Nury Vittachi on Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2012
2 October 1958 |
|Pen name||Sam Jam, Lai See, Mr.Jam|
|Citizenship||Srilanka & Hong Kong|
|Notable works||The Feng Shui Detective|
Nury Vittachi (born 2 October 1958 in Ceylon) is a journalist and author based in Hong Kong. His columns are published daily, weekly in a variety of newspapers in Asia as well as on his website. He wrote the comedy-crime novel series The Feng Shui Detective, published in many languages around the world, as well as non-fiction works and novels for children. He is also noted for his role in founding the Asia Literary Review, the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, the Man Asian Literary Prize, and was the chairman of the judges of the inaugural Australia-Asia Literary Award in 2008. Vittachi currently lives in Hong Kong with his English wife Mary-Lacey Vittachi and their three adopted Chinese children. His father is the Sri Lankan journalist Tarzie Vittachi; his uncle, the late Dr V.P. Vittachi, was a major shareholder of the biggest conglomerate in Sri Lanka, the Stassen Group.
In 2015 Vittachi began contributing to the Hong Kong Free Press.
Vittachi started his journalism career on the Morning Telegraph in Sheffield in the north of England before moving to London's Fleet Street, then to Hong Kong, where he wrote the gossip columns "Lai See" (see red envelope) and "Spice Trader" for the South China Morning Post until 1997. Although remembered mainly for humor and affectionate take on cross-cultural clashes, the column was often hardhitting, and regularly received writs.
His abrupt removal at the time of the 1997 change of sovereignty was widely seen as an act of political censorship. Collected editions of the columns under titles such as Only in Hong Kong went through numerous print runs. At the Far Eastern Economic Review, Vittachi ran a similar region-wide column called "Travellers' Tales".
From the mid-1980s, Vittachi's stock-in-trade included absurd-but-true stories, funny signs, ludicrous menu items, curious business or personal names, instructions for idiots, dumb criminal tales and so on. As Internet usage grew from the mid-1990s, many of these became standard themes of web humor, and currently run on his blog www.misterjam.com. His ear for Asian English resulted in his being commissioned to write scholarly articles in the subject for academic journals.
In April 2003, when widespread fears about the SARS virus were reported in the media around the world, Vittachi wrote a series of articles scornful of the fear-mongering and argued that the virus would kill fewer people than the common cold. These articles were widely distributed via email. After his prediction was proved accurate, he received an award in 2004 from the Pacific Asia Travel Association as travel journalist of the year. This was a rare example of an email winning an award originally intended for mainstream paper-based publications.
Vittachi contributes a column to the Asian edition of Reader's Digest called Unbelievable!, in which he relates amusing anecdotes about Asian life.
Vittachi has published a series of novels, The Feng Shui Detective, in which the protagonists, a feng shui master from China, a young woman from Australia, an Indian mystic and various pan-Asian bad guys, explore Asia-Pacific. Five novels had been published by 2009, and many school age filmmakers have bid for screen rights.
Vittachi is founding editor of the Asia Literary Review, which has published work by writers such as David Mitchell, Maxine Hong Kingston, Hanif Kureishi, Thomas Keneally, William Dalrymple and Romesh Gunesekera. The journal, published since 1999, was designed for Asia-related works "unpublished in English."
He founded the Hong Kong International Literary Festival Limited in 2000 with Jane Camens.
Vittachi made numerous approaches to organizations to finance an Asian literary prize, and in 2003 spoke to senior officials at the Man Investment Group, backers of the Man Booker Prize. They declined, being in the midst of preparations to launch the Man Booker International Prize. Furthermore, relatively few novels were being published from Asia.
In 2005, Vittachi attended the Vogel prize ceremony, an award for unpublished manuscripts in Australia. On his return to Hong Kong, he combined that idea with his journal's slogan, and proposed the creation of a prize for works as yet unpublished in English. After making an impassioned speech to the Man Group's board of directors in January 2006, he secured their agreement to fund the Man Asian Literary Prize. But other individuals involved told him that as an Asian author he should be trying to win the prize, not administering it or judging it. A panel of judges from outside Asia was appointed. The dispute hit international headlines with allegations of racial insensitivity. 
In 2008, the author was invited to chair the judges for the inaugural Australia-Asia Literary Award.
- Reliable Sauce (1990)
- Only in Hong Kong (1993)
- Travellers’ Tales (1994)
- Goodbye Hong Kong, Hello Xianggang (1997)
- The Ultimate Only in Hong Kong Collection (1998)
- Guardians of the Treasure House (1998)
- Riding the Millennial Storm (1998)
- North Wind (1999)
- City of Dreams (2006)
- The Kama Sutra of Business (2007)
- The Hong Kong Joke Book (1995)
- Asian Values (1996)
- The Feng Shui Detective (2000)
- The Feng Shui Detective Goes South (2002)
- The Feng Shui Detective’s Casebook (2003)
- The Shanghai Union of Industrial Mystics (2006)
- Mr. Wong Goes West (2008)
- The Curious Diary of Mr. Jam (2012)
- Ludwig and the Chewy Chunks Café (1994)
- The Amazing life of Dead Eric (2001)
- Robot Junior (1998)
- The True History of Santa Claus (2004)
- The Day it Rained Letters (2005)
- The Paper Princess (2005)
- May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs (2006)
- Mozzle and the Giant (2006)
- The Place You’re Meant to Be (2006)
- The World’s Funniest Book of Poems (2006)
- Twilight in the Land of Nowhen (2006)
- Jeri Telstar, The Homework Hero (2008)
- Jeri Telstar, And the Small Black Dog that Talked Like the President (2008)
- "Contributors to the August 2009 issue of The Australian Literary Review". The Australian. 5 August 2009. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
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