Singapore Writers Festival 2020!!!

Hi folks, it has been a while : )

First up: a big thank-you to the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) team for giving me a complimentary Digital Festival Pass!

This year, the festival will be FULLY ONLINE for the first time ever, making it accessible to book-lovers and wordsmiths worldwide!

I’ll be covering a few events from SWF 2020 on this blog in a week-long feature from 30 Oct to 8 Nov, as I experience the excitement from the comforts of home post-wisdom tooth extraction (my dental appointment is tomorrow, ouch).

Some of my favorite authors will be speaking!!! Would like to highlight a few names in SWF’s amazing, star-studded lineup from around the globe, which includes Liu Cixin, Magaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Teju Cole (from Harvard!), Tracy K. Smith, and more…

Click here to learn how to access SWF 2020!
(‎The Digital Festival Pass gives you access to more than 100 programmes, including all of the above author talks, and more. Students get a 40% discount.)

30 Oct, Fri 9:00 PM – 10:00 PM SGT
Zadie Smith: Intimations (event link)

Zadie Smith discusses her new collection of essays written in the early days of lock down. How can we think ourselves through this historical moment? What does it mean to submit to a new reality or resist it? What is the relationship between time and work? In our isolation, what do other people mean to us?

***

31 Oct, Sat 12:00 PM – 01:00 PM SGT
Liu Cixin: The Possibilities of Science and Imagination 刘慈欣: 科学与幻想的无限可能 (event link)

面对人类世潜在的现实状况,我们应否能转向科幻世界推测人类的未来?以长篇科幻小说《三体》三部曲而名扬国际的中国科幻小说家刘慈欣分享自己的作品与创作心得,听他谈谈自己如何透过科学与幻想的视角看世界。

As we grapple with the potential realities of the Anthropocene, should we (and can we) look to science fiction to speculate the future of humanity? Best known for his trilogy, The Three-Body Problem, Chinese author Liu Cixin speaks on his works, and the extent to which he views the world through the lens of science and imagination.

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1 Nov, Sun 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM SGT
Cassandra Clare: A Night In Pandemonium (event link)

From The Mortal Instruments to The Last Hours series, best-selling YA author Cassandra Clare has built a mega world of mundanes, shadowhunters and parabatais that many of us have grown to know and love. In this meet-the-author session, join Cassandra as she speaks about her literary inspirations, writing ventures, and how one can never run out of stories to tell.

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3 Nov, Tue 9:00 PM – 10:30 PM SGT
In Conversation With: Margaret Atwood (event link)

From women’s rights to climate disasters, Margaret Atwood’s genre-defying works bear an eerie resonance to present-day realities. When fiction becomes fact, where do we go from there? Margaret Atwood speaks with novelist Balli Kaur Jaswal about the power of a writer engaging with critical conversations, and the ways in which fiction can witness, resist and inspire regardless of where we are in history.

… And so many more!

Visit www.singaporewritersfestival.com for the full line-up of more than 200 events inspired by the theme of ‘Intimacy.’ ❤

And stay tuned as i report from the virtual frontlines! 🔥🔥🔥

Lots of love (I’M SO EXCITED),

Book Review: The Golden Age 黄金时代 by Wang Xiaobo 王小波

In 1997, two decades after the end of the Cultural Revolution, Wang Xiaobo died prematurely of a heart attack. This was five years after his debut novella The Golden Age made him one of the most widely read and discussed authors among disillusioned youth in China. While initially met with hostility from the literary establishment, he’s now a cult favorite.

The novella (his most iconic work) is a bold foray into love and sexuality under a totalitarian regime — a Kafkan take on the link between chastity and political orthodoxy (a rather Orwellian theme, think: 1984). The narrative is a story framed within a story: the narrator, Wang Er, recounts his affair with a young doctor Chen Qingyang in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, from the vantage of twenty years after. The triangulation of sex, language, and power in the story sets the stage for an absurdist love story on multiple levels. For one, there’s the Maoist sublime at the backdrop of the action, wherein each person’s body is subsumed in ideological fanaticism and a libidinous impulse directed towards the state. For another, there are the two protagonists, who use their bodies in defiance of Party politics through bizarre sexual escapades — the most delightfully weird scene is them having sex in the wilderness, beside a water buffalo. An ironic parody of the rural country, which lies at the heart of China’s “Down to the Countryside” movement (上山下乡), the novella oscillates between resistance and regression, transgression and farce. Sex in The Golden Age functions not just as protest but also as a metaphor for state power and the voluntary, even pleasurable, collaboration of those subject to it.

What I like most is how Wang presents the Cultural Revolution as absurd and obscene in its theatricality and codification of desire. By having his protagonists consecrate the profane dimensions of desire, Wang celebrates a temporary escape from the prevailing ‘truth’ of puritan devotion to the state. The carnal pastime, however, is an almost nihilist negotiation with one’s own body and psyche — Wang’s deadpan language, cavalier tone, and flattened emotional affect powerfully evoke the collective ennui of that era.

While many academics have long perceived the Cultural Revolution as a sadomasochistic theatre, where the state dominates and the individual submits, a different portrait appears in The Golden Age.  The story is an unlikely sexual carnival, à la Mikhail Bakhtin. Through Wang Er’s deadpan humor, cavalier tone, and reverence towards sex, the carnivalesque energy thrums, parodying and undermining the socialist agape. The sexual detail in the narrator’s confessions to the authorities (检讨书) and the festive spectacle of the couple’s struggle sessions (公开批斗会) point to the subversive nature of language. By indulging in the absurdity of their situation, the characters escape mere victimhood and reclaim their bodies and minds from Party ideology.

The Golden Age hints at revolutionary nostalgia — not for the Maoist agrarian utopia, but for the lost possibility of love even in a time of extreme violence and total upheaval of meaning. By reigning in explicit violence and unleashing its dark energy through the absurdist carnival of sex, The Golden Age ultimately gestures to love as the forbidden password to liberation.

You kissed my belly button, right? I was right on the edge—I almost fell in love with you in that moment.

[Writing] Snippets from old drafts

中秋快乐~ Happy Mid-Autumn, my loves! 🌕🥮🎑

中秋快乐2020

***

Ok, now some writing ramblings:

My current novel draft is titled V6. The word count clocks in at slightly over 52,000.

Idol V6 word count

Today, I went back to read V2 and V3—it kind of shocked me how they present a drastically different novel altogether from my current draft (where are the genetic similarities?!) and they will probably never see the light of day. They will float in the Google cloud, untethered, the DNA lineage from which the current baby descends. 🧬👶🏻

So here are some random excerpts from these GDoc relics, for your amusement (and my own haha). 

[V2] SoulCycle in augmented reality? 🚴‍♀️

“One kilometer left, questors!”

A drop of sweat fall into January’s left eye. Her smartlenses watered, the wasteland blurring.

“Eight hundred!” 

Her thigh muscles ached. She was cycling uphill in a Mad Max-like wasteland. The group was in the last stretch of the high-speed chase. The sun overhead was blindingly white, but there was no heat. As her feet pumped the pedals, the vehicle surged forward on a yellow, dusty road that disappeared into the horizon where the silhouette of a fortress awaited. All around her stretched an endless blanket of sand. 

[…]

“You’ve crossed the Wasteland, questors! The quest never ends! See you all next session!”

The wasteland receded. Confetti showered on her, the flakes disappearing before they touched her sweaty skin. Words began floating before her. 

Our arable lands are becoming deserts. Every dollar you spent at True Quest is matched by ByteCent to reforest our lost greenery.

As the electronic music prelude to the True Quest theme song began, January tapped her left cuff to switch off the AR filters and the room reverted to its clean lines and simple furnishings: a bunch of stationary bicycles in a darkly-lit studio, with glow-in-the-dark bonsai trees. Other questors—all slim, panting, and of various skin tones—were now stretching, gulping their customized Soulwaters, or softly gossiping in circles.

January grabbed her Soulwater from the cup holder. Today’s flavor tasted saccharinely sweet. Usually, she would have hated it, but the water matched her mood. January looked around the dim studio, thronging with sleek shadows—all the women with their ready-wearables and athleisure couture from the New York Fashion Week’s S/S collections, sweat-resistant au naturel makeup, and the modest discreetness of their minimalist aesthetic. On the outside, January melted into these shadows, but her thoughts couldn’t lie. The appearance was easy: sneaker-heels, photosynthetic GgG (Gucci goes Green) shirts, and a flash of Tiffany silver or Cartier gold to coyly convey sustainable luxury and ethical living. How long had it taken for her to get here? To this lifestyle of ‘enlightened entitlement,’ where wellness was a status symbol, productivity was a precept, and everything was done mindfully—shopping, eating, sleeping, parenting, learning, working, and working out.

[V2] Girl meets boy for the first time after he gets into car accident. (There’s no longer a car accident in V6, phew.) 🥺

He was pale-faced, half of his face bandaged, engulfed in blankets, his shoulders still straight. A wisp of glamor still lingered—barely there, like dust that glints when the angle is right—on the upward tilt of his left eye, in the pinkish-red of the rims, on the feather tip of those heavy lashes. 

She had prepared herself for scrawny or scrunched up, skeletal or sickly, but instead, he looked sober. Somehow, the spare setting purged every trace of boyishness from his face.

Under the fluorescent lighting, motionless on the hospital bed, he didn’t look quite human—a half-mummified mannequin, or an uncanny sculpture, or a new-age Frankensteinian invention just off the surgical table, not yet ready to be unravelled.

I’m like a cold-eyed observer, she thought, gazing upon a painting. 

[V3] In this version, everything becomes first-person. A world with holographic apps. 🌟

Download GEMINI UNIVERSE? The window prompted.

Staring at the “Play trailer” option, my index finger tapped the air. 

Full Immersive or Augmented? The window asked. I doubled tapped the former. 

G—and it could only be him—appeared, three feet away from me. Loose white t-shirt and black jeans. No shoes. 

“Hello,” the hologram said, eyes crinkling, “welcome to my world.”

My reading capsule was still bright, for optimal reading, but his hologram had an otherworldly quality, standing under a spotlight as though on a dark stage. Suddenly: a couple beats of crashing drums. A pulsing bass. The light around him rippled. 

“Come on over,” he said, beckoning with a raise of his brows. The VR effects kicked in and the capsule faded away. I was now in a dome, surrounded by galaxies of light sticks. At the heart of the planetarium stood G, now in an all-black ensemble with a jacket that flashed trending profile avatars of fans. He was softly crooning in a vertiginous ring of light. The tune was melancholic, but his voice was surprisingly good, almost familiar. I had probably heard it somewhere, on one of my friends’ livestreams or 360-statuses.  

“Experience my concerts wherever, whenever.” 

The scene rippled and now we were in a bedroom. Oh! I was in someone else’s body, looking at the world through his eyes. G’s! He/I was waking up, brushing his teeth, walking into a—I’ll never forget this moment—jaw-droppingly expansive closet that was bigger than my bedroom. I could only catch a glimpse because the shots were spliced rapidly. The next moment, I saw him picking a recipe from his food printer and tapping a spoon against the marble countertop. And then it was him on a plane, waving to screaming fans at arrival, ducking into a vehicle. His hand comes up towards his face and blocks the lenses. Blackness.

“Experience how I live,” said his voice. 

“And have me in your universe.”

A few functional scenes dissolved in and out. Easy purchase or bookmarking of any outfit or look by tapping on G and adding the item to the cart or mirror. Augmented meals. Exclusive concert sets in the living room. Giving my smart assistant the Aural x G premium update. 

“See you there.”

The darkness lifted gradually and I was back in my capsule. 

I was still reeling from the quick final scene—essentially, my smart assistant could take on his hologram likeness and speak in his voice. What would having G so close be like? Could I even name him something else? Or was the whole point to have him—singularly, authentically—in my world?

The trailer was not entirely the life story I was expecting. It was invasively intimate, thrillingly voyeuristic, more about tying my world with his. I could already envision how gruelling it was going to be, wading through all the information on his life when every brush of the teeth was documented.

***

Dear reader, always happy to hear your thoughts and ideas on the future of entertainment, love, and inequality!!! x

Onwards with V6 in October!!! 💪💪💪

但愿人长久,千里共婵娟 🙏💛

祝合家圆圆满满,一生花好月圆~

Have many yummy mooncakes,

Beauty Diaries: Skincare Life Hacks

Today’s post is not about reviewing products!!! For that, go to Beauty Diaries: My College Skincare Routine.

Not only have I tried no new products in my four months of stay-home hermit life till August, but my 8 and 10-step morning and night skincare routines (which I once thought would persist till the end of days) have also tapered off: I now do 0 steps in the morning and 4 steps at night. 😵

YET, even without my extensive product routine, my skin condition has remained surprisingly stable with some noticeable improvements on good days (when I’m not eating junk food or staying up late 🧟‍♀️).

I have found certain little habits in daily life—I dub them SKINCARE LIFE HACKS—indispensable for my skin condition. As basic as they are, if you can integrate them into your lifestyle, these life hacks are cheaper, healthier (no chemicals!), and more sustainable and effortless than a 10-step routine. (Though maybe the real trick is to find the best of both worlds.)

👉 DRINK WATER — water is the real fairy potion (not SKII) 💧💧💧

TBH, my skin was not that great back in JC. I used to barely drink water—one cup in the morning and probably at most a small water bottle’s worth throughout the rest of the day.

To solve the problem, I have made drinking water the essential start to my day. Before I allow myself to eat anything in the morning, I drink four cups of warm water, ~800ml. For lunch, I drink another cup around 30 minutes before the meal.

I am a warm water addict. I never drink plain water cold, not even at restaurants!!! (American restaurants, weirdly, automatically serve iced water even in the depths of water.) Not only does warm water in the morning help flush out toxins and cleanse the digestive system, studies have shown that it helps with weight loss and combats premature aging.

Now, on average, I drink at least 2000ml of water per day. I’ve kept it up over the past two years. Healthy hydration starts inside out!

👉 GLOW FROM WITHIN — what you eat > what you put on your face 🍽️

Eating healthy once in a while doesn’t help, so I try to make healthy foods part of my routine.

Integral staples of my daily intake include (I do NOT put them on my skin though some do):

  • Lemon 🍋: Part of my biggest motivation to visit the dining hall at Harvard was to restock tiny lemon slices HAHA. I add a slice of lemon to my water bottle each day. At night, when it’s no longer that sour, I eat the lemon. Vitamin C helps with whitening and clarifying. [Read: benefits of eating lemon.]
  • Honey 🍯: Probably the closest thing to the Greek gods’ ambrosia. I usually add honey to my first cup of warm water. Both honey and lemon have antioxidant properties that combat aging & wrinkles.
  • Fruits 🍌 and vegetables 🥦: Do I need to say more? I generally make sure I eat three fruits per day.

👉 STOP TOUCHING YOUR FACE! 🙀

How apt for COVID-19 times, no??

Even outside of the pandemic context, I don’t touch my face without having cleansed my hands. The bacteria on our fingers can easily cause irritation and inflammation. Curb the urge to touch your pimples!

For objects that come into contact with your face, make sure they stay clean. I use wet wipes on my glasses and phone daily to keep bacteria at bay and oil from clogging pores. Pillow sheets, which can collect sebum and skin residue, should also be changed frequently. (I change mine once or twice a week.)

👉 DO-IT-YOURSELF FACIAL MASSAGE 💆🏻

But…When your hands are clean, MASSAGE AWAY~

At night, after cleansing and showering, I use my thoroughly cleaned hands to apply products to my face.

While applying these creams, a daily DIY massage can keep your face young and supple, firming facial muscles and boosting blood circulation.

To keep it short and simple, I apply each product with a massage:

  • Tapping the forehead. Press between brows and slide up and over the forehead.
Woman Facepalming: Light Skin Tone on Apple iOS 13.3
  • Firming with serum. Push skin from chin to cheeks in vertical upward strokes. Prevent saggy cheeks and deep smile lines.
Hugging Face on Google
  • 👀 Contouring the eye. Lightly sweep under the eyes and stroke up. This promotes collagen production and allows the eye cream to penetrate. Say no to crow’s feet!
  • Jaw lifting with moisturizer. Use your palms to slide up-and-out from mouth to ear. This reduces jawline puffiness and also creates a lifting effect. End with five sweeping motions down the neck.
Raising Hands on Google Android 11.0

👉 GOOD OL’ FASHIONED FACIAL STEAMING ♨️

Caveat: does NOT work for all skin types. Be careful if you have sensitive skin.

I used to be skeptical about the method because the whole opening-up-your-pores rhetoric sounded like pseudoscience. My mom, however, swears by this practice. For a woman in her fifties, her skin condition (sun spots but no wrinkles) convinced me to try it out.

Every morning, I boil water and pour it into a big bowl. At a safe distance, I put my face over the bowl for around 3-5 minutes and wash my face with tap water immediately after. Some people use facial steamers; others add ingredients to their steams (herbs, oils, etc.).

While initial effects may be subtle, after a few months my face now looks firmer, younger, and more hydrated than ever (even without copious amounts of serum and cream). My pores have also shrunk. If you’ve ever been to the sauna and onsen, you know how good this feels. ❤️‍🔥

[Read: What does steaming do for your face?]

***

What skincare life hacks do you use?

Stay safe, stay RADIANT!

August sipped away like a bottle of wine

I’m taking a leave of absence this fall!

Perhaps, as early as May, part of me already sensed that I didn’t want to do another semester of remote learning—especially not during my senior fall. I got sad thinking about doing the last year of college on Zoom. It felt anti-climactic, disappointing, a poor facsimile of what it could have been.

Truth is, I’m not in a rush to graduate at all. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, through conversations with friends back home and a simmering creative malaise over my fundamental ability to write fiction.

What is it I fear? The prospect of graduation isn’t scary, what is is the official entrance ticket to the treadmill of busyness and conformity, turning on the axle of capitalist productivity. What’s scary is the 9 to 7 weekdays in office cubicles, two-week vacations per year for the next couple of decades, housing mortgages and tax bills, and coming eventually to terms with the fact that—despite every lofty ambition growing up—my life will unfold exactly the way I don’t want it to. The fear of a mediocre life, of living too cautiously. At this age, mediocrity hurts more than failure.

In some ways, taking the semester off to continue writing whole-heartedly is a gamble against those fears, to give myself a real shot at the kind of life I aspire for when there isn’t that much to lose (yet). The existential crisis has never really quite left me, as my old blog posts remind me (e.g. Sophomore me confronted my worldly fears amidst recruiting season; in Junior fall, I was grasping for ANY inkling to answer “What do I want to do with my life?”—I stopped pretending that it was anything other than writing).

I am still a work in progress. A part of me knows if I were to die next year, I would spend the next 365 days writing a novel. That’s the only thing I felt destined to do, ever. So, I am trying to understand what the writing life is like by taking this semester off and deconstructing the in-built drive to fill up the time with internships, research stints, etc. But, another part of me still doubts. A few days ago, I went to read the first 20,000 or so words in the current draft of IDOL and was gripped by an eroding sense of insecurity. I’ve been staving off the instinct to edit for as long as possible so that I can first get the words out on the page. But, over these past couple of days, I’ve been writing very few words and knee-deep in editing because my style is so flawed that I kind of want to crawl into a hole and bury myself. (John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction has been a good antidote for the onslaught of writing woes BUT it’s no panacea—HOW CAN I WRITE BETTER?!? HOW DID I NOT REALIZE MY WRITING VOICE IS SO STILTED???)

Here’s a short reading list of what I plan to read/reread/finish reading in September, to get past the rut (may a bad writing week not turn into a streak):

Dear reader, is there a novel that you loved for its voice and style, on top of its plot? I’m hungry for recommendations, feel free to send me titles ANYTIME!!! 🙏

Lastly, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DADDY!!! 亲爱的爸比,生日快乐 🎂🎉✨ The other day I was going through my childhood books. Many had been lugged back by my dad from his overseas trips—Chinese novels, math olympiad books, hardback fairytales, poetry collections, history tomes, comics… Each time I went to the bookstore with my dad, the two of us wouldn’t be able to leave without making a purchase. I owe my love for words—both English and Chinese—to my parents, who feed my imagination and indulge all of my creative urges.

Writing is a very uncertain thing, lonely, patient, chaotic, private; whoever observes the process from the outside might be mystified. Apart from word counts (which are quite helpful for establishing routine and utterly useless in relation to the actual substance of my words), my parents don’t quite know what I’m doing with my time. Occasionally, my dad asks me about how the novel is going and I don’t quite know how to tell him. Yet, still they have chosen to support any of my life decisions with trust, respect, and love. For that, I am eternally indebted to them.

谢谢爸比妈咪, 感恩有您们~ ❤️ 

Another month with G and J in IDOL begins!

Lots of love,