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City Piggy seeks true love

A CHINESE-Canadian writer and illustrator of children's books like "Ralphy the Rhino" is turning pen and paint into a young people's book about Chinese white-collars in search of love, "Piggy in Love."

Trevor Lai's upcoming book in Chinese tells a topical story using animals as characters about the much publicized problems of young urban professionals who can't find the right person - notably well-educated, well-paid women whose requirements for a mate are high.

There's Piggy, a cute pink pig, a naive young man searching for the right woman.

The story, which Lai writes as well as illustrates, also features his friends Hedgehog, who has been hurt in love and curls up into a ball in self-defense, and Mouse, who always goes for wrong kind of lover (like an elephant).

Lai, an author of 14 books in English, tells Shanghai Daily that the Piggy book will be published by the end of the year. He said it's about both men and women and is targeted at readers aged 17-30.

He said it's drawn from the experiences of his Shanghai friends, many of them born in the 1980s. Lai himself is 31 and said he's still looking for true love in Shanghai. A few relationships haven't worked out, he said.

The Vancouver native came to Shanghai five years ago as the vice president of a brand consulting firm.

When he was 17, Lai self-published his first book, "Ralphy the Rhino," which became a popular series. The characters are cartoon- like and Ralphy sometimes wears a Canadian ice hockey jersey. None has been translated into Chinese.

Now he's writing for a Chinese audience.

"Piggy in Love" is both a book and a project about Chinese young people searching for love. Starting next month on his blog, he will be involving readers.

"I will be inviting readers to send me their ideas about certain love topics - most romantic ideas, most heartbreaking stories and so on," he said in an interview. Then he plans to paint their suggestions with the Piggy characters as prizes in the project.

"I hope through my artwork and the book series more people will open their hearts and minds about their feelings and beliefs toward relationships in modern society," he said.

Lai, who looks much younger than his age, said China is changing so fast and people's social and economic possibilities are shifting rapidly that it's hard to know where someone will be in five or 10 years. In Canada, he said, the social situation is stable and it's simpler for people to enter a relationship based on their feelings.

Lai, a self-taught artist, said that working with children, writing and painting for them keeps him young. He spends a lot of time organizing drawing activities to inspire children's imagination.

He is very versatile and has multiple interests. He's a part-time TV anchor. He played violin for 11 years and was a member of the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra. He has played ice hockey for 20 years.

"It's difficult to change people's mind when they have grown up," he said. "I want to influence people from the beginning to bring them positive feelings through my work."

Speaking of "Ralphy the Rhino," he said, "People have read enough about dogs and cats. The rhino is a rare species. Many people think rhinos are stupid and violent. I made them very lovely."

That series is about multi-cultural communication, drawn from his own experience. As a child in Canada, he felt lonely and excluded; there weren't many Chinese in Canada then.

His English wasn't very good since his mother talked to him in Mandarin and his father talked to him in Cantonese. Classmates sneered at his Chinese food. He couldn't understand why other children didn't like him.

"I want to teach kids to communicate with others from different cultural backgrounds," he said, adding that his books combine Chinese and Western culture.

In China Lai sees great possibilities for children's and young people's literature.

"Chinese parents put great emphasis on children' education," he said, "but the children's books market is not mature and has lots of potential."


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