Crazy rich Manila? Catch a glimpse in Kevin Kwan’s latest book
#NOFILTER - Chonx Tibajia (The Philippine Star) - May 11, 2017 - 4:00pm

In 2015, I asked Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan, who was then in Manila promoting his second book, China Rich Girlfriend, if he had met any Filipino interesting — and interestingly rich — enough to write about in his next book. Back then, he said, “ I actually don’t know all that much about the Pinoy rich — my experience is limited to my first trip to Manila over a decade ago to visit a good friend from college. It was my introduction to Philippine society — I had the time of my life and met so many lovely people.”

It seems that that second visit to the Philippines had proven productive, as he had devoted a brief chapter on the Pinoy rich in his latest book and third installment to the trilogy, Rich People Problems.

He writes an excerpt from the gossip column of a fella named Tommy Yip. The subjects? Party host China Cruz and her “divine mansion” in Dasma, Diego San Antonio, Doris Hoh, a journalist named Karen Davila (who wore Armani and whom Kwan remains friends with — he calls her “incomparable” in a shoutout on Twitter), and some A-list Asians, including Josie Natori, Manny Pacquiao and artist Ramon Orlina, well, his sculpture, at least. And yes, a glorious lechon. I choke on my chardonnay.

Curious, I asked Chris Yam-Daez of Fully Booked, who is behind Kwan’s visits to Manila, if any of it was based on actual events. Chris was also mentioned in the book — as the Chloé-clad Chris Emmanuelle-Yam. Tommy Yip says she sang Captain and Tennille’s Love Will Keep Us Together at the said party. That, she says, didn’t happen at all, but she is, indeed, the same Chris Yam that was mentioned.

“I honestly didn’t know I was going to be in the book. Kevin was very tight lipped about what was going to come out in Rich People Problems. I told him that I was honored for the mention and elated that I could actually sing in front of a crowd…in another life! I was also thrilled that the Palawan trip I helped him plan during his visit was also mentioned because it is one of my favorite happy places in the Philippines,” Daez said. (In the same chapter, Charlie Wu, Astrid Leong’s old sweetheart, is whisked away to El Nido by a mystery host. As a side note, Astrid will be portrayed by English actress Gemma Chan in the film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians.)

So did the dinner party really happen? I remember Kwan’s send-off party at Manila Peninsula’s Salon de Ning, but I guess the after-party was elsewhere and, if any of the anecdotes in the book are true, was a different kind of interesting. “Yes, the dinner party did actually happen at Tita Ching Cruz’s house. It was a collaboration with Anton San Diego for Philippine Tatler and Fully Booked,” said Daez. None of them knew Kwan was going to write about them, but it looks like he was making mental notes all the while, as writers always do.

According to a Tatler report, it was an intimate party with 40 guests, and was co-hosted by Dr. Z and Aivee Teo. The party’s real performer wasn’t Daez, but French-Filipino singer Emmanuelle Adda (who opened for Sting and Chris Botti during a show in Manila).

Rich people problems

When Kwan teased Rich People Problems upon signing the deal in 2016, he told EW that it’s going to be “the most Downton Abbey-esque of the books” and will touch on “imperial opulence that barely exists anymore.” The story is set in 2015 and there is a battle for Trysell Park as Nick Young’s grandmother lies on her deathbed. In a Whatsapp conversation between Astrid Leong and Charlie Wu, Astrid anticipates that the Shang-Young family reunion will be like a scene from “The Red Wedding,” which means — for those who haven’t seen Game of Thrones — there’s going to be manipulation, backstabbing, a lot of posturing, a lot of drinking, and then eventually, heads will roll.

Don’t worry, the story is not as dark as Astrid makes it out to be. It remains in Kwan’s style — like you’re watching a TV show pop up from the pages of his books, and he is completely removed from the narrative. It’s about the characters. There are no long running paragraphs devoted to showcasing his grasp of metaphors; he tells a story, and in Rich People Problems, there’s seems to be a lot more story going on than testaments of richness.

In his third book, Kwan has mastered the art of laying down the fact that his characters are filthy rich in a way that’s more embedded, provided that he had already established the loadedness of his main characters in the first book, of course. Still, there’s less about the frivolous aspects of their lifestyles here. That’s all assumed and given. By now, talking about the rich seems to be like breathing to Kwan, but you’ll be happy to learn that the brand- and name-dropping that he likes to do (he’s liking bespoke a lot — Roger W. Smith watches, Henry Poole of Savile Row; and then there’s that pop star called Ed Saranwrap) has not went away.

Rich People Problems has to be my favorite of Kevin Kwan’s books. It’s the most soap opera-like of all of them, less CW and more ABC. I guess that makes me a certified tita — but seriously, what Kevin Kwan reader is not?

* * *

Rich People Problems will be available at Fully Booked by end of May.

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