Friday, October 28, 2011

The Biggest Ghost in Our Family's Past

With Halloween coming up--and kids digging through the crafts box to figure out what to dress up as--I was reminded of the biggest ghostly incident in our family.

We were living in Singapore and had traveled to Bintan Island, Indonesia for a holiday. They had nice shacks lining white-sand beaches, coconut trees swaying in the breeze, lovely coral filled the water. It was idyllic except for the neighbors who started drinking before noon and got progressively louder.

We quickly took the kids out for a swim, enjoying the lovely coral, the pretty fish, the warm water. We stayed out all day, only coming in as the sun was setting and we were hungry, tired, and salty.

As we passed the neighbors, there was no more raucous laughter. "Did you see a middle-aged man out there swimming?" One of them came up to us and asked. "Our friend Suzuki is missing. "

There had been a bunch of teens splashing around near the rocks, a lone woman snorkeler. But no Suzuki.

My husband went off to help locate the inebriated Suzuki. The sky was turning a light shade of pink. It would be dark soon.

I took the kids into the shack alone to help them shower. As I stood in the shower, I felt a shiver. Why would Suzuki just disappear like that?

We dressed and hurried to join the search party. Now there were dozens of people lined up along the beach. One of the friends suddenly tore off his shirt and raced into the water. "I'm coming." he shouted as he swam toward the deep waters. "Hold on."

"You found him?" I asked looking into the dark water. For now it was so dark it was hard to see.

"There." My husband pointed.

I squinted at the dark, menacing waves and could just barely make out a head. I held onto my children, remembering how much this man had had to drink all day and wondering why in the name of anything he was out here swimming.

More people gathered, pointing and murmuring. Finally, a motorboat sounded in the distance. A rescue was on the way.

"What's everyone doing out here?" A man came racing down the beach. He was dressed up for dinner. He was loud.

"Suzuki?" Someone called. "Is that you?"

It was. He had been waiting in the restaurant the whole time. So who was in the water being rescued?

The rescue boat shone its light across the waters... on the swimming heroic friend and then "Suzuki"...a big bobbing coconut.

We all got a good laugh out of that. But, it made me realize how we are so easily dominated by imagined fears. How quick we are to see dangers that don't exist. It is a reminder--although my kids are usually the ones to do the reminding--to embrace adventure and not look for the bobbing coconuts.

Book of the week:
Inkblot by Johnson Naigle is a fun young adult story about a teen who creates this ingenious personality profiling software which he hopes to one day use for the good of society. Unfortunately his love interest decides it could be used for the good of her career first. It is an easy, cute read.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Never Too Late to Apologize
The Chinese Exclusion Laws involved legislation Congress passed between 1879 and 1904 that explicitly discriminated against persons of Chinese descent based on race. The laws imposed increasingly severe restrictions on immigration and naturalization. Congress repealed the laws as a wartime measure...but they never looked back, never thought to apologize.  

On October 6, 2011 the Senate (finally) passed S. Res. 201--the resolution addressing and expressing regret for the Chinese Exclusion Laws--by unanimous consent. We could not have done this without the considerable constituent support that all of you provided, or the inspiring and tireless leadership of our prime sponsor, Senator Scott Brown.  Now we're hoping for similar success in the House.

To learn more about these miserable laws and to write a note to your Congressperson, go to The 1882 Project

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tossing Out My Swear-Meter

I used to have a swear-meter, counting cuss words in movies, and making the kids stop watching if the count went higher than six.
"Who cares about plot?  If they can't get the story across without cussing a blue streak, then I don't want to hear it."  That was my motto.
But I didn't stick to it.  As the years went on, I realized I was missing a lot of good movies.  I think I was the last one on earth to see Saving Private Ryan.
That same motto was not relaxed with books...until recently.
Over the summer, my son came home with a book.  He wouldn't show me the title, but I often heard him off in the corner giggling and finally I couldn't stand the suspense. He was busting his gut over Shi*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern.
I was immediately turned off by the title.  But the memory of those giggles stayed with me.  So, the other day, when I saw it on my other son's Kindle, I thought I'd read a bit.
I happened to be at my youngest daughter's piano lesson--not in some studio waiting room, but in the living room of our neighbor three feet away from my daughter and her teacher.  I soon found myself giggling so hard I thought my stomach would break and trying not to given the circumstances.  Afterwards, my daughter asked, "Mom, why were you crying?"
It's definitely worth reading, although perhaps not at a piano lesson and not with your youngest daughter...too many swear words.


Monday, October 10, 2011

A Cure for the Dentist's Drill

This afternoon I had to have a crown redone.  It sounds like such a lovely event, complete with swishy red velvet dresses and diamonds and dancing til dawn.  But we all know better.  The only thing red is--well I won't go there.  Not at all looking forward to this, I thought of an escape: my son's Kindle (which at some point in time had actually been a gift to me.) I seemed to remember that it has a text-to-speech function.  Of course, I couldn't figure out how to use it so I asked my friend, Google.  Sure enough there was even a You Tube Video on the subject.  Armed with my Kindle I entered the world of doom and gloom.  I must admit the robotic voice was irritating as I sat looking out the window awaiting my fate.  But, let me tell you, even robots sound like old friends when compared to the drill.  I won't be visiting the dentist again without my Kindle.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

China's Not So Far From Oz

A couple weeks back I went to Kansas City, Missouri for the US-China People's Friendship Association's National Convention. I kept thinking, "Kansas City?  Only Oz is further."
As it turned out, Kansas City is very close to China--
Edward Snow was born here and his legacy continues,
Kansas City is sister cities with Xian,
Missouri State has an amazing Asian Studies Program, and
the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum has a huge Chinese art collection.
Everywhere I turned there was a link to China.
I guess the lesson here was not to judge a state by a musical (although I did see my fair share of ruby slippers.)
I'm pleased to say that Missouri State has a copy of My Half of the Sky in their library and the Nelson Atkins has autographed copies for sale in their bookstore.
Books of the Week:  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford.  Ford writes of the period during WWII when the US was in a panic and every Japanese was spy material.  His hero is a young Chinese boy who must wear a badge around which reads, "I am Chinese."  He doesn't understand the point of this until his new best friend, a Japanese girl, is taken away to a relocation camp.  The badge turns from something pointless to a valuable shield.  It's a fascinating and well-told story.  (My only complaint is that the Japanese translations are off.)
A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer--This was really long and overdramatic story which couldn't decide if it was a romance or a mystery.  However, the history in here about the development of penicillin (and the way people dropped off like flies before it) was fascinating.  

What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky

My Half of the Sky was the BookSense Pick for August 2006 as well as a Forbes Book Club Pick.

"McBurney-Lin tells a wonderfully entertaining story with the traditional coming-of-age theme (which is experienced universally)...weaving in the cultural challenges of growing up in China's rapidly changing social system."
Mary Warpeha, co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Friendship Association
March 2010

"The novel ...includes many of the tales and the folk ways of the people living in the rural areas of South China, still followed provincially. The story takes place in current China, but could relate the dilemma of any young woman in rural China through the ages."
Kitty Trescott, National Board of the Midwest Region of US-China Friendship Association. March 2010

"A lot is expected of a young Chinese girl. My Half of the Sky by Jana McBurney-Lin is the story of Li Hui, a young girl who has just achieved marriageable age. She seeks to make the most of herself, but the expectations all around her make it difficult, as her parents seek to use her as pawn to their advantage, she is faced with what she believes to be true love. She must balance career, romance, and family, all to somehow make everyone happy, a tough endeavor indeed. An engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end, "My Half of the Sky" is a poignant tale of the modern Chinese woman, and recommended for community library collections.
--Midwest Book Review November, 2008

“It is a rare women’s novel that sensitively describes the life of a young educated woman in modern-day China in its full complexity, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism. Jana’s deep knowledge of the realities of life in China and Singapore makes the reading extra rewarding. In fact, with every new page the novel gets harder to put down and you find yourself gobbling it up before you know it. Finally, the author has given a voice to the Li Hui in all of us, as we struggle for the golden middle between tradition and the modern momentum of our world.”
Isabella Sluzek
Friends of the Museum Book Review 2008

You'll be rooting all the way for Li Hui as she struggles, ahead of the curve, to be her own woman in an emerging, modern China. Jana McBurney-Lin's My half of the Sky is a beautiful, witty, touching debut novel.
Thomas B. Sawyer
Head Writer TV Series "Murder, She Wrote,"
Author - The Sixteenth Man

A complex and mesmerizingly original tale of a young Chinese woman caught between the modern world and the pull of her ancient culture. McBurney-Lin’s intimate portrait of China sparks with insights and is peopled with characters so rich and alive, they seem to breathe on the page. Dazzling and unforgettable.
Caroline Leavitt,
Author - Girls in Trouble

McBurney-Lin's debut novel is a gift. Li Hui is a memorable heroine, a young woman torn between her heart and her culture.Her daunting journey is a trip into China's complicated soul, and a deeply moving exploration of love, honor, duty, and loss." Frank Baldwin, Author - Balling the Jack

My Half of the Sky is a wonderfully-crafted story that was obviously written with a piece of McBurney-Lin's heart. A masterpiece."
Lee Lofland, Author - Howdunit: Police Procedure and Investigation

My Half of the Sky heralds the arrival of a fantastic new storyteller. With artistry and precision, Jana McBurney-Lin's clear-eyed prose takes the reader on a new journey into a past world that speaks to a modern sensibility, a modern world, a modern woman. This is a book to be treasured.
Emily Rapp, Author - The Poster Child

Through vivid descriptions of sights and smells, Jana McBurney-Lin's My Half of the Sky is a haunting, emotional journey of what it means to be an honorable female in modern China. Jill Ferguson, Author - Sometimes Art Can't Save You