Kwan’s debut novel is a fun, over-the-top romp through the unbelievable world of the Asian jet set, where anything from this season is already passé and one’s pedigree is everything. When Rachel Chu’s boyfriend, Nick Young, invites her home to Singapore for the summer, she doesn’t realize how much gossip she’s generated among Asian socialites around the world. To Rachel, Nick is a sweet, intelligent history professor—and the first man she’s imagined marrying. To the Asian billionaire set, he’s the gorgeous heir apparent to one of China’s most “staggeringly rich” and well-established families who virtually control the country’s commerce with their ancient fortunes. As soon as she steps off the plane, Rachel is ushered into the opulent world of castle-like estates and mind-boggling luxury. As if the shock of realizing the scale of Nick’s wealth is not enough, she must also contend with a troupe of cruel socialites who would absolutely die before they let Singapore’s most eligible bachelor get snapped up by a no-name “ABC” (American-born Chinese). There is also Nick’s family—his imposing mother, Eleanor, who has exact ideas about who Nick should be dating; his beautiful cousin Astrid, who the younger girls dub “the Goddess” for her stunning fashion sense (she was “the first to pair a vintage Saint Laurent Le Smoking jacket with three-dollar batik shorts”); and Nick’s cousin, the flamboyant Oliver, who helps Rachel navigate this strange new world. A witty tongue-in-cheek frolic about what it means to be from really old money and what it’s like to be crazy rich. (June)
From the Publisher
"A dizzily shopaholic comedy of crass manners . . . Crazy Rich Asians offers refreshing nouveau voyeurism to readers who long ago burned out on American and English aspirational fantasies. Mr. Kwan either knows, or does a good job of pretending to know, how the very rich of Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai show off their lucre . . . Hilarious . . . This book name-drops about many different Asian cultures and mixes rude slang from Malay and the Cantonese and Hokkien dialects of Chinese . . . Mr. Kwan makes the most of them . . . A grand tour of a humorously grandiose and showoffy world. Mr. Kwan knows how to deliver guilty pleasures. He keeps the repartee nicely outrageous, the excess wretched and the details wickedly delectable."
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Kwan’s rollicking, often-riotous debut novel, Crazy Rich Asians, reads like a behind-the-scenes primer of the rising über-elite of the ever-powerful Asian world . . . . the reader is given an intimate window into the spending and investing patterns, and burgeoning and crumbling relationships of this upper echelon of extraordinary wealth . . . an entertaining, engrossing novel . . . a lively, generous story of shallow extravagance and human devotion.”
—S. Kirk Walsh, The Boston Globe
“Crazy Rich Asians has all the plot and color of a tabloid mag, set in Asia. This means that front doors are cathedral sized, millions are now billions and shopping is, as one character puts it, ‘Fifth Avenue on steroids’ . . . Put on your designer shades, stuff an umbrella into your drink, and lose yourself in the antics of people who cheat on their husbands with secret overseas shopping trips. By the time you've finished you should have a rich, golden tan.”
—Emma Keller, The Guardian (UK)
“A debut novel that sheds light on the gilded world of Asian wealth and shopping culture that most Westerners only catch glimpses of.”
—Sarah Hampson, The Globe and Mail (Canada)
“Deliciously decadent . . . Rachel, an American-born Chinese (ABC), has no idea what to expect when she visits Singapore to meet her boyfriend Nick’s multibillionaire family. There, she discovers mind-blowing opulencenext season’s couture, palatial properties, million-dollar shopping spreesand the over-the-top bad behavior that comes with it . . . This 48-karat beach read is crazy fun.”
—Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly
“There’s rich, there’s filthy rich, and then there’s crazy rich . . . A Pride and Prejudice-like send-up about an heir bringing his Chinese-American girlfriend home to meet his ancestor-obsessed family, the book hilariously skewers imperial splendor and the conniving antics of the Asians jet set.”
“When Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians has a mother in Singapore telling her girls to finish everything on their plates because ‘there are children starving in America,’ it’s O.K. to get the joke. There’s no need to dwell on what it really means. Crazy Rich Asians is this summer’s ‘Bergdorf Blondes,’ over-the-top funny and a novelty to boot. Mr. Kwan delivers nonstop hoots about a whole new breed of rich, vulgar, brand-name-dropping conspicuous consumers, with its own delicacies, curses, vices, stereotypes (‘I hope she’s not one of those Taiwanese tornadoes!’) and acronyms. According to Mr. Kwan, this crowd uses U.B.C., as the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, is known, to mean ‘University of a Billion Chinese.’ How rich and vulgar are the Anglophile Asians of this debut novel? Rich enough to throw a diamond of more than 30 carats into a snowdrift and not look for it. So vulgar that a Cirque du Soleil troupe has to show up to convey that things have gotten crass. So steeped in wretched excess that one man boasts about the precise temperature his climate-controlled shoe closet should be.”
—The New York Times Beach Reading Roundup
“Mr. Kwan’s delightfully soapy debut, [is] set in the glamorous beau monde of Singapore—‘the Switzerland of Asia’—with excursions to Paris, Hong Kong and a private Indonesian island . . . It’s through Rachel, the wide-eyed interloper, that we view the extravagances of this ‘secretive, rarefied circle of families . . .’ Mr. Kwan’s book eats its chiffon cake and has it too, simultaneously tut-tutting many of its characters for their vapid materialism while reveling in the milieu’s sybaritic excess . . . Mr. Kwan skillfully engineers a good-natured story in which Rachel must overcome the schemes of Nicholas's disapproving mother.”
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
“Crazy Rich Asians is like Dynasty on steroids with more private jets, bigger houses, and a lot more money. It is the very definition of a beach read. I finished it over a weekend and by the end was longing to see the ridiculously extravagant and over-the-top world that Mr. Kwan had created.... I predict this will be the 50 Shades of Grey of this summer.”
—Michael Carl, VanityFair.com
“Crazy Rich Asians is both a deliciously satiric read and a Fodor’s of sorts to the world of Singapore’s fabulously monied, both new and old.”
—Sherryl Connelly, New York Daily News
“Kwan is a modern-day Jane Austen, never mind gender or ethnicity, because he is writing about the same human pride and prejudices that consumed Austen 200 years ago. In this comedy of manners about star-crossed lovers fighting against class distinctions and family pressures, the comparison between the Bennets, Bingleys and Darcys of 18th-century England and the Chus, Leongs and Youngs of 21st-century Singapore is most appropriate . . . Kwan comes across as an Asian Tom Wolfe . . . easily transports captive readers from Sex and the City New York and to sensual Singapore, lush with flowers, savoury with food, luxurious with designer labels and glittering jewels. But beneath all this is the cruel menace of old money and unyielding traditional family mandates that aim to prevent the characters from living life according to their own desires.”
—Christine Mazur, Winnipeg Free Press
“It’s impossible not to get sucked into this satirical novel about the jet-setting lives of an enormous busybody family and its infinite Louboutin collection.”
“Kwan’s book was not nominated for a Booker, but if you want to peek into the world of wealthy Southeast Asian-Chinese elites, if you want to understand what drives these people who control the economy of a major cross-roads of the world, Kwan’s book is the one to beat.”
"An entertaining and well-written book about the life of the Chinese super-rich, a new class who are keeping alive five-star hotels, restaurants and luxury shops around the world . . . The wealth of the book is in the detail—of the personalities, the places, the clothes and the colours of Singapore, Kwan's native place."
—Louise Rosario, South China Morning Post
“Read Kevin Kwan’s debut, Crazy Rich Asians, on an exotic beach in super-expensive sunglasses . . . [Rachel] encounters outré fashion, private jets, and a set of aristocratic values so antiquated they’d make the Dowager Countess proud.”
—Entertainment Weekly Summer Roundup
“With his debut novel, [Kwan] delivers an uproarious, comical satire about a jet-set life that most of us can only imagine. It’s a page-turner that will leave you wanting more.”
—Claudia McNeilly, Hello! Magazine (Canada)
“Mordantly funny . . . In Kevin Kwan’s winning summer satire, Crazy Rich Asians, a young woman discovers her boyfriend belongs to a milieu of unimaginable splendor—and snobbery.”
"Deliciously decadent . . . Rachel, an American-born Chinese (ABC), has no idea what to expect when she visits Singapore to meet her boyfriend Nick's multibillionaire family. There, she discovers mind-blowing opulencenext season's couture, palatial properties, million-dollar shopping spreesand the over-the-top bad behavior that comes with it . . . This 48-karat beach read is crazy fun."
—Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly
"There's rich, there's filthy rich, and then there's crazy rich . . . A Pride and Prejudice-like send-up about an heir bringing his Chinese-American girlfriend home to meet his ancestor-obsessed family, the book hilariously skewers imperial splendor and the conniving antics of the Asians jet set."
"Crazy Rich Asians is like Dynasty on steroids with more private jets, bigger houses, and a lot more money. It is the very definition of a beach read. I finished it over a weekend and by the end was longing to see the ridiculously extravagant and over-the-top world that Mr. Kwan had created . . . I predict this will be the 50 Shades of Grey of this summer."
—Michael Carl, VanityFair.com
“A juicy, close anthropological read of Singapore high society and its social and mating rituals . . . Kwan’s satirical portrayal rings so true, I fear he’ll need to bring a bodyguard next time he lands at Changi Airport. He gets the idiosyncratic details right: the market-savvy wives who day-trade and invest in poverty; . . . the encyclopedic fashion knowledge; the Bible-study get-togethers; the way the whole milieu is interrelated by blood or marriage. And he does a particularly good job of illustrating the divide . . . between mainland wealth and establishment money—an uneasy tension that is very real.”
—Janice Y. K. Lee, Elle
“Jane Austen, or maybe Edith Wharton, goes to Singapore, turning in this lively, entertaining novel of manners. . . . Kwan’s characters are urban sophisticates par excellence . . . A diverse set of characters and a light, unstrained touch move Kwan’s story along. . . . An elegant comedy and an auspicious debut.”
—Kirkus (starred review)
“Merit[s] a place on the must-read list of every development exec in town . . . Aimed at Bridget Jones lovers and those who got the satire behind Psy’s Gangnam Style.”
—Andy Lewis, Hollywood Reporter
“High-quality first-time fiction . . . [An] instant favorite . . . Opulence and zaniness reign when one of Singapore’s richest bachelors invites his American-born girlfriend to travel from New York to vacation in his native country.”
—O, The Oprah Magazine
"Kwan's debut is a fun, over-the-top romp through the unbelievable world of the Asian jet set, where anything from this season is already passé and one's pedigree is everything. . . . A witty tongue-in-cheek frolic about what it means to be from really old money and what it's like to be crazy rich."
—Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week
“Kwan’s debut is a scintillating fictional look into the opulent lives of fabulously wealthy Chinese expats . . . From its delightful opening scene onward, this sleek social satire offers up more than a few hilarious moments as it skewers the crafty, rich schemers who populate its pages.”
—Kristine Huntley, Booklist
"Crazy Rich Asians is an unputdownably funny, original, modern novel. An outrageous satire of the Asian squillionaire set, this book is like a Chinese Dallas meets Pride and Prejudice. The combination of gold homewares, couture, private jets, absurd social rules and snobbery is utterly hilarious. I actually couldn't put this book down to eat or to watch Downton Abbey."
—Plum Sykes, bestselling author of Bergdorf Blondes
“As spicily adventurous and lusciously satisfying as the renowned Singaporean street food Kevin Kwan's characters argue over; hot and sizzling, like the best satay, and dreamily transporting, like everyone's favorite dessertgoreng pisang. Feast on this outrageously funny and insightful novel of modern manners, and enjoy!”
—Lisa See, bestselling author of Dreams of Joy and Shanghai Girls
"Crazy Rich Asians is a shrewd, funny, sexy look at the spoiled jet-setter children of the Asian super-rich. It is at once a love story and a potent combination of vintage Jackie Collins and early Evelyn Waugh, everything you wanted to know about young people who have more fun, style and money than is good for them, and don't care a bit. A stunning debut."
—Michael Korda, bestselling author of Charmed Lives and Queenie
“Original and fun, Crazy Rich Asians is quite a roller coaster trip. I loved it!”
—Jackie Collins, bestselling author of The Power Trip
When Nicholas Young asks American-born Rachel Chu to summer with him at his home in Singapore, she doesn't realize that he is in fact heir to one of Asia's wealthiest families. Juicy stuffy that's culturally interesting for clarifying the difference between mainland and overseas Chinese; billed as Jackie Collins meets Amy Tan.
Jane Austen, or maybe Edith Wharton, goes to Singapore, turning in this lively, entertaining novel of manners. You've got to like any novel set in Asia that includes, among many splendid one-liners, this amah's admonition: "Don't you know there are children starving in America?" Of varying ethnicities but resolutely members of the 1 percent or aspiring, one way or another, to be so, Kwan's characters are urban sophisticates par excellence, many of them familiar with the poshest districts of London, Paris, New York and Hong Kong. Many of them are also adrift, with soulless consumerism replacing society: It's Less Than Zero without all the coke. When socialite Astrid, for instance, is in a mood, as she so often is, she goes shopping in boutiques haunted by "the wives of Persian Gulf sheikhs, Malay sultans, and the Indonesian Chinese oligarchs." Not half-bad company, but then Astrid moves in a rarefied circle around the richest of the rich. At its center is 32-year-old Nicholas Young, whose ABC girlfriend--American-born Chinese, that is--Rachel Chu, has come to Singapore to meet the family. To Nick's credit, she is taken aback by just how phenomenally wealthy they are. "It's like any big family," Nick assures her. "I have loudmouth uncles, eccentric aunts, obnoxious cousins, the whole nine yards." Well, and then some. Rachel discovers that the position of being Nick's intended isn't an easy one--not only are there other would-be plutocrats gunning for the spot, but the family also doesn't make things easy, either. A diverse set of characters and a light, unstrained touch move Kwan's story along. Yet, even though one feels for Rachel, there's a point--right about at the spot where one of her new girlfriends is showing off the yoga studio inside daddy's new jet--that one gets the feeling that Ho Chi Minh might have had a point after all. An elegant comedy and an auspicious debut.
Read an Excerpt
As Peik Lin’s car approached the porte cochere of Tyersall Park, Nicholas Young bounded down the front steps. “I was worried you’d gotten lost,” he said, opening the car door.
“We did get a bit lost, actually,” Rachel replied.
“For some strange reason, your grandmother’s house didn’t show up on my GPS,” said Peik Lin, who prided herself on knowing every street in Singapore.
Rachel got out of the car and stared up at the majestic facade before her. “Am I really late?”
“No, it’s OK,” Nick said. “Peik Lin—thanks so much for giving Rachel a lift.”
“Of course,” Peik Lin murmured, rather stunned by her surroundings. She paused, thinking Nick might invite her in for a drink, but no invitation seemed forthcoming. Finally she said as nonchalantly as possible, “This is quite a place—is it your grandmother’s?”
“Yes,” Nick replied.
“Has she lived here a long time?” Peik Lin asked, craning to get a better look.
“Since she was a young girl.”
What Peik Lin really wanted to ask was, Who on earth is your grandmother? “Well, you two have a great time,” she said instead, winking at Rachel and mouthing Call me later. Rachel gave her friend a quick smile.
Nick turned to Rachel, looking a little sheepish. “I hope it’s OK . . . but it’s not just the family. My grandmother decided to have a small party at the last minute because her tan hua flowers are going to bloom tonight.”
“She’s throwing a party because some flowers are in bloom?” Rachel asked.
“Well, these are very rare. They bloom only about once every decade, and only at night. The whole thing lasts just a few hours. It’s quite something.”
“Sounds cool, but now I’m feeling really underdressed,” Rachel said, eyeing the fleet of limousines lining the driveway. She was wearing a sleeveless, chocolate-colored linen dress, a pair of low-heeled sandals, and the only expensive piece of jewelry she owned—Mikimoto pearl studs that her mother had given her when she got her doctorate.
“Not at all—you look absolutely perfect,” Nick replied.
As they entered the house, Rachel was transfixed for a few moments by the intricate black, blue, and coral mosaic tile pattern on the floor of what appeared to be a large foyer. Then, to her amazement, a tall, spindly Indian man standing next to a table clustered with pots of enormous white-and-purple phalaenopsis orchids bowed ceremoniously to her.
“Everyone’s upstairs in the living room,” Nick said, leading Rachel toward a carved-stone staircase. She saw something out of the corner of her eye and let out a quick gasp. By the side of the staircase lurked a huge tiger, mouth open in a ferocious growl.
“It looks so real!” Rachel said.
“It was real,” Nick said. “It’s a native Singaporean tiger. They used to roam this area. My great-grandfather shot it when it ran into the house and hid under the billiard table, or so the story goes.”
“Poor guy,” Rachel said.
“It used to scare the hell out of me when I was little. I never dared go near the foyer at night,” Nick said.
“You grew up here?” Rachel asked in surprise.
“Yes, until I was about seven.”
“You never told me you lived in a palace.”
“This isn’t a palace. It’s just a big house.”
“Nick, where I come from, this is a palace,” Rachel said, gazing up at the cast-iron-and-glass cupola soaring above them. The murmur of party chatter and piano keys wafted down. As they entered the drawing room, Rachel felt momentarily giddy, as if she had been transported back in time to the grand lounge of a twenties ocean liner, en route from Venice to Istanbul, perhaps.
The “living room,” as Nick so modestly called it, was a gallery that ran along the entire northern end of the house, with Art Deco divans, wicker club chairs, and ottomans casually grouped into intimate seating areas. A row of tall plantation doors opened onto a veranda, inviting a view of verdant parklands and the scent of night-blooming jasmine into the room. At the far end of the room a young man in a tuxedo played on a Bösendorfer grand piano. Rachel longed to study every exquisite detail: the exotic potted palms in massive Qianlong dragon jardinieres, the lacquered teak surfaces, the silver-and-lapis-lazuli-filigreed walls. The glamorous guests, she couldn’t help noticing, appeared completely at ease lounging on the shantung silk ottomans while a retinue of white-gloved servants circulated with trays of cocktails.
“Here comes my cousin Astrid’s mother,” Nick muttered. A stately-
looking lady approached them, wagging a finger at Nick.
“Nicky, you naughty boy, why didn’t you tell us you were back?” The woman spoke in a clipped English accent straight out of a Merchant Ivory film. Rachel couldn’t help but notice how her tightly permed black hair fittingly resembled the Queen of England’s.
“So sorry, I thought you and Uncle Harry would be in London at this time of the year. Dai gu cheh, this is my girlfriend, Rachel Chu. Rachel, this is my auntie Felicity Leong.”
Felicity nodded at Rachel, boldly scanning her up and down.
“So nice to meet you,” Rachel said, unsettled by her hawklike gaze.
“Is Astrid here yet?” Nick asked.
“Aiyah, you know that girl is always late!” At that moment, his aunt noticed an elderly Indian woman in a gold-and-peacock-blue sari being helped up the stairs. “Dear Mrs. Singh, when did you get back from Udaipur?” she screeched, pouncing on the woman as Nick guided Rachel out of the way.
“Who is that lady?” Rachel asked.
“That’s Mrs. Singh, a family friend who used to live down the street. She’s the daughter of a maharaja and was great friends with Nehru. I’ll introduce you later, when my aunt isn’t breathing down our necks.”
“Her sari is absolutely stunning,” Rachel remarked, gazing at the elaborate gold stitching.
“I hear she flies all her saris back to New Delhi to be specially cleaned,” Nick said as he tried to escort Rachel toward the bar, unwittingly steering her into the path of a very posh-looking middle-aged couple. The man had a pompadour of Brylcreemed black hair while his wife wore a classic gold-buttoned red-and-white Chanel suit.
“Uncle Dickie, Auntie Nancy, meet my girlfriend, Rachel Chu,” Nick said. “Rachel, this is my uncle and his wife, from the T’sien side of the family.”
“Ah, Rachel, I’ve met your grandfather in Taipei . . . Chu Yang Chung, isn’t it?” Uncle Dickie asked.
“Er . . . actually, no. My family isn’t from Taipei,” Rachel stammered.
“Oh. Where are they from, then?”
“Guangdong originally, and nowadays California.”
Uncle Dickie looked a bit taken aback, while his well-coiffed wife grasped his arm tightly and continued. “Oh, we know California very well. Northern California, actually.”
“Yes, that’s where I’m from,” Rachel replied politely.
“Ah, well then, you must know the Gettys? Ann is a great friend of mine,” Nancy effused.
“Um, are you referring to the Getty Oil family?”
“Is there any other?” Nancy asked.
“Rachel’s from Cupertino, not San Francisco, Auntie Nancy. And that’s why I need to introduce her to Francis Leong over there, who I hear is going to Stanford this fall,” Nick cut in, quickly moving Rachel along. The next half hour was a blur of nonstop greetings, as Rachel was introduced to aunties and uncles and cousins, the distinguished though diminutive Thai ambassador, and the sultan of some unpronounceable Malay state, along with his two wives in bejeweled head scarves.
One woman seemed to command the attention of the room. She was very slim and aristocratic-looking with snow-white hair and ramrod-straight posture, dressed in a long white silk cheongsam. Most of the guests orbited around her, paying tribute, and when she at last came toward them, Rachel noticed Nick’s resemblance to her. Rachel decided to greet her in Mandarin, but before Nick could make proper introductions, she bowed her head nervously and said, “It is such a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for inviting me to your beautiful home.”
The woman looked at her quizzically and replied slowly in Mandarin, “It is a pleasure to meet you, too, but you are mistaken; this is not my house.”
“Rachel, this is my great-aunt Rosemary,” Nick explained hurriedly.
“And you’ll have to forgive me, my Mandarin is really quite rusty,” Great-Aunt Rosemary added in a Vanessa Redgrave English.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Rachel said, her cheeks flushing bright red. She could feel all eyes in the room upon her, amused by her faux pas.
“No need to apologize.” Great-Aunt Rosemary smiled graciously. “Nick has told me quite a bit about you, and I was so looking forward to meeting you.”
Nick put his arm around Rachel and said, “Here, come meet my grandmother.” They walked across the room, and on the sofa closest to the veranda sat an older woman dressed simply in a rose-colored silk blouse and tailored cream trousers, her steel-gray hair held in place by an ivory headband. Standing behind her were two ladies in immaculate matching gowns of iridescent silk.
Nick addressed his grandmother in Cantonese. “Ah ma, I’d like you to meet my friend Rachel Chu, from America.”
“So nice to meet you!” Rachel blurted, forgetting her Mandarin.
Nick’s grandmother peered up at Rachel. “Thank you for coming,” she replied haltingly, in English, before turning to resume her conversation with a woman at her side. The two ladies swathed in silk stared inscrutably at Rachel.
“Let’s get some punch,” Nick said, directing Rachel toward a table dominated by a huge Venetian glass punch bowl.
“That had to be the most awkward moment of my life,” Rachel whispered.
“Nonsense. She was just in the middle of another conversation,” Nick said.
“Who were those two elegant women in matching silk dresses standing like statues behind her?” Rachel asked.
“Her lady’s maids. They never leave her side. They’re from Thailand and were trained to serve in the royal court.”
“Is this a common thing in Singapore? Importing royal maids from Thailand?” Rachel asked incredulously.
“I don’t believe so. This service was a special lifetime gift to my grandmother.”
“A gift? From whom?”
“The King of Thailand.”
“Oh,” Rachel said. She took the glass of punch from Nick and noticed that the fine etching on the Venetian glassware perfectly matched the intricate fretwork pattern on the ceiling. She leaned against the back of a sofa for support.There was so much for her to take in. Who knew that Nick’s family would turn out to be so grand? And why hadn’t he prepared her better?
Rachel felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around to see Nick’s cousin, Astrid Leong, holding a sleepy toddler. “Astrid!” she cried, delighted to see a friendly face. Astrid was wearing the chicest outfit Rachel had ever seen—an embroidered Alexis Mabille white peasant blouse, pearl-gray Lanvin cigarette pants, and a fantastical pair of bejeweled earrings, very Millicent Rogers. So this was Astrid in her natural habitat.
“Hello, hello!” Astrid said cheerily. “Cassian, say hi to Auntie Rachel.” The child stared at Rachel, then buried his head into his mother’s shoulder. “So,” she continued, “how are you finding Singapore so far? Having a good time?”
“A great time! Although tonight’s been a bit . . . overwhelming.”
“I can only imagine,” Astrid said with a knowing glint in her eye.
A melodious peal rang out. An elderly woman in a white cheongsam top and black silk trousers was playing a small silver xylophone by the stairs.
“Ah, the dinner gong,” Astrid said. “Come, let’s eat.”
The crowd began to make a beeline for the stairs, passing the woman with the xylophone. As they approached her, Nick gave the woman a big bear hug and exchanged a few words in Cantonese. “This is Ling Cheh, the woman who pretty much raised me from birth,” he explained. “She has been with our family since 1948.”
“Wah, nay gor nuay pang yau gum laeng, ah! Faai di git fun!” Ling Cheh commented, grasping Rachel’s hand gently. Nick grinned, blushing a little. Astrid quickly translated: “Ling Cheh just teased Nick about how pretty his lady friend is.” Then she whispered to Rachel, “She also ordered him to marry you soon!” Rachel laughed.
A buffet supper had been set up in the conservatory, an elliptical-shaped room with frescoed walls of Chinese mountainscapes. Three enormous tables gleamed with silver chafing dishes, one offering Thai delicacies, another Malaysian cuisine, and the last classic Chinese dishes. Rachel came upon a tray of exotic-looking golden wafers folded into little top hats. “What in the world are these?” she wondered aloud.
“That’s kueh pie tee, a nyonya dish. Little tarts filled with jicama, carrots, and shrimp. Try one,” a voice behind her said. Rachel looked around and saw a dapper man in a white linen suit. He bowed in a courtly manner and introduced himself. “We’ve never properly met. I’m Oliver T’sien, Nick’s cousin.” Yet another Chinese relative with a British accent, but his sounded even plummier than the rest.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Rachel——”
“Yes, I know. Rachel Chu, of Cupertino, Palo Alto, Chicago, and Manhattan. You see, your reputation precedes you.”
“Does it?” Rachel asked, trying not to sound too surprised.
“Don’t you know how much the tongues have been wagging since you’ve arrived?” he said mischievously.
“I had no clue,” Rachel said a little uneasily. Walking out onto the terrace, she noticed the lady in the Chanel suit and her husband looking toward her expectantly.
Oliver grabbed her plate from her hand and walked it over to a table at the far end of the terrace.
“Why are you avoiding them?” Rachel asked.
“I’m not. I’m helping you avoid them. You can thank me later.”
“Why?” Rachel pressed on.
“Well, first of all, they are insufferable name-droppers, always going on about their latest cruise on so-and-so’s yacht, and second, they aren’t exactly on your team.”
“I didn’t realize I was on any team.”
“Like it or not, you are, and they are here tonight to spy for the opposition.”
“Yes. They mean to pick you apart and serve you up as an amuse-bouche the next time they’re invited to dinner.”
This Oliver seemed like a character straight out of an Oscar Wilde play. He looked to be in his mid-30s, with short, meticulously combed hair and small round tortoiseshell glasses that only accentuated his longish face. “So how exactly are you related to Nick?” Rachel asked, changing the subject.
“Nick’s grandfather James Young and my grandmother Rosemary T’sien are brother and sister.”
“But that would mean that you and Nick are second cousins.”
“Right. But here in Singapore, since extended families abound, we all just say we’re ‘cousins’ to avoid confusion.”
Just then Nick and Astrid appeared. Oliver turned to Astrid and his eyes widened. “Holy Mary Mother of Tilda Swinton, look at those earrings! Wherever did you get them?”
“At Stephen Chia’s . . . they’re VBH,” Astrid said.
“Of course they are. I wouldn’t have thought they were quite your style, but they do look fabulous on you. Hmm . . . you still can surprise me after all these years.”
“You know I try, Ollie, I try.”
“Oliver is the Asian art and antiquities expert for Christie’s in London,” Nick explained to Rachel.
“Yes, the Asian art market is heating up like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I hear that every new Chinese billionaire is trying to get their hands on a Warhol these days,” Nick remarked.
“Well, yes; there are quite a few wannabe Saatchis around, but I’m dealing more with the ones trying to buy back the great antiquities from European and American collectors. For years, hardly anyone in Asia bothered to collect Chinese pieces, not with any real discernment, anyway. Why, even your great-grandfather went mad for Art Deco when he could have snapped up all the imperial treasures coming out of China.”
Just then someone announced, “The tan huas are coming into bloom!” As the guests began to head back in, Nick pulled Rachel aside. “Here, let’s take a shortcut,” he said. Nick led her through a long passage into an enclosed courtyard that was open to the sky. Rachel couldn’t believe her eyes. It was as if they had stumbled onto a secret cloister deep within a Moorish palace. Elaborately carved columns lined the arcades around the perimeter, and a lotus blossom sculpted out of rose quartz protruded from a stone wall, spouting a stream of water. Overhead, hundreds of copper lanterns flickered with candlelight.
Rachel walked to the center of the courtyard. In the middle of a reflecting pool were huge terra-cotta urns that held the painstakingly cultivated tan huas. Rachel had never seen such exotic flowers. The tangled forest of plants grew together into a profusion of large leaves the color of dark jade. Long stems sprouted from the edges of the leaves, curving until they formed huge bulbs. Pale reddish petals curled around them. Oliver stood by the flowers, scrutinizing one of the bulbs closely.
“You know, it’s considered to be very auspicious to witness tan huas blooming in the night,” he said.
Just then Rachel noticed Nick under an arcade chatting intently with a striking woman. “Who is that woman talking to Nick?” Rachel asked.
“Oh, that’s Jacqueline Ling. An old family friend.”
Rachel stared at Jacqueline’s ballerina-like figure, shown to great advantage by the pale yellow halter top and palazzo pants that she wore with a pair of silver stilettos.
“She looks like a movie star,” Rachel commented.
“Yes, doesn’t she? I’ve always thought that Jacqueline looks like a Chinese Catherine Deneuve, only more beautiful.”
“She does look like her!”
“Widowed once, almost married a British marquess, and since then she’s been the companion of a Norwegian tycoon. There’s a story I heard as a child: Jacqueline’s beauty was so legendary that when she visited Hong Kong for the first time in the sixties, her arrival attracted a throng of spectators, as if she were Elizabeth Taylor. All the men were clamoring to propose to her, and fights broke out at the terminal. It made the newspapers, apparently.”
“All because of her beauty.”
“Yes, and her bloodline. She’s the granddaughter of Ling Yin Chao.”
“He was one of Asia’s most revered philanthropists. Built schools all over China. Not that Jacqueline is following in his footsteps, unless you consider her donations in aid of Manolo Blahnik.”
Rachel laughed, as both of them noticed that Jacqueline had one hand on Nick’s arm.
“Don’t worry—she flirts with everyone,” Oliver quipped. “Do you want another piece of juicy gossip?”
“I’m told Nick’s grandmother very much wanted Jacqueline for Nick’s father. But she didn’t succeed.”
“He wasn’t swayed by her looks?”
“Well, he already had another beauty on his hands—Nick’s mother. You haven’t met Auntie Elle yet, have you?”
“No, she went away for the weekend.”
“Hmm, how interesting. She never goes away when Nicholas is in town,” Oliver said, turning around to make sure no one was within earshot before leaning closer in. “I’d tread extra carefully around Eleanor Young if I were you. She maintains a rival court,” he said mysteriously before walking off.
Left alone, Rachel felt unnerved by his warning. She allowed her eyes to close for a moment. Every time a breeze blew, the copper lanterns swayed like hundreds of glowing orbs adrift in a dark ocean. For a moment Rachel felt as if she were floating along with them. She wondered if life with Nick would always be like this.