The Small Joys of the Cebuano Book Reader: Kevin Kwan in Cebu

For a book reader and lover, meeting with an author face-to-face is one of the best things that could happen. Imagine enjoying a good and worthy book and wondering who wrote this creative piece of work. Good thing that for a few years now, National Bookstore has been bringing widely read authors of different genres to Philippine shores, for fans and book lovers to engage with. What used to be wishful thinking for fans has now, amazingly, become a reality. This time, they have the remarkable Kevin Kwan, US-based Singaporean author, known for his satirical novels, Crazy Rich Asians, followed by China Rich Girlfriend and his most recent work, Rich People Problems, here in the Queen City of the South, Cebu.

For those who would like to know more about these entertaining satirical novels, it starts off with Crazy Rich Asians- a novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his American-born Chinese girlfriend to the wedding of the season.

Kevin Kwan book signing event in Cebu City Philippines
Kevin Kwan

From there, one can pick up the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend- which brings readers into the elite circles of Mainland China, introducing a captivating cast of characters and offering an inside glimpse at what it’s like to be gloriously, crazily, China-rich.

The last of the trilogy, Rich People Problems- tells a story of a family driven by fortune, an ex-wife driven psychotic with jealousy, and battle royale fought through couture-gown sabotage, and the heir to one of Asia’s greatest fortunes locked out of his inheritance.

To show support for the event, excited book lovers and media representatives flocked to SM Seaside City over the last weekend of August for the press conference, and at the book signing event the day after.

Kevin Kwan book signing event in Cebu City Philippines
Kevin Kwan book-signing event

National Bookstore, together with other major sponsors, Our Home, Shangri-La Mactan Resort and Spa, and the SM Seaside City mall itself, hosted a successful press conference held at the mall’s spacious Sky Hall on the afternoon of Aug 26, 2017. Renowned blogger and style-icon Kryz Uy hosted the press conference. Kryz officially introduced to the excited audience, a smiling and cheerful Kevin Kwan, who looked great in white with comfortable slippers on. Kwan got to share his journey as a writer and what he hopes to communicate through his work.

Kevin Kwan book signing event in Cebu City Philippines
Kevin Kwan Press Conference

Now based in Manhattan, New York, Kevin Kwan was raised in Singapore where he attended an Anglo-Chinese School. He moved to the US when he was 12. Kevin obtained his degree in creative writing from the University of Houston. It will not be surprising for readers to find that his novels have a touch of Singaporean culture. This influence resonated with a wide audience in Asia, and made his first novel, Crazy Rich Asians, a national and international bestseller. 

As a first timer in Cebu, the author expressed his thoughts about the city being a very beautiful one, and if he could have more time, he’d love to explore more. He also said that what he loved about being here is the food, having experienced the staples like fried rice, mango shake, and of course, lechon. (Who doesn’t?)

When asked if comedy is his niche in the writing industry, Kevin Kwan mentioned that he hopes to change that and wants to show more of what his books have to say. We also learned that he has a new entirely different book and a TV show in the works. That would be something more for the fans to look out for.

Mr. Kwan talked about his inspiration on the diversity of his books’ characters and said that he didn’t even think of them as diverse. The inspiration for them were based on his childhood memories, having lived in different places. And the diversity of them happened quite naturally.

Even though they were inspired by his childhood memories, he also shared that nothing is really based on fact. He started with short stories for some of his main characters and had these stories stitched together. Having lived in Singapore, it’s not something of a fact, but can be true to other people especially with the famous ones- his work is a like a tribute to family drama.

With his novels reaching a different range of audiences, especially to the so called “millenials”, his modesty shows when he expressed that he never expected to be on this point and this is something beyond his wildest dreams. He thinks of it as perfect timing, as this kind of experience could have happened to any author and if he did the book ten years ago, he wouldn’t know if it would be this successful.

He also described his writing process, which has become more adaptive now that he’s been on the book tours. He used to have this rigid writing system, where he would write in the corner of his New York living room, following a disciplined schedule and never thought he could write anywhere else. With the third book, he found it a surprise to have written in a cafĂ©, and now writes when he travels, compared to being in an apartment.

What fascinates him about the Philippine society is the diversity of people, with the Filipino Chinese and Filipino Spanish factions of wealthy families that helped build the country, much like Singapore.

Though not a first timer in the Philippines, he was able to compare himself with the first time that he was able to visit the country during his college years back in 1997. Back then, he was into the clubbing and partying scene in Manila, compared to his second visit in 2015, where he came on a book tour for China Rich Girlfriend and was able to see the country more and spent time with different types of people, and stay connected with the friendships he’s made. 

Being immersed with people from different backgrounds, he shares that in all his books, he plays the name game- with famous people, or joining names together inspired by different people in his travels. Though not a direct reflection of his friends, he considers it a fun little treat to see a version of themselves. None of his friends or the people that he meets has their stories on the books and the way he does research is by traveling, create a scene from it and just have fun with it.

He has always envisioned his novels to be a trilogy and already knew the full story that he had to tell. He considers the third book, Rich People Problems to be his favourite book, where it took him 8 months to write while on tour. The most difficult to write though, was China Rich Girlfriend, given that he does not know China that well, being more familiar with Singapore and Hong Kong. Even so, he was able to create a sequel enjoyed by many. 

He also talks about Crazy Rich Asians, the first of the three books, being adapted into a movie. Giddy with the casting process, which began two years ago and was finalized late last year, revealing a cameo of one of Philippines’ famous celebrities, Ms. Kris Aquino, who on the second day of the book tour in Cebu, hosted the book signing event. Other projects would be a new TV show coming up, but not based on the book. He is also working on another book.

With his books, Kevin Kwan hopes to entertain people, make them laugh, create some joy and decide for themselves whatever they want to take away from it, whether money is worth the price.

We also see him making the Mag TV show hand sign with host Reena Malinao-Tan. The press conference was wrapped up as he happily signed books for those who were present.

On the book tour’s second day, assembled in SM Seaside City Wing on the afternoon of August 27, 2017, are book lovers bringing copies of Kevin Kwan’s trilogy: Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems for the awaited book signing event. 

Readers who wanted to get their copies signed had the pleasure of passing up the time reading his books or mingling with other readers, while waiting for the author to arrive. Finally, the already excited crowd got more energized with Kevin Kwan’s entourage, together with famous TV personality and dubbed Queen of all Media, Ms. Kris Aquino at the malls’ City Wing.

The two got up on stage, and with Ms. Kris Aquino’s known energetic and chatty nature, Kevin Kwan was sharing to the crowd his story as a writer. Being the youngest among three siblings, Kevin moved to Houston Texas when he was 12 years old, as influenced by his father who, went to a boarding school in Australia, fell in love with the outback, and wanted an outdoor life for his children, instead of being pampered by maids. He began writing at the age of 10, and was published at the age of 16 on a Texas based literary journal. 

His debut novel, Crazy Rich Asians, is a US national and international Best seller. With a huge Asian following, it was number one in Singapore for 38 weeks. His latest book, Rich People Problems, made it to New York Times bestseller list. 

With the upcoming Crazy Rich Asians movie, Ms. Kris Aquino finally revealed to the fans that she will have a cameo in it. She thanked the author, saying that Filipinos return the love of those who love the country as well. 

Talking more about his visit in the Philippines, Kevin Kwan was inspired by his travels in Palawan, when he came in 2015, and just had a marvelous time, where was taken to different places, discovering secret lagoons and beaches surrounded by cliffs, that gave him the inspiration to have a setting for one of the characters in his third book to have a transformative experience.

Kris Aquino appreciated the author for “bringing reading back into fashion” and identifying with his novels. That amidst the glitter and glamour the books present, it shows aspects about family relationships- something that Filipinos could find very relatable.

Kris says “you made reading something fun and close to our hearts- Filipinos can identify with affairs in the family…to realize that money is something we should never fight about; coded in glitter and glamour but it’s also about self-love, self-acceptance and following your own path”

Book signing for the fans proceeded thereafter. Taking their pictures with Kevin Kwan, books in hand and bright smiles on their faces. Truly a one of a kind experience for those who love books and a wonderful sight for those who would like to discover the magic of it.

Kevin Kwan book signing event in Cebu City Philippines
Kevin Kwan signing books

Written by Kriza Mae Alexa Rule