Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Blossoms and Bayonets in the News

Just got word that Blossoms and Bayonets made the Local Paper. Such fun.

Also want to share a great review from Cliff Garstang, a former resident of Korea and author of What the Zhang Boys Know:
As a former resident of Korea (I was a Peace Corps volunteer there in the 1970s) and a student of its language, history, and culture, I enjoyed this book very much. It tells a story that is often overlooked, about the brutal Japanese rule before and during WWII. We're all familiar with the concept of "comfort women"--the sex slaves that the Japanese forced into service from Korea and their other "colonies"--but this book puts a face on that atrocity, as well as the conscription of young Korean men and the abuse of Korean patriots.
The story is told by three narrators--two Korean boys and their mother--beginning from just before the start of the war. It's a harrowing tale, and one definitely worth reading.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Walking through the clouds

I'm always a bit behind the times. I just learned from a fellow USCPFA member that this glass bridge in Hunan province--built 4700 feet above sea level, being 200 feet long--opened last July. Visitors are given booties to wear to keep the glass clean, although apparently the walk is so terrifying for some, that they prefer sliding along on the mountain side rather than even stepping foot on the glass. What an amazing sight. Has anyone been on it?
(photos courtesy of ChinaFotoPress)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Family Read for the Holidays

This past weekend at the Holiday Fair, a woman approached saying their family planned to read Blossoms and Bayonets together, as the book/the history was something that would make for a good family read. I'm still moved.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Loma Prieta Holiday Craft Faire This Weekend!

Dec 1 and Dec 2 (from 10-5), I'll be autographing books at the Loma Prieta Craft Faire on Summit Road, Los Gatos. The fair is conveniently sandwiched between numerous Christmas Tree farms. So, if you haven't already gotten your tree, this would be a fun time to do so. Look forward to seeing you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Three Magic Words: Find Your Motivation

I've got one child whose definitely not a morning person. His ideal waking time is sometime in the afternoon. In fact, it's a family joke that he always calls out that he's on his way....but is still fast asleep. About the only time we see him up of his own accord is on Christmas morning.
That changed last week.
He got his driver's license last week, and he asked if he could drive one of our cars to school. I said, "If you can wake up on time."
As we watched a showered young man pull out of our driveway way ahead of schedule, my husband said, "It's a matter of finding your motivation."
How true. Whether it be waking up to get to school on time  or writing your novel.
Having  just finished Blossoms and Bayonets, and being busy with marketing and talks, it's easy to slip into a routine of not writing. Of being "too busy/too tired." So I've pasted these words on my office wall: Find Your Motivation!
They're magic.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Come See China's First Feminist

This Saturday, filmmakers Rae Chang and Adam Tow will be showing their movie, Autumn Gem. This lovely film follows the life of China's first feminist, Qiu Jin, who lived in the late 1800s. The showing starts at 11am at the Chinese Culture Center on Kearny St in San Francisco. I will be there, as well, signing books of My Half of the Sky. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Chinese Citizens Vote

This is an historic moment...the two friends, the US and China, are having their elections one day apart. The Chinese elections, which are done once every ten years and decided by the Party Leadership (rather than electoral vote), are not as participatory. So some Chinese citizens instead voted in a mock election for the U.S. President. Obama won.

Monday, November 5, 2012

One final bid for Deepka Lalwani

I'm excited Deepka Lalwani is running for Milpitas City Council. Ten years ago I was introduced to her as someone whose organization (Indian Business and Professional Women) might enjoy my novel. While my story had nothing to do with India, Lalwani embraced us both. She invited me to networking events, promoted my book better than my publisher, even recommended the title for Silicon Valley Reads. 
I'd love to think that my words inspired her enthusiasm. But this is just who Lalwani is. In her years of founding IBPW and volunteering for numerous organizations, raising a family, and working in real estate, she works from a big picture of people interconnecting to make our city a better place.
But wait. 
Milpitas isn't my city.
While I can't vote, I wish I could. It may look like this is a last-minute thought, but that's only because I've been busy donating, calling real Milpitas residents, writing editorials. This is more my last-ditch effort. So, if you're lucky enough to live in Milpitas, remember to vote for Deepka Lalwani.

How To Avoid Getting Sucked Into the Void of the Internet

I saw an old friend yesterday, my partner for years of doing the Writers Camp for Kids. She wrote a cute children's book, Isn't It Great?  She is currently working on a non-fiction book about the Finnish Community in California, but is having trouble getting work done on it....as the hours just disappear.
I asked her if she got online.
Well, yeah, she has to for research....but then she gets lost and then the day is gone.
I suggested she avoid getting on the internet until she had done a certain number of pages each morning.
How do you balance your internet usage? How do you avoid getting sucked into the void?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pigeons Instructed Not To Fly In China

That was the gist of the "news" I heard on the radio this morning, as a report spoke of the concern for subversive elements to poke their heads up before the election of the 18th Congress next week which coincides with our U.S. elections. According to the report, taxi drivers had been instructed to keep their windows rolled up (as if any of them would have them down in the chilly November weather), to keep people from dispersing leaflets. And pigeons were not to fly. Really? Sometimes one wonders where news comes from....
I never did find the source of this juicy tidbit.(I really wanted to see an army official addressing a flock of pigeons.)However I did find an interesting debate on the difference between U.S. and Chinese
governing style. Whereas an overwhelming majority of the audience went into the debate thinking the U.S. style was preferable, many switched their opinion after listening to the debate.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Flying Tigers Bond

I'm currently at the midwestern regional conference of the U.S.-China People's Friendship Association. Last night we had two speakers, General Chennault's grandaughter Nell Calloway, who is in charge of the Chennault Aviation & Aeronautics Museum, and General James Whitehead Jr. Both of them spoke of the Flying Tigers, a group of pilots who the Congress wasn't interested in during a time when our country was pulling itself from the Great Depression,but who President Roosevelt signed an executive order to support. A group of pilots who protected the Chinese landscape against Japanese invasion during WWII. One story stuck out for me:

General Whitehead talked about an air-bombing raid mentioned in my new novel, Blossoms and Bayonets. Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle organized a raid over Tokyo in 1942, one of the first attacks on Japanese soil. His pilots planned to raid Tokyo and then fly to safety in Chinese fields. Of the sixteen pilots, 11 were killed or captured by the Japanese who were scouting for them. The remaining crew were rescued by the Chinese. As punishment for their rescue efforts, the Japanese killed 250, 000 Chinese.

Said General Whitehead, "During the war, 95% of pilots shot down were rescued by the Chinese, and they returned to fight again."  He said an amazing bond was formed during the war, one which involved incredible trust and sacrifice on both sides. "How can we not work to bring back this friendship that was?"

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Blossoms and Bayonets now Available

I have to share this release with you:

Impossible to put down—or to forget—authors’ grippingly suspenseful and deeply affecting historical novel limns the lives of a Korean family under Japanese rule with astonishing grace and power. –Caroline Leavitt, bestselling author of Pictures of You.

Hi-Dong Chai and Jana McBurney-Lin, the award-winning author of My Half of the Sky, turn their hands to a remarkable story of a family and country torn apart by outside forces.

The time is 1942, the place is Japanese-occupied Seoul, Korea. Fifteen-year-old He-Seung is full of fire, ready to take on these Japanese...if only he could convince his father, a Christian minister more concerned with saving his flock in a time when Emperor-worship has become mandatory. Since occupation, the Japanese have eradicated the Korean language, names, even the country's flower. Now they are seeking Korean boys as volunteers for their army. When his father is arrested by the Japanese, He-Seung must swallow his hatred of the enemy. Even harder, he must leave his mother and baby brother He-Dong to fend for themselves.

Based on a true story, Blossoms and Bayonets is suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period. The story lends an eyewitness perspective to events as they unfold, revealing an era of nuance and complexity. The result is a work that speaks volumes about how and why one war led to the next.

Riveting internal dialogue and narration interspersed with quotes from those running the war efforts on various fronts combine to compel the reader forward. I say compel rather than propel, because I had to read. I had to know how this family and those around them would fare in the end.—Keri Rojas, bookseller at Cornerstone Cottage, Hampton, IA

Friday, October 12, 2012

New Book is Here....Almost

I just learned that Blossoms and Bayonets (Redwood Publishing) is "in review" on Amazon. I'm so thrilled. It's been quite a journey working on this story, a story that native Korean Hi-Dong Chai brought to me for editing one afternoon at a writers conference. I was quickly caught up in the story and the characters, and the two of us have spent the past four years writing it.

Said Caroline Leavitt, bestselling novelist of Pictures of YouImpossible to put down—or to forget—authors’ grippingly suspenseful and deeply affecting historical novel limns the lives of a Korean family under Japanese rule with astonishing grace and power.

Please take a look, get your copy....and enjoy.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Double Highlight

There were many highlights to the book fair last Saturday other than the beautiful blue sky. I ran into several China lovers: a couple who'd lived for a year right near my husband's hometown; a couple who not only had lived in China and Taiwan, but in points all over the globe; a mother and her adopted daughter from China. It was like an all-day party.
At one point, I was talking about My Half of the Sky to an interested reader, when another woman approached.  I was about to start my explanation over again, when she interrupted: "Oh, I loved that book."
"Have you written your thoughts for a review?" I asked.
She said she hadn't....but now that I mentioned it, she'd be happy to.
The woman was Robin Levin, author of Death of Carthage. She not only shared her love of the book with me, but went home and put her thoughts on Amazon, Good Reads, and her own website.
That was a double highlight.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sonoma County Book Festival September 22

The Sonoma County Book Festival is coming Saturday, September 22....and I'll be there.  If you're in the area of the Santa Rosa Downtown Courthouse Square and Central Library from 8-4, please stop by my table to say 'hello.'

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mandatory Mandarin K-12

A good friend just alerted me to the following interesting news on NPR:  In Georgia, Bibb County's superintendent has come up with the Macon Miracle, which includes mandatory Mandarin for all students K-12. "Students who are in elementary school today, by 2050 they'll be at the pinnacle of their career," Dallemand says. "They will live in a world where China and India will have 50 percent of the world GDP. They will live in a world where, if they cannot function successfully in the Asian culture, they will pay a heavy price," he said. How exciting is that?"

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A small treasure

We have a lovely new library.  It has computer terminals as far as the eye can see, electronic check-out locations, even a coffee bar.  I've visited a few times....mostly to get wi-fi access while I'm in town.
But....I liked our old library with its well-worn chairs and dusty shelves.  I knew exactly where the history section was, the adult fiction, the children's fairytales.   
The other day I realized I had nothing to read.  I had given my Kindle to my daughter so she'd have access to a never-ending supply of English-language books while in China.  So I decided to give our shiny new library another shot.  
I went past all the glitzy bars and snack area, the beeping terminals, the fancy computers and immersed myself in the shelves.  Oh, so many wonderful books.  The treasures I found.  I'm now hooked--not on old or new--just on the books.
Book of the Week:  The Girl with the White Flag by Tomiko Higa.  6-year-old Tomiko is the youngest member of a large family in Okinawa, Japan, in April 1945 when the war intensifies.  Within months, she is left alone,wandering, trying to survive.  It is a riveting--and amazing--piece of history.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Best Chinese Dictionary These Days

Before we left my daughter in China, I wanted to be sure she had a great Chinese-English dictionary.  I remembered a small red and blue dictionary that had been like a Bible to me.  So one day, we spent all morning at the foreign-language bookstore in Hangzhou.  They had rows and rows of dictionaries, although most of them were (naturally) intended for Chinese students of English.
We stood there for at least an hour, comparing the size, weight, translations of each book.  We left with two small books: one which translated English to Chinese in roman characters and one which translated Chinese characters to English.
When we arrived back at my brother-in-law's apartment, my son was awake and asked where we had gone.  We showed him our treasures.  He picked up his ipod, flipped on the dictionary (which not only reads characters but speaks them) and said,  Why didn't you just purchase the app?"

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Chinglish by David Henry Hwang at the Berkeley Repertory Theater is the story of a failed businessman who goes to China for one last shot at making it big.  The protagonist owns a sign store from Ohio and thinks he can help the Chinese avoid such gaffes as having a handicapped bathroom read 'deformed man's toilet.'  He runs up against family connections, the inability for people to just say 'no,' the helpful foreigner who has lived there forever.  And communication issues.
I laughed more than I can remember.
Yet, at the end of it, I came away pondering the more serious themes that Hwang touches on--corruption (on both sides of the Pacific), the importance of understanding culture as well as language, the meaning of 'home.'  It's a wonderful play, showing in Berkeley now through October 7th before packing up to make its debut in Hong Kong in March 2013.

Speaking of funny translations, what's the funniest one you've ever seen?

Friday, August 24, 2012

The China of old....

I met a dear old friend the other day who mentioned she had first gone to China in 1982.  That was centuries ago, when only a few cities were open to foreign travel, when one needed a permit to go from place to place, when the country actually had a special foreign currency (different from the yuan.)  My friend said she missed the days of old when everyone rode their bicycles.  I said, 'They still do."
In fact, according to a recent NPR program, a lot are still riding bicycles...at least compared to the US.  Apparently out of every 1000 cars, 800 are driven by Americans,  75 by Chinese.  Thus, out of the 85 billion gallons of oil consumed globally on a daily basis, the US sucks up 20 billion.  And, if the Chinese ever were to discard all those bikes for cars....well, there wouldn't be enough oil for that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Half of the Sky now available in India! Yes!

Culture Shock US

The other day I had to take my daughter for a podiatrist appointment.  She had foot surgery in the beginning of the summer, and this was a final check before she bounced back on the basketball court.  The appointment was for 3:30.
I had the whole afternoon planned out--have appointment, pick up dog food, meet sons for an early dinner.  The appointment I figured would not take more than 20 minutes, tops.
While we were in China I had heard nightmares of people waiting for their appointments.  A three-hour wait for a five-minute appointment.  In fact, with the top doctors, healthy people made appointments and then sold them like scalpers at a concert to the highest ill bidders. 
But we were back in the US.
At 4pm, though, we were still sitting in the waiting room.
The receptionist mentioned we were "next" and it would just be a "few more minutes" several times.  I sat there thinking that the receptionists know my number and in fact call me in advance of an appointment to remind me to be there.  Why can't they also call and say, "the doctor's running a bit behind today.  If you have some errands to run--some dog food to buy-- you might want to stop and get it.  Oh, and that date you have with your sons--one of whom is about to leave for college--cancel it."
When ten more minutes passed, and I realized my afternoon plan was crumbling, I turned to my daughter and said, "Please ask any questions you have.  Tell him of any pain or concerns. I need to leave."  I went outside, took some deep breaths, called my sons to tell them to eat without us, got some dog food, and reminded myself that at least I didn't have to buy my appointment time...

Monday, August 20, 2012

My therapists...my dog trainers

A couple of years ago, we inherited an Australian Shepherd from a fraternity.  It had gone from "chick magnet" to pain in the rear.  We worked this dog through numerous trainers (including a few who suggested he be put down), until finally--during a last ditch effort--I discovered not just dog whisperers but people whisperers.  I took the dog to the trainers once a week, each time thinking that the trainers' lessons could apply to my life.

1. Don’t worry about the dog.  Focus on what you’re doing.
(How many times do I get so worried about my kids, husband, other relatives that I forget altogether what I'm doing?)

2. Know your space...and maintain it.  

3. Do you know how to give a correction?  
(I didn't.) 

4. What did you learn today?  Not what did you see me do.

5. You don’t even know what you’re saying.  How do you expect the dog to know?  
(This is a reminder to me all the time in writing....What are you trying to say???)

Thanks to Nick and Kristie at the Calero Pet Retreat, we now have a dear dog...and I've discovered stuff about myself that I wouldn't have taken the time to ponder.  I still return once in a while for training...for the both of us. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Images of China

Honking is less of a warning and more of an announcement:  “Here I am.”  There is a rhythm to the way people travel on the roads, the people, the dogs, the cattle, the motorbikes, the trucks, the cars.  (It was not obvious to me what the pattern was--but they did manage to avoid hitting one another.)

There’s no such things as wait your turn.  You just go.  Even in the airport, as the kids and I waited for someone to check that we had the right luggage--there was actually someone checking those tags--people just bulldozed in front of us.
There's a lack of personal space.  Whereas I'm used to a bubble of space around me that I consider mine,  people were always trampling on my bubble.  

There's not a concept of 'do not litter.'  It's more, "I'm done with this (tissue, milk carton, wrapper, etc.).  Let me get it out of my hands as fast as possible."    

There's a lack of water available for play--no jet skiing or scuba diving or canoeing or swimming.  The waterways we saw were dirty.

Bargaining (except in department stores) is the nature of life.  The seller goes high.  I go low.  We meet in the middle, theoretically both satisfied.

My husband said if he looked at things through the eyes of tourist, all of it was interesting.  That we should always remember to do that no matter where we are.  For, if one thinks about it, that's all we are:  tourists on this earth.
Finally, and I just realized this (duh), there really is no "China" or "Japan" or "America."  Well, perhaps there are outlines of those countries, but the content is always evolving.. always dynamic...ever-changing.  China especially so.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Nothing Wrong with 'Cholera' Magnet

One of the reasons we were in Hangzhou was to help my eldest daughter get settled into volunteering at Zhejiang hospital.  Since her interest is medicine, and there was a Chinese medicine museum nearby, we thought we'd go take a look.  I don't remember too much other than the building was hard to find, and we kept racing from one spot of shade to another as we tried to find the entrance.  At one point, we thought we'd found it and raced inside an air-conditioned building.  There were doctor's faces all over the wall, and a cashier who looked like she might be dispensing tickets.  She wasn't.  It was a true Chinese medicine clinic.  The thought of going out in the sun again made us all feel a bit sick, so we stared at the photos of the doctors as if this were the museum.
When we eventually found the museum, it was not air-conditioned.
"It's to preserve the style of the building," my husband said.

"Are they interested in preserving style or brain cells?"  I countered.
Like I said, I don't remember too much.  There were a lot of quack doctors in the beginning, but the science got serious and many discoveries were made in the last dynasty.
We left the oven--I mean museum-- and went into a dispensary where people were huddled on the ground next to a bin of ice water.  I saw this one child drink a cup full.  I shuddered, thinking there's no way that water is clean.  Then another woman did the same.  What was wrong with these people, and why was this cholera magnet in the middle of a dispensary?
I looked closer and the people were getting hot cups of tea from a container and then cooling them in this bin of ice water.  What a lovely idea.  We all quickly did the same.

Monday, August 13, 2012

China's Ten Commandments

Wherever we went in the city, there were always large signboards espousing different values: Be kind to the elderly; be environmentally conscious; a girl baby is as precious is a boy; no spitting; be polite and honest;  no smoking in public, etc.   Given that the government had allowed an investor to ruin the beaches in Fujian, people spit so often that at least two of us had been accidental targets, and we chose restaurants based on which one had the least smoke, I'm not sure the signboards alone did the job.  But it seemed a great idea.  And I wandered by one, "Be happy in what you do," and was immersed into self-reflection.  Perhaps we could use some of these signboards....

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bike Passport Please

In Hangzhou, the kids and I set off on our own to bike around West Lake.  Biking around the lake was touted as one of the top ten things to do.  I loaded up on Chinese currency (what I thought was a lot) and found the bike kiosk, of which there are many in the city.  The woman at the kiosk took one look at my face and handed me a laminated sheet in English.  The rules were simple enough except for two things: the price seemed outrageous for China, charging $17 a day plus $34 deposit per bike....and while I'd brought just enough money, I didn't have the necessary document.
"You need my passport?" I asked, thinking this isn't international travel, just a ride around the lake.
The woman said I could just write down the passport number and that would be good enough.  The kids frowned.  Nobody could remember their numbers.  I quickly made up a sequence of passport-like numbers.  It wasn't as if we were going to run off with these bikes.
Later, when we tried to return the bikes to the same kiosk it was a fiasco.  Although she was standing right in front of us, she insisted she was closed.  I would have left our bikes and gone on, but I kind of wanted my deposit back.  She said we could return the bikes somewhere else.  We went there.  That kiosk was "closed" too.  So we tried a third one.  The third one was the charm.  Not only did the lady return our deposit, but she returned most of the daily-use fee.  Instead of $17, she only charged us 1.70.
What was that about?  My brother-in-law said that we'd met a kind kiosk woman, someone willing to treat us as locals rather than take advantage of our foreign status.  He said the passport issue is common.  Some amenities (like bus passes, store ownership, reasonable prices) are only granted to Chinese citizens.    

Friday, August 10, 2012

Riding China's Bullet

Not all the government's decisions are as bad as damming the ocean to line the oyster-farm investor (and politician's) pockets.  The government decided that China needed bullet trains, and since 2007 the country has had bullet trains.  Today there are over 8,000 miles of high-speed track criss-crossing the country.  It was amazingly affordable, with a three-hour train ride costing but $20 in second class.
The only downside to second class, was that it was overbooked.  People would get "standing" seats, and then as soon as I vacated my seat for any reason, I'd return to find someone else sitting there.  Although people were always nice about returning my seat, it was awkward.  First class (which was only a few dollars more) was an entirely different story.  In fact, the one time we rode it, we were almost the only people in the car, a waitress came by with a free snack, and, oh, the quiet.
By 2015, China plans to have 24,850 miles worth of track, the system connecting every city in China with over a half million residents.  What a marvel.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tea Tasting Ceremony?

After a long sweaty day, we went up to our third floor to take a shower.  My husband went into the bathroom first.  I heard him call out that the water pressure was low.  The next thing he was standing wrapped in a towel with suds all over himself.  There was no water.  
I suggested we try the second floor—perhaps the water might have made it up that high.  So I put my bathing suit on and we went down there.  He was in the shower, trying to get water, when my brother-in-law came up.  He said something about important business, a friend, downstairs.  I didn’t catch it.  So he shouted through the shower door before rushing off.  My husband came out of the bathroom, but instead of mentioning this all-important business, said that there wasn't water on the 2nd floor either.  He suggested we  go to the well.  
So I in my bathing suit and he--soapy and with but a towel around him--walked down to rinse off at the well.  I asked what his brother had said that was so important, and he said that he had some important things to take care of at work.  A friend would be by later with tea.  
We got downstairs in all our finery to be greeted by this friend.  Perhaps "later" means anytime after now.  The friend didn't raise an eyebrow, and my husband didn't miss a beat.  He acted as if it was normal to run around naked in a towel with suds on his shoulder....and normal to have his wife prancing about in her bathing suit.  
We sat in suds and sweat, and this man gave us a tea-tasting time.  He had brought four kinds of Oolong tea.  The Chinese tea cups are small, slightly larger than a thimble.  He poured boiling water into a small container holding tea leaves.  Then he strained the tea into a tiny pitcher.  He poured the tea from the pitcher into our thimble-sized cups.  The first pour was always to make the tea cup hot.  Like wine, after the third cup, I couldn’t tell the difference.  
It was fun... and funny.  
When the friend left, we went out under the stars and took a well shower.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In Search of the Beach

While rinsing off with cold well water relieved the heat of the day, it wasn't as exciting as, say, the beach.  My brother-in-law suggested a trip.  He'd never been, but would be happy to take us.  We set out in two cars, dressed in our swimsuits, with towels, even a picnic.  We drove to this place which used to be a small island but had recently been connected to the mainland.
We all had visions of sandy beaches, warm water, a wonderful afternoon.
The roads once we got off the mainland were dirt, the going not clear.  My brother-in-law stopped several times to ask where the beach was and each time got a different answer.  So we went this way, then that.  Whenever my brother-in-law stopped, he really stopped.  He'd get out, ask directions, offer the person a cigarette as thanks, then chat about who knows what. It was almost more fun watching him find his way than people-watching at the beach. (At least for me.)  The kids kept asking, "Where is this beach?"
It turned out, after two hours of driving around, that there's no longer a beach.  Some investor came in and wanted to build an oyster farm.  He got permission from officials to dam the ocean.  End of beach.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Quietly Doing it His Way

It was hot and humid and hot.  We spent a great deal of time splashing around at the family well.  One morning I went for a splash and spotted movement near the outdoor sink.  Pigeons, two of them, were tied up beneath the sink.  My father-in-law caught them with his hat and was keeping them as pets.  They didn't look very happy tied to a string, though.  So we went out in search of a bird cage.  However, Chinese bird cages are the tiny bamboo ones meant to hold small singing sparrows, ones that can be carried to the park to sing with other birds.  A pigeon, much less two, would barely squeeze in.  I suggested we build a cage.
So we went to town and found a wire shop.  Turned out the owner of the shop used to ride to high school each day with my husband.  So the man not only gave us a good deal, but delivered the wire and let us borrow the shop's wire cutters.
Then we started building.  Talk about 1001 opinions.  I had images of an 8ft aviary.  My father-in-law worried about his garden being ruined.  My husband said just a small cage was enough. The children all had opinions--make it round, make it square.  Dinner was called and my brother-in-law came in, took over, and just slap dash put something together.  My father-in-law smiled and thanked everyone.
The next morning when my husband and I got up before 6am to revamp some of the corners, my father-in-law had pre-empted us.  He'd been up for hours and had already fixed everything just to his liking.  I had to smile.  He hadn't protested the creation, but had returned when noone else was there to "help," and fixed the cage to his liking.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Welcome Home

When we left Japan, it was onto to China. We arrived in Fuzhou (southern China) not only to a soldier saluting each and every deplaning passenger, but to my brother-in-law who had come to pick us up.  We chatted a bit, but it was late and I soon fell asleep.  The next thing I knew there was pounding on my window.
"We're at the restaurant," he said.  "Aren't you hungry?"
We all agreed that we were not.  We were just really tired.  So, he got back in the car and took us to his home.  I must tell you something about this home.  It is six stories high.  I once asked my brother-in-law why he'd built such a huge house.
"There's a floor for each one of my siblings," he explained.  "So you always have someplace to return home."
We trudged up the steps to the third floor, showered, were ready to climb in bed, when there was my brother-in-law again.
"Dinner's ready," he said.  "You must be hungry."
All we wanted to do was lay down and sleep, but he had gone to such effort.  So we went down and had noodles, and lychee the size of ping-pong balls.  An official --and delicious--welcome.

Friday, August 3, 2012


When we were in Japan it was rainy season.  We had not brought umbrellas.  One day we walked a mile or so to an art museum.  Rain had been sprinkling when we started out, but when we left the museum, it was pouring.  My eldest son spotted a large leaf he could use as an umbrella.  The rest of us just tried to hurry along.  However, my youngest daughter was on crutches and "hurry" took on a slower meaning.  She and I got stuck at a red light and stood in the pouring rain.  Along came a woman on a bike, wearing a full raincoat, and with a folded umbrella hanging from her bike handle.
 "Here." this woman said, handing the umbrella to my daughter.  "I don't need this.  You take it."  And with that she rode off.
Umbrella became our code word--for being kind.  When the kids would bicker over something, I would remind them of the selflessness of this stranger.  I would just say, "Umbrella."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Images of Japan

In the ten days we roamed hither and yon in Japan visiting friends and relatives, we came away with several images:
**Nobody ate while walking, driving, sitting on the train, biking.  In fact, eating was a kind of ritual (done at certain times of the day.)  Nobody was fat.
**Public transportation made life accessible.  While there, we only sat in a car twice.  The rest of the time was walking, riding a bike, riding a train.  Even grannies rode their bikes.  The shinkansen was especially impressive, travelling at up to 190 m/hour, arriving halfway across the country in a few hours.
**People riding on the train didn’t talk on their cell phones—they switched to “manner mode."  If someone did accidentally get a call, it was amusing to watch.  It looked like some covert operation, as the person spoke with their hands up by their face blocking out the potentially annoying sound of their personal conversation. 
**Almost everywhere we went had directional signs in English, sometimes in Korean, Chinese.  
**Wifi was not everywhere.
**People ran around in yukatas and kimono--a nod to the old--as well as 3-piece suits and dresses.  But NOBODY wore saggers.

**And, although it seems silly to mention, the bathrooms were always a new experience.  The worst ones were the old-fashioned holes in the ground.  The best ones (like at the airport) had several buttons on the side, one button for bidet, one for shower, one for dryer.  At the same time, as soon as you sat down, a recording of rushing water would start up, masking any other sounds.  In these bathrooms, the sinks were also very high tech, with soap dispensing as soon as you put your hands beneath the dispenser, water flowing as soon as you put your hands under the spigot, and the hand dryer turning on as soon as you put your hands in this sideways waffle-iron type machine.  (Something I've only seen at the Tech Museum in San Jose.)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The easiest way to climb a mountain

Making use of our lovely shinkansen pass, we visited Kyoto for a couple of days.  "What do we need to see here," my daughter asked.  As Kyoto was one of the original capitals of the country and had been spared the fire-bombing raids which targeted many a city in WWII, I thought that akin to going to Washington, D.C. and asking a similar question.  Even in months you can't see everything.  I took them to see Kinkakuji--the golden temple--and Ryoanji--the famous rock garden--and then they wanted to, of all things, go see the monkey park.  It was pouring rain when we headed up this mountain.  We kept seeing signs about what to do if we saw a monkey--don't stare at it, don't pet it, don't throw rocks--but there weren't any live specimens.  Still the kids hiked on with greater enthusiasm than ever.  I kept thinking, all you have to do is give them hope of seeing monkey and they will run to the top.  I kept wondering if this was a trick.  The people coming down from the mountain did not appear particularly pleased.  And when I asked if they had seen any monkeys, they had not answered.  We did eventually make it to the top of the mountain where there were hundreds of monkeys waiting to be fed.  We spent hours there watching them on the top of this mountain over the city. It wouldn't have been something I would have thought to do, but it was lovely and peaceful.  And next time I want my kids to hike a mountain, I will just tell them there are monkeys at the top.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How close are we to Fukushima?

We called a dear friend, assuming she was still living in Tokyo.  She said she had returned to Koriyama (hometown) which is near Fukushima.  Would we come visit?  We immediately said we would, then wondered about radiation.  Surely, the radiation couldn't be too bad if she was living there.  We hopped on the shinkansen.  She picked us up and mentioned that life in Koriyama had been hard since the earthquake, with thousands of people leaving the city (esp. young children and expectant mothers). Businesses had suffered, schools had suffered. 
I said, "It is safe, isn't it?" 
"Oh sure," she said.  "But if you're worried...." She handed me a paper mask to put on my face.  Hmmmm.  That afternoon, she took us to see some 80-million-year-old caves.  The kids kept asking if we were moving closer or further from Fukushima.  But once we got to the area, all concern was lost as we explored the wonders of the caves.  And for the first time since the trip began, we were actually cold.  What a feeling.  At the exit to the caves, I saw something that looked like a time capsule.  Turned out it was a radiation detector, and it gave out the radiation levels for the day.  These radiation detectors popped up everywhere we went--and always made one a bit nervous.  What did the level mean?  My tech savvy kids figured out that up to 11 on the detector was safe (we never saw past 1.2).
Koriyama, by the way, used to be a backwater.  Full of people just scraping by.  It wasn't untl a hundred and thirty years ago, when some innovative types (including a foreigner) came in and showed the people how to irrigate the land.  It is now a lovely and thriving area.  Or it was....until the meltdown. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Alpaca With Meaning

We were able to get JR Rail passes--similar to Eurorail Passes.  It allowed us to ride on the shinkansen as much as we wanted.  The shinkansen is a dream.  It travels up to 200 miles per hour.  If we had one in California, I could visit my mother in just a little over an hour, rather than spending the entire day driving.  We went to visit some friends a couple hours northwest of Tokyo in Nagaoka. 
They took us to an amazing onsen in the mountains.  We soaked for hours, then were treated to a meal that was more like an art piece.  Dishes of every shape held different delicacies (six green beans in one dish, three pickles in another, two pieces of fresh fish in a third.)  Halfway through the meal, we were asked to go to the window of the restaurant.  Outside the window was a mountain and halfway up the mountain was a stage.  The owner of the onsen danced "Life is a Dream."  It was a dream.
The following day, we went to see bull-fighting.  Well, not really.  They weren't fighting the day we went.  But it was the place where bullfighting originated (thousands of years ago), back when there was no television, movies, entertainment of any kind. 
In 2004, the county suffered a huge earthquake.  In fact our friend said he was lucky to have been off with his family visiting their summer home. Otherwise they would have been stuck in town where there was no electiricity or water for three weeks. 
During this disaster,  a person in Colorado sent the people of the area some alpacas, as a way of saying, "Stick with it.  Don't give up."  It seemed a kind of out-of-nowhere kind of gift, but has turned into one of real meaning.  Recently, the people of Nagaoka sent the people in Fukushima a couple of Alpaca as a way of telling them to Stick with It.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Hokey Pokey Purification Dance

The other day, had another small miracle.  I got to see three Japanese friends I'd known in Singapore, Japan, the US, and who now live in Tokyo.  It felt like a time warp.  A dream.
They took us to Iidabshii to visit a special shrine which is all the rage in Japan--a shrine where you pray for the power of love.  It was filled with young women, and my two sons were two of the only men there, much to their embarassment.  They weren't quite sure what to do and weren't quite sure how this shrine differed from the other one we had gone to.  I wasn't either, except that this one didn't have the bamboo circle.
At the first regular old shrine, there was a Tori gate at the entrance and our friends were all excited to see this large round circle made of bamboo.  It was large enough to walk through, and there were directions right next to it.  Bow, walk in to the left and circle back around.  Bow again, walk through to the right and circle back around.  Bow again, walk through to the left and circle back around.  Bow and walk forward to make your prayer. 
For some reason I kept thinking of the Hokey-Pokey.  Walk around to the left. Bow. Around to the right. Bow.  Do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around.  I asked our friends what this was all about--they had no idea. 
I said, "Perhaps it is a practical joke to see how many people will just follow the directions, no matter how silly they seem." 
Oh, no, no, no. 
One of our friends asked a person working at the shrine.  Apparently it is for purification, and by doing the left-right-left dance you become pure before meeting God.  They only put it out twice a year.  So we were lucky to have had this chance.
It seemed funny. (Before I started thinking of all the similar ridiculous motions I've gone through in churches--sitting, standing, kneeling, etc.)  If purification is the pronouncement, I'll dance.:)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Naked with Strangers and Loving it

Where in the world would you invite a friend you haven't seen for years to bathe naked with you for hours on end?  That would be Japan.

At the onsen--a public bathing area--men and women go to their respective areas, shed their clothes, wash off under spigots, then soak in various hot baths which are created from hot springs.  My husband said we were going there with uncle and aunty, and even a male friend who was planning to stop by to meet us after his work.  My eldest son picked up his bathing suit.

"Oh, you won't need that," my husband said.
My son's eyes grew wide.  "I don't think I want to go," he said.  "I'll just wait here."
"Don't be a wuss."  Younger brother said.  He was at a hot springs two years ago and got to be the voice of experience. 
All the way there, nervous voices asked what was going to happen.  But, once we got there, we couldn't drag the kids out.  Is that a familar bath story?
We've been fortunate to bump into onsen--hot springs all along our trip.  And unlike the usual bath story, as soon as I say the word "onsen,"  I have everyone's full attention and cooperation.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

An Amazing Retrieval

This morning--before the sun rose--we arrived at Haneda airport, Japan.  Six passengers/10 pieces of luggage.  We weren't quite sure where we were going--a general direction of Saitama (countryside) to visit my sister-in-law.  However, we weren't clear on how to get there.  So we lolligagged as long as possible, eating breakfast, drinking tea in the aiport restaurant.  Then we headed for the monorail, which took us to a train, then five sets of stairs (fortunately all down), then a subway, more stairs, another train.  Four hours later we were at my sister-in-law's station.   She took us home, and my brother-in-law cracked a carton of juice for us.  My daughter took one sip and raced outside. 
"What's the matter?"  I called.
My brother-in-law looked up, concerned.
"Are you alright?" I called again.
"My retainer," she said, tears forming.  "I don't have my retainer."
She had left her retainer in a napkin on the table in the restaurant at the airport. 
Oh, gosh.  We'd never find that.  Never.
My older daughter said,  "I think you better translate this debacle, cause he thinks she just doesn't like the juice."
I had to laugh.  And gladly told my brother-in-law the problem.  He said,  "Don't worry,"  picked up the phone and called the airport.  He described the restaurant and the retainer.  They had it.  We all did a little dance while he stayed on the phone.  Apparently, in order to release the retainer, they needed a note complete with address and signature and instructions.  After getting my younger daughter's signature, he raced out the door, insisting it wasn't far.  He was back three hours later with the retainer.  I'm still amazed. And so grateful.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Graduation or Cocktail Party?

After a seminar on how, in order to be an affective blogger, one had to write something two to three times a day, I threw in the towel.  I didn’t have two or three things to blog about each day…besides I had a novel to finish.  I had been working on the sequel to My Half of the Sky when a Korean gentleman approached me, saying, “Your novel reminds me of old Korea.  Will you help me tell my story?”  
He grew up in Seoul, Korea during WWII, and in the space of three years watched his happy homeland turn into a prison and punishment center for his family.  Well, I couldn’t resist his heartwarming story.  Last week, I put the final touches on it—at least for now.  (It’s with my trusty critique group and a select group of editors.)
So I could have started blogging last week.  But I was at my eldest daughter’s graduation from UC, Santa Barbara.  It was a wonderful moment in our family history.  The speeches were thoughtful (although at moments, I expected the Dean to pass around a donation hat.)  And it was a particular thrill to have all the students stand and be told, “You have graduated.”  Tears came to my eyes.  
Then the students sat, and we were put through the torture of listening to various staff members read (poorly, I might add) 1200 names.  Some of the friends and relatives did not bother to stick around to listen, but after having heard their friend's/child's name got up.  If these people had just left, that would have been okay—rude, but okay rude.  No, these people acted like they were walking through a dinner party.  “Oh, Jess.  How are you?  I haven’t seen you in ages.”  High five, shoulder bump.  
Did I miss my daughter’s name?  
It was ridiculous….a definite breakdown of a touching day.
Graduate daughter is now going to Hangzhou, China for two months to work in a hospital—to get the feel for how things are done there, to hone her language skills.  So, of course, we all need to give her the send off.  We’ll be traveling first to Japan (where she was born) and then to Hangzhou.  I will do my best to find at least one thing of interest to report on each day...or two.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Just Wait a Minute

I needed to get to a family service in Ottawa, Canada last Saturday. I flew out Friday morning with connections in LA and Chicago, planning to meet my sister on the last flight.
I figured my ticketer knew what he was doing when he suggested various flights. However, after the pilot left late from LA, I got in the air and realized I had but twenty minutes between flights.
Perhaps the gates were right next to each other.
"No," the guy sitting in the aisle seat--a native of Chicago--chuckled. "You'll never make it."
He did root for me, however, offering me his seat for the last ten minutes of the ride, and practically pushing me off the plane as soon as the bell rang signalling this big bus had reached a full and complete stop.
I had 14 minutes.
I ran through the terminal like OJ Simpson (in his Hertz rent-a-car days) to the shuttle which would take me to the next terminal.
I had five minutes.
"Just wait a minute," a guard said. "The shuttle will be here soon."
A whole minute? I don't have an extra one of those. I called my sister. "Can you ask the flight to wait? I'm almost there."
"Don't worry," she said. "It's been delayed."
It was amazing. I was so relieved to have that time. Just time. Time to breathe.
It made me think of writing. We're often under an imagined deadline. I need to finish this by my 50th birthday, by the end of the year, by summer vacation. It makes us do silly things (like jump over suitcases and push others out of the way.) It's good to have a deadline, a goal, as long as the goal doesn't overwhelm your writing. When it does "Just wait a minute."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Climbing the Mountain

Over the holidays, we went on our annual trip to Lake Tahoe. There was absolutely no snow, other than that manufactured by the resorts, which was fine by me as my idea of a good time is driving on dry pavement, not bundling up, and hiking around the lake with the dogs.
While the kids snowboarded on icy patches, my husband and I decided to hike to the top of the bare mountain. It didn't look hard--surely we'd be back down in time to meet the kids for lunch. We looked for a path and, not immediately seeing one, just bulldozed our way through a patch of bushes, over a bunch of rocks.
It got rockier and rockier. The top seemed further and further away. Whereas my husband was surely a mountain goat in some past life and jumped from rock to rock, I was brought to my bottom as I held precariously onto one wobbly rock after another. I kept thinking, "Was this supposed to be fun?"
I decided I'd rather hike on flat pavement and went back down the mountain. A few joggers ran past and I asked, "Is there a trail nearby?" There was--just down the road. Oh, the beauty. A nicely carved trail, a direction to follow.
I was reminded of the writing journey. How it seems so easy--to just write a book--and I bulldoze through, getting hung up on rocks and scratched by branches, landing on my butt more times than I can count--and wishing to be like a mountain goat. While there is no "trail," I've found several markers helpful:
1)The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine. She writes about the importance of critique groups, how to find one, how to critique. My critique group is my major lifeline, pulling me back when I wander off -or can't even find--the trail.
2)The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Alderson. She takes the nitty gritty words and forces the author to look at the big picture. What is the plot? How does it evolve? It's a great help for people (like me) who bulldoze ahead and get stuck on a pile of rocks.
3)Occasional amazing teachers, like David Corbett. He is the author of numerous adventure stories, including Do They Know I'm Running? Done for a Dime, Blood of Paradise, and The Devil's Redhead. He'll be teaching a class Arcs & Acts at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Saturday, February 4, 10:00 am-4:00 pm and Sunday, February 5, 10:00 am-3:00 pm. See details
4)Good books. The book of the week is Deep Down True by Juliette Fay, the story of a middle-aged mother who tries to pull her family and herself together in the wake of a divorce from her husband who left her for a young Chinese immigrant. I enjoyed Fays's first book--Shelter Me--better. However, as in that book, I loved Fay's voice. I would read anything by this author.

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