Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Asian Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where Asian authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being Asian, Asian books, and the experiences of being an Asian reader. (Note: Here is an explanation of why we are calling this guest series ‘Asian Heritage Month’.)
If you know me, you know I am always on the hunt for Crazy Rich Asians readalikes. While I can give some criticisms to CRA, including some issues with the representation of South Asians and mental health in the third novel (not Colin Khoo’s depression because WE STAN A STRONG FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN MEN!), it was one of the first book series I ever saw myself in. Now, moving into my late 20s, I also look for plucky heroines navigating the same life stage as myself. Enough about me though, let me tell you about the amazing book I just read…
Enter Last Tang Standing. It fills all my briefs, expectations, and more. The protagonist, 33 year old and single Andrea Tang navigates her career as a lawyer who works HELLA hard at her Singapore law firm but has to fend off her mother and other aunties’ misgivings about her dating life. I was so excited to interview Lauren, especially to talk to her about her inspirations and, of course, all the yummy food she mentions in the book. It is my honor to welcome Lauren to the Pond today! She visits us as a Pallas’s cat holding a jade-green napkin!
Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho
At thirty-three, Andrea Tang is living the dream: she has a successful career as a lawyer, a posh condo, and a clutch of fun-loving friends who are always in the know about Singapore’s hottest clubs and restaurants. All she has to do is make partner at her law firm and she will have achieved everything she (and her mother) has ever worked for. So what if she’s poised to be the last unmarried member of her generation of the Tang clan? She doesn’t need a man to feel fulfilled, no matter what her meddling relatives have to say about it.
But for a dutiful Chinese-Malaysian daughter, the weight of familial expectations is hard to ignore. And so are the men life keeps throwing in Andrea’s path. Men like Suresh Aditparan, her annoyingly attractive rival for partner and the last man she should be spending time with, and Eric Deng, a wealthy entrepreneur whose vision for their future is more lavish than she could have imagined. With her workplace competition growing ever more intense, her friends bringing dramas of their own to her door, and her family scrutinizing her every romantic prospect, Andrea finds herself stretched to the breaking point. And she can’t help but wonder: In the endless tug-of-war between pleasing others and pleasing herself, is there room for everyone to win?
Last Tang Standing is as hilarious as it is true and intersectionally feminist, touching on intergenerational challenges, and being a woman in a high-powered job. It is also accurately modern and describes the foibles of Tinder, while having all of the lavish adventures and goods of the Crazy Rich Asians series. It also includes a book club and good food. Did I mention the book club and good food? Maybe I’ll just mention it again for good measure.
Author Interview: Lauren Ho
Joce: Hi Lauren! Thank you for joining us at the Pond, and welcome! We are so excited to have you here to celebrate Asian Heritage Month. Can you please tell us about yourself?
Lauren: Thanks for having me. My name is Lauren Ho and I’m a reformed legal counsel who writes funny, moving stories. I’m from Malaysia but have spent half my life abroad, living in the United Kingdom, France and Luxembourg, and, more recently, in Singapore. You can see what I’m up to in a non-stalker way on @hellolaurenho on Twitter, IG, FB and hellolaurenho.com.
Joce: One thing that struck me in your author bio is how many places you have traveled to and lived in. What is a memorable story from one of these locations?
Lauren: I dived with whale sharks a few years ago in the Philippines. That was a quietly beautiful, and mortally terrifying experience (I blame Pinocchio, Jaws, and Moby Dick for instilling a deep fear of large aquatic creatures)
Joce: My experience as an Asian-American woman has varied in different places I’ve lived and traveled. Did your experience as a Malaysian woman differ in the places you’ve been to and lived in, and if so, how?
Lauren: This is a complicated question for me. I am Chinese-Malaysian, someone who has grown up a minority (even if it’s one with “critical mass”), in my native country. To this day, institutionalized racism is the norm, with racial discrimination and the feeling of being othered so commonplace amongst the Malaysian Chinese that many of us have grown up internalising it as being inescapable, par for the course. And Malaysian Chinese aren’t necessarily accorded the status of a “model” minority—we’re sometimes cast by certain political powers as the “troublemaking” minority. Despite being third generation Malaysian, I’ve struggled, and still continue to, with issues of assimilation, of belonging, of simply being. Yet, despite it all, I’m proudly Malaysian.
Growing up Chinese-Malaysian has certainly impacted the way I view the world, how I adjust the way I position myself in each foreign country I go to, whether subconsciously or not.
My experiences as an ethnic minority while living in the UK, Luxembourg or France were generally positive, although language and culture made integrating with the local populace difficult at times. Nonetheless, there’s something to be said about living in relatively multicultural cities in each of these three countries, which attenuates the feeling of alienation one carries as a minority somewhat.
And of course, when you go to a country where you are part of the racial majority (for me, it was the case in Singapore and in Hong Kong, the latter a city which I travelled to regularly for work), your privilege becomes apparent to you. It’s disconcerting how much the racial composition of a country still has so much impact on one’s experience inhabiting a space.
Joce: Let’s talk about your recent release, Last Tang Standing! Apart from what readers can find on the dust jacket, tell us something special about the book or your characters.
Lauren: I will say that Andrea’s comedic voice is very much inspired by my background as an amateur stand-up comic. Humour is subjective, of course, but the majority of readers have mentioned that they found my book hilarious. My book should appeal to those who like stand-up comedy, even if they aren’t fans of the coming-of-age or romcom genre.
Joce: Your book is being blurbed as Crazy Rich Asians meets Bridget Jones’ Diary (both of which, by the way, I adore!). What similarities and differences do you think your book has to each of these works?
Lauren: Crazy Rich Asians is epic. I love Kevin Kwan’s books and I’m flattered that my publishers billed my book as a cross between CRA and Bridget Jones’s Diary, two books which I adore for different reasons. In terms of similarities, of course on the surface my book and CRA are set in Singapore and there are displays of wealth by some of the characters, but it’s not at the forefront of the narrative. None of my characters are themselves crazy rich, even if they are immensely privileged in their own ways.
I also think the tone of my book is much snarkier and sardonic compared to CRA and Bridget Jones’s Diary. In terms of the narrative and some of the themes, my book probably more closely resembles Bridget Jones’s Diary, but the cultural references, the multi-ethnic cast set my book apart from Helen Fielding’s.
Joce: Apart from these two works, what pieces of media, if any, did you draw from when writing your novel?
Lauren: I was also inspired by the late, great Sue Townsend, whose Adrian Mole series was a great source of mirth and joy to me growing up.
Joce: I for one, love the tone, style, age group, and genre of Last Tang Standing. I am always looking for more books that are similar across all these categories and I’m sure our visitors to the Pond will as well. Could you recommend us some that you love by Asian or Asian-American authors?
Lauren: We all need some humour now, so I’m happy to share some of my recent humorous reads. I enjoyed my fellow 2020 debuts Sajni Patel’s The Trouble With Hating You, and Madi Sinha’s The White Coat Diaries. In terms of older books, I loved Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang. From Malaysia, Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh Investigates series is fun. From Singapore, I liked Suffian Hakim’s book the Minorities.
Joce: One last question, I noticed a lot of references to food and restaurants (mmm!) in Singapore in the book. What are some of your favorite dishes that you can find in Singapore?
Lauren: I love Hainanese chicken rice and assam laksa. These are my comfort foods. I try to make them when I’m overseas but it’s so difficult to get them right at home. I just make do with goblin versions of the originals when I’m away from Malaysia and Singapore.
About the Author
Lauren is a reformed legal counsel who writes funny stories. Hailing from Malaysia, she lived in the United Kingdom, France and Luxembourg before moving with her family to Singapore, where she is ostensibly working on her next novel. LAST TANG STANDING is not based on her mother. At all. Seriously.
So from that interview (and my very positive thoughts!), it is probably clear that you should run and not walk to buy, borrow, or scream about Last Tang Standing! Lauren just received a starred review from Library Journal, which is extremely well deserved, so hats off to her. I hope you all enjoy the book, and thanks so much again Lauren for visiting the Pond!