An interview with Ploi Pirapokin from The Write Stuff series:
Ploi Pirapokin is an extraordinary alien born in Thailand and raised in Hong Kong. She is the Nonfiction Editor at Newfound Journal, and the Co-Editor of The Greenest Gecko: An Anthology of New Asian Fantasy forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press in 2021. Her work is featured and forthcoming in Tor.com, Pleiades: Literature in Context, Apogee Journal, and more. She is a Suga bias, a furious texter, and lives in San Francisco. More on her website: http://www.ppirapokin.com.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
Read and write. Cry. Repeat.
What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?
In the beginning of this year, Ted Chiang opened his workshop with, “Writing is not a race. If you win, you do not sweep all of the readers.” I haven’t fought with myself since.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
Why? To do what I do means constantly grieving for my ego’s death and shedding the ideals of what I am when meeting the page in service of a story. How does that sound fun?
What’s been most important to your writing: education, or the real world? Why?
Every writing class I’ve taken, every book I’ve read, and every author I’ve met has accelerated my understanding of what’s possible with words, but without my loved ones, I’d have nothing to write about and no one to write for. This is the difference between having learned and having experience.
If you could give advice to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?
“This too shall pass.”
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
Writing has made it possible for me to do the things I never imagined, so yes—I’m successful because I’m able to cultivate deeper connections with people whose company I like myself with best, simply by doing what I love.
Why do you get up every morning?
To make you smile.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her/their story?
From second wives on boats from Swatow to shophouses in Bangkok’s Chinatown, to trading precious stones across the Thai-Burmese border, to smuggling cigarettes for prisoners-of-war at the River Kwai, to opening travel agencies— all of my ancestors are important; they are my dhamma. My experience is living and reliving their processes, their relationships with one another, and their relationship to themselves in order to form new patterns of limitless kama.
What’s wrong with society today?
Where do you go to find sanctuary?
I used to dance at Entangle & Sway, drive to Tomales Bay, swim laps at the RSBC Polo Club’s swimming pool in Bangkok and peruse counterfeit stores in apartments above Ladies’ Market in Hong Kong. In quarantine, you’ll find me on Bad Bunny’s Instagram, on YouTube makeup tutorials, and all B.T.S. stan accounts on Twitter, WeVerse and TikTok.
What is your fondest memory?
All those cheers, hugs, and clinking shot glasses right now have merged into one sweet dream.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
That we become less wasteful and more resourceful with what we acquire.
What is art?
Life has no meaning in itself, but we can make life meaningful through expression.
What is the relationship between your identity and your desires?
I’m often happiest when I forget myself.
What’s your relationship to clothes? Or: describe the shoes you’re currently wearing.
I don’t wear shoes in the house (sacrilegious!) but I am basic—I’ll buy whatever has leopard print or gold sequins in a robe form.
What are you working on right now? Or: what kind of work would you like to do?
Currently, I’m completing a fantastical short story collection, “Fouis Vuittons,” set in an alternate Asia, if Asia had a different relationship with imperialism and colonialism, featuring dragons, flower-people, and ghosts.
I’ve written a draft of an essay collection, “Extraordinary Alien,” that blends personal reportage with cultural criticism, interrogating how the “Other” needs to be redefined since ethnicities and passports can no longer contain someone’s nationality, religion, or cultural beliefs.
And (gulp!) I’ve started the beginning pages of a novel chronicling four generations of two ethnic Chinese families in Southeast Asia starting in the early 20th century, continuing to Hong Kong during World War II, and ending in the late 2000s in San Francisco. My protagonists are all women, and the manuscript opens up with two best friends losing contact during the 1998 riots of Indonesia.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
People’s preference for provincialism that arise from a refusal to be curious, compassionate, and inclusive. I think it comes from fear—fear of losing control, submission, and admitting fallibility.
A night on the town: what does that mean to you?
Any night that ends with slurping noodles is a good night.
Have you ever seen a ghost? Or: what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
A man walking his hog on Divisadero street.
What’s the most important life lesson you’ve learned?
You do not act in a vacuum.
What can you do with 50 words?
The best skill I’ve learned is to write my author’s bio in 50 words.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Menthol. Joss sticks and incense. Wet, muddy termite wings stuck on glass doors. Mossy, damp ferns. Sweet, dense sticky rice.
What are you unable to live without?
If you got an all-expenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
On a yacht, drunk with B.T.S.