There were two interesting sessions in the evening yesterday: "Sexuality and Desire in Asian Writing" and "The Alchemy of Desire."
"Sexuality and Desire in Asian Writing" was a panel discussion consisting of writers Gerrie Lim (Invisible Trade), Wei Hui (Shanghai Baby; Marrying Buddha), and Isa Kamari (Kiswah in Malay). After basic introductions to their life and works, the floor was thrown open for a discussion. So far, this was the most crowded event, thanks to the theme.
The svelte Wei Hui with her long straight hair and a "notorious writer" reputation was the cinesure of the gathering, and the other two panelists, expectedly, kept turning to her for her nodding approvals every now and then. Isa even thanked her for inspiring him to write his controversial novel "Kiswah". The novel has been deemed pornographic in the Malay circles, Isa informed us. But he said that since the novel had gone into a second edition, it was enough proof of its being successful. "I write about things that disturb me," he said. "Through this novel, I wanted to explore the sexuality of a Malay male."
Wei Hui writes in Chinese but she was catapulted to fame by her debut novel, Shanghai Baby, a poetic, bittersweet and subtly spiritual tale of one woman's quest for personal fulfillment and drive for creative expression in Shanghai. Banned in China, Shanghai Baby brought Wei Hui fame and notoriety in the country of her birth. One of China's new generation of bad-girl novelists who write candidly about sex, drugs and nightlife, Wei Hui's latest novel is Marrying Buddha, a continuation of Shanghai Baby and her second semi-autobiographical novel of desire and lust, this time set in New York.
"I combine sex and spirituality in my novels," she said. "I say don't be ashamed of your sexuality. I show that even Buddhism can be sexy," she added. "Sex serves as a sugar coating to convey messages in my books."
I wanted to ask her what messages was she trying to convey through her books. Didn't get the chance to ask the questions. Poeple were really enthusiastic and were ready with many questions on sex and sexuality. Someone asked whether they were ashamed of writing such sexy stuff. Obviously, they were not.
Wei Hui dismissed the claim that the East was more prudish than the West. It is stereotyping, she said. During her tour of America, Wei claimed that she found the country to be far more prudish than Asia (barring New York). The Kamasutra, The Perfumed Garden, The Inner Chamber (?)--all came from Asia, the authors opined.
Gerrie Lim, the author of Invisible Trade, the best-selling expose of the escort business in Singapore, said that he wrote the book not because he believed that sex sells but because he wanted to study a subculture (of escorts, karaoke girls, S&M workers, etc). Gerrie has an interesting career. He wrote the porn star interview column Cinema Blue for Penthouse Variations and was nominated for an AVN Internet Award for his work as an editor for Swelinda, the official website of the Swedish porn star Linda Thoren. His new book, Idol to Icon: The Creation of Celebrity Brands, is the result of his 25-year relationship with the entertainment industry, which he reported on for numerous magazines in the United States, most notably Billboard, Details, Playboy, LA Style, LA Weekly and The Wall Street Journal. The book had been launched in the afternoon the same day.
Gerrie has finished writing a new book and is going to announce it soon, in one of the festival events. Should be interesting.
I will write about the "The Alchemy of Desire" in my next post.