Folks have asked me to add comments on the AFCC festival and also about my talks so that will come in the next short while (notice the undefined time period as I have come back to a mountain of work which includes most importantly finishing the teacher’s notes for the e:lit shortlist publication) but in the meantime I wanted to post a note that was written about me by Andrea Pasion-Flores – a photo taken with Andrea is on an earlier blog post. Andrea is the Executive Director of the National Book Development Board in the Philippines. Her post is titled Stalking Chris Cheng and it absolutely thrilled me.
I hesitate to say that Christopher Cheng is half -Chinese and half-Australian because he is, I suspect, wholes of both his halves. He looks white, he sounds white, but he’s Chinese, too. In the midst of this talk, he mentions in passing that, in Australia, there is a need to get kids in school to realize that not everyone is of European descent. Chris doesn’t quite fit into my idea of how a Chinese person should look like but I am deeply reminded of his Chinese heritage by his long ponytail reminiscent of a Chinaman’s braid, just like the ones only seen in old pictures and Chinese movies, though his is not a braid but black and white hair with several red rubber bands tied the whole length of it (way past his butt!). Well, okay, so his eyes are a wee bit chinky but not all that much really. His topic, one of five for all three days, is “Writing Across Borders: Taking Asian Content to the World” but he doesn’t belabor the content as being Asian, thank goodness. His message is simple: “Write the story that you love.” Foremost, Chris says to writers, is to remember that you are a writer and that you are writing a story. And, I am summarizing, how the agenda should not cloud the art. “My job,” he says, “is just to write the stories.”
There is much awareness of being the Other in this conference though in a celebrated sort of manner of course. Though there is a focus on being Asian and on Asianess, that which is universal, what makes us all human, is really what will make the world stop and read our story. I think this is the main thing I’m getting from Chris, who talks excitedly and quite fast with a very understandable Aussie accent. Later, we will have an interesting conversation in the hall about how Australia doesn’t seem to be counted as Asia, and he wonders at that, why when Australia’s in the picture, it’s collectively called Asia-Pacific for example. It’s much like the way, I tell him, that the Philippines, though Asian, is a wee bit more westernized than most Asian countries—and, talking to him, I do feel extra othered among these Others. And I wonder again how he works on being a whole with his halves. I suspect he will just say something like, “Don’t be bothered with it. Just get the insight, after all’s said and done, it’s just got to be a good story.”
I am looking for one of Chris’s book New Gold Mountain published by Scholastic, which, unfortunately, was not available at the AFCC’s mini book fair. From what he says it’s historical fiction that’s YA in 51,000 words—with a stand-alone sequel. It’s a story of a boy during the big Australian gold rush that attracts many Chinese to go to Australia. Of course, the following day, he does have another lecture on writing historical fiction—and I stalk him on this one, too. Chris writes all sorts of things but mainly writes for children. And he says the best response he gets is when a kid walks up to him and tells him, “That could’ve been me.” And, apparently, he gets this all the time, all over—despite being wholes of halves.
I think I go to three of his five lectures during the duration of the AFCC. His enthusiasm for writing, technology, marketing, and all things in between is just contagious. I do believe him when he says—in all three of his lectures: “I write full time. I have the best job in the world.” And why is that? Because in all this hype of being Asian and having Asian content, which just means believing that we in this part of the world do have good stories to tell, a writer must first write for himself and believe that, after he has written, he wrote a story that’s good. Now, what job can top that?
More on the Carolinas later but Pam Vaughan (official photographer for the New England conference last weekend) has just sent me oodles and poodles of photos … so if you don’t want to see piccies of me in action – then look away now! There are photos of me with friends, of me panelling, photos […]