by Rene Magritte 

    I will do as you ask even though I know that as the Turkish barber is shaving my sideburns with a razor, it will almost certainly slip and slit my throat. I will go even though I can already see myself staring in shock as my blood flows to the floor and mixes with the hair. Silence will envelope my world, as the other customers shield their son’s eyes or call emergency services or lay me on the ground and stuff towels and pages from the Daily Mail into my neck to quell the bleeding. But it will be too late. I will have died before the ambulance arrives. Or, if against all odds, it beats the traffic and my blood loss, the EMTs will find a mess that cannot be cleaned up. They will take me to the hospital even though they know perfectly well that once there, the hair, towels and newsprint will cause an antibiotic-resistant infection, and that the doctors will only be able to wait helplessly as my neck swells and smells until it pops into a shower of pus. It will flow everywhere: on the doctor’s face, and even in your hair, as you lean down to hug me for the last time—you having just arrived after weeks of worry, as I did not have my phone (and you don’t have a phone) and no one knew who to contact. The stench of pus will get in your hair and smell for weeks, even after 100 showers, even after you have saved your tears and used them as shampoo. That is all that will be left of me, a lingering smell of rot and some clothes you won’t know what to do with. And why? All because you said I looked like a beggar and made me get a hair cut, first thing Saturday morning.

    …………..Because I was hideous in your sight …” 

                                             –from T.S. Eliot’s
                                                       The Love Song of St Sebastian

    ASIAN CHA Issue#15 Editorial

    Listening Outloud

    My favourite place in Hong Kong is forever tied to a book, or rather a scene from an audio book. The spot is a small glade a few kilometres south of Tai O’s salt marshes on the Lantau Trail. Objectively, it’s not much, just a small clearing in the forest, fifty metres where large trees make way for shoulder high bushes. If you ever found yourself walking along section 7 of the Lantau Trail, you would likely pass right through it without a hint of recognition. Just perhaps, if you happened to arrive at this clearing right as the late afternoon sun broke through a cloudy day, you might judge it a pretty spot. But if you were lucky enough to see it lit in warm afternoon sun while listening to The Corrections, particularly the memorable scene in which Chip slips an overpriced piece of wild salmon under his sweater, the glade would form a lasting memory, at least if you were me. For me, that glade will forever be associated with the attempted theft of nearly eighty dollars of wild fish from a trendy New York shop, and The Corrections, as read by George Guidall, will always be a leitmotif of the Lantau Trail.
    As leitmotifs go, it is one that can only exist in personal memory. The location and the book have nothing particularly in common, share no themes. Jonathan Franzen is hardly known as a great recorder of Hong Kong life, and there is little in a set piece about the dietary habits of New York’s super rich to associate with the wilds of Lantau. Yet, I can no longer think of one without the other. There must be something in the relationship between audio books and memory because as an avid listener, I find that more and more of my memories are tied to what I was listening to at a given moment. To be sure, this is nothing new. People have long associated vacations with the books they read, movies with former lovers, summers with the songs on the radio. For me, it is just that the soundtrack of my life increasingly features audio books: getting progressively drunker on beer and failing to build an Ikea bed while listening to The Wind up Bird Chronicles; hiking up a rainy Korean mountain to the sound of 1984; cooking pasta in my house at university with The Castle on in the background; standing at a lonely Toronto street corner while learning about The Wisdom of Crowds, laughing outloud to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as I pulled into a local gas station. Sometimes the match between the book and memory is apt—rambling in Sussex to Notes from a Small Island and listening to Kafka at Hong Kong immigration come to mindbut most often they are like The Corrections and a glade a little south of Tai-O—a locale and story connected only by me and my iPod.
    The growing number of experiences I associate with audio books has a lot to do with the number of them I am getting through; obviously the more books you listen to, the more memories you’ll collect around them. This increasing number has come at the expense of other media. I’ll admit it—I read fewer books, listen to more and more. Exactly zero of my 500 CDs are on my iPod, and I don’t miss them a bit. But it is positively bursting—or at least running very short on memory—with spoken word, particularly audio books.
    So what is the appeal? It is partly their ease; it is much easier to listen to a book, then sit down and work through the pages. Like many of us, I fear that the digital world is, if not undermining my ability to focus on long passages, at least providing me with enough distractions to keep from trying. Or maybe I am just tired of reading, even if I am not tackling that many books, it feels like I am looking at words all the time—emails, text messages, the opening few paragraphs of countless articles online (there is that waning focus again), the Evening Standard on my train seat. Sometimes it is nice to just be able to listen to a story and not have to strain your eyes (or endure the conversations around you for that matter).
    After all, who doesn’t like being read to? Obviously, a huge appeal of an audio book is the pleasure that we all get from being told a story. I know I certainly do, and did. My mother read extensively to me as a child, but she sometimes outsourced her duties to a number of audio productions we had around the house. One, an LP version of Disney’s adaptation of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf was a particular favourite. (I can’t help but hum Peter’s string leitmotif as I type.) We also had a cassette version of 101 Dalmatians that we played to fraying on car trips, and which must have driven my mother to distraction, no matter how engaging the interpretation. Since then I have been hooked; and fortunately the internet and its thousands of audio titles is always there to give me my fix.
    To the purists who say that books are meant to be read, not read out, I point only to Charles Dickens. As anyone who has ever heard a convincing reading of A Christmas Carol can attest, there may be no one better to listen to than Dickens. There is a good reason for this, as it turns out. My co-editor Tammy Ho‘s Master’s thesis argued that the author constructed his books with reading aloud in mind, knowing that both he, when he gave a reading, and the public, when they picked up his latest serializations, would share his words with others. You can imagine my delight, therefore, when after I mentioned how much I was enjoying a particular production of Great Expectations, my co-editor suggested I should read the book instead, and I got to gleefully point out that she had spent 40,000 words arguing that the author wanted his words read out and heard, not just taken in by individual pairs of eyes.
    This can all go too far. Of course, Great Expectations and all other books are intended to be read by people sitting in a chair, quietly turning the pages. I concede that some things are lost in the translation from paper to mp3. I am sure, for example, my grasp of the arguments I have heard instead of read are less complete and subtle. A book will undoubtedly reveal more when read closely than listened to, especially when that listening is undertaken in conjunction with another activity. Multitasking, that symptom of our schizophrenic world—is undermining the book. Is not even reading sacred?
    In my case, no, I am afraid it isn’t. For me, the portability and versatility of the audio book, its multitaskingness, is its greatest virtue. Reading, when done properly, is a thoroughly heads down experience, an activity which excludes all but the simplest of additional tasks—drinking a cup of tea, eating a sandwich, writing in the margins and that is about it. You can’t ride a bike and read, although I did once see somebody trying. With an audio book, you can go out into the world and experience both the story and the environment around you. And the one influences the other, making the experience all the more memorable. Of course, how you read a book is dictated by your age, where you were, how you were feeling. But when consuming an audio book you can add even more inputs and senses to your experience of the story—the feeling of cutting mushrooms, the rain in your face, the sunlight in a small glade along the Lantau Trail.
    I have a very vivid memory of listening to Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City while walking around the O2 Arena on a snowy evening, the lights of Canary Wharf ghostly in the distance. And I am sure I recall both the book and the walk the better for the combination. For me, Chronic City was a decent novel, fine as far as it went, but hardly the most memorable I’ve ever read. I doubt I would remember much of it at all if I had been, for example, reading in my house on a snowy day instead of walking along the Thames. And I am sure I would have no recollection of the walk without the sound of Lethem’s prose in my ear. But brought together, they added up to something more. Chronic City is now part of the soundtrack of winter 2009, another New York novel the leitmotif of an otherwise unrelated location.
    Which reminds me, it is almost time for my evening constitutional, and I haven’t yet charged my iPod. I wonder how The Fat Years will sound from Woolwich Free Ferry.

    Jeff Zroback / Co-editor
    20 November, 2011

    Guest editors wanted

    We are currently looking for prose (fiction and creative non-fiction) guest editors for 2012 and 2013 to read the submissions with us.
    The guest editor position is open to all past and current contributors regardless of genres.

    We usually read around 600-800 A4 single-spaced pages of prose for an issue, sometimes more. From the submissions we come up with a long list, then a short list, before final decisions are made.

    Please see our publication schedule (see “Guest Editors”) for available issues.

    If you are interested in this opportunity, please write to us (Email: 

    Fine Tea Competition 2011

    Artist: Annysa Ng 

     Fine Tea articles may be on any poems, stories or artwork/photography featured in the history of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. To see the kind of analyses we have published, please visit However, you do not need to conform to the existing styles. Surprise us.
    Length1000- 800-1500 words (including citations, if any) 
    Entries Deadline: 31st August, 2011 (Results will be announced in late September.)
    Prizes: First: £25.00, Second: £15.00, Third: £10.00, Highly Commended (up to 3): £5 each. Payable through Paypal.
    Entry is free.
    All winning entries (including highly commended pieces) will be published on A Cup of Fine Tea. We reserve rights to edit the work.
    Submissions should be sent to with the subject line: “Fine Tea Competition 2011”. Each individual can enter up to three articles. 

    ASIAN CHA Issue#13 Editorial

    originally posted here

    When You Live with a Poet
    When you live with a poet, you know exactly which three-year-old work she means when she asks, “Did you like the enjambment in the second stanza?”
    When you live with a poet, you are expected to know words like “enjambment.”
    When you live with a poet, you need to have a job. It is hard to retire on a poet’s salary.
    Right from the start of your life with the poet, you come to understand that she does not see the world in the same way as other people.
    When you live with a poet, you realize that books make gift-giving easy and cheap, especially when bought second hand. The poet thinks that used books have more character anyway.
    While working at your job because you are living with a poet, you learn not to panic when you receive an email with URGENT!!!! in the subject line, knowing it will contain her latest work, which “Really needs to be proofread now. It is very important that I don’t miss the deadline for _____ Review.”

    When corresponding with a poet, it is advisable not to write sarcastic replies about the “importance” of submitting anything to ________ Review.
    When you live with a poet, you get used to being plagiarized, although the poet prefers to call it “fair use.”
    When you live with a poet, you somehow know without asking that the fair use policy is not reciprocal.
    One night, during your life with the poet, you will find yourself explaining that her reading Auden out loud while you do the dishes is not quite the equal division of labor she seems to think it is.
    When you live with a poet, you become very good at counting syllables and thinking of rhymes.
    When you argue with a poet, it is bad news if she starts taking notes.
    Even though you live with the poet, she thinks you will somehow believe her latest poem is not “autobiographical in any way.”
    When you live with a poet, you sometimes catch her staring at teacups or laughing at a single sock. You pray to god that this has something to do with being a poet.
    When discussing living arrangements with the poet, you actually hear her say that she will do the laundry when she “is inspired.”
    Sometimes you wish you did not live with a poet.
    When you live with a poet, you learn it is a compliment if your newly baked bread has her reaching for a pen instead of a butter knife.
    If, while cohabitating with your poet, you hear the hoover running, you do not assume that this means she has been inspired into domestic duties. You know it is just as likely you will find her sitting next to the vacuum with a worried expression on her face, “Does it sound more like Brrrrr or Wrrrrr? I can’t get the onomatopoeia right.”
    When you live with a poet, you automatically reply it is more like “Vrrrrr,” as if this kind of thing happens all the time in other houses.
    When you live with a poet, you are amazed by her creativity, but wish she didn’t always have such a goddamn active imagination.
    When you live with a poet, you live with a poet.
    After a few years living with a poet, you start to worry about who will have to pack all those books when you move.
    When you have spent enough time living with a poet, you no longer complain when her typing wakes you up at night. Instead you put in earplugs and go back to sleep, content that at least she is writing.
    Living with a poet is easier when she is writing than when she is not.
    Every day you live with the poet, you become more and more grateful she does not see the world the same way as other people.
    You hope you will always live with the poet.
    Jeff Zroback / Co-editor
    27 February, 2011
    Leave a comment and tell us what it’s like living with your writer/poet.

    The peaceful spread of Chinese food

    Outside lands contiguous with China, emigration has never been promoted by the Chinese state. The spread of Chinese cooking around the world has therefore been colonial but not imperial, carried by peaceful migrants in self-imposed “economic exile.” At least, this is true of most recent Chinese migration, though that of the last century was genuinely imperial in another sense, as European governments shunted the conscripted labor of coolies and laundrymen around their own empires. It has produced hybrids of its own, of which the most notorious is “chop suey”–a mixture, say, of bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, water chestnuts and other vegetables with slivers of meat or chicken: an invention of pioneer Chinese restaurateurs in nineteenth-century North America.

    Felipe Fernandez-Armesto‘s Near A Thousand Tables: A History of Food, 147

    1. 辣辣土豆絲; 2. 一盆辣辣雜菜; 3. 蒙古辣辣羊; 4. 薑葱蒸不辣鮮魚.
    Prepared by j, with help from t. Sat. 19 September 2009.


    Because we do not have recordings uploaded on the Cha website, we are unsure of what this reader is talking about. Perhaps other editors have received a similar message? The email was addressed to a particular member of the Cha editorial team.

    Title: Files not found for the reading of poems 

    Dear ___________,

    Please upload the files or better to delete the icons. It’s indeed quite disappointed to learn no recordings could be found.

    Thanks for your attention.

    Your reader,

    Genuine email correspondence

    Pictured: Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent Van Gogh

    Dear ________,

    We are very sorry to inform you that we cannot publish your poem “_______” in Cha, after all; we found out that it was previously featured in ______. In our acceptance email, we made it clear that we will only publish the piece if it has not been published elsewhere.

    Cha Editorial Team

    hi dear eds _____________, i am terribly sorry for the mixedup: since i lost all my acceptance/rejection) records while travelling between _____ and ______, i have missubmited my work from time to time. also, i should have responded to this sooner, but i have just returned to _________ from a trip to _______________, where i had no access to internet. no matter what, i know there is no excuse for what i have done with Cha, so let me apologize again, and promise to make sure my future subs will honor your rules if you allow me to make more subs at all. in the mean time, all very best, -_____________

    Dear ___________,

    Please feel free to send us more poems for consideration. We liked your poetry in other journals/magazines and we hope to feature you in Cha one day. Wish you a lovely weekend.

    Cha Editorial Team


    hey dear ___________

    thanks very much for your kind and forgiving reply! i hope this is not too soon, but pasted below please find 7 poems freshly out of oven – i promise that they are all previously unpublished, and that should any piece happen to be accepted elsewhere, i would notify you immediately (i thought you would not take any more subs from me, so i have just sent out some of them in the past few days).

    again, thank you for your tolerance, encouragement and consideration

    with warmest regards, _______________


    Dear ____________,

    It is too late for the twelve issue but we have forwarded your poems to the guest poetry editor of Issue 13We will be discussing the pieces with him soon so we can let you know a decision shortly.
    Cha Editorial Team


    thanks a lot, dear _______, for your kind and prompt reply! i look forward to your decision. in the mean time, all very best, ____________

    Dear _________,

    We are very pleased to accept your poems “_______” and “______” for publication in the thirteenth issue of Cha, due out in February 2011. If these poems have not been published elsewhere, please send us an updated bio (you will have a chance to make changes closer to the publication date) and a recent photograph. [….]

    Cha Editorial Team

    Email correspondence published with the poet’s permission.

    ASIAN CHA Issue#12 Editorial

    The Mortuary and the App

    In this issue of Cha, we have a special section of essays devoted to picture book authors, curated by our Reviews Editor Eddie Tay. In one of these pieces, “Portrait of a Children’s Book Author as a Young Reader”, Malaysian writer Margaret Lim beautifully describes her introduction to the world of fiction. Lim, who spent part of her formative years living in Kuching in Sarawak, had limited access to books as a child. During her first years as a primary student, there was no library in her mission school (it got one later) and the local British Council Library did not stock titles for children. She did, however, have one source of books: the patient library at the hospital where her father worked. While the first-class ward of the hospital was being renovated, its books were temporarily stored in a disused mortuary. Lim’s father, recognizing her passion for reading, gave his daughter the key to the room. For the young woman, it was life-changing moment:

    I went unaccompanied, so hungry was I for reading material that I had no fear of the ghosts that reputedly haunted this place. My heart did thud though as I unlocked the door. A murky ray filtered through the dirty panes of this one window and lighted grudgingly upon the books piled up against one wall and sliding to the floor in a muddle.

    O, wonder! O, brave new world. Miranda could not have been more overcome with amazement and delight.

    Lim’s excitement is palatable in these lines, an excitement I think many young bibliophiles feel when they first get hooked, even if their discovery of literature isn’t quite as adventurous or romantic. It is hard to imagine that today many kids in the developed world (the situation is sadly different for young people elsewhere) would need to run a gauntlet of ghosts in a mortuary, climb into an attic or even search a dusty library to find something to read. Instead they have access to thousands books, marketed and segmented to meet their needs and age, a perfectly graded progression from pictures to paragraphs. Well-meaning aunts give charmingly illustrated volumes as gifts, school and public libraries stock the latest titles, the internet offers a vast resource of age-appropriate material. There is, in short, a lot out there to entice the eager young reader.
    Such eager young things are often aspirational in their reading: they turn the pages in search of experiences beyond their own. For many children—and this was certainly the case for Lim, who cherished adult adventures stories and The Illiad above all else—the attraction of reading is the potential discovery of something more grown-up than themselves, a slightly taboo introduction to adult things. (One of the secrets of children’s book publishing is to write slightly older than the target audience, so that readers can imagine themselves more worldly and mature than they actually are.) At least this has traditionally been the case. Whether kids will continue to try and grow up through books is uncertain. It seems difficult to imagine the youth of today needing to resort to anything as quaint as perusing a novel to learn about sex.
    Many wonder if young people will resort to anything as quaint as reading a novel at all with all the forms of distraction available to them. And there may be some cause for concern. Will our kids still choose the pleasures of the written word when much more immersive and immediate forms of entertainment are available? Will they read Issac Asimov when they can play BioShock? Is their ability to focus on an extended piece of writing being hampered by the hyperactivity of the internet? Maybe. Maybe not. The only thing that it is really safe to say about these questions is that it is too soon to tell.
    If our media landscape does tell us one thing, though, it is that humans still crave stories. The written word remains one of the most potent forms of story-telling, and at least for now many kids are still seduced by its charms. And for those who aren’t, well, I am not sure it is time to panic. Despite our romanticism, it is important to recall that not every child in the past approached books with the passion of a Margaret Lim. And although early childhood reading is undoubtedly beneficial, many who don’t read as kids still manage to grow into it—Tammy Ho, my co-editor for one. Tammy barely read as a child but is now the most bookish person I know. (We can’t take a day trip without at least three novels.) Nor do I think that—and this is perhaps a mildly heretical statement for the editor of a literary journal—we should always stress to our kids the value of novels and poetry over other forms of expression to the extent that we often do. There is nothing innate about writing: it too is a technology (albeit a highly successful one) just like the other devices which have the professional fretters so worried. Who can predict what brilliant artistic forms the non-readers of today will generate on their touch screens? And it’s not like the digital revolution has killed reading off anyway—quite the contrary. The internet has resulted in a proliferation of words like never before. You might quibble over what our children are scanning, about the detrimental effects of some debatable usage, the logorrhea of certain bloggers or the shortening of attention spans, but it would hard to argue that they aren’t consuming enough text.
    Nor is all this reading being done online. Young Adult novels, many of them quite serious, are one of the hottest parts of the publishing industry. Harry Potter and the Twilight series reveal that kids will buy books if you can find the right formula.
    One part of this formula has always been serialization, a fact I was reminded of recently. As part of my day job as an editor, I occasionally need to attend photo shoots. This particular shoot took place in a family home in which several children lived. One of them, a boy of about ten years old judging by the decorations in his room, had a bookshelf full of several neatly ordered fiction collections. This impulse to gather a series of books reminded me of my own childhood; it brought back memories of compulsively rearranging a Narnia box set and of being nagged by a feeling of inadequacy one whole summer after finding a frustratingly incomplete set of Fables of the Green Forest volumes in our cabin. His library also made me think of my cousin—an avid reader of the-stay-under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight sort—and his fondness for books from the Stratemeyer Syndicate—both the blue covered Hardy Boys titles and the yellow covered Tom Swift ones. This young man probably would have gotten along just fine with my Korean students, who gave me excited summaries of their latest Harry Potter acquisitions, bought in hardcover and in English on the release date.
    This impulse to collect is one that originates, I think, from both the innate curiosity of children and their desire to be able to put limits on their experiences and environment. In serials, kids find a perfect outlet to do both—a way not only to escape into a fictional world, but also to control and organize it. And perhaps in so doing put some order on their own lives. It is a desire which publishers understand well, and exploit effectively by coming out with an endless series of series, all designed to keep kids reading and parents buying. They know that young readers are some of the true completists of the book world, a culture which is itself obsessed with collecting. Readers as a whole are avid textual hunter-gatherers. What are the great libraries and their attempt to assemble and systematize all knowledge, but child-like collecting writ large? Doesn’t our tendency to build and display our own Great Libraries of Alexandria suggest a psychology not unlike that of teenaged obsession with the Marvel Universe?
    Soon with the way the internet is going, we will all be able to be completists with little or no effort, great archivists at the touch of a button. Just open your Library of Congress App and you will have all the reading material you could ever ask for. The kids too will have access to the same dizzying choice of texts. I have a feeling they might even choose to read some of them, discover a few grown up things through means that do not require lying about their age. Discovering the pleasures of the written word on their iphone will undoubtedly lack the romance of Margaret Lim’s introduction to books. And in a world of instant and unlimited choice, some things may be lost in the ease of access—some of the discipline and the sense of achievement that comes from having to work for what you want, perhaps some of the tactile pleasure of pulling a book from the shelf. But on the whole, I think the future looks bright for young readership. An infinite supply of books is infinitely better than not having enough to read. And do you really want your kids snooping around old mortuaries anyway?
    Jeff Zroback / Co-editor
    25 September, 2010


    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#10 Editorial

    Thoughts of Trains; Trains of Thought
    There are two conflicting images of train travel. The first is of a train journey as romance, an unhurried and meandering trip through exotic lands—a luxurious ride eastward on the Orient Express, the slow epic of the steppes from a Trans-Siberian window, the freedom of rooftop riders in India. The other is of the daily commute: monotonous, stressful and soul-destroying. Think of the crush of the Tokyo Subway, the delays and inefficiencies of British Rail, the suburban professional’s long, tired ride to retirement.
    My daily ride to work is a combination of the two, having little of the romance of the earlier and all of the inconveniences of the later. My office is located in the commuter belt between London and one of its many airports, and the train I catch operates primarily as an express service for air passengers heading to and from the city. Nothing makes you feel like you are always travelling, while never going anywhere, quite like a daily commute shared with returning holidaymakers and excited visitors. Navigating their wheelie-luggage and watching them struggle with the door switch, I am torn between the annoyance of an aggrieved local (Push the button next to the door! They have buttons in Barcelona, don’t they?) and deep jealousy (I wish I was in Barcelona.). I guess I should be thankful. The food vendors have it worse. They spend their days pushing carts the length of a train that is itself bouncing between two terminals. That is travel without romance, work as a commute. And they probably have to take the train home after their shift.
    In the forty minutes the trip affords, I tend to read the paper, listen to my ipod and, when an issue is approaching, work on Cha. Or I just sit and watch the scenery go by. At moments like these when I find myself staring blankly at the fields and housing complexes, I wonder if I should put my commute to more productive use—maybe learn to knit or study for a realtor’s licence or something. For those set on self-improvement, the train has obvious advantages over other forms of travel. Unlike driving, your attention is free; unlike the bus, you have space, maybe even a table. Come to think of it…time, open attention, a table…these conditions are perfect for one activity in particular: writing. Perhaps I could write a train novel, a successor to Strangers on a Train or Murder on the Orient Express. I could follow the lead of others who have written on the rails—Langston Hughes, who penned “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” on a ride from Mexico or those Japanese school girls who thumb out entire cell phone novels on the subway. I could find stories in the seats, inspiration in the scenery, rhythm in the swaying of the carriage. I wouldn’t even mind the delays—they would give me time to finish difficult passages. Let my train be a train of thoughts; thoughts I would follow along entire networks of imagination, changing at junctions, making connections, before terminating in the great commuter novel.
    A romance. At least in my case. I think, for the time being, I will settle for the occasional working commute, remind myself that even if I am not writing the great train novel, much of this journal has been the product of time spent travelling to and from work. I have managed to type out a few editorials on my daily journey, found rhythm in the rails and inspiration out the window. I found inspiration out the window—a good reminder that not every moment should be spent in productive activity or electronic distraction. Through the glass, I have seen much which is beautiful and dramatic: flooding tracks, snow covered fields, hunting foxes. There is romance in our commutes, if we just take time to look.

    Cha Number 10 with services to stations in Asia and beyond has now boarded. Enjoy the trip.

    Jeff Zroback / Co-editor
    25 February, 2010

    Read Tammy Ho’s train poem, “Inside the Train” here.

    ASIAN CHA Issue#9 Editorial

    Better Housekeeping
    Anniversaries are, of course, a traditional time to take stock, find your bearings, make predictions about future directions. On the occasion of our second anniversary issue, I felt this would be a good opportunity to do the same for Cha. What can I say about the last two years working on the journal? Well, in a lot of ways, really rather domestic and every day. Editing an online journal with your partner from your home does not always allow for the surprises of travel writing or the glitz of New York trade publishing. It becomes more a part of the quotidian, and the more practical aspects of the journal have a tendency to slip into the household routine: Have you uploaded the poems, yet? No, you just told me to make dinner, dear.
    I do not wish, however, to characterize the management of the journal as just another task which could be described in Better Housekeeping. This would be a great disservice to the talented writers and artists who have allowed us to publish them, to our generous editors, to our criminally underappreciated webmaster and particularly to my co-editor, whose passion and tireless energy are the real driving force behind this publication. Without her, Cha does not publish every three months, does not exist. She runs the journal. I just make the salad.
    And the truth is that through all of them—the writers, the editors, the webmaster, my co-editor—I have had a chance to experience much of Asia and the rest of the world. The written word and the Internet are perhaps the two best ways to travel, to experience new things without ever leaving the comfort of your house. And for me, they have come together in Cha. My role at the journal is as much tea cup traveller as it is editor. The trips are taken, as they should be with literature, on the page; a sojourn in a new exotic location, or a surprisingly exotic moment spent in a familiar one. And the wonderful thing is that every morning, there is a new bunch of pieces to read in my inbox.
    The submissions we receive reveal not only the great depth of Asian experience, but also a consistently deep pool of talent and vision. Sure not everything that comes over the wires is a masterwork (some of it, frankly, is a trip in another way), but a lot of it is very good indeed. When we started Cha two years ago, we were sure that there was a lot of great writing from and about Asia out there, and all we had to do was start a home page and it would come flooding into our email boxes. We had no idea. In the first issue of the journal, we wrote: “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.” It turns out that I was also one of those cynics—there were far more than I thought too.
    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?
    I feel myself very lucky that through Cha I have been able to connect to this community, to be even a small part of the Asian writing. Of course, in most cases it has been a wireless connection, made through my computer from my kitchen table. This may strike some as tenuous, virtual. And perhaps in some ways it is. But for all its detachment and anonymity, the Internet is also remarkably intimate, surprisingly authentic. It has the ability to bring the foreign right to your screen, to make the remote immediate. I am amazed that we have fans in Argentina, thrilled that we receive submissions from Mongolia, honoured that people who I have never met in person would be our guest editors. But I am happy to say, that while this is all very exotic and exciting, it is also rather domestic and every day, too. It has been immensely rewarding to have your stories in my email and to have strangers help with the chores in our little teahouse.
    I couldn’t imagine a better bit of housekeeping.
    Jeff Zroback / Co-editor
    22 November, 2009

    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