Friday, April 28, 2006

Power to the bloggers

[Summary: Bloggers are increasingly influential as independent voices outside of conventional news media. How do they challenge the perceptions or worldview we sometimes take for granted?]
An article in The Guardian (18 April 2006, Technology) reports on a finding in a technology study that bloggers are becoming a strong influence on society by dominating public conversations and creating business trends. Bloggers can wreak havoc for companies by raising awareness and campaigning against the corporations or their products. They can also become independent sources of news and opinion outside of the usual media multinationals or (in some countries) government-controlled press.
It made me think about how we perceive the wider world we live in. We get our news usually from the radio, TV and papers. We go to see films and plays and buy CDs that we've read rave reviews about. We choose freely to go to or buy what interests us. Or do we?
Have you noticed how many traditional media sources suddenly have nothing but Tom Cruise in them, or the latest Harry Potter, or the new Madonna album? And after a week or so, it's as if they never existed and we're reading about the next big thing to go and see/ listen to. Why is that? It's because this kind of news is driven by the marketing people with the biggest budget to spend - like the person with the loudest voice in the room, they drown out everyone else.
Look at the recent Academy Awards. The Academy members vote for the best film and so on. The production companies that sent out DVDs of their film to all the members got more votes in general than those that didn't. It's only natural of course that the members would be more likely to vote for a film that they've seen - and that was easy for them to see. It seems to me that it's the same for the print and TV/ radio media - their time is limited and they have to sell copy in a competitive environment: if the big thing that they are being sold by a publisher's marketing team is Harry Potter, they cannot risk losing out by not reporting it.
It's like when I travel - I like to hunt out an obscure restaurant or cafe with great food and ambience that only the locals know, rather than go to what's been recommended by all the tourist books where all I'll get is the tourist experience with other tourists. The risk is that I might end up in some dive with horrible food and an unpleasant evening - but that's a risk you run even with a so-called recommended restaurant. But the reward might be a treasured memory forever and that feeling of real exploration that is so difficult to attain in our ordered, modern world.
I feel a similar sense of exploration seeking out interesting blogs. The thing about bloggers is that on the whole they are not paid to blog. They do it out of passion - so you can get quirky, off-beat or unusual information from them or alternative views that are not dependent on selling the morning's paper. You can also hear the individual voice and heart of the writer. They'll tell you about a book or film they love because they love it and not because they've been sold on it in a press pack by clever marketing people. The downside, though, is that there is no editorial control so you may need to wade through a lot of self-indulgent verbage before you get to the gem. And there is no guarantee of the journalistic truth or integrity - so you shouldn't always believe everything you read. I still read the solid news media like The Guardian or Newseek, but when I want a change from the same-old, same-old being told what to read and see and think, exploring the blogosphere can be fun and strange and curious.
If reading my blog is an early foray into the world of blogs for you and you'd like to explore other blogs, here are some ways you can do that:
  • At the top of this page, there is a button in the banner that will take you to the "Next Blog". This will randomly shoot you into another blog. It's always a different one every time. Once, when I was exploring I came across this amazingly beautiful site:
  • Go to Google and type in a topic of your choice followed by "blog" and see what comes up eg music blog, malaysia blog etc
  • Go to (there's no "www") and type in a "tag" (ie any keyword) in the Search box and see who/ what appears.
Please do come back and leave a comment to let me know what you've discovered.
If you're a regular web traveller and all this is a bit old hat for you, I'd love it if you could leave a comment and share some of your "travelogues" on the net and recommend any blogs that might be interesting for me - and the other readers - to visit.
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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Trade you my paperclip for your house?

With property prices shooting through the roof, you need to be creative these days if you want to own your own home. To give you an idea of the madness: a car parking space in London was going for over £30,000 a little while back - it's probably worth a lot more now. And it's not just in the UK - it's happening all over the world.
Kyle Macdonald, a young Canadian, has found the answer. Since July last year, he has been bartering his way up to housing ladder. He started with one red paper clip. He has literally traded up via various better and better items - including a doorknob, a generator and a van. Today, 27 April 2006, he is offering a trade on an afternoon with rock legend Alice Cooper. Now what's that worth to you and what will you trade him for it?
Check out his website at and see for yourself.
In an interview on a Canadian website (, he explains how the success of his project is almost entirely dependent on his free blogspot website and other free web tools eg for displaying photos and videos and emailing. He says he has "never made a single outgoing call to a media outlet or solicited a trade from a single person" - the people he has traded with have all come to him via the website.
From how far he has progressed in the last 9 months, It looks like he will be the proud owner of his own home very soon!
I am sure many people will be inspired by his project to try out bartering as a way to trade their way up to their dream. We all do each other favours every day and in the business world, from small enterprisese and solo professionals to big companies, it's common to exchange expertise, services, products and goodwill. I guess what he's doing is not that different - just more focused!
So what will I be trading in the next little while to take me closer to my dream? Well, my dream is for this blog to reach 500 subscribers by May Day (1 May) 2007. So this month, I'm putting up three free copies of my novel to be won in exchange for readers subscribing to this blog. Since its launch about 10 days ago, I've had 20 subscribers so it's a great start - but still a long way to go. I hope you can help me reach my goal by telling your friends about this blog.
What would you like to trade in the coming few weeks to take you closer to your dream? Why not tell me about it by leaving a comment? Maybe I, or the other readers of this blog, could help you towards your goal in some small way.
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Legal texts can be fun! The real life Da Vinci Code drama continues.

[Summary: The judge in the Da Vinci Code plagiarism case has inserted a code into his judgement that has got the world reading legal texts for fun at last]

The Guardian reported today (27 April 2006) that Mr Justice Peter Smith, the judge in the plagiarism case brought by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail (HBHG) against Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, has apparently inserted a code into his 71 page judgement on the case. Brown was vindicated by the judgement which ruled that he had not plagiarised HBHG.

The lawyers reviewing the judgement, living up to lawyers’ reputation for “having a keen eye for detail”, noticed odd italicisation in the text that they first thought was typographical errors (typical: blame the secretaries!). But then they worked out that the first few letters spelt “Smithy’s code”. Hmm, I wonder how they are going to record the time they spent puzzling over that one – chargeable or non-chargeable?

The lawyer who broke the first snippet of code, Dan Tench, has apparently been offered a front page spread in The New York Times if he breaks the code. So no doubt the race is on among fans – or hopeful celebrities – to beat him to it and get their 15 minutes worth of fame.

You can read the full Guardian article by clicking on this link:,,1762351,00.html

Do you want to have a go? You can get a copy at* I expect that you’ll need to drink lots of coffee and pinch yourself regularly to stay awake – my own experience of legal texts is that they are not usually edge-of-the-seat stuff!

Personally, I think all this is a conspiracy to get more people to train as lawyers and judges by selling them on the idea that writing legal papers is just like writing thrillers…

*Thanks to Lee-Anne for her great detective work in finding this link to the case for me!


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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Simon World blog

You may enjoy exploring the wide world of bloggers out there so from time to time, I will be sharing links to the blogs that I read.

Simon World – A blog by an Australian living in Hong Kong. He catches curious news in Hong Kong, China and Asia – a good round-up of what’s happening down in the streets.


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We all look the same - no, really, we do

[Summary: Are films and shows colour blind at last?]
I was intrigued by the recent furore over the casting of Chinese actors in Memoirs of a Geisha. The argument went something like this: the story is about a geisha in Japan and a geisha is a particularly Japanese construct so the actors should be Japanese. Our very own Malaysian superstar, Michelle Yeoh was grilled in many interviews about this. Her response, quoted in many publications, was that no-one complains when Americans play Germans or Brits play Italians. Indeed, Meryl Streep has played just about every Caucasion nationality under the sun. Though, to be fair to those who criticised Geisha, Meryl never has tried to play an Oriental. (Fortunately, the custom of white actors "blacking" up to play black or other non-white characters is now very much unacceptable.)
A website that's been around for awhile came to prominence during this controversy. Set up by Dyske Suematsu, an Asian-American, it asks: do all Japanese, Chinese and Koreans look the same - as some Westerners might say. You can do an online quiz and see your results instantaneously. I thought I would be pretty good at telling each of these groups apart but scored only about half! It's fun and challenges one to really look at one's preconceptions about racial stereotypes. Have a look at it at
Looking beyond stereotypes in the movies, it has been heartening to see Oriental actors taking on more and more mainstream roles where the emphasis has not been on kung-fu high kicks or hard-done-by bound-feet woman. Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan have been significant in raising the profile of Chinese actors on the international screen. But Chow Yan-Fat has taken things to the next level, playing in thrillers where he's more comfortable wielding a gun than high-kicking (The Replacement Killer) and in romantic movies as the male lead (Anna and the King). He is tall for a Chinese man and that probably helps get him into the A-list! Ling in the Ally MacBeal series, as played by Lucy Liu, is fascinating and charismatic for being tough, sexy, and smart - not for being Chinese. The role had been written as a minor part without race in mind and when Liu auditioned, she was so good, they hired her long term and expanded the character.
In Under a Tuscan Sun, we notice Sandra Oh as the heroine's best friend - it's great to see an Oriental in a regular role in a regular drama where all the characters could just as easily be Caucasian. And oh yes, her character is also lesbian. The beauty of this subtle film is that it just takes all that in its stride and what shines through is the friendship between the characters. On her website, the Canadian actress is quoted as saying, "If there's another f@*#^*g show or movie about New York and everyone's white, I'm gonna f*#@!*g die. That is so unacceptable."
On the UK stage recently, a young Chinese lad, Matthew Koon made history as the first Chinese Billy Elliot. An Asian and a black boy have also got the lead role in this musical, based on the film. The director of the show is quoted as saying that it was important to him to be colour blind in casting for the role - what mattered was the talent of the boys. In Malaysia, of course, stage productions of Western dramsa have always had a mix of races in the cast, reflecting the ethnic mix of the country so this news may not be such a big deal in that context. But in the UK, I feel that this is a huge leap forward for a Britain moving towards an acceptance of itself as a multi-cultural country.
And to really befuddle us all, the recent movie TransAmerica has a woman, Felicity Huffman, playing a man who wants to be a woman. In a now infamous scene, the actress wears prosthetic male genitals in her role as the man who would rather not have those genitals. Now how confusing is that?
But all this just goes to show that we really all look the same - Caucasian or Asian/ Oriental; male or female. What looks the same under all the stereotyping and outward accessories of gender is a common humanity and these films and shows challenge us to go beyond first impressions to look at the person before us. So in years to come, when my hair goes completely white, I shall not wear purple - as the poem goes - but I shall become blonde and no-one had better dare say that I look weird.
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Sunday, April 16, 2006

What's up this month - April 2006

I am very excited to launch my Lit Blog. Please do have a look around.
What's all the fuss about?
You've heard of fusion food, a blend of Far Eastern cooking and Modern British cuisine. Well, this is a fusion blog - a synthesis of my Malaysian-Chinese heritage and my British life today. You will find posts on writing and books, films, food, updates on how my next book(s) are coming along, profiles of people I find inspiring, unusual or interesting, explorations of questions that intrigue me and also, a little bit about what's going on in my day-to-day life. Plus the chance to win a copy of The Flame Tree and to be entered into future prize draws - all for free.
So what does that mean, exactly?
Most of you probably know what a blog is, but for those who don't, it's short for "weblog", an online journal. "Lit" is short for "literary". So this is a personal space where I can share my writing on, well, writing - and also, the other arts and delights that can be an oasis in our hectic lives.
I will update this blog once a month at least, with occasional additional postings in between. Although this is a blog, the posts will be more like "articles", with a bit of structure and theme to them, and so, hopefully, they will be a good read.
What's in this blog for me to read, then?
To help you navigate round this blog, a summary of my latest posts for April 2006 is listed here. Click on the title to go straight to the full "article".
Curious Legacies: My Grangmother's Recipe for Soy Sauce Chicken: I've been collecting notes for a memoir of my childhood growing up in Malaysia and my coming of age in England. I got to thinking about all the people who have been in my life. Some of them, like my family, are a part of me and others, like friends and my partner, have become an important part of my life. Others have come and gone or just passed through. But many have left something behind - curious legacies that, taken together, make up the fabric of who I am. In these notes, I write about some of these curious legacies. Today: My Grandmother' Recipe for Soy Sauce Chicken
Holy Smoke, What a Relief!: Dan Brown wins the plagiarism case brought by some of the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail (HBHG). The verdict: he did not steal their ideas. So what does this mean for me and for writers generally?
Reflections on "Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus": Not a review exactly, more like thoughts and reflections prompted by this moving film. This is a documentary that is "a spiritual journey (which) explores the "Soul of the South" and a world of marginalised white people and their unique and intense home-grown culture" (BBC Four summary).
The World's Best Restaurants - really?: Another article about food - we Malaysians are crazy about food. A list has just been published of the world's best restaurants but are the world's best restaurants really those that are fancy, famous and expensive? I don't think so. What do you think?
How doth your garden grow?: There's nothing like a pretty garden - whether in the UK or Malaysia - to get us talking. Add your comment and tell us about gardens you love, wherever you are in the world.
Also, have a look at the "Site Navigation" section of the sidebar for help moving around the site.
What do I do now?
I hope you will subscribe to receive free email notifications of blog updates, and for the chance to win a copy of The Flame Tree. Subscribe now.
All subscribers will also be automatically entered into future prize draws to win books and other gifts. Coming up soon, an interview with Caro Fraser, and author of the best-selling Caper Court legal series, plus the chance to win a copy of her latest book A World Apart
What else?
You can also join my blog community by adding your comment to the posts. Sometimes I ask my readers to update me on what's happening in their area - I'd love to hear from you. Why not share your thoughts and local knowledge with a world-wide audience - eg. see the post "How doth your garden grow?" to add your comments* on gardens in Malaysia, Singapore, England or wherever you are in the world.
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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Coming Up Soon!

Coming up soon on Yang-May Ooi's Lit Blog -
>> An interview with Caro Fraser, novelist and author of the best-selling Caper Court legal series, plus the chance to win a copy of her latest book A World Apart
>> The Malaysian blogs that inspired me to start my own blog - and to make the main character in my next book a blogger
>> Curious Legacies: The Recipe for Hairdryer Duck
>> and more.....
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Holy Smoke, what a relief!

/Summary: Dan Brown wins the plagiarism case brought by some of the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail (HBHG). The verdict: he did not steal their ideas. So what does this mean for me and for writers generally?/
Well, we all heave a huge sigh of relief. The HBHG authors bringing the case claimed that Dan Brown stole their core ideas for The Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown contended that he had merely used their book for research and in any case, had credited their book in his acknowledgements. The judge ruled that you cannot steal ideas under copyright law and ruled in favour of Dan Brown.
Most writers read widely when researching the background for a book. We absorb ideas and stories and characters, let the whole mixture cook for awhile and then create something of our own out of the raw material. I watch films, listen to music, talk to people, see what's in the news and just watch the world go by as well as reading books.
The idea for The Flame Tree came out of a strange mix of raw ingredients. I had been writing a rather turgid "bound feet" family saga of the Amy Tan genre and had got very stuck - the writing was difficult to read and morbid, the plot was non-existent, the characters were mawkish. What to do? I took a break and read John Grisham's The Firm.
I was in my parents' house in KL in Malaysia and it rained a lot so I was stuck indoors, glued to The Firm, turning the pages like I'd never turned the pages of a book before. It was a great read and unputdownable.
The rains were causing a lot of landslides all over Malaysia. Also in the news, a big new residential tower block collapsed, killing many people.
On the radio, I heard the song Where do you go to, my lovely? by Peter Sarstedt. It's about a beautiful, glamourous woman who hides a secret past in the slums and who has cut off her true childhood love for the sake of making it in the world of fast cars and riches.
A flame tree grew in the front garden and for all of my childhood it had never flowered. I looked out at it in the rain and I remembered that almost by magic, when I was twenty eight, its branches had been thick with bright red flowers - rich and luxuriant, flaming red like a beacon over our neighbourhood. I asked my mother why it had never flowered before. She told me she had planted that tree when I was a child and flame trees take up to twenty years or more to bloom. I was moved by the faith that it takes to wait so long for one's hope to come to fruition. What Mrs Fung tells Jasmine in The Flame Tree is almost word for word what my mother told me that day.
All these elements came together suddenly. I still remember that day - I was lying in my childhood bed in KL and it was raining. The character of Jasmine, her relationship with her mother and childhood friend Luke and the conspiracy behind the building of the university project that she becomes involved in - it was all just there in my mind. I gave up on the family saga I had been writing. I started making new notes and soon, I sat down at my laptop and typed out the title page: The Flame Tree by Yang-May Ooi.
So, it makes me wonder, if the HBHG authors had won, would I be sued by John Grisham, Peter Sarstedt, the newspapers reporting the landslides and tower disaster - and my mum?!
But, fortunately, Dan Brown won - and whatever you might think of his book or the theories in it, as a writer I celebrate his victory. As for the authors of HBHG, they need to see the abundance of the world - one person's success need not mean another's failure: The Da Vinci Code had already been boosting sales of HBHG even before the case and now both books are up there in the bestseller list. For writers generally, we can explore in our writing a myriad of ideas and stories, however they come to us, without fear of being sued. And the lawyers for both parties haven't done too badly either....!
It's win-win all round. Look, The Times (London) has reported that the case might have been a marketing conspiracy to raise the sales of both books. What a great idea for a story! Someone should write a book about it. Someone probably already is ...
You can get the chance to win a copy of The Flame Tree if you subscribe to this blog. Subscription is free and you also get free email notifications whenever I update this blog. Subsribers are also automatically entered into any future prize draws.Subscribe now.
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Win a copy of "The Flame Tree" - Closing date: 31 May 2006

3 copies of The Flame Tree to be won!
To get a chance to win a copy of The Flame Tree, all you have to do is subscribe to this blog. Subscribe now.
Subscription is free and you will receive free email notifications whenever this blog is updated. You will automatically be entered into the prize draw to win a copy of The Flame Tree and also all future prize draws (unless otherwise stated). For more about how to subscribe/ unsubscribe and my subscription policy, click here.
The closing date for this prize draw is 31 May 2006. You can still subscribe after that date and you will automatically be entered into the next prize draw.
Please read the Rules of the prize draw below.
The Rules for the prize draw
1. The closing date for this draw is 31 May 2006. Within two weeks of that date, 3 winners will be picked at random from the list of subscribers.
2. I will notify the winners by separate emails and ask for your name and land address to which to send the prize. I will be entitled to assume that the name and address given is the name and address of the winning subscriber and I will not knowingly post the prize to any other person.
3. When I receive a winner's land address, I will post the prize to them and delete their land address from my records.
4. I will post the name of the winners on this blog (but not the land address or email address) .
5. I will not enter into any other correspondence or discussion regarding the winners or regarding this or any prize draw and my decision on the winners and prizes is final. You may not substitute the prize offered for anything else.
6. I will post the prizes by the public postal system. I am not liable for any acts or omissions of the postal services in the UK or any other country.
7. Where the address is not in the UK, I am not liable for any taxes, duties, or customs or excise or import requirements that may be applicable in the country of receipt nor for ensuring compliance with any other laws, including but not limited to laws relating to copyright, censorship or any other matters that may arise regarding or in connection with the prize. These remain the liability of the recipient and it is the responsibility of the recipient to ensure compliance with the laws of their country.
8. By subscribing / entering this prize draw, you are confirming to me that you are over 18 or that you have the permission of your parent or guardian to subscribe/ enter this draw.
9. Your email address will remain on the subscription list (unless you unsubscribe) and will be entered into all future prize draws (unless otherwise stated). For my subscription policy, click here.
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The World's Best Restaurants - really?

/Summary: Are the world's best restaurants really those that are fancy, famous and expensive? I don't think so. What do you think?/
The Evening Standard, a daily paper in London, reported on a list, just published, of the world's best restaurants. The top 50 show a strong European and American bias, with a couple of entries from antipodean Australia and South Africa. There was only one entry each for Asia (India) and South America (Brazil). Among them are the fanciest restaurants that you see talked about in the society pages of the style and fashion magazines like Vogue etc.
What? No mention of Malaysia where food is a passion for all of us? I have to ask, what do these fancy restaurant critics know!
Now, let me tell you about the best restaurants on my list - where you get great food, never mind whether the surroundings are fancy or not or whether you get the top vintage of wine served with your meal. I'm talking about real food for real people who love real food.
There are great places to eat in London but the ones I pine for, needless to say, are all in KL, Malaysia - except one.
First of all, there used to be Imperial Room on the edge of Chinatown down a dark, narrow alleyway. They served the best dish in the whole world - eels stewed in thick dark soy sauce and garlic. My grandparents used to take us to its previous incarnation at a fancier location in the 1960s where Ah Lan was the head waitress. Then she took it over and ran it with her husband in its last location. Everyone in my extended family loved the food here and even though many of us now live in England, America, Australia and Canada, every time we went home to KL, we had to go to Ah Lan to eat eels. Tragically, Imperial Room isn't there any more and I have been depressed ever since.
Then, there's Hakka Restaurant near my old school, Bukit Bintang Girls School, which does the best stewed belly pork with salted greens. You can sit outside in the open air and if it rains, they roll out the sliding roof. Again, plain surroundings with the emphasis on the food and being with your family.
And Sakura on Imbi Road, which does a great laksa - whether lemak or Penang. Their chicken rice is also pretty good. Now, Sakura is a bit fancy because it has aircon and smoked glass in the front. But a little luxury now and then doesn't necessarily spell disaster for the quality of the food!
Near Sakura there's a coffee shop that does amazing fried kway teow. I have no idea what the name is - but it's on a corner and I know it when I see it. They only do kway teow at lunch time, it's always crowded and the parking is hideous but we will always set off mid-morning and do whatever it takes to make sure we get there and get a table!
As for places to eat in Taiping, my family's home town, well, I could go on forever. But I will only mention one place today - my second cousin Meng-Huat and his wife Wee-Lee took us there one evening. It's a small hut, really, under a big tree somewhere outside town near Air Kuning. It does the most delicious fresh seafood I have ever tasted. The fish and shellfish splash around in big tubs of water and you choose the one you want. Within minutes, it's on your plate fried in ginger and spring onion and chilli.
If you have an off-beat restaurant on your list that you'd like to tell me - and the other readers - about, why not add a comment to this post? It can be anywhere in the world - the only criteria is that it must not be the kind of place that turns up in guidebooks or official lists and it has absolutely got to serve great food!
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How doth your garden grow?

/Summary: there's nothing like a pretty garden - whether in the UK or Malaysia - to get us talking. Add your comment and tell us about gardens you love./
It's a peculiarly English thing: making a special trip to go and wander round someone else's garden - and paying good money for it. To be fair, the gardens are usually several hundred years old, run to many, many acres and owned by a duke or even the Queen. Still, it's taken me a number of decades in the UK to get my head around this odd passtime.
When I first came to England, one of the first school outings was to Sheffield Park Gardens where we were left for several hours to wander around by ourselves. It's a historic landscaped garden owned by the National Trust. I didn't really get the concept - it was so boring looking at trees and shrubs and flowers. I couldn't understand why they hadn't taken us to a shopping mall instead. But the English girls were quite happy pottering about, chatting. (Some girls did set about hunting down any hunky groundsmen, but that's another story).
Chatting. That's a very English skill. In the good old Asian tradition that children should only speak if spoken to, my conversational repertoire at that time was "It's okay,", "I dunno" and a shrug. Today, my 11-year-old nephew - who was born and brought up in England - loves nothing more than a good chat. For me, that afternoon of numbing boredom in a landscaped garden, started to nourish my ability to chat. You start off with a comment about something innocuous - famously, the weather, or that lovely flower, or the beautiful manor house over there. You must always end it with a question mark eg "Gorgeous day, isn't it?" or "What a pretty flower, do you know what it is?". The question mark tosses the ball to the other player and away you go. Before long, you may never know each other's names but you've sussed that the other person is a decent sort and you're the firmest of friends.
But I digress (which is partly what chatting is all about). In my late twenties, I suddenly understood the joy of the English garden. Fittingly, it was at the most celebrated of gardens: Sissinghurst, the home of Vita Sackville-West, gardener, novelist and one of Virginia Woolf's great loves. I was on a cycling tour of Sussex and Kent with a friend in early summer. We arrived, hot and sweaty, legs wobbly from the ride. We had a wander round - chatting of course - and then came into the white garden. It was in full bloom - every flower in it white and the perfume was intoxicating. I had never seen a garden so beautiful.
Every summer, ordinary people open their gardens to the public under the National Gardens Scheme. In the grand tradition of garden visiting, you have to pay to get in but all proceeds go to charity. You can visit private squares in Central London that are otherwise never open to the public. There are a number of houses in my little suburb where they let the masses in on Sundays in May and June to traipse across their lawns and buy pot plants and seedlings. They lay out home-made cakes and cups of tea. Some of these houses and their grounds are quite grand but others in the scheme are little flats with a patio or garden the size of a welcome mat. The only condition for being included in the scheme is that the garden is lovely. Check out
In Malaysia, up in the hill stations where it is cool and often misty, the British have left behind English gardens with roses and bedding plants amid the tropical ferns. We used to take family holidays up in Frasers Hill, Cameron Highlands and Maxwell Hill, dressing up in woolly cardigans and lighting the fires in the rest houses to play at being English. These hill resorts had been renamed after Independence - Maxwell is now Bukit Larut - but the old colonial names linger on from my parents' generation. Now, I hear, the old English houses and gardens are falling into disrepair as Malaysians go abroad for their holidays or prefer more action-packed hill sites such as Genting Highlands, famous for its casino.
One of my favourite public gardens in Malaysia is Taiping Lake Gardens. It was first laid out by the British, I believe, cleverly masquerading the wasteland that was left after tin-mining. Over the lakes there are pretty bridges and walkways with pagodas. Lotus pads cover the surface of the still waters. There are hillocks and mounds planted with fragipani trees and long views towards the hills. Sadly, I've been told, the bridges are now looking derelict and the lakes are silting up.
These days, I'm happy to pay to look at a garden and eat cake and chat - to paraphrase that old '80s song, "I think I'm turning English, I really think so". But I haven't quite gone all the way - I'm not submitting my garden to the National Gardens Scheme: that would involve mowing the lawn and weeding and someone still has to convince me of the joys of those activities!
Take part:
Could any of my Malaysian readers update us on what's happened to the old English gardens in the hill resorts? Can anyone in Taiping tell us about the Lake Gardens? Add your comment to this post to give us the latest reports.
For all my readers: what's your favourite garden? Is it your own garden, your grandma's or maybe you think there's a better National Trust garden than Sissinghurst? Singaporeans - what great gardens are there in the garden city? Why not add a comment and let me - and the other readers - know?
If you enjoyed this post, you can email it to a friend by clicking on the envelope icon just below.
For my comments policy, please click here.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Site Policies

/Summary: Site policies re: subscription and privacy, third party services linked to this site, your comments; copyright and using my content/
What is your privacy policy if I subscribe to this blog?
By subscribing, you will only be asked for your email address and no other personal details. I will not use your email address for any other purpose than notifying you of blog updates nor will I sell the subscription list.
What is your relationship with the third party sites linked to this site?
I do not have any control over third party sites to which this blog is linked, including Blogger (which hosts this blog), Feedblitz (which maintains the subscription service) and (which provides the Contents sorting facility). If you have any concerns or complaints about any third party sites, please see their terms & conditions and policies on their sites and contact them direct.
What is your policy on visitor comments?
All visitors to the blog can submit comments relating to any post, provided the comments are appropriate and relevant . Please respect the views and feelings of all participants on this site. Comments are moderated and I reserve the right - without explanation - not to publish comments that may be considered offensive, objectionable or unsuitable.
The views expressed in any comment are those of the person making the comment and do not represent my views.
Can I use the content on your site or copy and paste it into another site/ document?
All the content of my posts is copyrighted. You may use portions of it or copy and paste portions of it into another site or document provided you put that portion inside quotation marks and you acknowledge clearly on that site/ document that it is taken from my blog and also that you credit me clearly with it. A portion for these purposes would be up to one third of the text from the relevant post. This broadly reflects the UK law on copyright.
Site policies may be updated from time to time. Please check back for updates.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Site Navigation

Welcome to my blog. To help you with Site Navigation, here is a brief look at all the different sections that make up this blog.

The main page/ Home

The main page you come to at presents you with the latest post. This page can be reached again by clicking "Home" or the title "Yang-May Ooi's Lit Blog" in the red autumn leaves banner at the top of the page.

The sidebar on the right will help you in your visit.

"Site Navigation" - well, if you found this post, you already know what the Site Navigation section does!

"Announcements"** - this takes you to my announcements, news and events.

"About My Books" - this gives you links to my books website as well as links to where you can buy copies of my books The Flame Tree and Mindgame.

"Blog Contents"** - this is the central hub of the blog. Click on a topic that interests you and it will take you to a list of posts within that topic category. At that list, click on the item that you want to read and it will take you back into my blog, with the page opened at that post.

"Spotlight on..."** - this shines the spotlight on particular posts that may be of particular interest or that I'd quite like you to see.

"Archives" - click on a month and it will show you all the posts for that month.

"Search this Blog" - you can search this blog using keyword(s). Follow the instructions in this section.

"Subscribe" - you can subscribe to this blog for free and receive free email notifications of new post updates. You can read how to subscribe/ unsubscribe and also see my subscription policy by clicking on "Subscribing to this blog" in the "Blog Contents" section.

[**Note: The links in Announcements/ Blog Contents/ Spotlight on... take you to an external page provided by That page sets out a list of the items that fall within the topic category that you clicked on. On that page, click on the item you are interested in and it will take you back into my blog, with the page open at the post you want to read. (I have to use a third party provider because the host of this blog, do not provide a contents sorting facility.)]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Click on "FAQ" in the Blog Contents section to find a list of frequently asked questions about this blog and about me & writing.

Contact me

Click on "Contact me" in the Blog Contents section to find my contact details.

Enjoy your visit!


Reflections on: "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus"

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus: A documentary that is "a spiritual journey (which) explores the "Soul of the South" and a world of marginalised white people and their unique and intense home-grown culture" (BBC Four summary).

The landscape of Louisiana in this film is a desolate junkyard of swamps and trailer parks, truck stops on empty roads and burnt out cars left to rust. It's the flip side of America that we do not usually see. Alt country musician Jim White is our guide through this soul destroying world. Here, in Pentecostal country Jesus Saves from the corrugated iron roofs of warehouses and the preacher is an ex-junkie that plays country rock while his congregation weeps and speaks in tongues. It is a place of suffering and pain, murder and violence where the only hope of escape is into the next life.

And yet, there is a poetry bursting out from the people of this place - in their voices and in their music. The music, part country, part blue-grass, transcends the poverty and hopelessness of their surroundings. There is an old coal miner who plays the banjo with delicate beauty, telling us how his daddy had his hands blown off with dynamite one day in the mines. Singer Johnny Dowd, pale-faced and grim, sings of armed robbery and hanging. The language and lilt of the South has a lyricism of its own, playing with the words and images as if they were song. Harry Crews, the novelist, explains in his gravelly voice that the stories that these people tell give them a sense of themselves - when they have nothing and the world has forgotten them, their stories make them known to themselves.

Jim White drives us through a vast trailer park of dreary trailers. The trailer trash are sitting out in folding chairs, passing the time of day. He speaks our thoughts - this is the sort of place that we may snigger about. But, in every trailer, there is a person with a story.

When a person tells you their story, they become human - real. No longer just "that rapist", "that trailer trash" - or even "that rich banker". That's one of the reasons I love listening to people's stories and telling mine. The joy out of our daily struggles is the heart and passion that makes us create music and write poetry or even just simply tell the stories of our lives over a cup of tea. It's like touching the light inside another person.
If you enjoyed this post, you can email it to a friend by clicking on the envelope icon just below.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Curious Legacies - My Grandmother's Recipe for Soy Sauce Chicken

I've been collecting notes for a memoir of my childhood growing up in Malaysia and my coming of age in England. I got to thinking about all the people who have been in my life. Some of them, like my family, are a part of me and others, like friends and my partner, have become an important part of my life. Others have come and gone or just passed through. But many have left something behind - curious legacies that, taken together, make up the fabric of who I am. In these notes, I write about some of these curious legacies. Today: My Grandmother' Recipe for Soy Sauce Chicken
Just after Grandma died, I was in my flat in London and trying to remember how she made crispy garlic sprinkles to go on top of fried noodles. She had a great shortcut for it - she would put the chopped garlic in a jamjar of oil and put it in the microwave. I couldn't remember if you were meant to cover it or how long you put it in for. I was about to pick up the phone to call her when I remembered she was gone.
Grandma had grown up in a small village in China, the eldest daugher of Reverend Quek. When I learnt the phrase "poor as church mice" at school, I pictured the Quek family of mice in Swatow. She told us stories of cold winters and walking to school through the fields, drawing water from the well and sewing her own clothes. Throughout her life, even after my grandfather's success as a doctor gave the family a comfortable home, she was prudent with money and was shocked by extravagances. She did tasty things with leftovers and nagged us not to waste our food.
But there were also the stories of being top of her class at medical school, after the Quek family moved to Singapore where my great-grandfather was sent as a Presbyterian missionary, and being the first family in Taiping, where she and grandfather lived after they married, to buy an imported washing machine from abroad. My grandfather was the love of her life and together they travelled in the West as much as they could and brought back with them to Malaysia, the latest ideas and innovations. My grandfather imported a car from America, bought a 16mm movie camera, mail-ordered books from England. Grandma, blending innovation with her sensible nature, made dresses and shirts at home for her children based on the latest patterns and designs worn in America and England. Later on in her old age, she had a microwave and non-stick wok long before any of us "kids" did.
My favourite story about Grandma, though, is the one where she is still in Swatow, aged around seven. At her little village school, her teacher was unfairly dismissed by the headmistress - the reason behind it is now lost. Grandma was upset and wanted to make her protest known. She talked about it with her father and the Reverend said to her that she must act according to her conscience. The next day, she led the whole school in a protest march to the next village. The teacher was reinstated. There is something modern, daring and powerful about this image of a little girl who had the courage to make a stand.
I used this story in THE FLAME TREE to show Jasmine's strength of character. But I didn't think readers would believe it if I made this happen when Jasmine was seven. So, in the fiction of the novel, I made her older!
Grandma left us many recipes for dishes that have been in the family for years. They are old-fashioned and labour intensive, involving a lot of chopping and slicing and marinading to get just the right texture and just the right taste. In truth, I don't think I have the hours it can take to make many of them in their original form in my hectic life in London. But I can say that the most useful recipe Grandma left me is not really a dish but an attitude of mind. It's about adapting and innovating, taking what is safe and familiar and making it your own, moving with the times but on your own terms.
So here is the recipe that is Grandma's legacy to me:
Take pieces of chicken, chopped garlic and ginger and place in an oven proof bowl. Mix in soy sauce and ginger wine and some pepper. Cover with a lid or tin foil. Put in oven and cook at 180 degrees for 1.5 hours, opening it in the last half hour to brown the chicken.
Serve with rice and pak choi fried with garlic and a dash of soy sauce.
Human input time: 20 mins. It certainly beats doing it the old fashioned way standing at the iron wok sweatily frying for ages and stinking up my home with grease and smoke! It tastes pretty good, too.
If you enjoyed this post, you can email it to a friend by clicking on the envelope icon just below.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

It's all happening in 2006!

April 2006 announcements: The second edition of THE FLAME TREE is published; YM lauches new-look books website; YM creates a new Lit Blog

Second edition of THE FLAME TREE

THE FLAME TREE sold out of its first print run to rave reviews in Malaysia and the UK. It is now also a core text on the South East Asian Literature Course at Nanyang Technical University, Singapore. The second edition of THE FLAME TREE is a new special edition brought out specifically for that course.

The exciting news is that the second edition of THE FLAME TREE is now also available for anyone to buy direct from and any other online book website (eg. Blackwells, etc) - or by placing an order at your local bookshop, whether you are in Malaysia, Singapore, London or anywhere in the world.

New-Look Books Website

To celebrate the publication of the second edition of THE FLAME TREE, I have relaunched my website On the site I have written about some of the influences that inspired my writing and also how the ideas for THE FLAME TREE and MINDGAME evolved out of my personal experiences and topical events in the news.

There is a direct link at to where you can buy copies of the books online. I hope you will enjoy your visit to the new-look website.

New Lit Blog

My interactive Lit Blog at is for people who love books, writing and the wonderful distractions that can enhance our lives.

I like to think of this space as a personal letter to my friends. I will keep you updated on how the writing of my next book(s) is coming along and share my thoughts on films and other delights that can nourish us. I love coming across diverse and fascinating people and hearing their stories so I hope to post interviews/ profiles of people whom I find fun or inspiring or unusual.

Specifically for writers, there'll be articles on writing and publishing as well as "masterclasses" on specific aspects of the writing process. I will also be talking to writers and others in the writing/ publishing business to learn from their experiences and expertise.

The blog is interactive so you can add your comments to a post and start/ join an online discussion via the comments.

You can check back from time to time at or you can subscribe to receive free email notifications whenever the blog is updated every few weeks. Subscription is free.


Contact me

How to contact me
You can contact me -
By email:
By post:
Yang-May Ooi
c/o Rogers Coleridge and White
20 Powis Mews
London W11 1JN
Interviews and talks etc
I am available to give interviews or talks and workshops, where appropriate. Please contact me for more details.

About this Blog

FAQ about this blog and blogging


What is a Lit Blog?

A blog is short for "weblog", which is an online journal. (As in Star Trek, when William Shatner says "Captain's Log, star date XXXX....")

Lit is short for "literary" and "lit blog" or "litblog" is the term used for writer's blogs where we talk about literary things. I'm also going to be talking about films and TV and food etc but "lit flick telly nosh blog" is a bit long-winded....

How often will you be updating this blog?

I see this blog more like a newsletter than a journal so it will be updated with specific articles of interest for my readers rather than a daily rambling and un-edited "brain dump". I expect to update it with articles at least once a month with the occasional posting in between.

I won't be updating every day so if you subscribe to the blog, you will not be inundated with lots of notifications!


When I click on a topic in the in the side bar (eg Blog Contents), it takes me an external site. Why?

The blogging facility I use is provided by and it does not have an integrated sorting facility for posts, which is why I use the third party service for sorting the Contents, Announcements and Spotlights (provided by

The topic link takes you to an external page which lists all the posts in my blog that are tagged with the topic you chose. Click on the item that you are interested in and you will come back into my blog at the post that you want to read.

You can click "Back" in your browser at any time to return to the previous page you were on.

Where can I find out about your site policies?

Please click on Site Policies in the Blog Contents section of the sidebar, OR
click here.

Who writes the content for this blog?

I write all the content myself. I find it helps me stay creative when I am not working on my next book. Some might say it's a dangerous distraction tactic to keep me from writing my next book....

Who maintains this blog?

I maintain this site myself in between writing and my day job as I enjoy fiddling around with HTML and web design. This means that I may not be able to correct any technical glitches or deal with queries as quickly as I would like. Please bear with me!


I'd like to try blogging. Where do I start?

Check out some of the free blogging sites -
Blogger and WordPress come to mind. There are other sites so do a search and check them out.

I am not on a commission but I can say that I like Blogger because it allows you to change the template and upload photos very easily (especially if you download the free photo programme Hello from You can also upload audio blogs by telephone - look in the Blogger help section for more details. The downside is that, unlike WordPress, it does not have an integrated sorting facility for your posts, which is why I use the third party service for sorting the Contents from


How do I subscribe to this blog?

To subscribe, go to the "Subscribe" section of the sidebar on the right of the page and enter your email address. Then, click "Subscribe me!", OR click here to go straight to the subscription form
You will be sent a verification email to confirm that you are subscribed.
For more information about subscribing and unsubscribing, click here.


About Yang-May Ooi, writing & publishing

FAQs about Yang-May Ooi, writing & publishing


What is the Malaysian-British connection?

I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I now live in London, England. There is more biographical information on my books website at

I miss Malaysia the most for the food, the wonderful weather and the friendly people. I go back every so often to visit my parents and put on a lot of weight when I am there! I love London for the vast array of cultural activities just at hand - and the food is getting better bit by bit...

How did you get your books published?

When I finished writing THE FLAME TREE, I was lucky enough to have the choice of three agents and I chose the one I clicked with the best. She submitted the manuscript to 7 publishers and Hodder & Stoughton offered me a two book contract.

Where can I find out more about your books?

You can visit my books website at

How can I buy a copy of THE FLAME TREE or MINDGAME?

The second edition of THE FLAME TREE is a special edition brought out by Dalgarth Press for the South East Asian Literature Course at Nanyang Technical University, Singapore. This means that the book is also available direct from or via any other online book website, or by placing an order at your local bookshop.


How do I go about getting my book published?

First, finish writing it. It is very rare for agents and publishers to take on a writer with no track record without a finished product.

Then, get the latest copy of The Writers Handbook - it has an up to date guide about finding an agent and the whole publishing process. Follow their suggestions. In general for a novel, you would usually need to submit a synopsis with the first three chapters to an agent. If the agent takes you on, they will then work to find you a publisher.

It is not generally recommended for novels that you approach a publisher direct. I don't recommend it either. I don't know what the protocol is for non-fiction or technical books.

Will you read my manuscript?

No - unfortunately, I am busy with my own writing, this blog and my day job. However, see below if you want some professional feedback on your work.

How can I get some professional feedback on my manuscript?

In the UK, there are experienced book industry editors and writers who offer editorial and feedback services for a fee. Look in the literary / writing magazines for their ads. I am not in a position to recommend one over another so you'll have to do some research. In future "editions" of this blog, I may investigate some of these professional editorial services so check back on the blog or subscribe so you won't miss this useful information

Subscribe to this blog

Subscribing to this Blog

What are the benefits of subscribing to this blog?

When you subscribe to this blog, you will receive free email notification whenever I update the blog with new articles, reviews and announcements. Subscription is free.

As a subscriber, you will also be entered automatically - and for free - into any prize draws and get the chance to win books and other prizes.

If you prefer to subscribe anonymously, please see below.

What details do I have to give you when I subscribe?

By subscribing, you will only be asked for your email address and no other personal details. I will not use your email address for any other purpose than notifying you of blog updates and for prize draws, nor will I sell the subscription list.

If you prefer to subscribe anonymously, please see below.

By subscribing, you are confirming to be that you are over 18 or that you have the permission of your parent or guardian to subscribe.

How do I subscribe?

To subscribe, go to the "Subscribe" section of the sidebar on the right of the page and enter your email address. Then, click "Subscribe me!", OR
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To unsubscribe, click on the link in any of the notification emails marked "Stop receiving posts" and follow the instructions. You can re-subscribe at any time.

If you prefer to subscribe anonymously, please see below.

Can I subscribe anonymously?

You can subscribe anonymously by clicking on the Bloglines link in the "Subscribe" section of the side bar - however, I will not be able to include you in the prize draw as your email address will not appear on the subscriber list that I manage for this blog. Details of their subscription policy are available via the Bloglines link.