life & times

These days, Xu roams the universe of her new novel THAT MAN IN OUR LIVES (2016), starring Gordon “Gordie” Ashberry, this most enigmatic fictional character. He followed her around the world through three novels, making his first appearance in HONG KONG ROSE (1997) as a young man in 1970’s Hong Kong who met his Chinese “picture bride.” He then resurfaced in THE UNWALLED CITY (2001), to provide a little comic relief as Hong Kong sped towards its 1997 D-Day return to China. Having met his half sister in that book, he occupied even more space in HABIT OF A FOREIGN SKY (2010) to accompany his sister's transition from Hong Kong to New York in the wake of the 1998 Asian financial crisis.

What’s a novelist to do in the face of such a peripatetic and persistent character? Ruminate of course, while listening to Ella sing Rodgers & Hart’s tune from “Pal Joey”

If they asked me / I could write a book / About the way you walk and listen / And look / I could write a preface / On how we met / So the world would never forget . . .

Which is how Gordie finally got his own book.

writing life

from the first section of Xu’s new novel THAT MAN IN OUR LIVES

In the sky over the harbor, a helicopter hangs. Its blades chop, slice, shear the air, as it hovers, insistently loud, as if the city needs more noise, an even louder soundtrack to its story. Perhaps the pilot, too, is tentative—his brain fried like Pete’s—and waits, like some lost bird, for a sign from the severe clear blue.

Hong Kong is hot and Pete Gordon Haight is muddled. Noon on this Saturday in July, 70% relative humidity, is almost “severe clear.” In pilot speak, such clarity can be blinding. Pete knows; his godfather, G, taught him that years ago, the first time he took Pete up in the Cessna over Block Island Sound and beyond, east towards the Atlantic. He had been eleven, his heart jumping out of his chest as he peered through his glasses at the disappearing isle below, where his father waited nervously and his mother glowed with pride. Hey G, Pete said, it’s like the world’s vanishing. Yeah, Gordie replied, it is P, it is.

But today, he is trying not to think about Gordon Ashberry for a change, and concentrates instead on Tiara Fung, his sweetie, his fiancée who is never, ever muddled, who always knows why she does what she does and will make sure he knows as well.


Chinese name. * Xu Su Xi (P) or Hui So Sai (C).
XU XI is the author’s pinyin* short form name which is also her byline, but she is most assuredly NOT the following beings with the same pinyin name: a Chinese painter & sculptor; the author of tomes about acupuncture; a nationalist or a dissident-in-exile of any nation-state; a reality TV show host in some special economic zone or on YouTube; an Academic in any Intellectual Discipline, real or imagined, as capitalized by Pooh or some other friendly wild thing. She has however had three legal English names (as well as several best left unnamed of dubious legal quality) and strives assiduously not to acquire any others.

However, she really is the author of eleven books, including five novels, five collections of short fiction & essays and most recently INTERRUPTIONS, an ekphrastic essay collection in collaboration with photographer David Clarke, released September 13, 2016 by the University Museum and Art Gallery at the University of Hong Kong. She is also editor of four anthologies of Hong Kong writing in English. Two new books are forthcoming - a memoir for Penguin Shorts’ series on Hong Kong, AN ELEGY FOR HK (2017); a short fiction collection INSIGNIFICANCE (Signal 8 Press, 2018).

A former Indonesian national, born and raised in Hong Kong, she eventually morphed into a U.S. citizen at the age of 33, having washed onto that distant shore across from Lady Liberty. These days, she splits time between New York and Hong Kong and mourns the loss of her beloved writing retreat in Seacliff, on the South Island of New Zealand, where she hovered, joyously, for seven years.

*pinyin = transliteration for Mandarin Chinese or Putonghua (P), the official language of China although Xu is far more fluent in Cantonese (C), that being the people’s language of her birth city, Hong Kong.


From 2010 to 2016, Xu was writer-in-residence at a university in Hong Kong, although that life was annoyingly distressed by the university’s closure of Asia’s first low-residency MFA program, the very one she came back to the city to establish in 2010. Click “Writing Life, Interrupted” to read the saga of this closure. It could have been an episode for Monty Python, this dead parrot we’re all still trying to return for a refund.

More happily, she managed to exit, stage left in spring of 2016 to be writer-in-residence at Arizona State University’s Piper Writers Center where she bicycled regularly under desert skies.