Last week I was adding another book to my “read” list on GoodReads.com and for the fun of it typed in the name of my upcoming memoir, GOOD CHINESE WIFE.
And there it was!
Of course I immediately clicked on “to read” as well as the Facebook like button. A few fabulous friends followed suit.
If you are on GoodReads and are interested in reading GOOD CHINESE WIFE, I would love it if you could also click “to read“.
It’s also available for pre-ordering on Amazon here!
I am beyond excited to feature this guest post by Rachel Cartland, author of the new memoir, Paper Tigress: A Life in the Hong Kong Government (Blacksmith Books, 2013). In 1972, Rachel Cartland was just one of two female expatriates to join the elite Administrative Grade of the Hong Kong Government. She retired in 2006 and therefore has amazing stories to share in her book. In this post, she describes her transition from civil servant to author! Here’s Rachel:
Work is important to most of us. My new book, Paper Tigress, is principally concerned with the enjoyment and meaning I derived from my career as a civil servant in Hong Kong. All the same, the point in our lives at which we are released from the need to spend most of our days in a workplace offers possibilities for new directions and re-invention.
So what did I do when I was presented with just this chance a few years ago? Travel to the Gobi Desert? Start ranching llamas? Re-create the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the living room? Nah, I had been a bureaucrat after all. I went on a computer course. This was actually a rather urgent requirement. I belong to the generation of “digital migrants” and, worse still, those who had secretaries whose presence relieved us of the need to master for ourselves much more than the sending of the simplest of e-mails. Raymond, our teacher, was young, handsome and charming. He was also a genius. His genius lay not so much in an ability to write complex algorithms as in his readiness to accept that his students really didn’t understand the simplest things and his willingness to explain them slowly and patiently. I determined to find a way to exploit him.
I went to the YWCA to discuss the running of some computer courses with Raymond as instructor. The British lady with whom I was dealing asked me the standard Hong Kong questions of any expatriate as to how long ago I had arrived and what had brought me here. She was taken aback by my answers of “almost forty years” and “to be one of the only two expatriate women in Hong Kong’s Administrative Grade.” She was sure that members of the “Y” would be fascinated by my life story and asked if I could put together a talk for them. I said that I could.
As it turned out, I was right but she was wrong. I attracted an audience of just three, one of these being a staff member drafted in to help me not to feel so bad. A third of the audience, though, was composed of the peerless Ildiko and that more than compensated. Ildiko was a newly arrived “trailing spouse”, an unfortunate name for a group of people who are often highly intelligent and talented but whose reason for being in Hong Kong is because of a partner’s employment. Ildiko’s questions were so perceptive and her comments so positive that I was infected with her enthusiasm. Accordingly, that very evening I Googled “Publishers in Hong Kong” and sent to the first name on the list the text that I had used and which, thanks to Raymond, was set out in a nice Word document. Since this is Hong Kong where magical things happen, even to retired civil servants, a process thereby began which culminated a few weeks ago in my seeing my book on display in the shops.
What next? Well, frankly, the living room ceiling does look a little dull. Hand me those paintbrushes, Michelangelo!!
To learn more about Rachel and to hear her interview with Stuart Beaton, click here.
Jiangsu Province, 1991
To ring in the frigid temperatures in Chicago, I thought I’d post this photo from a time when I really couldn’t escape the cold.
I was in college in Hong Kong and felt sorry for myself for the two weeks when the temperatures plummeted to 6C, or 42F.
But then I went to China and really lost it. The temps were more like 2C or 35F, just above freezing.
A college sweatshirt and trench coat didn’t exactly do the trick. We had no heat inside, so kept our coats on inside and out.
The only relief came at night thanks to the electric blankets on the beds.
Since then I’ve had a fear of the cold. Tell me again why I live in Chicago?
After a busy weekend of Thanksgiving and other family gatherings, I’m excited for the week ahead.
For one thing, today marks seven months until the publication date of GOOD CHINESE WIFE (pre-orders are available here!).
Second, on Wednesday I’ll receive copy edits from my publisher, Sourcebooks. This means that their copy editing department will have gone through each sentence, polishing them as they see fit. I’ll have two weeks to send my editor any changes. After the manuscript is laid out in the final font in early March, I’ll have one more chance to proofread the book. Because by then it will really be a book!
So in preparation for my book launch in seven months, I was wondering what traits you value in a partner. In my memoir, I tried to be a good Chinese wife.
That obviously didn’t work out the way I’d planned. In my second go around, I’ve stopped trying to be something I’m not. I’m just myself.
Do you have any special recipes to a happy marriage or relationship?
If you’re looking for a quick and fascinating read this winter, I can’t say enough about Monique Brinson Demery’s new book, Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam’s Madame Nhu (PublicAffairs, 2013).
Although we all know what ultimately happens in this story, Monique Demery has presented a haunting, suspenseful book that kept me turning the pages until I finished it 24 hours later.
Madame Nhu was the First Lady of South Vietnam from the time the French left in 1954 until her husband and brother-in-law were assassinated (thanks to an American directive) in 1963. But it wasn’t her husband, Ngo Dinh Nhu, who was the head of state, but rather her bachelor brother-in-law, Ngo Dinh Diem.
Diem needed a female counterpart to attend state dinners and meet with other first ladies. Enter Madame Nhu. Strong willed, outgoing, intelligent, and opinionated, she was perfect for the job. But she was also feared and disparaged in the west.
And here’s why. When strong Asian women like Jiang Qing (Madame Mao), Soong Mei-ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek), and Imelda Marcos didn’t fit the submissive stereotype, people in the west viewed these women as threatening, emasculating dragon ladies.
Madame Nhu was no exception, which was especially apparent during her trip to the United States around the time her husband was killed. Although the Ngo brothers were staunch anti-Communists, the United States withdrew support after public opinion in South Vietnam turned against Ngo Dinh Diem and his administration, including Madame Nhu.
After her husband’s death, Madame Nhu lived a life in exile in Paris and Rome. She refused all interviews starting in 1986, shortly after her brother murdered their parents in Washington, DC. That is until Demery found her in Paris 20 years later.
Madame Nhu died in Rome a few years ago. We are fortunate that a thirty-something American woman took the time and patience to find Madame Nhu and hear her side of this tragic story.