Sunday 22 November 2009

ASIAN CHA Issue#9 Editorial

Better Housekeeping

Anniversaries are, of course, a traditional time to take stock, find your bearings, make predictions about future directions. On the occasion of our second anniversary issue, I felt this would be a good opportunity to do the same for Cha. What can I say about the last two years working on the journal? Well, in a lot of ways, really rather domestic and every day. Editing an online journal with your partner from your home does not always allow for the surprises of travel writing or the glitz of New York trade publishing. It becomes more a part of the quotidian, and the more practical aspects of the journal have a tendency to slip into the household routine: Have you uploaded the poems, yet? No, you just told me to make dinner, dear.

I do not wish, however, to characterize the management of the journal as just another task which could be described in Better Housekeeping. This would be a great disservice to the talented writers and artists who have allowed us to publish them, to our generous editors, to our criminally underappreciated webmaster and particularly to my co-editor, whose passion and tireless energy are the real driving force behind this publication. Without her, Cha does not publish every three months, does not exist. She runs the journal. I just make the salad.

And the truth is that through all of them—the writers, the editors, the webmaster, my co-editor—I have had a chance to experience much of Asia and the rest of the world. The written word and the Internet are perhaps the two best ways to travel, to experience new things without ever leaving the comfort of your house. And for me, they have come together in Cha. My role at the journal is as much tea cup traveller as it is editor. The trips are taken, as they should be with literature, on the page; a sojourn in a new exotic location, or a surprisingly exotic moment spent in a familiar one. And the wonderful thing is that every morning, there is a new bunch of pieces to read in my inbox.

The submissions we receive reveal not only the great depth of Asian experience, but also a consistently deep pool of talent and vision. Sure not everything that comes over the wires is a masterwork (some of it, frankly, is a trip in another way), but a lot of it is very good indeed. When we started Cha two years ago, we were sure that there was a lot of great writing from and about Asia out there, and all we had to do was start a home page and it would come flooding into our email boxes. We had no idea. In the first issue of the journal, we wrote: "Yes, it is true that there are a limited number of English writers in Asia, but certainly not nearly as few as the more cynical commentators suggest." It turns out that I was also one of those cynics—there were far more than I thought too.

I also had no sense of the diversity of the Asian writing community. When we began, I assumed that Asian writers were those found on the continent, locals, maybe a handful of expats. I have come to realise that this definition was far too narrow—that in a globalised world the idea of Asian writing must be more inclusive and fluid, must encompass the perspectives of writers from the diasporas, travellers to the region, even people with an interest in the continent. Asia it turns out is everywhere. All you have to do is open your doors. How else can one run a Hong-Kong based journal from a house in London?

I feel myself very lucky that through Cha I have been able to connect to this community, to be even a small part of the Asian writing. Of course, in most cases it has been a wireless connection, made through my computer from my kitchen table. This may strike some as tenuous, virtual. And perhaps in some ways it is. But for all its detachment and anonymity, the Internet is also remarkably intimate, surprisingly authentic. It has the ability to bring the foreign right to your screen, to make the remote immediate. I am amazed that we have fans in Argentina, thrilled that we receive submissions from Mongolia, honoured that people who I have never met in person would be our guest editors. But I am happy to say, that while this is all very exotic and exciting, it is also rather domestic and every day, too. It has been immensely rewarding to have your stories in my email and to have strangers help with the chores in our little teahouse.

I couldn't imagine a better bit of housekeeping.

Jeff Zroback / Co-editor
22 November, 2009

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