The White Man and the Pachinko Girl Won a Wattys, the World’s Largest Online Writing Competition Award

Hong Kong writer Vann Chow is a winner of 2016’s The Wattys, the world’s largest online writing competition hosted by Wattpad. Wattpad, the global multiplatform entertainment company for original stories, transforms how the world discovers, creates, and engages with stories. Vann’s story, The White Man and the Pachinko Girl, was selected from among almost 140,000 entries to win the 2016 Wattys under the Hidden Gems category.

The White Man and the Pachinko Girl is a suspenseful, psychological thriller. The story begins with a chanced encounter between middle-aged American expat Smith and 18-year-old Japanese pachinko parlor hostess Misa, whose paths crossed because of a murder investigation.The White Man and the Pachinko Girl is the book one of the Tokyo Faces trilogy, inspired by actual events of social injustice against women and underprivileged community in Japan.

Vann Chow will receive premium exposure to Wattpad’s community of 45 million people and their work will be recognized as one of the most-loved Wattpad stories from the millions posted every year. It will also be featured alongside other 2016 Watty award winners through a promoted Wattpad reading list and official Wattys story cover badge. Vann Chow has also signed on to the Wattpad Star Program which supports successful writers by providing exciting opportunities to work with leading brands and partners in various media.

This year, almost 140,000 writers entered The Wattys by tagging their original work with #Wattys2016 on the Wattpad App or website. Millions of people in the community read, voted, and shared their favourite stories online to help Wattpad select the 2016 list of winners. Overall, people spent 13 billion minutes engaged with Wattys content this year, including Vann’s story.

“The Watty’s is a writing contest like no other. It’s a chance for storytellers of all levels to get recognition from a global audience,” said Marc. “The Wattpad community is obsessed with the annual competition and has spent 13 billion minutes reading and engaging with this year’s submissions.”

The Wattys highlight the love the community has shown for the most popular genres on Wattpad, and recognizes the effort of writers in the international community. Numerous Wattys winners have worked with top brands like Mondelez, Paramount Pictures, and Kraft through Wattpad’s Brand Stories native ad program. Some have even seen their work produced for film, print, television, and digital platforms through Wattpad Studios.

See all Wattys winner here: http://wattys.wattpad.com/winners/en/

See Vann’s response on winning the Wattys here: https://www.wattpad.com/332427981-wattys-2016-watty-winner-spotlight-vannchow

‘Qi’, the Life’s Force

When Qi is mentioned, while older people would think of ‘Qi Gong’, the turtle-speed set of exercise that many elderlies practice in public parks every morning, most people from my generation would think of the anime Dragon Ball.

The main character of Dragon Ball, Goku, has a fighting technique called the ‘Kamehameha Wave’. In Chinese, it is translated as the ‘Qi Gong Wave of the Turtle’. The association of Qi with turtle was coincidental, but it also hints at the fact that Qi, a kind of life’s energy, life’s force is not something that one can obtain in an instant. It is only through years of hard practice on both psychological and physical fronts that Qi could be accumulated, used and restored.

In ancient times, when someone dies, he or she would be described to have lost his or her ‘Qi count’ (Count goes to zero). Most Chinese are so used to hearing it in Kung Fu movies these days that they probably do not realize the similarity between how Qi is explained in the Chinese language as the energy level of characters in video games.

qi, ying yangThere are many references of Qi in Chinese culture, but the two most important explanations of Qi came from Taoism (spiritual interpretation) and Chinese medicine (physical, environmental interpretation).

In Taoism, Qi is described as something that exists in all things on earth, and what is more interesting is that Qi is also described as something that is between all things on earth. This shows that Taoism philosophers such as Zuangzi, already had an inkling of the idea of ‘air’ and molecules and these molecules having lives of their own, even though they could not describe it in the same kinds of words. Taoism philosophers also describe the state of the world before Qi exists as Wuji, nothingness and Taiji, somethingness, after Qi exists. Taiji is often represented by the black and white Ying-Yang circle that we all know.

And if hasn’t occurred to you yet, the Taoist philosophers were in fact describing the origin of the world. And in the world-famous symbol of Taiji, the two smaller, inner dots are in fact one of the earliest drawings of planets in orbits, gliding around a certain unseen central object that could have been the sun in equal distance.

While their understanding of the world did not lead them to pursue the matters further, they gave the Chinese a way to describe the inexplicable life force, the soul. The something that is nothing. The spirit of the world and the spirit in all living being that need to be nurtured in order to attain maximal health. And nurturing of Qi could be interpreted as what we call maintaining ‘mental health’ in modern days.

There is another explanation of Qi in Chinese medicine. According to the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon, Qi is something that is in our blood, but could be easily affected by external stimuli such as weather. There are five kinds of Qi :

Qi

Internal Organ

Season

Wind

Liver

Spring

Chill

Kidney

Winter

Hot

Heart

Summer

Wet

Lungs

Long Summer

Dry

Spleen

Autumn

During the season or between the change of seasons, the environment around us is different and Chinese doctors would often explain a person’s illness based on combinations of the above Qi’s.

Chinese medical knowledge also links these stimuli to issues with our internal organs. And any subsequent therapy provided, be it medicine or dietary regime, and would target the organ in discussion.

Combining the two school of thoughts on Qi, the result is the following: our bodily Qi can be affected by the Qi of the environment, as well as our spiritual Qi, our emotions. Hence health and emotions, bodily health and mental health are ever more closely connected according to Chinese medicine than Western medicine. The connections are not only known in abstract ways, but they are clearly written down in medical books and taught in schools doctors.

Qi

Internal Organ

Emotions

Wind

Liver

Anger

Chill

Kidney

Fear

Hot

Heart

Happiness

Wet

Lungs

Weariness

Dry

Spleen

Melancholy

 

Again, the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon has a rule of five on it, called the ‘Five emotions hurt the five inner organs’.

  • Extreme anger hurts the liver.
  • Extreme fear hurts the kidney.
  • Extreme happiness hurts the heart.
  • Extreme weariness hurts the lung.
  • Extreme melancholy hurts the spleen.

The solution to problems in the bodies then are certain foods that are known to be good for these internal organs. Common remedies to improve kidney health are black sesame, dry scallops and chestnuts. Common remedies to improve the liver include lots of grains and lots of fishes.

Modern Chinese doctors and scholars try to reconcile these rules that almost every Chinese are taught from young age with modern medical knowledge of the human bodies. The more obvious ones are easy to explain, such as the high iron content in grains and fatty acids in fishes as nutrients to the body which could help replenish what we need in general. But not everything could be easily explained. Yet many of the therapies against illnesses continued to be effective, after being shaped and reshaped by thousands of years of trial and error, experiments and observations.

One rule, however, that is tried and true gospel in Chinese medicine, is that keeping calm is always good for your health. Thinking back to the story of the Chinese PhD student, he is in fact better to himself than we realize by keeping his cool.

The Tao to Life Nurturing, ‘Yang Sheng’

There is a general miscochinese dao of nurturing life , healthy lifenception that Chinese people hate going to see the doctors. It is true only when the doctors practice Western Medicine. Visiting traditional Chinese doctors is very common, and do not conjure up the same kind of fear of being potentially diagnosed and transferred immediately to the cold metal slab in a surgery room. Men, women and children visit traditional Chinese doctor at even what some Western physicians would consider as trivial matters that could be solved with a dose of some very common all-purpose over-the-counter drugs such as irregular sleeping patterns, loss of appetite, common flu, excessive pain during menstruation and constipation. The doctor should and would never turn you away or transfer you to someone else because something is too trivial or their office too busy. There is not only an ethical element in it that every patient is important, but it also shows that the role of a Chinese doctor in a patient’s life is very different from that of a Western doctor. Most families see only one Chinese doctor most of their lives, although visiting new doctor that specializes in certain ailment based
on word-of-mouth is also rather common. Chinese doctor is almost a personal life coach. And only in some European countries are doctors viewed the same way because in those countries it is required of patients to have a fixed, family physicians. Most parts of the world have a rather business-like provider-client relationship with their doctors, especially when insurances are involved .

Chinese doctors practice in a way that you can think of as ‘slow fix’, because the symptoms we experience in our bodies are the result of not one singular event at one time point, but the result of days, weeks, months or years of ‘abusing our system’ by not giving it proper attention. Chinese medicine sees the body as a body of many balances. And if one of such balances is tipped, illness occurs.

Rather to consider that Chinese doctors practice ‘medicine’, it would be more appropriate to say that Chinese doctors practice the ‘Tao of nurturing life’, because ‘medicine’ is only one way to improve and maintain one’s health, and the kind with literally a bitter after-taste that I am sure most people, not just Chinese, has a dislike for.

There are many ways how one can ‘nurture life’, which means to give the best to your body and bring it to the optimal state. Typically, long age is a sign of life well-nurtured among Chinese people. Here are the more common ways than taking medicines:

  • Food Nurturing – To be elaborated below.
  • Qi Nurturing – The practice of nurturing one’s soul with art, religion and literature, to learn to control our emotions, because extreme fluctuation in emotions, the Chinese believes, can hurt our bodies. This will be discussed in the next chapter.
  • Shape Nurturing – The practice of sports and not just any sports, but fighting sports, Wuxu, as an art.
  • Method Nurturing – The practice of acupuncture, massage, cupping.
  • Time Period Nurturing – The practice of living according to the schedule of healthy rhythm.

Food nurturing is extremely common way of dealing with sickness. You could think of this as grandmother’s recipe of your culture, except these grandmother recipes that were passed down from generation to generation, through the mouth of one doctor to his disciples are the condensed results of many years of very methodologically researched knowledge compiled by medical experts in books. Early documents of Chinese therapeutic activities known came from 11-14th century BC. The most famous book that is still referred to nowadays is called the ‘Huang Di Nai Jing’, The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon. It was the first book known to propose the importance of ‘prevention’ to illness in history, to treat it before it occurs.

And because of this, most Chinese people, with or without consulting a physicians, know the basics of Chinese food nurturing technique’s four set of five key principles in eating:

  • 五谷宜为养,失豆则不良, ‘Five grains nurture life, loss of beans ruins it.’ — The five grains are rice, red or green beans, wheat, soy beans and yellow millet. Grains provided lots of carbohydrates and
  • 五果当为助,力求少而数, ‘Five fruits as help, few in quantity but numerous in variety.’ — The five fruits here are peach, plum, apricot, chestnut and red date.
  • 五畜适为宜,过则害非浅 , ‘Manage the amount of meat, excessive of which could hurt.’ — The five kinds of meat here include beef, pork, chicken, lamb and fish (replacing dog meat which is no longer legal to consume).
  • 五菜常为充,新鲜绿黄红 , ‘Five vegetable to replenish regularly. Fresh green, yellow and red ones preferred.’ — The five kinds of vegetables are mallow, bean sprout, scallion, onion and leek, but since none of them fit the description of yellow and red in the second sentence, it has been generally understood that the author meant for reader to embrace all kinds of vegetables, and not just the five mentioned.

Apart from these four set of five principles, there are also many of such recipes floating around. Eating right is a very important part of a Chinese’s person’s life and almost everyone would know the more common ones such as walnut could improve brain activity, Pu-er tea can help digestion, beef is bad for wound-healing, red-bean soup is anti-inflammatory, water-melon can lower blood pressure, eating cow penis to improve sexual vitality…. the list goes on. And so you must not be offended when Chinese people decline to eat a certain kind of food you have offered them, because they might be simply following some Chinese food nurturing principles which are at times completely aligned with modern scientific understanding of biochemistry, and at times completely bizarre and baseless.

The Art of War

‘Every battle is won before it is ever fought.’

Gordon Gekko quoted Sun Tzu (Sun Zi in Pinyin phonetic system) in the movie Wall Street. The book became even more well-known than it already was in Western societies.

The Art of War, written in 500BC, was repeatedly quoted in numerous ancient Chinese texts by great emperors and generals of Chinese history. Even Cao Cao, the infamous Prime Minister that stole the kingdom from the young Han emperor during the times of the Three Kingdom (you might know him from Koei famous computer game), wrote a kind of study guide to Sun Tzu’s Art of War. This shows that the Art of War is not easy for common people to understand and to apply in daily life.

What is interesting, is that 36 strategemsmost regular Chinese would hardly know what is in the Sun Tzu’s seminal work on the art of war. Instead, the Chinese study something called the ‘The Thirty Six Stratagems
‘, written by an obscure general called Tan Daoji in 400BC during Southern Song Dynasty. It is considered a lot more applicable to the everyday life human conflicts, not just in war but also at home and in business. If we were to ask a random Chinese person to say the first thought he or she has related to strategies at war, there is a very high chance that this person would say:

‘Of the thirty six strategies, retreat is the best strategy.’

There is a comical ring to the most famous line in The Thirty Six Strategy in the Chinese world. And perhaps because it is so ironic that the line is used in almost all everyday situation. When bullies are trying to attack a Chinese person and his or her friend, instead of say ‘Run, Forest, run!’, he or she would say, ‘Of the thirty six strategies, run is the best strategy!’ instead.

It is hard to say whether the teaching of Tan Daoji shaped the Chinese personality, but it definitely shows that to win a war, a fight, or an argument, one should consider all kinds of moves, and not just the forward movements. Attack and direct confrontation maybe a way to achieve victory, but so is retreating. This might sound counter-intuitive, but many important battles throughout the history of China were fought in such a way: Retreat is a way to let the enemy believes that your forces have been weakened and under-estimate you. When they pursue you, you can lure them into badly protected area and ambush them there as well as back in the place where they have left open to attack. Genghis Khan and his Mongolian warriors are famous for retreating to win. Retreating is a regular part of their strategy to lure armies that would otherwise have been protected by the castle or city wall in a siege out into the open.

Western warriors often consider retreating as a sign of cowardice, but Chinese warriors and strategists see it differently. If retreating can bring about benefits, such as allowing enemy to fall into a trap or simply to survive till there is another better chance to retaliate, there is really no reason to say that it is not an honorable act. In the long run, the winner takes the honor. As long as you win, no one will look down on how you did it.

This attitude towards retreating to win long-term is also apparent in many common Chinese saying. One goes like, ‘Liu de qing shan zai, na pa mei chai shao’, ‘As long as you can keep the forest green, you’ll never have to be afraid to run out of wood for fire’. Another goes like, ‘Jun zi bao chou, shi nian bu wan‘, ‘For a gentleman, 10 years is not too long a wait for revenge’. (Some texts argue that it should be 3 years not 10 years but 10 years was what I learnt growing up.) Note that gentleman in Chinese culture refers to people that is smart and has an admirable character, and not the kind of gentlemen with good manners or impressive heritage.

Festivities

eating mooncake in mid-autumn festival Festival where families and friends gather to eat and drink till they drop are a regular part of life for a Chinese person. Local festivities will be too numerous for me to provide an account for here, but let’s look into the most interesting ones that everyone should know that is not Chinese New Year (which requires an entire chapter on its own).

On the fifth of the fifth month on the Lunar calendar is, to people outside of China, the day of Dragon Boat festival. In Chinese, it is called the Duan Wu festival. Chinese people everywhere around the world have been celebrating this festival but it was only in 2008 that the festival is listed as a public holiday in Mainland China.

There have been debates about the origin of the festival but the most prominent story relates that a patriotic politician called Qu Yuan from the Qu Kingdom jumped to his death into the river when the Kingdom was ravaged in war by armies of the Qin Kingdom in 300BC and he was put on exile for failing a diplomatic mission. Because of how admired he was by the people, the common people could not bear to see his body being eaten by fishes (yes, fishes!), so they started packing ‘zong zi‘, a kind of sticky rice with meat packed into triangular shape with big bamboo leaves and strings and threw them into the river such that the hungry fishes would eat the ‘zong zi’ , instead of Qu Yuan. The loud drumming on dragon boat is also part of the rouse to scare away any fish for the same purpose of preserving the bodies of Qu Yuan. The practice had been repeated since then every year, dragon boats race to the beats of the drummers sat at the front of the boats year after year and this turned eventually into an international sport that everyone knows today. Everywhere in Europe, Dragon boat races that are organized and participated by mixed or full team of Chinese and Europeans rowing together are a common sight, typically on a different day later in the year when the weather is warmer.

After that, on the fourteenth day of the seventh month on the Lunar calendar is the Yun-lan festival. On Yun-lan or Hungry Ghost festival, the period of time when the gates of hell is, according to the legend, opened every year to let the Ghost have a day (or week, depending on where you come from) of respite from the eternal punishment in eighteen levels of hell because of leniency of the Judge of Hell. People pay their respects to their deceased ancestors and any ‘hungry’, wandering spirits that refuse to let go of their pasts by praying for them and offering them ‘food’ and other material comforts. They burn incenses on the streets, the main ‘food types’ for the dead, as well as paper mache dolls as servants, friends or life companions, and many other commodities such as a doll house or a Ferrari, all made out of paper. You would see, usually children, huddling around a tin bucket with a fire in it given by the adults the task of folding paper, painted in the middle with golden color paint, into the shape of an ancient gold ‘sycee’, or gold ingot, then throwing them immediately into the fire such that it will be transferred into another world and be sent to the other world to their ancestors, so that they could use them to buy whatever they might need in the place where they reside.

Your ancestors may still ‘hang around’ even if they are not residing in hell – when they have been doing good most of their lives that would allow them to live peaceful lives after dead. The theories differ per region and per sect of local faith people subscribed to about where these good and well-behaved people go. So almost every household does some kind of ritual around the time of the festival. Many would claim to experience, very likely also induced by the heightened expectations or fears to hallucinate, interactions with spirits during this period. For example, stories abound of people being possessed by ghosts that wish to use physical bodies to accomplish unfinished business on earth. There are also always stories of people having unusually bad luck during this period because they have in some way offended the ghosts that are now roaming free and have supernatural abilities to make your life as miserable as it can be. Hence there are many taboos and rules established to help keep people out of trouble and away from harm, such as never steal offerings for the ghosts people leave behind in public, and always stop to pay respect when you pass by a worshipping site (they could pop up everywhere during the festival). One key thing is not to open any umbrella indoor – this is an important one actually regardless of the time of the year – because Chinese ghosts love to reside inside an umbrella.

Then there is the Mid-Autumn festival. On the fifteenth day of the eighth moon in the Lunar calendar and typically the day when the moon is the roundest and fullest as seen from China, a date that is calculated hundreds of years back by Chinese astrologists that observed the moon’s pattern, people celebrate ‘togetherness’ everywhere with their loved ones.

On the night of the festival, children would go out into the streets, typically into parks, with their paper (or plastic these days) lanterns. The adults would take a stroll under the moonlight while the children would be allowed, once in a year, to ‘play with fire’. It is not as terribly dangerous as it sounds. On this typically breezy summer night, one of the kids’ lantern would inevitably catch on fire when the candle inside touches the side of the paper lantern in as it sways in the wind. Then the adult would produce the big tin box that the mooncakes come in and let the lantern burn inside the box safely. Children would start to light up cheap red candles in the box when the lantern is burnt out and create their own work of burning art with melting waxes. The evening would culminate into a massive bonfire camp with hundred of groups of children huddling over their boxes of fire, telling each other jokes and laughing, having childish fun.

In bigger cities, there might be full-blown markets where people are selling auspicious items, candles that are used up by the bundle, and most importantly mooncakes, made out of lotus seed and egg yokes in the center typically, on the streets. Game stalls would be set up with something called the ‘Lantern Riddles’ for people at the festival to guess and win a small price. A typical ‘Lantern Riddle’ is written on a lantern and it goes like this: ‘The door to heaven. Guess the name of a location’. The answer to this riddle is Kobe, the city in Japan. Since ‘Ko‘ means God, and ‘be’ means house. Another riddle goes like this: ‘The biggest spider web in the world’. And the answer to that is ‘world wide web’. So while many of the riddles are based on word play in Chinese, one can still participate at times with minimal knowledge of Chinese or China.

Visiting China during these times should be rather exciting for anyone interested in local customs, but probably a bit of a shock to anyone who did not like the idea of cities ablaze.

Map of Master Shanghai

Could you find some of these locations that appeared in the Master Shanghai trilogy?

Book I – Shanghai Nobody:

  • The Bund (an area)
  • Shanghai Zoo
  • With Oriental Pearl TV Tower
  • Huang Pu Jiang (a river)
  • Shirley’s Family Mansion on Puming Road
  • Fudan University
  • Bao Shan Campus of the Shanghai University
  • Pudong International Airport

Book II – Shanghai Fools:

And what about these new locations from book II?

  • Shanghai Civic Service Bureau
  • Shanghai Pudong Banking District (location of fictional Bilious Norwegian Bank)
  • Shanghai Jumeirah Hotel
  • Dian Shan Yacht Wharf
  • Marvey’s Apartment in Xujin East
  • National Exhibition and Convention Center

Shanghai Fools also takes you out of Shanghai down the Yangtze river into the heartland of China. Could you find these places that the protagonists visited on the map above? (Hint: not all of them are in Sichuan!)

  • Wuhan
  • Chongqing
  • Chendu
  • Lizhou
  • Yibin
  • Qinghai