Photo: Yesterday Movie Star, Wall Mural in a Seoul Cafe (by Lee Seung Jae, 2018)
We’re into the final weeks of 2020! December in Singapore is when cool northeast winds bring our wettest months and temperatures fall to 25°C, often lower at night; it is a time when locals often wistfully remark, ‘if only the weather were like this all year’. You might even spot scarves, fall jackets and knee-high boots on the street: yes, the air-conditioning in many malls and offices is often downright frigid, but this year I think many people are craving for a change of scene, even if it is just in their heads.
It’s been a difficult year for many, but creating is the one thing that has kept me sane. Under lockdown, long-distance calls with friends, especially writer friends, provided me with connection and hope. Real Asian Lit was born out of many pandemic conversations between me and Tiffany Tsao: a desire to change the conversation around “Asian” literature, and a search for authenticity in representing the world we come from.
How do you talk about decolonising Asian literature when the very concept of ‘Asia’ is a colonial legacy? We discuss this in our first Tiktok video. ‘Asia’ is a word that seeks to do too many things. It is a western construct, as we say in our video, a cultural artefact of European conceptions of the world. It is impossible for everyone to find representation, meaning, or identity under the umbrella of being “Asian”, when “Asian” basically means the rest of the world east of Europe, with a land, population and diversity many times the size of Europe.
Where do stories come from? In the fall of 2018 I spent a magical month at an artist residency in Toji, in Gangwon, South Korea. Most of the day was spent in isolation, but after mealtimes we would go for long walks in the mountains. We started the month as a diverse, completely disparate group of strangers, but over the course of these contemplative walks, left the residency feeling healed by the quiet company of kindred spirits. It was in the memory of these group of friends that I wrote A Hundred Unions, a short story recently published in Canada’s Room Magazine, which was also my debut fiction publication in North America!
One of the friends I met at Toji was Korean photographer Lee Seung Jae, with whom I had many memorable conversations about the meaning of photography. His photo above, Yesterday Movie Star, inspires a particular scene in my short story, A Hundred Unions. I hope you enjoy the read.
Wishing you a wonderful, safe and healthy holiday season.