Category Archives: Writing

Hiking season

In Taipei, I measure time by particular seasons. It was strawberry season not too long ago, tiny strawberries in cartons that were halfway filled with padding to protect the delicate fruit. Right now, it’s the season for golden-hued pineapples straight out of ads and giant watermelons the length of one’s arm, sometimes sold out of the same open fruit truck (you know the kind I mean, all open sides to display the fruit.) The first pineapple I bought was from one of those trucks, the young guy selling them surrounded by women. One even took photos of him as he removed the outer layers of her pineapple expertly. His pineapple cost me 120 ntd but the taste was incredibly sweet and floral, no sourness at all.

It’s also the season for giant snails with pointed shells on the mountain trails of Xianjiyan, and barn swallows in little nests above storefronts. I saw a nest with six swallows inside recently, their heads all poking out and watching me. The weather is changeable but mostly it’s hot, hovering around 30 degrees Celsius lately. My teacher says the rainy season is starting and when I asked about typhoon season, she said that it was separate from the rainy season and started in summer.

On nicer days, I try to make it to some of the mountains nearby. Once to Pingxi crags where three mountain peaks sit close together but rise alone so you have to climb up then down then all the way up again. The ones ijl and I climbed had bare rock on top, and one rose so steeply it required a ladder attached to the rock. I like the hiking here—there are the typical stone steps but also occasionally more natural dirt paths (sometimes not well-maintained though) and then you get the adventure hiking which involve rope to help steady you (and you definitely need them!) and sometimes actual climbing. Sometimes you see older men hiking in bare feet, as though it were typical. One of the mountains there, we managed to climb twice, not realizing the path we took down looped around and up the mountain again but it was a more adventurous one so it was fun anyway. There are signs there that tell you to beware, accidents have happened and you proceed at your own risk. And along the way, there were birds whose calls sounded like the whistle of a rocket, and a glimpse of a ferret-badger through the brush, as well as the remains of sky lanterns that we picked up. 

Another hike was from Daxi on the east coast. We took the slow train there, paying with our easycards. The day started out hot so it was brutal going up. Spiders hung on webs above us so if you looked up, you’d see spider after spider seemingly floating in the air. Occasionally, you’d catch a glimpse of ocean. The path led to Taoyuan Valley which was completely different. We climbed the ridge there; on one side, a steep dropoff with shrubs that grew close to the ground due to wind unlike the forests we had been hiking in and on the other side, gently sloping meadowland with water buffalo leisurely eating the grass. On the path were “obstacles” that were the opposite of an animal crossing, to prevent the water buffalo from wandering too far into the mountains. But continuing on the path led us to heavy mist on the ridge and because I was getting tired, we took an unofficial path down with just a cardboard sign that read Dali train station written in marker. This path was very steep, just a dirt and rock path in between wild grass almost as tall as I was, and with the wind blowing something fierce. The shortcut may have been shorter but probably tougher.

Recently, I decided to go alone to Jiandaoshi (Scissor Rock) one day after class but this path turned out to be different from many others. There, retired old men hike it every day and chat with you or hike along with you if you’re new. I was put with two Taiwanese girls and we were shepherded up, an older man with his dog giving us advice all the while about the rough sandstone rock that we were scrambling over. On the way down, another old man identified a passionfruit flower, the trail we should take down, and played us an old song on a type of flute he had (he practices on the mountain, just a hobby he picked up). And on the way to the street, past a flower garden, we were given fresh-cut lilies that were going to be discarded anyway, after we admired them. The friendliest hike I’ve been on.

It’s not all hiking, though. I write essays on Taiwanese superstitious behavior, read essays on the sharing economy, and wonder why there are always worms on the broccoli and cauliflower. I randomly hopped aboard a shuttle for a free trip out to a little town called Xinpu known for its Hakka ancestral homes/shrines and sweet potato dye. I marvel at fresh baby corn and the glimmer of their leaves; they are sweeter than canned. I wait for repairmen to fix the cracks in my ceiling, just in case it’s a danger for the next earthquake, and then ask them random questions that help me with my powerpoint presentations. Sometimes your Japanese classmate tries to teach your class Japanese in Chinese. I live on roasted sweet potatoes because the old man who sells them is adorable even if he never seems to be around when I’ve got a craving—they’re so sweet it’s like eating a healthy dessert and only 50 ntd a bag. Sometimes black-crested serpent eagles circle your neighborhood, crying out all afternoon. I’ll post about southern Taiwan later. I’m missing a good friend’s wedding. With this new teacher, I can’t seem to keep anything in my head, words just slip away as soon as I see them. What skill it takes to be a good language teacher; I hadn’t realized quite how important it was until a mediocre teacher came along.

In writing news, the anthology Endless Apocalypse is out where you can read “Away They Go or Hurricane Season” along with other stories both contemporary and classic. I joined twitter (@suyeelin) but who knows how long that will last? Follow me while you can 😉

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Apocalyptic inspiration

I have a story in Flame Tree Press’s new anthology, Endless Apocalypse, coming out this March so they asked us authors to tell them what inspired our stories. My story is a reprint of “Away They Go or Hurricane Season” which was first published in Acappella Zoo. Take a look!

It’ll be a beautifully-made book and I’m excited to read the other stories in it—if you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.

Since I’m currently reading Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires, weather has definitely been on my mind. It’s a fascinating read and interesting to see how much of the Midwest’s weather in the 19th century was thoroughly impacted by farmers (to their detriment!) Here in Taipei, there was incessant gloom and rain for a week (and two earthquakes) but today was so hot that I wore shorts and took a wander through the botanical garden. Rhododendrons are in bloom and suddenly everyone is selling strawberries. And tomorrow is the big lantern festival in Pingxi where waves of sky lanterns will be released—I’m sure it will be beautiful but hope it’s not too environmentally unfriendly!

Hugo & Nebula

I was recently reminded that I should let people know if I have any eligible stories published in 2017 for the Hugo & Nebula awards so…if you’d like to nominate one of my stories, I’d be honored! They all fall under the short story category.

1) The Monkey King SleepsStrange Horizons, 2017
2) What FuturesPeople of Color Take Over Fantastic Stories, 2017
3) Dream MachineDay One, 2017
4) An Interlude: Pig RiverAustin Chronicle, 2017

Wonderland in Day One

Firstly, my story Wonderland is in the last issue of Day One! It was inspired by a trip to an abandoned amusement park on the outskirts of Beijing that I went to one fateful Thanksgiving several years ago. You can read it here.

Right before the new year began, right after taking my midterms, I took a quick jaunt down to Taroko Gorge on the eastern side of Taiwan with ijl. I’d actually been before, about 5 years ago. Beautiful, of course, with its marble gorges and that clear blue water, but I’d forgotten how short the hikes were and how they peter out. This time the Baiyang trail was closed but the Shakadang trail was fully open–we dipped our hands in the water and watched tadpoles swim in a shallow pool on top of one of the giant boulders. We used our easycards to board the 302 bus which was much less crowded than the Taroko Gorge shuttle and cheaper too. We stayed near the national park itself, in Xincheng, which doesn’t have too much going for it, but we did end up stopping by the beach just to see the Pacific Ocean from this side.

We watched the fireworks from Taipei 101 from my roof. It didn’t last long so it was nice not to have to brave the crowds for a view. In the alley below, one of the small shop owners shot up some fireworks, their whistles screeching into the air, the colors blooming directly overhead.

I didn’t read enough in 2017 but there were some gems. I just recommended Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing to my Chinese teacher actually! Here’s my list:

1. A Thread of Sky- Deanna Fei
2. Sweetbitter- Stephanie Danzer
3. The Girls- Emma Cline
4. When Watched- Leopoldine Core
5. A Chemical Wedding- Christian Rosencreutz (Small Beer Press & John Crowley’s version)
6. The Vegetarian- Han Kang
7. Do Not Say We Have Nothing- Madeleine Thien
8. Soft Split- Szilvia Molnar
9. Four Books- Yan Lianke
10. Lincoln in the Bardo- George Saunders
11. Notes from a Small Island- Bill Bryson (NF)
12. In A Sunburned Country- Bill Bryson (NF)
13. The Wangs Vs. The World- Jade Chang
14. The Blue Sword- Robin McKinley (re-read)
15. The Paper Menagerie- Ken Liu
16. Monkey Business, issue 4
17. Upright Beasts- Lincoln Michel
18. The Refugees- Viet Thanh Nguyen
19. Isadora- Amelia Gray
20. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia- Mohsin Hamid
21. The Great Passage- Shion Miura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
22. Goodbye, Vitamin- Rachel Khong
23. In the Country- Mia Alvar
24. POC Take Over Fantastic Stories of the Imagination- edited by Nisi Shawl
25. Journey to the Centre of the Earth- Jules Verne
26. Butterflies in November- Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
27. The Leavers- Lisa Ko
28. Dreaming in Chinese- Debra Fallow (NF)
29. Alternative Remedies for Loss- Joanna Cantor
30. Fast Food Fiction Delivery- edited by Noelle Q. de Jesus & Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta
31. Chemistry- Weike Wang
32. Pachinko- Min Jin Lee
33. Asia’s Reckoning: China, Japan, and the fate of U.S. Power in the Pacific Century- Richard McGregor (NF)
34. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate- Peter Wohlleben (NF)

Happy 2018!

Some surprises

I’m happy to share that A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration not only got a great review on Newpages.com, but also that Bennington Review nominated it for a Pushcart Prize! There was a wealth of great writing in Bennington Review 3 so I’m really honored that they chose mine to nominate.

Also, I have a reprint of Away They Go or Hurricane Season coming out early next year in an anthology called Endless Apocalypse from Flame Tree Publishing! You can check out the other authors who will be included in the anthology here.

In Taipei, the rain hasn’t let up at all. So different from the first sunny days I was here so I feel a bit tricked, my expectations all out of whack. But I’ve gotten used to bicycling in the drizzle and how, some days, the clouds cover my kitchen view of Taipei 101. Classes at National Taiwan University aren’t quite what I expected either since we actually only have one class, 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. It doesn’t seem much at first but because we run through material so quickly with plenty of homework and review each day and I’m trying to remember all the words I used to know and figure out how to write them in traditional characters, it’s actually quite a lot of work. I wasn’t actually prepared for how many everyday characters I use have been simplified! My speaking needs work as well so I’m excited to be meeting a language exchange partner early next week.

The food here skews a bit sweet; I’m currently in love with the fresh pineapple bun with butter from 好好味 where the top is crisp and sweet, the bread is airy, and it comes hot and fresh from the oven so the butter melts as you eat it. So good. Mostly for meals, there’s bian dang 便当 which is like a lunch box where you pick the protein (fried chicken, stewed pork foot or pork belly, pork chop, fish, etc) and they give you some veggie sides and rice. Then there are the late night early morning breakfast shops with their buns and pastries and soy milk.

The school cafeterias are okay, with self-serve buffets which charge by weight, or different types of cuisine that range from dumplings to Korean food to Cantonese food to Japanese food. The night markets are fun but sometimes I mostly end up just eating fried things there. Last night at Raohe Night Market, I had a fried scallion pancake, fried chicken with basil, and sichuan chaoshou (wontons) in chili oil and had tastes of my friends’ food. Granted, I don’t always make the best decisions when I’m hungry.But there are tons of options–okonomiyaki being freshly made, fruit juice, baked seafood, stinky tofu, tiny fried crabs, egg waffles, ice cream wrapped with grated peanuts and cilantro, baby octopus covered with cheese, “coffin bread”, black pepper pork buns, and so much more. So crowded though so I couldn’t just take photos of them all.

QR code takeover (+ an interview)

In Shanghai, even the small stands that make breakfast on the street take mobile payment. What a change from the last time I was there, in early 2016; I feel old-fashioned paying with cash for my 1.5 rmb 油条 breakfast. There are tons of orange and yellow bicycles (two different companies) parked helter-skelter because there’s no need for docking stations—if you’ve got a phone and a data plan, you’re good to go. I’ve got a phone but no data so I walk, but it’s nice to see so many people cycling even if the bicycles take up most of the sidewalk.

One day during my short visit, early in the morning, I saw regular folks lined up to enter a huge mansion across the street from where L lives. Must be something cool going on, I thought. We looked it up: A restoration of a 1900s garden villa by Prada that used to be owned by an entrepreneur of textiles named Rong Zhai. We went early in the morning on a weekend—the wait time quoted was about 1.5 to 2 hours but we waited about 50 minutes before we could get in. The Art Deco stained glass were incredible—I loved the ships. It was interesting to note the difference between old and new though. The layout of the building was fascinating, with stairs everywhere, even on the same landing. Also, apparently Prada’s next season involves a lot of knee-high sports socks with dress shoes so get ready!
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Another day, I went to a talk at NYU Shanghai by the historian Valerie Deacon who was researching British and American air crew and their evasion training during WWII in case they were shot down over Germany-controlled France. The British were told to remember the correct side of the street to walk/bike/drive on; the Americans were told not to chew bubble gum. It’s funny to think that would be the giveaway for an American! Also, the training manual told them to get a bike if possible even though they’re rare but don’t steal them since that’d draw attention, ha. I’d love to read her research once she’s done but she’s only just starting this new project.

Besides that, it was all walking around old neighborhoods and seeing how they’d changed and eating a lot of great food like Chongqing style grilled fish. One area by Suzhou creek had a new development but plastered on the windows were posters decrying the developer/landlord as scammers. It’s sad that it’s not more uncommon. And my favorite little residential area in the middle of a bunch of demolished areas near Laoximen seems to be gone. I’d made a video of the area before and intended to do something with it—I still hope to. And I took a photo of G taking photos of hardware.

Today is Pepero Day here in South Korea. I have no one to exchange pepero sticks with so I guess I won’t become taller or thinner. (I think you have to exchange them? But I obviously don’t know anything about besides seeing the displays in front of all the convenience stores!) I did go to the Hongdae Free Market today to see what local artists are making. Pretty jewelry and cards and fabrics, mostly. Two portrait artists—one a more detailed anime style, the other more caricature-esque.

The other week I wandered around by Gyeogbokgung and passed by several different fairs/markets on the way to the Seoul Museum of Art. And managed to catch the changing of the guard at one of the smaller palaces, Deoksugung. Oh and I saw this butcher and his humongous side of cow.

Also, can I say that Korean-Chinese food is a whole different animal from Chinese food or Chinese-American food? It’s completely unrecognizable to me! Not bad, just different, like this version of jajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce). And I love these little crispy fish pastry snacks. And the freshly fried donuts…     

In non-Asia news, I stumbled across this little interview I did for Bennington Review with regards to A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration. Take a gander.

Snapshots of Iceland

On Snæfellsnes peninsula, at the Rauðfeldsgjá gorge, we passed a man carrying a gull to his chest, its wing splayed under his arm. The man was speaking to his friend, the gull was nibbling at his zipper. In the gorge itself, a narrow crack in the mountains with a stream tumbling through it, the corpses of gulls hidden behind boulders we had to scramble over. At the back of the gorge, a rope leading up but we didn’t trust the rain and our wet feet.

By Öndverdarnes, auks and black-backed gulls, kittiwakes and their tiny chicks nestled into the nooks of the cliffs. It’s a long winding gravel path there, through the mossy lava fields. The moss is incredible, so plush and thick that you can sink half a foot in without knowing what’s underneath. Let the other cars pass when you can; there’s an orange lighthouse in the distance and a sign to help you identify the birds you’ve been seeing. Arctic terns with their black heads and wings like a plane, fulmar with that amazing glide, barely flapping their wings as they circle around Hreggnasi (what a view, to see the way the lava flowed from the volcanoes, the craters around, the glacier, shy and hidden by clouds).
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Can I tell you about the volcanoes we drove up? The empty dirt road, the warning sign (this volcano is active, it erupted in 2000, please run if we text you), the soft lava dirt that threatened to sink our car. The snow on the side of Hekla we slid down so that our bodies ached with cold. Almost sunset at 11pm and how the clouds descended suddenly so that our path down was shrouded, the car tires rumbling over rocks we couldn’t see. On the way back, sheep being carried by truck toward the volcano (they are everywhere, these sheep, so it’s funny to think that some are carried to remote places to sit in the grass and eat). Then there was Snæfellsjökull. Our second try, finally a sunny day, we hiked through the snow to reach a lesser peak. Crevices in the ice deep enough to grab a leg if you weren’t careful. Before we reached the peak though, clouds had formed a ring around us as though trying to trap us.
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One night a calico farm cat joined us in our room. We’d opened the door to our room that led outside and the cat, seeing us, scampered over and spent a while purring happily in bed as we petted her. It was midnight and still light outside.

The colors of the sulfurous mud pots in Námaskarð. And the stink of it! So much more overwhelming than I thought it’d be but beautiful in the steam rising from the land, the bubbling heat, the streaks of yellow and green.
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Two pools, one in Hofsós, the other in Lýsuhóll. The first set on the edge of a hill, with a view out to sea. The second nicknamed the green lagoon and under the shadow of a mountain, with algae along the walls and floor of the pool so that you slipped easily and without any chemicals; I was told the algae was good for the skin. Both geothermally heated so that even with the rain, it was more comfortable than most pools here in the U.S. There were hot tubs, too, that were much more crowded than the pool—some of the locals, I think, didn’t even bother using the swimming pool at all.

IMG_20170718_122623IMG_20170718_114249IMG_20170713_224614The burgers and hot dogs were nothing to write home about but the best fish and chips are always from tiny little trucks in little towns without much else. Arnarstapi had the best and cheapest one and what is this potato seasoning that tastes a bit like cajun without the spice?

The most incredible hike in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. A narrow dirt path through flower-covered terrain, a view of forbidding mist-shrouded mountains in the distance like a fairy tale. There were birds that flew overhead, their wings thrumming like machinery as they swooshed past. Tiny field mice that sniff and put their paws on your sneakers. The glacier in the distance and then suddenly, it all opens up, the glacier right below with its striations and sharp edges, that intense blue that empties out into a glacial lake that feeds the rivers and streams running through and out and away.
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A Flock, a Siege, A Murmuration in Bennington Review!

Bennington Review’s 3rd issue: Threats is out now but you can read my story “A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration” online on their website! I’m really happy the way this story turned out; it was inspired by the bird flu outbreak in China in 2013.

Also, who knew Governor’s Island was as nice as this?

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Red-spotted blackbirds, dragonflies hovering over lavender, urban vegetable gardens, chickens, biking for hours, hidden hammocks, hills, awesome playgrounds, perfect breezy weather, and a lovely view—what more could you ask for?

(Okay, the food selection could be better…!)