Thursday, December 31, 2009

Resolutions, Resolutions.

So, it's another year (another decade in fact). This time ten years ago I was with my partner, Casey, and some friends to welcome in the new Millennium. We were confident that Y2K wasn't going to hit, that the world as we knew it would go on and we believed in the lasting power of friendship. That evening we used my trusty old Toyota, Helga, to get to one of the world's most beautiful west-facing beaches, Piha. As the sun went down we fired Roman candles into the sky, made sand-fairies and stayed up playing board games all night. Before dawn we drove to eastern-facing Long Bay to watch the sun rise. It felt raw and new then, the clouds searing apricot-pink on my retina, despite the fact it was just another day.

Fast forward and now Helga is gone and I'm on to my fourth car. The world's future is pretty uncertain. Casey is gone too, leaving me pushing words in his wake. I have found a new love, who is with me now. It feels so good to hold him and feel his solidity, his realness. My friendships remain, so at least I was right about one thing.

I promised that before the start of this next year, I would make a list of things I would prioritise. Not saying yes to every opportunity that comes my way has been one of the hardest skills for me to learn, and it's fair to say that I'm still learning. But this last year has been hectic, too hectic most likely, and I need to slow a little and take time for the important projects. So here they are:

1. My play, The Bone Feeder.
2. My novel, The Colour of Rice.
3. Working as a researcher and writing papers in Growing Up in NZ.
4. Working as a paediatrician.

I think that's enough, although there are a few small writing and organising projects I've already promised people. I hope they will be just that, small and time-limited. That I will have enough discipline to work on the big (and daunting) things, to do them justice. And that at some stage in the next 24 hours I will have a few moments to sit on a beach, listen to the sea, and ponder.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Deboning The Bone Feeder

So, after three years of being haunted by the story of the SS Ventnor, I am taking my project to the next stage. I'm currently working on a redraft of the play that was presented in October at the uni (it seems so long ago already!). Once again I've managed to open my big mouth and now it seems the play is going, in less than two months, to Hamilton, Masterton, Palmerston North, and Hokianga.

Of course, like most things I do, 'touring' is far simpler to arrange than to actually do. It sounded so cool at the time. Of course all the actors said yes. But now, with some actual funding in my bank account and bits of half-written media pitches already floating in my brain (yes I'm your typical multitasking producer), I'm back to the far more basic problem of restructuring the play so it will a) be a cracking yarn and b) hold up in all the venues. While there's afternoon blue sky and South Island green outside, I'm stuck at dawn in a howling gale in the Far North.

I promised myself at least an hour (hopefully more) of writing per day over the 'holiday' season. But so far instead of facing my fears and just opening up that document, I've been boning up on my dramatic writing theory with the help of an over 60 year old writing manual, The Art of Dramatic Writing, by Lajos Egri. It was recommended to me by my new director, Simon Zhou, and it has the advantage of looking like a hefty tome (so one looks intelligent with it on a desk)but being relatively easy to digest.

In fact, like many good textbooks, most of its advice is strikingly familiar. I'm sure I've heard a lot of its ideas come out of the mouths of theatre gurus (and I don't mean that sarcastically at all) who have advised me in the past. Things like a good scene should contain conflict and characters must be three-dimensional and always be growing. And then it goes on to show, in steps, how this should be easy, not difficult, to attain and so for now I am full of hope. But still I'm scared of opening up that bloody Word document. It's far easier to eat strawberries al fresco on my balcony and pretend I never said anything about a tour.

Wish me luck.....

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Small town moments

Old granny in fishnets dismounting taxi in front of restaurant: check.
Two tiny Asian kids setting up a giant chessboard: check.
And 30 minutes later one putting the other into checkmate: check.
Kid in waiting room with cigarette filter up nostril: check.
Anxious looking guy in black singlet inspecting meringue cases at supermarket: check.

Writer in disguise: priceless.

Christmas Song

Ah, Christmas. My family have always observed the rituals patchily. The religious aspects tend to be lost on us (although one year I attended midnight mass in Hong Kong with my mum, a lapsed Catholic, and was pleased to be able to recognise the hymns). I almost snort as I pass the TV playing crass commercials. But it's insidious. Social pressure, no matter how subtle and invisible to everyone except myself, wins and once again I have wrapped presents. And tonight among other things I'll probably pick up some chocolate for doing the rounds when I see rellies on Boxing day.

I'm in Timaru at the moment, by the way. It's become a habit to land myself in small town oases during the festive season and work in their hospitals over Xmas, something I enjoy (and given the options - hopefully this won't offend any of my rellies reading this - it's a good way to occupy my time over the 'festive'season.)

Anyway - what a long introduction. Here's the poem.

Christmas song

Birds quibble and chitter outside my room
The breeze weaves ribbons through the sun
Trees on fire with red red blooms -
As one more year is finally done.

The breeze weaves ribbons through the sun
Inside, the telly shouts and storms
As one more year is finally done,
We're told to buy, it is the norm.

Inside, the telly shouts and storms
Strawberries this year are unusually huge
We're told to buy, it is the norm
This warmish weather's such a boon

Strawberries this year are unusually huge
But dams are dry, the rivers low
This warmish weather's such a boon
We'll get through this, we always do.

But dams are dry, the rivers low
The hottest summer in bloody years
We'll get through this, we always do,
We live in Godzone, don't you fear.

The hottest summer in bloody years
In Europe they're dying from the cold
We live in Godzone, don't you fear
And she'll be right, the saying goes.

In Europe they're dying from the cold
Samoa, homeless survivors still bleed
But she'll be right, the saying goes
There's time- and presents under the tree.

Samoa, homeless survivors still bleed
Australian bushfires year after year
There's time- and presents under the tree,
Just close your eyes and don't you fear.

Australian bushfires year after year
Trees on fire with red red blooms
Just close your eyes and don't you fear,
Birds quibble and chitter outside my room.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bone Feeder - show announcement!!

The Bone Feeder

How far would you go to find your family?

In 1902, the SS Ventnor sank in the Hokianga Harbour with the bones of 499 Chinese miners bound for ancestral graves in Canton. A century later Ben, a young man, arrives in the Far North to try to find some link with his past. He finds more than just restless spirits….

Place: University of Auckland Drama Studio, level 3, Arts 1
14A Symonds St
Time and dates: 7.30 pm 30 Sep, 1 + 3 Oct, 4 pm 3 + 4 Oct
Cost: $15/$10
Book: 09 373 7599 x 84226

Writer/Director Renee Liang
Musical director Andrew CorrĂȘa
Music by New Nature

Monday, August 3, 2009

when art and computers collide....

I sound so wise.

An interview recorded last month and now playing on Creative Momentum.

Thanks to Janette Searle and Philip Patston for some judicious editing to make me sound more fluent than I actually am!!
And now, to actually use some of that 'process' and 'structure' I keep going on about.... my friend joked the other day that I need a PA. I'm beginning to think that might not be a bad idea! (I think they are otherwise known as boyfriends.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Ordinary Life

Renee: Hello?

Occupational Health Gimp: Hello, may I speak to Dr -er- Lee-ung?

R: This is me.

OHG:Lovely, right er - (in tone of great concern) how are you feeling?

R: What? Um - Who are you?

OHG: Occupational Health. From XXXX Hospital.

R: Oh, er - hi.

OHG. I'm calling regarding patient Gillywig, who you saw on the weekend. Do you recall this patient?

R: Um. Possibly. There were quite a few. Patients. On the weekend.

OHG: Ah, yes. Teehee. Well, Patient Gillywig has been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus.

R: Ah.

OHG: Were you aware that this patient has been diagnosed with the swine flu?

R: Not really.

OHG: Do you remember this patient? To jog your memory, this patient had: cough, fever, muscle pains and joint ache.

R: Sounds unique.

OHG: Pardon?

R: Nothing. Maybe I remember them.

OHG: So when you saw this patient, did you: a.) wear a mask, gown or gloves?

R: Um..No.

OHG: b.) Did you stay a distance of one metre or more from the patient, at all times?

R: Well I did examine the patient.

OHG: So did you stay a distance of one metre or more from the patient?

R: Well, I examined them.

OHG: Ah.
(confused silence).

R: No.

OHG: (triumphantly) So then you are a close contact of the patient.

R: If you say so.

a beat.

OHG: (writing) 'Close Contact'.

R: So, um, what happens now?

OHG: Pardon? Oh, er nothing.

R: Do I have to get swabbed?

OHG: Oh, no no no, we're not doing that kind of thing anymore. The Department of Health no longer requires it, it's become such a common illness.

a pause.

R: Well.. do you need to do anything else with me? Because um.. I'd better get on.

OHG: What? Oh, er, no. I just write down that I've talked to you.

R: And that's all?

OHG: Yes, that's all.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Lantern - Auckland Season

digital schizophrenia

So er - yes, it's been a while since I've updated this!! Good intentions notwithstanding. Since the last time I blogged I've put on a play, written two more and been in a couple of art exhbitions. I've also spent much more time working on reviews and my "official blog" than on this wee labour of love.

Blogging for different reasons is an interesting topic. It brings out varying 'digital persona' (the whole discussion about digital identity and how we manufacture it for the web is an old topic, right? But perpetually fascinating. We love to talk about how we talk about ouselves.)

So yes, I write differently on The Big Idea than I do on this blog, even though to a certain extent I'm blogging about the same topic. But on my "official" blog, I'm aware of two differences. Firstly, that I've been invited to blog because of who/what I represent (emerging artists) and secondly that the readership frame is slightly different, more "serious artists", though it probably overlaps quite a bit.

Blogging there has changed blogging here, though. I'm now more aware of who reads this.... and that I have no idea who this 'who' is. While this blog started as a place for me to let it all hang out - in a literary sense - now I'm aware of pulling back a bit, even as I know I don't want to. Sad but ... ah maybe I'll have to go back to the paper diary for the real gritty uncleaned stuff, and burn it before I die. Old fashioned but traditional.

Anyway I meant to note that I'm quite tired, because I've been at work all weekend wearing my doctor persona. Driving home, I had the strangest feeeling sneak up on me - all I wanted to do was shut the door of my room and watch DVDs for hours and hours until I fell asleep. It might be strange that this is strange, seeing as this is what lots of people do all the time. But usually my head is too full of creative must-dos (not as glamorous as it sounds - mainly emails or redrafts), so I feel like I'm wasting time with movies or DVDs. Sometimes even the invitation to an evening watching mindless DVDs with friends has me worrying that I'd spend it instead silently frustrated, that time was slipping away. (what's wrong with a nice dinner instead, and real conversation?) Yes, misguided perhaps. Shallowness has its place, we all need to switch off sometimes.

Hmmm so a thought - being currently and temporarily of the full-time worker ilk, would this eventually turn me into a DVD watching automaton with 'no time' for writing?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Calling all poets

On the fifteenth day after the start of the Chinese New Year, streets throughout China are festooned in traditional lanterns. Crowds wander the streets to read poetry written on the glowing paper. Some of the poems are riddles to tease, others wishes for prosperity or tributes to love. In some parts of China, young men who write their poems on a lantern may find themselves admired by appreciative young ladies, thus the alternative name for this day, Chinese Valentine’s Day.

In the spirit of poetry and love, The Basement will become host to hundreds of tiny lanterns during the run of Lantern, my new play. From June 8-13 the public will be able to admire poems on paper lanterns, written by poets in Wellington (where the play premiered in April) and Auckland. They will then be able to immortalise their own thoughts in poetry and scribe the results on a paper lantern, to be displayed throughout the run of Lantern.

I am wanting poems from all and sundry!! The paper lanterns are tiny so couplets are ideal. Or you could just send me extracts of longer poems. Please be aware that due to the challenges of writing poetry on a small 3-D object, formatting is likely to be lost! Poems emailed to will be written on a lantern and posted for all to see; alternatively if you are in Auckland you can come to the play and write your own!! I'll bring some lanterns with me to the next couple of Poetry Lives (Tuesdays from 8 at The Thirsty Dog). But communications via electronic media are welcome; I'll take photos and post them somewhere at a later date. Make sure your name is attached somewhere so it can be written on the lantern too.

Send poems from now until June 12 - the earlier, the better.

The Lantern Project installation is free to view whenever The Basement foyer is open, box office open 1 hour prior to show.
Lantern is part of STAMP at THE EDGE and is being staged with the assistance of Auckland City Arts Alive. For more information, go to

Lantern , The Basement June 8 -13, 8:00 pm as part of STAMP at THE EDGE
Book at
(09) 357 3355
Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Three poems from Metonymy

Day 10


push and pull of bodies
breathheld suspense
of clouds
of fragments.

walls do listen here
ears tightened
to suck in our
disembodied confidences

a moment of tenuous
connection: a held glance
a line drawn tight
then let go

a kite quivers in mid air
watches its suspended flight

Day 11


you remind me of
a fly caught between walls
a joyful violence
to the way you lurch

from verb to verb
landing on nouns to
taste them with feet.
inside this kitchen

is a place renamed paradise.
breathe in. breathe out.
the bag fills
and deflates.

keep going
and you might get out.

Day 27


When I’m with you
the hours ribbon
like roads
to the horizon

clouds powder
the wrinkled green
cleavage of hills
golden leaves fall.

When I’m with you
I see a mountain
grazed with light

eyes closed
against frost.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

People in Your Neighbourhood - video item

A recent story which aired on TV, posted by the lovely people at Asia Downunder. This story features pretty much all the amazing people I went with to WOMAD - I wasn't in this story because I had a family dinner on the day they were filming.

More about the PIYN people:

and listen and download free at

Friday, April 10, 2009

11 days to go!!

I apologise for my absence from this blog - it's a sad but true irony that the more happening in my life, the less time I have to actually think and write about it. Which is one of the purposes of this blog, really - a rather navel-gazing approach, but let's be honest, I am a bit of a navel-gazer....

Which is why I've named my production company Omphalos Co. or O.Co for short. (My sister suggested O might be thought to stand for other things... so let's debunk that theory right here. O does NOT stand for Orange, Omnibus or Orgasm, OK?)

O. Co is opening its first production in exactly 11 days. Lantern has been about 14 months in the making now. It's become an 85 minute, three act play, and Andy and Li-Ming are furiously rehearsing right now with Tony, the director. It's so nice to work with the same team all the way through - the actors have grown into the characters, or rather vice versa, and I can honestly say that this has been a very collaborative effort. So that's one of the really cool things about this whoel experience.

Of course I am now taking a very different role to that of writer and I can say that swapping hats to the role of producer has been interesting. It hasn't been as bad as I thought, actually (she says heading into the final straight). Like all first timers there are frequent moments of wobbliness, of "oh shit! did I say the right thing? did I make the right decision?" At the end of the day, the responsibility is mine. It's heavy, but not as heavy as it could be.

I have to say that I've been lucky in assembling a team of people who not only know what they are doing, but are very nice about it - to the point of generosity. This is the environment of the theatre community that I've found, and I can't help but feel that this is a magical time in Auckland theatre. We are at just the right stage where there is enough concentration of talent to make really good work, but the scene is not so large as to make people resort to meanness to get an advantage. I may be speaking too soon.. and there are always the cold shoulders and the false assurances... but optimism blended with healthy realism seems to work well at the moment.

Anyway, back to the play I'm supposed to be writing....

Amy Tan speaks on the root of creativity and truth

Yes, I am an Amy Tan fan. As a girl I spent hours with her books and still have them on my bookshelf today - at the time, there were few other textbooks on how to grow up Chinese in a Western world. I came across this lecture on a local website and it gave me some ways to approach a play I am writing at the moment... so I thought I'd preserve it here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Jessi's film is on the way!!

Last year we were visited by Jessi Mariglio, travelling the world collecting poetry and the stories of poets. Here's the preview... so looking forward to the doco, it's going to be amazing!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009


"Oh," said my roomate Maite, "do you know they are thinking of having you in the show?" And so it was that five hours before we were due to go on stage, I was asked to perform as part of the big show that they'd been heavily rehearsing for weeks. The reason for my last minute inclusion? The show fell 10 minutes short of the 50 minutes it needed to be. And so they'd looked around and seen that they already had the components of another song: a poet who hadn't yet earnt her keep and some 'idle' (yeah right) musicians.

Thus it was that at 10 am on Saturday myself, Yao the guzheng (chinese harp) player and Steve the violinist from the Urban Soul Orchestra took over one of the hotel's conference rooms. Normally it would be difficult to write, arrange, rehearse and rebalance the complicated components of a piece for voice, gusheng and violin, all in around 2 hours. Add to this the fact I'd never rehearsed or performed a poem to music before. But somehow we pulled it all together (musicians are amazing people - have you heard me say that before? I shall say it again. Musicians are amazing and talented people and they're good at making poets sound good.)

After a rushed brunch and catchup in town with friends Tom and Paul, I had myself waved through security and pushed my way importantly through the WOMAD plebs to the dressing room with my newly minted backstage/VIP pass. I'd borrowed a dress from the tour manager, Natasha,and 'borrowed' makeup from Maite. So I thought I was sorted - but I wasn't prepared for the attack of nerves that hit as I got up on stage for the sound check and noticed people were already reserving spots.

We were on the Brooklands stage, the second biggest stage of the festival, and by the time we hit the stage after a very busy and complex soundcheck, the crowd streched back beyond the trees - estimates range from 6,000 to 10,000 people. By this time I was feeling wheezy, nauseous and wondering if I should go take a precautionary shit. I wasn't the only one striding around backstage nervously waiting but I was probably the most surprised, as it had been a while since I was nervous before a performance. But this was WOMAD. This was BIG.

Luckily, despite disastrous visions of freezing on stage or having a vocal chord twang, I managed to pull the poem off and was surprised at the warm response afterwards. I'd really tried to 'act' my poem - there's this thing of inhabiting the 'character' of the poem, then of pushing your emotions out at the audience. Musicians do the same thing with their instruments - it's as if the brain inhabits your fingers. For me, I was pushing my mind out across that huge crowd while trying to ignore the fact they were a huge crowd. But really, it felt amazing, in retrospect. Probably the only time I'll ever feel like a rock star. And we even had a CD signing and media interviews afterwards!

WOMAD day 1

Last year, I met a guy called Gareth at a 'creative entrepreneurs' event and swapped cards (as you do at such things - promising to get in touch and then usually forgetting as other things rush in to occupy the mental space). Gareth however followed up with an email the next day, and soon I found myself recording 'Chinglish' (the poem) at his studio.

A few months later a rough track appeared in my inbox, and then notice of meeting about the People In Your Neighbourhood project. I wasn't part of the live stage show, but my track (voice mixed with violin and chinese guzheng)was on the CD, and so I was invited to go along for the ride when the band went to WOMAD. And so it was that this weekend I found myself in a van full of musicians on a 7 hour (that's with LOONG breaks)drive to Taranaki.

The drive down was fun mainly because, if you are going to spend 7 hours on the road with a bunch of complete strangers, having a professional DJ in the back of the van helps a lot, as does a flamenco guitarist. As does, er, a Navy musician with lots of 'blue' jokes. Around an hour in I got over introducing myself as "hi, I'm track number four" and really started to chill out.

We reached the 'Naki well before dark, checked in at the Devon Hotel, offloaded gears (easy for me - the only instrument I needed was my voice, and even that I didn't need I thought). I met my roommate Maite who's almost the same size as me but whose powerful voice had so impressed me at the Auckland concert the night before. Then it was time to head on down to see WOMAD's opening acts.

WOMAD is an institution in the 'Naki. I went for the first time last year, and remember sitting in the audience soaking up the ambience and plotting how I could come back this year for free or at least for less than the full price. (I'm so Asian). At the time I thought I might be able to wangle a media pass or somesuch. I never dreamed that I could be part of an actual show. So you can imagine the thrill as I hung that little artist pass round my neck, only to have it taken off me ten minutes later - we were short, and someone who actually needed to perform needed it more than me. Never mind. I still got my wrist bracelet, guaranteeing me entry into the smorgasbord that is WOMAD...

Picture this, then.

A huge sweeping park. 7 stages, large and small(ish), all with different "feels" because of their setting. Food. Craft stalls. And lots of people who are revelling in the relaxed vibe (or in the case of the teenagers, positively buzzing and hyperactive in that way that only 14 year olds can be). And as the sun goes down the lights come up on the stages and some of the world's best musicians come out to play.

And late, late, after the musicians on stage have finished, it is time to jump on the artist bus back to the hotel for more hanging out with those rare birds, musicians, jamming, singing, flamenco dancing....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

signing in from WOMAD

I'm at WOMAD in Taranaki, an annual feast of music, arts and dance from around the world. Spent most of yesterday in a minibus with some crazy musicians (rapper/DJs/flamenco guitarist among others), stopping for kai in Otorohanga, and a sunstruck jam session in Te Kuiti, before finally reaching the 'Naki where we spent all evening soaking up the vibes at the festival.

In 10 minutes I'm due at a rehearsl for our show, People in Your Neighbourhood. Will try and backwrite some of this blog later.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

People In Your Neighbourhood CD out

Check out track four on this free-download album, the People In Your Neighbourhood, a flagship project of the British Council in NZ.

Funky Oriental Beats - tickets on sale yay!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Little Rain

Been collaborating with my friend Cat again, and a new friend Karena. It's a really neat process, working out how to combine and blend our thoughts. For me it's very much a feeling process - kind of like the thought surfing I usually do when I'm writing, but in company, which makes it much nicer. And unpredictable. And as with surfing, which I'm only guessing at as I have little actual knowledge, the bigger the wave, the more you have to trust one another. Anyway, it feels really really good to be peeping across the divide to where the grown-up artists play.

Anyway as with all my deadlines the dates seem to creep up on me. Once I got back from Japan it didn't take long before I was running from deadline to deadline again, though these days it's such a normal state that the stress aspect seems to have disappeared. This week for example, apart from the writing for Little Rain (completed, hurray!) I have the latest draft of Lantern to finish (tonight), a contract to sign (last week), a blog to write (tomorrow), and a video/poetry performance (Friday). Then there's the preparation for the upcoming Fringe show next weekend, another funding application, and my tax is due....

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Radio NZ interview with Lynn Freeman

Friday, January 30, 2009

Back home

I've been back home about 4 weeks and am slowly getting used to being home. It's strange; I never expected to suffer from reverse culture shock. I didn't have culture shock in Japan because, well, I expected things to be very different. Here are some things I've noticed about being home:

1: Everyone here is so tall! And wide! There are actually fat people here. Lots of them.

2: I can talk here. I mean, talk and be understood. This is not always a relief. There's a certain lack of stress that comes with only being able to grunt and point at things. This might explain something about boys. The laid-back ones, anyway.

3. The sun is warm here. Toasty warm.

4. I like wearing dresses.

My ideal workday

I'm working in Hawkes Bay at the moment, stocking up on experience, doleros and a tan. They've given me a motel room across the road from Hastings Hospital and I've been slowly working out the lay of the land. Everything is pretty sweet and handy. Here's my ideal working day:

8.30am: go to handover.

9 am - 5 pm: save lives.

5.30 pm: 5 mins up the rd: Aquajogging session at Swimgym (my motel key gets me in free)

6.30pm: Towel off. 10 mins up the rd: get icecream from Rush Munroes Icecream gardens(I've earned it).

6.45 pm: Still eating icecream, wander into Hawkes Bay seafood to grab some fresh fish and mussels.

7 pm: sighing happily, cook dinner.

7.30 pm: write.

This is a theoretical timetable, of course. I don't think it will ever turn out this way (for a start, I tend to work past 5 at the moment ... and I'm pretty good at constructing excuses not to go to the gym). But dreaming is halfway to doing.

Ok, it's not, but at least it's a fun exercise.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


In the latest TBI issue I've posted a recent interview with Square, friend and producer of the Asian Tales concept. I'm quite excited by some of the ideas we talk about, especially around shifting identity and the concept of "we-ness" (sharing and being rather than standing apart and looking). I'm going to have a think and expand on those issues for my TBI blog which is due in tonight....