Douglas A. Jaffe
(Author of Chasing Dragons)
I want to thank Laurie for kindly inviting me to put together a post for her wonderful site.
Although I am originally from New York, I’ve spent most of the last twenty years overseas and primarily in Asia. Following university, I took off for Taiwan to study Chinese and never really looked back. I have been fortunate to have lived in several countries in Asia and have experienced the region as a student, traveler, analyst, entrepreneur and writer. All of these influences can be found in my writing, but one key motivation for me was to showcase Hong Kong, which is the city in which I currently live.
Hong Kong, like much of Asia, is often depicted in English-language fiction, as a collection of tired stereotypes. As a long-time Asia resident and fiction reader, it was always a little distressing to see how little Hong Kong featured in modern novels. When it did, it would appear as the backdrop of some ridiculous thriller where the author clearly knew little about the place or its culture. Hong Kong would be portrayed, as a dangerous, violent town where foreigners could be attacked or abducted at will, and gunfights were common occurrences.
In Chasing Dragons, I wanted to give a more realistic depiction of Hong Kong, but I also wanted to incorporate fantasy elements from Chinese history and mythology. I’d never seen a book that combined these themes, and while it meant the book would not neatly fit into a marketable genre, it was the story I wanted to write.
In many ways, combining a vision of modern, chaotic Hong Kong with the ancient China of lore is really the only way to show the depths and conflicts that riddle Chinese society as it rapidly embraces economic prosperity. This process of growth, in some ways, has had the unfortunate side effect of pushing aside unique cultural memories and traditions in the mad rush for progress. With this in mind, I thought it proper to blend the modern and the old and I hope I’ve managed to successfully convey this sense of place to my readers.
Here is a short excerpt from Chasing Dragons.
“That evening, he conducted an elaborate ceremony in our ancestral hall and only myself and a few of my inner circle were permitted to attend. I can’t recall much from the evening, but I will always remember the gentle coils of blue-grey incense smoke that spiraled upwards during the ceremony. It is strange what you remember, but those coils remain as fresh in my head as any memory, while I couldn’t for the life of me remember the details of the ceremony.”
Mrs. Liu paused to take another sip of tea. I noticed that she was wearing her hair in the same style as the last time I saw her and wore the same fusion of clothing that spoke of an elegant familiarity with the elite strata of both Chinese and Western societies.
“After several hours of praying and chanting, something happened.” At this, Mrs. Liu looked uncharacteristically troubled and looked behind her, as if to check that the room was still empty.
“I cannot tell you exactly what transpired but something changed in the air around us. The texture of the air itself changed and I know this because the coils of incense smoke that I had been watching so intently began to drift upwards in a new pattern. Where they encountered this agitated air, they broke apart and mapped the contours in smoke.
“As we watched, the smoke began to trace the outline of what appeared to be a face of some sort. I cannot describe the face to you because it drifted in and out of focus depending on the flow of smoke that fed its image. It was not human though and I distinctly remember the eyes. They were cold, ancient eyes that appeared to be watching us intently.
“The Daoist priest explained that his prayers had been received and an audience granted. He then proceeded to recount the series of events that I had revealed to him and would occasionally look to me to provide some additional details or clarification. Whenever I spoke, I noticed those smoke eyes turn in my direction. I felt as though I was pleading my case before some imperial magistrate and I recall using very formal language.
“When we finished, the face continued to watch us impassively, with those eyes moving slowly across each of us. When they fixed on the priest, he lowered his head in supplication and began chanting. Eventually, they reached me and paused. I am no priest and while I felt respect for this adjudicator, I am not in the habit of cowering before anyone. When our eyes met, I did not blink and matched its stare with my own. After the briefest of pauses, I saw one of the eyes wink.”
Doug has been in Asia for most of the last two decades and originally came to the region from New York as a graduate student, studying in China and Taiwan. He has a dual Masters in Chinese Studies and International Affairs and speaks passable Chinese on a good day.
In recent years, Douglas has pursued his interest in writing fiction and has published his first novel, Chasing Dragons. A second book is currently in the works.
Sebastian is the owner of a bookstore café in Hong Kong who provides informal counseling services to an array of offbeat characters. His quiet life is suddenly upended when he meets Chloe, and their relationship takes a startling turn, as it begins to parallel the relationship of a pair of mythical dragons from Chinese history. The lovers struggle with questions of mortality and immortality, before a choice is made that pulls them apart.