69. Zizzle – a literary magazine for young minds (Issue #1)

Zizzle 1_mag and bookmarksThis gorgeous hardback magazine is infused with generosity – not only do the creators of Zizzle compensate authors for their time and effort (unlike too many other publications) but their readers are treated to lush, varicoloured pages boasting dream-like images amongst 10 stories for youngsters, and those tasked with reading to or with them.

If some of the language in the more advanced stories could potentially flummox work-ragged adults, then this is representative of a calculated risk taken by Hong Kong publisher Yuetting Cindy Lam and Lesley Dahl, the magazine’s North American editor. In their introduction they emphasise the importance of a good story over any attempt to tailor it to a precise age group. This seems both brave and sensible. Many of us advanced quickly through middle-grade fiction and beyond, ignoring any advice on age range offered on covers. Others will have dwelt longer on books designed for readers younger than their years. No big deal.

And yet, to an editor of school textbooks, used to a more formalised approach to language introduction, I did have some concerns when bumping into words and expressions like ‘diminuendo’ and ‘vein-riddled’ in George Salis’ atmospheric ‘The Lightning Conductor’ (which memorably describes goosebumps as ‘skin braille’). Never fear – help is at hard. Zizzle may blur the line between child and adult reading, but it’s not looking to lose anyone along the way. A bookmark can be peeled from the front cover to mark the particular progress of each reading team; the stories are short, and all are helpfully categorised into three difficulty levels – ‘Easy’, ‘Less Easy’ and ‘Not Easy’.

In my role as uncle, I would happily dip into the magazine with my niece and nephews, and suspect each would get something different from it. While I might savour the delicious satire in Ryan Thorpe’s ‘The Border Crossing’, a tale in which a mouse ‘trying to look casual’ heads a line of animals attempting to navigate a border point, my older nephew may prefer to wallow in its more comedic elements. I don’t think the message would be lost either way.

Myth, magic and mystery – as you might expect – bag conspicuous roles in the Zizzle cavalcade. ‘One Wish’ by Jennifer Moore offers a new take on the perils of unchecked desire, while ‘How the Moon Scared the Giant’ by Lenore Weiss casts its light on lonely despotism. Other stories, such as ‘The Road to Valhalla’ by Blake Johnson and ‘Ruby Vidalia’ by Karen Rigby tell of lifelong love affairs with books.

Personally, I like the way these more recognisable narratives are complemented by several abstract visions contemplating loss, or offering similarly melancholy glimpses into adult life – and how you might temporarily escape it. ‘Scarves’ by Cheryl Pappas is especially striking, as a young girl leaves a smiling picnic to create a shrine of discarded animal bones.
Zizzle 2_Andy Wai Kit illustrationAndy Wai Kit, a Malaysian-born animator in the games industry, provides the sweeping visuals that are a highlight of Zizzle’s debut – certainly his work contains more whimsy and humanity than I recall in the computer games I played as a kid, which, despite the momentary relapse offered by Zizzle, I have to concede was a while ago now.

Promishore have produced an exceptionally high-quality product with this first edition of Zizzle; so much so that the international price of US$21 does not seem overly steep. This isn’t a magazine destined to end up in the recycling; it’s a publication to treasure or share, depending on how generous you’re feeling.

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68. International Proverse Prize: Islands on the horizon

Islands_Macau ferry.JPGThe Islands of Hong Kong has reached the semi-final stage of the International Proverse Prize, as announced at Proverse’s autumn reception in Hong Kong on 15 November 2018.

Here’s the semi-final line-up:

Lilla Csorgo
Daniel J. Hamilton
Peter Humphreys
Sheng-Wei Wang

Sadly I couldn’t make it to the reception. I’ve spent too much of this year bouncing around the planet’s darkening skies to justify another flight. To find that the story has travelled well is enough; when I sent the manuscript, as per instructions, to a Hotel Coma in Andorra I thought I might be inadvertently taking part in a new Wes Anderson movie.

Islands – a darkly comic literary thriller preoccupied with identity and the meaning of home – represents both a love letter and fond farewell to the place I called home for six years, so to have been shortlisted for the prize is extra-special. Win, lose or draw I’ll let you now how to get hold of a copy of the book as soon as it’s available.

32. Dolphins, drones and…dogs

It’s bad enough being a toxic bachelor but in the next couple of years there is almost certain to be a rubbish incinerator located not far from this beautiful island, as reported in the latest edition to Cheung Chau’s print media (pictured). I guess I better enjoy the natural world alongside my preternaturally single status while I can?

Incinerator news

Fortunately, it seems for now at least dolphins are willing to come and fish, in some numbers, off Cheung Chau. I’m no scientist so can only speculate that the trawling ban around Hong Kong, combined with unusually clear waters, tempted them towards the southwestern shores of Cheung Chau over Chinese New Year for a rare visit.

south by southwest

These weren’t the blighted pink variety of which we hear so much – and see so little – around Lantau (a memorable dolphin-spotting trip some years back ended in my ex-wife and I pleading with a floating plastic bag, disguised as a sentient mammal, to transmogrify and forgive us our human sins) but big, muscly, grey-backed things, powering themselves through the water as a handful of tourists and scattering of insouciant fishermen looked on.

Adding to the experience, the two rare beasts I call my parents were beside me, all signs being that the island’s spookily good behaviour (too cold for snakes yet a tree-climbing lizard obliged us by munching on a fat fly in clear view) would continue for the duration of their visit.

Which made the next episode all the stranger. Not used to seeing dolphins whilst I’m floundering around the island, I’m even less used to seeing drones, but the delicate-looking dervishes are as identifiable as they will soon be omniscient, and I had no doubt what type of creature was welcoming us to a usually isolated beach near our viewpoint, a camera slung under its exoskeleton.

While most Hong Kong couples settle for walking, or wheeling, a beloved pooch around at weekends, here we came across a man in his mid-20s taking his drone for an airborne stroll. Unable to fuss over the thing, or adjust its tartan onesie, his partner – sporting impenetrable shades – appeared less than thrilled with her suitor’s devotion to it. Or at least to the giant remote control he was clasping. Because despite the pilot’s concentration it wasn’t completely clear who was master and who was mastered as the mechanical menace hovered around the edges of our photos and videos, emitting a kind of embarrassed whirr as its altitude fluctuated. Perhaps the youngsters looked embarrassed too. The sunglasses, and lack of opportunity to pet their…pet robbed us of any chance to exchange niceties, despite the mutual view of ancient coastline.

Just then a scraggly pack of the island’s much-maligned wild dogs appeared on a rocky outcrop high above us and began to howl, though whether in an effort to reclaim this ownerless territory from man or machine I can’t be sure. Either way, I’ve never been quite so happy to see them.

To find out more about the threat posed to Hong Kong’s islands by the proposed waste incinerator you can visit:

Living Islands Movement

Time Out article, July 2014

23. Rat-tle my timbers: it’s a snake!

While my first SNAKE ENCOUNTER (I can sense the view count soaring already) was not as petrifying as that involving a metre-long cobra recently trapped in a Sai Kung doorway like a passive-aggressive draft excluder, the beast was still long enough (1.25m) to make me think twice about skirting round it (I won’t specify its exact location as it might risk scaring potential guests away). Eventually its dopey countenance and small head gave me the confidence to make the leap. As in most snake encounters (I suspect) ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BAD HAPPENED yet to say my heart rate didn’t increase would be a fib.

Employing the principle that the best antidote to such a meeting is often a refined dose of venom, I found myself watching Vice News’ Snake Island documentary soon after my SNAKE ENCOUNTER. And yes, it did make me feel better. In fact, watching a fresh-faced, youthful journalist with his whole life ahead of him camping on an atoll packed with squirming serpents is guaranteed to make you feel better about pretty much anything. Try it.

Exhaustive Word Diving™ research suggests my laissez-faire intruder (small head, brown features) was probably a RAT SNAKE, unlikely to lash out unless threatened (I took this to mean intellectually: fortunately I was struck dumb).

Ratty ratty rat snake

Discovering that my ‘lone wolf’ was actually a ‘rat’ inevitably led to a degree of disappointment. Not only is the name a bit, well…ratty…but there’s actually far more frogs in our well-maintained, if tendril-heavy, Ballardian enclave than rats (so far as I can tell). My Polish neighbour told me coolly that the last time he saw a snake here it appeared to be unsuccessfully trying to wrest back control of its own head from the still-jumping frog it had just eaten. The adrenalin fully worn off, I reached the conclusion that my encounter wasn’t so remarkable after all. Maybe I, and my future guests, should be grateful for that?