C-novels that made me laugh out loud

I was feeling a bit down towards the end/start of the year so I picked up some Chinese light novels to distract myself (and to absorb some inspiration). This is a really short list and a mix of modern and xianxia. There are some authors like Gu Man who writes hilarious heroines, but I’ve only read a few lately.

Demon King/The Parting of the Orchid and Cang by Jiu Lu Fei Xiang (ongoing translations) – English isn’t the translator’s first language, so the translations isn’t perfect but nevertheless, Little Orchid and Demon King’s interactions are just way too funny. Little Orchid and Demon King somehow swapped bodies and after Little Orchid accidentally kills her body, both of them find themselves sharing the Demon King’s body. Demon King is an extremely powerful immortal who is neither good nor evil, while Little Orchid is a heavenly immortal with less than a thousand years worth of cultivation (i.e. she’s not powerful at all). But what Little Orchid lacks in cultivation, she makes up for strength in spirit (and the will to live). They try to outwit each other (and maybe even get rid of the other) until some kind of camaraderie builds between the two.

Translations are only halfway done but I LOL’ed so much reading through the 50 chapters (there’s 90+ in total) that I can’t help but recommend this anyway. Jiu Lu Fei Xiang wrote Sansheng’s story (which I also loved), but while Sansheng and War God’s story was cute and sweet, Little Orchid and Demon King’s full of crazy antics.

Blazing Sunlight (Book 1) by Gu Man (complete) – This story is set in modern times, and the first book is Nie Xi Guang’s story (nicknamed Watermelon). She can be a little dense but she’s not a pushover. She’s not stubborn, not perfect, but not stupid either. Gu Man’s male leads are usually the ideal “seemingly perfect” type though (super smart, etc.), and if that doesn’t bother you then this is a light read that made me laugh out loud a few times. Xi Guang is simple and very normal, which makes her a relatable and endearing protagonist. It’s a cute story in 40 chapters.

My Disciple Died Yet Again by 尤前 (complete) – Ok, so this one has 393 chapters (thankfully you can download a compiled ebook here) but it’s quite worth the read and the translations are great quality. The title itself is already funny to begin with! Though the story can get a little repetitive, there’s a lot of laughs just from the fact that Zhu Yao keeps dying and reviving. There’s some gaming elements too, so for someone like me who used to play video games a lot then the story becomes extra fun to read. There’s a lot of comedy in the 300+ chapters. It’s refreshing compared to the usual revenge melos, or time-travel / transmigration novels. The plot isn’t too complex either, and it has the right balance of comedy, plot, shamelessness and a bit of romance. Cute and funny, it’s so good for when you’re feeling down.

I love the female protagonists in these stories. My own blog posts are usually so…morose even if I try to wrap up my thoughts a little positively. Now that I’m trying to pick up writing fiction again, I want to be able to write something lighter, maybe even funny, and somehow imagine living with laughter through fictional characters. I feel lucky enough that humans are born with imagination and I’ve been feeling less guilty squandering all my free time on fictional stories. I’m sure a lot of other people other than myself are cheered up by these stories too!

Opening closets: Chinese romance novels

I can’t remember when exactly I started getting into Chinese internet novels. I’ve been watching Asian dramas for years, and I think I started learning about Chinese novels around the time when Bu Bu Jing Xing was popular back in 2011 and I dug around the internet for novel translations (and failed to find ’em). I think I really got into it two years ago or less, back when I was still in Singapore. I’m already a fan of period stories, movies and dramas so I very easily joined the world of fan translations. I love being immersed in different cultures and different worlds. It doesn’t matter if it’s Western or Asian. I consume them as fast as I consume chocolate bars, sometimes unhealthily.

A lot of the stories that I’ve read have a mix of xianxia, Chinese folk lore, romance, history, and fantasy (time travel has been very popular especially around the time of Bu Bu Jing Xin). Because they are fan-translated, it brings me back to high school when licensed English-translated manga were rare and I hung around IRC downloading fan scanlations (scanned translations). Things made by fans bring more fans together so there’s a great community around novel translations — enough for me to recognize names of popular translators who’ve been pursuing this passion around 2014 or earlier. It’s also very easy to pick up some abbreviations people in the community use:

  • HE – Happy Ending: this is very helpful when looking for my next read because there are a lot of stories that are just so tragic. Sometimes I just don’t want my heart twisted and pinched after a long, busy day, you know?
  • MC – Main Character: all the stories I read have female protagonists. With the exception of Ever Night, I read female-centric stories exclusively.
  • ML – Main Lead: a number of stories also have reverse harem. Sometimes readers want to know who the Main Lead is so they can safely pick the right ship to jump. Shipping wars in the novel community aren’t intense like shipping wars in the K-drama community because the ML is usually easier to spot. Second Lead Syndrome is quite rare, but! but there are a few stories where I half-shipped for the second lead, heh.
  • BL / GL / GB – Boy’s Love, Girl’s Love, Girl/Boy: relationship types, depending on your interest. I’m into heterosexual stories so…I can only name GB novels.

The xianxia elements of the stories make it very creative and different from the usual fantasy stories I’ve read in the past. Humans, spirits, and gods exist in different realms but within similar worlds. There’s a concept of cultivation to achieve immortality, trials to gain more strength, and sometimes there are rules to abide by (i.e. forbidden love between a teacher and his/her disciple). There’s a glossary to know these terms individually, but it’s pleasant to learn them just through world-building in different novels.

I’ve never talked to anyone much about this not-so-secret interest of mine, until a good friend asked me what I was doing on Christmas. We have similar tastes so I was super excited to share that I did nothing but read Chinese novels, hahaha, then proceeded to ask if she wanted recommendations. I would’ve sent her links to novels even if she said no anyway!

(I was just super ecstatic to bring at least one soul to my dark side.)

I started my recommendations with stories that progressively went longer because it might be hard to justify reading 50 chapters when you’re not sure it’s your type of thing yet. These are some of my favorite shorter stories; the plots are simple without political intrigue. They’re just good stories overall, not too deep but not shallow either. The characters leave me a deep impression despite the simple plot, usually because of their loyalty or patience or strength in character.

Continue readingOpening closets: Chinese romance novels

Currently Reading: The User Experience Team of One

I’ve recently decided to join a team as a designer and front-end developer. We’ll be working on a product and I wanted to start off with the User Experience in mind. I bought the book, The User Experience Team of One on the Kindle app a day before UXHK (as a refresher, because I didn’t want to embarrass myself if I say things that may be incorrect when talking with other people, hehehe). I haven’t finished the whole book, but as the reviews on Amazon said, it is a good guide for those starting to integrate UX more into their products. It is general enough that you can come from any background but is specific enough to give some guidelines as to where to start.

As a designer, I have the tendency to jump right into the visuals even though I haven’t really understood the business goals or clearly identified user goals that would guide the interface design. I keep in mind UX design to an extent, but I’m not usually part of the team when planning the product (or at least the last time that I was, the company doesn’t exactly start with the UX even though it keeps some of it in mind, such as design principles for user interfaces). I attribute it to only being hired as the visual designer (and front-end developer) so I’m not really part of the planning of the product, where design decisions can be made very early on. This time though, with the new job and project I’ll be working on, I could be more active when it comes on identifying key aspects that will affect the product we want to release.

I definitely recommend the book to anyone who wants to put user experience first regardless of their role in a team (or as an individual). It really is a good starting point for designing user experiences.

Just read: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I blame Carina for making me curious about Fangirl, so I got an ebook version and ate it all up yesterday — gobbled it up like I’ve been starved of a nice, romantic story for a while.

Spoilers ahead, since I want to reflect more on my feelings towards the story instead of an actual review — 

It was a light, fun read that I couldn’t stop until I had finished it. Set in college, it made me think of my own four years that now feels like I’ve wasted a little. I wish I could do it all over again, do it differently, even though I had made few precious friends at the end of it all. Why couldn’t I have finished something, even if it were a fanfic? A string of what-if’s: what if I never stopped writing? What if I pursued programming or web design stuff more? What if I had never gone into film? What if I had made a different set of friends? I’m not exactly full of regret, but it just made me wish a little that I had done things much differently.

On the brighter side of things, it inspired me to perhaps try to write a little again even if I’m not writing a thousand words a day or finishing a fanfic with thousands of readers. Once every few years I still receive an email with a review from one of my fanfics at Fanfiction.Net, but unlike Cath, at the start of college I decided I wanted to try original fiction and stopped writing fanfic altogether (an endeavor that I eventually failed at, and funnily enough it somehow started the same way. I stopped writing when I fell in love, thought about boys, but that didn’t end so well either. Now it makes it seem the whole thing was a double failure!). I have worlds and I have characters but my problem isn’t world-building: it’s threading the start and end of a story. Most of the time I don’t even know how the story will end, so I’m stuck writing bits and pieces of starts and ends.

As the book progressed to Cath’s relationships (with her sister, with Reagan, with Nick, with Levi. Especially Levi), I felt all the similarities with my relationship with Charlie. In a way, Charlie is similar with Levi: he always smiles, he’s way too nice to other people, he is just good. He has so much good in him that sometimes I can’t believe he loved me of all people. And then here I am: the crazy one. The one who had a lot of issues and baggage at the beginning of our relationship, who would scream and rage at him for his friendship with people who have hurt me deeply and traumatized me, among other things. But he stuck through it all: throughout all the crazy, throughout my sessions with my doctor, throughout the healing process in between. I’m only a little less crazy now, only a little less stubborn, but every day Charlie would make me feel so loved.

“I’m such an idiot,” he said.

Cath fell between his knees and hugged him.

“I can’t believe I said that,” he said. “I can’t even go nine hours without seeing you.”

We fight, like normal couples, but we never drag it out too long because Charlie hates it. I don’t like fighting in the heat of the issue, so I end up trying to run away to deal with it later, but Charlie stops me from being stupid because it really is a waste of time to stay angry with someone you love when you can spend more time being happy together.

Seeing each other daily was one of the things that I liked in Cath and Levi’s relationship. I know independence is good for couples, and for a while I thought it was weird that Charlie and I are the kind of couple who would see each other every day, spend hours in each other’s company six out of seven days a week! We managed it somehow, even though we’ve already graduated from college, even though there were points wherein we both worked in different cities. My officemates usually saw their girlfriends or boyfriends a few days a week, some only during weekends. Some less often than that because they lived too far away from each other. But there’s Charlie and I who would see each other as regularly as possible, and yet still miss each other just as often. I thought that maybe that wasn’t healthy or something. But then there was Levi who would always go to see Cath, every day. It was nice. It’s amazing, I realized, and I’m lucky. I’m happy for Cath and Levi and for myself and Charlie.

The book made me appreciate my relationship with Charlie even more. Maybe I wanted things to have been different for me. Cath had been lucky, I think, because even if I had similar experiences with her, she had drawn the better stick. But what matters in the end is the me now, my life now, and it’s good. The book made me feel thankful and hopeful at the same time, and I’m really glad I read it.

The secret to being more

“The secret to a good life,” he told me once, “is to bring your A game to everything you do. Even if all you’re doing is taking out the garbage, you do that with excellence.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler

Sometimes I want to be more.

But isn’t this it?

Some days are hard. I can’t do everything. Does A-game mean every thing I do should be pixel perfect? Trying to think about the design, doing the code, understanding and implementing the flow, figuring out the whole experience in one sitting — I’m sure I’m not really giving an A-game.

Design books book club

Design books book club

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Nobody can intervene and make that right and nobody will. Nobody can take it back with silence or push it away with words. Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.

Cheryl Strayed, “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar”

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Emotionally healthy people sometimes behave badly. They lose their tempers, say things they either shouldn’t have said or could have said better, and occasionally allow their hurt, fear, or anger to compel them to act in inappropriate, unkind ways. They eventually acknowledge this and make amends. They are imperfect, but essentially capable of discerning which of their behaviors are destructive and unreasonable, and they attempt to change them, even if they don’t wholly succeed. That’s called being human.

Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar

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You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.

Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar

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Accept that the man you love was unfaithful to you. Accept that a woman you once held in regard treated you with disrespect. Accept that their actions hurt you deeply. Accept that this experience taught you something you didn’t want to know. Accept that sorrow and strife are part of even a joyful life. Accept that it’s going to take a long time for you to get that monster out of your chest. Accept that someday what pains you now will surely pain you less.

Cheryl Strayed, “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar”