July 18, 2017

The Malayan Series, Book 2: A review and giveaway

When the Future Comes Too Soon (The Malayan Series Book 2)
by Selina Siak Chin Yoke

I had the pleasure of reading Selina Siak Chin Yoke’s first book in this series several months ago: The Women Who Breathed Two Worlds.

She invited me to read her second book in anticipation of the book’s release today. It was wonderful to be able to squeeze that in some of my rare good moments, and arrange a review and giveaway.

She was gracious enough to give us a bit of an interview, and a giveaway. We’re all winners, here!

Selina Siak Chin Yoke's Malayan Series

Her first novel, The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds, followed the the life of Chye Hoon, an incredible woman who built a business to support her family, embracing her heritage, and trying to pass that on to her own children.

This second novel picks up after Chye Hoon passes, and evoked an entirely different set of feelings as we followed a woman from the next generation, Mei Foong, through the political and cultural changes wrought by the Japanese occupation.

Selina grew up listening to family stories and ancient legends, like I did, speaking four languages, double my childhood repertoire. She always knew that some day she would write but it wasn’t until after she’d spent time as a physicist, banker and trader in London that Selina received the message loud and clear to get on with it. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. As she beat the cancer, she realized it was time to start writing.

I’m so glad she didn’t wait. Her first novel was nothing but an inspiration. Well, an inspiration and a touch intimidating – I’m not sure if I can do my family’s legends justice as she did hers.

Raised in Ipoh, Petaling Jaya (near Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia, Selina later went to school in Kent, England. I had some personal questions to ask her:

Q: Who was your childhood family storyteller?
A: My maternal grandmother, to whom I dedicated When the Future Comes Too Soon. She lived in another town; each time she visited I would pester her for stories. She told me a huge amount and I forgot most of the details – I have an awful memory. Fortunately, I wrote some of it down. On my last visit to my parents’ house, my mother found sheets of handwritten notes that I had made while talking to my grandmother. She told me an astonishing amount! I really wish she were alive – I think she would enjoy my books.

Q: Which stories stuck the most with you, and why, did any of them resonate enough to guide your life choices?
A: My great grandmother’s life story – that of an uneducated woman who started a business and raised children with her earnings – was fascinating because it was so unusual. She was also such a larger-than-life character: people remember being terrified of her even after seventy years! Her story did not guide my life choices, but the protagonist in my first novel is drawn from what I heard about her.

Q: What was your and your family’s relationship with money as you were growing up, a young adult, a fully fledged adult?
A: My attitudes to money and business were, in many ways, formed when I was a child. The Chinese diaspora in South-East Asia is known for its entrepreneurialism. I grew up hearing business being discussed, and I was taught the importance of both earning money and saving it. I was given a piggy bank at the age of three! But I also understood that risks presented opportunities. Many people start business in Malaysia and also invest in stocks. Because our immigrant ancestors began afresh with very little, we celebrate those who have made successes of their lives through hard work and risk-taking.

Q: I said in my first review of The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds that this was the story I have always wanted to write but wasn’t sure how. I’ve saved several unfinished drafts. My grandmother was the woman who raised ten children, supported her village through the war, and met her grandchildren from America only a few times late in life. But her life story that I grew up hearing is part of my soul and the undisputed source of my grit. She and I lived thousands of miles apart but we had similar tempers, similar determination, and similar love of useful containers.

Was there any person in particular that, in writing the Malayan series, you felt that kind of connection to?
A: I have felt a connection to all the strong women in my family. Fortunately, there have been many and they’ve provided me with role models on which I’ve been able to base wonderful stories!

Q: In this second book, you move the lens from one strong woman boldly facing the changes in the world over to a woman of the next generation, learning her strength as she faces a changing world but, it seems she doesn’t quite grasp it until perhaps the very end. I felt so much sadness at the close of When The Future Comes Too Soon. Perhaps I would have felt them even before having children of my own, because I’d come to understand the love my mother bore for her children and how she suffered with that love. Truth be told, that sadness was the biggest reason I needed more time to write this review – I had to sit with it for some time!

Often, authors say that may have intended to take their characters one direction and find them headed in another. Did you have that sense with Mei Foong at all, or was her character consistent in your mind and the story?
A: I’m always touched when I hear how much readers are moved by the stories I’ve written. It’s absolutely true that sometimes, my characters have insisted on doing things I’d never envisaged for them! I anchor my stories on milestone events, and then I write outlines for every chapter. When a character just goes against the grain of my outline no matter what I do, I have no choice but change it. With Mei Foong, this did not happen; she stayed more or less consistent.

While you can read Book 2 without having read Book 1, I do highly recommend you try both.

Now for a chance to read it yourself – please enter to win a copy of Selina’s latest book!

WAYS TO ENTER – Please leave a comment for each item.

1. Add the book to your Want to Read shelf on GoodReads.
2. Please leave a comment sharing who your childhood storyteller was, or who you most admired in your family when growing up. Make sure that you include your name and email address with your comment so we can reach the winner.
3. Bonus! Please share this with your friends who are interested in awesome books and have them include your name with their comment as an extra entry.

Who knows, if we have enough entrants, we’ll see if we can’t negotiate a second winner. 😉

The Fine Print: The winner will be picked by a random number generator on Thursday July 27th. Entries are accepted until Wednesday July 26th, 11:59 pm PST. Open to US readers only this time, sorry international friends!

March 20, 2017

Currently, and currency

Foreign currency in my pockets, and current events on my mind Everything is quite unsettled right now.

  • We haven’t found any suitable place to make an offer on yet. And the possibly-apocryphal (but I doubt it) tale is that it’s taking upwards of ten offers to get one accepted.
  • We are in selling limbo until we buy.
  • I’ve got several moving pieces at work that needs 150% of me and my attention but as Dr. Temperance Brennan would point out – that’s not possible.
  • One of those moving parts may shake out to be quite bad for me, potentially ruining a big and expensive summer plan, and there’s absolutely nothing I can ethically do to affect the result. I’ve briefly considered the non-ethical options but nooo. I can’t be that person.

It’s a little weird that the not moving part of life bothers me so much, considering I quite like our home right now, and we’re only moving under duress. It’s less weird when you consider that I’m both a Type A personality (very little of the home buying process is under my control), and that I’m a homebody, so feeling like my home is going to shift at some random unknown point in time is incredibly unsettling.

All this adds up to a pit in my stomach the size of a watermelon.

I’ve gone from stress-cleaning to stress-cooking to stress-feeling frazzled and frozen. Back to stress cleaning this week, if I can muster the energy.

One of the benefits of stress-cleaning is that you go deep. And deep de-cluttering turns up gems. Like the discovery that your comic collection is pushing 100 lbs. Or a huge pile of cash.

(Except it’s not huge, and it’s not American dollars but other than that…BOUNTY!)

  • Singaporean dollars, and I don’t remember when I was ever in Singapore.
  • Hong Kong dollars, I do remember when I was there (briefly).
  • A small handful of Thai Baht. Boy do I ever miss authentic Thai food.
  • Some Taiwan dollars, when did I lay over in Formosa?
  • Way too many expensive GBP, obtained at the worst possible exchange rate – go me.
  • An absurd number of Canadian dollars considering I haven’t been there in at least a decade.

I’m working on finding my Zen again. The discomfort of needing to move shouldn’t overshadow the comfort of loving the home we are in right now, especially since there’s so much about it we do love.

There’s nothing I can do to change that possible-summer-ruiner but I can work on mitigating the ruination.

There’s very little I can do about the fact that my pain is at an all time high this week except take medication earlier and make the most of the few minutes’ break when JuggerBaby has a nap.

Ultra high pain also means that depression is nibbling around the edges of my brain again. I can’t just ignore it, but I can’t tell it to go away again. I can try to only see the good in front of me, or focus on what I need to do, and most optimistically, try to fit in a massage this week. It’s been put off because of this darn congestion. There’s nothing less relaxing than being hyper aware of your mucosal state while trying not to gross out your massage therapist.

If 300% of Vitamin C a day doesn’t do the trick this week, I welcome other cold-busting suggestions!

UPDATE: That bad work thing? It’s happening. And the effects won’t be in the summer, it’ll be now through summer, and walloping my personal calendar something fierce.

:: Where in the world have you gone? How do you deal with uncertainty or the unknown?

May 25, 2016

30 mostly free ways to say I love you

I caught this question on Twitter and loved it. Without saying those three words, how do you tell your loved ones that they’re loved?

Bonus points if it’s free!  Well, ok, most of mine are free in the sense they don’t cost money but they cost time and often expertise.

Love: there are so many ways to tell your family and friends you love them. How I tell PiC I love him

  • I finished our tax return.
  • The baby’s down for a nap, hit the gym if you want to.
  • [midday text] Dinner will be on the table in 30 minutes.
  • Save room for dessert!
  • You have fresh bath towels and clean underwear in the drawer.
  • Booked our tickets for Hawaii/vacation for $35 out of pocket!
  • Seamus and I already went on long walks.
  • We’ll go out AFTER you take a nap.
  • Merry Christmas, we own more stock.
  • I bought us an investment property.

How PiC tells me he loves me

  • I’ll walk the dog, just relax. Also, here’s your tea and a couple of biscuits.
  • I’m going to the gym, back in 1.5 hours.
  • Thanks for raising the kid today.
  • I’ve got the baby, go back to sleep.
  • LB and I went to Costco.
  • Did you want to do some writing? We can go for a walk.
  • There’s a cookie for you in that box.
  • Want to go to NY and see Hamilton?
  • Menu planning is not just your job. I can plan too.
  • All the dumplings / sashimi is for you.

How I tell friends I love them

  • Check your mailbox.
  • Check your inbox, I edited that thing for you.
  • Tell me when you’re in town, I’ll take time off.
  • I’ll be over in fifteen minutes to change your bandages.
  • No gluten? No sugar, dairy, meat? No problem.
  • You can have the last brownie.
  • Angry Cat’s ears are clean now. So are Grouchy Dog’s.
  • I still have to work but I’ll come over and work so we can talk.
  • I’m lending you this awesome comic book.
  • Go do your thing, I’ll watch the kids / walk the dog.

:: What are your ways to tell people you love them? Are you a splash-out indulgent sort or is that only for special occasions?

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March 25, 2016

Unfinished business: things weighing on my mind

For some things, I'm still waiting

If there’s something I need more of in this life, it’s quite likely more patience.

I’ve no shortage of things to be patient about but surprise surprise, I really suck at it.

The need to resolve things itches

The mortgage refinance is creeping along at a snail’s pace. Two and a half weeks ago, they said it’d be approved two weeks ago. Yet, still no idea if they’ll approve it yet. Cross your fingers, please?

We need to schedule a signing of our estate plan with the lawyer, just as soon as I quit being a disgusting, racking-cough, sneezy sniffly snotty mess.

Oh right, this cold brought by an emissary from the lower depths of Hades? Still here.

Even better, it turns out that flu-like fever and chills can also be a fibro symptom which is just awesome. I discovered this over a 24-hour period of misery. My only solace is that I didn’t manage to pick up the flu in addition to this cough thing.

Car #2 remains a figment of our fevered imaginations so we’re still a one-car family, and Seamus doesn’t fit in that car so I can get him to the vet for his overdue nail trimming. I did try it myself and got as far as three nails before I quicked him. Sorry, pup.

My phone is still creaking along, but it’s just getting worse, and really needs to be replaced. This has got to happen before it totally craps out in the worst possible situation.

Keeping my chin up (or at least above water)

Before I get too sunk in the melancholy of what’s NOT going right, I will keep in mind that:

We’re still all alive and kicking. In this, the most disease ridden season ever, that’s no mean feat.

Even if I’m scraping the dregs of my energy barrel, I’m still getting my work done and still managing to do a little writing here.

February 26, 2016

Counterpoint: How I love the internet

Most people who know me offline-only don’t know that I’ve got health issues. I don’t advertise, and unless it’s relevant, it never gets discussed. But it’s a very real thing that impacts everything I do in every way possible.

PiC lives with me and still forgets how overwhelmingly present my pain and fatigue can be. The level of exhaustion I feel every single day is equivalent to having a bad head cold. Higher pain episodes are like being struck down with the flu and its friend, the 105 degree fever, losing control of your muscles and consciousness, an anvil on your chest forcing you to gasp for the lightest breath. For days. Days and nights, forever and ever amen.

From that perspective, even though I’m considered “functional”, lots of “regular” life pleasantries become a trial. A walk around the block takes planning: rest for 3 hours, walk for 20 minutes. Cooking a simple dinner? Spread it across 12 hours or pay the price. A phone call? It’d better be really important because I have to take time and attention away from what I’m doing to properly entertain the call and use energy for talking aloud. A couple phone calls can wipe me out for the rest of the day.

You’d better believe I sorely miss the days when none of that was true. When I could work all day, play late into the night, and only be a bit worse for wear the next morning. How I miss the energy and invulnerability of youth and good health! In lieu of that, I’ll instead be deeply grateful for how much life I still have thanks to today’s connectivity.

My high degree of introversion requires at least a 15:1 ratio of solitary to social time. In the pre-Internet days, it was 30:1 because social time demanded that I be presentable. None of this rat’s nest hair, unkemptness and pajamas deal. That stopped being ok after high school, apparently.  Who voted for that anyway? Nowadays, my life revolves around the internet.

While Vicky has a point that it can be all-consuming in a negative way, and I can feel to my marrow the longing to enjoy the air and saddle up my horse for an early morning ride instead of groggily waking up to work email, the fact is, with my health reality? There would be no riding for me. There would be no refreshing bracing air, there would be no breakfast on the propane stove. I would be an even crankier, isolated, friendless, shut-in. And who likes an angry shut-in except their cats? And I suspect that’s only because the cats are playing the long game. *shiver*

Why I love the internet

Boundaries

It’s far easier to set boundaries on the time you spend on any given thing when it’s entirely on the internet. If I’m chatting with someone on Twitter, it’s easy to just stop when I need to. The nature of the tool is that, barring the horrible trolls, you can very easily engage and disengage at will. You’re not required to engage with anyone.

Contrast that to when you run into someone you know on the street and don’t dodge around a corner fast enough. Then you get roped into a conversation you never wanted with someone who ignores your every “well, gotta go!” with a fresh topic until you just want the earth to open up and swallow you both. Preferably in separate chasms. PLEASE.

Naturally, I LOVE email. I can talk to someone at length, at my discretion and leisure, and they can do the same. No pressure!

Social me up

As much as my first thoughts about interacting with people dart toward “make it stop!” I do need the occasional friend.

But when I do want friends, this is the sad truth: my offline-only friends have scattered like dandelion fluff to all corners of the country and are busy with their own lives. You can find them on Facebook now, not just a phone call and ten minute car ride away. We keep in touch and see each other when we can but 98% of the year, I’m on my own. Or I would be, if I didn’t have the friends I’ve since made who are happily accessible in the space in which I can safely dwell without losing days thereafter gasping for air.

I’m not saying that my friends don’t care. But beyond our time and geographic constraints, the friends who are physically capable of doing in their 30s what they could do in their 20s are not the friends who necessarily understand or can accommodate the person that you became: someone in their 30s who functions like someone in their 80s. They didn’t spend the last two decades in waiting rooms alongside a geriatric population. They didn’t have to see a specialist whose youngest patient was 68 years old as their regular physician. You don’t see movies about the bucket lists of 30 year olds who are anticipating the possibility of spending their last 40 years crippled. That’s not a fun story and it’s not a fun life.

On the internet, not only can I have that social interaction and not be lonely during a string of isolation-days, I can find friends who understand what I mean when I say “I hurt.” And only on the internet could I message someone at 2 am saying “so I’m in labor” and not feel weird about it. Or message a friend at 4 am (you know who you are, Patti!) to ask “is this normal??” for the 50th time about a recalcitrant child that simply would NOT sleep.

Social vetting: the proof is in the mutual friends

After 5 years of determined experimentation, the data shows that you cannot make friends if you only leave the house, on average, 1 day out of 7 and avoid talking to people. (Why would I avoid talking to people? They’re draining.) It takes time and energy and that stuff is precious when it can’t be bought for love, money, or food bribery.

But making new friends is a thing you have to do if your old ones are all on the opposite. Pre-internet, this was a commitment of massive proportions: get cleaned up, drive/ride/walk to a place, wait for someone to show up that may or may not have common interests, find that they’re a delightful (yay!) or horrifying (oh no!) individual. In the latter case, wait for them to finally stop talking and lose interest so that you can hightail it out of there, taking three alternate routes and turnings so you can be sure that *if* they were also creepy they couldn’t track you home. [Only dudes have ever tried this with me. Dudes, if you’ve followed someone after a meet up? Don’t. That is super creepy.]

Over years of writing this blog, I’ve been incredibly lucky to find friends in a handful of fellow bloggers. Our friendships have deepened to the point where I refer to some as Gateway Friends. If they have deemed someone suitable to be friends with, I trust their judgment such that “your friend is my friend.” And that became possible because I witnessed their interactions on a regular basis and could judge for myself whether this is a person I’d like in my circle.

Heck, Vicky herself is someone I’d call a friend over our many shared years of blogging! We’ve never had the pleasure of meeting but we’ve helped each other out in a pinch, we’ve chatted over email, and where  do you draw the line at friendship? You don’t need to know if my laugh mimics the Roadrunner and I don’t need to know if your hair is a particular shade to be valued, do we?

My friends, who are actual living, thinking, caring and hugely supportive human beings whether or not we’re in the same room, are friends only because the internet made it possible.

A life without work has little meaning

It’s hard to recall a time in my life when I wasn’t working. Whether it was for my parents, for volunteer hours, or for a living, you’d have to go back to the early childhood years to find a period when I wasn’t doing some kind of labor. And I loved it. Heaven help me but it’s so satisfying to do something well and meaningful.

If I weren’t working for a living, I’d be working for a cause, or something I believed in. That’s why I want to retire, even, so I can do what I want: help!  But since I do have to work for a living, well, I have fifteen years of working in retail and another ten in my industry besides to be as grateful as Seamus with a brand new chew toy for the ability to telecommute to my current job.

Because most of my job can be done online, my time and energy can be focused on getting the job done, no wasting time on social niceties, I can also afford to live. Blimey but that’s a relief.

Fun is not just for the young

Pre-debilitation, I never walked anywhere that I could run, and never ran anywhere I could sprint. You can imagine how quickly all of that screeched to a halt when the whole disease thing set in. What did that leave me? Every activity I loved was my imaginary Olympic tryout, and then I couldn’t move. And if I did in defiance of nature? Bed, three weeks.

The internet can be a wonderful or awful place and I choose the wondrous. The internet gives me access to free books, chit chat with friends, and email with other friends. It gives me this blog! It gives me resources on food, raising the young, it gives me clothing that fits, DELIVERED! The number of stores I don’t have to search in person and on foot, for that, I give thanks. Heck, the internet makes it possible for PiC to try to replace our car without having to deal with the smarmy weasel-y salesmen we can’t stand. (I’ve met exactly one car salesman in 20 years who wasn’t gross. The odds are not in our favor.)

I can’t be the only person who loves what the internet lets us do. What about you?

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