Sunday, September 27, 2015

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

It's Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong, the season of fire dragons, moon cakes, and the first hints of fall. What are you doing to celebrate? I'll be enjoying a relaxed weekend with my husband and going to see another fire dragon!

In honor of Mid-Autumn festival, here's the chapter from Year of Fire Dragons that takes place at the fire dragon dance in Tai Hang...

Fire Dragon 

The fire dragon trundled toward me through the crowded street. Smoke curled from the incense sticks protruding from its long, thin body like thousands of spines on some mystical porcupine. Sweat poured down the face and back of every spectator. The fire dragon wound back and forth through the streets, faster and faster, dancing to the beat of drums. A wave of cheers rippled through the crowd each time it came near. The drums rattled the high-rises, the dragon danced, and the pavement shuddered under our feet. 

This was the Mid-Autumn Festival in Hong Kong, a time to celebrate the moon goddess and her flight across the sky. 

My flight wasn’t like that of Chang’e, the goddess who escaped her lover in a blaze of luminescence. I was flying toward mine. His gravitational field had pulled me across the sea, drawn me to a distant isle of fire dragons and skyscrapers. I’d follow him anywhere—even to Hong Kong. We hadn’t lived in the same country since we’d met, but this was our chance to be together, to build a life in the city where he grew up. 

But one month ago, his company sent him to London. 


I first met Ben in London, at a fencing club. I was a bookish American student on a semester abroad. He was an opportunity for a real live English romance, my very own Mr. Darcy, except that unlike Darcy, Ben was talkative—and half Chinese. 

I’d taken up fencing several years before, attracted by the romance of sword fighting and the fact that it was something unique, historic, literary even. I wasn’t bad, and the sport brought me unexpected confidence. It seemed like a great way for an introvert like me to connect with people at the university in London. 

When I pushed open the door to the club, the familiar buzz of the scoring machine and the squeak of athletic shoes on the floor reached my ears. I rocked on the sides of my feet, unsure how to join in. Ben came over immediately, introduced himself, and invited me to fence him. I was relieved at being included and already curious about this open-faced young man whose accent I couldn’t place. He won our first bout by one point; he always said I wouldn’t have dated him if I had been able to beat him. 

We fenced a few more bouts, and then sat cross-legged in our matching gear, masks forgotten on the floor. He prodded at my shy shell; he asked me questions, joked about fencing, told me he was from Hong Kong. He had an eloquent vocabulary mixed with an offbeat sense of humor. He didn’t seem to mind when people didn’t get his jokes. He put me at ease, and I found myself stealing glances at him as I adjusted my equipment and met the other fencers. By the time I changed my shoes and left the gym, I was already lecturing myself about reading too much into his attention. I didn’t want to get swept away, blinded by the novelty of an international fling. But it was too late. 

For two months, we wandered the streets of London together, kissed on street corners, and took spontaneous trips to Oxford and the coast. He took the time to get to know me, using our shared love of fencing to get me talking. He surprised me with his insight, his persistence. He seemed to understand why I, analytical and introverted, never quite fit into any group. As someone who had grown up shuttling between Hong Kong and London, not quite Chinese and not quite British, he knew what it was like to be an outsider. Ben had a gift for coaxing people to confide in him and trust him. Before long, he got even the most reserved, responsible American girl to give him handfuls of her heart. 

When the semester ended, we said goodbye at Heathrow in a flurry of kisses and long-distance promises: 

“It will just be for a year, maybe two.” 

“I can visit you in America.” 

“I’ll get a job wherever you live after graduation,” I told him. Our confidence in each other was reckless and optimistic, but staying together felt like the only sensible thing to do. 

In 2010, thoroughly in love, I moved to Hong Kong to be with him. 

It lasted for one glorious month. 


Ben left me in Hong Kong on the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival. Instead of exploring the city with him, I was at the airport saying my goodbyes while the children of Hong Kong flooded the streets and parks with lanterns. Instead of walking beneath the Mid-Autumn moon together, we shared a fierce hug and made a hundred tiny promises. The next day, still reeling from the sheer solitude, I found my way to Tai Hang—to the incense and the drums. The fire dragon loomed, full of possibilities. 

It had already grown dark, or as dark as it ever gets in the city, when I emerged from the subway into a night that felt nothing like the end of September. The humidity surrounded me like steam pouring out of a broken dumpling. I made my way along the street. An arch announced the festival in gold foil and tissue paper fringe. I found a spot beside a Chinese family of three or four generations. A group of Mainland girls chattered in shrill Mandarin in front of me. The balconies of a hundred apartments teetered over our heads. 

I hadn’t had a chance to ask Ben what the fire dragon would be like before the airport security line swallowed him and carried him away. The fire dragon in my mind looked like a dancing, tuft-eared Pekinese dog, with people standing under a big sheet to form the body, holding up the head. Of course, that’s an image from a lion dance, not a dragon dance, I would soon learn. I was just starting to discover that Hong Kong was full of surprises—and I was ill prepared. I jumped up on my toes and looked for the Pekinese head. 

The drums began. “Want me to hoist you up?” An American man stepped close behind me. He was tall, and the scent of stale beer mixed with the incense. 

“No, thanks,” I said. 

“You sure? You want a good view when they bring out the dragon,” he reached for my arms. 

“I can see just fine.” I maneuvered away from the man, finding refuge on the other side of the Chinese family. My fingers curled tighter around my purse. Suddenly, I was aware just how alone I was in the crowd, and in the country. 


“Why didn’t you just go to London instead of Hong Kong when you found out Ben would be leaving?” my friends had asked me. “You’re already moving across the world for him.” I wondered the same thing myself—now. But this was 2010. I wasn’t in a position to jet around the world after men lightly. I’d graduated from Colgate University with US$70,000 in student debt, debt I had taken on before the economy crumbled. Moving without a job was not an option. Employment would be hard to find in London for an English major with limited work experience and no visa. I didn’t have a chance. 

Jobs were not easy to come by anywhere in the Western world. My generation faced the worst job market in living memory. My college educated friends competed tooth-and-nail for part-time barista work, borrowed more money for graduate school, and moved in with their parents. There was a mounting sense of desperation among those of us who had taken out big student loans only to discover there was no work for us in our own country when we graduated. 

Asia was another story. 

There were rumors going around that this was where the jobs were to be found. Ben had found work in Hong Kong, his hometown. My own sister had recently begun teaching English in South Korea. So, I spent nearly a year applying and interviewing for a job in Hong Kong (and yes, living with my parents while I did it). When a local school emailed and asked me to be their new English teacher, it seemed the long distance part of our international romance, which had lasted two and a half years by now, was finally done. I showed up with a work visa and a salary advance, ready to take on the city and the next stage in our relationship. Yet here I was, alone in a crowd as the fire dragon approached. 

I couldn’t afford to give up my new job when Ben’s circumstances changed. With a one-way ticket and a monthly student loan payment of US$935, I stayed in Hong Kong. 


The drums pounded. A row of children appeared, carrying lanterns that bobbed above the crowds. Their glow mixed with the lights from the apartment buildings looming over our heads. My arms brushed an elbow on one side, a woman’s handbag on the other. 


Ben had been lucky, really, to be sent to London. It was a one-year placement at a law firm with the prospect of a permanent contract afterwards. All I had to do was spend this year in Hong Kong looking for an opportunity in London where we could be reunited once again. “It’ll be for one more year, and then we’ll be together,” we promised each other as we set up our web-cams. “We already know we can handle the whole long distance thing.” We plotted our reunion in a whirl of emails and long distance calls. “It’ll just be this year,” we said, “and then that’s it. No more long distance.” 

Of course, the other thing people asked was, “What if you don’t get along when you finally do live in the same country?” That was a question I couldn’t answer. 

As I stood in the Mid-Autumn crowd, little did I know that my move to Hong Kong would bring about our longest separation ever, a separation that would bring me face to face with the reality of the risk I had taken. 

The pounding of the drums intensified. The people around me drew closer together, choking what little breeze there was. Finally, the fire dragon appeared, followed by more children carrying lanterns. I was surprised when I saw what it was really like. It had an elaborate head, made from branches twisted into intricate shapes and filled with a thicket of incense. The thin body was over 200 feet long and muscular bearers danced beneath its undulating shape. The people around me cheered as the dragon’s head passed us and then turned back on itself, leaving behind a million tiny trails of smoke. I felt a growing sense of excitement as the fire dragon whirled and darted through the streets. Its wiry, crackling body defied my expectations. It was fast. It was wild. I pushed forward so I could see better. I was a part of the crowd. I didn’t feel like a foreign girl, alone, in an interrupted romance. This was an adventure! I could do this; I could live in Hong Kong, alone. Ben and I would be together soon enough. 

As the dragon twirled in front of me, I didn’t know that in nine months I’d be sitting on the floor of my single apartment, cell phone pressed to my ear, feeling the foreign ground shift beneath me, feeling a panic I’d been too confident to anticipate. I pulled my hair away from my neck, trying to find relief from the suffocating heat, too stubborn to guess at the coldness that was coming. 

This was not what I had planned. Nothing happened the way I expected. This was Hong Kong. 

As the rumble of the drums reached a crescendo, the men carrying the dragon pulled off the sticks of incense and passed them to the crowd. Within seconds, the fire dragon dispersed into a thousand tiny sparks in the night.

You can buy Year of Fire Dragons in Hong Kong bookstores, on Kindle, or anywhere else books are sold.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Giveaway Winner!

Thank you so much to everyone who entered our giveaway over the past few weeks. Thank you, especially, to all the bloggers who posted it on their sites and everyone who shared the links on social media. We really appreciate your help spreading the word about our books!

We are happy to announce that the giveaway winner is Charlotte Steggall. She will receive copies of all three books in the post soon. Charlotte used to be an expat in Japan and Germany. You can check out her blog here!

If you didn't win the giveaway but you'd still like to grab a copy of any of the books, here are the links one more time. Thank you for your support of these new stories of life and love in Asia. Happy reading!

Year of Fire Dragons: An American Woman's Story of Coming of Age in Hong Kong by Shannon Young ($7.99 on Kindle)

Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras by Leza Lowitz ($9.99 on Kindle)

The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World by Tracy Slater ($10.99 on Kindle)

Thursday, July 2, 2015


This week I'm participating in a joint blog tour with two other authors of new memoirs set in Asia. You can enter our giveaway here. We each read each other's books, and I'm pleased to share my thoughts on the second one today: Here Comes the Sun by Leza Lowitz.


An American woman finds love in Japan and embarks on a journey toward motherhood through adoption and yoga.


If you're a fan of How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit, the expat women in Asia anthology I edited for Signal 8 Press last year, you might recognize this title. Leza Lowitz contributed a moving excerpt of her then-unpublished memoir to the anthology, also called Here Comes the Sun. Now we get the full story! 

Leza's memoir follows her journey to motherhood through adoption, and to peace and self-understanding through yoga. Set primarily in Japan but also featuring Leza's roots in Berkeley, California, the memoir is a beautifully written reflection on life, motherhood, and finding a home.

Leza's background in poetry is evident in the language of this memoir. There's a moving simplicity to her words that draws you in as you follow her move to Japan, her romance with a handsome Japanese writer, and her search for the child she knows is calling out to her.

In addition to the story of her family finding each other, Leza's memoir features her heartfelt attention to yogic practice and philosophy. Leza writes about her decision to open a yoga studio in Japan and organizes her story around the eight chakras. Her spiritual journey is particularly interesting because she brings together her practice of yoga and the traditions of her Jewish upbringing. It's a story for modern, multicultural times if there ever was one.



The Kindle edition is $9.99. I received a free copy of the ebook for review. Disclosure: Leza also wrote a very nice blurb for my memoir, Year of Fire Dragons.


If you'd like to win a copy of Here Comes the Sun, along with The Good Shufu and Year of Fire Dragons, you can enter our giveaway here!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

THE GOOD SHUFU by Tracy Slater

This week I'm participating in a joint blog tour with two other authors of new memoirs set in Asia. You can enter our giveaway here. We each read each other's books, and I'm pleased to share my thoughts on the first one, The Good Shufu by Tracy Slater.


An American academic finds herself falling in love and moving to Japan with a Japanese salary man.


American Tracy Slater was not looking to move abroad. It came as quite a surprise when she fell in love with a Japanese businessman who also happened to be one of her English students. In this candid memoir, she shares the process of coming to terms with the new life she would share with the man she loved. Rather than permanently moving to Japan, Tracy spent years trying to split her time between her new life and marriage and her first love: the city of Boston. Eventually, the combination of her father-in-law's ailing health and her efforts to conceive throughout her early forties drew Tracy further into the arms of Japan.

This memoir is a candid look at a journey of love and compromise as a couple works to make a life together despite vastly different backgrounds and plans for their lives. The central relationship in the memoir is sweet in its earnestness, and you really root for Tracy and her husband throughout the book. The portrayal of Tracy's relationship with her father-in-law is especially moving as his health slowly fails. She examines what it is like to take on a highly traditional carer role as a woman who never quite expected her life would take this turn.

The memoir is deeply thought-provoking because of the way Tracy's expectations and affluent background war with her new life as a wife in a more conservative culture. Her journey to conceive after the age of 40 is heart-rending. I won't spoil the ending, but this is a book that will leave you thinking for days afterwards.



The Kindle edition is $10.99. I received a free copy of the ebook for review.


Don't forget to enter the giveaway for a chance to win the hardcover edition of The Good Shufu, along with copies of Here Comes the Sun and Year of Fire Dragons. Look for my review of Here Comes the Sun tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Giveaway! 3 Summer Memoirs by Women in Asia

This summer I'm participating in a joint blog tour with two other women who have also written memoirs about love, life, and finding home in Asia. Tracy Slater and Leza Lowitz have fascinating stories about their lives and loves in Japan, and I'm excited to offer Year of Fire Dragons alongside their books. We are holding a huge giveaway for all three titles (two paperbacks and one hardback). To enter, use the Rafflecopter below.

Each title offers a unique take on expat life, with common refrains that I think you'll enjoy. Here is a bit more about each book and where to find it.

Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras
By Leza Lowitz
At 30, Californian Leza Lowitz is single and traveling the world, which suits her just fine. Coming of age in Berkeley during the feminist revolution of the 1970s, she learned that marriage and family could wait. Or could they? When Leza moves to Japan and falls in love with a Japanese man, her heart opens in ways she never thought possible. But she’s still an outsider, and home is far away. Rather than struggle to fit in, she opens a yoga studio and makes a home for others. Then, at 44, Leza and her Japanese husband seek to adopt—in a country where bloodlines are paramount and family ties are almost feudal in their cultural importance. She travels to India to work on herself and back to California to deal with her past. Something is still not complete until she learns that when you give a little love to a child, you get the whole world in return. The author’s deep connection to yoga shows her that infertile does not mean inconceivable. By adapting and adopting, she transcends her struggles and embraces the joys of motherhood. “Here Comes the Sun proves that love is not bound by blood. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in that which connects us, holds us together, and makes us family.”—MC Yogi
Stonebridge Press, June 2015 

The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, & Home on the Far Side of the World
By Tracy Slater The Good Shufu is a true story of multicultural love, marriage, and mixups. When Tracy Slater, a highly independent American academic, falls head-over-heels in love with the least likely person in the world--a traditional Japanese salaryman who barely speaks English--she must choose between the existence she'd meticulously planned in the US and life as an illiterate housewife in Osaka. Rather than an ordinary travel memoir, this is a book about building a whole life in a language you don’t speak and a land you can barely navigate, and yet somehow finding a truer sense of home and meaning than ever before. A Summer ’15 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, The Good Shufu is a celebration of the life least expected:  messy, overwhelming, and deeply enriching in its complications.
Putnam/Penguin, June 30, 2015 

In 2010, bookish 22-year-old Shannon follows her Eurasian boyfriend to Hong Kong, eager to forge a new love story in his hometown. She thinks their long distance romance is over, but a month later his company sends him to London. Shannon embarks on a wide-eyed newcomer's journey through Hong Kong—alone. She teaches in a local school as the only foreigner, explores Asia with other young expats, and discovers a family history of her own in Hong Kong. The city enchants her, forcing her to question her plans. Soon, she must make a choice between her new life and the love that first brought her to Asia.
Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of Good Chinese Wife, has called Year of Fire Dragons "a riveting coming of age story" and "a testament to the distance people will travel for love."

This week I'll also be sharing my reviews of The Good Shufu and Here Comes the Sun. Stay tuned!

Enter the giveaway below. You can earn up to 4 entries by tweeting and commenting on this post. I'd love for you to comment with your favorite memoir by a female author or your favorite expat story!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Year of Fire Dragons is out on Kindle!

Year of Fire Dragons, the book I started writing around when I started this blog, is finally available on Kindle! Thank you for sticking with me on this publishing journey for so long. The gorgeous paperback has been in Hong Kong bookstores since November, but now you can read it no matter where you live!

If you already have the book, please consider leaving an honest review on your online retailer of choice some time this week. This will help give Year of Fire Dragons the best launch possible.

Here's a bit more about it!

In 2010, bookish 22-year-old Shannon follows her Eurasian boyfriend to Hong Kong, eager to forge a new love story in his hometown. But when work sends him to London a month later, Shannon embarks on a wide-eyed newcomer's journey through Hong Kong – alone.

She teaches in a local school as the only foreigner, explores Asia with other young expats and discovers family history in Hong Kong, all while trying to hold on to her thwarted romance. The city enchants her, forcing her to question her plans. Soon, she must make a choice between her new life and the love that first brought her to Asia.

Buy it in paperback or as an e-book!

You can read some sample chapters on my publisher's website. The publisher also offers free shipping on the paperback within Asia!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Notes from the London Book Fair

I'm back in Hong Kong after nearly three weeks in London. I had a great time wandering around, catching up with old friends, and doing a bit of writing.

The timing worked out so that I was able to attend the first day of the London Book Fair. I've never been to a big trade fair like this, and it was fascinating. Geared toward industry professionals rather than readers, it was a good chance to see what people are up to in the London book world. The real work of the fair takes place during pre-booked meetings, but on this trip I just wanted to soak it all in.

One of my writing friends from Hong Kong moved back to London last year and she accompanied me around the fair. We attended talks at Author HQ, explored the expansive halls full publishers and book-related exhibitions, and chatted with other authors. I got to meet Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson, who was featured in a Forbes article a few days later.

We listened to back-to-back talks on the traditional industry by an agent and editor and on Kindle Direct Publishing by four indie superstars. As a hybrid author, I've participated in both publishing paths and it was interesting to observe the differing moods between the two talks. The agent and editor emphasized how much a book has to stand out in order to be picked up for publication. The KDP authors talked about practical strategies for finding readers.

We attended another talk on publicity and marketing and I went to one near the end of the day on YA fantasy. I had to run to pick up my suitcase and get to the airport after this talk, but it was worth it. (I literally ran across most of Regent's Park to where we were staying because I couldn't find the bus that goes around it).

Now that I'm back in Hong Kong, I'm hard at work as always, though the jet lag has turned me back into a night owl. I'm currently in the final stages of publication for Seaswept, the second book in my post-apocalyptic series under my Jordan Rivet pen name.

I'm also gearing up for the June 7th worldwide and e-book launch of Year of Fire Dragons, my coming of age travel memoir about my first year in Hong Kong. It's already in Hong Kong bookstores, and you can read some sample chapters on my publisher's website. If you want to write a review of Year of Fire Dragons, please shoot me an email at!
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