Twenty-eight-year-old Chinese-Filipina writer Mae Coyiuto has been a huge fan of young adult fiction for as long as she can remember. And when she thought of finally writing her first teen rom-com, one topic immediately came to mind—kaishao. Kaishao is the matchmaking custom widely practiced in Filipino-Chinese communities since the 1960s. The Hokkien term means “to introduce” in English.
Being Fil-Chi herself, Mae has had her own personal experiences of being kaishao-ed, thanks to her parents who played matchmakers when she was in college. She also knew of friends’ “success and not-exactly-success stories” using the practice.
Most people start getting kaishao-ed in their late 20s to their 30s, says Mae. But what if one gets set up for these dates when one is barely out of high school? This became the premise of the writer’s first YA novel with Penguin Random House. The title: “Chloe and the Kaishao Boys.”
The teen rom-com, which is set in Manila, revolves around Chloe Liang, a Chinese-Filipina whose father sets her up on a marathon of arranged dates in the hopes of convincing her to stay close to home for college. According to National Book Store, it is the “first YA title published by Penguin Random House US by an author based in the Philippines.” It’s also the first story written by Mae that centers on a Chinese-Filipino character.
Mae says she discovered her penchant for writing when she was about eight. Like most kids, she loved watching TV, yes, but she was also deep into reading comics and writing. “I had my own world all the time,” the fast-talking author tells us with a smile.
Since her mother Elena, a literature fan, took note of Mae’s interest in writing at an early age, she would sign Mae up for writing classes. For a time, this interest had to be put on a back burner when the young lady had to concentrate on a tennis career back in high school and college. She has since retired from tennis—but “writing remained a constant in my life,” says Mae.
Mae was only 16 when she released her first book, “Flight to the Stars.” It was a collection of stories about young adults published in 2010 by Anvil Publishing Inc. Her first novel, “The Year We Became Invincible” (2015), also by Anvil, follows the adventures of a young woman and her experiences with friendship and love.
Mae earned a BA in Psychology degree from Pomona College in California, then took up a Master’s Degree in Writing for Young Adults/Children from The New School in New York.
One of the books that may have sparked her passion to write YA fiction was the New York Times bestselling series “To All the Boys I've Loved Before” by Jenny Hann. “I think Jenny Hann opened so many doors for Asian authors all over the world,” Mae offers.
The Fil-Chi loves the YA category because she says there is so much to discover about it. “I love reading and writing about that time in your life…you know, high school, when everything just seems possible and super hopeful.”
The Kaishao boys
“Chloe and the Kaishao Boys” was inspired by her own and her friends’ experiences. Her parents loved setting her up on kaishao dates. But since her folks knew she would outright say no if they ask her to meet a guy they picked, what they would do instead is invite Mae to lunch. In the said lunch, a guy would appear out of the blue and be introduced to her.
“So I’d be very surprised. Sometimes even the guy is not aware of what's going on,” the author recalls with a laugh. “[The guys were] all nice but the meeting was really awkward. I thought I can use those scenarios that are not as fun to experience for yourself but really fun if you're writing or reading it.”
Mae says she’s gone thru five kaishao dates but none of them blossomed into a romance. To her relief, her parents have stopped arranging surprise dates for her. “They’re just really good stories to tell afterwards,” Mae says, laughing. And while she did not meet a significant other thru kaishao, some of her previous dates found their mates after dating her. “So maybe ako yung good luck for them to find their mate,” she says.
Mae says she’s became more open to the Chinese-Filipino matchmaking practice over time. “I feel like if there are people who know you well and who know someone that might be a good fit for you, it would be those who are close to you,” she says. “I feel like it's a good way to meet, to screen people who are likely to click with you.” Mae says she’s okay to be kaishao-ed by her friends, family friends, or her siblings—just not by her parents.
Kaishao, says Mae, has evolved with the times, which is a good thing. Now, some Fil-Chis get introduced and matched via a Facebook group or a kaishao app. “Modern na ngayon. People my age now use kaishao as like an equivalent term of ‘reto’.”
What she doesn’t like about kaishao is that there are still some very traditional Chinese-Filipino communities not open to their children dating Filipinos with no Chinese lineage. “Some parents also when they kaishao people, they always talk about background and social standing, if they’re well-off. I just wish people would look deeper into the person rather than just the superficial stuff.”
Mae says she’s sticking to writing more YA fiction because the genre suits her writing voice and quirky sense of humor. She believes there’s space for teen rom-coms set in Manila. “I feel like internationally when we hear stories about the Philippines, it's not always in the most positive light or it always seems like medyo tragic. We don't hear a lot of love stories that are set in Manila,” she says. “I think there's also value in seeing that the high school kilig stuff, the happily ever after also exists here.”
Chloe and the Kaishao Boys is available for P595 (trade paperback) in select National Book Store branches, online on www.nationalbookstore.com, and on their official stores on Lazada and Shopee.