Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bookspotting and Focusing

This week's bookspotting was a little sparse. A young man on the train was reading a book called Be the Miracle. I spotted one of my students reading a Chinese kids' version of Sherlock Holmes (the title was in English). Yesterday I either saw two different women on two different trains reading Kindles, or I was inadvertently following the same woman. This morning a woman in Mong Kok station had a thick paperback bound in the brown paper kids use to cover their textbooks, but I don't know what language she was reading. What are you reading? What are people reading around you?

The month of January is notoriously quiet for me at work. My students study for and then take their exams, and my classes are temporarily suspended. I spend a fair bit of time planning my lessons and printing resources for the next few months, but I also end up with a reasonable amount of down time at the office. During that time, I can either focus or I can faff around on the Internet. This year, there was very little faffing. In addition to finishing the second draft of my Nanowrimo book and planning my lessons through March, I wrote a trio of articles for a new website about long distance dating, a group of contest submissions, a million wedding-related emails, and one long-shot pitch for a large publication. I also completed this interview for the ExpatFocus website about my expat experience. (There are several interviews with Hong Kong bloggers on the site at the moment, and it's well worth checking it out.) I was on such a roll that yesterday I wrote the first 2,000 words of the sequel to my Nano novel. It's amazing what a difference it makes when I start out the month focused on one thing.

What do you do to help yourself focus on a project?

Friday, January 25, 2013



Stories of eating and cooking from an authentic Chinese food connoisseur.


Subtitled A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, British author Fuchsia Dunlop's memoir details her lifelong love affair with Chinese food. She first lived in China in the early 90s, where she found herself becoming so obsessed with the local cuisine that she enrolled as the only foreigner in a Sichuanese cooking school. She went on to write several cookbooks (in English) exploring the complexities and joys of Chinese food. The memoir details her evolution as a cooking student and her career as an ambassador for Chinese food in the West and (of course) includes recipes.

Dunlop does not shy away from some of the more unusual ingredients and nose-to-tail eating practices of Chinese cuisine, but she also doesn't make a point of emphasizing dishes that Westerners might consider "gross". She writes candidly about the tendency of travel writers to focus on innards and chicken's feet and dog when Chinese food culture is much more intricate, varied and sophisticated than a sensationalist article can portray. She writes eloquently about the intimate connection between the food and its source in traditional Chinese cooking, a connection that has largely been lost in Western kitchens.

The thing that sets this memoir apart from other odes to food is that Dunlop approaches her subject as both an academic and a fanatic. She describes each dish and cooking practice in meticulous detail, but she also reveals her unbridled passion for eating, savoring, smelling and otherwise enjoying Chinese food. I particularly enjoyed Dunlop's stories of her friendships with various Chinese cooks and foodies. She was able to build entire relationships around memorable meals thanks to the intensity of their shared passions. This is a thorough account of her life's work and, as a true expert, she acknowledges how much more there is to learn about Chinese food.

Fuchsia Dunlop's website has many food-related blog posts and information about her cookbooks.


I purchased the paperback version at Dunlop's HK Literary Festival workshop. The e-book edition apparently doesn't exist, which is, frankly, inexcusable (on the part of the publisher) for a book that came out less than 5 years ago.


What's your favorite Chinese food dish? Would you describe your relationship with food as intensely passionate? How does food affect the way you relate to people?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Bookspotting and Finishing

Bookspotting is back this week with a George RR Martin sighting on the MTR. The battered paperback had a red cover, so I believe that means it was A Feast for Crows. I also spotted a schoolboy reading Rick Riordan's Son of Neptune on the train. In a coffee shop this weekend, two women were poring over notepads and a book about getting out of debt. A young man nearby was reading Eating Smoke, Chris Thrall's memoir of drug addiction and triads in 90s Hong Kong. On my way home from work today, a man walking in front of me was carrying Justin Cronin's The Twelve. My friends are getting into the whole bookspotting thing, too. One reported that she just finished reading First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung and she's about to start The Happiness Project. My fiance is listening to The Stand by Stephen King on his iPhone. I spotted two Hong Kong guidebooks this week, one in English and one in Chinese.

I've spent a fair bit of time haunting bookstores over the past few weeks waiting to get my copy of A Memory of Light, the final installment in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The is a series of hefty epic fantasy novels that I've been reading since my dad introduced them to me in junior high. Think the entire Harry Potter series if all the books were as long as #7. Then multiply it by two. The 14th book came out two weeks ago, but the only two bookstores that had it on release day were sold out by the time I got there. I'm looking forward to finally finishing this journey that has, among other things, made it through the death of its original author (for whom I am still in mourning).

Speaking of finishing things, today I completed the second draft of the novel I wrote during National Novel Writing Month. I'm getting ready to send it off to beta readers and then start the second book in what I hope will be a 3-book series. I'm feeling rather optimistic today...

What are people reading in your town this week? Have you finished any big projects recently?

Forgot to mention that I also have a guest post about Marina Bay in Singapore over at Pens on a World Map.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Expat Women in Asia: Call for Submissions - Deadline: 28 Feb

This is a reminder that the deadline for the anthology I'm editing for Signal 8 Press is approaching. You have six weeks to send me your stories of modern expat life in East Asia. See the call for submissions below for the full details, and feel free to email me with any questions.

Expat Women in Asia: Call for Submissions

Editor Shannon Young is seeking contributions from expatriate women in East Asia for a new anthology from Signal 8 Press in Hong Kong. This collection will feature the writing of women who are currently expatriates or who previously lived in an East Asian country. For the purposes of this anthology, we construe East Asia to include Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and the ASEAN countries. All submissions should be creative non-fiction and/or travel memoir pieces that speak to the expat experience in modern East Asia. Potential topics include travel, work, relationships, gender roles, safety, family, and repatriation. We are looking for stories with a strong and personal narrative arc, not just travel guides or descriptions of the places you’ve lived. We hope to make this anthology as inclusive as possible, as well, and we welcome submissions from women from different parts of the world.

Contributions should be between approximately 2000 and 5000 words in length. Each writer will receive two copies of the completed anthology and a percentage of the royalties to be determined by the final number of contributors. Please send all submissions, with a brief paragraph about the author, to shannon [at] typhoon-media [dot] com. Submissions should be in Microsoft Word, .doc or .docx format, and in a standard font. The deadline for submissions is 28 February 2013. This title will be released in paperback and e-book formats in the spring of 2014.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Author Interview: Sandra Bornstein

 This week we have an interview with Sandra Bornstein, author of May This Be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir. Today, Sandra is answering some questions about her experiences teaching in India as part of her book launch tour.

1) You decided to teach in India in your fifties. How do you think your experiences differed from those of a typical young English teacher abroad?

Most teachers who decide to teach abroad are single and in their 20s and 30s. Oftentimes they have yet to establish any roots because their priority is to explore the world. By teaching overseas, they are able to use their time off to travel while simultaneously using their teaching skills. Others may choose to teach abroad in order to teach English as a second language, to make a difference in a less developed country, or to become immersed in another country’s culture.

My situation was obviously different. My employment was tied to my husband’s new position and my desire to see more of my eldest son who resided in India. While my initial incentive to travel to India was different than my younger colleagues, we shared a desire to use travel as a means to experience different cultures and a belief that it was important to make a difference.  

What set me apart from my younger colleagues was the experience I had gained from being married for decades and raising four sons. While living in the US, I had become entrenched in my daily life and had grown accustomed to following a set routine. While I always considered myself to be flexible, I naturally felt most confident when I remained within a familiar environment. The longer you live a certain way, the harder it is to accept any major changes.

Once I traveled abroad, I had to readjust my thinking since almost everything that I encountered appeared strange. While my reservations to change may have been somewhat founded on my middle aged status, my ability to be flexible was a byproduct of my personality. I realized that I needed to go with the flow if I wanted to survive.

My years of raising children enabled me to be more responsive to my students’ needs. Being a mother provided a keener insight into dealing with the young boarding students who were suffering from homesickness. I could also see the parents’ viewpoints since I had decades of experience advocating on behalf of my own children.

2) Your Jewish identify plays an important role in the book. In some cases, you seemed to find a greater sense of community amongst Jews you met in India than in Colorado. Why do you think this occurred?

I have always relied upon my Jewish values and beliefs for support during both ordinary and challenging times. When I lived in suburban Chicago, I actively participated in our synagogue community, the general Jewish community, and volunteered my time to numerous organizations. I felt part of the organized Jewish community and was supported when family members died or someone was recovering from an illness or an operation.

When our family relocated to Colorado, we struggled to find an inviting synagogue. Two factors exacerbated the situation- distance and demographics. In Illinois, we lived within a few miles of the synagogue and our children went to public school with many of the members’ children. In Colorado, the synagogue options were more limited and were a considerable distance away. Fellow congregants and the clergy lived more centrally located and were reluctant to visit even when our family was coping with challenging medical issues. Feeling isolated made us less inclined to attend services or participate in events.

Shortly after arriving in Bangalore, I reached out to the Chabad rabbi and his wife. They responded immediately to my overture and continued to remain in touch with me. Even though a greater distance separated us and my transportations options were limited, they were more than willing to go above and beyond to make sure that we remained connected.

While distance may make relationships more difficult, the motivation of the parties involved can overcome this obstacle. The Chabad rabbi and his wife did not want me to feel alienated and they made sure that I felt part of their community.

3) At one point, an Indian driver asks why anyone would choose to work in India over America. Did you experience similar responses to your decision, both in India and in the US, and did your feelings toward such statements change over time?

The Indian driver was an outlier. Most of the Indians I encountered did not comment on my desire to work in India. They were delighted that I could share my American teaching experience and educational training.

A fair number of the people I met were friends or acquaintances of my eldest son and future daughter-in-law. They freeely talked about different job opportunities. My son had been an expat for years so my presence did not seem out of the ordinary. Potential employers knew that my husband was working for an Indian company so they were not surprised either. My Indian teaching colleagues were ambivalent and did not express any opinion.

My friends and relatives in the US were a different story. Most could not understand why I would leave the comforts associated with American life. My closest friends told me that I should refuse to go. I was disappointed that few could see the benefit of an overseas teaching adventure and did not respect my decision. Under the circumstances, I relied on my gut feeling that I was doing the right thing.

4) Your son was already living in India when you moved there. How did that help your adjustment to your new life?

I was lucky to have my son and future daughter-in-law’s assistance. Both provided useful information that made it easier to adapt since just about everything was different. They provided recommendations for shopping and for transportation issues. I met dozens of people whenever I was with them. Without their continued support, I would have had a more difficult time.

5) Throughout the book, you detail the medical ailments afflicting several members of the family. How did your interactions with medical professionals and facilities influence your impressions of India?

In the US, hospitals and doctors follow certain safety and sanitary standards. Acceptable medical practices in this country are not universally acknowledged in other countries.

During my first doctor visit, I realized that Indian medical institutions and personnel would follow different protocols. Whenever the medical treatment seemed a bit different, I become more apprehensive.

I realized that India was a Third World country and that certain things were to be expected. My observations strengthened my attitudes toward American medicine rather than influencing any new feelings toward India.

6) How did you cope with the different educational practices, especially as someone who was already an experienced teacher? How did you strike a balance between protecting your job and maintaining your integrity?

Sharing a classroom with another teacher requires day-to-day cooperation and the desire to share a similar educational philosophy. My American training and experiences were considerably different than my co-teacher and most of the fifth grade team. The ability to work as a cohesive group was frequently stymied by our dissimilar teaching philosophies. Addressesing our differences was crucial to our success.

My memoir discusses some of the efforts I made to bridge the cultural gaps. However, at times my efforts appeared counterproductive since my fellow teachers were not always receptive to the theories or methods that I shared. I was hired for my American expertise. If I wanted to be true to myself, I had to adhere to an American code of ethics. I was not going to shortchange my students by giving them any less than I would have given their American counterparts.

7) How did you decide to self-publish and what is one thing you’ve learned on your publishing journey so far?

I communicated with a couple of literary agents and numerous published authors about the pros and cons of self-publishing. Almost all agreed that I would maintain more control over the content, style, and price of the book if I chose to self-publish. I was also advised to decide on a publishing budget since I would need to pay for all of the upfront costs.


With the help of professional editors, I created the content and the pervassive threads, located my voice, and decided on my message. Additionally, I hired a design team and formatters to assist me. By being responsible for all of the decisions, I took complete ownership of my book.

Until I started working on my book, I took for granted the enormous amount of work that goes into writing, editing, revising, formatting, publishing, and marketing a book. Now when I hold a book in my hand, I appreciate the various levels of effort that were required in order to produce that book.

8) What are you working on next?

Right now I am in the midst of promoting my book. I am planning a second virtual book tour and am simultaneously reaching out to my growing audience using social media. In the coming weeks, I plan to move on to the next level of my marketing plan.

After I have reached a comfort level with my marketing plan, I will begin researching potential topics for a children’s book and possibly look into short term teaching opportunities.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, Sandra. Best of luck as you continue to promote your book!

You can learn more about Sandra Bornstein at her website. Her memoir is available in paper and e-book formats at Amazon:  May This Be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Walking Tour: Singapore

I hope you all are having a good year so far! 13 is a lucky number for my alma mater, Colgate University, so I expect this to be a great year. Recently, I spent my Christmas holiday in Singapore. Although this isn't a proper walking tour, here are some highlights:

Singapore is as clean as everyone says it is.

I could just see the Singapore Flyer outside my hotel room.

Like Hong Kong, Singapore has a plethora of high-end shopping malls.

It also has an admirable amount of greenery among the modern buildings.

There were thunderstorms almost every afternoon, but I still had plenty of time to explore.

I found a monument to the 2010 Youth Olympics, and you know how I feel about the Olympics.


Marina Bay is home to Singapore's most iconic structures, the Marina Bay Sands and the Art Science Museum.

And also the Helix Bridge.

On my first day in Singapore, I had time for a walk around the bay past the financial district before the rain began.

My favorite thing about Singapore was the supertrees in the Gardens by the Bay.

The solar-powered structures collect and recycle rain water, among other things.

They were just finished in July, and are located in the gardens behind the Marina Bay Sands.

They have plants growing up the sides, though these haven't had a chance to really spread yet.

The Gardens by the Bay is also home to a flower pavilion, a cloud forest, and a lake.

And if it starts to rain, you're still just one underground walkway away from the big hotel, which...

...being a Sands, has a canal with a gondola ride inside.

Back on the other side, the bay itself is lined with a peaceful walkway of palm trees.

The lotus-shaped Art Science Museum...

...has a lily pond beneath it.

We also went to the night safari, though it was too dark to take pictures of the animals. Still, I highly recommend this if you're in the area.

We paid a visit to the National Museum of Singapore.

It's a lovely building...

...with an Old World colonial feel.

Of course, there are many modern buildings in Singapore as well...

Many of which were quite colorful.

We spent some time wandering the streets.

And we saw many different types of buildings.

Once, we went to the Bay at night...

...and rode the elevator up to Ku De Ta on top of the Marina Bay Sands.

We got to enjoy the view from the Skypark at night.

No visit to Singapore would be complete without Hainanese Chicken Rice...

...or curry rice...

 ...or wonderfully fresh fruit juice.

Fortunately, you can find all these wonderful foods in the hawker centers...

...where you can try any of Singapore's famous street foods...

...and keep going back for more.

From the hawker center, this temple is the first clue that you're approaching Chinatown.

Singapore is home to three major ethnic groups...

...meaning that you'll find evidence of different religions everywhere.

Chinatown is fairly typical.

Though the market streets are surprisingly spacious.


At the end of our trip, we made our way to Changi International Airport, where we found an angry bird...

...and the coolest moving sculpture I'd ever seen.

The copper raindrops were mesmerizing.

The airport was, of course, decorated for the holidays.

And it had nice green touches of its own.

Later this week, we have an interview with an author of a travel memoir about teaching in India. I'm still backlogged on my book reviews, but the final installment in the Wheel of Time series is out this week, so I don't expect to get much else done. Happy reading! 

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