Book launch: My Private China, by Alex Kuo

What do normal people in China look forward to when they get up in the morning? What is the mentor of Lang Lang like? What about the personal friend of Chairman Mao – and how does his granddaughter relate to him after the murderous Cultural Revolution? What do the numerous evangelical Americans really think of the Chinese? How does the One Country, Two Systems paradigm work for Hong Kong?

For the last 73 years, American Book Award winner Alex Kuo has travelled back-and-forth between America and China. These letters and essays portray the private China, and provide indispensable cultural information for anyone interested in the People’s Republic in the 21st century.

Come and join us at the book launch for My Private China at 5-7pm on Saturday May 18 at Bookazine in Prince’s Building, Central, Hong Kong!

Alex Kuo will also be signing books at Kelly and Walsh in Pacific Place, Hong Kong, at 5.30pm on Monday May 20.

Click on either of the images for full details.


Hong Kong Noir

Our newest book, Hong Kong Noir: Fifteen true tales from the dark side of the city, has been on the South China Morning Post‘s top five bestseller list since Christmas. Author Feng Chi-shun has been interviewed by RTHK Radio 3 and HK Magazine, and the book has been reviewed by Susan Blumberg-Kason, the SCMP and Asia Times, which said:

Who can resist a story told by a pathologist about a hemophiliac, Ah Fai, who chooses to join the notorious 14K triad at the tender age of 15 and enjoys nothing more than the bloodletting of a full-on, violent street fight?

As you might guess, Ah Fai spends a lot of time in the intensive care unit of hospitals, where his striking good looks and unusual charm make him something of a celebrity to the doctors and nurses who treat him. Their affection for the reckless gangster spurs them to work especially hard to save him every time he shows up awash in his own blood at an emergency ward. In the end, however, it turns out there is only so much anyone can do for a hemophiliac who has made such a poor career choice.

We print this story below.


The Hemophiliac

Hemophilia: A hereditary disease characterized by a defect in the clotting of blood.

Hemophiliac: A person who suffers from hemophilia.

Every story about a hemophiliac is worth telling.

This is the story of a young man, Hong Kong born and bred, who suffered from hemophilia from birth and died of its complications at the age of 25.

Hemophilia is a disease which teaches medical students more about genetics than all others. The pathogenesis of the disease is the deficiency of a clotting agent in the blood (a “Factor” in medical vernacular) known as Factor VIII.

Although other “Factors” in our blood are known to be deficient, some congenital, some acquired, hemophilia remains the most famous and fascinating.

Hemophilia is a disease like no other. It is one of the first diseases discovered to be connected to the sex chromosomes (a sex-linked disease, in medical terms). The gene responsible for producing Factor VIII lies in chromosome X. If the gene is defective in a female, chances are she won’t be affected because she has another X chromosome as a back-up (except in consanguineous marriages, when both X chromosomes may be affected.) There is no back-up in a male, because his other sex chromosome is Y.

The fact that it affects males almost exclusively makes one think it is nature’s way of bringing equity to both sexes by compensating women for having exclusive female conditions such as menstruation and childbirth. But then again it is not, because the misfortune of a son causes despair to his mother more than anyone else.

A Jewish mother in ancient times watched her newborn sons die of post-circumcision bleeding one after another. It was only after the death of her fifth son in succession that her Rabbi would finally relent and grant her exemption from the religious rite of circumcision.

A hemophiliac tends to bleed non-stop from the slightest cut and the mildest bruising. Blood transfusion has been known to be effective in stopping the bleeding since time immemorial – hence ‘love of blood’ has become the disease’s nickname. Continue reading Hong Kong Noir

Putting together a Yunnan cookbook

We’ve just spent three days cooking, shooting and eating over 70 dishes from Yunnan province, the most diverse in China for both food and people. Linda has brought some hard-to-find ingredients from the province; we’ve been to various shops and markets in Wan Chai; and Linda has cooked up the dishes with Annabel in her Hong Kong kitchen.

See a few pictures in the gallery below. The Yunnan Cookbook, by Annabel Jackson and Linda Chia, will be out next year!

Pam Shookman and the Hong Kong Cancer Fund

From Peter Wood, husband of author Pam Shookman:

At the beginning of September 2009 Pam was diagnosed with Stage 4 bladder cancer. That afternoon we stumbled out of the urologist’s office into the unreal bustle of Central and headed straight for the Joel Robuchon café. There was only one possible response to cancer, Pam announced: cakes from the café and a bottle of champagne. Twenty months later, at Easter 2011, she died.

It is impossible for anyone else to share the experience of pain and fear that is cancer. One thing Pam did not do was deny. We got home with our cakes and champagne. I put on music so that we could dance in defiance of what she had just been told. And she called her family and closest friends to tell them the news. We cried.

The next day it all began. Tests in hospital. An immediate crisis. Chemotherapy. Major surgery. Tantalising hope that miraculously the chemotherapy might actually have vanquished the disease. The loss of that hope. The grinding slog through more chemotherapy to control it, no more than that. Her body would stabilise, then take another lurch downwards, until that moment when her oncologist said that there was nothing more he could do. She had always said that she wanted to die in London. Many of our friends were there and it was easier for her family to get there from the east coast of the US. Packing up took only a few days. It was all quite orderly and straightforward, our minds concentrated by the more urgent concern of what lay ahead. We flew back at the end of January 2011.

It can be all too easy to forget that there is much more to someone’s life than the cancer that kills them. Pam had two passions: food and teaching. These two passions come together in a small book she put together just before she was diagnosed, a guide to the wet markets of Hong Kong and the produce to be found in them: Roots, Fruits, Shoots and Leaves: A Guide to Shopping at Chinese Fresh Food Markets.

Food was central to Pam’s life. She could do fine dining, as she proved during her time as food and restaurant critic in Beijing, but it was fresh ingredients and the people who sold them in markets that she most enjoyed and it was curiosity about street food that always pulled her round the next corner in anticipation of finding something new. She believed firmly that it was possible to eat well, healthily, and inexpensively and that with just a little bit of encouragement everyone could be brought to understand that.

In her work in London and Beijing and in the cooking classes she ran she set out to dispel the fear that many people can feel about cooking for themselves and experimenting with new ingredients. Teaching was in her blood. She had taught English in Prague, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Hanoi. Before that in New York she had run cross cultural courses for American corporate executives about to be sent to work abroad. Food was an important element in these courses. In London she ran the test kitchen at Books for Cooks, the famous bookshop in Notting Hill, testing and correcting recipes and advising customers. In Beijing she wanted foreigners in China to feel confident about going to markets, buying fresh local produce, and cooking it for themselves. And that is precisely what her book aims to do for foreigners living in Hong Kong or visiting as tourists.

The cancer colonised her body. Friends would tell her that she was being very brave. What choice do I have, she would say when they had gone. But she did choose. She chose to look cancer in the eye, not to give up hope, but also not to look away.

She retained the pleasure she took in good food right up to the end. Back in London, weak, in terrible suffering, she asked for cheese toasties for breakfast. I was despatched to find Vietnamese vermicelli noodles and good Italian ice cream. A friend brought a particularly rich rice pudding that was enormously appreciated. She could not eat much but that did not mean she was willing to put up with bad food. Towards the end cubes of artisan cheese from the farmers’ markets and home made pear or apple compote became the staple of her diet. Barely 48 hours before she died she gave a ginger biscuit an appreciative thumb’s up.

Not long before she died she wrote to her publisher, Pete Spurrier at Blacksmith Books, that she wanted any royalties from the sale of Roots, Shoots, Fruits and Leaves to be donated to the Hong Kong Cancer Fund. She went to support group meetings. She was grateful for the telephone calls checking to find how she was feeling. While the quality of medical treatment in Hong Kong is as good as anywhere in the world the provision of support and palliative care is not as strong as it could or should be. She wanted her book to make a contribution to developing that support.

Roots, Fruits, Shoots and Leaves: A Guide to Shopping at Chinese Fresh Food Markets is available from Blacksmith Books, all major bookstores in Hong Kong, and Amazon.

Guung hay fart choy! And here are some other New Year greetings

Here’s some Chinese New Year greeting advice from our new book Hong Kong Unveiled:

Bye neen, 拜年, praise the year; shake your fist enclosed in your other hand (it doesn’t matter which hand is on the outside) as a greeting while saying something auspicious to family members and all you meet during Chinese New Year.

Auspicious sayings:
Guung hay fart choy, 恭喜發財, good wishes, good fortune, congratulations on being rich.
Sun tye geen hong, 身體健康. Good health.
Sum serng see sing, 心想事成. May all your wishes come true.
Ching chern serng jew, 青春常駐. Forever young and beautiful.
Sarng yee hing luung, 生意興隆. Good business.
Hok yip jern bo, 學業進步. Make progress in your studies.

Read more excerpts and don’t make the greeting mistakes seen in Ming’s cartoon!

Download a free study guide for Bhutan memoir “Dragon Bones”

From Murray Gunn, author of Dragon Bones: Two Years Beneath the Skin of a Himalayan Kingdom:

I tried very hard to allow the Bhutanese people in Dragon Bones to tell their own stories and to minimise the bias created by my beliefs, my mood and other aspects of my life. I knew it was an impossible task before I began writing, so I provided clues to my own state of mind in the story and made it clear when I was describing my reactions to an event rather than the event itself.

I wanted readers to experience Bhutanese life themselves and to learn about the Bhutanese culture without forming opinions. There is so much that is good in Bhutan and so much that is discomforting to a foreigner, but of course neither is true for the locals – it’s all just life. If readers were to make judgements, I hoped they would be of my decisions and actions rather than of the local people who were acting according to their own culture and local norms. As the outsider, it was my job to learn and to fit in, but I didn’t always succeed.

I hope this guide will be useful to book clubs and to any classes that may read Dragon Bones. As with all my writing, the focus is on cultural understanding and tolerance. If I have given people a taste of the fascinating Bhutanese culture and generated discussion around tolerance, I will be satisfied.

Download Murray’s free study guide here.


“Kowloon: Unknown Territory” – photo exhibition at the FCC

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong is holding a wall exhibition of Ira Chaplain’s photos from Kowloon: Unknown Territory.

“In my 19 years spent in various parts of Hong Kong, I have never lived in Kowloon. Before I took this assignment, like so many in this city, my life existed largely on Hong Kong side. I never knew the ‘dark side,’ where I felt lost. So, for me, beginning work on this book was like mounting an expedition into uncharted land.”

View the photos (and meet the photographer) at the opening event on Jan 16th 2013 at 6-8pm, or at any time over the next six weeks. Full details at the FCC.

Nov 26: Come to the Blacksmith/Bookazine Booksigning Extravaganza!

As we count down the final four weeks to Christmas, come and get your Hong Kong gift books signed at Bookazine. We’ve brought together 14 Blacksmith authors who have all written about Hong Kong. Come and meet them over a festive glass of wine, and get your books signed by:

Jonathan Chamberlain, author of King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong

Ira Chaplain and Nicole Chabot, authors of Kowloon:Unknown Territory

Liza Chu, author of Dim Sum: a survival guide

Feng Chi-shun, author of Diamond Hill

Cecilie Gamst Berg, author of Don’t Joke on the Stairs

Betty Hung, co-author of Hong Kong Unveiled: A journey of discovery through the hidden world of Chinese customs and culture

John Hung, author of Master of None

Ken Ing, author of Wing Chun Warrior

Cindy Miller Stephens, author of Hong Kong for Kids: A Parent’s Guide

Jason Y. Ng, author of Hong Kong State of Mind

Nury Vittachi, author of The Curious Diary of Mr Jam

Robert Wang, author of Walking the Tycoons’ Rope

Kirsteen Zimmern, author of The Eurasian Face

Date: Monday November 26, 6.30-8pm
Place: Bookazine, 3/F, Prince’s Building, Central, Hong Kong
Wine courtesy of House of Fine Wines

Each author will be donating a book for a lucky draw, and I will be there serving mulled wine made to my secret recipe. Come and join us!

Book launch and photo exhibition, Nov 7th — Kowloon: Unknown Territory

What do “deep water pier”, “nine dragons city” and “mandarin’s lake” have in common with “Wong Tai Sin”, the name of a Taoist deity? They’re all districts in Kowloon.

This new book is an exploration of what is often seen as Hong Kong’s shadow-side, from the viewpoints of community, consumerism, art, food, fashion and sex – 15 years after the handover. Hundreds of colour photographs bring the peninsula to the reader in a salute to street culture and the ordinary and extraordinary people of Kowloon.

Join photographer Ira Chaplain and writer Nicole Chabot at a photo exhibition as we launch Kowloon: Unknown Territory!
Venue: the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre
7A Kennedy Road, Central, Hong Kong (at the upper end of Hong Kong Park)
Opening: Wednesday November 7th 2012, 6:30pm – 9:00pm
Wine will be served. All welcome. The exhibition will carry on until Nov 12th.

News from a Hong Kong publishing house