Close to Culture, Close to Creativity, Spot on Asia.

Articles from the “Short Stories” Category

Photo by Devon Wong

Seeing Past Appearances: Lessons Learned in a Chinese Spa

Posted on May 9, 2016

“Bryan, you’re more Chinese than me.”

We locked eyes; his blue, mine brown. The moment concluded in an instant as we burst out laughing.

“Yes. I am.”

Here we were, two waìguórén (foreigners) sitting in an opulent dining hall wearing our respective blue and pink bath robes, exchanging stories about life abroad while we munched on pickled cucumbers, tofu noodles, and slices of watermelon. I looked more the part, with my jet black hair and almond eyes, pitted next to Bryan. But after one week in China, I could still barely mutter a xièxie without feeling like an impostor. Bryan had three years on me.  He’d mentioned some of Guilin’s local attractions during one of our lunch breaks at the Chinese Language Institute, and I’d been itching since to investigate this fabled “Chinese Spa”. 

For journalistic reasons, of course.

To date, I’ve lived in Southeast Asia for 4 years.  Dodging traffic and eating questionable street food rarely warrants novelty anymore, let alone an upset stomach.  It has become a way of life.   But walking off the cobblestone streets of Guilin and into one of the town’s most luxurious hotels for a night at the spa was almost…otherworldly.  I had spent a week sightseeing around this “small town” (a small city by Canadian standards).  But it hadn’t yet struck me that this was really it: The ‘REAL’ China, I’d set out to look for.

Photo by Devon Wong


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Photo by Daylon Soh

Death to Brainstorming

Posted on October 21, 2013

“Creativity is dead.”

Carl walked out of another fruitless brainstorming session feeling despondent with more questions than good ideas that address the clients’ brief. Carl, an award-winning creative director at an upstart advertising agency, had been mulling over the brief with his colleagues, some of the most brilliant minds in the industry.

“Those mental blocks get to even the best of us,” Carl lamented to himself as he left the office for a quick smoke.

He understood well that the quantity of ideas matter more than the quality of ideas — at least at the beginning. “Perhaps we just need to give the team more time to crack the brief.”

Times are changing as we live in an attention deficit culture. The audience craves instant gratification and quick fixes while their brains unconsciously filters anything that resembles an advertisement. According to the latest statistics verified by the Associated Press, a modern audience average attention span has decreased from 12 second in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2012.

The average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.


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The negotiation with pirates. Illustrations by Ng Weng Chi

How My Dad Fought Pirates

Posted on June 5, 2013


Illustrations by Ng Weng Chi


I want to tell you a story. One of courage, compassion, fear and cowardice.

It is about how my dad fought pirates.

My father would relate this story often to my friends. Making the same exclamations and the same hand gestures for dramatic effect. He wouldn’t miss a beat on the story because it happened during a significant time for him—a time of great struggle. This period had taught him many great things and telling this story was his way of passing his own life morals to others.

In a nutshell, my father is in the shipping business. Buying and selling boats, he is a person made of suits, glasses, old-Chinese-cinema honour and old-fashioned perceptions of integrity. He would come across almost like a stereotyped Asian father. Protective, firm, proud of his work, and most of all, endearing in unexpected ways. But like any long-time entrepreneur, his stories and life experiences run deep.

It was a tough year for anyone. Economy was down and business was just not going well for anyone. But my dad finally got a buyer. The ship was ready to be moved from the origin of production down to the determined destination. It would take about four months and a few days for the whole journey. The trip was smooth sailing and everything seemed to work out perfectly.

But on the last day of travel, my father got a call. The ship, and its crew, were caught by pirates.

My dad lifted his hand and smacked it on his forehead. “Oh shit. What do we do now?”


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Photo by Jiahui Huang

The Best Kind of Welcome

Posted on May 31, 2013


My younger sister moved to Singapore for the summer two weeks ago. We have been exploring the city together, and on more than one occasion I have caught her expression out of the corner of my eye – wide-eyed with a dopey smile taking in her new surroundings. From bus lanes near Bras Basah to the bright lights near Marina Bay, everything is new and represents unexplored possibilities. She is excited about building a life in this city I am sure, as I felt the same way when I moved to the Lion City.

We are from a small Canadian city of 100,000 people. Despite its size, it is globally aware and was named the world’s smartest city by the Intelligent Community Forum not too long ago. But being globally aware is different than being international, just as traveling extensively is different than living abroad. Craving the latter, my sister pursued an international internship just as I did before her. Pursuing the unknown is an intoxicating experience. Out of your comfort zone, beautiful idiosyncrasies constantly colour outside your lines. And you let them. You notice, witness, experience like never before. The beautiful gift of realization is a gift from one country or community to the curious. It is an extended hand welcoming you to understand the culture, hoping that you will enjoy it and share your own.

The Davis Centre Library at the University of Waterloo. Photo by lytfyre.

The Davis Centre Library at the University of Waterloo. Photo by lytfyre.


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