Archive by Author | Tseen Khoo

Kids’ books: Chicken Big (Keith Graves)

Chicken Big (Keith Graves) In our family compound, plans were afoot for a shared chicken house for a rather long time.

S. had been cutting steel and welding in between the school and kindy drop-offs for months. Finally, in September, four point-of-lay hens and four chicks came to roost.

In preparation for the chickens’ arrival, I’d bought Keith Graves’ Chicken Big when I spied it in a bookstore.

It sat for weeks in the cupboard. Things were moving slowly on the chicken palazzo front.

When we finally broke it out and read it to the kids, it was love at first sight: peals of laughter; reading it cover to cover repeatedly and literally (there are cartoons on the back cover); imitations of the characters over breakfast; and fragments of text as family code.

It is a book that’s a lot of fun. It’s a classic story about not belonging, and trying to find one’s community. Even if that community is kind of nuts, and thick, and…well, you have to read this book. I’m sniggering to myself just thinking about some of the phrasing and images.

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AWW 2014 – signing up

AWW 2014 badge

AWW 2014 badge

Well, this probably comes as no surprise to those of you who follow me on Twitter, but I will be taking part in AWW 2014.

I’ve been tweeting about enjoying hardcopy books again, after finding myself juggling three paperbacks in my reading hours.

They are all books written by Australian women authors, and include crime fiction and memoir/autobiography. They will probably be reviewed during AWW 2014, as this newly created page flags.

What am I reading at the moment?

  1. PM Newton’s The Old School
  2. Michelle Lee’s Banana Girl
  3. Michelle Dicinoski’s Ghost Wife

It’s purely by accident that I’ve ended up in the midst of this fab constellation of writers/books.

1. I finally got into Old School (which I’ve been meaning to read for YEARS, as @oanh_1 will testify…) because I saw that Newton’s second book about Detective ‘Ned’ (Nhu) Kelly was coming out soon.

2. Dicinoski’s book was gifted to me by the author herself after we had a great, energising chat (our first meeting!). I couldn’t resist having a peek at the first few pages and was immediately engaged by the prose and my own Brisbane nostalgia.

3. Lee’s book was a discovery during one of my frantic Xmas bookshopping blitzes. I hadn’t heard anything about this book, but was immediately sucked in by the fact that it was by an Asian Australian woman who lives in Melbourne. Also: the title.

It’s probably an apt time to cut’n paste a reminder about what the AWW challenges are about:

The 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge was set up to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female,

Australian and non-Australian, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only. (Suggestions for what makes a good review can be found here.)

The challenge will run from Jan 1 – Dec 31, 2014. You can sign up at any time.

I will (again) be attempting the Franklin (10 read, 6 reviewed), and I’m not opting for particular genres this time. Given my predilections, and initial momentum, I suspect it’ll be heavy on crime/thriller and memoir.

Hope you’ll consider signing up as well, and joining in what has grown into a bustling, chatty, and very supportive community!

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My previous AWW sign-up posts:

AWW 2013 – how’d I do?

AWW 2013

AWW 2013

So, I failed again.

I keep signing up, though, so don’t fault my consistency.

For AWW 2013, I had signed up for the Franklin challenge, which meant reading 10 books and reviewing 6 (if one was intending to review, which I did).

I had decided to have a focus on fantasy/horror for this challenge, but wandered off that trail quite early. I tend towards crime fic, and am a fan of Young, so it’s not surprising that I had to read Antidote to Murder. I’d heard so about Savage’s books that I had to try one for myself, and Gardiner’s trilogy is one I’ve been wanting to read ever since I heard about them.

I started well. In fact, I started better than I thought I would. I read Lister and Chan within a month, and felt I was ahead. Each came from the genres I had said I’d focus on.

Chuffed from this, I managed to then let the challenge down by not keeping an eye on the year as it – again – sped past.

Before I knew it, we’d hit November and I was three reviews short and had three more books to go.

I didn’t hold much hope for getting more books read, but I did want to get two more review done, given I’d read the books and all. One of the reviews was for a trilogy of YA novels, which I’d considered splitting into three reviews but thought that might be a bit sneaky (not to mention a lame and transparent attempt to complete the challenge without attending to the spirit of the reviews…).

My final completed book and review list is:

  1. Dionne Lister. Shadows of the Realm. –> my review
  2. Queenie Chan. The Dreaming series. –> my review
  3. Felicity Young. Antidote to Murder. –> my review
  4. Angela Savage, Behind the Night Bazaar –> my review
  5. Kelly Gardiner, Ocean without End (Swashbuckler! series)
  6. Kelly Gardiner, The Pirate’s Revenge (Swashbuckler! series)
  7. Kelly Gardiner, The Silver Swan (Swashbuckler! series) –> my review of the trilogy

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Am I signing up for AWW 2014, which is now officially open?

I’m not sure yet. Truly. It seems a bit pathetic to keep signing up for a reading challenge that I then never complete.

The thing that makes me want to sign up and participate, though, is that AWW is a great community (on Twitter and in blogging circles). It’s companionable to be part of the challenge, even when I know my feet are dragging and I’m not in any danger of completing it.

Watch this space…!

AWW 2013 REVIEW – Swashbuckler trilogy (Kelly Gardiner)

Ocean without End (Kelly Gardiner)I’ll admit it. I’m one of those people who has tried to read, but never finished, Moby Dick.

And I’d like to admit further that it has haunted me. It’s one of those books that a person with a literary studies PhD is expected to have read. Along with all the works of Shakespeare, and Austen, Dickens, the Brontes, and – in Australia – White.

I’m not one of those literary studies PhDs. But I digress…

Trying to read Moby Dick and other classics that involved ships and steam-trains caused me to build an aversion to books that featured these things. Seriously. I know it sounds silly. To this day, I haven’t read Murder on the Orient Express, even though I’m a big Christie fan.

So, when I first encountered Kelly Gardiner’s (@kmjgardiner) trilogy and realised ships were involved, I hesitated. But I was won over by the idea of a pirate girl protagonist, and I was on the look-out for books to recommend to my daughter as she moved up the reading levels.

I had intended to dip into the first book and see whether the trilogy would be something I’d recommend to her.

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I said what in 2002?

Lost docs (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Lost docs (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

I was lurking around the dashboard and stats at Research Whisperer recently, after our publication of Katie Mack’s (@astrokatie) hugely popular “Academic scattering” post (on the human cost of academic mobility). Jonathan and I are always interested in how people come to our blog, and where they go once they arrive.

A few of the pages readers went on to visit were at this blog – the slightly bitter’n twisted posts I’d written about research career opportunities and accommodating career interruptions.

Then a single click-through caught my eye.

It was to a Geocities site, which is positively ancient on the interwebs these days. I realised that the click-through was to a 2002 presentation about postgraduate futures that I’d uploaded because of one of the first blogs I ever started: the now-defunct Academia 101. That blog only ever ran to about 6 posts, and was very much like what I write for RW nowadays but in a more long-winded fashion (I think all the posts were at least 1000 words, with some at about 1500).

One of the first posts at Academia 101 was about academic networking, and how I did it (considering that I hate traditional ideas about networking). That post linked to this postgrad futures paper. That post also became my first post for Research Whisperer when we launched in 2011: Networking and other academic hobbies.

Anyway, the point of this post is to re-post and re-archive this presentation about postgraduate futures. I just re-read it, and so much of it still holds. I have a rant about why academic mobility is such an embedded (and loaded) part of the career, then go on to talk about academic collaboration and opportunities, and interpreting our skills for a general jobs market. I think it’s still got currency, even though it was written over 10 years ago.

Funnily enough, it doesn’t contain a skerrick of social media information or influence!

Here it is: No fries with that – TseenKhoo 2002 (.pdf)

And I’d have to extend my thanks again to the convenors of that UQ postgrad futures conference at which I presented, including @johngunders. Who knew it would have this much longevity?

AWW 2013 REVIEW – Behind the Night Bazaar (Angela Savage)

Behind the Night Bazaar (Angela Savage)I’m a latecomer to Angela Savage’s books, which is part of the joy of discovering them because there are now three novels to relish in the Jayne Keeney series.

The latest, The Dying Beach, launched only recently (mid-July). Here’s Angela’s take on that book’s launch.

The blurb for the first novel goes like this:

“Investigating murder, child prostitution, and corruption—all in a day’s work for kickass PI Jayne Keeney. The first in a series of funny, gripping crime novels set in Thailand, Behind the Night Bazaar introduces us to this likeable thirty-something private investigator, working undercover in a place where she can do anything but blend in.”

I really liked the book.

The narrative pacing, characters, and setting were all well tailored and clever. Jayne, in particular, was presented as engagingly human, complete with the damaging emotional choices she has made in her past and present.

The Thai setting was also given centre-stage in a credible and effective way. It worked well beyond the ‘exotic backdrop’ mode of so many novels set in Asia, where local colour doesn’t impinge on the unfolding narrative. I really appreciated the way Savage’s writing gave texture to everyday life and tension in Thailand, particularly the ways in which the story presented a society that was responding (or not) to fast change and urban drift. The motivations of the characters, embedded with these tensions, are engaging and effective. Sometimes, this was a little too effective and I had to take moments out of the novel because the emotional weight of the issues it deals with got to me.

The thing about this novel that I liked the best was its ability to surprise me. I would be reading along, expecting something that wouldn’t come to pass. A lot of this was due to Jayne being very smart and savvy; perhaps I’m too used to protagonists who get caught out, or exposed? That said, she’s no superhero, nor does she turn out to be a virtuous crusader. And this is all to the good.

I would definitely recommend this book to those who like clever crime, strong female leads (really, what worthwhile person doesn’t?), and immersion in a context fraught with politics and race tensions.

I’m definitely looking forward to spending time with The Half-Child, Savage’s second novel in the Keeney series!

WORKSHOP REPORT – NYU Global Arts Exchange workshop (by Tseen Khoo)

apa logo
On Wednesday 15 July 2013, ANU hosted a workshop that was part of the first phase in NYU’s Global Arts Exchange project. The bulk of the participants had only recently come through Shanghai, with a stopover in Perth for the NYU crew.

What is this project about?

This is the overview from the NYU website:

The exchange will bring together scholars, curators, and artists from each site and is meant to be generative for research, resulting in publications, exhibition development, and other research-based projects and programs to share and disseminate research, strengthen international networks of scholars and curators, and create ongoing dialogue between international colleagues, arts communities, and wider publics in the US, Asia/Pacific region, EU, Latin America, Africa, and Middle East in the expanding field of Asian/Asian Diasporic Art and Visual Cultures.

(NYU Global Asia/Pacific Art Exchange)

That all sounds great, but what did this creation of ongoing dialogue look like on the ground?

This post is my take on the event, viewed from a perspective that is extra-institutional (I’m into my third  year in a non-academic role, though I’ve kept up convenorship of the AASRN).

The workshop took place in the European Studies Centre at ANU, where the Chair of AASRN, Professor Jacqueline Lo, is based. The team from NYU was led by Alexandra Chang, and included Tom Looser, Dipti Desai, and Francesca Tarocco (NYU – Shanghai). It was my first time meeting them all as the NYU collaboration is focused on the visual arts (which is not my field).

Dean Chan and Jacquie have led this initiative from the Australian end, and it is a part of INDAAR (International Network for Diasporic Asian Art Research) activity. INDAAR was founded as part of our ARC Discovery project, as was the AAFFN (Asian Australian Film Forum Network). One could justifiably think of them as two off-shoots of the AASRN that have gone on to create their own momentum and projects.

The workshop felt primarily like a familiarisation meeting, bringing together artists and academics who are working in the field of visual arts from the US/China/Australia. Most of the workshop was about introducing Australian material and context to the NYU crew, with input from the broader academic, vis.arts, and curatorial community in Canberra.

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Static

Rusty in Buxton (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Rusty in Buxton (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

Bit of a break in service on the blog here.

There’s a few half-started posts in the queue – I can’t even call them half-finished.

I want to blog quite a few reviews that are AWW2013-relevant. I was so proud of myself for being on-task with the challenge, but good intentions were waylaid by a bunch of things. I guess they all make up that thing called life.

My mother’s hip surgery and ensuing hospital stay. Sick family pet that we had to have put to sleep. All this with backdrop of general domestic frenzy, and higher load at work because of a particular development program.

Every time I sat down to work on blogposts, I’d end up skimming Twitter and Facebook. And write barely 50 words.

One of the posts that’s started is a report from an event that was held back in mid-July. It’s starting to get a bit stale. I’m wondering whether I should bother finishing it. Weirdly enough, I was there the entire time but it did feel odd to be there. Am ambivalent about my participation and I think that comes through with the difficulty I’ve had writing it up. So, it’s not just laziness + being distracted by shiny things. Not all the time.

Most recently, we started watching the Scando cop series, The Bridge. Recommended to us by my sis and @sommystar, it’s a series we’re very much enjoying but, of course, it’s in a blend of Danish and Swedish. This means I can’t be blogging away or editing things because I have to read the subtitles (the dialogue is great – even though I think we’re losing out big time on in-jokes and cultural nuance with the translation [not sure if there are different versions of the show's subtitles, but the series we have been watching has slightly dodgy titles at times]).

Several things that these waves of distraction have taught me: the consistency of my online blogging time really does drive the quality of my posts here and on Research Whisperer; my mother does so much for us within our domestic routines; and I do have fluctuating thresholds for social media (and this threshold was reached several times when I was feeling preoccupied and stressed).

Kids’ books: Spork (Kyo Maclear)

Spork (Kyo Maclear)

Spork (Kyo Maclear)

One of the greatest joys of having children is how I’ve rediscovered the fabulous embrace of public libraries.

It’s a constant enjoyment because the kids are moving through the stacks as they get older and their tastes change.

6.5yo E.’s already dipping into the occasional graphic novel and moving into short novels. I’m finding new authors to catch up on (most recently, Neil Gaiman – I know, I know, I’ve never read Gaiman, but that’s another post). 4yo G. is starting to recognise words and sound them out; he’s moving on from the cardboard books to relatively long narrative picture books.

The other  weekend, I had the added delight of discovering Spork by Kyo Maclear.  The book was on constant rotation when it came home. Usually, little G. eases into the ‘new books’ from the library every week but, with Spork, he was a fan from Day 1. Every night, he’d flip through other books and choose some, but he’d always go to this one and drop it on the bed’s ‘to-read’ pile.

When I saw the author’s name I did a double-take. I know Kyo Maclear. She’s an academic in Asian Canadian Studies. I had read her research, and had colleagues who mentioned Kyo with regularity.

Seeing her turn up as a children’s book author was an absolute thrill. There’s something about finding academics with lives that spill outside of universities that makes me feel better about the world.

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Top 10 Asian Oz childhood foods

This post is inspired by this article on Foodbeast that floated my way through Facebook: 16 things that taste just like your Asian American childhood.

I browsed through it with glee, loving these kinds of walks down memory lane. Even if it wasn’t necessarily my memory lane.

Oddly enough, I encountered quite a few of the items in my adult life rather than my childhood.

I didn’t have my first Pocky stick, for example, till I was 27 years old. I was in Canada doing research for my PhD, visiting one my favourite Canadian authors, and she offered me a Pocky stick. It was the start of a long and fond relationship (for me and Pocky sticks, that is; the author’s pretty damn cool, too, it must be said).

Some of the food items did strike a chord, and reminded me of my Brisbane childhood, the trips to Fortitude Valley, and the evolving Asian grocery shops and malls through the 1980s and 1990s.

The items from the Foodbeast list that populated my childhood as well are: haw flakes, shrimp-flavoured chips, and pork floss (aka ‘pork sung’ in the Foodbeast listing). There were, however, many others that loomed large for our family. I’m not sure if they were unique to us, or whether they reflected a broader pattern of Malaysian-Chinese consumption.

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