Why I Love Mondays

Happy Monday!

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

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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!!!

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.

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.”

Why I Should Own My Identity

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Reflections on a Sunny June Day

As I sit in my kitchen on this beautiful afternoon in June, I let the sights and sounds outside take over my senses.

Whrrrm…whrrrm…whine…whine…screech! You got it; I’m not painting an idyllic scene. You see, the developer behind my backyard has started serious construction work. The green space has been razed down and the oversize digger is scooping up everything that grows there.

Earlier when I let my son’s dog, Lennon, out to do his thing, I listened for the birds. Their chirps were still audible despite the heavy equipment’s whirring. In fact, as I listen to them now, they sound like they’re competing with the whrrrm whrrrm…our spunky feathered friends doth protest in sympathy with their neighbours.

What’s that about an ebook?

No, this is not a griping session about the big bad developers. The truth is I barely pay attention to the noise now. They’ve turned into sounds of summer as I write my e-book, How to Stir the Writing Fire in Your Belly, which I plan to give away to all my email subscribers for free. I’ve almost completed the first draft.

Yippee…I said it out aloud. That must mean I’m committed to finishing the book.

Not so fast…

The trouble is that the first draft is really bad. I mean it. I will have to work hard to polish it until it shines. At this point, my brain doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. I’m experiencing a mental cramp that refuses to unlock and let me see how to make my book worth reading. So I’ve decided to give myself a break from over-thinking it.

My right brain gave me permission to read writing-marketing-writing blog after blog until the gray matter in my head has turned into floating black clouds of meaningless alphabets. I realize that my protracted research is actually retarding my progress. I don’t draw any comfort from this knowledge. OMG…where is the panic button?

I am a Writer

I bought Jeff Goins’s message about owning my writing identity a long time ago. Read his blog here. Just as when I’m at my day job, I own that identity too.

Yet sometimes doubts still plague me when I find myself in a slump…this is not where I want to be right now. It’s not possible to produce quality work if I only dip one foot in the water in either places.

I need to write what I know. That’s simple, isn’t it? I know myself well and I’m the only one who knows how I went through my journey to becoming a novelist.

Hmm…maybe I should change the book’s title to How I Stirred the Writing Fire in My Belly…and You Can Too. What do you think?

Picture downloaded from www.Morguefile.com

Make Minor Adjustments in Your Life to Create a Major Impact

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Start with a Vacation

Every time I return home from a vacation, I have an urge to make some adjustments—something small to change things up in my life. The down-time away from home allows me to think about what’s happening to me and around me.

A Change in My Routine

In 2010, my mother checked into the hospital for a surgery. What was supposed to be a one-week stay turned into a five-month nightmare. While I had been driving to work for many years, commuting 35 kilometres each way every day, I found myself driving even more. I detoured to the hospital almost daily and also drove there on the weekends. Then when I took my first trip to China around the time my mother finally went home, I spent two weeks almost worry-free. After lots of naval-gazing, I decided that when I returned home, I would stop driving to work. I began to ride the train instead, and I used the commute time to read, write or chat. I’ll bet these rides now provide more therapeutic relief than any psycho-analytic couch.

A Significant Step

During the past few years, I had been toying with the idea of winding down from the corporate world to spend more time doing what I love. After much soul searching and number crunching, and after another vacation late last year, I decided to drop one day from my full-time job in March. I’m now writing another book…make that two. I started writing the sequel to Picture Bride a few months ago, and I’m one quarter of the way into an e-book that I will give away on my website. I might even write a series of Kindle books…maybe I need another vacation to give me the impetus to take that on.

A Word of Advice if I May

Use your vacation time to relax and let your mind take you in any and every direction. When you let yourself go, you just never know where you’ll end up. I highly recommend bringing home one little tweak to your routine to spice things up a bit. You don’t need to shift gears as much as I did in my examples above. I’ve tried to adopt a minor change each time I came home from a holiday. Some lasted and some got lost in the sea of tasks that greeted me as soon as I stepped inside the office. Just add or subtract something that makes you feel good.

And Finally…

The key is to aim for those little adjustments; they might accumulate into a big and rewarding lifestyle shift.

My Namesake…My Challenge

How convoluted can your name get? If you have a couple of minutes, I’ll tell you my story.

When I was born, my parents promptly named me and registered my birth just like any law-abiding citizens. What’s so unusual about that? It’s a big deal—given that we’re talking about living in India during a time when many Chinese births were not registered until years later.

Owning an accurate birth certificate was quite an accomplishment…it was, until my parents decided to change part of my name before I enrolled for kindergarten at the local Chinese school. Apparently my generational name—the one that was common to all my sisters, unborn at the time—was in conflict with one of our ancestors in China. My parents didn’t think it was necessary to update my birth certificate though.

The curve ball came when I went to an English school at eight—earlier than most other Hakka Chinese kids my age. Rather than use my birth name, I was enrolled with my revised name spelled phonetically. One could argue that my high school certificate is not mine.

Another twist came about when we were allowed to become legal Indian citizens. The birth certificate became an important document. Only problem was that the person preparing my application added an alias. Now here was the perfect opportunity to right all that was wrong, but no…that would have made too much sense. I’ll spare you the details—fodder for another blog perhaps—of how a butchered sound-alike of my name was included into my citizenship documents.

When I immigrated to Canada, I reverted back to my legal given name registered at birth…until I got married and adopted my husband’s surname…but that’s the least convoluted part of this story.

Growing Up In Gentler Times

Photo by P. Maitra http://defenceforumindia.com/forum/china/26737-understanding-china-4.html
I grew up in Tangra, a suburb of Calcutta now called Kolkata. Throughout my childhood, I don’t think I received more than one toy a year—and that’s likely overstating it. Yet, I’ve never felt like I had a deprived childhood. We entertained ourselves playing with other kids and got creative with anything we could lay our hands on, turning them into make-believe toys. Like the times we pretended to fly with towels tied around the neck in lieu of capes, or sailing paper boats made from newspapers and notebooks—often to my mom’s chagrin.

In those days, my mom always took an afternoon nap. Much like “siesta” time in Spain and Italy, midday during the Calcutta summer is hot and humid, and induced the same heat related inertia in adults, but produced the opposite effect on the kids. During those lazy afternoons, our craziest adventures were to goad each other to perform stupid and risky feats like jumping from the rooftop—albeit a low roof—to a pile of leather shavings on the ground. Of course, we made sure that our parents never found out. Yes, there was hell to pay if we were ever caught.

Those were also gentler times. The community was close-knit. As kids we wandered off from our house everyday in search of playmates. If that bothered my mom, she certainly didn’t force us to stay put. If we didn’t show up at meal times—the whole family always dined together three times daily—she’d walk over to the neighbours’ houses and enquire. Everyone, and I mean everyone, directly or indirectly knew each other. Someone inevitably would have seen us playing somewhere and pass the word on.

If I had allowed my kids to run around the way I did as a child, I would have been considered negligent. Yet my mother was not negligent. We were safe because the entire community took care of us. Now isn’t that saying something about the world we live in today?

On Being Hakka

Why do we Hakka people have this need to have a conference? I don’t know of any other ethnic group that does this type of naval gazing.

A week ago, I attended the Toronto Hakka Conference. 270 people of Hakka origin were at York University for two days of sharing and exploring.

Most of our ancestors left China about a hundred years ago, and scattered all over the world. Now many have converged in Canada and have adopted this country as home. Hakka from India, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mauritius, etc. swapped stories about growing up in our respective countries, and how we continue to pass on our culture and traditions to the next generation. 

But why get in touch with my Hakka Chinese roots now? These last couple of years, as I focus on my writing, I find myself digging deep into my roots. Doing this has forced me to examine my identity and what being Hakka means to me. I’m bursting with stories—the challenge is how to get them out.

So naval gazing or not, the conference certainly reinforced my Hakka pride and reminded me how fortunate we are to be living in this wonderful country where multiculturalism is in the air we breathe.

Ancestor veneration

When I was a kid, ancestor veneration meant treats…candies, cookies, pastries…choice treats.

On special occasions, as a dutiful Hakka Chinese woman, my mother honoured our ancestors with offerings of cooked meats—chicken, pork and fish, fruits and the above-mentioned treats. As far as I was concerned, the tradition was a good excuse for stuffing our faces. The hardest part was resisting the goodies during the days leading up to the appointed date. They looked too irresistible to stay in the deep recesses of my mother’s hiding places. We weren’t allowed to eat them until the ancestors had been properly appeased.

Now that was a contentious point for an outspoken uncle who often said that if the ancestors actually ate the food, this tradition would probably stop. My mother’s response to her brother was if such a thing were to happen, it would reinforce her belief. What is this belief anyway? In my youth I was pretty nebulous about ancestor veneration—just another incense / candle burning ceremony. It wasn’t until it became my turn to carry on the tradition that I started to dig a little deeper inside me to see how I actually felt about it.

Earlier this week, we engaged in some ceremonial veneration acts of our own for my husband’s deceased parents. The occasion—our first granddaughter’s birth a couple of months ago. I tried to explain to our non-Chinese daughter-in-law the significance of the ceremony from my point of view. I believe that the tradition is meant to remind us of our roots, and to help keep the memories of our loved ones alive. For me that’s enough reason to continue the ritual.

Hakka Women Didn’t Bind Their Feet

Hakka women didn’t bind their feet.

I make that statement with pride. Traditionally, up until the early twentieth century, Chinese girls had their feet bound when they were very young. It was a status symbol to have small feet. It was also desirable to walk with a swaying gait. The practice was mainly prevalent amongst the rich whose daughters were assured of marrying into wealthy families where they wouldn’t be expected to work. The disfigured feet made normal walking a challenge.


Hakka women worked side by side with their men. They were warriors as well. I am convinced that a large number of us have inherited our ancestors’ independence and entrepreneurship. Some of the world’s best known Chinese are Hakka. Deng Xiaoping, the leader who opened China to the world was a Hakka, as is Lee Kuan Yew, the longest serving Prime Minister of Singapore. In Canada, the best known daughter of Hakka ancestry is Adrienne Clarkson, the 26th Governor General of Canada.


A Hakka conference occurs every four years in Toronto. 2012 will see another such conference at the end of June. Today there are many Hakka Canadians. While we have assimilated very nicely, nevertheless we are fiercely proud of our heritage.

I Am

I am Canadian. I am Chinese. I am Hakka.

Let’s add another twist. I was born in India, which makes me Indian as well. Confusing? Not really if you’re in my shoes. Looking for diversity and multiculturalism? You’ve found them–right here. The reality is that this is not something that is in my consciousness. These are facts that add to who I am.

Beyond the happy convergence of the physical and environmental circumstances of my being, I consider myself Canadian above all else. I have lived in Canada almost twice as long as I have in my birth country. My only connection to China was a two-week trip in 2010 as a tourist, although I have roots in the Canton province, relatives who are complete strangers to me.

Growing up in India, my first language was Hakka, a Chinese dialect. I went to English schools from the time I was eight. That threw a wrench in my Chinese education and outlook. I think in English, but for some bizarre reason, I count in Hakka as long as I’m doing that in my head. Although all the schools that I attended insisted on teaching Hindi as a second language, my tongue trips without discrimination over every word—and oh, forget about being grammatically correct.

There you have it…my foray into multiculturalism on this beautiful Monday afternoon.


Picture by Jeremy Hsiung

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