How does one dress for a Dragonfruit Reunion?

As I was eating my breakfast quietly this morning, in this peaceful retreat, I was joined at the table by another couple. We started chatting a little, enthusiastic about the day ahead and our various plans for exploring, relaxing and creating. And that’s when I saw the plate of dragonfruit in front of them! I hadn’t seen dragonfruit since leaving Asia, I did not even know it grew here. We all know that dragonfruit hold a special place in my creative heart, but there was a striking coincidence in the sight of the fruit in front of me. And therein lies the whole reason behind my choice to come here for this retreat. A dragonfruit reunion and retreat.

Something unexpected, and very special came from the publication of the Dragonfruit Anthology in 2014. Not only was this the first time I had my writing published in a proper book, but furthermore the process of refining the writing in preparation for publication, and the connection with the Editor and other contributing writers provided a real sense of team and shared achievement.

dragonfruit-front-cover.jpg

dragonfruit arrival 2

We were a team of 27 women, including and guided by our Editor towards the result of producing a collection of our stories from our lives as women in Asia. Stories of our lives in a country where we were essentially guests, for a shorter or longer term. Our nationalities, situations and stories varied enormously, but we were tied together by the fact that we were all, or had been, women living in Asia as expatriates. It was fascinating to get to know each other through our stories and through email connection as we were kept up to date on the decision of the title, the reveal of the cover art and the lead up to the publication.

Just after we received our writer’s copies of the anthology, I received an email from one of the other writers. She had read my account of moving to Myanmar and being diagnosed with cancer. And indeed, I had read her tale of hurtling through the streets of Hanoi in the throes of labor on the back of a motorbike towards the hospital, and the (safe) arrival of her daughter. She had reached out to me because she and her family were moving to Yangon! “Once we’re settled in, if you have time, I would love to meet with you for tea one day” she emailed. And indeed we did. Yet, had it not been for our Dragonfruit connection, it is highly unlikely that our paths would have crossed in Myanmar over the two years of their stay. We would probably not have enjoyed those cuppas and chats, writing together or being part of the same book club. A wonderful connection, thanks to our Dragonfruit Anthology.

Fast forward by two years, to May this year. As it turned out we were both preparing to leave Myanmar as changes approached. I was packing to leave Asia for Africa, and I learned that she was leaving Asia for South America. For Ecuador. Along with her husband, she was embracing the opportunity to take on a new challenge. They would be running an eco lodge in Ecuador, something close to their hearts, values and beliefs. They were filled with enthusiasm and zest for their new adventure as she told me about it.

“You should come to the lodge,” she said to me. “It would be the perfect place for a writing retreat. Do come”.

What a fascinating thought, but hardly a likely venture. Ecuador is not close. It is further west than I have ever travelled. It is more than a day’s travel from Africa. Would it be rash to travel such a distance when the year has already seen such intensity, change and indeed long distance travel? Would it not be wasteful given that there is so much to explore on my new African doorstep?

These are sensible questions, but my mind is not so wise. The thought kept returning, that  this is an opportunity which might not arise again. That it is probably better to travel when health is reasonable as nothing can be taken for granted. And the sneaking reminder, that if I did visit Ecuador, then incredibly, this would be a year which would see me on no less than 5 continents. (I do believe that I have not travelled to more than 2 continents in any year in the past). How many grandmothers are able to do that? What a temptation…

image

So here I am, in a beautiful lodge, nestling in the hills of Ecuador, sitting on the balcony of what is now being called “The Writing Room”, tapping away at the keyboard with the steep green hills right in front of me, the sound of a donkey braying in the distance, the trees swaying in the breeze and in the company of blue grey tanagers. The creative silence of the past months is being lifted gently in these inspiring hills.

image

I could not resist the temptation of visiting such a new part of the world to me, and of bringing 2016 to a close in a peaceful and inspiring place.

If it had not been for our Dragonfruit connection, I simply would not be here now in this fascinating new land. Serendipity and the friendship of a kindred spirit have enabled this retreat to happen.

Like so many journeys, the one to get here was not an easy one, but  I am powerfully reminded of the importance of making that effort and seizing the day. These opportunities are  to be embraced and treasured. And will surely be long remembered.

Thank you, dragonfruit!

image

Servings of Dragonfruit

Prepare for a tasting of dragonfruit, in three servings……..

Firstly, the Dragonfruit Book Launch – this was delayed from June and took place in Hong Kong on Thursday 16 October.  Wonderful!  I couldn’t attend.  😦  Not so wonderful! When the revised date came through, I was not surprised, but still disappointed that my schedule was completely booked (out of Yangon) for that week. There was not even the tiniest of possibilities that I could attend.  An important seminar was in my diary from 13 to 17 October so not even a glimpse of opportunity to somehow fit it in.  But in a way, that is easier.  No heart-wrenching decisions to make, no searching, researching and re-researching complex travel options and no sense of “almost” missing the event.  It was clearly not an option, and indeed while I did feel disappointed, this was not as deeply cutting as it would have been if I had expected to go.  But still.

The event took place in Bookazine, Prince’s Building in Central District, Hong Kong.  That’s a REAL bookshop with shelves of books, and REAL copies of Dragonfruit. How I wish I had seen that.  (I am still scouring the shelves of any bookshop I visit, in the hope that I will see it, but that day still has to come). I am very glad, though, that I could attend virtually through Dragonfruit editor, Shannon’s blog and meet fellow writer contributors in a number of photographs on Facebook.  Great chunks of dragnfruit were served alongside fine wine and readings from the book.  Delicious!

Dragonfruit Book Launch

However, I did not miss out entirely on connecting with fellow writers from Dragonfruit.  By wonderful coincidence and thanks to the highly connected internet world we live in these days, three of us were able to meet in Yangon on Monday evening.  A kind of Fringe Event to the Official Launch!  One writer (has recently moved to Yangon, and it has been wonderful to connect and share how we feel (mostly wonder and disbelief) at being included in what is such an exciting book together. Pride and a little surprise that we are amongst such great and well reputed writers. Then we learned that another of the writers would also miss the Hong Kong Launch – because she would be on holiday in Myanmar.  She was passing through Yangon briefly on the way here and on return home.  There was a tiny window where we might be able to meet……..  Monday evening, providing flights and other variables allow.

All transpired to succeed rather than conspired to sabotage and we met even a little earlier than expected, for a comfortable dinner.  It is quite strange meeting people who you know from a distance, yet through their writing have insights into very personal experiences.  The other women know all about my breast cancer and much of its emotional fallout, for example, yet not about the mundane basics of my life, circumstances and work here.  We were almost a little mutually star struck!  Yet, for me it reinforced one of the very special elements of this particular book.  It has created more than words on a page, and stories of faceless strangers.  A community of similar minds has evolved and a spider’s web of differing levels of connection between the writers and editor.  Unexpected and welcome. And a second serving of dragonfruit.

dragonfruit Yangon

Dragonfruit Dinner in Yangon

And the third serving is imminent and somewhat daunting.  The Book Club I go along to in Yangon has selected Dragonfruit for our October read. That is REALLY quite scary.  I have bared my soul to the universe on this blog and now in the book and so far have been treated pretty gently by critics.  I guess that is a “benefit” of cancer – folks tread carefully around you. Now, I love our Book Club, but I cannot quite get my head around the fact that a piece of my writing will be dissected and pored over in the run up to, and on the evening of our Book Club evening.  I am glad that I am in good company and can hide – and also that my fellow Yangon-based writer will be there too.  However, I do feel very exposed and nervous about the discussion.

book club

 

So I have to pinch myself and remember. Having some of my writing published is an important life goal, and through Dragonfruit this has been realised.  (Even though I am hungry for more!) Indeed through Dragonfruit, I not only have a book in my possession which includes my work, but I have connected with a phenomenal group of people.  I have learned a great deal about the processes around publishing and understand just how little I really know!

A dragonfruit in the hand...

A dragonfruit in the hand…

 

So all in all, thanks to Dragonfruit, these servings are on the plate to share today!

Interview with Susan Blumberg-Kason – author of “Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong”

In How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit, many of the accounts are written by “white” or “western” women married to or in a relationship with Asian Men – AMWF is the term coined, so I learned. I also discovered that there is a strong online community of AMWF people, keen to reach out to others in a similar situation.  Realising that I am one of this AMWF number myself, a Scottish woman married to an Indian man of Nepali ethnicity, this was a dimension which I find very interesting.

I am very keenly aware of the challenges in relationships where there are deep differences. I understand the importance of understanding and respecting family values and dynamics which are very different to those we grew up around. I know how hard we work to fit in and be the wife or daughter –in-law that we are expected to be. I know how enriching and exciting it can be, a whole new world opening up to us and a precious and privileged insight into a very different culture and life. I know how tough it can also feel, when you come up against a belief or expectation that you don’t know about or understand.

So, I am delighted to bring you today, an interview with Susan Blumberg-Kason, one of the contributing writers in How Does one Dress to Buy Dragonfruit. Susan’s memoir is exactly about that very challenge.  Susan is the author of Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong, a memoir of her five year marriage to a musician from central China and how she tried to adapt to Chinese family life as a wife, daughter-in-law and mother.

Good Chinese Wife was published one month ago, and is a very honest and open account of Susan’s marriage. Amazon describes the book as follows:

A stunning memoir of an intercultural marriage gone wrong”

When Susan, a shy Midwesterner in love with Chinese culture, started graduate school in Hong Kong, she quickly fell for Cai, the Chinese man of her dreams. As they exchanged vows, Susan thought she’d stumbled into an exotic fairy tale, until she realized Cai—and his culture—where not what she thought.

In her riveting memoir, Susan recounts her struggle to be the perfect traditional “Chinese” wife to her increasingly controlling and abusive husband. With keen insight and heart-wrenching candor, she confronts the hopes and hazards of intercultural marriage, including dismissing her own values and needs to save her relationship and protect her newborn son, Jake. But when Cai threatens to take Jake back to China for good, Susan must find the courage to stand up for herself, her son, and her future.

Moving between rural China and the bustling cities of Hong Kong and San Francisco, Good Chinese Wife is an eye-opening look at marriage and family in contemporary China and America and an inspiring testament to the resilience of a mother’s love—across any border.

Nowadays, She is also the books editor of Asian Jewish Life magazine and can be found online at www.susanbkason.com Remarried, Susan lives in suburban Chicago with her husband, three children and a clingy cat.

I was fortunate to be able to ask Susan about her memoir, her writing and her experience in the following interview.

Susan Blumberg-Kason

Susan Blumberg-Kason

FBG: I was fascinated by your writing process, and how you remembered such details when writing your memoir. You talk about this being a cathartic process which started when you were asked to document your marriage and the difficulties you had encountered. How did you develop this documentation into an eventual manuscript? What kind of process did you follow and how long did this take?

Susan Blumberg-Kason: It took six years from when I first started to write the manuscript until I held the book in my hands. For the first couple of years, I tried to find a literary agent with fifty pages of the manuscript and a proposal. That was how things used to be done. But somewhere along the way, the rules changed and agents could no longer sell first-time authors with just fifty pages. I’m sure it’s still done, but I think most agents prefer to shop a manuscript that’s complete and as ready to go as possible. So I completed the manuscript and about two more years of revisions and rewrites, I signed with my fabulous agent, Carrie Pestritto at Prospect Agency in New York. Carrie and I worked on more revisions for half a year. She sent my manuscript to editors at publishing houses and we met with rejections. The editors felt like I was holding back. So I rewrote the manuscript again and let it all out! After one more round and a few more revisions, Carried submitted it again to eight editors. We had a deal ten days later!

FBG: When you first met Cai, you talk about the very different way in which relationships work and expectations. A couple who date are expected to get married. Courtship is very short and commitment to the longer term is a given. Looking back to your whirlwind courtship how did the “rules” of courting and relationships differ from your expectations and experience as a young American woman? Now that you are remarried, did that experience influence or shape your later relationship?

Susan Blumberg-Kason: When Cai proposed, we thought we would get married eighteen months later. That didn’t happen and we were married in less than four months. It all happened so quickly—the decision was made at his parents’ home in China—that I thought I should be respectful of Cai’s culture. I placed more importance on doing what I thought was right (according to other people’s rules) than what people usually did in the US.

sbk 3My experience and rushed marriage to Cai definitely affected my relationship with my new husband, Tom. We dated for a full year before I asked him where he saw our relationship. I was a single mother and if Tom had no interest in a future with us, I had to know. But he was in it for the long-term and proposed half a year later. We had talked about marriage before that, though. By the time Tom and I got married, we had been together for two and a half years. That’s pretty normal for Americans in their thirties.

FBG: You talk very openly about factors which contributed to the breakdown of the marriage and in particular the great cultural differences, and Cai’s own personality and depression. In addition to this, you were living in China in a time when the country was very different, before the economic prosperity which we see today and the affordability of possessions and access to communication and technology. What did you find particularly difficult to deal with, living in a very traditional setting back in the 90s? If you had both been born a decade later, how different do you think your experience might have been?

Susan Blumberg-Kason: The biggest difference between now and then is that I felt completely cut off from what was familiar. Besides written letters and prohibitively expensive phone calls, I had no other ways to stay in touch with friends in Hong Kong (where I was living when I met Cai) and friends and family back in the US. That’s not to say that expats in Asia have it easy today, because all the emails and Facebook messages won’t fix a relationship that’s already broken. I think my experience may have been different if it happened now because people in China are used to the huge changes that have take place there over the last decade and a half: the money, the material items, the modernity. Cai didn’t know what to think about the changes in China 15-20 years ago. Things were moving so quickly and no one knew what would happen with jobs, health benefits, and housing, all things provided by the state back when I met Cai. That was a huge source of his stress. He didn’t know where he belonged: China, Hong Kong, or overseas. I think he’s used to the changes in China now.

Susan and her mother in Kowloon (Hong Kong)

Susan and her mother in Kowloon (Hong Kong)

FBG: I know that there are perceptions that life in developed countries is one of privilege and friends and family can place very high expectations on a daughter in law from the “west”. Cai found that life in the west was in fact much more complicated and subtle than he had expected and expressed distress and disillusionment. As the years have passed, how has this changed?

Susan Blumberg-Kason: Cai moved back to China more than a decade ago, but stayed in the US long enough to acquire a US passport. This allows him to travel easily wherever he needs to go for work or for his wife’s job. In fact, he just phoned us from Denmark a couple days ago. He’s also at home in high-tech Shanghai. So I think he feels more comfortable at home and abroad.

FBG:  Your son is now sixteen and you have always ensured that he maintained a relationship with his father. How have you managed this at such a distance and keeping contact with his grandparents in China? How is this changing now that he is gaining his independence?

Susan Blumberg-Kason: I have always encouraged a relationship with his father, no matter how intermittent that has turned out. Since we’ve divorced, Cai has visited every year or two. Now it’s been more than three years since his last visit, but he continues to Skype or FaceTime Jake every few weeks to months. It’s what we’re used to. Sadly, Jake hasn’t seen his grandparents since they left San Francisco many years ago. I used to send them photos and gave them my parents’ address written in English that they just needed to photocopy and paste onto an envelope. They sent one letter this way more than a decade ago. But there hasn’t been any contact from them since then. Sometimes when Cai is at their place, he Skypes Jake, but the grandparents don’t always come onto the line. I can’t force people to change.

Susan with her son, Jake, on State St
Susan with her son, Jake

FBG: Good Chinese Wife is a very open and frank memoir. What were your motivations for sharing such a level of personal detail? How do you plan to follow this and what are you working on now?

Susan Blumberg-Kason: It didn’t start out this open, but as I was trying to get it published, a tell-all was what agents and publishers seemed to want. So I decided I had to either open up or perhaps never publish the book. But the reason I was able to eventually be so open was that I knew I wasn’t the only one who has had a relationship like this. Everyone has different experiences, but bad relationships are a global phenomenon. I thought this book could help someone who has also excused bad behavior because she felt like she had to better understand cultural differences. Or perhaps someone has had in-law issues and feels hopeless. Or a parent is feeling wary about her child rushing into a marriage with someone he or she hasn’t known for very long. People might not change because of the book, but they will know they aren’t alone.

I’m working on another memoir set in Shanghai. It will include some scenes from Good Chinese Wife that I had to cut out due to space limitations. In the 1980s and 90s, I travelled to Shanghai a few times and later learned that tens of thousands of Jewish refugees lived there during WWII. Unbeknownst to me, I visited many of the landmarks in the Jewish community during the war. Added to that, a couple years ago I learned that my grandfather’s cousin was one of these refugees. My working title is Once Upon a Time in Shanghai, but I’m open to other ideas!

Thank you Susan, for sharing these insights and experience so candidly. These certainly enriched my reading of the memoir.  Check Susan’s website for details about how to get your own copy.

good-chinese-wife-cover-small

I hope that you enjoy Good Chinese Wife as much as I did!

Many farewells, great confusions and a case full of Dragonfruit!

I think I am back in Yangon! Physically. Probably. I hope the head follows later. I left four weeks ago on home leave, and returned late yesterday afternoon. With the bonus extra flight into Scotland the travel takes over 24 hours without stopovers of more than a couple of hours, much longer if the layover is longer.

So I arrived home yesterday after a highly eventful flight (details coming) exhausted, disoriented and disconnected with reality. I struggled to stay awake until bedtime, in order to get back into Yangon time as soon as possible and especially to avoid that awful first day back, when you have to get up at what is late evening back in the UK. By 7 pm I was losing the battle, and I must have dropped off while reading around 7.30 pm. I woke with a start, from a vivid dream that I was in someone’s garden, by an electronic beep and found myself in total darkness. With absolutely no idea where I was. Not a clue. Eventually I heard an engine noise, which is our generator, the lights came back on and I realised that the beep was the UPS (Uninterupted Power Supply) and that I was home, woken by a power cut.

I am back indeed, with a great deal to tell and a massive backlog of correspondence and bloggery.

The past four weeks have flown in, with more gadding around the planet than I had sought and the greatest time and energy on special time with family. In particular, The Wedding. Suffice to say that my daughter was the most beautiful, radiant, stunning bride in the universe.

After the wedding, the goodbyes began. Farewells to friends and relatives who had travelled from near, far and very far. Some whom I had not seen for many years, and some who I had not previously met. At the beginning of the week, a sad farewell to my grandchildren, and to the bride and groom as they headed off on honeymoon. A staggered farewell, not making it any less painful but for once less abrupt.

And then I was faced with the daunting task of packing and preparing for my own journey. It is always a challenge to cram all of the bits and pieces I have collected on leave, to add to my existing luggage. Those little things I cannot get in Yangon, or papers, letters and the like. (Shhh – and books). Shopping for weddingry, however, means rather more to pack than usual and delights which are not so easy to transport back.A fascinator, glittery shoes with heels, fancy flat glittery shoes, fabric (for the mother of the bride creation), a shawl and those little items which are small on their own (favourite tea bags, nail varnish, moisturiser, gifts from the bride and groom, wedding favours and even a piece of wedding cake) but which sure add bulk and weight when you start packing them.

And this time, I had a number of copies of the Dragonfruit Anthology to bring back with me – most precious cargo! I had discovered when posting copies the day before, that they weigh 0.44 kilo each. I had soon added around 4 kilos of baggage and found that they take up a fair bit of space in the one check-in bag I am allowed.

Finally, I packed everything I needed (having left the usual warm weather woollies and essentials at my daughter’s place) and made my first attempt to close the case. That attempt failed. Failed by a mile, there was no way my poor suitcase was going to come anywhere near closing. The jettison had to start. Out came the glitter high heels, followed by the pretty blue flats. It still wouldn’t close. Then the shampoo and a few more things I can live without were extracted and eventually, with enormous complaint, the case was persuaded to close. The cabin bag was prepared carefully and as I put the last items into that other groaning bag, I found trouble! The previous day I had treated myself to some goodies from “Lush” and they were in my little carrying bag (having survived a drenching rainstorm in Edinburgh without turning into a fizzing mess). They were most certainly not allowed in cabin baggage, nor was I sacrificing them so I had to spend another twenty minutes trying to squeeze them into the corners of the case, crumbling as they were forced into a tiny space.

 

I was finally ready to leave for the airport, for the first leg on the 24 hour journey, with a head full of memories, many stories to tell in the coming days, great confusion and a case full of dragonfruit! Is it any wonder I arrived in this disoriented condition?

A dragonfruit in the hand……..

I have, in my hands, my very own copy of the Dragonfruit Anthology.

I submitted my writing for consideration 484 days ago.  I learned 447 days ago that it had been accepted for inclusion along with the writing of 25 other women.

The days and weeks since then have seen the nurturing of this project through editing, signing agreements, selection of a title and the development of the cover imagery towards the hatching of the book itself in electronic and paper formats.  Now this beautiful book is ready to fly.

Step by step this day has moved tantalisingly closer.  I received the electronic version a few weeks back but still I have had such a longing to hold the paper version in my hands.  That day has finally come.

I knew the book had arrived last week, and was waiting for me in Bangkok.  I knew that I would only be able to collect it during office hours so have waited patiently over the weekend knowing that it was also patiently waiting for me to arrive and claim it.  I just missed a sky train and when I did finally reach the building, the lift unusually stopped at almost every floor, stretching that time impossibly. I tried to tell myself that it might not be there, that the package waiting for me could be something else.  But I stubbornly refused to listen!

When I finally reached the right door and was handed my package, the Hong Kong postage banished any concerns I had that this was not my wished-for copy.

Dragonfruit arrival

This is a day I have dreamed of for decades.  The day I would hold a book with my own writing in it.

A dragonfruit in the hand...

A dragonfruit in the hand…

 

dragonfruit arrival 2

I have learned a great deal as I have been gently accompanied the process to prepare and publish this book, and more than ever I am compelled to strive to realise the writing projects I am currently incubating.

 

dragonfruit in hand

But for today, I am bathing in the satisfaction of leafing through the pages of this beautiful book and I am beyond delighted to see it come to life.

Dragonfruit Day!

It’s Launch Day!!

Let me quote our Editor, Shannon Young, from her site A Kindle in Hong Kong, as all the detail is there!

 

Today is the official launch of the expat women anthology! It has been such an honor to work on this project, and I’m excited for you guys to finally read it! Thank you for all of your support and enthusiasm since I first put the call for submissions on this blog. The book is available at the major online retailers in both e-book and paperback form. Here are the relevant links:

Amazon (paper and e-book)
Barnes & Noble (paper and e-book)
Smashwords (e-book)
Apple (e-book)

You will also be able to find the anthology in select Hong Kong bookstores soon. We will hold a launch party this fall. More details to come!

For the next 26 days, we will feature one contributor per day on the Dragonfruit Facebook page. Tune in to learn more about their interesting and varied work!

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?
True Stories of Expat Women in Asia
Edited by Shannon Young

In this collection, twenty-six women reveal the truth about expatriate life in modern East Asia through original works of memoir and creative non-fiction. Their experiences are varied and unique, demonstrating that expat women’s lives go far beyond the stereotypical. The writers hail from a dozen different countries and walks of life. Some are well-known; others are fresh voices adding nuance to the expat conversation. Through deeply personal accounts, they explore what they have learned about themselves and the world through their lives abroad. Together, they create a portrait of the modern expatriate experience that will both resonate and inspire.

(http://akindleinhongkong.blogspot.com/2014/06/launch-day-for-how-does-one-dress-to.html?spref=fb)

 

Dragonfruit launch day

Happy Launch Day!

Dragonfruit for breakfast

There is a very special point in the year, when the first mangoes of the season are finally ready to eat.  We have been watching them for weeks, from the time when they appear as little walnut-sized promises.  At this time, just for a few days there are still a few of the last strawberries of the year available before they disappear until spring. This morning my breakfast included some of that very first mango of the season from the tree in our garden, along with a few of those late strawberries.  It is a rare and precious time, one which I anticipate for weeks, and treasure as it is hardly here and so soon gone.

This morning my breakfast bowl also contained a few pieces of dragonfruit. Coincidental, as this is special in a rather different way.  Today is the day that the cover image of the Anthology is released, and I am delighted to share this here.

Dragonfruit Full Cover-1

 

Isn’t it fabulous?

Dragonfruit Full Cover both sides

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit will be published by Signal8 Press which is part of Hong Kong-based Typhoon Media, on 10 June. Details and updates are on the Facebook page and there is more information, including the initial reviews and links to all contributing writers on the Signal 8 Press site.

How I love dragonfruit for breakfast!