Life on Hold

At the end of 2019 I looked back on the previous months and was happy and grateful for the publication of my memoir, the generous support of my friends during this milestone event, and the subsequent book events in Seattle, Portland, New York City, the Bronx, Santa Barbara, Kahului (Maui), and Honolulu.

I also looked forward to 2020 and the possibility of connecting to more readers at upcoming book events. The New Year appeared welcoming, and the Lunar New Year in late January offered a refresh button if needed.

No one will never forget this Year of the Rat aka the Year of the Pandemic.

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2008 Oaxaca, Mexico: amazing arts & crafts. These are radishes!

 

The Year of the Rat is the beginning of a new 12-year cycle in the Chinese astrological calendar. The last Year of the Rat was 2008, which brought the Bush Great  Recession. I couldn’t help recalling this time and wondered what 2020 would bring even though I had no reason to feel anything but optimistic. In 2007 I had achieved my financial goals and quit my job at the end of the year to take 2008 as a gap year between jobs, a sort of “sabbatical,” to travel to Mexico, Ecuador, Hawaii, and China, then return to Seattle to do

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2008 Summer Palace, China

a job search in the fall. I traveled as planned and returned to a life-changing financial crisis; I remained unemployed, took early Social Security, and launched into a completely new draft of my memoir. Not at all what I had expected.

How quickly our lives can change.

The first case of COVID-19 was identified here in the Seattle area in late January, the first death in February. In mid-March, we were sheltering in place. Waves of anxiety have taken over my life as my activities became more restricted to contain the virus. For weeks I couldn’t focus to write anything. I haven’t posted anything here for months. I have been home alone for eleven weeks now and sorely miss my friends and socializing with them. 

I am lucky to continue my tutoring job online, but it has been exhausting and difficult with various technical issues to contend with. Many have lost their jobs and the uncertainty of what will happen with this pandemic and with the economy is creating daily stress, perhaps much more than some realize.

Some days are okay, some not so much. Isolation blues, you know. 

Last year I was out in the world promoting my book. I have to wonder if I had not had time to write a new manuscript in 2008, would I have had a book published in 2019 and become an author? So, as difficult as 2008 was, it gave me time to write a new manuscript.

It’s Week 12 of staying at home. These days, when I leave my apartment to go shopping or get take out, it’s almost an event. Without knowing it, in 2019 I was gathering a reservoir of aloha and good will to get me through this extremely difficult time. 

And who knows? As horrible as things are now, perhaps we’ll all be able to look back someday and see the blessings that resulted from this time.

Photo Gallery/ References to My Memoir

Dear Readers,

If you have read my book The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir, you may find these photos provide visual references to the narrative.

While my father’s Chinatown store closed in the 1970s, the building remains and is now occupied by the very popular restaurant The Pig & the Lady and The Pacific Gateway Center. Hint: Reservations are highly recommended.

We had a most delicious lunch there! Even though the interior and entry have been completely remodeled, the original brick walls remain. I couldn’t help feeling nostalgia for all the times I had spent between those walls. See p. 29 for a description of Yuen Chong Co.

Lady LL and Liz_ccMy dear friend Liz Aulsebrook joined me and Carol for lunch there. I’ve known Liz since the 1980s and she was one of my beta readers when I finished the very first draft of the memoir.

She recently retired, so we celebrated my book and her retirement!!

Liliha Bakery dream cake

Dream cake! I described this lovely cake on p. 22. This is the cake display at Liliha Bakery at Macy’s in the Ala Moana Center. I really wanted a piece, but they only sell whole cakes.

The original bakery is located near my childhood neighborhood. This new location at the shopping center recently opened, a happy surprise!

My alma mater St. Andrew’s Priory in Honolulu continues its educational mission as established by Queen Emma. I am pleased that the school continues under strong leadership that ensures a curriculum that includes Hawaiian culture and prepares its girls for all career options. I refer to Priory on pages 66 and 161.

 

Class of 1967! Here is my graduation photo with my parents.

1967 graduation

I describe the ancient voyaging canoes that brought the first people to Hawai’i; see p. 164. Reproduced in recent times to travel throughout the Pacific, this is a model on display at the Bishop Museum. The museum also Museum canoedisplays an ancient paddle which indicate the ancestors of the Polynesians were from SE Asia; see p. 156.

Another dear friend, Lilette Subedi reviewed my manuscript to ensure my cultural references were appropriate. She also provided the ancient canoe chant and translation on p. 167. I have recited this chant at most of my readings to invoke the culture, NMea oli3reinforce the journey implied in my story, and emphasize the value of community.

At my Honolulu reading at Na Mea Hawai’i/ Native Books, she chanted a beautiful oli to welcome everyone and added a naughty Chinese ditty that I had never heard.

Finally, my travel buddy on my September trip to Maui and Honolulu was Carol Cummins, a long-time Nmea cc and mefriend who was one of the original members of the Seattle women’s group I joined in 1988 (p. 110). This was her first trip to the islands, and she met my friends, classmates, and family, who welcomed her with genuine aloha spirit. I was happy to share an insider’s view of my beloved islands with her.

What a memorable trip for both of us!

 

Year of the Pig

Whether you call it Year of the Pig (a more gentle animal) or Year of the Boar (a wild animal with sharp tusks), this animal marks the end of 12-year cycle in Chinese astrology. A new cycle starts next year with the Year of the Rat.

The Lunar New Year began on February 5 with friends and family getting gathering for dinners to celebrate a new beginning. I appreciate having another chance for a fresh start. I celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1, then I celebrate the Lunar New Year whenever it falls according to the Chinese calendar. Being Chinese American, I can draw on both cultures for multiple celebrations!

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We in the Pacific NW will not likely forget the first few weeks of this lunar year. It’s unusual snow and freezing weather kept most of us indoors and off the roads for several days. I will remember it as the year of the “Snow Pig.”

When I was growing up in Honolulu, Dad had a store in Chinatown, Yuen Chong Co., Ltd. Because it was a retail and wholesale business, Chinese New Year was very busy, with sales to both store customers and Chinese restaurants. Crowds thronged the stores and sidewalks in Chinatown to shop for gifts, buy prepared food from various temporary stalls set up in the streets by various Chinese family associations, and be part of the festivities. Thousands of firecrackers were burned for good luck at each business, creating clouds of acrid smoke in the streets.

Here’s a brief excerpt from my memoir The Lava Never Sleeps that recalls the excitement of this holiday.

One of the busiest times was Chinese New Year. The Chinese community purchased ingredients for special holiday dishes, firecrackers, and presents, while restaurants increased their orders to prepare for New Year dinner parties. Our entire family descended on the store to witness the community celebration and absorb all the good luck and excitement floating through Chinatown. At night, streets filled with people waiting for the many-legged lion amid a cacophony of firecrackers, gongs, and drums that accompanied the dancing lion, which stopped at each business. Both were essential for good luck in the Lunar New Year. All the activity excited and frightened me. The smoke from the firecrackers burned my throat and eyes. The lion was huge, flapping its large gaping mouth and directing its large eyes at me. I had to be carried to see above everyone’s heads, but when the lion looked at me, I covered my eyes. Even though the black slacks of the teenage boys and girls, who brought this mythical creature to life, were visible, the wagging lion’s head seemed enormous and all-too-real.

Happy Lunar New Year to all! May the year bring good health and prosperity to you!

Hawaii 5-0

As much as I am a fan of the television series, this “Hawaii 5-0” trip was something else. I just returned from my 50th class reunion: St. Andrew’s Priory Class of 1967. Our class is the school’s Centennial Class so this reunion coincided with the 150th anniversary of the school’s founding by Queen Emma.

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Plaque at the school

Many of us were initially reluctant to commit to attending the reunion events and had had little or no contact with our classmates nor the school over the decades. A few simply had no interest or desire to meet. St. Andrew’s Priory had its flaws and deficits, for sure, and I cannot know what hardships and difficulties might have been experienced by others.  While I excelled in various areas, PE was surely not one of them.

From a graduating class of 60 girls, 18 of us gathered in Honolulu from various geographical points to remember our years at the Priory, reflect on our youth, and mostly to celebrate the women we have become and the lives we are living.

We’ve all learned that life does not move in a straight line, but twists and turns often beyond our control. The bright-faced girl I was who graduated in 1967 thought she was so ready for life, so ready to step out into and meet the larger world. My high school graduation seemed to offer such freedom and promise. I had no idea what was in store for me.

Likewise, I went to my reunion without a clear idea of what might happen, whether I would feel awkward or have a really good time. Fifty years is a lifetime, and I didn’t know if I would have anything in common with the girls I once knew. As we reconnected over Facebook, the memories began to bubble up, and I realized that these girls had been important in my school years.

I am delighted that I went. The girls we once were have been replaced with strong women who have been tested by life. I heard some of the stories, but not all of them. What I know is that we are no longer innocents. We have learned depth and honesty, humor and wisdom. We have grown beyond our limited selves. It was a pleasure to meet the women of the Class of 1967! And I am honored to be one of them.

I discovered I have a deep bond and kinship with my classmates that I didn’t know existed. Although I hadn’t socialized much with some of them during my Priory years, our shared memories of the school, our teachers, the Sisters of Transfiguration who ran the school created an indelible bond that surfaced during our time together. Who remembers the names of the five Sisters? Our Latin class teachers? That lunch used to cost 25 cents? (Really? Wasn’t 50 cents?) That we would gather under the ylang ylang tree at the start of PE class? Or Mrs. Hirao’s shortbread cookies?

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Graduation 1967 with my parents

Of course, we each remembered different things, but we also had some common memories that were fun to recall.

I confessed I still had occasional nightmares about failing to bring my PE clothes (ironed blue shorts and white blouse) on PE day.  I don’t even remember what the punishment was, but I felt the fear deep in my bones at such an infraction.

When we toured the school, we saw the many improvements of the campus (a new gym! a music program!) and heard about the exciting new curriculum designed to foster leadership and individual direction in the girls’ future careers. Other changes include the uniforms, a boy’s school for grades 1-5, and attending chapel at St. Andrew’s Cathedral only once a week instead of every day of school during our years.

It’s an exciting time for the Priory. New leadership by Head of School Dr. Ruth R. Fletcher is bringing fresh energy into our historic school. This small private girls’ school is graduating even smaller classes than our 60 seniors in 1967, but this is intentional in order to provide each girl with the attention she needs to discover her potential and talents in an ever-changing and challenging world.

And yet, some traditions continue. My classmates and I were deeply touched during the Coral Cross Ceremony on Ascension Day, which celebrates the school’s founding. The junior class decorates the cross each year to honor the school and the senior class. The plain coral cross is transformed overnight by the students who sleep at the school to ensure this is completed by the next morning. Each year, the design is different and anticipation is keen to view the artistry. The juniors sing their class song to the seniors, then the seniors reciprocate. With full hearts and through tears.

It’s a beautiful tradition, which brought back memories of our junior class decorating the cross in yellow and white carnations and singing our class song. On special days like this, we wore our white pleated skirts instead of our navy or black ones. I had almost forgotten this detail until one of classmates gave us copies of our class photo of Ascension Day 1966 when we were juniors.

I had not returned to the school since I graduated. This class reunion gave me a reason to reconnect to my alma mater, my classmates, and the knowledge that, whether we know it or not, we share an important bond to Hawaii and Hawaiian history. One hundred fifty years ago, Queen Emma was inspired to start a school to educate girls. This was a radical idea. We alumnae embody a queen’s vision.