A New Decade Awaits Us

Families are made up of many important ingredients, with love being the only ingredient that matters.”

Eva Wong Nava

The NAVA family began this decade with the entire family getting together to celebrate many things.

The philosopher-princess is now a science graduate and her title has moved a notch up to philosopher-scientist-princess. In Italy, a graduate or laureato/laureata is also known as la dottoressa, a title when translated into English means ‘doctor’, something reserved only for PhD graduates in the English education system. It may seem rather ordinary today to obtain a (basic) degree as more and more of the world compete for education, with individuals from various countries continually upping one another in the race to be more and better educated. Centuries ago, in countries like Italy, France, and many parts of Europe, a graduate is something of a super star. On the other side of the world in China, the Imperial examinations were only available to those who could afford to be educated. Sitting and passing the imperial exams elevated one’s status and ability to have a career within the Emperor’s court. For many Chinese who finally did become mandarins or court officials, huge sacrifices were made on their behalves to enable them to study and be learned. And, there were many of those who took years to pass the Imperial exams; there are stories of graduates well past their prime, who never gave up the race to become a laureato. Basic degrees are easily obtainable these days in a matter of 3 to 4 years, with many continuing on the path to specialise in their fields by reading a Masters and perhaps a PhD. This laureata will continue her studies in London reading a Masters of Science in Biomedicine, specialising in cell biology. Need I say that I’m so proud of her.

Scientists thrive on precision and the philosopher-scientist-princess is no different. You’re looking at a photo of the pasta dish she cooked up in the Italian Alps where we were hibernating for a few days after Christmas. This Sicilian pasta dish is known as Pasta a la Norma. It’s name is derived from the name of an opera by Vincenzo Bellini because an Italian writer by the name of Nino Martoglio pronounced this pasta sauce made from aubergine and ricotta as the real Norma! Who knows why this was his exclamation when he ate melanzane con ricotta but let it be known that this dish by the elder daughter is the real Norma. I’m so proud of her exacting culinary skills.

Bruschetta con pomodori e basilico, fatta in casa a la Raffaella

The second daughter aka the ballerina-princess also tried her hand at cooking. She made us this delicious bruschetta topped with diced tomatoes and basilico leaves torn by hand to extract its herby perfume. She even plated it like a professional chef would. A clove of garlic finishes this dish with that oomph every tomoto and basil salad needs. Watching my girls cook us–her father and me–dinner is a wonderful sight. There are eight years between the two girls yet they get on like a house on fire, both with so much love for each other that watching them being together squeezes my heart. Love is myriad sensations: warm gushes mixed with pain, a good kind of pain; ripples of happiness mixed with waves of fear, fear of losing these two precious beings; contentment mixed with anxiety, an anxiety for them to experience the world and be safe. This ballerina-princess will continue her education in London this year, sitting the International Buccalaureate Diploma Programme examinations in 4 years’ time. She wrote an impressive school entrance essay that got her a place at Southbank International School, Westminster.

The Italian who has travelled many roads and eaten many dishes with me continues to be that reliable and stable man I married more than a decade ago. As we plan the next decade ahead, we take into account what we’ve done for each other and what we will continue to do for love and committment. He’s come a long way since we met and started sharing a life together. Living in Asia has also been an eye opener and he has gotten to know and understand the culture in which I was socialised by and into. He has also come to know how some individuals are not determined by culture but by an individual choice to be different and to make a difference. Culture aside, underlying what we feel and do is our humanity. How I love this Italian of mine.

Eva at the Readers’ Choice Awards Ceremony 2019

Since I started my stint as a published author of children’s books, I’ve been blessed with many wonderful writerly moments. Having my debut picture book, The Boy Who Talks in Bits and Bobs nominated for the Readers’ Choice Awards in Singapore is a huge achievement. I’m so grateful to the many readers and people who made this happen.

The publishing industry in Singapore, especially for children’s literature is a young one. There is great potential in this island-state for Asian and/or local literature to develop and grow. My resolution for 2020 is to write more meaningful picture books that entertain, engage, and enlighten young minds. I’ve been lucky to have parents who encouraged me to read when I was young. It’s a rare thing, I would say, for someone born in the decade I was, because Singapore then was busy building a nation, far less interested in fiction and stories from other worlds, yet these books existed because there was nobody publishing Asian stories that mattered when I was growing up. I was fed a diet of books written by authors who had no idea what living in Asia entailed; many who wrote about Asia had never lived in my part of the world. Likewise, I had no idea what life was really like in the worlds I read about. Snow-capped mountains, apple pies and cream, picnics in the park, drinking lemonade and eating finger sandwiches with cucumber were non-existent when I was growing up in humind and tropical Singapore. Yet, they were as real as their authors had described them in the books I read. Imagination is a wonderful thing. When I then got to see my first snow-capped mountain as an adult, I remember the very book I’d read that made me see and feel what snowy mountain peaks are like. I’ve had many Heidi moments since.

With Nyonya Josephine Chia, who taught me what having many lives is really about

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

C.S. Lewis

Life is all the more meaningful when it’s filled with friends. Studies have shown that one of the secrets of longevity is being able to count in one hand the people whom you can call friend. I made a new friend in 2019. Like me, she’s a writer and a Chinese-Peranakan, who has lived in England for more years than we care to count. Here we are, having un bon repas and a tête-a-tête in a newly opened Peranakan restaurant at Claymore Connect in Singapore. Her elegant head of hair matches my snow-white t-shirt. Her glowing smile is no match for my shy coaxing one, though. But in nyonya phine, I’ve found someone whom I feel I can be myself.

While I’m here, I’d also like to mention two other people: June Ho and Debasmita Dasgupta. These special people have become more than friends. June is the co-author of Mina’s Magic Malong and a forthcoming picture book biography, The Accidental Doctor, published by World Scientific Asia, launching in June 2020. Debasmita continues to work with me on various projects, with the most recent one, Sahara’s Special Senses, launching early this decade. She and I also co-founded Picture Book Matters, a mentoring platform for picture book creatives in Asia. We have workshops and courses starting in March in conjunction with the Singapore Book Council.

I was lucky to have met a wonderful soul in the person of Chen Wei Teng. She’s also a fellow colleague, a children’s book writer [Murphy, See How You Shine]. This is just one of her many talents. Her heart is made of pure gold: she is a special education needs teacher, dedicating her life to educating children often left behind by the mainstream. In a recent incarnation, she is a poet, composing haikus filled with philosophy and deep thought.

Two more people I’d like to mention are Uschi and Claire, who both live far from me but who are always an email or text away. I love these two girls for their courage, their inner-strength, their kindness, and their values. And just like this, I need another hand to count the most important people I call friend in my life. But let’s not complicate things too much, less is more and more is obsolete. I love these six people with all my heart.

Time is short but Life is long. Make every moment count.”

Anon

I leave you with this quote. Wishing all my friends and readers a very happy new year. Make every moment count.

D is for Dedication

The writing process is often a lonely journey because the activity of writing demands that the writer gets into his/her own head and the heads of his/her characters. Although the process of getting into other people’s heads is a solitary one and the only company a writer gets to keep is that of the characters’, it is a journey that must be taken toute seule. However, the process of becoming published is often one that involves various parties, unless the author is self-publishing. Having said that, the process of self-publication does also involve various parties—the printer, for example, and the public who read the books or stories you’ve self-published.

This post is all about thanks. 

Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure could not have happened without various parties involved. I would’ve mentioned them on the dedication page if I were a more experienced author. Other books I’ve read have entire pages, even two, where the author lists the people who have contributed to the book, pre and post-publication. Now if I were a more experienced author, I’d have done that too.

I’ve thanked the four most important people in my life who I felt made this book happen. As readers will know, they are my husband and my wonderful daughters, and a dear friend whom I’ve learned so much from in terms of autism. I did not, however, thank the book publisher—Ethos Books—and my friend, Raymond Tan, of Brainchild Pictures, who was the first person who believed in my ability to tell a story through words. It was Raymond who asked me to write a book about his movie—The Wayang Kids—that led to Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure. However, the book wouldn’t have been published if Ethos Books hadn’t liked the story and felt that it was worth its weight to enter the world of published books. There is also the team at Popular Bookstore who asked for exclusivity for the book until April.

So, this post goes out to the team at Ethos, Popular Bookstore, Singapore and Raymond—Thank you, all!

To the Readers

This post also goes out to the readers of Open. They are Mark Anthony Rossi and his lovely children, Hilary Ryel author of Kids Like Us, James Sinclair of Autistic and Unapologetic, Hubert Hu, Elizabeth Lim, Jessie Tan, Mozhdeh, Hwee Goh, Wayne Tan, Emily Lim and the children she gifted the book to, Lianne Chen, Andera Liu, Liz Lim, Kum Suning, Ng Kah Gay, Ric Liu, Nikki (you know who you are) Trudi Batchelder and her family, Nicola Anthony, Marie-Pierre Mol, Guillaume Levy-Lambert, Sean Soh, Scott M. Anthony, Angie Png, to the family of Mohamed Nikmikail, the readers and reviewers on Goodreads, and the future readers of the book. This list is not complete, of course, and as all lists go, I apologise if I’ve left someone out. I’m not the best at making lists, to begin with; I always leave something out inevitably as my memory is a sieve these days. To top this, I hate shopping lists, Christmas lists and wish lists; it’s just me, I know, as I feel lists are constraining, even as I understand their necessity.

To those who attended the Book Launch

The Official Book Launch has come and gone. There are people there to thank too. June, the book reviewer who came to listen to the dialogue between Raymond and me, who then asked pertinent questions that kept the conversation going. If you’re reading this, June—thank you. To the people who brought their children who stayed quiet for an hour to listen to three adults (Raymond, me and the moderator) drone on about representation, the wayang and writing—thank you for listening, you were superstars! Of course, to the organisers of the launch: The Arts House, the Singapore Book Council and National Arts Council, thank you for opening up a space for promoting SingLit. Thanks go to Axl Loon, Elizabeth Lim, Hubert Hu, Andrea Liu and Edmund Wee for attending. Mostly, thanks go to my sister, Emily Wong-Lim who came with her family and an old friend, whom I haven’t seen in more than 25 years; it was great to see you there, Yvinne. To my niece, Audrey Lim for showing me how social media can work on getting the book out there.

Authors and Bloggers

The book authors and bloggers who gave me a space to talk about Open. Don Bosco, Samara Lynch and Dorothée Oké of Groupe de Press Relations Lyon—thank you, merci!

Now, if I’ve left someone out, it is unintentional. Help me by prodding me with a message.

Last but not least, to all the mummies and daddies who encourage their children to read. You know that your children’s imaginary worlds begin with books—thank you!

The Adventure Continues

The next few months will be filled with book readings, events at schools where I’ll be doing more book readings and talking about how literature can help foster a more compassionate and inclusive world. Come and find me to say hello if I’m in your neck of the woods. Thank you!