This mural is new in my mom’s Chicago neighborhood. I’ve walked past this street many times in the last 17 years and was wondering what would happen this little parking garage. There is so much new construction all around. But this is perfect, especially given the atmosphere in the US these days.
Today is the publication date of my agent-sister, Dorcas Cheng-Tozun’s debut book, Start, Love, Repeat: How to Stay in Love With Your Entrepreneur in a Crazy Start-Up World (Center Street, 2018). I’ve known about her book deal for a while now and have loved following her publishing journey. Like most authors, Dorcas and I went through several rounds of submission for our debut books and had to rewrite and revise just as many times. But it’s all worth it when the final product comes out!
I read Start, Love, Repeat a few weeks ago and was so impressed by the many interviews she conducted and the case stories of these other entrepreneurs and their marriages. It’s not an easy life, that’s for sure. Long hours, lots of traveling, and there’s no such thing as a work-life balance.
But what I enjoyed most were her personal stories. Dorcas met her husband in college when they were both at Stanford. He’d started some other start-ups before hitting it big. According to her book, most entrepreneurs fail at 3 start-ups before having any success. That’s an encouraging statistic, no matter one’s field. (Publishing, anyone?)
When Dorcas’s husband Ned and some friends decided to start d.light, a company that provides solar energy to developing countries, it starts out small. But after much hard work and grueling hours, the company takes off. And the directors decide they need to be closer to their clients if the company is ever going to make it long-term.
So Dorcas and Ned move to southern China and Ned’s partner moves to India. But Shenzhen isn’t want Dorcas expects. (I don’t blame her; it wasn’t easy when I lived in Hong Kong and ventured north to this border town.) Since Dorcas uprooted her life in northern California for Ned’s business, Ned decides to compromise and open an office in Hong Kong. That move across the border makes things so much easier on Dorcas and she writes candidly about this and how compromise is not impossible in relationships with entrepreneurs.
She covers all topics that might come up in a marriage to an entrepreneur and nothing is taboo. Nothing! What I didn’t get was the complete selfishness of some of the people she interviewed. They canceled dinners and vacations and couldn’t spend one evening with their spouse without work getting in the middle. Sometimes I wondered if that was the nature of the business or the personality of that particular person.
When Dorcas received this book deal, she and Ned and their young son were living in Kenya for d.light. They were there just under a year and it was another sacrifice her family had to make for the company. But the way she looked at it, it was another opportunity to experience another culture and learn about another part of the world. I love that outlook and think that would be a great perk. Moving overseas isn’t just confined to entrepreneurs; it can happen in many professions. (But not all! I would encourage my husband to take a job overseas if other countries recognized US medical licenses, but many don’t! Go figure.)
So this book will be helpful to a wide range of people, not just those married to entrepreneurs. It’s a quick and entertaining read and full of life lessons we can all understand.
I’m not a perfect parent. And I’m not an expert in education. Years ago when I was first divorced and raising my toddler as a single a mother, I didn’t speak Mandarin to him even though he spent his first two years hearing it from his grandparents (for the first year) and his father (until I left him a few months shy of Jake’s second birthday).
I didn’t speak Mandarin to Jake because I was worried he would pick up my American accent, often devoid of tones. As a result, Jake didn’t really learn Mandarin until he started college 16 years after he stopped hearing it on a daily basis.
But I did something else. Starting around the time Jake turned three, I would push him on the swings at a Chicago playground with the Sears Tower looming behind us. And as I pushed him, he would count out loud–in Mandarin. Yi, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba, jiu, shi, shi yi, shi er, and on and on until he got into the hundreds and then thousands. After reading Lenora Chu’s eye-opening book, Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve (Harper, 2017), I realized I hadn’t completely failed as a young mother years ago.
And it’s not that Jake’s ability to count in Mandarin contributed to his later language acquisition. It may have or it may have not. But according to Chu, the act of engaging in some kind of math exercises before children start kindergarten is huge. It may have contributed to what I thought was Jake’s natural ability in math. After reading Little Soldiers, I no longer believe in a natural ability; it was from learning numerical patterns and understanding how to count into the thousands and ten thousands and hundred thousands at an early age–and in another language.
Chu’s son Rainey enters a local kindergarten (which is what we’d call pre-school in the US) at a prestigious school in Shanghai. Chu and her husband are expats in China’s financial hub and do all they can to get Rainey into this sought-after school. But once he begins, Rainey is subjected to some pretty draconian practices like being force fed food he doesn’t eat (Jake cringed when I told him this part; he doesn’t eat eggs either) and being made to conform to the group and not shine as an individual.
But there are also some great advantages to the Chinese educational system and Chu dispels many myths. Chinese students aren’t naturally better in math than American students; they just start at an earlier age (per my example above). And students from the big cities don’t have a much easier time getting into the top universities in China compared to their compatriots in the countryside because the former are smarter and the latter less intelligent. It’s that the universities give more places to city kids than rural ones.
One of the most eye-opening parts of the book was the culture of graft. I feel like I’m pretty generous when it comes to giving teacher gifts in December. I’ve bought European throw blankets and pretty scarves for my kids’ teachers, but never the designer handbags or money envelopes that’s expected in China. I was upset when we had to pass out cigarettes to the police when my ex-husband needed some forms signed at a Hubei government office for his green card application 22 years ago. How in the world would I deal with handing out Tory Burch?
I could go on and on about what I learned in this book, but I don’t want to spoil it. I bought a copy for the principal of my kids’ school (here I go again with gifts to educators, but it’s not Prada!) and when I saw him last week and started to get excited about the book, he said he didn’t want any spoilers either. So please pick up this book if you’re at all interested in education, global affairs, China, or just love to read compelling stories. You’ll love it!
Last night I had so much fun meeting Lenora Chu, author of Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve (Harper, 2017). She was reading at Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minnesota, a super cozy bookstore in a fun area near Macalester College. (I was in the Twin Cities for the day thanks to some Southwest credit and was visiting my friend Christine and her son, Sam.)
Little Soldiers is a combination memoir/journalistic look into China’s educational system. Chu and her husband send their oldest son to a local Chinese school in Shanghai and it’s been an eye opener.
She spoke about the differences between American and Chinese classrooms in her son’s top-ranked Shanghai school, but also in the countryside. Her anecdotes were fascinating, like rapid-fire nonsensical WeChat messages between the teacher and parents that sound so daunting I would probably throw my phone out the window. Or the time her teacher forced her son to eat eggs when he first started at the school. Speaking from experience, that would have been a disaster in my family; my oldest detests eggs.
She also spoke about the grueling exam system in China and how there aren’t enough university places for the 200 million students there, so competition is fierce. Children with disabilities are mainstreamed, but ignored and usually fall behind quickly. There are no special ed services.
But the Chinese system has lots of benefit. Children learn to work in groups and listen to one another. There is less unruliness in the classroom. I bet teachers at my kids’ school would appreciate that. And the best thing I heard all evening was that the Chinese government has been increasing its funding for education each year by 20%, a lot of which goes to teachers.
I can’t wait to read the book and actually bought a second copy to give to my kids’ principal. It’s always great to support authors and indie bookstores and our educators. I don’t personally have experience with the Chinese education system, but would have if I’d moved to China in 1998 instead of San Francisco. Those were my choices back when I was leaving Hong Kong.
When my little ones were really young, we’d rush downstairs on Saturday mornings just like I used to do when I was their age. With the advent of cable TV, the novelty of Saturday morning cartoons wore off three decades ago. But there was still something special on TV some years back.
I had read Dick Bruna’s Miffy books when I was young and bought my kids Miffy the Artist, which quickly became a favorite in our house. And when I found it on our local PBS at 7am on Saturday mornings, my kids quickly became huge fans.
When I saw a Miffy dim sum restaurant in Central last month, I wasn’t fanatic enough to drag my friends there. But I filed it away on my to-do list when I bring my kids to Hong Kong. (We’ve been talking about it long enough, it’s going to happen one of these years.)
I’ve never been to cutesy dim sum places.
But I’d be up for trying it.
After all, how many dim sum places pay tribute to Dutch children’s books?