Papa Is Not A Criminal

By C. Fong Hsiung

 

“Ooh…look at her. She’s beautiful like a fairy.” I angle closer to the comic book and caress the picture with my fingers.

Ai-Lei sticks her head in between the page and my face. “Let me see, let me see. Ooh…Mei-Lan, look at the long hair. I wish my mama would let me grow my hair like that.”

With a huff, I lean back against the wicker lounge chair. “You’re blocking my view.”

Ai-Lei jerks her head up. I give her a withering glance and then resume eyeballing my red and gold kimono-clad princess. “When I grow up, I’m going to look like her.”

Ai-Lei gazes at me with rapturous eyes. “Do you want to be a fairy when you grow up?”

“Don’t be silly. You can’t become a fairy, you have to be born one…don’t you?”

“Umm…maybe, I dunno. I want to look like that too when I grow up.” Ai-Lei curls deep into her wicker chair and a dreamy glaze clouds her eyes.

“Mei-Lan, where are you? It’s bath time.” Mama’s shrill call jolts me upright.

“I’m coming, Ma,” I yell back, wishing Mama would stop treating me like a baby—a six-year-old baby. I sigh and give up chasing the princess in my head. I can almost feel her sash, fluttering gossamer wings, slipping through my fingers like sand. Uncurling my legs, I stretch my arms, rise up and stand at the edge of the balcony. My hands grasp the cold cement railing where, through the gaps, I can see a field of wooden planks across from the dusty path below. My seven-year-old brother is running with a group of boys on the planks while another boy gives chase. “Why can’t We-Shin take his bath first?” I think as resentment wells up in my chest and I watch We-Shin now stop to parry and thrust his hand in imaginary swordplay. He thinks he’s the hero slaying a fiery dragon. Sometimes in his pretend-world he cuts me down with blood-curdling whoops, making me believe his sword has truly felled me.

Over the boys’ boisterous play, I hear the silvery tinkle of cowbells, but I can’t see the cows. Dusk comes early in December. The milkman is heading home, and the calf must be trotting close to its mother, nosing into her milk-heavy bosom, hoping to slake its thirst. It seems to understand already that human’s needs come before its own. The poor thing eats last.

“Mei-Lan, come here this minute or you’re in trouble,” Mama hollers somewhere downstairs.

“Coming, Ma,” I yell and cast another lingering glance at the field that looks like a giant checkered carpet laid on the ground. The raw hides that had been stretched out to dry there were removed several hours ago. Now it is a playground and communal gathering place for storytelling. My kung-kung, grandpa, promised a new story for this evening. He said that he would tell us about his adventures during his travels from China to India where we now live in Calcutta in the leather-tanning community of Tangra. Kung-Kung left China on a boat about forty years ago during the early twenties.

With pleading eyes, Ai-Lei extends an arm toward me. “Can I borrow your book while you take your bath?”

I clutch my comic book to my chest. Mama subscribes to a Hakka merchant who in turn has the books shipped to him from Hong Kong. “Promise you won’t fold or tear it like you did the last one I lent you.”

“I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

Reluctantly I hand the book to Ai-Lei and make my way to the stairs. As I put one foot on the first step, the last couple of tanning machines stop their incessant thrumming, and all is quiet. I continue half-way down to the landing and deep voices float up. Somewhere, mongrel dogs yelp—Mama says there aren’t any pure breeds here in Tangra. Probably fighting over a piece of bone.

I reach the ground floor and see a group of men with serious faces, gathered at the tannery’s front door.

“I received a letter today from Ah-Ping, my brother in Assam,” Uncle Chin-Li says from his rattan stool.

Mr. Wu glances up from one of the concrete benches flanking the entrance. His Adam’s apple wobbles in the wrinkled neck, and he drawls in his boring way, “Chin-Li, what is the latest news there? How many more Chinese families have been rounded up by the police?”

Oh, oh…not more war talk. It’s too scary. I should head to the bathroom right now before I get into trouble. Still, even though adult-talks sometimes make my heart race, I can’t help listening.

Then, We-Shin’s howling reaches my ears. “Ooh…my eye…my eye.”

It looks like his over-zealous fencing partner has jabbed my brother’s eye. In a flash, Mama dashes past me. Her ears are ultra-sensitive to our distress calls. Good, she’s forgotten about my bath.

Uncle Chin-Li continues as if We-Shin’s cries are nothing more than background noise. “Two more families were arrested. My brother doesn’t know where they’ve been taken to. Rumor has it that these people aren’t coming home any time soon.”

Mr. Wu says, “I heard that the Chinese are being interned in Rajasthan.”

“Why Rajasthan?” Mr. Chiu asks beside him, his voice rising higher.

“There’s a concentration camp in Deoli. The police are arresting Chinese people on trumped-up charges of espionage.”

“Bloody government,” Mr. Wong growls from the other bench. “India’s Border War with China is over, but still they arrest whole families.”

I climb up to Uncle Chin-Li’s lap and wiggle my bum until I’m comfortable. He wraps his arms around me and says, “Ah-Ping wrote that it’s only a matter of time before he and his family will be taken away too. He can’t leave as they’re being watched.”

“So, what about us? Are they going to arrest us too?” Mr. Chiu squeaks, one foot nervously bouncing up and down on his toes while his head nods back and forth.

Mr. Wu clears his throat. His wrinkled face looks grave. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to us, but I do know that no Chinese is safe right now.”

“But that’s so unfair. We haven’t done anything. There’s no spy among us.” Mr. Chiu whines.

“Ah-Ping says that the police come and arrest Chinese people with no warning. They won’t let you take anything you can’t carry yourself. The women there are sewing bags just like we are doing here, and stuffing whatever they can into these bags.”

“Yes, it’s the wise thing to do. We all have to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice,” Mr. Wu says.

A queasy sensation seems to churn in my chest and stomach. I look up at Uncle Chin-Li. “Aren’t the police supposed to arrest only bad people?”

“Mei-Lan, why aren’t you out there playing with your brother? You shouldn’t be listening to adults talk,” Uncle Chin-Li musses my hair.

“But Uncle Chin-Li, are we going to jail?”

“Of course not, you silly girl. Now run along and play catch with your brother.”

I slide down from my uncle’s knees just as Mama stops at the door, one hand clutching We-Shin’s upper arm. Mama frowns at me. “Mei-Lan, I’m giving your brother a bath first. You stay right here, and I’ll come back for you.”

Another reprieve from my bath.

I slip back upstairs to the balcony overhanging the front entrance. Ai-Lei has left, and I can make out the outlines of the two wicker loungers’ high backs. I climb up to one of them and watch the occasional lights twinkling in the distance as a car or a scooter drives by on the road, beyond the wooden planks field. Sounds of conversation hum below where Uncle Chin-Li and the other men continue to debate the Chinese people’s fate in India. I wonder what this place, Deoli in Rajasthan is like. The adults mentioned concentration camp. I’m not sure what that means. I wish I hadn’t given my comic book to Ai-Lei. But it’s too dark to see now, so forget the book.

Suddenly I realize that an unusual quiet has settled over the place. I scramble down from my chair and look down through the gaps. A dark and boxy vehicle parks below. The doors open and four men step outside. They disappear underneath the balcony, and I hear someone speak in Hindi. I can’t make out the words.

With my heart somersaulting up to my mouth, I creep downstairs. At the bottom of the steps, I see a terrifying sight. Four men underneath the naked yellow lightbulb, each tapping his palm with a baton. Four policemen in khaki uniform. Uncle Chin-Li and the other men seem nervous. Mr. Wu’s jaws grind and his Adam’s apple wobbles. Shadowy figures emerge outside and form a silent semi-circle beyond the entrance.

One of the policemen now raps the ground with his baton as he clears his throat and barks, “Looking for Mr. Shau-Min Chen. Shau-Min Chen?”

Horror fills every inch of my body. What do they want with Papa?

“Why are you looking for him?” I turn my head toward the tannery when I hear Mama’s quivering voice.

Behind her, scrubbed and fresh-faced, We-Shin gazes at the policemen with curious eyes.

“Where is Mr. Shau-Min Chen? We’re here to take him in,” the leader says with an imperious stare. I can feel the almost palpable disdain oozing from his body.

“He’s not here right now,” Mama says with a hint of defiance.

“It’s okay, Lillian, I’m Shau-Min Chen,” a quiet assertive voice says behind Mama.

Papa walks upright past Mama and stands in front of her like a shield. The officer takes a few steps forward and faces my papa at eye level.

“What am I being charged with?” Papa asks quietly.

“You are under arrest for spying against our country for the Chinese government.” The officer’s gaze wavers.

From my position, I can see Papa’s rigid spine and squared shoulders. He says, “How does a working man like me, born and raised here in Calcutta, with no ties to anyone in the Chinese government become a spy?”

“We have it on good authority recorded on this piece of paper here that you were speaking out against India.” The officer waves a piece of flimsy paper. “There’s a Chinese flag raised on your roof. What other proof do you need?”

“Sir, may I point out that there is an Indian flag right next to the Chinese flag up there? What anti-India words have I spoken? My crime, if you want to call it one, is speaking out against the War. I don’t believe that any war is necessary.”

The officer, his chin jutting forward, isn’t in a mood to debate the merits of the War with Papa. He motions his lackeys to take Papa into custody. “Enough of this talk. You’re coming with us.”

Papa raises his hands to halt them, “Since you’re determined to arrest me for something I haven’t done, please tell me where you’re taking me.”

“You’ll be interned at Deoli in Rajasthan.”

“That’s a long way from Calcutta.” For the first time Papa sounds apprehensive. “Can I have a few minutes to say goodbye to my family and to collect my things, please?”

“Make it quick.” The officer snaps his fingers.

“Wait,” Uncle Chin-Li says with a stoic expression, “please arrest me instead of my brother-in-law. He has a wife and three small children. I’m single and I can take his place.”

The officer’s eyebrows quirk upward like wings in flight. A fleeting disconcerted shadow flickers in his eyes before he says, “I can take you in too if you want, but my orders are to arrest Shau-Min Chen only.”

Papa turns to Uncle Chin-Li and grips his shoulders. “Thank you. That’s foolish and brave. I need you to stay and take good care of your sister and the children when I’m gone.”

My uncle’s mouth trembles and he clenches his jaws. “I’ll be here when you return.”

Papa’s arm circles Mama’s waist and they walk together to our room. A few minutes later the door re-opens. In her arms, Mama holds my little brother, We-Lim still rubbing sleep from his eyes. Papa is carrying two dark blue cotton bags that I had seen Mama fill with clothes and utensils only a few days ago. I had wondered back then why Mama was sewing so many bags. They stop a few paces from the officer.

Suddenly Mama’s wail pierces the charged air. Some of the women among the onlookers wipe their cheeks with their sleeves, sniffing and blowing their nose unabashedly. My hands clutch the banister at the bottom of the stairs. Nobody seems to notice me in the shadows as I watch the entire drama unfolding in front of me. Papa is not a criminal. The police are supposed to arrest thieves and murderers. This is a mistake. They must let Papa go.

Papa drops the bags and embraces Mama and my baby brother. He bends his head and whispers something to her. She becomes quiet, but her shoulders continue to shake as he rubs her back. Papa looks up and sees me. “Come here, Mei-Lan.” He beckons me with his fingers while his other hand reaches for We-Shin who is standing by the side with clenched fists.

I put a tentative foot forward. Papa says encouragingly, “Come here, my princess.”

The short distance gapes like a mile. I want to run and hug my papa, but my legs won’t move. Papa takes a couple of steps and lifts me into his arms. He holds me so tight I feel like my breath would burst through my lungs. Then he puts me down and my legs go wobbly like jelly. I’m glad his hand is gripping my shoulder, or I would surely collapse. Papa goes down on his knees and gathers We-Shin and me. I will never forget how sad he looks as he says, “Papa has to go away. Your mama is going to need all your help now. Can I count on you to be her helpers?”

We-Shin nods, his tears shining in the stark, yellow light. I knuckle my eyes, not quite understanding why Papa has to go. The terrifying sensations tell me this is real, that I will not see Papa for a long time.

Mama’s shoulders shudder violently and she releases an animal-like howl that I can’t bear to hear. Papa straightens up and holds Mama close to him. “Please don’t cry, Lillian. You must stay strong for our kids. I’ll be back soon, just wait and see. The government will come to their senses and realize this is not right,”

His sad gaze sweeps over us again as he turns. “I’m ready to go, Officer.”

I watch Papa through blurry eyes, my tears falling fast and furious. He inclines his head toward us one last time. The expression on his face is seared into my brain. Then he steps forward toward captivity with his head held up high. My papa is not a not a criminal.

My heart weighs like a brick, straining so hard against my rib cage that I think it will break off and shatter into pieces. I wish I could turn the clock back. I wish I’d listened to Mama when she called me to go for my bath. Maybe Papa would not have to go away if I’d done what Mama wanted me to do. I turn and bury my face in Mama’s shirt as I fling my arms around her waist. I hear the car door close with a thud, and I lift my head to look for Papa.

He is gone, swallowed inside by the black van. I glance up at the officer as he lifts his feet off the ground. For a brief moment our eyes lock. I hold his gaze without flinching, willing from the bottom of my soul that he would change his mind. He blinks and closes the door.

With a roar, the engine comes to life. The big black box jolts back and forth a few times. Then its headlights turn away from us. Only the tail lights are now visible. Soon, they twinkle and vanish around the corner. I feel hollow with an emptiness I cannot touch or soothe. With We-Lim still clinging to her, Mama gathers We-Shin and me. She bows her head and sobs. I wish I can wipe her tears away, but I’m too busy wiping my own.

When Royalty Calls

By C. Fong Hsiung

 

“Hey, guys…guess who just called me?” I shouted as I dropped the phone back on its cradle, “the Queen of Bhutan.”

“The Queen of what?” Jasmin’s head popped up behind her partition.

I got out of my chair and strolled toward my office door. Leaning against the frame, I said, “Bhutan, Jazzy, have you never heard of Bhutan before?”

Jasmin wrinkled her nose, squinted, and shook her head. Susan, at the next work station glanced at me and then at Jasmin, her demeanor exuding confidence. She said, “Bhutan is a small country in the Himalayan Mountains, right?”

“What’s the commotion all about?” Robin came out of her office.

My chest wanted to explode with all the stories bubbling up toward my mouth. “I was on the phone with the Queen of Bhutan. She went to school with me in the seventies.”

“Whoa,” Robin released a long noisy breath, “no sh**.” She leaned on the low partition in front of Susan’s desk.

“It’s true. We went to the same boarding school in India. Many Bhutanese girls did too. Bhutan is a small country north of India and has less than a million people. They send some of their children to study in India. Even the King studied in Darjeeling, about an hour from my school.”

Now that I had my colleagues’ attention, I regaled them with stories about St. Helen’s, my home for nine months of the year, in a hill station called Kurseong. I told them about the conversation I just had with the Queen.

 

Forty-five minutes ago, when my phone rang, I’d picked it up without looking at it and said, “This is Fong. How can I help you?”

A woman chuckled in my ear. “Guess who I am?”

The accent stirred a memory. Of course, it did—that’s how I had sounded when I was a teenager growing up in India. “Hmm…I’m stumped. Are you from Calcutta?”

“Ha…you’re close, but no. Do you remember Tshering Pepe?”

I almost dropped the phone. “Tshering from St. Helen’s?”

Now her laughter sounded familiar. “What do you think?”

“That’s incredible. How did you find me?”

“I phoned your home and spoke to your son. He gave me your work number.”

“No, I mean how did you locate me here in Toronto? It’s been twenty-four or -five years since we left school in 1975.”

“It wasn’t all that hard. I saw your name on Batchmates, and I also found your website about our school.”

Tshering, pretty, fair-skinned with high cheekbones. Her voice and words parted the cobwebs shrouding my brain. Nostalgia laced my memories of the old stomping grounds. My alma mater, ancient and majestic like a castle with a spectacular view of the snow-capped Kanchenjunga Mountain peaks. Schoolgirls in ponytails, shrill voices of youth in dark uniforms, knee-high navy-blue socks, and shining black shoes. I remember the long walks on hilly roads, eyes seeking out exotic foreigners who braved up the Himalayas. Excited whispers when uniformed boys chanced by to gawk at the girls.

Breathlessly I asked, “What have you been up to all these years? Are you married? Any kids?”

“You’re too much,” she laughed, “one thing at a time. Do you remember Jigme Wangchuk?”

“OH, MY GOSH…you’ve got to be kidding. You’re married to the King of Bhutan?”

She giggled. “Yes, he’s my husband.”

“When did you get married?”

“In 1979.”

“I remember the big news about the King’s coronation when we were still in school. He was only eighteen at the time, right? Didn’t you have a crush on him even then?”

The familiar giggle again. Time stood still—in my mind I saw her eyes light up as she tossed her head back, two tight braids swinging behind her.

“So what’s it like being a queen?”

“Don’t get any ideas about it being grand. Like most people I have a job too. I work with a youth foundation which takes up quite a bit of my time. It’s my quiet time right now as it’s late in the evening here.”

“Do you have any children?”

“Yes, two girls and my youngest is a boy. He’s only five and he keeps me busy.”

“What about travels? Do you do state visits? Have you ever been to Canada?”

“No, I haven’t been to Canada yet. We have a mission in the United States. My daughters also go to school there, so I visit sometimes.”

 

I paused and watched the rapt faces of my colleagues. They hung on to my words. Robin, the designated computer guru, said, “Let’s search the web and find out more about your friend.”

I watched while Robin typed, “Queen of Bhutan” and then hit the enter-button. Pictures of Tshering, the King and many other people filled the small screen. I recognized the almond-shaped eyes above the prominent cheekbones and pointed chin. In snapshot after snapshot, she wore the kira, a traditional colorful robe worn by Bhutanese women. The dollish face and the trim figure still seemed girlish. I remembered how she loved to wear western style clothing whenever we had a school holiday or a special occasion. She loved to dance. She danced every Saturday evening during our free time at the recreation room, and at the heavily chaperoned socials with our brother school, Goethals Memorial.

Robin paused the mouse and said, “Check out her title: Her Majesty Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck,”

“I still can’t believe that we hooked up after all these years. How amazing is the internet, huh?”

Robin started to scroll down the page again. Something caught my eye. “Hey, hold your mouse right there. It says here that she is one of four sisters married to King Jigme Wangchuk.”

Jasmin’s eyes nearly popped out of the sockets. “Is that even legal?”

I mulled over this new piece of information. “Well, she’s married to the King.”

Robin grinned. “In case you’re not aware, but polygamy is illegal here.”

I folded my arms and said, “In our Hakka-Chinese community back in Calcutta, I knew a few men who had two wives living in the same household. But they were married a long time ago.”

Susan nodded. “Oh yes, I’ve heard that some Chinese men have concubines. Is that what you’re talking about?”

“No, these men actually married two women. Maybe the first wife couldn’t bear a son, or maybe marrying a second wife represented great status for the man. Who knows what the reasons were.” I shrugged.

I scanned the computer screen a bit more. “The article says that the four sisters were married to the King in a combined ceremony.”

Robin said, “I guess your friend is a queen, not the Queen. How well did you know her?”

“She was one grade above me. We weren’t best friends, but we were in a small and close-knit boarding school. We ate, slept, studied and played together for nine months of the year, so it was impossible not to know each other. I remember teasing her about her royal aspirations. In fact, all the Bhutanese girls were probably infatuated with their young and eligible king at that time. Who wouldn’t be? He was handsome and oh, so groovy looking.”

 

That evening I could hardly wait to go home and tell my teenage-son, Curtis, about his royal encounter—unbeknownst to him—earlier that day. “Did you know that the woman who telephoned this morning was a queen?”

Never one to hold back, he snickered, “Mom, if she’s a queen, then I’m the king of my backyard.”

Curtis was born in Toronto and nothing in his life experiences up to that point had prepared him for an encounter with royalty—albeit by phone. He teased me about my starry-eyed gushing. I forgave him for acting crass.

For most of us, everyday living graphs like a series of small spikes and plunges occasionally broken by a freakish high or low. But when a queen calls—yes, a real one—the peak goes off the chart; and the story gets better with each telling.

Musings to Stir My Muse

This is a three-sentence story based upon the theme, “Desire” that I posted on theprose.com. Read it and eat your heart out.

Don’t Leave Me

Desire

Desire

You purred past with your red swagger, blinking at me without shame. My heart stumbled, and I drew in a sharp breath. You stopped, waited for me, teased me with a growl, and then roared away into the setting sun’s flames.

The End

And this is a short poem centred around “Guilt.”

Tempt Me Not

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Temptress so fair

Creamy, fluffy, and soft

Melts in my mouth.

Dark chocolate rivers

Dripping, sweet, and seductive

Swirl in my mouth.

Cherry on top

Juicy, luscious and sinful

Pops in my mouth.

Cold hug, no more

Self-loathing, stop

Rue the moment.

Book Review of Only by Blood

Author: Renate Krakauer

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Only by Blood is not just another Holocaust survival story. The author has crafted a clever mystery. She writes parallel stories about the two main characters, setting up for their inevitable meeting. The reader can glean that the two protagonists are related—the truth playing hide-and-seek between the lines. Only towards the end does the author reveal the specifics of this relationship.

Marnia, the modern-day doctor living in Poland, is bent on learning about her roots because of her mother’s dying wish urging her to “find them…make it right.” Her mother’s plea, uttered with her dying breath cannot be ignored. Her own curiosity regarding the secrecy that shrouds her childhood, leads her to embark on a journey of discovery that will take her from Poland to Canada.

Roza is a young mother who endures and survives the Nazi regime in Poland during World War II. Her journey to save her infant daughter is one that no mother should have to make. Forced into hiding during the war, Roza encounters and overcomes seemingly insurmountable trials and tribulations. Miraculously she survives, as does her daughter, Hanka. Together with her husband, the three migrate to Toronto, Canada.

As layer upon layer of both women’s stories are peeled back, it becomes clear that they are somehow connected, and that the relationship dates back to the war years. But the connection seems elusive, at least for this reader, and the exposition when it comes is satisfying. Of course, when I finished reading the book, I wanted to go back and find the bread crumbs that the author had left throughout the book.

The novel is beautifully written. One can’t help but feel sad for the torturous experiences of the Holocaust survivors. The appalling cruelty that one human being can inflict upon another while under the influence of corrupt power is beyond comprehension. One would think that that we would have learned from history to be more compassionate and to never subject another person to those types of brutal behaviour. But the sad reality is that although the world has changed since the Holocaust, war is still a way of life in many regions and people continue to perpetrate hateful acts.

Focusing on Tax Deductions

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Focusing on Tax Deductions for the Self-Employed and Entrepreneurs

It’s tax season again. It’s also the time when family and friends fire tax questions at me despite my protests that I’m not a tax accountant. I am a professional accountant who specializes in the real estate industry. With that out of the way, why am I blogging about taxation? No, I’m not dispensing tax tips, but what I am doing is giving you pointers on how to get organized so that you can prepare your own taxes easily, or you can hand over files to your accountant and know that you will receive all the deductions that you’re eligible for. PLEASE don’t consider anything I say as professional tax advice.

Most people dread doing their tax returns. I do too. How do we get past the dread and get started so we don’t miss all the deductions available to us?

First of all, what makes me qualified to write this blog? Of course, you don’t need to read this or follow any of the tips I will disclose, but I can assure you that year after year after year, I have had the pleasure (not!) of preparing numerous tax returns for family and friends and their friends because I couldn’t say no…and all au gratis too. No more…this door is now open to only a select few.

Let’s start with what you should do on January 1. I know it’s already March, but you can easily catch up with two months, not twelve. If you make it a habit to file your receipts and tax documents as you receive them, preparing your tax returns need not be a daunting task, especially for self-employed individuals and small business owners.

There are many reasons to stay organized besides making your life easier during the tax season. One of the best motivations to stay on top of your filing is that you may lose out on deductions that you are entitled to and thus pay more taxes than you have to…ouch. If you’re scrambling at the last minute looking for receipts or wracking your brain to remember all the expenses you incurred during the past year, good luck!

As a self-employed professional or entrepreneur, when you incur expenses to earn revenues, you can offset them against your income and thus reduce the amount of taxes you will pay. Ideally, you should record your expenditures on a spreadsheet as you incur them. However, even the best of us often don’t have that resolve to keep as up-to-date as we should. So if you can’t track your expenditures on a spreadsheet or software, then set up a filing system. Keep in mind that Canada Revenue Services (CRA) and most taxation authorities in other countries categorize their deductibles. Accordingly create your filing system so you can easily match your expenses to these categories.

Here’s the Canadian list for deductions:

General and Applicable to All Individuals:

  1. Retirement savings plan contributions (this is not an expenditure, but it reduces your taxable income)
  2. Professional and union dues
  3. Child care expenses
  4. Moving expenses (check for eligibility)
  5. Carrying charges for investments such as interest expenses incurred for your investments, safety deposit box rental, etc.
  6. Tax deductible donations and gifts

Business and Professional:

If you sell goods:

  1. Inventory purchases
  2. Salaries and wages attributable to your cost of goods
  3. Others (specify, must be related to cost of goods)

If you sell goods and / or services:

  1. Advertising
  2. Meals and entertainment (currently only 50% is deductible in Canada)
  3. Bad debts
  4. Insurance (e.g. liability, office contents)
  5. Interest on loans taken out for your business
  6. Business tax, fees, licenses, dues, memberships
  7. Office expenses
  8. Supplies
  9. Legal, accounting, and other professional fees
  10. Management and administrative fees
  11. Rent
  12. Maintenance and repairs
  13. Salaries, wages, and benefits
  14. Property taxes
  15. Travel (including transportation fees, accommodations, and allowable part of meals)
  16. Telephone and utilities (Internet could be considered here as well)
  17. Fuel costs (except for motor vehicles)
  18. Delivery, freight, and express
  19. Motor vehicle expenses based upon proportion driven for business use (not including capital cost allowance, i.e. depreciation of vehicle)
    1. Fuel and oil
    2. Interest expense
    3. Insurance
    4. License and registration
    5. Maintenance and repairs
    6. Leasing
    7. Other expenses (specify)
  20. Allowance on eligible capital property
  21. Capital cost allowance (e.g. depreciation of office furniture and equipment, business proportion of motor vehicle)
  22. Other expenses (specify)

If you use your home as your office:

  1. Business use of home expenses (claim a portion of your home expenses based upon the proportion used to conduct your business. In Canada, you may not create a business loss with these expenses.)
    1. Heat
    2. Electricity
    3. Insurance
    4. Maintenance
    5. Mortgage interest
    6. Property taxes
    7. Other expenses (specify)
  2. Capital cost allowance (e.g. depreciation of business portion of your house, get professional advice before claiming this one)

As you can see, the list is quite long. You can either create a file folder for each applicable category where you can drop the receipts/documents into their respective folders as you incur them, or you can dump the receipts into one or several folders if your transactions volume doesn’t require this kind of detailed sorting. Even if you have this list posted somewhere visible, you can refer to it every time you make a payment.

Your accountant will thank you for whatever steps you’re able to take to get organized. For those people whose tax returns have become the bane of my existence in March and April (you know who you are), read this and do me a favour for a change. Most importantly, your bank account will thank you.

Now go and get organized. If you have any other organizational tips, please do let me know.

If you like this post you might also like my post on budgeting.

Accountant With A Novel Twist

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Turn-cloak Accountant

How often do you come across an accountant who is also a writer? Apparently we are not quite as rare as I thought, but also not as prolific as say, lawyers wearing the writer’s hat.

So you may have guessed by now that I am an accountant. Yes, a bespectacled and boring CPA CGA with an MBA. And let me just say it before you do, “I am a bean counter.” But now I’m also a writer, a novelist, to be more precise.

How Can I Help?

Here’s the thing, many writers, like most artists, can’t find a single left-sided brain cell to perform tasks that are remotely accounting or business related.  I know that many writers would find my knowledge useful, so I’ve decided to share some of that in this post and in future ones.

This is my first post on accounting and writing. I’d like to start by sharing some tips on getting organized as an author and entrepreneur.

Some Common Q&A

Here are some of the most common questions I get from self-employed individuals and small business owners.

QUESTION: Do I have to set up a separate bank account for my business activities?

ANSWER: When you’re just starting out as a writer, you don’t need to incorporate (that’s a separate topic that I will delve into another time) or even register your writing as a business. Consider yourself as a self-employed professional, and therefore you don’t need to set up a separate bank. You do, however, need to track your author income and expenses.

QUESTION: How then do I keep my author income and expenses separate from my employment income and personal expenses?

ANSWER: Keep a record of your author income and expenses. If you know how to use Excel, set up a spreadsheet. It can be a simple three-column worksheet consisting of these three titles: DESCRIPTION, REVENUES, and EXPENSES. List in the respective columns, your revenues as you receive them and your expenses as you incur them. Obviously you can do the same thing with a notepad if Excel is not your forte. Tally up the REVENUES and EXPENSES columns at the end of each year and include them in your tax returns. You may need to hire a tax accountant.

QUESTION: How do I know which expenditure is a qualified expense for tax purposes?

ANSWER: Generally, any expense you incur to learn your writing craft (e.g. courses, conferences), to write (e.g. software), and then to promote it (e.g. book launch costs), may be considered a qualified expense. If in doubt, add the item into your record anyway, and then when you have to file your tax return, check with your accountant or verify with your taxation agency. This guideline is applicable for Canadians and likely for residents in other countries too, but always consults with a professional tax expert when in doubt.

QUESTION: How do I organize my receipts?

ANSWER: Here’s something that I do that takes a minute to keep organized. At the end of every year, I start a folder for the following year for all my receipts. You can subdivide the folder if you wish or set up two or even three folders instead of one—one for your regular employment related documents, one for writing revenues, and one for writing expenses. How many you set up is a matter of preference and also depends on how many receipts you expect to accumulate. As you receive a receipt, drop it into your folder. Then at tax filing season, take your folder(s) and the aforementioned log of your revenues and expenses to your accountant. You will save a lot of money in book-keeping fees!

Next time I’ll discuss how to create a budget and why you need one. In the meantime, check out how I’ve used my accounting background to create this really useful Excel workbook for tracking your novel’s characters and events. I use it all the time while I’m writing my novel. You won’t believe how it’s kept me sane whenever I’ve tried to remember an event I wrote about several months ago, or how old my characters are supposed to be in the context of a scene. I’ve built in automated formulas to calculate time lapses between events and each character’s age. Try it…it’s free.

So what pressing question do you have about your writing business?

DISCLAIMER: This post is meant to provide general tips to assist individuals in understanding and organizing their business records and is not to be considered as paid professional advice.

 

Picture credit: pixabay

Why I Love Mondays

Happy Monday!

“Now that it’s all over, what did you really do yesterday that’s worth mentioning?” Coleman Cox

345_Why I Love Mondays

The above quote popped up in one of my emails as I started to write this blog. How appropriate and timely for this post about a day that most of us dread. Do you love Mondays? I do. I’m betting that you’re looking at me funny and thinking, “Is she out of her mind?”

Trade in a Corporate Work Day

No, my grey matter is still intact where it belongs, but I did drop something…something out of my weekly routine, that is. More than a year ago, I traded in a corporate work day for a writing day. Best decision ever! Now I look forward to my Mondays when my only obligation is to myself. My calendar is cleared so that all I have to do is write and do all things related to advancing my writing career. When I wake up on Tuesday mornings to write in my gratitude journal, I gratefully state what I accomplished on my date with my creative side. It leaves me wishing for more…but all in good time.

A Fair Swap?

Do you get how liberating and wonderful it feels to shut out the corporate world for twenty-four blissful hours every week? To anticipate only four workdays instead of five? To be able to set my own agenda for what I want to achieve without having my time hijacked by another employee or another crisis? And to find a happy balance between my left brain and my right brain?

Monday Fantasies

On Mondays I create fantasy worlds where I play god, breathing life into my characters or killing them at will. I’ve almost completed my second novel now. No, it’s not a sequel to “Picture Bride” as many of my readers have asked for. Rather it’s a story (working title, “Wait for Me“) about a young woman’s journey to immigrate to Canada after her husband takes a “fake” wife to expedite the process.

Following the publication of “Picture Bride” in November 2014, I started writing its sequel. About a quarter of the way in, I just couldn’t connect with my characters the way I did when I wrote the first book. That’s when I decided to park it for a future date. Better to keep my readers waiting than to turn out work I have a hard time breathing life into at this time.

A Ship-Load of Editing Awaits

Now “Wait for Me” is going through the first round of editing…and it’s a ship-load of work, but I’m loving it. Although I knew that writing a novel wasn’t easy, I didn’t expect it to consume so much of my life. You really have to love this journey to be able to keep up the rigorous schedule you need to maintain to finish writing a book. Now at the editing stage, it’s a major re-write where I just about scrutinize every word and every event. If it weren’t for the novel-tracking workbook that I’ve developed, I don’t know how I’d be able to keep tabs on all my characters and events. If you’d like to try out my Excel workbook with automated time lapse calculations, I’ll be happy to share it with you for free, of course.

So is There a Happy Monday in Your Near Future?

Would you give up a part of your income in exchange for an extra day or two to write or do something you love?

 

Picture by Jeremy Hsiung

Musings of a Staunch Hakka

The inimitable Fei Chen, bitten by the writing bug has contributed a number of articles for my blog. Here she is again, unabashedly enthusiastic about her “Hakka-ness.”

A jewel in the Chen family

We are born social creatures. From the moment we arrive on this earth, we blink with tears of joy and turn on high octave voices to attract love and affection. Emma Lily Chen, my first grandniece, arrived into the Chen family on March 17th, 2015, which is also St Patrick’s Day. Baby Emma is our symbol of love, hope and joy. She is like a pearl engaging us with her beauty. She stirs our thoughts and brings the family together with joy, conversation and laughter.

If I were…

Imagine being in my shoes for a moment—I was excited to attend a reading by C Fong Hsiung, so I arrived at the reading an hour before the scheduled time. I toured my surroundings with curiosity, wonder and fascination. Two love birds sat on an aluminum bench in the empty University of Toronto stadium, shoulder to shoulder, sharing secrets in that open space, showing off their youth and their carefree spirits. They reminded me of my younger self decades ago.

Fifteen minutes before the scheduled reading time I hurried to the second floor of the OISE building feeling like an obedient goody-goody student. As I was about to enter the room, an orator with curly hair and bewildered eyes greeted me. She said “You must be Fong.” I replied: “How I wish I were Fong!”

If I were Fong, I would bury my head under the sand like an ostrich and simply write and write and write. I have earned my experiences and knowledge through life’s journey, be they good, okay, or yet to be discovered. Perhaps I will let my stories fan out like the beautiful feathers of a fanciful peacock.

Fanciful musings aside

We now have history in the making right in the midst of our Hakka family. We are an opinionated culture, critical among ourselves, and often indulge in gossip that gets us into trouble and emotional turmoil. At the same time, I realize that these very same spoken words, emotions, culture, traditions and our language help us to connect with one another and blossom. During this past Mother’s Day celebration, the Lee twin sisters and many other sponsors put together a special luncheon for the Hakka community. During that meeting, Shaun Chen identified himself as a Liberal Party candidate for the upcoming federal election. We wish Shaun great success in our great Canadian democracy.

Go Shaun Go!!!

Why Do You Want to Write?

What Motivates You to Write?

Not everyone who writes is a writer. Something urges you to pour your heart and soul into a notebook or your computer. You’re not thinking about publishing your pieces at this point. Perhaps it’s the cathartic feeling you get after you unburden your soul. The paper doesn’t talk back; the computer doesn’t judge you.

Write often enough, and the itch to publish will get to you. You see your words on a blog. Your writing is out on the Internet for anyone who wants to read it. It’s a heady feeling.

If you’re already writing or thinking of starting, ask yourself why you want to do it. Better still, just write and then discover your reasons as you go along. It’s a wonderful journey.

A Piece of SKY…Food for Thought

Fei Chen has been featured in these blog posts several times. This one is her latest about the Hakka culture.

Sky“Everybody has a piece of Sky over their head. 每人頭上有一頂天.”  My sister said to me at times of uncertainty. I’m comforted that Sky or 天 protects and looks after all of us. Sky and I have formed a very special bond. With my head turned up to the blue Sky, I whisper my secrets and joys and deposit all my imaginary treasures in that heavenly space.

Not everyone is lucky to have a sister to look out for them or to impart words of wisdom. 每人頭上有一頂天. Many years ago when we ventured out to North America, we faced unknowns and other obstacles.  I was lucky that during such times, I had and still have my sister with whom I can share my inner-most thoughts, my joys and my doubts.

Now that the snow has melted away, at the crack of dawn I am once again able to venture outside in the open spaces in search of my hidden treasures and to reconnect with my piece of Sky 天.

Sky : In our Hakka culture we refer to Sky-天 as our supreme celestial power from which we draw our physical and mental well-being.  When I was young, I used to accompany my grandmother to climb four long flights of stairs to the pinnacle where our revered temple or 聖帝公公 is located in Pei-Mei High school, Calcutta, India.  Our rickshaw-wala carried our wicker baskets filled with food prepared by my mom. These we offered to our God. I watched my grandmother bow to the open Sky first, holding lighted incense sticks, before she commenced her prayers.

Chef Wong

Food for thought: Just as food forms the main part of our offerings to God, food brings us together at our Hakka community gatherings. The delicious flavor of food leaves us with more sweet thoughts about ourselves and the people we shared the feast with.  In our last Hakka social gathering we were privileged to have Chef Paul Wong 黃正傑 join us and demonstrate how to make Northern Chinese dumplings. Our very own Hakka Chef Paul! He was chatty and full of humour while he did a “show and tell” of this savory authentic Chinese cuisine which not only satisfied our appetite, but also stimulated our brains.

bon appétit !!!

A Presentation to Remember

This short story uses the prompt: She walked up to the manager, heart hammering and knees trembling.

She walked up to the manager, heart hammering and knees trembling. Surely he could hear the pounding inside her rib-cage. Michelle held her breath and said, “Jack, did you like my presentation?”

Jack looked up, his hands gathering the paper on his desk into a pile. She quailed at the steely eyes raking her face. “You made a fool of me with that piece of junk.” He spat the words out with a hiss.

She gasped. Nothing prepared her for this response. “Uh, what didn’t you like about it?” She pressed on against her better judgment.

“Everything,” his lips curled into a venomous sneer.

“Oh,” She breathed out like a slowly deflating ball. If she had a tail, she would have tucked it between her legs.

As she slunk out of Jack’s office, his administrative assistant waved at her. “Sheryl wants to see you right now.”

What did the vice president of her department want with her? Coming on the heels of the dressing-down that she just received, Michelle felt sick to her stomach. She hunched her shoulders and quickened her pace towards the VP’s office.

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“Well, if it isn’t my star presenter in the flesh,” Sheryl’s eyes crinkled when Michelle knocked on the open door.

Words tumbled out of Michelle’s mouth. “I’m sorry that the presentation went so badly. I’ll resign if you want me to.”

“Resign? Have you gone mad? Did you not hear what I just said? Our biggest client wants you to lead their campaign. If anyone is leaving, it’s Jack. I just fired his sorry ass.”

Mighty Sun and Its Reflection

Mighty Sun

Fei Chen is the guest blogger for this post.

Beauty from my backyard:

Sunrise is a natural phenomenon that occurs every 24 hours.  I watch its ascend over the water from the best seat on Earth,—the beach behind my house—a visual feast for the naked eye. It pleases my senses to see the red hot ball of fire spiral out of a huge body of shimmering water that is Lake Ontario. Gently and gracefully it lifts itself out of the water leaving me just enough time to glimpse its reflection, before going on to share its solar powers with the world.

I was lucky enough to capture that precise moment with my iPad and it is my pleasure to share that picture with you.

Life is a journey:

Each sunrise marks a new day in our journey through life. When we reach the end of this trip, Buddhist conventions bring our family members, relatives and friends together. We congregate to support each other for the loss of our loved one and to pray for the departing soul’s smooth crossover.

Recently I had the privilege of sitting down in the memoriam hall of our Buddhist temple to pray for 姑丈 (Uncle), my 愛容姑’s husband who passed away.  The monks led us in solemn prayer service. The gong bell dinged at intervals accompanied by the occasional drum-beat during the monks’ rhythmic chanting. We burned incense to help the departing soul accelerate into the path of eternal peace.

During my meditation, I glimpsed my departed grandparents’ and my father’s plaques, which hung on the memoriam wall. I could not help but contemplate my own mortality. Memories of our unconditional family bonds crept into my mind to remind me of how lucky and privileged we were. These reflections of my extended family also left me with many bittersweet stories of days gone by. In that brief waking moment, I realized that life is simply a journey and we are the passengers.

Power of Yoga:

Just as my visit to the Buddhist temple to pray and meditate for departed loved ones can feed my spiritual soul, so does practicing Yoga. Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning discipline in mind, body and spirit. There are many forms of Yoga practice, and the beauty of it is that you can do it on your own with your own purpose in mind. I love Yoga as it allows me to detach myself from everything and work with nothingness. I can sink into my inner self, to find my own solace, embrace my surroundings and connect with my cheerful side.

Namaste!!!

2015 – Year of the Goat

Year of the Goat

Fei Chen, the author of this post has been a guest here a few times. If you enjoy reading this, you may like her other posts: Why You Should Celebrate Your Life and In Memory of a Neighbor.

Goat, sheep, lamb—domestic livestock. They’ve provided us with food, clothing, symbolism, and even memories for centuries.

 Food and Religious Offerings:

My earliest memory of a goat came from my grand-mother who was the matriarch of the Chen family. Small in stature but big in ideologies, she believed in building a successful business and keeping her family comfortable. My grandmother owned a leather-tanning business that employed local natives. These spiritual locals believed in offering live goats as sacrifices (Puja) to please God in return for His blessing to all humankind.  Every year my grandmother obliged her employees with a live goat. They also got a day off to perform their ritual—a gesture that made everyone happy as it also provided meat for a tasty curry.  This is something that I value most about communal living.

 Memories with My Children:

Ba Ba black sheep—life was a merry-go-round when I was raising my two kids. I learned with them, ate with them, and sang nursery rhymes with them. We learned how to count, do arithmetic, and memorize our times tables the old-fashioned way.  My children—full of fun—filled me with joy as they still do to this day.

 Passengers in Noah’s Ark:

The Book of Genesis says that Noah’s Ark drifted in the Flood when God sent heavy rainfall for forty days and forty nights. On board this vessel were pairs of every animal. So of course, goats would have been among the chosen ones—living undisturbed and happily in the Ark. Though there is no physical proof of Noah’s Ark, the story prevails. It continues to flourish and to entertain our imagination of a legendary Ark atop Mount Ararat in Lebanon.

 2015 Lunar Year of the Goat:

February 19, 2015 is our Lunar New Year and millions of people around the globe will be celebrating the New Year on that New-Moon day.  The traditions, beliefs, and culture pass on from generation to generation reminding us of who we are and where we come from.

Happy New Year! 恭喜癹財!

Why You Should Work on Your Own Terms: A Book Review

Work on Your Own Terms in Midlife & Beyond

A Book Written by Janine L. Moore

I was Wrong:

When I first came across the book, Work on Your Own Terms in Midlife & Beyond, I had already mapped out my exit strategy from the corporate world. In my mind, I didn’t need any more help to retool for my post-corporate life. The trouble was that I bought the book–it was an impulse buy–, and I couldn’t let a purchase go to waste. So I decided to read it.

I opened it on my tablet during my outbound flight to Portugal where a blissful week of sightseeing and socializing with friends awaited. From the first chapter, Janine Moore hooked me with her engaging style. The first quote I read, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anais Nin, drew me in. Then as I read more, I felt more and more connected to Ms. Moore. She spoke to me even though I thought I didn’t need to hear anymore. She made a lot of sense, so I listened.

Every night at the hotel that week in Portugal, exhausted from the day’s activities I’d read the book before going to bed. Ms. Moore advises the reader to read the entire book once, and then re-read one chapter each day, doing the exercises shown after each one. The idea is to rewire your brain by the end of thirty days when you finish reading the book. She wants you “to view the world through a different lens so you can create life on your own terms.”

The Book

Work On Your Own Terms in Midlife & Beyond: Change Your Mind, Change Your Life
Each chapter begins with one or more powerful quotes from the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Dale Carnegie, the Dalai Lama, and others, and ends with some action steps where Ms. Moore also lists some suggested reading materials. She cleverly groups most of the chapters under six of our main fears: 1) Poverty, 2) Criticism, 3) Poor Health, 4) Loss of Love, 5) Old Age, and 6) Death. She addresses these fears and how to work with them.

Our fears cripple us if we let them. The author uses examples and quotes to help you tame them. For instance, the fear of poverty drives us to work hard and to amass more wealth than we need, thus cuffing us to our jobs longer than necessary. She uses the parable of the businessman and the fisherman to illustrate how one can chase monetary gains blindly in the name of financial freedom that will allow you to spend quality time with family and friends. However, all this while, that dream is already within the businessman’s reach except he doesn’t know it.

Death finds everyone without exception. The author quotes Norman Cousins, “The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside us while we live.” Food for thought. She also believes that the people who ponder their own mortality lead more fulfilling lives. She uses Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. as an example. He said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

The Message

While I haven’t gone back to re-read the book as recommended by the author–time constraints being my excuse–I plan to do it as soon as I can. I believe in Ms. Moore’s message about working on your own terms. It doesn’t even have to begin at midlife; it can apply to anyone with the right mindset.

Why You Should Do Something That Makes You Uncomfortable

Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Why You Should Do Something That Makes You Uncomfortable

Why should you make yourself uncomfortable? Isn’t that counter-intuitive?

My answer: If you never step out of your comfort zone, you become complacent. Complacency kills creativity and the desire to accomplish.

Learning to swim: an exercise in futility

A few years ago I decided to learn how to swim. So I bought a bathing suit (with a skirt for modesty), a swimming cap (did I mention that it was made of cloth?), and a pair of goggles (yes, it was mostly waterproof). For the next few months, I thrashed, heaved, panted, and gasped in the pool, never venturing beyond the red line marking the steep drop-off to the deep side.

A kindly gym member took pity on me and gave me some lessons. I remained stubbornly uncoordinated and dreaded my once-a-week foray into the pool. After a few months I gave up and went back to all the activities that I knew I could do. I even took up outdoor cycling and became quite good at it. It wasn’t a huge leap since I was already teaching cycle fit indoors.

Learning to swim: the gauntlet is thrown

Last year a seventy-three-year old gym buddy began boasting to me about how many laps he was able to swim after just a few months in the puddle. He kept taunting me to join him. If he could do it, then why couldn’t I? I’m younger than him and in pretty good shape.

So I bought a rubber cap, wore my old bathing suit and goggles, and then jumped into the water with dread. My previous mentor was nowhere to be found. I thrashed, heaved, panted, and gasped again.

Someone asked me at the pool, “How many times do you swim every week?”

“Once a week.”

He laughed. “That’s like me going to the golf course once a year and hoping I can improve my swing.”

Okay, I’ll try for twice a week. Alas, this was still not the turning point.

One day I bumped into my friend, a more-than-competent swimmer whose schedule never coincided with mine in the pool until that day. She took one look at me and said, “Lose that bathing suit. It’s like the lady who wore flip flops to your spinning class.”

So I skulked into a shop she recommended and picked up two new “swimming-appropriate” bathing suits. When the sales lady asked which league I belonged to, I gave her a vague response, but I proudly wore one of my new outfits when I knew my friend would be in the pool.

Success

Without going into the details of my near-drowning and panic attacks, I can report that in less than a year after my second start, I can now swim at least twenty laps (that’s a kilometer) in about thirty minutes. Maybe that’s not much for some of you. For me, this caps a year of taking on uncomfortable projects.

You see, last year I also got a publisher to publish my debut novel—a feat that I didn’t believe I could accomplish until I challenged myself to take that leap.

You just never know what you can accomplish or create when you step out of your comfort zone:

Seth Godin said in one of his blogs that you should make it a habit to get out of your comfort zone. I learned to swim when I dreaded going into the pool. Today I feel exhilarated every time I jump in. I banged on my computer coaxing out one word after another. Now I have a published novel, Picture Bride, to show for it.

Do you have a story about how stepping out of your comfort zone made you feel good in the end? Please share it in the comments.

Why You Should Celebrate Your Life

FeiHsia2

This is a guest post written by Fei Chen. She writes thought-provoking pieces about life mainly for herself, and now I’m honoured to have her share some of her thoughts here.

Celebration of Life: I recently attended the funeral of our neighbor, 敬元哥 who lived to be 98 years old, or 102 years according to the lunar calendar. Instead of tears, his descendants greeted me with smiles. I was surprised, but pleased when one of his grandchildren explained that since her grandfather had passed on after 90, rather than mourn his death, our Indian Hakka community should celebrate his life.

In our conscious state we don’t spend enough time celebrating our lives. Instead we constantly plan, busily organize our calendars, and work like restless bees to acquire tangible assets. We do this to feed our physical needs, trying our best to achieve our set goals: this is what I call “a sequence of our life journey.” You see, our parents instilled in us these values of hard work and responsibility for ourselves. In turn I tell my children to follow the same mantra: go to university, earn degrees, find a good paying job, and settle down to a stable life just like the vast majority.

But we don’t have to follow the masses. I once watched a prominent actress on TV say, “What if a turtle has wings…” She made me put on my thinking cap, and I realized that humans have multidimensional brains. We think, react, and perform sequentially, but we can also step out of our comfort zone and think virtually and dream in the abstract.

Life is a Process:  I believe every one of us is born with a unique gift to prepare and equip us for our survival, challenges, and expectations.  Often we lose our faith when we battle opposing strong currents; then we are forced to take refuge to reassess our priorities.  Once we recognize and discover that sparkle and joy of life, however long it may take, we say, “OH WOW!!!”

Two Hakka Matriarchs Remembered: I immensely enjoyed reading C Fong Hsiung’s book Picture Bride recently. I appreciated the stories and the characters in the book that carried me back 35 years ago. In the scene where the Fong described Jillian’s grand-mother’s big 70th birthday bash, I couldn’t help but picture the author’s own grand-mother 亜球伯姆 and my grand-mother who were best friends while I was growing up in Tangra, Calcutta. 亜球伯姆 and my grand-mother were two matriarchs, close associates, and just like “two peas in a pod.”  When I was a teenager, I used to accompany these two old ladies during their Tuesday matinees at the cinemas. I’d overhear their conversations, and found their friendship and sisterhood truly remarkable.

Full Circle: As I stood in front of the lifeless body of 敬元哥 to pay my last respect, despite the smiling faces around me, emotionally I felt sad, and physically I felt empty and hollow. But then I wondered, “What if 敬元哥’s soul has crossed over, and my grand-mother and my dad greeted him on the other side?” Is there actually life after death?  What if there is a subconscious state where our souls fly to eternity when they depart from our physical bodies, and so on and on…

Publish Your Short Story

workstation-336369_640 (1)Do you want to publish a story on the web? Wondering if you’ve got what it takes to tell a story?

My goal is to assist people who are dabbling with words for the first time. Perhaps I can plant a seed in your head, and then help you find your voice for at least, one short story. After that you can decide whether you want to continue to write or not. Experience tells me that once you see your story posted on-line, you’ll get hooked. Most of the writers on my site have never written seriously before I invited them to try.

So how do you get started? Pick a writing prompt (click here) on my site to fire up your imagination. Write a story between 300 – 500 words long. Embed the selected prompt anywhere in your narrative. You may change the tense, but you cannot change anything else in the sentence. When you’re ready, copy and paste the entire text into the message part of the “Contact Me” page, and send it to me. I will edit your work and then return it to you. If you accept my changes, then I will post your story on my site, no strings attached. It may take a few weeks to make it to my blog. I’ll email you when it’s posted.

Why do I do this? Because until recently I was a new writer myself. Because it’s hugely gratifying when I can bring a complete novice along the writing journey and then see them grow as a writer. I want to encourage you to go even further. Stoke the fire in your author belly by downloading my resource-packed free e-book. As a bonus you’ll also get an Excel template to track the timelines of your characters and events for when you’re ready to write a novel.

So what are you waiting for? Start writing now. Claim your free e-book and Excel workbook from the sidebar.

Dancing At Ghunsa – A Book Review

Dancing at Ghunsa: A Trek in the Cloud Forests of Nepal

By Glenn Forbes Miller

Dancing At GhunsaThe words are at once poetic and fluid. Glenn Forbes Miller’s book, Dancing at Ghunsa is a feast of words. Miller has returned to Nepal—travelling half way around the world—for his second trek in the Himalaya Mountains. This time he aims to reach the base camp of the third highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga, 8,598 metres (28,208 feet).

The first chapter is titled, “Walk with Me a While.” You’ll realize as you start to read that you’re in it not just for a while, but for the entire hike. Miller takes you on an incredible journey along with his guide, porter, and cook. Along the way he meets many people who come to life in his pages—people in such remote and rustic worlds as to seem unreal, but for images captured in his camera.

Then there’s the terrain over which Miller treks through—rough paths rarely travelled if at all by commercial traffic, and sometimes no paths at all. The hike is not for the faint of heart. “At 12,000 feet, the trail steepens, which reduces me to stutter-stepping, but even so, I can only manage that for five minutes before having to stop and rest.” Couple this with the reduced oxygen at that altitude, his brain can no longer focus on anything save phrases from songs that he uses as rhythm for his five-inch strides.

The mountains are ruggedly beautiful. “Beauty and Danger go hand in hand in the Himalayas.” Even when Miller and his group stop to snap pictures, there is a sense of danger in those heights where often, the best views are taken standing on boulders and rocks.

Take the journey with Glenn Miller to Kanchenjunga’s base camp at almost 17,000 feet. You may never need to hike there yourself and still experience the sights, sounds, and people. I highly recommend this book, especially if you love an adventure and the English language.

The Agenda

A Short Story by Guest Writer, Diane Cormier

Writing Prompt: “Despite my three-inch heels I ran as fast as I could.”

office

Why is it that just when you think everything is going your way something goes wrong?

I got up at 5 AM, went to the gym, caught the 7:30 AM GO train later, and then headed for the subway. Crowds thronged the platform. “What’s wrong now?” I sighed impatiently.

“Attention, all subway customers on Line One. The northbound train on Yonge is turning back at Wellesley due to a fire alarm at Bloor Station. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Just great, I’d have to take the train to Wellesley and then walk the rest of the way to the office. This was one meeting I couldn’t be late for. Beyond the crowd I heard a sound. “Good, a train is arriving. I hope I can get on it. I have never seen so many people.”

Barely breathing I squeezed my way inside where I could hold on to a pole instead of falling on top of people every time the train jerked. When we reached Wellesley Station, everybody pushed to get off the train. I clamoured my way out to the platform, glanced up at the clock and saw that it was 8:45 AM. Fifteen minutes left to reach the office. I made my way outside. Ten minutes left to get in on time for the meeting that I had convened.

With my route mapped out in my head, and despite my three-inch heels I ran as fast as I could. I saw the office in front of me, but I resisted the urge to stop and look at my watch. Breathlessly I rushed into the elevator. When the door opened on my floor, I noticed the closed boardroom door and the unnatural silence as I stepped on the carpet. The receptionist looked up and motioned me to let me know that the meeting had started without me.

I handed her my coat, adjusted my jacket, and squared my shoulders as I took a deep breath and entered the boardroom. The room suddenly went quiet. I looked at the faces around the table—some uncomfortable and a few with silly smirks. I said, “It’s unfortunate that I was late for this meeting, but it was unavoidable and could have happened to anyone.”

I glanced at the agenda. Listed on top was, “Tardiness & Attendance.” Pin-drop silence…and then someone giggled. I looked up at the offender and noticed everyone joining in. I tried to suppress my smile. No one missed the irony.

“The point I’m making is that we can’t use this as an excuse to abuse the system. Let’s move on to the next item,” I said with as much dignity as I could muster.

In Memory of a Neighbor

FeiHsia

Guest Post by Fei Chen

The neighbors from my childhood home have great bonds with my mother and love for her. We lived in communal surroundings in Calcutta, India where we cared, joked, and had fun together after long and sweaty work days. We respected the elders, loved the children, looked out for one another and often shared our food together. I have come to the conclusion that it is that sharing of food that glues our human feelings, bonds our emotions, and feeds our spiritual needs. In retrospect, in the old days we did not have a typical social structure; instead each family was like a cloister, compelled to cobweb ourselves in a tight and close-knit environment, and ultimately that kinship and social behavior became the cradle for our norm.

Last summer 月雲姊 and 緆芳哥 came from the United States to visit their friends and families in Toronto. My sister was with us at that time and I had the privilege of sitting down with them for lunch. 緆芳哥 wittily said to me with a mischievous smile, “Munchu said hello to you!” At that moment his tone of voice and his facial expression resonated with my childhood memories of Munchu. He was a street vendor who sold me numerous helpings of junk food in our old neighborhood of Tangra, also called Dhappa. This was a place where all Hakka people knew each other’s affairs and family histories. In that place we created our live comedies, laughing at other’s visible disabilities and immaturities without malice. We laughed out loud and then instantly shook off the scene and moved on to the next stage of life. We carried no menace, threats or physical harm to others.

Our ancestors like many others, left China and settled in Calcutta, India around the time when communism was in its incubation. Also we Hakka are adventurous and free-spirited people. I have witnessed my parents overcome ups and downs in different venture capital businesses. Yet they came out of their hardships, cheerful and triumphant, and always learned from their mistakes while they moved on.

緆芳哥 and his family were our family friends, and they were living in our compound long before I was born. To this day they still communicate with my mother. A short time ago while I was at my mom’s place for lunch, the phone rang, and it was 月雲姊 and 緆芳哥 saying hello. Then a few weeks later we were notified that 緆芳哥 had passed away. We are sad to lose one of our true friends from our inner circle.

Life is fragile. Everybody measures, values and loves life differently. I like to quote from our spiritual leader Dalai Lama and how he sees life: “Love and Compassion.”