Thursday, 28 November 2013

Learning Chinese in 90 lessons: lesson # 88 - "Can I get back to you? I'm right in the middle of Naomi Wolf's Vagina."

Courtesy of
Lucky Amy Tan!  Her latest novel The Valley of Amazement has made the New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2013, she's spending Thanksgiving in London, and gets to hang out with Barry Humphries aka Dame Edna and me. Well, strictly speaking, she's spending more time hanging with the Humphries but we did spend about an hour last night talking face to face.

It went something like this: me and some 149 other fans rocked up to Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London to hear her sold out talk about her latest book. I got there EARLY, had a nice chat with Andy, Foyles' event manager and possibly the sweetest man in the world, and landed a seat in the front row, directly in front of Amy, having guessed correctly which of the two chairs she would be sat in.

Then me, my tiger pants and hot pink patent Doc Marten's settled in waiting for the show to start. I passed the time reading Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui (Anais Nin and Henry Miller's Chinese baby) and chatting to my two neighbours. There was the lovely Brett, a young American English Lit student from Long Beach California who was spending one semester at the University of Leicester, had come down to London on the bus and was clutching his advance copy of The Valley of Amazement which his Mum had couriered to him from Long Beach. Then there was Brenda, a deep voiced older American lady from LA who turned out to be a documentary maker, a huge Amy Tan fan ('I've brought all 8 books from my collection for her to sign. Only found out this afternoon that she was doing this event and moved heaven and earth to be here.') and an even greater fan of my tiger pants.

The talk was great. Towards the end I was one of 3 picked to ask Amy a question ('In your work, you use elements of your real life mixed in with fiction, do you have any plans to feature Bobo (her Yorkshire Terrier puppy) as a character?')  Not very highbrow but I figured that a month into her book tour, she might appreciate a question she probably hadn't answered before.

The road to restraining orders is paved with good intentions. Instead of informed and fun, I may have come across as the weirdo stalker with a crush on Bobo. But ever the consummate professional, Amy proceeded to answer my question with grace and thoughtfulness. Meeting Amy Tan in the flesh is how people have described meeting Queen Elizabeth II: flawless skin, tiny and luminescent. Amy has a transatlantic accent and a beautifully modulated voice not unlike the female Chinese speaker in my Pimsleur lessons who's pronunciation I'm trying to emulate. Everything she says sounds sexy and precious and in impeccable taste.

Unlike, some would argue, my tiger pants and pink Doc Marten's combo (and Oilyly bag).

I wish I could be her (Amy Tan that is). And if not her, at least her editor. Amy regaled us with an anecdote about working out  how much sexual language and sex scenes to include in her novel, with her (male) editor. At the end of the conversation he said to her: 'Amy, let me think about it. Right now I'm in the middle of Naomi Wolf's vagina.' Turns out he was referring to Wolf's biography 'Vagina' published last year, which he also edited. Imagine being so good at your job that you get to edit Tan and Wolf in tandem.


Speaking of being good, here's an update on my Chinese lessons. I'm becoming more confident constructing more complex questions/answers and have been learning some interesting vocabulary: hobby, listen to music, classical music, read books, novels, gym, running, tai chi and coffee house. I also understand 'fill out this form, please sign here' and 'can I use travellers' cheques - they're in US $ - as I don't have any cash.'

And on the acting front? I met a healthcare specialist a few days ago for the first time and she greeted me with a 'have we met before?'. Now, I get that a lot. I look like people's Irish cousin, a long time friend, a French actress (my personal favourite), or someone on the telly (that would be me in the Heinz tomato ketchup advert which is still running on high rotation here in the UK - long may that continue.) It turns out that although we had never met before, she had indeed seen me before, in my first ever and only corporate gig out of Drama School: a video about the importance of children for clinical studies aimed at Healthcare Professionals. It prompted my husband to quip: 'So, you're big in healthcare.'

Looks like I am.

I'd rather be in the middle of Naomi Wolf's 'Vagina'.

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