Been away a long time…

1. From Canada…

On April 29th I celebrated my three-year anniversary in Hong Kong. “Celebrate” is a bit rich because I didn’t remember until I was on the boat back home after dinner with a friend. So I sent her a SMS and told my boyfriend and went to sleep.

But. I should have known something was up. I had been stressing about real things and not so real things (what exactly did he mean when he said this?) and on that very day I had a real craving for a bacon and cheese pizza. And so I went out with a friend for a burger and forgot to pay my share of the bill. And before my mentor bought me two glasses of red wine. So it’s like a celebration. On the cheap and without me knowing.

It’s too humid/cloudy/busy for me to wax lyrical about lessons learned, but perhaps the biggest indicator of my decision to move to Hong Kong has been the travel that’s gone with it. Since emerging from customs that fateful day in 2007, here are the countries I’ve seen: (a little or a lot) Australia, Cambodia, Canada, China, England, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Namibia, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand.

2. From this blog…

Ate up the leftovers in the fridge, overpacked and left the books at home. Flew 10 hours to Australia and for 10 days didn’t even pretend to accomplish something. Oh, I read three terrible books and figured out the sports setting on my G10.

And I learned a few things:

  • It is okay to drop it all, hate the books you read and do a taste test of sausage rolls only to discover that you never one want to eat one again
  • That I really might one day weigh lifestyle and career (I thought people just said that, and didn’t actually do it)
  • The beach solves writers’ block. It really does.

I thought I would get started on the next 25,000 words of the book, but decided to leave the laptop at home and just zone out. In hindsight, I’ve been so busy since I’ve been back that I haven’t had a chance to pick up the book. But I did squeak out a 3,000 word story. Inspiration has returned. And the beach solves writers’ block.

3. From a social life…

It started with a work trip to Shanghai, but since then I’ve had a couple of dinners out, but mostly I’m up at 5 a.m. studying/writing. In the evenings, rinse and repeat. I haven’t even gone for a jog lately, completely messing up the whole endorphin thing.

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Bringing home the bacon

So I’m hungry and craving bacon and melted cheese. It’s mostly because the newest editorial from my old college newspaper came out today about freedom of speech and not too many years ago it would have been my former colleagues and I, sitting on tattered couches in a moldy building trying to find the right language to use for the editorial. And at some point, we’d probably order bacon and cheese pizza. As you would.

I’m feeling homesick for Gabriel’s bacon and cheese pizza and the best I could find here in now-temperate again Hong Kong was a recipe for eggplant parmigiana in some sort of layered lasagna style, which is not the same because there’s no bacon, but there’s melted cheese involved and if you really wanted, you could add bacon. Maybe the lesson here is compromise. And to take pictures of your food to substitute always eating food.

After going over 25,000 words this morning (at some precise time like 6:37 a.m.), I’m now craving bacon and this belt (it’s a beetle!) from Atlantis Home, which I probably can’t afford but might try to afford anyway. I basically make shopping decisions based on whether or not I bring my lunch to work: If I vow to bring my lunch to work every day for the next six months and never go to Starbucks unless it’s I’m meeting my Chinese tutor, then I can buy this belt.

Today, I brought pasta with chorizo, zucchini, pesto and corn today. And grapes. But I didn’t take any photographs, although maybe I should have.

This isn’t entirely unlike  the time I bought a dress off of net-a-porter (it wasn’t expensive) and decided to make a chart to graph how much it would cost, each time I wore it. I need to wear it another 23 times before I start to feel justified about buying it. And I have decided if I need to include dry cleaning costs in it.

But I think this belt would make getting up at 5 a.m. to write crappy words a lot easier. Maybe if I up the deal and say that if I don’t buy wine for two months, then I really, truly can buy it.

And in other news, my latest review for the Asian Review of Books is posted here.

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Oh, where’s the progress

Ugh. That’s all I have to say.

I’m 689 words away from hitting 25,000 words on my intelligent chick lit novel.

This is probably a cause for celebration or, at the very least,  a call for a dozen or so jumping jacks.

The plan is to surpass 25,000 words tomorrow before work, go to work and then leave in time for a Pilates class, which is not jumping jacks at all but it still follows the theme of the mental and the physical going together.

Actually, when I gave myself deadlines and wrote to-do lists in black marker, I told myself I was going to write 5,000 words a week, which basically meant 1,000 words five days a week. Definitely doable except on Tuesdays when I learn Putonghua at 8 a.m. and the occasional morning where I can’t get up early even if the coffee on the stovetop espresso is bubbling away.

So I’m behind and it’s not crushing my soul or anything, but 25,000 is a whole lot farther down than the 35,000 words that I should have been approaching now.

Le sigh.

I finished a book last night, Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother by Xinran. I should read her blog. It’s in Chinese, pinyin and English which is a triple win for someone (moi) who only barely got through her class on Tuesday. Still struggling to find the reason why the word for iron rod can be used to say great or thumbs up.

And because I was so far away from 35,000 words that I just reset this month’s target to 25,000 words, I was left with time to browse (okay, fine I do that every day) and discover this blog about a brunette whose a writer (like me) and on a budget (in theory, like me).  Lei, come io, anche piace tutte le cose italiane, allora se posso farle una domanda: ha gia letto Vita Prada? I bet Prof. Ricci is disappointed it’s not Calvino (don’t worry, still love him, just taking a break).

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Calisthenics, the novel and some jumping jacks

It’s been awhile since I’ve done any of the above – calisthenics haven’t appeared on my radar since elementary school, I last tackled the novel-in-progress for 30 minutes on Friday morning and I think I may have done some jumping jacks during my final year of university when I really, really had to stay up.

But apparently the mental and the physical go hand and hand.

The Financial Samurai wrote about connecting the mental with the physical and outlined a few ways we can accomplish both:

* After every written post, do 120 sit-ups and 60 push-ups.  Write 3 posts a week, end up doing 360 sit-ups and 180 push-ups.  The more you write, the more you exercise!

* After every hour of reading (work or pleasure), do 10 minutes of yoga or stretching.  Read 6 hours a week, ensures an hour of peaceful limbering.

* After every TV show or sports game you watch, play an hour of your own favorite sport.  If you don’t play sports, go for a hike or a bike ride.  If you can’t go outside, spend the time cleaning the house.

Although I’m not sure an incentive to write more is the opportunity to exercise more, FS has a point, one that I mostly fail at integrating into my own life. The plan is to wake up every morning at 5, go for a jog, be back and showered by 6 and then sit and write for 1h1/2 – 2 hours before going to work. How often does that work out?

Just about never.

I blame Hong Kong’s haze, the humidity that hits so early in the morning and the fact that most Hong Kongers are complete night owls. Over here, the early bird definitely does not get the worm (it’s usually the person whose most aggressive). Then again, if you want to fit into Hong Kong-sized jeans, you’d better go jogging.

So it’s off to bed now to try and find the mental/physical, writing/jogging balance. While I’ll probably accidentally sleep in, I guess there are always jumping jacks to fall back on.


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Get out of bed, sit at desk.

I’m new to blogs and social media and everything else that gets ping-ponged back and forth over the Interweb. I still make arguments for writing by hand, for reading books and writing in their margins (I’m told you can do this on an e-reader, but it’s not the same because can you really write in different coloured pens and markers each time you read the book?).

Despite a love for ICT policies (go net neutrality!), I’m not ready to convert and get a smart phone or an e-reader (although I read Remix as an e-book and felt okay as I just made notes on pieces of scrap paper). But last Sunday in a fit of productivity before making a terrible Sunday steak dinner, I  joined Brazen Careerist because I thought that if I did something, I wouldn’t have to start Tweeting or updating my Facebook ad infinitum. So I chose Door No. 1 and now I read Penelope Trunk’s blog, after the news and the Daily Mail’s gossip, but before starting the productive things I’m paid to do.

Penelope wrote a post about how “the biggest triumph is getting out of bed“. I couldn’t agree more. For me, the biggest thing is getting out of bed, turning off the connection to the Internet*, opening the .doc file and starting to type. If I can type words and sentences and paragraphs and maybe pages instead of just “oidjfaoklsadjfwoiebv”, then even better. But when it’s dark and cold outside and the coffee doesn’t taste very good and I just want to go back to sleep and hide, I’ll settle for a bunch of “oidsajfwexcoio”.

* okay, so I never turn off the Internet connection. What if something important happens? Or if there’s a this-moment-only giveaway for free shoes?

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Things I learned from not showering for 7 days.

Last May, I went on a seven-day camping trip through the Namib desert. I call it a camping trip because although I was working (from about 6 a.m. until midnight for seven days straight), I was not one of the 200 people who had decided to run, walk or hobble my way through 250 kms of rough country, sand and sand
dunes (the second largest in the world!). Instead, I was the on-location writer, providing daily updates and twice daily features.

On the job.

It was my first time in Namibia and to date the farthest I’ve ever traveled for a work project. Also the most challenging because while I wasn’t doing the equivalent of a marathon a day for six days straight, while carrying everything on my back except water and a space in a tent, I did have to pack everything I needed for a week, including food (hell it was mostly food in there), shove it all in a single duffle bag and throw it into the back of a pick-up truck.

Though I wasn’t like some of the competitors who opted to compete in the same pair of socks for an entire week in order for their back pack to weigh slightly less, I did have the same experience in that I had little sleep and went without a toilet or a shower for a week. At one point I threw a little bit of water from a leech-infested lake onto my bangs (this was before we knew there were leeches), but in the end, nothing really took away from the fact that I hadn’t showered in a week. Continue reading

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Welcome to Hotel China

Ciao! If you happen to be in Hong Kong this Wednesday evening with a couple of spare hours and a desire for a glass of wine (or ten), then come to the Hotel China launch party, which is the official party for the Hong Kong Writers Circle latest anthology. The collection centers around a fictional hotel in Wan Chai, a neighbourhood in Hong Kong known for adventure and misbehaviour, dirty deeds and decisions fueled by inebriation.

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Putting pencil to paper.

Sometimes I have a problem typing.

It’s not fingers fumbling over the wrong keys and it’s not that I type slowly (there was a time when I actually liked using the typing programme Mavis Beacon), but it’s just sometimes I can’t write on the screen.

In university, I wrote my papers by hand, sitting at a coffee shop with a stack of journals and text books beside me and a legal pad of paper in front of me. I’d start writing in green, switch to blue, maybe try using a pencil for an hour. The trick was to use different sizes and styles of pens so that your hand didn’t cramp up. Why write the first draft of a 50-page undergraduate project on Italian press coverage of the 2006 Torino Olympics by hand (okay, it was 42 after you subtracted the references, which were most definitely only done on the computer)? In part because I needed to be in a coffee shop, away from distractions of the Internet, the television and, just as important, the refrigerator. Yes, when procrastinating, make another batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. But if you’re at Starbucks and you know exactly how many fat grams are in a white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookie (27), you quickly stop eating and start writing.

But it’s also that I tend to spell out ideas better on paper than I do on the screen. On the screen, it’s typing one word, only to hit the backspace key to replace it with another. On paper, it’s thinking of the right word before writing it down. Economy in a sense (and when you do end up transcribing it onto the computer, it’s like making your first edit).

Okay, this isn’t always entirely practical and no, I’m not trying to say that I can’t write on a computer, it’s just that for some of the most important things, at least the crucial bits are worked on with paper and pen(cil), if not the whole damn thing.

Oh, everyone and their Moleskin (I can hear someone saying this now). But I promise you it’s not like that. This isn’t literary sketching, perching on a bar stool, sipping espresso and jotting down a conversation I overheard. This is full on writing, sentences and paragraphs, pages and pages until my handwriting becomes so looped and cursive that I can’t read it (by the way, last month I learned the word for “turn into” in Chinese, which is 变成, pinyin is “biancheng”). Continue reading


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Petals from the Sky

Here is my latest review for the Asian Review of Books, Petals from the Sky by Mingmei Yip.

Romance books aren’t really my thing, but if they’re yours then check out Ms. Yip’s newest book, which goes with a cool mash-up of romance + Asian fiction. A Buddhist nun in waiting, a hot man and a jaunt through Paris…

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