Interview with Christina Matula-Hakli

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Living in Asia, we are exposed to an array of traditions and beliefs, which many of us (expats) have never heard of before. I really enjoy being able to embrace a new festival, but I don’t always fully understand the meanings behind them. Luckily Christina Matula-Hakli felt the same way, and has published a book called ‘Shadow in the Moon’. It’s launch  (this Saturday at Bookazine, see details below) is perfectly timed, coinciding with the Mid-Autumn festival which this year falls on September 8th.

Hi Christina, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us your latest news?

I’m relishing having my mornings free as both kids have just started back at school after a lovely and long summer break.

I have just ventured into the world of publishing with my first book, The Shadow in the Moon:  How the Mid-Autumn Festival Began.   It is a bittersweet tale of love and loss, but also of courage and hope.  It starts with two sisters as they listen to their grandmother tell the tale of the origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival.  Hou Yi, a brave archer, saves the world from drought and is given a magic potion for his deeds.  Chang’E, his wife, courageously protects the potion from a thief and is transformed into the Lady in the Moon.  This is a tale of sweethearts, mooncakes, and how the Mid-Autumn Festival came to be.

There is also a chamber music concert on September 7th at the Asia Society in Admiralty.  It will feature a narration of the story accompanied by original music composed by Alexis Alrich, which features both Chinese and Western instruments, played by some of Hong Kong’s top professional musicians. There will be a lantern making workshop beforehand and a chance for kids to display their lanterns and eat mooncakes after the concert.  The concert is part of the Premiere Performances PLAY! family series (www.pphk.org)

What inspired you to do this book?

My mother is Taiwanese, but growing up in Canada, we spoke English at home; as I did not learn to speak Chinese, I have always felt like I was missing out on part of my cultural identity.  When my husband and I moved to Hong Kong, I took the opportunity to immerse myself in Chinese language studies.  Along with the language, I learned about all the wonderful festivals and customs in Chinese culture.  My children were also learning about these as well, and I began searching for picture books we could read together, specifically ones about the Mid-Autumn Festival, but I was unable to find anything at the time.  So, I decided to write one myself.  Initially, the idea was to write a picture book just for my own family, but as it developed, I thought it was something that I would like to share, that would perhaps spark an interest in Chinese culture in young children.

Where can we buy it?

It is available at Bookazine stores, where I will be doing a reading and signing on Saturday, September 6th at 3:00 pm (Prince’s Building).  It will also be available for sale at the Asia Society during the concert on Sunday, September 7th and via my website:  www.theshadowinthemoon.com

Tell us about the illustrations and how you collaborated to bring them to life in the book?

Pearl Law is a very talented local illustrator and can see her work in the SCMP and on her blog pearlillustrates.com.  I gave her an indication of what I wanted depicted on each page, as in the action or setting, but she was responsible for all the details and touches that brought the story to life.  We were able to bounce ideas off each other and she was a lot of fun to work with.

What book/s are you reading at present?

I’m currently reading ‘I know why the caged bird sings’ by Maya Angelou.  It’s the first time I’ve read one of her works and her writing is absolutely beautiful despite touching on some dark topics.  It details her life as a young girl in the Deep South and how her strength and intelligence helped her cope with her environment.

Which writers inspire you?

I love writers who write about strong female characters; those who stay true to themselves despite not fitting into societal expectations.  These range from Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, to Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) and Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale).

How do you relax?

I play field hockey for a local club, which is a lot of fun and keeps me active.  I’m toying with the idea of doing an adult beginner ballet class – it’s never too late to live the dream.  I also enjoy baking; just simple things like muffins or banana bread.  I like how simply and quickly you can mix things around the kitchen and turn them into something so tasty.  Plus, it’s something fun I can do together with the kids.

What is your favourite motivational phrase?

It’s about having the courage to try and not being afraid of failure:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take – from Wayne Gretzky, best ever ice hockey player in the world and fellow Canadian.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

  • Be confident and strong enough not to worry about fitting in or what others think, but always be kind and compassionate
  • Realize that the decisions you make when you are young can have an impact on your later life (read:  do your math homework!)
  • Take care of your skin (and don’t skip class to suntan)

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

I have always loved Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  It’s a timeless classic – I read it as a young girl and have just re-read it recently.  I think Anne Shirley (Anne with an E) is a great role model – strong, intelligent, and courageous.  Even though she was a poor orphan, she would remain positive; when girls were supposed to learn to be good homemakers, she received a scholarship and went to university; and when others questioned her or tried to put her down, she was always true to herself.

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