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恭喜发财

Feb. 1st, 2014 | 07:16 pm

The new year didn't start particularly auspiciously, with a death in the family. It was my maternal grandmother, but we've never been close-- my mother disliked her, so the only memories I have of her is as an undifferentiated part of the Cantonese-speaking adult presence on the other side of the lazy susan during yum cha and family gatherings. I'll fly back next week for the funeral, home again two days later, and I suppose that will be that.

I always get annoyed when people say, snidely, "You can't even talk with your grandparents?" as if my inability to speak Cantonese is a personal moral failing. You want to know why I can't speak it? Why is because my Chinese-Malaysian mother was raised in a post-colonial society in which English was the language of privilege. She was educated in English, which her parents believed would give her better opportunities. She was forced to go to university overseas, because Chinese were systemically denied places in the Malaysian higher education system. She married a white man, and settled permanently in the west. When she had children, she was told by western educators that raising them bilingually would result in a lesser command of both languages, and if she knew one thing, she knew that if you were to succeed in the west you had to speak perfect English. When her children occasionally asked her to try speaking Cantonese to them, so they could learn, she'd say, "What do you need that for, here?" Mandarin, on the other hand, was useful, the acknowledged language of the future, so that was taught, but only later.

So it's not that I'm lazy, I have no respect for my culture. I don't have the language of my grandparents because it was withheld from me for my own good by parents who otherwise strove as mightily as they could to give me every educational opportunity.

I remember the first time I went to Hong Kong, I was startled and delighted by how it sounded like home-- a bone-deep familiarity that was, nonetheless, still completely incomprehensible. And now, over time, as I gradually learn more Mandarin, Mandarin has become familiar and (occasionally) comprehensible, and the sounds and characters of Cantonese increasingly alien.

I casually mentioned to a Cantonese-speaking friend that perhaps I'd like to learn one day, at least enough to get that lost sense of familiarity back, but she snorted and said bluntly, "You're too old. Mandarin, maybe, but Cantonese? Adults can't." True or not, I do know deep down that I'll never learn; I have a hard enough time keeping my current languages in my head, and of the Chinese languages Mandarin is more useful.

In the not-too-distant future, everyone in my family who can speak Cantonese will be gone, and I guess that will be that, too.

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2013

Jan. 2nd, 2014 | 10:30 am

Hello, peoples of the journal! How I love seeing you all post, and hearing about your lives and interests, and yet I never get around to posting myself. Happy New Year!

So, 2013. I spent a lot of time being existentially depressed about certain life choices (viz. offspring), failed to find full-time childcare, went back to work part-time, got asthma, moved to Jakarta and became unemployed, lived out of a suitcase for several months, fought an ongoing battle with my lungs, and clawed my way through half of a first book draft. I was frustrated and bored, and suffered cruelly from a lack of alone-time. In retrospect, the past year seems mainly negative, but there were a few bright spots: Sydney's brilliant winter sunshine during my lunchtime runs around Darling Harbour, finding a great new friend in an old acquaintance, a September of writing and coffee with [twitter.com profile] cspacat, brainstorming over Taiwanese desserts with [personal profile] kaneko, being fed by [personal profile] isilya. But yeah, definitely looking forward to a healthier, more prosperous 2014.

For 2014: Start exercising again, get the asthma situation under control, find a job, regain professional fluency in Indonesian, finish the book.

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Eastern romance, Western romance

Aug. 11th, 2013 | 09:09 pm

The other day, a few Twitter friends were retweeting a blog post by Jeannie Lin, who writes Harlequin romances set in the Tang Dynasty period: A historical perspective: Are my happy endings realistic? Responding to the apparently frequent criticism that her happy endings are "unrealistic, clichéd, convenient", Lin posed an interesting set of questions:
  • Are my happy endings unrealistic because I have failed to execute?

  • Are my happy endings unrealistic because they are perceived to be anachronistic for the time period?

  • Are my happy endings unrealistic, but in line with the genre I write in? (In which case, unrealistic, but expected?)

  • Are my happy endings perceived as more unrealistic than other comparative works that are set in familiar Western settings because imperial China is perceived as more harsh, primitive, unyielding than Western culture?

  • Is it harder to envision a happy ending in an alien or “other” culture because HEA is tied intimately to ideas of comfort, safety and familiarity where the “other” is inherently not comfortable, safe or familiar?
This fascinated me, because Chinese historical romances unfailingly hit me square in the id in a way that Regency and other Western mainstream romances never do-- and the majority of my favourite Chinese romances are, you guessed it, epic tragedies. But why not a happy ending? As Lin points out, it's not like the concept of two lovers actually getting married, living harmoniously together, and having many successful progeny is unknown in Chinese literature.

Musings about Chinese romances and endingsCollapse )

So, what do the rest of you think about Chinese period romances and happily-ever-afters? Is Jeannie Lin being judged fairly?

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I aen't ded

May. 22nd, 2013 | 09:36 pm

Woohoo, it's Wednesday! (Wednesday is my Friday.) And by this time tomorrow I will no longer be a solo parent, and lo, life will be much improved.

I realise I haven't posted in... a very long time. I admit it: I've joined the migration to short-form platforms, in my case to Twitter. (If you want to know the minutiae of my life, I'm [twitter.com profile] ineketevere.) I haven't been fannish about anything for so long, and these days I spend what little creative energy I have on the Novel I Will One Day Finish Goddammit, so DW has been the thing to fall to the wayside.

I was in Dili last week (along with the kacang, who did not like it, even though she met Jesus and also a pig), and it was strange to see it so quiet, the familiar shops boarded up and expat supermarkets with empty shelves. I suppose it's the natural process of readjustment to domestic demand, now that the UN and other international forces have gone. On the other hand, there's also a new but vastly underpopulated mall (with a Gloria Jean's coffee chain!) and a cinema, so who the hell knows. People seem to be using Portuguese more often for marketplace transactions, and I haven't yet had a meeting in Indonesian, even if all the paperwork still is. The times, they are a-changing.

Reading

My reading on the redeye back from Denpasar was Anna Cowan's Untamed, which I didn't know a single thing about other than the hero was a cross-dressing Duke. When I started reading, though, I was fascinated to find that the cross-dressing trope didn't work at all in the way I'd expected. I'd expected to find a queered erotic tension due to the heroine thinking the hero is a woman, and falling for him regardless (a gender-flipped Coffee Prince dynamic). Instead, the hero is already queer (canonically bisexual, effeminate), the heroine is perfectly aware that he's a man, and there's little eroticisation of his cross-dressing. Rather than an erotic tension due to mistaken gender identity, I found that there was erotic tension in the knowledge of true (concealed) gender identity, both as a secret shared between co-conspirators, and also as the fraught but powerful possibility of that concealed gender identity being (consciously, deliberately) revealed. I was surprised to find that the sexiest part of the book for me wasn't, as I might have expected, a sex scene, but a single line in which the hero (who has adopted a long-term disguise as an exceptionally glamourous woman) offers to dress as a man in order to accompany the heroine incognito. I think perhaps the power of that line came from its jolting reminder of heterosexual potential, currently leashed and subverted but full of possibility. It's dangerous: a dropping of protective disguise, revealing a true self. And it's powerful: the resumption of a privileged gender identity, and a demonstration of the ability to thwart society by picking and choosing from the binary as he desires.

So, some really interesting things done with gender in the Regency genre! It felt exceptionally fresh to me, even as it didn't quite pull together enough at the end for me to find it completely satisfying as a romance.

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CNY 2013: The Radishing

Feb. 18th, 2013 | 10:06 pm

Usually for Chinese New Year my extended family go out for a reunion dinner and call it a day, but now that I have a kid, and having experienced a truly beautiful Christmas at [personal profile] isilya's in December, I thought this year I'd have some family and friends over and try my hand at some traditional foods. So I researched a bunch of recipes, I called my mother, I called a friend from Guangdong who knows how to cook, I made forays to Asian supermarkets armed with a Chinese dictionary app (since my accent is so bad nobody ever knows what I'm saying), I made a couple of disastrous practice attempts and ate them all, I found more recipes, The Boy and I yelled at each other as we struggled to get multiple time-sensitive dishes cooked at the same time while the guests waited-- and after all that, it actually turned out really well! We had:

- Yee sang
- Pan-fried lor bak go (radish cake)
- Spicy hokkein noodles with tofu and snow peas
- Mushrooms and hair moss with smoked oysters
- San choy bau with a filling of fried tempeh, enoki mushroom and water chestnuts
- Tea eggs (contributed by someone else)
- Some kind of traditional Taiwanese mixed vegetables (contributed by someone else)
- Battered, pan-fried nian gao (sticky rice cake)
- Pandan hun kwee (mung bean) jelly
- Almond biscuits (from the store)
- Mango white tea

(Next year someone else is hosting, though.)

Rather typically, by the time I realised I hadn't any photos of all the finished dishes laid out on the table, it was far too late. The hordes had already descended! The only reasonable photo I have is, ironically, of the one dish that doesn't hold a particular emotional connection for me. I never ate yee sang growing up-- my sister thinks it caught on in our community after I'd already left home-- and I've had it only since going to reunion dinners as an adult. Yes, the version we made didn't have any fish (the key symbolic element). Yes, it didn't have the traditional 27 elements. Yes, we used packet fried noodles because we couldn't find the proper auspiciously-shaped crackers. It was still fucking delicious. I did tell people not to toss it too high, because I didn't want to be picking shredded vegetables out of the furniture, but we managed to toss it pretty thoroughly.

Yee sang
Red cabbage, zucchini, bean sprouts, pickled ginger, lime, pomelo, carrot, cucumber, fried noodles, peanuts, sesame seeds

The most tricky dish, and the one I was most keen on making, was my childhood favourite: lor bak go, a savoury, steamed cake made from rice flour and white radish. You can get it at yum cha, pan-fried to crisp deliciousness. When I called my mother to ask how to make it, she tsked at me and said, "Too difficult!" and "Vegetarian? Impossible!" My mother is prone to hysteria and exaggeration, but she was partially right: it was a gigantic pain in the ass, even if that was mostly the learning curve rather than the actual process. But after much experimentation, and a temporary relinquishing of my vegetarian principles, I'm pretty happy with the final result:

Lor bak go
We fried and ate the leftovers for breakfast. I know, those slices are way too thick.


Recipe with step-by-step photosCollapse )

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Captive Prince ebooks - giveaway

Feb. 4th, 2013 | 07:29 am

Today is the release of supacat's Captive Prince ebooks! Not only do they look gorgeous, but they come with a whole bunch of sexy extras for your delectation.

To celebrate, I'll gift copies of both books* to a commenter on this post (either DW or LJ). I'll choose randomly when I get home from work tonight, and message the winner!

*Kindle .mobi format only, sorry-- I'll be buying through Amazon. There are free Kindle apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices, though!

Closed! Winner to be announced shortly!

Results:

qian 0.973312033
applewoman 0.905866005
firesprite1105 0.513437678
deedlit50 0.492570265
myrikarubra 0.426921719
dira 0.291283455
marina 0.21781224
cyphomandra 0.142620247
zippitgood 0.007630825

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Bits and bobs

Jan. 24th, 2013 | 10:18 pm

So, a common piece of advice to the new parent is to try and take a nap whenever your baby's asleep. But I swear to god, I have never encountered anything quite so infuriatingly infantilising as The Boy's mother constantly asking if I plan to take an afternoon nap. Uh, hello, I may be the caretaker of an infant, but I am still a fucking adult and I have SHIT TO DO during the day, okay.

Random thing the first: My good friend supacat is one of the smartest women I know, and the best I've ever met at understanding and explaining the nuances of storytelling technique. Her amazing Captive Prince series is deservedly well-known, and now the first two books are finally available for purchase in paperback and ebook! For all those people who've been putting off reading CP "because it's a WIP; I can't bear WIPs", take this as an opportunity to think of it in mainstream-publishing terms: it's two fully-satisfying, full-length novels that just happen to comprise Parts 1 and 2 of a trilogy, with the third and final installment forthcoming. It's the perfect time to give this incredible page-turner a chance, so please do!

Random thing the second, less pleasing: Judge rules that it's okay that British undercover police had sex with members of the activist communities they infiltrated, because James Bond did it. Yes, as far as I know it's not illegal for someone to instigate a sexual relationship premised on a false understanding of one's identity, e.g. someone saying they're single when they're not, or whatever. (Let's not discuss the case of that Palestinian guy who allegedly said he was Jewish; I don't know the details, I don't know Israel.) It's a dick move, no doubt. But there's a difference between something being 'not illegal' and being an activity condoned by, or directed by, the state. What about the children born from these unions? False name on their birth certificate? No recourse to child support? No access to medical histories? General abandonment issues when their parent fucks off, never to be found again? Again, lots of people fuck off and never see their children again; some people are dicks. But that's different from it being the result of an official police operation. Setting aside the question of whether or not the police should be infiltrating activist communities, there's absolutely no good reason for undercover operatives to be having sex with the people they're targeting: nobody needs to use sex to obtain information, or to build trust, or gain standing within a community. There will always be another way. Be better at your job; don't fucking rely on the lazy, unethical approach, and if you need sex, get it elsewhere. ALSO JAMES BOND IS NOT A GOOD FOUNDATION FOR A LEGAL RULING ON POLICE ETHICS, JUST SAYING.

Reading meme

I enjoy seeing what other people are reading! I feel very scattered in my reading at the moment, mainly because a lot of my available reading time is sucked up by research for an original fic project, and partly because I'm more distractible these days.

What I'm Reading

Return of the Condor Heroes (神鵰俠侶), Jin Yong. Given how well-known Jin Yong's wuxia stories are throughout Asia, it's amazing how hard it is to get hold of English translations. I'm reading a serviceable-enough fan translation. This series was recommended to me by a Chinese friend as a good example of a pop-culture product that says a lot about Chinese philosophy. I must admit I'm finding the martial arts sequences boring (I prefer them filmed), and the surprise stranger rape as a plot device to separate the hero and heroine was unnecessary, but I'm gradually getting into it.

Binu and the Great Wall, Su Tong. A nicely-written but fairly straightforward retelling of the myth of the woman whose husband was worked to death on the construction of the Great Wall, by the guy who wrote Raise the Red Lantern. Reading this retelling of a well-known story reminds me of an article I read last year that claimed that a (supposed) lack of creativity and innovation in Asia was the result of rote learning in schools. "What point is there in memorising a bunch of Tang Dynasty poems?" I believe the article asked (I paraphrase). I'm not an expert in Chinese literature or pedagogy by any means, but a few things occur to me. Classical Chinese literature was highly allusive, and in addition to that often used and retold and refashioned elements from older stories. As an educated individual you knew the canon back-to-front (the novels, the poems, the myths, the works of philosophy), which when encountering new material allowed you to recognise the origins of the material as well as the allusions within it to the existing body of works. And when you wrote something, you reached back into those works to make your own allusions. Like the shared sensibilities and conversations we have in the world of fanworks, allusions and retellings weren't stale repetition and a 'lack of orginality': they created a depth of meaning and an intertextuality; they placed works within an ongoing conversation. It's creativity that doesn't necessarily rest on invention, and I think that's what people miss when they issue blanket statements like, "Rote learning kills creativity."

What I Just Finished

Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, Adam Phillips. When I read a review of this, I thought the premise was compelling: we're all haunted by the lives we haven't lived, the unrealised promises of our childhood specialness and 'potential', the paths not taken. We live in envy of what could have been, what we might have been. It's a fairly privileged worldview he's looking at, I think; some more than others are told from birth how special they are, how much potential they have, and then suffer the attendant disappointments. (See also criticism of Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece about being told she could 'have it all', and her realisation that she couldn't.) I can put my hand up as someone who was always told she was gifted and special, and I certainly haven't fulfilled any of those expectations in the way it was wished of me, but I'm at peace with that. I have a strong vision of my unlived life-- it's always singular, as there were three distinct branching points I think would have led me to the same place-- and it makes me shudder and think, repeatedly, how lucky I am. If I were religious, I'd say: but for the grace of God, there go I. Anyway! Don't read this book, it's a load of old-school psychoanalytic codswallop that I found an unreadable mess. I couldn't finish it.

Zen Heart: Simple Advice for Living with Mindfulness, Ezra Bayda. I have a soft spot for self-helpy books about mindfulness and meditation. A couple of new meditation techniques, and some Zen-ish, CBT-ish ways of dealing with emotional discomfort. Quite useful for my needs, but I think it's hard to offer objective assessments about anything on this topic.

What I'm Reading Next

Your Medical Mind: How to Decide What Is Right for You, Jerome Groopman

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, Andrew Solomon

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Lintimacy

Jan. 9th, 2013 | 10:32 am

During that whirlwind six weeks of Yuletide, when I was reading every goddamn NBA blog, profile, article and book in existence, I discovered something so shocking that it completely upended my understanding of the world: sports-loving dudes are shippers too. See, I had always had the erroneous belief that people who were into sports were, you know, into the sports, and when people 'talked sport' they were talking about boring things like stats and power rankings. But no! As hockey fandom discovered aeons ago, it turns out that people who are into sports spend 90% of their time creating and analysing narratives about all their favourite personalities, often outlining elaborate character arcs of courtship and betrayal based on snippets from Twitter, a couple of Instagram photos, and some bitter locker-room interviews. Dudes into sports spend all their time doing exactly what we in female-dominated online fandom do, just without taking things to their logical conclusion. Basically, they're into smarm, except that they call it the 'bromance'.

This morning The Boy dropped this Lin/Parsons photospam into my inbox, courtesy of the dudebros on Reddit. It's... epically shippy. It's possibly one of the shippiest things I've ever seen. Just when you think there couldn't possibly be any more, it keeps going. Cosy dinners! Christmas shopping! FIFA battles! The most I feel for Lin is a vague sense of solidarity, and all I know about Parsons is that his nickname is 'Chandler Bang', and to be honest the resentment inherent in Lin/Harden is a ten times more interesting dynamic, but... yeah. I could go with this. I hate an animated gif as much as the next person with an antiquated computer, but it really does just come down to this:


Lintimacy

And of course this ship already has a Lin-related pun as a nickname. Of course it does.

(30-second Jeremy Lin primer by a non-expert! A Taiwanese-American and pretty great at basketball, he was possibly overlooked by college scouts due to being, you know, Asian. So he went to Harvard, which doesn't offer basketball scholarships. He didn't get drafted out of Harvard, and spent some time bumming around in the D-League. Eventually he landed with the Knicks for the 2011-2012 season, becoming the first American of Chinese descent to play in the NBA, and rocked the fuck out of the league in a phenomenon known as Linsanity. Then he got injured and had to sit out the second half of the season. Then there was a bitter trading kerfuffle and he ended up at the Rockets, where he has... not been awesome, and everyone's mad that he gets to be an All Star due to the 'China vote' rather than having given an All Star-quality performance this season. And I mean, he's not my favourite, but I do feel for the guy. It's hard being the centre of so much hype, not to mention having to 'represent' your entire race and deal with all the Asian stereotypes and general racist shit being flung around by the media. Remember ESPN's 'chink in the armour' headline? Yeah. As a person, he's down to earth (he famously couch-surfed for weeks in New York while playing for the Knicks), endearingly dorky, and super-religious.)

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Yuletide reveal!

Jan. 2nd, 2013 | 08:55 am

I am not a team player. The thought of team sports makes me break out in hives. In the thirteen years I've been with The Boy, I've managed to remain completely, blissfully, ignorant about the sport around which his family revolves. And yet when [personal profile] thefourthvine suggested this Nike advertisement as a potential Yuletide source earlier in the year, I somehow couldn't resist. POC protagonists! Rivalry! Jealousy! Extreme competence! It's only a minute long, but somehow contains an entire world:


As [personal profile] thefourthvine correctly guessed (and I think [personal profile] toft suspected), my story was:

Winning is everything (because without it there's nothing) (9852 words) by Tevere
Fandom: This Is Where It Starts Commercial
Rating: Explicit
Warning: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Ben Watkins/Meng Ling
Summary: "It's a commercial, not a competition," Meng says. "The only person who cares how you play is you." He laughs. "Our job is just to look good. Can you do that, or are you too busy hating me?"

My Yuletide lesson this year was that one-minute fandoms are hard, yo. I couldn't really put my finger on the problem until I read this brilliantly insightful post on narrative tension (highly recommended!!) by supacat aka freece, whom you may know as the author of the utterly absorbing Captive Prince series. I'm so used to having complex, lengthy sources to leverage off as a source of narrative tension, not to mention characters that have distinct personalities. Squashing character development and something of a relationship into 10,000 words was... challenging, to say the least. To make it all even more difficult, there was also the whole basketball thing, Christ. Despite The Boy's best efforts, I still have no idea what a pick-and-roll actually looks like. On the other hand, I do now have strong opinions on the size of Dwight Howard's head in relation to his shoulders, Blake Griffin's performance at Jenga, whether or not Shane Battier could win Jeopardy!, if Dwyane Wade is the best-dressed man in the NBA, and Kobe's Death Stare. -- Oh, and did I mention that this fandom takes place TWENTY YEARS IN THE FUTURE? I mean, sports science fiction, I can't even.

Anyway, given the time constraints of working around a screaming three month old baby, I'm tolerably satisfied with how it turned out. Thank you so much to supacat for her structural superpowers, [personal profile] isilya for sports-fandom cheerleading, [personal profile] kaneko for moral support, and [personal profile] the_grynne for expert advice on future!China. And, of course, to The Boy for endless technical advice, sending me all the best gossip links, and sharing fannish squee with me for the first time ever.

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What I got for Yuletide!

Dec. 26th, 2012 | 03:46 pm

Yay, not one, not two, but three amazing gifts! I always feel super-lucky to get more than one story (it's only happened once before), so this was just a delightful surprise.
On a Slow Boat (1393 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Looper (2012)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warning: Author Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Old Joe (Looper), Joe (Looper)
Summary: Old Joe gathers his thoughts before going through with his plan. He still has a choice. Or does he?
It seems like so much care went into this story! It's perfectly tailored to my tastes: a life lived, choices made, repercussions to be faced, an imperfectly understood new culture, and-- of course!-- timey-wimey brain-bendiness. A great Joe voice. I enjoyed it a lot.
The Very Secret Diaries of Saint Augustine (1185 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: 4th & 5th Century RPF, Confessions - Saint Augustine
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warning: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Saint Augustine/OFC
Characters: Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome
Summary: 404
Correspondence Jerome continues. Infuriating. Do not understand why he does not see my point! Translation of "gourd" vital to understanding of gospels.
SPORFLE. What it says on the tin. BUT BRILLIANTLY. One of the Yuletide standouts, clearly. Also, I finally got my Augustine story!! I forsee myself giggling inappropriately during my next re-read of Confessions.
Old Things in Need of Repair (1022 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Looper (2012)
Rating: General Audiences
Warning: Author Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Summer Qing/Joe Simmons
Characters: Joe Simmons, Summer Qing
Summary: Summer Qing learned early to love old things. She also learned early to love dangerous things.
I was pretty cut when made my requests this year and belatedly realised that Old Joe's wife wasn't a nominated character. And now some generous anon gifted me with a backstory for her, which is just lovely.

As for the story I wrote... well, like everyone else I guess I feel my story is super-recognisably mine, but I also know that finding a friend's story in the archive these days is like finding a needle in a haystack. (Still proud of myself for guessing a [personal profile] kaneko story one year within the first couple of paragraphs!) Not offering anything for a correct guess, but like all my previous Yuletides bar one, it involves Asia and food.

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