Author: Amanda R

Accessing Education for Children With Special Needs in China

Accessing Education for Children With Special Needs in China

Many children with special needs in China are denied educational opportunities because China’s public schools are literally inaccessible to children with physical disabilities and they don’t have the resources to support children with mental disabilities. It is an unfortunate fact that many Chinese families view their children as their support network as they age. If a child has any disadvantage that would hamper their ability to provide for their parents when they are adults, parents often have to make the heartwrenching decision to put the child up for adoption and try again. While many children with disabilities could still be productive adults capable or caring for their parents, that possibility becomes nearly impossible without access to education.

Back to school fun!

As an aside, this is a problem not just in China but worldwide, that people with disabilities earn less money than their able-bodied counterparts. In America, disabled people earn on average 68 cents for every dollar their non-disabled counterparts earn, while in the UK, disabled persons often earn as little a 40 cents on the dollar compared to non-disabled workers. Of course, in those countries, that is an employment issue. When it comes to education, both countries are much better at making sure all children – no matter their disability – have access to schooling. In China, when a child does not have access to education, the chance that the child will then be able to have a productive career is almost non-existent.

But there are even more hurdles for families in China trying to access education for their children. When the public schools are not an option, some families with the means will turn to private schools. These schools are usually much smaller with many more resources than public schools. And since they are for-profit, they generally will do whatever they can to accommodate families with special requests.

But sometimes those “special requests” clash when it comes to children with special needs – and there is significant prejudice and ignorance when it comes to children with special needs.

Our daughter has unique challenges, but we found a fantastic kindergarten in Yangshuo for her. The school’s principal used to work in the adoption field, so she really understands our daughter’s needs. The teachers are very kind and patient and go out of their way to make sure our daughter gets the most out of her classes. The classes are also very small, which has given our daughter the chance to improve her social skills in a way that is not overwhelming for her. It has been a wonderful experience and in the six months she has been going to school, she has made remarkable improvements.

But apparently, things were not going so smoothly behind the scenes.

Our daughter’s principal is a secret badass.

The school’s principal told me yesterday that there is another mother with a daughter with special needs who would like to attend the school. Some of the other mothers found out about this and have vehemently objected to admitting the child, even going so far as to say that they will remove their children from the school if she is admitted. These mothers believe that the child with special needs will have a “negative effect” on their own children.

I was very surprised because our daughter has been attending for several months. The other mothers must see this and know that having a special needs child in a class does not hurt the other children. It is usually the other way around. The children who are more able are able to help the children who need the extra attention. I asked her if there was anything we could do to help. But that was when she dropped the bombshell.

“The other mothers don’t want your daughter to attend school here either.”

I am sure the shock and anger showed on my face because she was quick to tell me that we didn’t need to worry about it. She could handle the other mothers. The implication was that since we are foreigners, our daughter’s enrollment in the school is not up for debate. Even in a country where we are a significant minority, our white privilege is strong. But since the other mother is Chinese, the other mothers feel they have the right to bully her and her daughter out of the school.

I share stories like this to better exemplify the challenges parents in China face when their children have disabilities. Many times, even money cannot overcome prejudice and ignorance. It will take a drastic overhaul in both policy and attitudes before parents in China will be able to access quality education for their very special children.

Interview with Laila Ibrahim, Author of Paper Wife

Interview with Laila Ibrahim, Author of Paper Wife

As soon as I read the description for Paper Wife, I knew it was exactly the kind of book I would love to read. It isn’t going to be released until the end of October, but author Laila Ibrahim was kind enough to do an author interview with me now. Read what she had to say below, and don’t forget to preorder your copy of Paper Wife!

From the bestselling author of Yellow Crocus comes a heart-wrenching story about finding strength in a new world.

Southern China, 1923. Desperate to secure her future, Mei Ling’s parents arrange a marriage to a widower in California. To enter the country, she must pretend to be her husband’s first wife—a paper wife.

On the perilous voyage, Mei Ling takes an orphan girl named Siew under her wing. Dreams of a better life in America give Mei Ling the strength to endure the treacherous journey and detainment on Angel Island. But when she finally reaches San Francisco, she’s met with a surprise. Her husband, Chinn Kai Li, is a houseboy, not the successful merchant he led her to believe.

Mei Ling is penniless, pregnant, and bound to a man she doesn’t know. Her fragile marriage is tested further when she discovers that Siew will likely be forced into prostitution. Desperate to rescue Siew, she must convince her husband that an orphan’s life is worth fighting for. Can Mei Ling find a way to make a real family—even if it’s built on a paper foundation?

AMAZON

Interview with Laila Ibrahim

1) Tell me a little about yourself, personally and as a writer.
My education and career have mostly been centered around families–as a religious educator, a preschool educator and as a birth doula.  I’m still getting used to the idea that I am a professional writer. I’m thrilled that my stories resonate in people’s hearts and souls.  I started writing in 2005 and haven’t looked back–though there were many bumps on the road at the beginning.
I live in Berkeley California in a small co-housing community.  My wife is a public school educator, and it looks like our young adult daughters are following in her footsteps.
2) How did Paper Wife come about?
I have a family friend who once casually mentioned that she was in her mom’s uterus on Angel Island.  I imagined there was an amazing story there but didn’t know I was the one to tell it.  A few years later I visited the immigration detention center museum on Angel Island and I decided I had to tell that story someday. I stored that idea in the background. When I got a two-book deal from Lake Union for a companion to my first novel and then a second novel on anything I wanted I immediately knew Paper Wife would be the second book in that deal.
3) What kind of research was involved in bringing this book to life?
I’m fortunate to live so close to Angel Island and San Francisco Chinatown.  I got to do a lot of research on location which really brought the feel of the experience alive. There are wonderful books that are first-hand accounts from the generation that went through Angel Island.  I’m deeply indebted to the historians who did those interviews before that generation left this planet.  The end of the book has a bibliography of the books and documentaries that I used.
4) What scene was the most difficult to write?
The beginning, when Mai Ling is leaving her family forever, is the most painful.  I can’t fathom saying a forever goodbye to my family. I cried when I wrote it, and a cried each time I edited it.
5) What are you working on next?
I’ve just started a companion to Yellow Crocus and Mustard Seed.  This third novel will follow the lives of characters introduced in those novels as they emigrate to California via the railroads in 1894.  I’m researching the Pullman Porters, the PullmanStrike (which led to the establishment of Labor Day), and the suffrage movement in California. I like to show how historical events affect the lives of specific families.
Guest Post: 8 Unique Things to See and Do in Beijing

Guest Post: 8 Unique Things to See and Do in Beijing

There aren’t many places in the world like Beijing. This massive city has a unique mixture of ancient history and cutting-edge innovation. It will definitely leave an impression on you. While there are plenty of must-see things to do in and around Beijing, like the Great Wall or The Forbidden City, this post will highlight eight more unique places that are worth checking out. 

798 Art District

If you love art, you absolutely must visit the 798 Art District during your stay in Beijing. In the 1950s, this factory complex was originally named Joint Factory 718 and was designed as part of a Socialist Unification Plan between the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union. Between the late 1950s and the late 1980s, tens of thousands of factory workers lived and worked in Joint Factory 718 before it finally shuttered its doors in the early 1990s. Now, the former factory complex is known for its unique Bauhaus architectural style and is home to an incredible variety of galleries, art studios, restaurants, and bars. You could spend all day wandering in and out of different art exhibitions and stopping to eat at the district’s many trendy restaurants and cafes. This one-of-a-kind arts district is a must-see for any art enthusiast visiting Beijing.

Happy Valley

Happy Valley is a great place to visit for families with young children, or even just amusement park enthusiasts in general. This massive amusement park features six different areas, each with a different theme ranging from ancient Greece to Mayan culture to the mythical city of Shangri-La. It has forty rides in total, ten of which are extreme rides perfect for any adrenaline junkie or thrill-seeker. Even if you’re not into roller coasters, you’re sure to have fun catching a movie in Happy Valley’s IMAX theater or wandering around its extensive shopping center. You can also watch the Golden Mask Dynasty show at the park’s Overseas Chinese City Opera theater or visit the Living Art Museum exhibition. If you’re looking for a fun-filled excursion full of thrill rides, Happy Valley is the perfect place for you!

Wudaokou

Wudaokou, also known by many as Koreatown, is a neighborhood in northwest Beijing. This neighborhood in particular has a large population of students due to its proximity to several prestigious universities like Tsinghua University and Peking University. It also has a sizable Korean immigrant population, as evidenced by its “Koreatown” nickname. As a result of its diverse student population, which includes Chinese natives and foreign exchange students from all over Asia, Europe, and the US, Wudaokou is home to a wide variety of restaurants and cafes that serve all sorts of international food. It also has a notoriously vibrant nightlife and club scene, with different establishments catering to the clubbing preferences of students from different continents. If you love to party, definitely make sure to stop by Wudaokou!

CCTV Tower

CCTV Tower is the tallest building in Beijing, the third tallest building in China, and the sixth tallest building in the entire world. It’s named after China Central Television (CCTV), which is the number one TV network in China. There are a number of interesting attractions to visit inside the tower, including the largest open-air observation deck in the world, a pair of exhibits highlighting the history of CCTV and the traditional culture of Beijing, a rotating buffet-style restaurant, and an indoor aquarium and ocean park. If you want to get a birds-eye view of China’s capital, CCTV Tower is the best place to be. On a clear, cloudless day, you can see the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City from the observation deck.

Houhai

Houhai, which literally translates to “Rear Lake,” is a beautiful lake district in central Beijing. Houhai is well-known for its idyllic beauty and bustling nightlife. During the day, you can ride a pedal boat on the lake, stroll across the area’s many bridges, or even just sit on a bench and people-watch. Although its serene water and picturesque bridges are beautiful in the daylight, nighttime is really when Houhai comes alive. It’s home to a number of bars, restaurants, teahouses, and coffee shops that cater to Chinese natives and tourists alike. If you’re interested in history, you can visit the Former Residence of Soong Ching Ling, a museum dedicated to the former Vice President of the People’s Republic of China. You can also visit the Prince Gong Mansion, another museum that was the former residence of Qing dynasty statesman Prince Gong.

Nanluoguxiang Hutong

If you’re bored of shopping malls and retail centers, Nanluoguxiang is a breath of fresh air. Located in a series of narrow alleyways, or “hutongs,” this unique shopping area is full of interesting stores and food stalls. It’s a perfect place to hunt for unique souvenirs to bring home to your family and friends. It’s also home to the smallest bar in Beijing, measuring only 12 square meters, and also aptly named “12 Square Meters.” It’s a pedestrian-only area, which means you can wander around on foot without having to watch out for cars or buses. If your feet are tired, you can also hire a pedicab to drive you around the area or rent a bike and pedal around yourself. Nanluoguxiang is also an excellent place to take a peek at Beijing’s famed courtyard residences and Yuan Dynasty architecture.

Sanlitun

Sanlitun is a can’t-miss destination for any shopaholic. It’s a popular shopping and entertainment district full of malls, bars, restaurants, and a newly-constructed multiplex movie theater. In addition to housing internationally-known brands like Uniqlo, Apple, Rolex, and the world’s largest Adidas store, Sanlitun is also home to a bevy of unique boutiques, bookstores, vintage shops, and even a clothing market called Yashow Market, which is notable for selling counterfeit designer items. Whether you’re into luxury fashion, kitschy-cute clothing items, or unique vintage finds, Sanlitun has something for you!

Ride around the city on a Mobike or Ofo

Mobike and Ofo are station-free bike-sharing companies originally native to Beijing. Using the Mobike or Ofo apps, you can connect your credit card, locate any eligible bicycles in the area, and scan and unlock a bicycle to ride around the city for however long you’d like. You may even already be familiar with these two bike-sharing services if you live in cities like Milan, London, Bangkok, Tel Aviv, Berlin, or Santiago. If you’re looking to get some exercise and boost your heart rate as you tour the city, Mobike and Ofo are excellent ways to get around!

Nick Dahlhoff is an American English teacher living in Beijing. He writes a lot about learning Mandarin on his website – All Language Resources.

Interview With Amanda Hughes, Author of The House of Five Fortunes

Interview With Amanda Hughes, Author of The House of Five Fortunes

While Xiu peddled pipe dreams, a nightmare was waiting.
Sensual and exotic, San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1870’s was filled with temptation and greed. Raised in this quagmire of vice, Xiu Jung caters to wealthy thrill-seekers with her elegant opium den, The House of Five Fortunes. With the help of Madison Hayes, the illustrious actor, she makes it the most fashionable salon on the West Coast. But a string of murders is sweeping the city, coming closer and closer to Xiu. Madison said he would protect her, but could this mysterious outsider be trusted?
From Chinatown to Deadwood, Amanda Hughes once again takes you on a page-turning adventure of a lifetime.

Available on Amazon

 

 

Interview with Author Amanda Hughes

  1. Tell me a little about yourself, both personally and as a writer.

    I have worn many hats in my lifetime from therapist to business owner to writer, but the role that has been the most rewarding and the most challenging has been the role of motherhood. I raised three children by myself (which makes me a “bold woman” too!) in the woods of Northern Minnesota. I spent many nights wondering where my next dime would come from but somehow we always made ends meet. Living in that remote location made me wonder how people survived the privation and violence of Colonial America so I was inspired to write my first book Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry. After many submissions, a publishing house in Canada bought the rights, and for several years Kerry was on the market. Unfortunately, the publisher closed their doors in 2004, and busy raising teenagers, I did not finish my second novel, The Pride of the King for almost ten years. The current Amazon platform was available by that time, so here I am eight novels later.

  2. The House of Five Fortunes is part of your Bold Women of the 19th Century Series. What is that series and how did it come about?

    Although I call it a series, my books are stand-alone novels. There are too many characters “waiting in the wings” for their tale to be told, so I could never dwell on one woman’s story. Thus, I don’t write sequels.

    It took me a long time to realize that this was a series. After the third book, I started to see a common theme. The novels were always about gutsy, female survivors who lived in different time periods, so I called it “The Bold Women Series” and started organizing the books into centuries.

  3. Tell me about The House of Five Fortunes specifically. How did you come up with the idea? What sort of research was involved?

    Thirty years ago, I traveled to San Francisco and toured Chinatown. Instantly, I fell in love with the magic and mystery of the district. Years later when I decided to tell Xiu Jung’s story, I was disappointed to see so little had been written about the role of Chinese Americans in the building of the Transcontinental Railroad and the racism they endured. In knew then this story needed to be told, so I decided to share it in one of my “Bold Women” novels. To gain a deeper insight into the culture, I traveled to China, interviewed Chinese Americans with ancestors from San Francisco, and devoured every book I could find.

  4. Many historical fiction authors focus on one place or era, but in your Bold Women series, you write about women from such diverse backgrounds. How do you manage that?

    It is a labor of love. I cannot imagine being a writer of historical fiction and not loving research. I like to take little known time periods in American history and shed light on them. Time and time again we see stories about wealthy, beautiful aristocrats living on plantations, estates or in penthouses during the same old time periods. I think people living on the fringes of society in little-known settings are far more interesting. They are so often overlooked and have so much more to offer, so that is what I write.

  5. What can readers expect from you in the future?

    My latest work is about an American Indian woman riding the rails during the Great Depression. The book follows her rise to fame as one of the great photojournalists of the early 20th Century rivaling the likes of Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White. Her adventures take her from coast to coast and into Germany during the rise of The Third Reich.

    Thanks a million for having me on your blog!

Guest Post – Business Strategy Lessons to Pick up From China

Guest Post – Business Strategy Lessons to Pick up From China

Every business has the same mission: reduce expenses and optimize revenue. But accomplishing this varies from company to company in different locations around the world.

Chinese companies are a great example. They are gaining ground on international corporations in the West. The consumer market in China differs greatly from the U.S. market, but American entrepreneurs can use some insights from Chinese businesses to get the extra advantage.

You Don’t Have to be One-Of-A-Kind

Entrepreneurs in China are bold in the business models they create. They are not fixated on starting with a unique idea so much as the processes behind it. Chinese business owners see imitating industry leaders as a learning source and a fast path to success.

They welcome innovation into a business philosophy of fast iteration. Experimenting with new ideas drives improvement through a constant cycle of innovation and assessment.

Their strategy focuses on providing “lean value“: basic designs tailored to a specific need. Customers want products that fulfill these needs and any extra features as wasteful.

One way to effect this in your own company is to seek customer feedback and innovate according to market demand. Companies in China use product reviews to drive design changes twice as often as U.S. companies.

You don’t need a perfect product to please customers, so long as buyers get what they’re looking for. Home-based businesses in America prove that the new generation of entrepreneurs appreciate this.

The launch of 38 million home businesses in the U.S. shows it’s possible to start small and build a stable company.

Think Holistic: View Your Business as One Entity

Chinese culture is fond of applying philosophical principles to many aspects of life, including business. Daoism teaches the only constant in the universe is continuous change. This can be a truism in doing business long-term.

What brings benefits today could create losses, and vice-versa. In China, specific strategies are not as important as the context in which they’re used.

A holistic approach emphasizes the relationships between different business functions, not the functions themselves. The parts are not separate from the whole. Your company is not a product or a service but a mix of all the components that make everything happen.

Look at your business model as the Chinese approach to traditional medicine. Physical illness is not a problem at one point, but an imbalance in the whole body. The body must restore that balance to work as it should.

When you assess your company, don’t fall into binary thinking; things are rarely black or white.

One of the best illustrations to grasp this mindset is the Chinese word for “crisis“. It’s formed of the two words – “danger” and “opportunity“. Recognizing the ambiguous nature of things allows the Chinese to merge opposites and create new perspectives.

Create a Plan for Long-Term Success

For Chinese business leaders, the most effective route to success is following the Five-Year Plan. They devote most resources to progress in strategic sectors.

The Plan identifies low-risk markets that fuel steady growth, a strategy favored by GE China, among others. This requires patience and vision. But, like most entrepreneurs, you’ll soon accept that there is no such thing as an overnight success.

Chinese companies emphasize fluidity. The ability to adapt as things change is vital even in the formalities such as business contracts. They do not define written agreements and inflexible as they are in the U.S.

Businesses in China do what is necessary to stay abreast of trends and meet the business needs. It’s critical to set goals, follow a plan, and keep control of all business operations to make it happen.

If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan; but never the goal.

The Chinese mind thinks of events as taking place over the long term. Looking well into the future can enable a clearer perspective on the present.

This helps curb the over-eagerness which leads to brash decisions and costly errors. You must learn to see all choices in a wider context and a more prolonged time frame.

Organizing Your Processes Makes Hiring Easier

Chinese industries have discovered that bigger operations are not necessarily better. It’s possible to make comfortable profits from a small team or even a solo home-based company. An expansion is not always the primary indicator of success for the entrepreneur.

The key to a stable business is improving control and quality and profitability maintenance. Doing this with patience and thoughtful planning supports steady profits.

When your company experiences growth, look to the Chinese model of building diverse teams, including foreigners in positions of leadership. This provides a wealth of experiences and a range of perspectives. It also creates a multinational environment better suited to producing global business directors.

Achieving this requires hiring to be as efficient and productive as other processes. Look to streamlining your onboarding to decrease lost time. A diverse business climate creates flexibility and freedom to embrace new opportunities.

Improving your hiring and recruitment starts with documenting your experiences. Get the information recorded to avoid repeating mistakes and to find what works best. Look at your operations in the context of digital agencies and hire remote workers to expand your talent pool.

Even with seamless hiring practices, not every employee will become a top performer, and some may prove to be a poor fit for your company. You can’t depend on posted resumes or interviews. Beneficial onboarding policies need not just fair and efficient hiring, but validation of experience, education, teamwork, and personal responsibility.

A Final Word

In summary, don’t be afraid to look abroad for business models to emulate. Even if you’re starting from the garage, it can pay to incorporate philosophies of Chinese industry. You can start your company off on the right track by implementing the ideas of patience, flexibility, profitability, and diversity.

Michelle Laurey is a telecommuting wordsmith who especially enjoys writing on a cloudy day. Always interested in ways which can help individuals reach their full potential in life, she enjoys producing stories on entrepreneurship, productivity, lifestyle, and health. Outside her keyboard, she enjoys visiting cozy coffee shops and taking long urban strolls with her boyfriend. Reach out to her on Twitter.

Saving My Sanity With ASMR

Saving My Sanity With ASMR

A little over a year ago, I was teaching a writing class for an alternative healthcare university and one of my students wrote a paper about ASMR. I didn’t really understand what she was talking about and I had never heard of it before, so I did a quick YouTube search – and I was almost instantly hooked!

ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and it usually refers to a tingling, relaxing sensation some people feel in response to certain “triggers,” such as having your hair brushed or having someone talk to you in a calming manner. Have you noticed that Bob Ross’s painting videos are suddenly extremely popular again? That’s ASMR! His calm voice and gentle movements are typical ASMR triggers. While the responses to ASMR videos can vary from person to person, the most common use for them is to help people go to sleep.

I have suffered from insomnia most of my life, but it seems to have gotten even worse as I’ve gotten older. Running my own business and having children certainly has not helped lower my stress levels! I’ve tried everything over the years to get more sleep, from medication, herbs, essential oils, masks, white noise, and more. And while some of these things work sometimes, nothing is consistent. But when I started watching ASMR videos, I was able to sleep without any other aids. And I think I finally figured out why.

When I try to sleep, my mind races. It doesn’t matter how physically exhausted I am, my mind just never shuts off. I have to constantly think about all the things I need to do, the books I need to write, worry about money, worry about my kid, worry about things I have zero control over…It’s exhausting. I’ve never been able to “meditate” because who can “empty” their mind? It simply isn’t possible for me. But I recently learned that “emptying one’s mind” isn’t possible for anyone. It’s a myth. Meditation is actually a heightened state of focus and awareness – not nothingness. Usually, meditation is intense focus on one thing instead of a million things.

This is where ASMR comes in for me. By watching a relaxing video, I am able to focus on THAT, instead of the million other things plaguing my mind, which allows my mind to calm enough to go to sleep. It has a similar effect on the mind as exercise. Exercise is often recommended to treat anxiety and depression, but it isn’t simply moving that treats the depression. Just walking won’t help calm your mind. You have to move fast enough that you are concentrating on your movements instead of whatever is on your mind. Basically, if you are able to think about what to make for dinner tonight while you are walking instead of focusing on putting one foot in front of another to keep from tripping, you aren’t running fast enough for the exercise to help with your depression. It’s a form of hypnosis, which is also just another form of heightened awareness and focus. ASMR, meditation, exercise, hypnosis – when it comes to relaxing and healing your mind, it’s all the same thing.

Since I started doing ASMR, I haven’t needed any other sleep aids. It has also significantly helped with my depression and anxiety. I still have some depression and anxiety, but it is far more manageable.

Interested in trying ASMR for yourself? There are countless ASMRtists on Youtube, and it’s important to find voices and experiences that work for you. But here are my top 5 favorite ASMR channels to get you started.

Gentle Whispering ASMR

Maria is the Queen of ASMR. She is a gateway drug. She did the explainer video at the top of the page. If you want to know “what is this ASMR thing all about?” check out her videos. 

Latte ASMR

Latte does videos in English, Korean, and Japanese. She has the sweetest voice. She knocks me right out.

Goodnight Moon

Goodnight Moon has a really fascinating series of medieval characters that I just love. Her sets and stories are really enjoyable to watch. This is more like a TV show than ASMR because you really fall in love with the characters and can’t wait to see what will happen next, but it has the same effect.

The Lune INNATE

The Lune Innate is actually a distance Reiki healing practitioner, but her methods are very ASMR-like in nature. So not only can she help you go to sleep, but she can help heal your chakras as well.

Crystal ASMR

Crystal ASMR uses Reiki principles, but isn’t actually a Reiki master. But I really enjoy how short her videos are. If you just need something quick to get you to sleep, her videos are great to check out.

BONUS: Open Door Hypnosis

Open Door Hypnosis just announced that she is taking a YouTube hiatus, but you can still view her past videos to learn more about hypnosis and use it to fall asleep fast and deep.

What do you think? Have you given any of the above videos a try? Let me know in the comments!

The Blessings and Curses of Working From Home

The Blessings and Curses of Working From Home

Working from home is great. I roll out of bed and can get right to work. I don’t have to worry about wearing “work” clothes, doing my makeup, or even brushing my hair. I have access to my tea, my snacks, and my dog. When my daughter comes home from school, I’m here for a kiss and a “how was your day” before she goes to play. If I need to, I can have a nap. Or I can take a break and watch a new episode of whatever new TV show we are watching. I don’t have to eat out or worry about paying rent on an office or buying gas to get to work.

It’s fantastic!

It’s also the literal worst. I haven’t left my house for five days. I’m not sure when I last showered. I haven’t spoken to a person I’m not related to face to face for weeks. My husband says I need to get out and make friends.

But I love my job! I really enjoy what I do. When I wake up in the morning, I have no problem getting out of bed because I can’t wait to check my book stats from the day before and getting started on hitting my word count goals for the day.

Sometimes I do feel a little lonely and like I’m not getting the most out of living in such a fantastic place. But leaving the house is hard for me. Going out means spending money, and I’m in a saving/get the credit card paid off mode right now. Getting out also means that everything I need to get done isn’t getting done. I’m not just a writer, but a teacher, editor, and publisher. I do have a lot on my plate. I love it, but it can be stressful, and it’s hard to unplug.

I’m trying to find more of a balance, but it’s difficult. I just want to work, work, work!

What about you? If you work from home, how do you find the motivation to “get out”?

100 Things I Love About China

100 Things I Love About China

I usually look forward to the 4th of July, but I don’t think America deserves to be celebrated right now. And while there is plenty to criticize China about, there is a lot to love about this country too. So here is a list of 100 things I love about China – in no particular order.

  1. Adorable babies
  2. The people
  3. dumplingsdumplings
  4. embroidery
  5. calligraphy
  6. ink and wash paintings
  7. shadow puppets
  8. Hong Kong
  9. Hongkongers
  10. Bruce Lee
  11. Jet Li
  12. Ang Lee
  13. 12 Girls Band
  14. the erhu
  15. terracotta warriors
  16. 5,000 years of history (give or take a thousand years)
  17. hotpot
  18. Sichuan food
  19. Yangshuo
  20. Yangshuo’s karst mountains
  21. river cruises
  22. Prince Gong
  23. Empress Cixi
  24. The Forbidden City
  25. The Great Wall
  26. granny dancing
  27. domestic helpers
  28. not needing a car
  29. fast trains
  30. C-trip
  31. not having to tip
  32. taxis on demand
  33. low cost of living
  34. my daughter’s school
  35. wechat
  36. taobao
  37. meituan
  38. Zhang Ziyi
  39. Lang Lang
  40. Donnie Yen
  41. Jackie Chan
  42. Chow Yun-fat
  43. the ability to travel around the rest of Asia cheaply and easily
  44. The Feminist Five
  45. Qing Dynasty-era manor houses
  46. unique architecture
  47. pandas
  48. dragons
  49. phoenixes
  50. Chinese graves
  51. Zhangjiajie
  52. noodles
  53. Muslim food
  54. street food
  55. night markets
  56. ethnic minority cultures
  57. Dafen Artist Colony
  58. traditional artisans
  59. temples
  60. countryside hostels
  61. Jung Chang
  62. Xinran
  63. affordable medical care
  64. a general feeling of safety
  65. Lantern Festival
  66. Chinese New Year
  67. floating lanterns
  68. Singles Day Sales
  69. Lion Dancing
  70. Chinese Weddings
  71. Hongbaos
  72. Traditional Chinese Clothes
  73. watching China change from the inside
  74. watching the rest of the world change from the outside
  75. shops open late and on weekends
  76. local parks
  77. tea
  78. acupuncture
  79. kungfu
  80. Chinese opera
  81. cheap internet/phone service
  82. meeting people from all over the world
  83. endless opportunities
  84. The way Chinese youths are creative and innovative
  85. assigned seats in movie theaters
  86. silk
  87. the Chinese zodiac
  88. fireworks
  89. Ning Zetao
  90. only one time zone that never changes
  91. Shanghai
  92. Chinese acrobats
  93. Zigong Dinosaur Museum
  94. Lhasa
  95. Splendid China
  96. Anything made of jade
  97. KTV
  98. Toys-R-Us (Yup, we still have them over here!)
  99. Chinese Court Dramas
  100. chopsticks

There are many more things I love about China, but that is enough for now.

What do you love about China? Let me know in the comments.

The Children Everyone Wants

The Children Everyone Wants

“Why do you want to adopt a baby no one else wants?”

This is one of the most common and offensive questions when it comes to adoption. Many people are genuinely curious about the adoption process, which is understandable, and I’m happy to help educate people about the joys of building their family through adoption. But the idea that adopted children are people “no one wants” is wrong.

While some birth parents might give up their children because they weren’t ready to become a parent, for the most part, parents who put their children up for adoption here in China want to keep their children. Birth control pills, condoms, and abortions are all readily accessible here. And while China’s sex-ed is lacking and unwanted/unexpected pregnancies do happen, almost 100% of children who are abandoned here in China have a significant special need. These parents want to parent their children. It is only because of extreme circumstances that they are forced to relinquish their kids.

There are two main driving forces resulting in abandonment and adoption in China.

The first is China’s family planning policy. Once a one-child policy, now a two-child policy, it really doesn’t matter how many children the government wants to include in their draconian method of unnecessarily controlling the country’s population. By limiting how many children a family can have, parents are forced to make horrifying choices that most of us in the world can never imagine.

You might be able to sit in the comfort of your home and think, “I could never give up my child just because the government told me to,” but you’ve never had the government actually tell you that. If a government official came into your home today and told you that if you didn’t give up your much-loved second child, you would lose your job and your home, you would not be able to access healthcare, and your other child would not be able to go to school, what would you do? Really? Again, it is so easy to say, “I’d rather be homeless” when you have a home. I know this sounds like something out a dystopian novel, but it has been going on here in China – for every single family – for more than thirty years. Countless loved, wanted children have ended up in the adoption system because of this disgusting policy.

And the family planning policy extends to adoption. There are actually many families in China who would love to adopt but can’t because they already have one or two children. Chinese adoptees are not “unwanted” by their birth families or by Chinese adoptive families – they are simply not allowed to stay with their families or be adopted. In Xinran’s book Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother, she gets deeply personal about her experience trying to adopt a little girl after she had already given birth to her son.

Being forced to have only a limited number of children feeds directly into the second reason many children are abandoned in China – no access to medical services for children with special needs.

Here in China, it is extremely rare to see people with disabilities. I can count on one hand how many people in wheelchairs I have seen. Or blind people. Or people using sign language.

This is a bit of circular reasoning. In China, there are no services for disabled persons. For example, there are many places you simply cannot access if you are in a wheelchair. Therefore, you never see disabled people in public. So why build services for disabled persons if there aren’t any in public? But you never see them in public because there are no services for them…and so on.

When it comes to having children, many people realize the difficulties that people with disabilities face. Chinese families also have a very dependent set-up. There is no social security system from the government or retirement benefits from your employer. Parents raise their children, and the children show thanks by supporting their parents in their old age. If a child is born with a disability, the likelihood that the child will then be able to earn enough to support their parent later is greatly diminished. So many children with disabilities are abandoned at birth or abandoned later if a healthier sibling comes along.

Even if a family wanted to keep the child with a disability, as I already said, the services don’t exist. Where we currently live, speech and physical therapists don’t exist. And even if they did, many people won’t know what they are, how to access them, or be able to afford them.

Even though my husband and I have access to top quality medical care and have the money to pursue it, raising a child with special needs is hard. There have been many days when I have felt frustrated and alone and worry about our daughter’s future. I can’t imagine the agony our daughter’s birth parents endured before they made the painful decision to let her go.

So before you think – or hear someone else say – that an adoptee was “unwanted,” stop. The child was probably desperatly loved and wanted by far more people than you realize.

Interview With Alexa Kang, Author of Shanghai Story

Interview With Alexa Kang, Author of Shanghai Story

Alexa Kang is the author of the amazing new book Shanghai Story, and I am so thrilled that she agreed to answer a few questions for me. I hope you enjoy this interview and will check out her book. 

A WWII saga in the heart of the world’s most decadent city in 1936. Enter the Paris of the East, where one man and one woman strive to hold on to their dreams as the Communists rise and the shadow of Japan closes in.

His country stood on the verge of a new beginning and the gate of hell. The Kuomintang promises the dawn of democracy, but the Communists threaten civil war while Japan’s unbridled ambitions loom.

All Clark Yuan wants is to see his fellow countrymen’s lives improve. He joins the KMT, hoping to play his part to make China a better place. He vows to Eden, the beautiful Jewish girl he admires from afar, Shanghai would be her forever home.

But power and money are at stake. The line of good and evil shifts. To achieve his ends, he must bargain with the devils. How much of his soul would he sacrifice to reach the greater good?

*

Fleeing the rise of the Nazis, Eden Levine came with her family to Shanghai, hoping to build a new life.

The dazzling city made her swoon. From the pinnacle of luxury, big band jazz, to a safe haven for Jewish refugees, the country that turns no one away is the beacon of hope. But behind the glitz and glamour, the darkness of human nature lurks.

A heinous crime shocks the international community.

Would she defend an innocent Nazi soldier and risk the ire of her own people? With only her new friend Clark by her side, could she defy the clutch of racial strife to see justice prevail?

AMAZON

 

Interview

 

1) Tell me a little about yourself and your writing history. 

I’m Alexa Kang, WWII historical fiction writer. I started writing fiction three years ago as a hobby. Back then, I wrote fanfiction for an obscure, out-of-print Japanese manga called Candy Candy with a die-hard international following. My fanfic stories were very well-received. A fanfic novella I wrote was translated into French, Italian, and Spanish by fans from different countries who loved the story. After that, I decided to give serious novel writing a try.

I released my debut novel, Rose of Anzio (Book One), in 2016. It’s a WWII epic love story that begins in pre-war Chicago and continues onto the Battle of Anzio in Italy. My fanfic readers were my earliest supporters as I shared my novel with them chapter-by-chapter as I wrote. From their responses, I knew I had a special story to tell. After it was published, I received emails from new readers who had lived through the WWII era asking when my next book would come out. One even worked in Chicago in 1940, which was when Rose of Anzio Book One took place. Those readers are in their nineties!!! It was such a humbling experience to hear from them.

I’ve been an incredible journey ever since. The most satisfying reward for me is knowing that I’m able to give people a few hours of escape from their daily burdens through my stories.

2) How did the book Shanghai Story come about?

I’ve gotten to know many WWII fiction authors since I started publishing, and I keep up to date on new WWII novels being released. WWII is a popular genre, but rarely do I see any WWII book set in Asia. WWII fiction set in China is almost non-existent in English or Chinese. I did find a few English novels set in China during WWII, but they aren’t about WWII. I started thinking maybe I could write one.

Nonetheless, I’m not a writer who can pick a topic and plan a book. I can only write something when a character comes alive in my head. This finally happened when I saw a young Chinese man returning to Shanghai from studying abroad. I saw him disembarking a ship on the Bund with hopes of helping to modernize his country into something like America, where he’d gone to college. This young man was Clark Yuan, the main character in Shanghai Story, and this is his story.

3) What was it like researching this book? 

Researching is always one of the toughest parts of writing historical fiction. It’s very work intensive. For Rose of Anzio, I had a lot of great resources to go to because WWII was very well documented by the Allied countries. China is a different story. The Nationalist government back then was very backward in technology and lacking in funds. They didn’t keep very good historical records. Even if there were records, most were lost or destroyed when the Communist Party took over. The CCP has no interest in glorying a war won by the Nationalist Party, and they have their own biased spin on what happened anyway, so research was very challenging.

Fortunately, I can read Chinese, so I was able to research in both Chinese and English. For the macro history side, I tracked down the most objective secondary sources I could find. I also visited the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum to gather information on what life was like for the Jews and how people lived in Shanghai back then. My late grandmother lived through WWII China too, so I was able to draw on my own knowledge of the Chinese culture in the past to write this book.

4) Writing historical fiction can sometimes seem like a daunting task. Did you face any particular challenges while writing this book? 

Aside from the difficulties in research, my own biggest challenge was writing an Asian male main character. How do I make him attractive and relatable to a primarily non-Asian readership, and include him in an AMWW (Asian Man/White Woman) romance subplot? For all the recent talks about diverse writing and representations in media, Asian men generally do not get a lot of love in American media (John Cho and Daniel Day Kim notwithstanding). Pairing an Asian man in a romantic role with a white woman (Jewish in my case) is still a rare phenomenon. I wasn’t sure if readers would be interested in reading a book in which the hero is an Asian man.

On the other hand, I’m not a writer who use my books to force messages onto readers, nor do I want to write for the sake of “representation.” I really, really dislike doing that. As a historical fiction writer, my primary goal is to tell a good story and take my readers on an emotional journey. I do my best to present history objectively so readers can see and experience the world in that era for themselves. I want them to have the opportunity to judge history through their own eyes, and not what I tell them.

Anyway, I couldn’t have written a story to make a point even if I tried. My writing process is very organic and I don’t plot before I write. I write because characters invade my mind and won’t let me rest until their stories are told. Clark and Eden happen to be the ones occupying my head at the moment. I only hope that I’ve done their story justice. I hope Clark will come across to the readers as someone they can relate to, and they can feel all his joys and pains.

5) What is your favorite scene from the book? 

My favorite scene is when Clark and his sisters took Eden to the Paramount Dance Hall. So much of what the entire story is about was embodied in that scene. The Paramount was the epitome of 1930s Shanghai decadence. The performers that night were Buck Clayton and Zhou Xuan. Through Clayton, I was able to show readers the influence of Black American jazz on Chinese contemporary music, as well as the racial attitudes and segregation during that time. Through Zhou Xuan, I introduced to readers an icon of modern Chinese music. She performed “When Will You Come Again?” This song is very popular even today. What most people don’t know is that this song has a huge cultural, historical, and political significance. It was first banned by Chiang Kai-shek, then by the Japanese, and then by Mao’s Communist Party. I really like sprinkling into my books details like these ones.

In that scene, we saw a glimpse of the Communists’ views on commercialism through Liu Zi-Hong, the boyfriend of Clark’s sister Wen-Li. The Japanese captain Kenji Konoe made an appearance and we got an allusion to the looming Japanese threat. Most important of all, it was a major scene where we could see Clark and Eden’s deepening attraction to each other, and how the constraints of racial and cultural divide prevented them from pursuing a relationship.

 

I hope your readers will enjoy Shanghai Story. Thank you so much, Amanda, for giving me this chance to share my thoughts with your readers.