Sonic MSG: Revolutionizing the Asia Pacific’s Indie Music Scene

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First Published here: http://www.beijing-visitor.com/hong-kong-culture/sonic-msg

By Christopher KL Lau

Entrancing, spellbinding with boundless energy, Sonic MSG have been revolutionizing the Hong Kong music scene with their own form of unique, electronic driven sounds to critical acclaim and enthusiasm.

Consisting of friends, Jonathan Ma and Aaron Chan, the duo are slowly evolving into mainstays of the local club scene and making waves as Sonic MSG seek to prove that, in HK, beyond stale, dour and profit based tunes, exist free-thinking individuals striving to make a name for themselves. Sonic MSG are fast emerging as the city’s best indie band whose enthralling and alluring form of indie music is fast making waves amongst true music lovers and critics alike.

The visionary duo, like all innovators and partnerships, bounce ideas off each other and their process is driven by sampling, jamming and grooving to reach their ultimate ideal and of course, tune. Their goal is of course to produce the funkiest music in town! Like all artists, they need their tools and they include algorithm’s turntables and metic’s guitar in their repertoire. Strongly influenced by their cross-cultural upbringings in the west, they seek to produce a sound which is unique to them yet encompasses both Western and Eastern influences. The two are also strongly influenced by the musical styles of Chromeo, James Braun, Breakbot, Daft Punk, Wolfgang Gartner, Ratatat, four 80east, The Glitch Mob, Snoblind, Pretty lights, Gorillaz, Eugene Pao and Herbie Hancock.

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Sonic MSG have stepped up their levels of professionalism and exposure by producing a music video for one of their original songs, ‘The Eve’, which samples Charlie Chaplin’s dictator speech. With no budget but armed with a powerful vision and rugged determination to push their creative boundaries, with the guidance of uber-talented director Nicola Fan and and the energetic producer Natalie Chan, they have made a whimsical, majestic and fascinating music video which manages to capture all aspects of Hong Kong life and all its idiosyncrasies. Quintessentially, life in Hong Kong can be a grind though anyone can escape its claustrophobic nature by delving deep into their own minds.

Via ‘The Eve’, Sonic MSG want to highlight the hustle and bustle, the rat race nature of Hong Kong, as well as the diversity and an alternative view of the city and all the millions of nameless and faceless individuals striving to make a better life for themselves. Filming also included the city’s infamous caged homes which marks the deepening social and economic inequality which is driving a wedge in society. The experience of capturing these levels of inequality was eye-opening for the crew who decided to give back. Therefore, they made a special music video screening which transformed into a fund raising event to raise HKD$19,000 for SoCO (Society of Community Organization).

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The essence of the music video illustrates an ordinary day in the young working lives of two strangers who may be more connected than they think. The idea here is that music becomes a refuge for the craziness in Hong Kong but yet Hong Kong is so interconnected, you will never know when you bump into someone who has similar interest or feels the same way. People flash by each other on a daily basis yet a deeper human connection is so difficult to make as people disappear into their own lives.

Sonic MSG are pushing their creative boundaries and forging ahead to make a name for themselves as musical revolutionaries and without doubt, with their awesome original sounds and songs, they have already established themselves as mainstays of the Hong Kong music scene.

Producer Natalie Chan took the time out to have a chat about Sonic MSG, their work and the inspiration behind it all.

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Interview

What is the essential message behind “The Eve” music video? What are the underlying themes?

The Eve is a first time collaboration amongst Sonic MSG, Nicola Fan and Natalie Chan. Born and raised in Hong Kong, the foursome feels the lack of visibility and appreciation for the city’s local artists and musicians, and feels empowered to create something that voices the un-sung talents. Furthermore, with full-time jobs and studies, the quartet hoped to push the paradoxical boundaries of the city’s lack of time and creativity to deliver a visually and sonically powerful production. As first timers with $0 budget and a whole-heartedness to fabricate a piece unique and identifiable to Hong Kong, a music video concept was born. A city that never sleeps, Hong Kong boasts itself with prosperity and diversity; on the flip side, the workforce that fuels the economy feels nothing short of being trapped in a rat race with no escape.

This music video illustrates two strangers who are stuck in a rut and exhausted from the never-ending routine; in spite of that, music is their sanctuary. Serendipitously, this love for music connects them in unexpected ways. Culminating both Chaplin’s inspirational delivery and powerful visuals, this music video hopes to serve as a testament to the hidden talents yet to be uncovered in the Hong Kong art and music scene.

The deeper message from the four of us is that we want to deliver a message that it is easy to get sucked into the Hong Kong routine and complain and be negative. We are all busy individuals, who all have a full time job / school to take; however, we wanted to show that if you have a dream and work at it, nothing will stop it from happening. You can do anything if you put your heart into it. We are just four friends who believed in power of music and want to create something with impact.

What is the significance of using Charlie Chaplin’s dictator speech in the video?

Sonic MSG’s unique flavor is to sample famous speeches and pair them with melodic beats to bring out the essence of the message, in the past, Sonic MSG sampled: Bruce Lee, Bill Hicks, Samuel Jackson. Charlie Chaplin’s speech is such an iconic one and it speaks to humanity vs machinery, which is something they identify strongly with in Hong Kong.

The video looks amazing! How long did it take to film and did you try and integrate all aspects of HK life into the piece?

Because we all had such busy schedules, trying find a date that works for everyone was a challenge of itself. So the whole filming and post production process took us about 5 months inclusive of Mongol Rally that happened, which is like 1.5 months, exams going on for the law and medical students and many other commitments. So the actual number of filming days was 5 days.

We definitely wanted to create something that is uniquely to Hong Kong and identifiable to people in Hong Kong. We wanted it to be piece that is about all of us. Not just a selected few. An example being, Hong Kong is a melting pot and home to many people from different cultural backgrounds. In order to demonstrate all the different ethnicities, in the beginning of the video, we found all sorts of people from all over Hong Kong to illustrate that message, we even filmed a person who lives in a cage home, which also inspired us to raise money for SoCO for one of our screening events.

How did the song inspire the visuals for the video and was it easy to synch the two together?

For such a beautiful song with powerful lyrics, we sure did not want to the visuals to disappoint. The song talks about humanity and its juxtaposition with machinery. We find that Hong Kong embodies such contrast in many ways. There were many parallels between the lyrics and the Hong Kong lifestyle, so it was a matter of deciphering the lyrics and pairing it to something identifiable that symbolizes life in Hong Kong. I wouldn’t say it was easy as it was more crafty.

You may find more about Sonic MSG and their music on https://soundcloud.com/sonicmsg

The Eve video can be viewed here:
https://vimeo.com/84524554 (vimeo)

The Eve’ is directed & Edited by: Nicola Fan (nicola-fan.net)
Produced by: Natalie Chan
Music by: Sonic MSG

A music video debut for a Hong Kong-based band, Sonic MSG’s original song, The Eve, sampling Charlie Chaplin’s iconic speech from “The Great Dictator”.

This music video illustrates two strangers who are stuck in a rut and exhausted from the never-ending routine; in spite of that, music is their sanctuary. Serendipitously, this love for music connects them in unexpected ways. Culminating both Chaplin’s inspirational delivery and powerful visuals, this music video hopes to serve as a testament to the hidden talents yet to be uncovered in the Hong Kong art and music scene.

Thank You

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INTERVIEW WITH PAULINE SIU – ECO- FRIENDLY GREEN FASHION DESIGNER AND FOUNDER OF FLORA AND FAUNA


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An old article about sustainable green fashion and the impact on the environment which was first published in 2009 in this educational website: http://www.icubed.us/node/2083

How do the seemingly different worlds of fashion and the environment merge together?

What are the advantages of practicing sustainable development in the fashion industry?

Globally, as the overall state of the environment and eco-systems becomes a greater concern for all, people are being more pro-active in advocating change and helping in their own little way. This includes the world of fashion! One person revolutionizing the industry is Pauline Siu, an Eco-friendly Green Fashion designer and founder of the Vancouver based ‘flora&fauna’. This highly successful clothes line is now garnering greater attention on a global basis for its innovative and crucially, Eco-friendly designs.

Pauline started working in the fashion industry in Toronto after studying Fashion Design at Ryerson University. Drawn by BC’s beautiful surroundings and the abundance of wildlife, Pauline moved to Vancouver where flora&fauna, the eco-fashion label flora&fauna was born! Vancouver is consistently voted one of the best places in the world to live due to the beautiful surrounding areas. The natural beauty of the area can spark a person’s imagination like no other!

Drawing inspiration from beauty in nature, the irresistible cuteness of animals, and the intricacy of the planet’s delicate eco-system, all of flora&fauna’s pieces reflect Pauline’s deep love for the natural beauty in our world. With a blend of clean lines, rich colours, and lasting style, flora&fauna incorporates nature and animal themes into each design, and is proud to support local animal welfare and nature conservation organizations.

For many, sustainable fashion is the way forward!

What is Exactly is Sustainable Fashion?

According to http://green.wikia.com, ‘Sustainable Fashion’ is a form of design that is produced to be environmentally friendly. It is part of the larger trend of “ethical fashion”. In the past, designers used to contribute back to the community through donations of certain percentages of sales but many saw that a longer term solution was to incorporate ‘Sustainability” and use environmentally friendly methods and materials. Nature provides the resources (cotton, etc) that these designers use to make their living; the natural step is for the fashion world to give back to the source of their livelihood.

Yes! The clothes you wear everyday can make a small but significant difference to the environment! When you purchase from an Eco-friendly designer, you have made a sustainable choice! Eco-friendly clothes include those which are:

– Partially made from organic, recycled or some sustainable fabric/material. See link below for more.
– Made locally, which can substantially reduce the item’s carbon footprint due to the lower number of production processes involved.
– Conforms to International Fair Trade practices.
– Recycled – Old materials reused again.
– Vintage – Reselling older clothes which means less new ones need to be produced.
– Made well – Costs more, but will last a lot longer which means a person does not need to buy a similar line of clothes.
– Organic Labeling and Certification – Consumers should buy from designers who understand the importance of industry integrity, practice good labour practices and promote labeling, certification and traceability

The clothes on your back can make an impact! So think and observe before you purchase!

Flora and Fauna’s growing reputation was enhanced by the release of flora&fauna’s Spring-Summer 2009 collection, with seven unique pieces inspired by west coast’s wildlife and lifestyle. Siu has also been featured on internationally acclaimed eco-news online magazine, TreeHugger.com as one of “20 Green Fashion Designers You’ve Never Heard Of (But Oh You Will)”, the label has quickly established a following in Vancouver, with their glow-in-the-dark Jellyfish Tube Top selling out and another order being required to fulfill demand!

Remember, think green the next time you go shopping!!!

Fashion and nature share one common thing: Beauty in its purest form.

It is only natural that the world of fashion is now increasingly incorporating greater sustainable practices into the production of it’s products.

One such pioneer is Pauline Siu, an Eco-Friendly Green designer successfully merging the worlds of nature and fashion together. A native of Hong Kong, Pauline started working in the fashion industry in Toronto and Montreal after studying Fashion Design at Ryerson University. Pauline moved to Vancouver in 2007, drawn by the beautiful surroundings and the abundance of wildlife.

Drawing inspiration from beauty in nature, the irresistible cuteness of animals, and the intricacy of the planet’s delicate eco-system, all of flora&fauna’s pieces reflect Pauline’s deep love for the natural beauty in our world. With a blend of clean lines, rich colours, and lasting style, flora&fauna incorporates nature and animal themes into each design, and is proud to support local animal welfare and nature conservation organizations.

Pauline Siu – PS

Interviewer – Chris KL Lau

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Did you always want to be a fashion designer? What type of skill set and personality is required to become a success in the industry?

PS: When I was small, my parents bought me and my sister some really beautiful Japanese paper dolls. I quickly grew tired of the paper-dolls’ wardrobe, and started to draw clothing for them! It was then I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer. To be successful in the industry, you need to be willing to work hard, willing to learn, and be passionate about design.

Where does your interest in environmental issues come from?

PS: I love nature and animals, and the symbiotic relationship between people, the earth, and all it’s creatures. I learnt to respect and appreciate the beauty in nature as a child, when my father took us on hikes, and to the aquarium. He taught me to view the world through a photographer’s eye – to find poetry in every moment and everything. Now that I’m older, I can’t help but seek out the beauty in nature, and capture it in my sketches and designs.

Do you always seek to incorporate “Green Issues” into your designs? Do you seek inspiration from your immediate environment?

PS: It’s absolutely crucial to me that my designs are as eco-friendly as possible. Every design is a tribute to a creature I’ve encountered; I cannot imagine making clothing that would damage the habitat these creatures live in. We are really proud to be working with a few local charities in BC to help conserve the environment, and foster injured and orphan animals.

From your experiences of living in Vancouver, just how close is the relationship between humans, animals and the environment? How do the three impact each other?

PS: Vancouver is the perfect little city that’s surrounded by the ocean, mountains, and temperate rain-forests. Most of the residents here deeply respect the environment. It’s not uncommon for wild animals such as coyotes, black bears, and cougars to be seen in the edges of the city, or for porpoises to be washed up on the beaches. It’s important to understand that these creatures are not infringing our our space – but that we have taken away their habitats and their source of food. Critter Care (based in Langley, BC) is one of the non-profit groups that helps to capture and rehabilitate wildlife. It is a delicate balance between humans, animals, and nature – we need each other to survive. Every choice we make in the products we purchase, and our lifestyles can impact the environment, and we have to choose wisely so that the damages to our environment can one day be undone, and all of earth’s creatures will have a safe place to live.

Are your clothes made in a sustainable way? How can other designers / manufacturers be encouraged to practice sustainable development and produce clothes which are eco-friendly?

PS: Every piece at flora&fauna is made from organic or sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton, rayon from bamboo, linen, or soy – which is made from soy fibers leftover after tofu production. The pieces are made at a small local production facility with ethical labour practices. The timeless styling and impeccable quality of each piece will ensure the pieces can be worn for a long time. Because organic and sustainable materials and local (North American) production is much more costly than using conventional fabrics and production facilities, other designers need to accept a lower profit margin, and reduce wastage where possible.

How do you market your green friendly message across to your customers? How can youths be encouraged to be more aware of their surroundings?

PS: I don’t try to impose my personal value onto my customers – most of them do buy and wear the clothing because they like the style. The fact that it is ‘green’ does make it more appealing to the eco-minded customers. I love telling customers about the stories and inspirations of each piece, and it is through that, they learn about the company’s initiative to protect the environment.

Canada is often seen as one of the most ‘Eco-friendly’ and “Green” countries in the world, do you think this mentality can be further encouraged in places like Hong Kong and China?

PS: Definitely. The North American consumer is becoming more and more conscious of the impact of their purchases. They are willing to pay more for ethically produced items that are not harmful to the environment – and the demand for these products is increasing. A large percentage of the products here are made in China and Hong Kong, and many of the production facilities there have already adapted to the improved labour practices and standards.

Do you have any advice for budding designers? How difficult is it at first to enter the industry? How glamorous it it?

PS: The fashion industry is a lot of fun!! I have met so many amazing and creative people in the industry! Behind the scenes, there is a lot of hard work. For anyone who is interested in a career in fashion design, I suggest doing an internship with a designer to get some hands on experience. It’s a great way to learn what the industry is all about, and to meet some new friends.

In terms of global government policies, do you think environmental issues are sometimes neglected? How can this be addressed?

PS: On a global scale, the environmental issues do sometimes get put on the back burner; however, there are many groups at work. The UN’s Climate Change conference in Copenhagen last week was attended by representatives of many countries, putting forth a global effort toward sustainable living and education. Change is imminent, and I am excited to be a part of a cleaner, healthier future.

Thank you.

First published in 2009 – http://www.icubed.us/node/2083

INTERVIEW WITH UNHCR HONG KONG – HELPING THE DISPLACED OF THE WORLD

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An old interview with United Nations High Commission for Refugees Hong Kong. This was for an educational website in 2009 – http://www.icubed.us/career-interviews-list/node/2061 

Wars and natural disasters leave millions displaced. The majority are left with nothing but the clothes on their back as they journey to find new lives and make new homes. Organizations such as The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) focus on the need and work tirelessly for the stateless of the world. Globally, their efforts assist refugees to have an equal and fair chance to a new life.

Here, Lum Kwok Choi, Head of the Fundraising Section at the Hong Kong branch of the UNHCR discusses the work that they do, and how youths can help in their own unique way.

UNHCR – Lum Kwok Choi, Head of Fundraising Section
Interviewer – Chris Lau
[November 2009]

What exactly is the UNHCR and what work do you do?

UNHCR: Do you know who takes care of the 4.3 million refugees in the world? There are many organizations contributing to this effort. UNHCR is working under the UN mandate to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. We strive to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another country, and to return home voluntarily. By helping refugees go back home or to settle in another country, UNHCR also seeks lasting solutions to their plight. But before a lasting solution can be worked out, UNHCR addresses the more urgent needs of refugees, including for example, shelter, water and sanitation, etc.

Are political instability and natural disasters the sole underlying causes for mass refugee migrations? Are there any other reasons for a large movement of people?

UNHCR: Social violence, construction projects, etc. may also cause large movements of people. But note that these people may or may not be considered as refugees. True, political unstability and natural disasters often lead to a mass movement of people, which renders them refugees.

If a young person wants to work for the United Nations or the UNHCR, where should their area of study focus?

UNHCR: In fact, any discipline. Currently, many colleagues in UNHCR working on refugee status determination have a legal background. But we also need people who can contribute to managing refugee camps, monitoring health projects, etc. In any case, you need a clear sense about, and a commitment to humanitarian work.

Can young people volunteer at their local branch of UNHCR? What type of work experience will they gain?

UNHCR: Young people are welcome to contact local UNHCR offices and register as volunteers. Depending on skills and availability of work, they might be assigned to different duties varying from administrative support, translation, to supporting event activities. Young people will not only get the experience related to their area of interest, but also gain in rich generic skills like time management, and an opportunity to experience interpersonal relationships in a multi-cultural environment.

How does the UNHCR raise funds? Are the refugees themselves self-sustaining in anyway?

UNHCR: The agency raises most of its funds from national governments and inter-governmental donors, currently about 93% of its overall income. At the same time, we are developing private sector fundraising programs to raise funds from private donors. This part of work contributes to about 3% of the overall income. The rest of income comes from the United Nation’s regular budget and sister organizations’ funding. In Hong Kong, our fundraising team works on private sector fundraising. In our work, our “face-to-face” recruiters outreach to the public on the street, trying to recruit monthly donors and deliver educational messages.

Do you have any experience of visiting refugee camps? What is the atmosphere like? Please share your experiences?

UNHCR: Recently I visited two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh. They are those “protracted refugees”, some of them having stayed there for as long as 18 years, some of them shorter because they were born in the camps and are younger. They are waiting for a solution for their problem. They are longing for a new life. I met young as well as grown up people learning vocational skills eagerly. But of course, some refugees expressed disappointment of what their life situation had become.

What major projects does the UNHCR carry out in Hong Kong?

UNHCR: UNHCR manages refugee status determination and offer life support to refugees. We also seek lasting solution for refugees. Our services thus include assisting resettlement for refugees.

Are youths in HK and globally fully aware of the work that the UNCHR performs? How do you reach out to them?

UNHCR: There are always gaps. Many young people are not familiar with what the UNHCR is doing because refugee problems exist in places no where near to them, but rather, in remote corners of the world. However, we try to bring the issues to them by doing more media work and educational events. We appeal for donations for income, as well as for reaching out further to the public.

First Published Here: http://www.icubed.us/career-interviews-list/node/2061

 

Art Basel Hong Kong 2014

Hong Kong again hosted the annual Art Basel at the Hong Kong Convention centre. This year saw a whole host works from different galleries and museums from all around the world on display.  Some random highlights:

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Kathryn Tse-Durham: Hong Kong Based Publishing Sensation and Creative Force Behind ‘Ellanor and the Search for Organoth Blue Amber’

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By Christopher KL Lau

First Published here:  http://www.beijing-visitor.com/hong-kong-culture/kathryn-tse-durham

Order the book here:  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1482891093/beijing-visitor-20

A dreamer with a social conscience and mission, Kathryn Tse-Durham, armed with the power of the pen, sensitivity and a great deal of empathy is slowly becoming a literary force and the voice of an entire generation.

Tse-Durham, always had a passion for writing and through dedication, persistence and sheer hard work, her small inkling of an idea has morphed into her first critically acclaimed book “Ellanor and the Search for Organoth Blue Amber”.

The novel reflects aspects of Kathryn’s own life as the book touches upon many different issues such as identity, confidence, self-esteem and multiculturalism. Behind this fantasy novel is quintessentially the development and evolution of a person’s identity and place in the world as life and society keep evolving. It delves into how people have to adapt and change with the times to keep apace, yet still being able to maintain a sense of individualism and confidence in, what at times, can be a very difficult world to live in.

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Being the creative wordsmith that Tse-Durham developed into probably has to do with Durham’s unique upbringing. Tse-Durham grew up in Australia and has spent large tracts of her life in Hong Kong; it was this fascinating blend of East and West that has given Durham such a unique outlook on life; at times, being part of the overseas Chinese diaspora can make a person feel like an outsider in both societies and cultures but it can also give a person a vision of life which can motivate them to go further and beyond all their expectations.

Tse-Durham has always loved writing and like all aspiring writers, her ultimate goal was to share her view and vision to a wider audience. Not one to simply sit around, she was proactive and took the first few steps to making her dream a reality so she completed a creative writing course through the University of Oxford. Like all writers, simply putting out work to be noticed and getting content published is difficult yet she found an outlet through her day job of being a speech therapist; she got articles published in educational magazines and her university honors thesis was published in a European academic journal. The rest is history.

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The novel itself delves into a mythical land of magic, mystery and heroes / heroines. The story revolves around Elly Celendis and is set in the far away land of Alendria. The book is aimed at teenagers up to adults and can be best described as a ‘coming of age’. The content subtlely covers the trials and tribulations that all teens grow through in the tough transition from being a child to becoming an adult. Durham’s writing style and appeal is universal and speaks to all and this is reflected in the interest she has gained from all around the world. The struggles, trials and tribulations and sense of adventure that her main character “Ellanor” has, resonates with many and there is no doubt that word of mouth will spread and her novel’s readership levels will grow even further.

Be prepared to be amazed as you step into an incredible world created by the vivid imagination of Tse-Durham!

Kathryn Tse-Durham Interview

What is the general premise behind ‘Ellanor and the Search for Organoth Blue Amber’? Which age groups and types of readers would like it?

My book is of the fantasy and adventure genre, and it is sort of a coming-of-age tale, too. It is about a unique young elf named Elly who lives in the realm of Alendria. She has big dreams to become an explorer, and she struggles with issues that plague most young people – problems with self-esteem, bullying, learning to stand up for herself, first pangs of love, and so forth.

This book is the first installment in a planned short series, and this first book tracks her adventures as she masquerades as a human after she is fooled by a goblin and pushed through a portal into the human realm. She is desperate to find her way back home, and to do so she must find an elusive blue amber which she hopes will repair the damaged portal. Her experiences lead her to discover dark secrets about her homeland, much more sinister than she had imagined. So basically, it is about a youth who finds herself out of her comfort zone, and her experiences really force her to grow up.

My book has been categorized as a “Young Adult” novel, and it is meant for readers aged 10 years – adult. I hope this story would appeal to a large audience, both male and female readers. I believe that a good story can appeal to a wide audience. For example, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is categorized as a Young Adult novel, too, but it has been widely read by a huge audience – teenagers and adults alike. That’s what I want for my book. I don’t want to pigeon-hole it. I hope that readers from all age groups and backgrounds will enjoy my book.

Are there little bits of you in the main character, Ellanor?

I would say there are little bits of me in all the major characters in the story, especially Ellanor and her human best friend, Lily Wong. I think that when we create characters, it is important to draw from our own experiences, too. I also think that authors tend to live vicariously through our characters. Elly has a daring streak, which isn’t initially apparent as she struggles with feelings of insecurity, inferiority, and contends with bullying at school.

These are all issues I also contended with in my youth. But despite all that, I have always loved adventure, and through Elly I get to become a globe-trotter and travel to places I’d love to visit. The character of Lily Wong is loosely based on me, or rather, she is what I wish I could have been like back in my teenage years. Lily is feisty and stands up to bullies, and this is something I wasn’t good at when I was young. It’s a different story now!

Does the book have subtle lessons about self-esteem, confidence and identity? Would the readers identify with the book?

Yes. I wanted to create a character that young readers could look up to, but not somebody one-dimensional and too ‘goody-goody’ – although the main character is an Elf, a fantastical character, she also has very human qualities that we can identify with: Elly has many strengths, but she is also flawed – she is an insecure young girl who is grappling with growing pains, struggling with bullying at school, experiencing her first pangs of love, having to deal with loneliness and isolation in the school setting, desperately wants to impress others, comes to learn the true value of friendship, and eventually learns to stand up for herself…These are timeless issues that are all relevant to what children and teenagers experience in our society everyday.

I believe my story reflects some important issues that are relevant to today’s society. For example, issues relating to prejudice and racial equality, bullying, family, friendship, multiculturalism. I also make references to environmental pollution, autism, divorce, and child abuse – which are all issues relevant in today’s society.

I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Australia, and I am very much a ‘third-culture’ kid. As a Hong Kong-Chinese person, I really wanted to create a story in which Chinese and other Asians are featured prominently in a fantasy tale. In other mainstream fantasy or science-fiction books, I’ve found that Chinese or Asians are usually peripheral or minor characters. We live in an international, multicultural world where people of different ethnic backgrounds mingle on a daily basis, and many so-called ‘minorities’ are prominent contributors of society who ought to be featured prominently in fiction! I wanted to create a story which exemplifies and celebrates this.

 

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With so many distractions these days, do you think reading has become less popular with young people?

Yes, I think so. To be honest, I think reading has become less popular with all people, not just youths. Reading requires one to sit down and concentrate. With such busy lives, and so many other forms of entertainment these days, many people don’t find the time to sit and read so much anymore.

There was a lot of hype over the Harry Potter books apparently having revived the love for reading in young people, but then further research found that in reality, it didn’t really create a significant change after all, which is a bit disillusioning. But despite this, I still strongly believe in the value of books and the value of reading and learning. I think the Harry Potter books are great. I think a good education is the backbone of society, and good works of fiction should educate and entertain. I think it is important that writers continue to create good stories that are both entertaining and educational.

I’ve been working as a Speech and Language Therapist for the past ten years, and from experience I really do find that children learn best when they’re interested and having fun. I have a primary school student who was struggling with Language Arts at school and he had almost zero interest in the books he was asked to read.

But then I thought: well, what does this kid like? He likes things to do with espionage, groovy high-tech gadgets, detective work, conspiracies….So, I went to the bookstore and came across the Alex Rider books by Anthony Horowitz. I bought the first book in the series, and asked my student to try it out. A few days later, his mother texted me and told me how much her son was loving the book and how he had already finished it in one week! I was astounded and utterly pleased! So you see, a good book can do that for you.

How much of your day job has influenced your writing?

I run my own private practice as a freelance Speech & Language Therapist. Since I run my own business, I tend to have some control over my work schedule. I go from place to place all over HK Island, and in between classes or on lunch breaks, I would rush off to a coffee shop or cafe to work on my book.

If I didn’t have a job like mine, but an office job where I had to sit at a desk all day confined to one building, I probably wouldn’t have been able to work on my book effectively. I find that I can work much better at a coffee shop than at home, where there are many distractions. So I’m pretty grateful for the type of job that I have.

But because some days are busier than others, I don’t get to work as much on my writing on those days. On a good day, I could spend a couple of hours on my book. But no matter what, I tried very hard to work on my book EVERYDAY, even if it was just for twenty minutes during lunch or before bedtime.

Another way that my profession as an SLT has influenced my writing is that it has kept me young at heart. I work with children, I adore children, and I really think that being around them keeps me young at heart, which then inspires me to write what I write.

As Roald Dahl said…those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. By magic, I think he was referring to a child’s sense of curiosity, their hope in miracles, their wonderment at all the little things in this world that jaded adults take for granted. I believe in that sort of magic, because it’s that sense of wonderment that keeps us young at heart and helps us appreciate all the small things that can give us joy. And that’s one of the reasons I love spending time with children, especially my adorable nieces Chloe and Mikayla. They keep me…unjaded! One day, I hope I can share that magic with my own children!

Many people dream of becoming published writers but few make it a reality. When you started this project, did you ever imagine that you would finally become a recognized published writer?

For as long as I can remember, I had always wanted to write a novel and have it published. I’ve loved books since I was old enough to read. There were times during my teenage years when things just got really dark and lonely – not uncommon in adolescence! – but books were always my one solace. Without my books, I think life would have been much harder! Back at school, English Lit and Art were my two favorite subjects. I especially loved creative writing.

Several years ago, I took up a creative writing course through the University of Oxford which was a real eye-opener for me. I got to interact with a group of wonderful, creative, and intelligent aspiring writers, most of whom were based in the UK or Europe. I was the only Chinese participant, and the only one from Hong Kong. But strangely, I didn’t feel singled out. I actually felt like I belonged, because we all had one thing in common – the love for writing! It was exhilarating. I just loved that course, and I learned so much. It was also incredibly encouraging to receive positive feedback for my writing, to see that people actually enjoyed my stories and ideas. It was a real confidence booster.

It took a few years to get the ball rolling, but finally, in 2012, I decided I would make a start on my novel. And then that ball just wouldn’t stop rolling. I became immersed in the whole writing process. I can’t stress how much hard work it took, how much discipline and self-motivation I had to muster everyday…I just pushed and pushed myself, and there were days when I would really second-guess myself and ask, “What in the world am I doing? Who am I kidding? What if people hate my book?”

But I finally accomplished it. So no matter how things pan out with this novel, I would know that at least I had the courage and strength to fulfill my dream, to try something new and scary. The fact that I’ve written and published a novel cannot be taken away from me, no matter what people think of my book. When I held my published book in my hands for the first time, it was a truly surreal moment. In the past, I could only imagine it. Now, it’s happened.

From the initial idea to the final product; just how hard was the publishing process and how long did it take?

The initial idea of what I had in mind for Ellanor has pretty much stayed intact throughout the whole process, from beginning to end. I started off wanting to write about a young Elf who would explore the human realm and encounter fantastic adventures. But the final product is very, very different from what I had started off with. My very first draft hardly looks recognizable now!

I must have revised the whole manuscript over a 100 times. I started off jotting down ideas, brainstorming on pieces of note paper that I stuck in my schedule planner..then those notes morphed into sentences, paragraphs, then eventually chapters. I wanted an artist to help me create some concept art for the story, and over time those ‘concepts’ morphed into full-blown illustrations for my story, which have been included in the published book.

Raquel Diaz is my illustrator, and she is incredibly talented. Working with her was just amazing. She is Spanish and lives in Sweden, I live in Hong Kong, but somehow we just clicked and managed to communicate really well. She was able to produce the artwork pretty much as I wanted it. She worked extremely hard, and she was very professional. I was often very pedantic about what I wanted! So that process alone took a lot of work, but it was totally worthwhile.

Writing a novel is a huge feat. There are plots to be created, analyzed, revised, critiqued, and as the author you have to make sure that everything falls into place, that every plot hole has to be accounted for, every little nook and cranny gets looked into. It is an enormous undertaking, but one that I enjoyed immensely. So much planning was involved, coupled with research and the actual execution of the story on my faithful I-Pad and blue tooth keyboard, which I took everywhere with me.

It took over a year and a half to complete the entire manuscript. I would go over it constantly, obsessively, and I would literally work on it whenever I got a spare moment. Just ask my husband! I would even work on it standing up as I waited in a queue for something, typing away on my iPad. I didn’t care how crazed I must have looked! I finally mustered up the courage to show the manuscript to a couple of people who acted as my critics.

Then after I got their feedback, I revised some more. The revisions and rewriting took many months, day after day. It took much longer than I had expected. Then my editor edited the manuscript …and even after that, I went over the edited manuscript countless times to ensure everything was in order, because it is the author’s responsibility to submit the final manuscript and make sure it is all OK to go. The tweaking just seemed to go on endlessly.

Overall, the publishing process was a tremendous amount of work, and it was a lengthy, complicated process. But if I had to do it all over again, I would. It was an amazing and rewarding experience.

Which writers have influenced you? And what were your treasured books as a child? Can creativity be taught?

I have read many good books, and I would say that there are many excellent writers and story-tellers out there. I would say that several writers have really influenced me, especially J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote the Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion. He created this amazing world that I just fell in love with the first time I read about hobbits and elves and Middle-Earth when I was 16. What’s amazing about Tolkien was that he created this beautiful literary work that was based in a fantasy world, and yet his story and the characters managed to evoke such empathy.

Years ago, I had this fleeting idea that one day I would write a story about an Elf girl named Ellanor, in honor of the beautiful golden flower ‘elanor’ that grew in the elven realm of Lothlorien in Tolkien’s fantasy world. I wanted to write about an Elf girl with human connections who could take the reader on wonderful adventures. Through Elly’s expeditions, I hope that the reader’s curiosity about the world would be piqued.

As a young child, I loved reading Enid Blyton, all the fairy tales I could get my hands on, and I especially loved the Baby-sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin! As a teenager, I was really into Christopher Pike.

As I got older, other writers that influenced me are Haruki Murakami and Kazuo Ishiguro, both wonderful story-tellers. Murakami, especially, is very good at creating extraordinary and surreal stories. Kazuo Ishiguro, well, I just love his writing style and the way he creates these poignant, memorable characters and story lines that often don’t end with an obvious conclusion.

I believe creativity can be taught, in the sense that people can be encouraged to think outside the box and not just follow the crowd and do what is ‘safe’. I do think that some people are more creatively inclined than others, but sure, I think that everyone can be creative, it also depends on whether they want to be…because being creative is also a choice, and you gotta have the courage to step up and be a bit of a mover and a shaker!

Is writing a novel as romantic as it sounds? Are all budding writers really hunched over notepads and computers and sitting in chic and trendy cafes typing away?

OK, I admit I have had the luxury of sitting in chic and trendy coffee shops such as Starbucks typing away! But as I said, I just can’t concentrate well at home, and I work best when I’m in a coffee shop like Starbucks or Pacific Coffee…They’re just so conducive to writing for me! I even became a Gold Member at Starbucks because I patronized them so often, and the staff saw me so much that they soon remembered my usual order off by heart!

But here’s the thing, much solitude is needed when writing a book. You got to be OK with that. Some people don’t like to be alone. I’ve always been quite comfortable with solitude though. I love my husband and my family, and I enjoy being with my friends. But I don’t mind being by myself, too. I can go into a restaurant by myself and enjoy a quiet lunch. I’ve even been to the movies by myself in the past. So spending hours by myself writing and typing away came more naturally to me. I was often alone, but I never felt lonely. But I can’t imagine how I could get time alone once kids come into the picture!

Writing takes a TREMENDOUS amount of hard work and commitment. You gotta love writing, you gotta really have the drive…the thirst…to finish the novel, to share it with others, even though the thought of it scares you witless.

Can anyone write? And does everyone have their own ‘voice’?

I think that anybody can write, but not everybody can tell a story well and be creative with it. And yes, I do think everyone has their own voice.

Where can people buy the book?

My book is now internationally available for purchase online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Books, and several other online stores which have cropped up on google search. Hopefully, the book will be available at some local English bookstores soon, we’re working on that! Also, my publisher has sent me hundreds of copies which I will distribute personally.

What are your plans of the future?

This book is the first in a planned short series about Ellanor, the main character. I’m working on the second book. I do hope that readers will enjoy the story enough to want more, so if there is a demand for the sequel, that would be great. I’m waiting for the reviews to come out, and the publisher is helping me promote the book. But no matter how things pan out, I love books and I love writing. I am so grateful for all the awesome support that my family and friends have shown me. I want them to know how much I appreciate it!

Thank you

– See more at: http://www.beijing-visitor.com/hong-kong-culture/kathryn-tse-durham#sthash.wHGOCMJA.dpuf

INTERVIEW WITH “HOW FAR DO LEAVES FALL?” DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER CHOW – FROM ONE GENERATION TO ANOTHER!

First Published here on an educational website: http://www.icubed.us/node/1917 and http://www.icubed.us/node/1924 

An old piece from 2009 about “How Far Do Leaves Fall?”, a documentary about the British-Chinese / British Born Chinese diaspora which is one of the smallest overseas Chinese communities. 

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From One Generation to Another!

What is it like to be a son or daughter of first generation migrants far from the land of your ancestors?

Would you feel more comfortable in the country of your birth or your supposed country of origin?

From China to Malaysia to England, the Chinese have spanned across the globe and made their mark. What traditions and beliefs are passed down? How hard is it to communicate across generations?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kWyDCbD3TY – Trailer

The documentary “How far do leaves fall?” by Director Rose Kelly and Co-Director / Editor Christopher Chow delves deep into the topics of immigration, culture and identity. Even though the film features the British Chinese community in the United Kingdom, the theme of finding a true sense of belonging is universal to one and all.

The documentary features the oral histories of the older UK Chinese generations and their stories of moving from Malaysia, Hong Kong and China and the hardships they encountered as they sought to establish themselves in their new homes. The interviews were carried out by the younger British Chinese generations for whom China is a far away distant land. For many, the UK is the only home they truly know. Via the interview process, the elder and younger generations come to have a sense of empathy and a greater respect is forged.

One main topic raised is immigration; which is a hot contentious issue sometimes viewed negatively but legal migration has many advantages:

– A greater supply of unskilled workers
– A younger workforce
– Skilled workers in understaffed sectors

Via the piece, viewers will learn about:

– Chinese and British history.
– Life in the UK as an immigrant.
– The Overseas Chinese Diasporas and their stories of hardship and triumph all around the world.
– Oral History – The verbal process of passing history down from generation to generation.

“How Far Do Leaves Fall” is an interesting look at immigration, culture and the concept of home. As millions move around the world to make a living, the core message of a sense of belonging and identity will resonate with many.

The documentary “How Far Do Leaves Fall?” examines the lives of young second generation British Chinese in the United Kingdom. On the surface, the piece discusses immigration but delves deeper into the importance of culture and identity. Though featuring the British Chinese community, its themes of a sense of belonging and discovering your roots are universal to all.

Interview

We had the chance to interview one of the co-directors, Hong Kong born Christopher Chow. A one-time psychology student whom turned to films, Christopher is currently freelancing in London, Christopher has worked for various productions, ranging from corporate films, music videos, feature film (Dream On Films), and TV programmes (National Geographic Channel, TVBS-E). Here, he discusses existentialism, Steven Spielberg and randomly waking up one day to pursue his film making dreams!

Christopher Chow – CC
Interviewer- Chris Lau

How did the documentary “How far do Leaves fall?” originate?

CC: The film was part of a wider oral history project by the London based charity CMHA, and it was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (UK).

The project began with two aims: first is to document the experiences and feelings of the Chinese whom migrated to UK many years ago, and how they and their British-born children feel about integrating into the British society. The second aim is encourage young volunteers to participate in the production of all aspects of the oral history project.

How well was the documentary received? How did young people react?

CC: The young people showed a lot of interest in both the issues raised in the documentary, and some were keen to get involved in volunteering for the next oral history project. A lot of them had the similar feelings as the young interviewees featured in the film, and they felt they could really relate to them.

They thought that their parents didn’t understand them and they found it hard to juggle their tradition Chinese family views, and integrating and blending into the everyday British culture.

The piece analyses culture and identity; how important are these concepts for young people?

CC: Everybody goes through a period of identity crisis one way or another, and it might come at different ages. Many young British Chinese want to blend in more within their British schools and friends, so they reject their traditional Chinese family lifestyle and values, which is totally understandable, because it’s tough enough to be a teenager already, and on top they have to deal with their additional cultural identity crisis.

As the young people grow up and mature, they are much more comfortable with who they are, and they stop rejecting their Chinese background, and some begin to appreciate the beauty of their heritage. Many interviewees in the film mentioned they are now (in their 20s & 30s) making much more of an effort to catch up with the lost years of disassociating with their heritage. They now see their distant families more often, and make more effort when it comes to Chinese festivals.

Do you feel more Chinese or more British? Does it really matter?

CC: I came over to study in the UK when I was only 11. Maybe because of all the TV and films I have watched about the UK, I didn’t feel foreign at all, apart from the fact that I didn’t speak much English, but it was the slower pace lifestyle and the cooler climate, which suited me very well.

On the other hand, I studied in an English boarding school, and I didn’t feel like I totally fitted in. I tried my best, but I guess the British just always saw me as a foreigner. But then majority of the times, things came very naturally to me, and I wouldn’t even think that I wasn’t British.

Personally, I don’t think it matters so much whether you believe you are Chinese or British, because that is a difference between nationalities, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person. It is very normal to generalize a race or a nation of people, but we should focus more on ourselves as individuals.

Did you ever question your identity growing up?

CC: Yes I did question my identity, but it was more existential rather than cultural. I guess I don’t really see people differently wherever they come from or the shade of their skin tones.

I think there are similar types of people in all continents, and so I just see people as people. Just like when I was in school, I didn’t really see myself as Chinese, not that I was intentionally rejecting it, and nor have I ever felt totally British.

I questioned more along the line, why am I here? Or does it even matter that I’m here? It was these questions that kept me occupied during my shift from adolescence to adulthood.

Did you always want to be a film director? Has it always been a passion?

CC: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist or policeman then when I got older I wanted to become a teacher. I guess I have always been very good at comforting and motivating people, so I thought I could be a good teacher.

I loved watching movies. My parents were always busy, so they rarely went to the cinema with me. I spent many hours of my childhood and adolescence watching movies on TV, VHS, and LD. When I talked to some of my fellow filmmakers, often they are surprised at how well I remember the story lines in older movies, where they would only remember a few memorable scenes and how the characters looked!

So, movies have always been my passion, but it just never occurred to me that I would be making them. Only until I was in university studying psychology; one night I just woke up, with no prior related dreams, I decided to become a script writer. Then my friend suggested to me to take a film making course, and see where it takes me, and that was it. I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker.

What steps did you take to achieve your dream?

CC: I guess I have always known what I wanted to do, right from the day when I told my mum that I wanted to study in the UK by myself, and I was 10 then. I like to follow my instinct and my passion in doing particular subjects. One thing for sure is that the path I have been taking has always (unconsciously) steered me towards understanding human emotions, which is where my passion lies.

So I went to London and studied film making for a year, and since then I have been busy working, constantly networking and planning future projects. The key is to keep yourself busy and continue to motivate yourself, and cross your fingers that all these effort will one day come to fruition.

Do you have any advice for budding film makers? Just how glamorous is the industry?

CC: The industry isn’t glamorous at all. The only glamorous bit is the red carpets and the major film festivals. Usually it’s very down to earth, but there are a lot of egos flying around all the time, which is very hard to stand sometimes. Unfortunately, this industry does attract this type of people. Sometimes I do wonder if I am too selfless to be a filmmaker, and my other selfless friends agree with me.

My advice would be, if you have the passion to make films, to tell stories, and to connect with another human being, then just go for it. I think it doesn’t matter whether your passion is in film making or pottery making. You only live once, so why not.

Interview with TakeOut Comedy’s Jami Gong – Bringing Laughter to the Asia Pacific!

First Published here: http://www.icubed.us/career-interviews-list/node/2021 – From 2009

TOCarticle

Asians are famous for taking themselves way too seriously!

Well, Asian American Jami Gong, founder of TakeOut Comedy is on a mission to get Asians to tickle their funny bones, unearth new talent and to just get people to have a good old whole-hearted giggle! In our exclusive interview, Jami gives us the low down on the inspiration for his jokes, and whether or not Chinese people have a sense of humour!

TakeOut Comedy Hong Kong – Jami Gong
Interviewer – Chris Lau

Q. So how did a guy born and raised in Chinatown, New York end up as one of the best stand-ups in the Asia pacific?

Jami Gong: A little of luck, hard work and fate. Things happen for a reason, so since my mom grew up in Hong Kong, I feel like I have come full circle to bring more laughter to Hong Kong and beyond.

Q. What did your family think when you told them of your ambitions? I bet you have a business degree to fall back upon right?

Jami Gong: They still think I’m a lawyer. Hope they don’t read this!

Q. How nervous were you when you first stood up to perform? Was it before a crowd of ten?!

Jami Gong: VERY nervous as I forgot my lines and was shaking a lot. My first time was at my university in 1989 in front of 200 people!

Q. Where do you get inspiration for your jokes?

Jami Gong: Life!

Q. How did Takeout Comedy (TOC) come about? What is the make-up of the audience? Any highlights coming up?

Jami Gong: TOC initially was created to help out NYC’s Chinatown which was devastated after Sept 11, 2001. So we were bringing back entertainment to revitalize the nightlife. Since then, we grew nationally and now internationally. Our Hong Kong audiences are the MOST diverse comedy audience in any comedy club in the world! Yes, we have PAUL OGATA (2007 San Francisco International Comedy Competition Winner, Comedy Central) back by popular demand Nov 12-14.

Q. In your opinion, who is / was the funniest person you have ever seen?

Jami Gong: Comedy is so subjective. I think everyone is funny and can be funny. My favorites are Bob Hope, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, and Paul Ogata.

Q. Can someone be taught to be funny? How does someone become a stand up comic? Any good advice for a potential Chris Rock, Margaret Cho or Russell Peters….!

Jami Gong: Yes, everyone can be taught how to be funny if you take classes, be patient, have an open mind, and stay positive! This is the hardest job in the world, but it’s the GREATEST job in the world! My advice for anyone who wants to try standup comedy is JUST DO IT! If not, you will regret it later in life. Life is too short, so have fun, and make people LAUGH!

Q. What is worse for a comedian; being heckled or a joke being met with total silence?

Jami Gong: Hecklers are idiots.

Q. Are Chinese people naturally funny? In Japan, all the best comedians supposedly come from Osaka! Which Chinese people have the best sense of humour?

Jami Gong: Its harder for the Chinese people to be funny because they are way too serious. From birth, they are culturally taught to obey rules and to follow orders. This makes them not risk-takers, which is not good for comedy. We hope to change this as comedians are regarded as some of the smartest people in the world because we see the world different. We debuted last weekend (Oct 24) in China with TakeOut Comedy Shenzhen. We hope to one day venture more to China with TOC to find out which people are the funniest!

Q. The economy is bad, unemployment is up, depression is rife and wars are on-going; IS there anything to really laugh about? Is laughter really the best medicine?

Jami Gong: That more material for us! Times like this is when people NEED to laugh! We help people relieve stress which is why our attendance is up!

YES, LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE!

Q. Some comedians like Lenny Bruce, John Belushi, Chris Farley and others were somewhat tortured souls whose laughter hid their sensitivity; are all comedians on the edge and have a dark side?

Jami Gong: Not all, just some. It’s the crazy fans that really make us cross to the dark side. But we love them and would not have it any other way!

Q. So why did the chicken cross the road?

Jami Gong: To get away from the Chinese butcher!:)

Thank you!