Why We Need Stories?

Keith Lyons in conversation with Ivy Ngeow, author and editor of a recent anthology of Asian writing

Ivy Ngeow

Ivy Ngeow has interesting perspectives on writing which would resonate with many. She started writing at a young age. With a novel in circulation, this is her first attempt to create an anthology which would unite writers and the English language variously interpreted. She has collected stories with a variety of dialects in English, retaining the differences with each telling. Her editorial experiment is unusual. She tells us, “The Asian words in the anthology are similarly seamless threads sewn into the prose. It would be oppressive to correct the patois and italicise words which are not even foreign to the characters and the narrative. Instead, they are made part of the author’s tongue and means of communication. It is how I’d develop writers writing in English.” And she is bold enough to admit, “Anyway, all writers are outsiders. That is why we write.” Keith Lyons had a candid and interesting conversation with her.

What’s your background, and writing career?

I have an MA in Writing from Middlesex University and my first novel, which won the International Proverse Prize, was published in 2017. I have been in the industry of architecture and interior design for almost 30 years, but I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. I’ve always had that sense of a writing urge which came and went depending on what I was going in my life at the time. I always wrote, whenever I could, on the plane, in hotel rooms, at home in bed. From the time I won my first commendation as a teenager in a Straits Times national competition, I felt that writing was something real, and not imaginary.

Where is home for you, how do you identify, and where’s home for you now?

I live in London. Most of the time I identify as a regular working suburban Asian mum. The long days and short-term challenges I face are just like any other family woman’s.

How did you get the idea for producing an anthology of Asian writing?

The idea was to welcome more books which I loved to read but felt were lacking: beautiful, diverse and eclectic books by the culturally underrepresented. These are the kinds of books that I was raised with — international stories with imaginative storytelling on multiple themes such as the diaspora, culture and identity, and not even necessarily Asian. It is in our collective interest, as readers and writers, to hear more diverse voices.

What was the process for seeking submissions and then selecting the featured stories for Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1: Stories by Writers from Around the World?

I put out a call for submissions in October with a closing date in December.  We received more than a hundred entries.  Apart from the requirement for the writing to be set in Asia, writers of any nationality or gender were eligible to submit for this publication, in keeping with Leopard Print’s inclusion and diversity policy.  The contributors in this book have come from Malaysia, Singapore, India, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Serbia, Austria, France, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.  Although it was my first attempt at doing selection and curation, I could tell the strength of the piece from the first line or first paragraph. This is a good tip for writers. Nail that first line, then sculpt that first paragraph, so that the hook is sharp.

So was this the first time you’ve done something like this, or have you had experience in editing and publishing?

This was my first time doing a large-ish body of work. I have written and edited single stories and non-fiction pieces, newsletters, articles, blogs etc.

What’s been the response from the authors featured in the first volume?

The authors are thrilled to have a book out in the UK. They understand that getting a book out means endorsement by their readership and by the editorial team. They also appreciate that they will be receiving a share of royalties.

How do you think the book explores issues of culture and conflict, as well as insider and outsider views?

The cultural insights and conflicts are depicted through the exploration of ideas and storytelling. Only through stories and characterisation do we make sense of reality. Through the microcosms of scenarios, the viewpoints of characters are at the heart of emotional conflict and tension, whether or not it’s viewed by an outsider.  Anyway, all writers are outsiders. That is why we write.

Tell us about why you decided to have a reasonably hands-off editorial stance, allowing both American and UK English, as well as use of local non-English words?

It’s hands-on, not hands off, as I feel I assimilated worlds within those literary worlds. Each story required editorial decision based on the cultural stance of the author.  The language they have written in reflects their education, their origins and their own decisions. It would have been wrong to choose one English over another. The “Englishes”, colloquialism and vernacular are a reflection of our times and the modern movement. During my MA in Writing, my subject matter was patois and post-colonial literature. I have a whole story written in dialect which won the Middlesex University Literary Prize. Middlesex made me the writer that I am, because I learned that foreign is actually a very loose and relative term. What is foreign to someone is not foreign to another.  The true English language is an assimilative one. It is Saxon, French and German. Later it has Portuguese, Indian, Chinese and Malay words too. Where the British sailed through, words sailed through.  Are kowtow, verandah, bungalow, croissant and spaghetti still foreign? At which point did they become non-italicised? The Asian words in the anthology are similarly seamless threads sewn into the prose. It would be oppressive to correct the patois and italicise words which are not even foreign to the characters and the narrative. Instead, they are made part of the author’s tongue and means of communication. It is how I’d develop writers writing in English.

One story appears in both Malay and with its English translation – why did you decide to do that?

Most readers in Asia are bilingual if not trilingual. I feel that for the intended audience, there would be scope for a bilingual story because it is one that is about a young Muslim girl’s glimpse of her oppressors. Her language was fluid and poetic, bleeding into the English translation naturally.

One of the themes throughout the book is the conflict over tradition and duty to family, do you think this is more evident throughout Asia as it modernises and opens up?

I think so. Family and tradition create natural tension and conflict in any form of literature.  Part of introducing this anthology is that Asia is modern. But. It is a modern that holds onto a traditional world that is in part dying, like dialects, foods of poverty, too much or too little education, breakdown of families. These will always be the recurrent themes in modern Asian literature.

Do you think the first volume achieved its aim to showcase new and established writers from across Asia as well as non-Asians writing about Asia?

Some have never been published or have not written for ten years. Some are published and/or award-winning. We are giving them this platform and opportunity. Reading and writing is a community, a two-way street. By giving writers online and in-person presence to raise their profiles, and readers a channel through which they not only discover and read, they can also hear, see and watch the authors.

The connection is further strengthened by organising online events, real “live” performance readings and book-signings by four of the authors in London, and distribution in real physical bookshops like Daunt in the UK and Silverfish Books in KL, and online print distribution on Waterstones, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and online digital distribution on Scribd, Googleplay Apple Books, Barnes and Noble Nook, Kobo and Apple Books.

Social media posts which increase visibility for the authors and their audience engagement. More engagement will encourage the writers to write more and secure the notion that we as readers and writers, are not alone.

These ways of connections and relationships are long term. Our mission was to showcase and be showcased and we have done that.

What’s reception to the book been so far, with it only just appearing in hard copy and available in Malaysia and soon the UK?

From the Goodreads reviews, it has been well-received. It is unique in the sense that the strong original voices and the different “Englishes” of the writers have been retained, with foreign words not italicised. It is a true reflection of society and of our cultural diversity. The paperback version sold out within a weekend at Silverfish Books, Kuala Lumpur. Now it is on its second print run. Print copies are now available worldwide in both paperback and in ebook versions.

Do you have any plans to produce more volumes, and if so, when will you open submissions?

We will look at the profits and losses, whether it would be viable, but it is likely that we will go ahead with Vol. 2 despite global uncertainties and crises. In autumn we may put out the call for submissions for release in spring. We are also considering focusing on fiction only for Vol. 2 to further “niche down”. (I made that up but I hope it is a verb.) However, we know the economic challenges are vast. With the world only just recovering from the blight of 2020-21, now we are also seeing the consequences of the war in Europe, with purse strings being tightened.  As readers and writers, we are conflicted by these factors, because more than ever, people need stories. Stories of escape, frustration, humour, darkness, love, hope. All stories are about our humanity.

Click here to read the book excerpt.

Click here to read the review.

Keith Lyons ( is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, who gave up learning to play bagpipes in a Scottish pipe band to focus on after-dark tabs of dark chocolate, early morning slow-lane swimming, and the perfect cup of masala chai tea. Find him@KeithLyonsNZ or blogging at Wandering in the World (

Click here to read an excerpt from the anthology.



Borderless, March 2022

Painting by Sohana Manzoor


Where Have All the Sunflowers Gone?… Click here to read.

Ukranian Refrains

In When will we ever learn? Oh, will we ever learn?, Ratnottama Sengupta, comments on the current situation in Ukraine while dwelling on her memorable meeting with folk legend Pete Seeger, a pacifist, who wrote ‘Where have all the Flowers gone’, based on a folk song from Ukraine. Click here to read.

In Can Peace come Dropping by,Candice Louisa Daquin explores war and peace pausing over the attack on Ukraine. Click here to read.

Three Poems from Ukraine by Leslya Bakun. Click here to read.


Manush: Nazrul’s Lines for Humankind: Translated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Jibananda Das’s Where have all these Birds Gone & On the Pathways for Longtranslated from Bengali by Professor Fakrul Alam. Click here to read.

Munir Momin’s You & I translated from Balochi by Fazal Baloch. Click here to read.

Down the stairs by Nabendu Ghosh, a gripping story exploring the greyer areas of ethical dilemmas, has been translated by Sarmishta Mukhopadhyay with editorial input from Ratnottama Sengupta. Click here to read.

Autumn is Long, a poem written in Korean and translated to English by Ihlwha Choi. Click here to read.

Tagore’s Anondodhara Bohichche Bhubone (The Universe reverberates with celestial ecstasy)…translated from Bengali by Mitali Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Pandies’ Corner

These narratives are written by youngsters from the Nithari village who transcended childhood trauma and deprivation. A letter to God by Tanveer Hussain  uses the epistolary technique to asks questions that would be relevant for all humankind. It has been translated from Hindustani by Vritika Thareja. Click here to read.


Click on the names to read

Kirpal Singh, Rhys Hughes, Sutputra Radheye, Jay Nicholls, Uma Gowrishankar, Mike Smith, Anasuya Bhar, Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, Supatra Sen, George Freek, Pramod Rastogi, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Ananta Kumar Singh, Michael R Burch, Shaza Khan

Nature’s Musings

In Storms & Seas, Penny Wilkes explores birds and the ocean during rough weather. Click here to read.

Poets, Poetry or Rhys Hughes

In Tall or Short Tales, Rhys Hughes explores the absurd. Click here to read.

Musings/Slices from Life

Eva Zu Beck & Marco Polo

San Lin Tun writes of how, in Yangon, he spends the lockdown watching a travel blog by Eva Zu Beck. Click here to read.

Messages through Space and Time

Meredith Stephens explores how the art of letter writing creates links across borders of time and place. Click here to read.

It’s Amazing the Things We can Do

Erwin Coombs takes us through his life in Egypt and has a relook at Nazi occupied Europe with a dollop of humour to come to an amazing conclusion. Click here to read.

An Existential Dilemma

G Venkatesh uses the laws of thermodynamics to try to interpret the laws that define life. Click here to read.

Musings of a Copywriter

Devraj Singh Kalsi ponders on his Visit to a Book Fair. Click here to read.

Notes from Japan

In Imagining a Possible Future: Filmmaker Felicity Tillack, Suzanne Kamata introduces us to an Australian film maker who is making films in Japan now and some are in Japanese. Click here to read.

Mission Earth

Kenny Peavy starts his column with Mama Calling, a cry to go back to living with nature. Click here to read.


From the Himalayas to the Banks of Thames: In Conversation with Sangita Swechcha, a writer shuttles between England and Nepal and writes of her homeland. Click here to read.

At Home Across Continents : In Conversation with Neeman Sobhan, a Bangladeshi-born writer who writes of her experiences as an expat in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Italy and America. Click here to read.


The Man Who got Eaten

 Kieran Martin tells a tall tale or is it short? Click here to read.

Death Will Come

Munaj Gul Muhammed captures the wafting sadness of grieving in this short poetic narrative. Click here to read.


Sharika Nair paints a vignette of the past merging with the present in her narrative. Click here to read.

Faith & Fortune

Devraj Singh Kalsi shows how the twists of faith are aligned to wealth and fame. Click here to read.

Henrik’s Journey

Farah Ghuznavi follows a conglomerate of people on board a flight to address issues ranging from Rohingyas to race bias. Click here to read.


The Kaleidoscopic World of Satyajit Ray

Anasuya Bhar takes us into the literary world of Satyajit Ray, the world famous film director. Click here to read.

Are Some of Us More Human than Others ?

Meenakshi Malhotra ponders at the exclusivity that reinforces divisions, margins and borders that continue to plague humankind, against the backdrop of the Women’s Month, March. Click here to read.

The Observant Immigrant

In The Paradox of Modern Communication, Candice Louisa Daquin takes us through the absurdities that haunt modern verbal communication. Click here to read.

Book Excerpts

An excerpt from Friends in Wild Places: Birds, Beasts and Other Companions by Ruskin Bond. Click here to read.

An excerpt of a short story by Yang Ming from Asian Anthology, edited by Ivy Ngeow. Click here to read an excerpt.

Book Reviews

Meenakshi Malhotra reviews Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan translated by Radha Chakravarty. Click here to read.

Indrashish Banerjee reviews The Tombstone in My Garden: Stories From Nagaland by Temsula  Ao. Click here to read.

Keith Lyons reviews Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1: Stories by Writers from Around the World, edited by Ivy Ngeow. Click here to read.

Bhaskar Parichha reviews Why They Killed Gandhi; Unmasking the Ideology and the Conspiracy by Ashok Kumar Pandey. Click here to read.

Special Issues

Imagine… Click here to read our World Poetry Day Special.


Where Have All the Sunflowers Gone?

Only when the cries of the wretched of the earth will stop renting the skies,
Only when the oppressor’s bloody sword will cease smearing battlefields,
			A rebel, weary of war,
			Only then I won’t stir.
I’m the ever-rebellious hero--
	Soaring over the world, all alone, head forever held high!

--  Rebel or 'Bidrohi' (1922) by Nazrul, translated by Fakrul Alam
Borderless: Digital Art by Ayaan Ghoshal
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.         
 Shantih shantih shantih

-- Wasteland (1922) by TS Eliot

These lines reiterate values we would do well to live by in a war-torn, dissension-worn world where the need for a rebel to recreate a humane society that lives with values such as peace, generosity, acceptance, tolerance, compassion and restraint — is a felt need. The two great poems made history by remaining as popular a hundred years after they were written — ‘The Rebel’ by Nazrul and TS Eliot’s ‘Wasteland’. Nazrul defined a rebel as an iconoclast who breaks norms to find peace, justice and love for all, to move towards the creation of an ideal world. TS Eliot quoted from the Upanishads and ended with redemption coming with giving (giver perhaps denoted generosity), compassion and restraint. Despite the wisdom of these great poets and seers, war still continues a reality. The values remain neglected not just in as we see in conflicts, like the one in Ukraine that destroys lives, property and nature with intolerance towards differences, but also in our personal lives. Tagore also reiterated the same need for stepping out of personal, social, economic and political insularity. We carry a translation of a song that echoed this need while inviting participation in his ecstasy. He wrote:

Why do you sit in isolation,
Dwelling on self-centred issues? 

Tagore had not only written of the negative impact of isolation from the world but he led by example, building institutions that could lead the world towards pacifism with acceptance of diversity and inclusiveness. Sriniketan and Santiniketan were created to move towards these ideals. Many of the people he influenced or who studied in Santiniketan made history, like Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Satyajit Ray; many added to the sense of inclusiveness, like Mahasweta Devi, who other than her enormous work to integrate different cultures, also wrote a memoir about Santiniketan in Bengali. Radha Chakravarty, nominated for the Crossword Translation Award (2004) for In the Name of the Mother by Mahasweta Devi, has translated this memoir, a narrative which brings us close to Tagore’s ideals of the whole world being a family. How wonderful it would be if the world were open to such ideals and would behave like a global family and not go to war!  Mahasweta Devi, Our Santiniketan, which has been reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, reiterates Tagore’s vision of a planet living in harmony with the flora and fauna.

Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed another non-fiction by Ashok Kumar Pandey, Why They Killed Gandhi; Unmasking the Ideology and the Conspiracy. Parichha writes: “The finest point about this book is its storytelling…” The book review brings to mind in the midst of a war and violence that Gandhi had tried to erase this mindless destruction of lives, nature and cities with Ahimsa or non-violence. Will we ever rise up to it? Perhaps… We see strains of recognising the negative impact of insular outlook in writings like that of Temsula Ao, a Sahitya Akademi Award winner, according to Indrashish Banerjee who has reviewed her new book, The Tombstone in My Garden: Stories from Nagaland. Keith Lyons has reviewed Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1: Stories by Writers from Around the World, edited by Ivy Ngeow, an exotic medley of Asian stories, one of which has been excerpted as well.

We are privileged to carry another excerpt from Ruskin Bond’s Friends in Wild Places: Birds, Beasts and Other Companions, a hilarious story about a pet tiger adopted by the legendary writer’s grandfather. What is amazing about Ruskin Bond’s writing is the love and compassions for all creatures great and small that colours the tongue-in-cheek humour he rolls out to his readers. If only we could think like Bond, there would be no wars. His writing, I feel, transcends political borders or ‘isms’, and laces with love and compassion tales of menageries of monkeys, snakes, mongoose, humans of different denominations. This excerpt is a treat we are giving Borderless Journal as the journal completes two years of its existence. We are truly grateful to Speaking Tiger for sharing this excerpt with us. But our celebrations this time are sombre as the war rages with incoherence accompanied by heart-breaking ravages.

The refrain from Ukraine has been taken up by Ratnottama Sengupta as she takes us through the past and present experiences of the devastated country, bringing in the views of the legendary folk singer and pacifist, Pete Seeger (1919-2014), who she had interviewed over a span of four days. The writer of ‘Where have all the Flowers Gone?’, a song based on an Ukrainian folk song, Seeger said, “The point is not to ask for yourself alone — one has to ask for everybody: Either we all are going to make it over the rainbow or nobody is going to make it.” Candice Louisa Daquin has also pondered on the justification of war, contextualising it with the current one along with her essay on the paradox of modern linguistic communication.

We have an exhaustive essay on the legendary Satyajit Ray’s creations by Anasuya Bhar. Malhotra has pondered at exclusivity reinforcing divisions, margins and borders to plague humankind, against the backdrop of the Women’s Month, March. Highlighting women in writing, we have interviewed two female writers, one from Nepal and another from Bangladesh. Sangita Swechcha lives in UK but her writing, till now largely in Nepali, often pines for her home embedded in the Himalayas whereas, an expat, Neeman Sobhan, shuttles between Bangladesh and Italy with the affluence and assurance of a privileged background.

Finding a way to override lack of privileges, deprivation and violence, are the youngsters of Nithari on the outskirts of Delhi where less than two decades ago other than poverty, savage criminality devastated the local populace. These youngsters transcended the suffering over time with help from volunteering NGOs to create narratives that amaze with their inventiveness and confidence. Tanveer Hussain from Nithari, self-motivated and self-made from a young age, asks questions that would be relevant for all humankind in a letter to God. It has been translated from Hindustani by Vritika Thareja of pandies’. This edition’s translations include Professor Fakrul Alam’s mellifluous rendition of Jibanananda Das’s poetry from Bengali to English, Ihlwha Choi’s Korean poetry and a Balochi poem by Munir Momin rendered in English by Fazal Baloch. Baloch had earlier translated poems by Akbar Barakzai, a great poet who departed on 7th March, depriving the world of yet another powerful writer who imbibed hope of a better future in his poetry. We are privileged to have hosted the translations of some of his poems and his last interview.

Another well-known poetic voice from Singapore, Kirpal Singh, has given us poignant poetry that can be applied to the situation that is leading to the wreck of Ukraine. Anasuya Bhar has  poetry, one of which despite being in the ilk of Nazrul’s great poem, ‘Rebel or Bidrohi’, questions gently mainly social constructs that obstruct the flow of harmony. Ryan Quinn Flanagan has pondered on the acceptance of a changed world. We have humour from Rhys Hughes in poetry and wonderful poems by Michael R Burch on spring. Jay Nicholls shares the last of her dozen Pirate poems as Blacktarn sails the lemon seas to fight pollution. Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal, George Freek, Sutputra Radheye, Mike Smith, Shaza Khan and many more have contributed a wealth of beautiful lines. Penny Wilkes has captured storms and seas with photographs and text and Rhys has surprised us with some strange, bizarre tales in his column.

We have musings from around the world. San Lin Tun, Meredith Stephens, Erwin Coombs, G Venkatesh have all brought in flavours of multiple cultures. Devraj Singh Kalsi has spoken of a book fair he visited in a semi-sardonic tone. He has also given us a short story as has Farah Ghuznavi – a truly borderless story which takes place in an aeroplane, in the sky where all borders collapse. We have more stories from Balochistan, US and India.

Suzanne Kamata continues writing on Japan as she  introduces us to an Australian film maker who is making films in Japan and in Japanese, called Felicity Tillack. Cultures are perhaps truly crossing borders as we can see Kenny Peavy, an environmentalist who moved from US to Indonesia start a new column with us called ‘Mission Earth’. We hope, like Tagore or Rousseau, he will help to revive our felt need to live with nature, acknowledge the nurture that we get from the planet to live in harmony with it and on it.

At the end of twenty-four months of existence – that sounds better than a mere two years— we are happy to host a melange of writers from across the borders and be the meeting grounds of writers and readers from across continents. I am truly thankful to all of you for helping concretise an ideal. Huge thanks to all the writers, artists, photographers and the readers for the contribution of their time, effort and love. And thanks to our fabulous team who continue to support the journal unwaveringly. I would also like to thank Sohana for the lovely visuals she generously shares with us. A special thanks also to young Ayaan Ghoshal for his digital art where hands reach out to support a truly borderless world.

As usual, all the content has not been covered here, I invite you all to enjoy our March edition of Borderless Journal.

At the start of the third year of our existence, let us march onwards towards renewed hope – maybe the Ukraine experience will take us closer to a war-free world with an awakening of a felt need for peace and compassion in a planet without borders.

In quest of a peaceful, humane world, I invite you all to continue being part of this journey.  

Mitali Chakravarty

Borderless Journal


An Exotic Box of Treats

Book Review by Keith Lyons

Title:  Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1: Stories by Writers from Around the World

Editor: Ivy Ngeow

Publisher: Leopard Print London

Probably my first taste of Asia came when as a 12-year-old, a family friend returning from Singapore gave us a gift box of Asian desserts. Inside the ornate box were individually wrapped sweets, each different in appearance, scent, flavour, and texture. One at a time, my siblings and I cautiously opened the exotic items, nominating each other to try a tiny bite before the cube, roll or round was divided up for the sample tasting every evening or so. Some morsels, featuring jellied lychee, shredded coconut, or egg custard were savoured due to their sweetness and slight familiarity. Other desserts, which we later worked out from the inner menu card were made from green tea, black sesame, or durian fruit were more foreign to our taste buds.

When, several weeks later, we eventually finished the last one in the box, we agreed it has been an interesting experience in curious expectation, overcoming resistance and expanding our food horizons.

Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1 is a little like that exotic gift box, full of surprises, with no two stories alike. Rich and vibrant, the collection of stories explores an assortment of perspectives and experiences, revealing the diversity of Asian culture as well as its many contradictions and enigmas. With twenty-three stories by a selection of new and established writers, the fiction and non-fiction tales range from traditionally-structured pieces to more experimental works, from firmly grounded real-life and realistic stories to jumps into fantasy and the surreal. The variety on offer and variable story length mean the anthology has its own momentum, and is quite compelling, though there does not appear to be any thematic order in their curation. The result is that the reader is taken on many different journeys and in different directions. Almost without exception, the writing is well-crafted, accessible and touching. Picking up this collection you are transported into the lives and cultures of others. Spoiler alert: some of the subject matter is heavy or distressing but handled with sensitivity.

Many of the pieces in the collection revolve around family and food, some challenging traditional roles and raising awareness of larger issues. There are gatherings, and fallings apart, with street food having more than cameo roles. Some of the stories are entertaining, others enlightening — there are quite a few nostalgic reflections on the past as well as numerous strange happenings and breaking of rules. Stories illustrating environmental havoc and greed feature in the collection, as well as the ‘foreigner in a strange land’  type.

The contributing authors are from around the world, with a concentration of writers from Malaysia. One editorial choice I am unsure of is the hands-off editorial approach, which sees variations in British and American English, as well as the non-italicising of non-English words, most often in food terms. With all the authors either born in Asia or having lived and worked across Asia, there’s a broad range of perceptions and insight, and ultimately, some universal lessons for anyone who cares to explore these pages. If the anthology opens readers’ eyes to the fresh literary talent of Asia, then it will have achieved its purpose. Published in early 2022, and showcasing some new voices, perhaps Volume 2 will cast its net even wider.

Editor Ivy Ngeow, who now lives in her fourth culture, is spot on when she declares in the Introduction, “I have found that humanity is more similar than not.”

Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1 is an eclectic collection of poignant and unexpectedly moving stories. Like a gift box of weird and wonderful novelties, your worldview may never be the same after trying it.

Keith Lyons ( is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, who gave up learning to play bagpipes in a Scottish pipe band to focus on after-dark tabs of dark chocolate, early morning slow-lane swimming, and the perfect cup of masala chai tea. Find him@KeithLyonsNZ or blogging at Wandering in the World (

Click here to read an excerpt from the anthology.



Asian Anthology

Title: Asian Anthology, New Writing Vol. 1

Editor: Ivy Ngeow

Publisher: Leopard Print London

Spring Onions by Yang Ming

Like most devotees, Ning’s mother, Suyin, spent her Saturday afternoons visiting Singapore’s Chinese temples. For the past year, she had meticulously listed them on a piece of neatly folded foolscap paper and visited one each weekend after closing her steamed bun shop for the day. She arrived at the temple each week with two red plastic bags containing fruit. Ning stood next to her mother, hands clasped, observing her overturn the bags: apples and oranges tumbled out onto the table. Suyin assembled them on two paper plates in groups of five and placed them at the altar. It was done so mechanically that Ning swore her mother could have done it with her eyes closed.  

* * *

That Saturday, Ning had accompanied her mother to Thian Hock Keng for prayers. Ning was a month away from an examination that had the potential to define her future. After learning about her daughter’s dismal mid-year test results, Ning’s mother had found it hard to sleep. Ning’s older brother, Ren, on the other hand, had fared much better in his academic studies. A student highly regarded by his peers, Ning’s mother did not need to worry about her son. Ning had never wanted to be part of this prayer nonsense but, at her mother’s insistence, she dragged her feet to the temple. She considered it a waste of her time; she would rather film a series of life hack videos for TikTok than standing idly at the temple.  

“Ma, why do you offer spring onions to Confucius?” Ning asked. Instead of fruit, Ning’s mother had prepared a plate of spring onions and steamed buns as offerings to the Confucius statue. Outside, heavy rain fell on the ground like water gushing through a drain. Ning cast a glance at the temple’s rooftop, its curved ridges and elongated eaves with upturned swallow-tail decoration blocking the grey skies. Fat raindrops began to whip Ning’s legs, causing her to retreat further into the temple’s statue shelter. Ning’s mother had followed her usual practice of waiting for fifteen minutes for the gods to ‘eat’ the offerings before clearing them away. Ning wondered if they liked spring onions; she certainly did not. 

“Spring onion is 聪 in Mandarin. Cong. It means intelligence. You will need it for your exams,” Ning’s mother replied, folding her arms across her chest. 

The smell of the incense coil burning in the main hall spread through the air. Ning was surprised to find the smell soothing and she likened it to sandalwood incense sticks from her favourite aromatherapy shop. 

“My friends say praying to Confucius will help you in your exams,” Ning’s mother said as she rummaged in her bag for her phone. She fished it out and began to tap away. 

Ning wanted very much to tell her mother that she was going to fail her upcoming examinations, and no amount of prayers or offerings to any deities would work but she couldn’t summon the courage. 

“Time to clear the table,” her mother said, walking towards the altar. Putting her hands together, her mother uttered a few inaudible sentences and bowed to the statue three times before shoving the offerings into the plastic bags. Ning followed suit, bowing grudgingly. 

Under the minimal lighting, her mother had a pallid face; her yellow-stained nails and dark circles sagged under her eyes. She wondered why she hadn’t noticed those hands and face marked with endless strife and pain. 

On a one-way street, a solitary car lumbered past them. Ning sidestepped puddles of water scattered along the pavement while swinging the bag of spring onions recklessly. 

“Stop that,” her mother said, her voice echoing through the empty street. 

“It’s just spring onions!” Ning exclaimed in defiance. 

Her mother slapped her daughter’s head lightly. “I need to cook these tonight. You think what, I’m going to throw it away, is it?” her mother said, gripping a half-smoked cigarette between her forefinger and third finger. Ning heard her mother mumbling some words in Hokkien as she turned away. She rolled her eyes at the thought of eating a plate of stir-fry spring onions or any dish with spring onions in it. 

If Ning could harness any power from a higher being, she would remove every stalk of spring onion from existence. Her mother’s phone rang as they turned at the corner shophouse. Ning stepped back to give her some privacy. A group of young, giggling girls traipsed past them, enthusiastically discussing a hip coffee joint. Ning surreptitiously crept closer towards her mother, trying to listen in on the conversation. But she could only hear laconic replies that consisted of, “yes”, “no” and “I understand”. Her voice seemed restrained.  

“Who was that?” Ning asked. 

“Just somebody. Why so kaypoh?” Ning’s mother asked, clicking her tongue. 

Ning knew her mother deployed this snappy attitude to fob her off whenever Ning became too much of a busybody for her own good. The skies had finally cleared, releasing an earthy petrichor — a scent Ning secretly adored. The afternoon sun peeked out of the grey clouds, creating a golden halo with glorious rays of light around them.  

Ning watched snippets of TikTok videos on the train home. Images of a mother and daughter duo swaying and jumping in one frame and morphing into each other in the next frame. A muscular man struggling to tear into an apple with his bare hands while a young man used a knife to cut an apple. A middle-aged woman synchronising her dance moves with a little girl. These entertaining yet addictive videos usually amused her, but Ning couldn’t seem to shake that mysterious phone call off her mind. Why did her mother lower her voice? Or why did she sound so serious? The ‘whys’ inundated her mind throughout the entire journey, until her mother nudged her elbow to motion her to get off the train. 

“Make sure you finish up all the spring onions later,” Ning’s mother remarked as they ambled through the housing blocks. 

“I’m not going to eat any spring onions,” said Ning. Those words had rolled out of her mouth faster than her mind could stop them. 

Ning’s mother glared at her with an expression as stiff as a starched uniform and Ning knew what came after this was going to be torture. 

“Ma, I’m going to fail my exams next month. There’s no point for me to eat those awful vegetables,” Ning said, pursing her lips. She cast her eyes on the ground as though something incredible had just skipped across her feet. A group of boys ran past them, yelling, Eh, where are we going ah? Let’s go to the playground. Their voices echoed through the communal void deck. 

“And what are you going to do if you fail your exams?”

“Ma, I want to make buns, just like you.” 

Ning’s mother closed her eyes and clenched her hands into fists. The last time Ning had witnessed this inscrutable face was three years ago when she returned home from grandma’s place, and had seen her mother sitting on the kitchen stool, staring into nothingness. Ning had pushed open the door to her parents’ room, only to find it in a chaotic mess — a smashed family photo frame was on the floor. 

Before Ning could say anything else, her mother walked towards the lift lobby. She was surprised her mother hadn’t rebuked her for speaking out. 

* * *

In the kitchen, Ning quickly tore the omelette apart, only to discover an absence of spring onions. She grinned quietly to herself, thinking she had convinced her mother to exclude that awful vegetable.  

Later that week, Ning parked herself at the side table in the bun shop, working on her Maths assignment. The afternoon news on the radio blared loudly in the background. She stared at the Pythagoras Theorem question and doodled aimlessly on the foolscap paper until her mind was drawn to her mobile phone. She tapped her TikTok app when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mrs Lim peering into the shop. 

“Eh, ah girl, so hardworking! Where’s your mummy?” Mrs Lim asked, raising her voice above the static crackling noises. 

“Hi, Mrs Lim! She’s in the kitchen making baos with Chen,” Ning replied, pointing towards the back of their tiny shop, where their cramped kitchen was located. “Do you want your usual Char Siew Bao or Big Chicken Bao?”  

Mrs Lim, a regular customer of Tan’s Bun Shop for years, beamed upon hearing those words. Ning gave her a wide smile. Mrs Lim rarely hesitated to buy more steamed buns whenever she patronised the shop. 

“Just give me five Char Siew Baos and five Big Chicken Baos,” Mrs Lim said. 

Ning pulled out the second tier of the bun steamer display cabinet and used a pair of silver tongs to pick those flavours. She enjoyed giving those soft and fluffy buns a little squeeze on the side as she placed them into the polystyrene boxes. She felt that was the least she could do as a daughter – assisting her mother and, at the same time, learning the trade. Halfway through, she heard a series of quick footsteps from behind her and before Ning could turn around, her mother was already standing next to her. 

“Go and do your homework. I will help Mrs Lim with her order,” Ning’s mum said as she smoothed away a few strands of hair from her eyes. Ning gently placed the tongs on the table and nodded silently at Mrs Lim, whose face had already become annoyed. Ning grabbed her phone from the table and slunk away.

Inside the kitchen, a stack of large bamboo steamers formed a tower on an industrial stove. They were probably the last batch of assorted steamed buns that would be sold for the day, Ning thought. White steam swirled up in the clammy air. 

On the other side, Chen, the ever-loyal shop assistant, was cleaning a dough mixer as he whistled and swayed to a catchy Chinese tune. Originally from Johor, Chen had been crossing the Causeway to work at the shop since Ning was born. Two small portions of leftover dough and a small bowl of barbecue pork were left on the table. Usually, these remnants would be thrown away at the end of the day, as Ning’s mother believed in the freshness of ingredients. 

Ning whipped out her phone and filmed the first part of a video, cut out a tiny piece of the dough, flattened it with a wooden rolling pin and filled it with a spoonful of barbecue pork. For the second part, she slowly gathered the pleat of the dough to seal up the filling, but the pleat looked odd. Chen glided towards Ning and commented, “Not bad. But still need a lot more practice.”

Ning hushed him as the video was still recording. 

“But you are getting better now. In the past, your baos looked so funny. If I have more time, I can teach you more things,” Chen said, dousing the floor with warm water. 

“I’m free on weekends or when Ma goes out to buy Toto,” Ning said enthusiastically. 

“No point. I’m going to look for a new job.” 

“Why? Has Ma found someone to replace you?” Ning asked, giving a quizzical look. 

“She didn’t tell you anything?” Chen asked. Ning shook her head. “Your ma is going to sell this shop.”

Words became trapped in Ning’s throat. The air grew cold. Sell the shop? Why would her mother even consider selling it? Those questions whirled in her mind like a gale barrelling through an open field. Ning’s mother had barely scraped through her secondary school education. In her teens, she had repeatedly failed her exams and, like any hot-headed teenage girl with raging hormones, she got involved with boys and bad company. She eventually left school at the age of 15, much to her mother’s chagrin. No amount of words could persuade her to return to school, until her grandma received a call from the police late one afternoon, informing her that her granddaughter had been involved in a gang fight which had led to the accidental death of an elderly passer-by. 

Ning’s mother was sent to a probation home for girls for two years. It was at that place where she had encountered a God-loving youth worker who persuaded her to think about her future and about the people who loved her. Upon her release from the girls’ home, Ning’s mother trudged home, only to discover her family wanted nothing to do with her. Out of kindness, they provided her a bed in which to sleep. Due to her bad record and a lack of qualifications, she worked several odd jobs to get by, until a kind elderly man who owned a steamed bun shop had taken her in and imparted his bun-making skills to her. 

Those thoughts were interrupted when she heard a loud shriek floating from the shop front. Ning stepped out of the kitchen and caught Mrs Lim flinging her arms at her mother, remarking, “Crazy woman! You think your bao shop is the best in Singapore, is it?’ If not for your daughter, I wouldn’t even step into your shop.” Mrs Lim spat on the ground before stomping off. 

“She thinks she is a big shot! Everyone must kowtow to her,” Ning’s mother fumed, slapping the thick receipt book on the counter. It didn’t come as a surprise to Ning, as Mrs Lim was probably one of those disgruntled customers her mother had offended on a regular basis. Ever since Ning’s father had abandoned the family on the day her mother stared into nothingness, business had gone downhill. Multicoloured graffiti had repeatedly been sprayed across their shop’s rolling shutter with words like, O$P$ and Go to hell! Ning’s mother had surmised the vandalism was the loan sharks’ doing. 

Already bestowed with the moribund steamed bun shop and heavily burdened with two young children, Ning’s mother balanced her life between reviving the shop and paying off her good-for-nothing ex-husband’s mounting debts. Ning witnessed the relentless spirit of those loan sharks sauntering into their shop on random sultry afternoons. The men, no younger than twenty-five years old, had blond hair and a uniformed phoenix tattoo on their forearms. They appeared harmless at first but what came out of their mouths was nothing but coarse language. This had led Ning’s mother to a nervous breakdown, and she eventually became short-tempered. 

As years went by, customers dwindled. Ning found herself greeted by bags of cold steamed buns at home every day. Ning’s mother always shrugged it off with, “We made so many baos today. These were the leftovers.”

* * *

“But Ma, Mrs Lim was just…”Ning protested, still holding on to her phone. Her mother quickly interjected. 

“Stop playing with your phone. What’s the point of doing all those videos? Can earn money or not? Ning, my friend just recommended me a tutor for you. She said he’s a very good tutor. Can teach you Maths. I know it’s too late but at least he can teach you what he can.” 

Ning gasped. Tutor? But how could her mother afford it? 

* * *

Ning’s head weighed a ton when her best friend, Farah, rambled on about her latest TikTok and Instagram videos during recess. She raved about the number of views she had garnered in a day. Farah’s monologue suddenly changed subject, and she asked Ning if she’d like to study for their upcoming exams with her after school. Ning knew Farah was the more hardworking person of the two of them. Even her social media videos yielded more views and likes than hers. She forced a lop-sided smile. She wanted to tell her about the shop and the sudden change in her mother’s behaviour, but she couldn’t form the words in her mind. Before Ning could say anything, she saw their form teacher, Madam Nadia, walking towards them. Farah greeted her like any obedient child before slinking away. 

Madam Nadia pulled Ning aside to a quiet section of the corridor. She interrogated Ning about the Maths assignment — Ning had completely forgotten about it. She sheepishly replied and said she left it in the shop but it was a lie. Madam Nadia raised her eyebrows sceptically, and with a straight face, she broke the news to Ning that, if she failed her upcoming exams, she would have to repeat another year. Ning acknowledged it with a nod and disappeared, but not before Madam Nadia requested to see Ning’s mother, to which Ning lied that her mother was too busy. 

At 8 that evening, Ning’s mother returned to their modest three-room flat with a bag of assorted steamed buns. She was on the phone, speaking in a low voice. She didn’t notice Ning sitting on the sofa watching a variety game show where contestants had to guess the price of household items. Ning quickly lowered the volume of the television, when she distinctively heard her mother saying, “The price is too low. I will consider selling it if the price is higher.”

Ning was about to confront her mother when her brother, Ren, shouted at her for stealing his favourite blue gel pen. Ning glared at him, grabbed his pen from the coffee table and tossed it to him. Ning’s mother untied the bag of buns and passed her improved steamed Pork bun to them to try. But Ren scrutinised the bag before settling on the lotus flavour bun instead and disappeared into his room. Ning obediently picked the lukewarm bun off her mother’s hands. 

She sank her teeth into the bun. The more she chewed, the more she felt a strange and bitter taste on her tongue. She spat out a morsel of the filling and discovered a slimy green vegetable — spring onions! Ning’s mother scolded her for wasting the filling as she and Chen had spent the whole afternoon improving the flavours. A strange feeling inexplicably invaded Ning, and in one swift movement, she ripped the bun apart and threw it on the floor. 

About the Book: Crocodiles in the city, street food fandom, a psychic club meeting in a Penang beach resort. Asian Anthology: New Writing Vol. 1 is a showcase of short stories and place writing by both new and more established prize-winning writers. Some unexpected, a few surreal and others traditional, these are 23 compelling stories of irony, humanity and satire, exploring a range of subject matter to reveal a glimpse of modern Asian society and culture: a funeral in India, a hotel encounter in Japan, a sleepless night in Hong Kong. Modern themes such as the chilling consequences of the environmental impact of logging, deforestation and the barbarism of the shark’s fin soup delicacy press on our collective conscience. In the pieces on place writing, the outsider’s view gives insight into the white-guy-in-Asia trope: backpacker, courier and expat company manager. But no Asian fiction is complete without stories of food, family conflict, redemption and reconciliation. Surprising and entertaining, this anthology captures the paradox of richness, diversity and humour that is Asian culture.

Contributors: Rumaizah Abu Bakar, Patrick Burns, Cheung Louie, E.P. Chiew, Mason Croft, MK Eidson, Marc de Faoite, Jenny Hor, Nenad Jovancic, Lynett Khoh, Doc Krinberg, V.S. Lai, Ewan Lawrie, Winston Lim, Y.K. Lim, Yvonne Lyon, Sandeep Kumar Mishra, Ivy Ngeow, Krishnaveni Panikker, Sylvia Petter, Shafiqah Alliah Razman, San Lin Tun and Yang Ming.

Editor/Author’s Bio: Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. She holds an MA in Writing from Middlesex University, where she won the 2005 Middlesex University Literary Press Prize out of almost 1500 entrants worldwide. Her debut, Cry of the Flying Rhino (2017), was awarded the International Proverse Prize in Hong Kong. Her novels include Overboard (2020) and Heart of Glass (2018). She lives in London.