Around the World in 80 Children’s Books: A Global Booklist for Kids
Talking Location With.. author Felicia Nay – HONG KONG
7th August 2020
#TalkingLocationWith… Felicia Nay, author of Red Affairs, White Affairs set in Hong Kong.
My novel Red Affairs, White Affairs takes you to Hong Kong at the beginning of this millennium. ‘Hope is the thing with feathers, above the South China Sea as much as anywhere,’ Reini ‘Kim’ Kranich notes as she watches kites circling the Star Ferry. The young expat is no stranger to fragile hopes-she works with abused Filipinas. There also is her Chinese friend Virginia Ngai, who desperately wants to marry. When Virginia’s mother falls terminally ill, this raises the question of hope once more. Obsessed with death, ‘Chinese underwear with its volcanic constructions’, Emily Dickinson and cockroaches, Reini embarks on a year-long journey of faith, friendship, and cross-cultural encounters…
Follow in the footsteps of the Hong Kong Heritage Hikes, a group of culture and hiking enthusiasts that I invented for the novel. Coming up with the Hikes not only had the advantage of giving one of my characters a meaningful job–Virginia Ngai is their initiator–, it also helped to introduce places of interest and cultural concepts that I wanted to discuss in the book. So, pick up your copy of Red Affairs, White Affairs and get started!
On Hong Kong Island, place names like Victoria Harbour are constant reminders of the colonial roots of the city as we know it today. Alas, life in the newly subjected territory with its diseases took its toll on the early colonizers, many of whom are buried at the Cemetery in Happy Valley. A fascinating combination of urban jungle and dense habitation that is so typical of Hong Kong, the graveyard also reflects the diversity of the city’s ethnic groups. Take a closer look and you may be able to find the graves of Ruth Pettigrew and the Oliphant family which make an appearance in the novel.
Continuing with the theme of subtropical diseases and local history, explore the Taipingshan Medical Trail. An easy stroll will take you to the former Chinese Lunatic Asylum, teach you about local medicinal plants and also allow you to visit the nearby Man Mo Temple. Don’t forget to bring your towel–the early 20th century Pound Lane Bath House where my characters hop in the shower is still open to the public!
When the British arrived in Hong Kong, local Cantonese, Hakka and indigenous peoples had for centuries followed age-old ways of cultivating the soil, fishing and trading. The Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail offers a glimpse of this lifestyle that dominated in the New Territories until the 1960s. Incidentally, the Heritage Trail is probably the only location in my novel where I deliberately moved a building for ease of narration–the former Fanling Babies Home is not visible from the Trail as the book claims.
Under a veneer of hip urbanity, many traditions survive in Hong Kong, among them veneration of the Lover’s Rock. With its phallic shape, the monolith does not leave much to the imagination. Visit this shrine dedicated to romantic success and healthy offspring on your way to the Police Museum, from where you’ll be able to choose between a number of walks. Who knows, the Lover’s Rock may be as effective for you as it is for some of my characters.
To explore the south side of Hong Kong island, visit Stanley, where a beach, shopping and restaurants beckon. If you are so inclined, the Hong Kong Correctional Services Museum here offers a seamless continuation of the Police Museum’s criminal theme. The former fishing village also is home to the Hong Kong International Dragonboat Championships, a noisy affair that brings together locals and expats in the quest for racing glory and beer (not necessarily in that order).
In my novel, the Heritage Hikers still use paper maps to find their way; they also have a habit of snapping their phones shut. I deliberately set the story in the early 2000s, mainly because that was the time I remembered best from living in Hong Kong, but also because the lives of traditional Cantonese like my character Virginia Ngai and her family seemed more plausible in that context. Little did I suspect, while I was writing the novel, that it was not only the mobile phones that would have changed by the time it was published. Shrinking spaces and the ensuing protests of the last number of years have transformed life in the city irrevocably. Yet glorious food, a unique mix of Cantonese and Western cultures and breathtaking green spaces next to an Asian metropolis still make Hong Kong one of the world’s most exciting cities to visit.
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