Weaving in the Bamboo
My short story WEAVING IN THE BAMBOO has been published online in issue 3 of Translunar Travelers Lounge. Massive thanks to editors Bennett North and Aimee Ogden for choosing my story from the slush just when I thought no-one would publish this surreal ode to storytelling. TTL are a really lovely online magazine that publish uplifting speculative fiction and from what I've read of previous issues, have a penchant for both fun and literary. In this issue they grouped stories by tea blends and mine falls under the cryptic and yet apt description "Charon Blend (Dark Chocolate Rooibos) velvet-smooth, with a rich, complex flavor that lingers on the palate".
You can either read all the stories online, or support the magazine by buying them as an ebook. Feel free to share, comment and review! Here's the full table of contents:
Acquisition: Earth – Steven Berger
Quicker to Love a Goat than a Boy – James Mimmack
Blue – Kathleen Brigid
The Swarm of Giant Gnats I Sent After Kent, My Assistant Manager – Marissa Lingen
More than Trinkets – Ramez Yoakeim
5:37 – A.P. Howell
Seven Parts Full – Anya Ow
The Cat Lady and the Petitioner – Jennifer Hudak
Hatchi – Andrew K. Hoe
A Most Professional Demon – R.J. Howell
Rockets Launch from Florida – E.M. Craven
Weaving in the Bamboo – Eliza Chan
Beloved and Deserted – Nicole Tan
Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart – Louis Evans
And now for a little bit of background and unpacking. This is my first attempt to write a story set in fantasy China. Wuxia / xianxia films and TV series were a massive part of my childhood, especially familiar favourites such as Journey to the West, Condor Heroes and Lady White Snake. I am far from an expert in these therefore please forgive me if I get the terms mixed up. Living in the UK, we came to them via borrowed VHS tapes, well-worn and passed around from family to family. I vividly recall the white lines of the fading tape, the fascinating adverts for Hong Kong products and heckling my mother to explain storylines I only half-understood with my smattering of Cantonese.
But I've never felt "qualified" to write a Chinese fantasy before. I would admire the covers in Hong Kong bookshops but sadly my Chinese reading and writing skills are about the level of a five year old. My knowledge of the tradition, genres and sub-genres also has massive holes either where I've mixed up two series, or we never got the VHS tapes for a crucial story arc. There are now some great website with fan translations and guides especially since the popularity of The Untamed series. What I recall from childhood are more generally feelings and tropes: sworn brotherhood, ancient scrolls, coughing up blood and practising qigong, maidens with the best hair accessories/ sleeves and heroes with terrible wiglines. Memories of my sister and I in the living room trying to find each other's paralysis points.
My mother would humour us when we asked for answers to these tales and more. Why is there a dragon and phoenix in the Chinese restaurant, why is there no cat in the zodiac, who is the lady on the mooncake tin? And as all children do when they grow up, I realised she was not infallible. Her version of tales did not match those in mythology books, on the internet or even those known by other Chinese friends. My mother is from a small village in Hong Kong and was pulled out of school to work on the fields at an early age. She never went to high school. Sometimes she embellished the stories herself, figuring we'd never know. Sometimes it appeared that her local oral tradition (or her memory of it) was just a little different. At some point when I was older, I started to be less embarrassed and annoyed at her editorial versions and rebranding of popular folktales. Instead I began to accept that her oral tradition was just as valid as those in books.
The Chinese TV and film industry have been remaking the same familiar stories for as long as I can remember. Never mind three iterations of Spiderman, there must be a Condor Heroes and Journey to the West at least every ten years. The comforting well-worn story but with a slant: each generation in tune with the sentiment of the age (not to mention the bright young actors of the age). Subplots are altered, characters go from villain to hero and back again. (If you are interested in this, Jeannette Ng has written some great twitter threads about the different versions of Lady White Snake and an article on Mulan) And they appeal like comfort food much like Snow White, Robin Hood or modern day heroes such as Spiderman.
Underlying this was a thought we have all had from time to time. What if. What if my parents had never moved to the UK? What if I had been brought up in the rural village my mother came from? What if things had just gone differently?
All of these jumble thoughts and feelings: Chinese fantasy, oral tradition, family dynamics and how they change, are the foundations of WEAVING IN THE BAMBOO. It is a chaotic tale of the stories we weave and I really enjoyed how all the threads came together.