Thursday, 28 November 2013


Hi all,
It's been two months since I last posted an entry here and apart from feeling like a dead sloth warmed up in the Amazonian jungle, I keep inventing reasons to the sloth.
Well, I went down to nurse my terminally sick ex-hubby in Christchurch, South Island New Zealand. The Maoris used to call the place Te Wai Pounamu. Gorgeous, meaning Water of the Greenstone. They are now petitioning for New Zealand to be renamed and want the South Island to revert to that name. Which is very romantic, but would probably play hell for foreign visitors not used to Maori.

   Now why I title this post Things to be Thankful for is because we must really count our blessings. And top of my list is good health. Seeing my ex- die slowly of myeloma and cancer in his lymphs, seeing a tall, strong active man die slowly as his bones crumble and leach excess calcium and protein into his blood stream makes me realise that nothing in the world is more precious to oneself than good health.

     The second most important thing is family and friends. Many of us forget the human touch, forget the humanity that actually keeps our world as we know it, going.

   The third is opportunities. I have usually made the most of mine, though sometimes, laziness comes in the way and swat that away. As I get older and more vulnerable, I must remember to be aware.

Anyway, my news over the past two months is that THE MING ADMIRAL: A CHINESE ODYSSEY  will be ready and out on CREATE SPACE, AMAZON  and other e-sites before Christmas. Below is a brief synopsis which I hope interests you enough to want to read it.


China 1382

 A new emperor has been on the throne since 1368 and proceeds to purge the empire of the supporters of the previous Muslim Mongol dynasty. The village of Kunyang in Yunnan is destroyed and its young taken into slavery. Out of this chaos, an exceptionally gifted boy grows up to become ZhengHe, the right-hand man of the founding emperor’s third son, the Warrior Prince Zhu Di. He helps Zhu Di take the throne from his nephew, the mandated heir.

As Emperor Yongle, Zhu Di makes the former Mongol capital of Dadu his own and calls it Beijing. He builds The Forbidden City and moves the entire court there.  He instigates the writing of world’s greatest encyclopaedia and builds the Great Treasure Fleets, bringing all nations encountered under the thrall of China in the first instance of gunboat diplomacy. But the Emperor’s drive comes at great cost to those closest to him. His closest friend and ally, ZhengHe is not only forced to endure indignity and suffering at his hand, but also gains greatness as Grand Admiral of the Treasure Fleets. The tumultuous love-hate relationship between two of the greatest men in Chinese history lies at the heart of this sweeping novel.

“MeeMee Phipps has done credit to her heritage in bringing this story to life.” Miles Hughes, author of Catalan, The Coconut War, Richmond Road.

“Phipps’ attention to detail brought 14th Century China so alive for me I could smell the spices of the market place.” Tom Ryan, author of The Field of Blackbirds.

“All in all, a wonderful book that is a true testament to the author’s strengths in writing such a well-organized and complex tale in the genre of Chinese historical fiction.” 5 STARS:  Red City Review.
And now, the final of The Connection.

 “Live for him, Chingmei. Live for our son!”

 Chingmei was dragged away. The sound of Honglun’s wails continued to drift over the top of the Wall. It took many days for him to die.

       Up on the hill in the pleasure house, Chingmei heard him calling for her as her own wasted body was used over and over again by the drunken guards. She wished for death, but death would not come for her. On the seventh night Honglun let out one last heartrending cry.


Then there was silence. She knew he was dead and for the first time since she arrived her thoughts turned to Xinfook. Before the next dawn, she took food and a pair of shoes from the kitchen and stole away into the night. She began her return to Lungshan. The land, parched from a summer of no rain offered little sustenance and she lived like a wild mountain cat foraging for food in the crags along the mountain tracks. Little passed between her cracked and bleeding lips until she found her way back to the villages she had passed weeks earlier. She laboured and begged from one bereft village to another. The vision of her little boy’s face drove her on. 

She arrived home as the chill of the winter winds swept in from the Western Desert– howling through the night like the men at the Wall.

No one ever came back from the Great Wall but Lungshan did start to regenerate. By the time Xinfook was eight years old, another baby was born, then another, and another. By the time he was fifteen, a semblance of normalcy returned.          

Fifteen years of darkness, fifteen years of pain diminished.

Chingmei with Xinfook by her side planted and harvested the sorghum and they made the wine together. At the end of each day she would climb the hill by the river and look towards the setting sun. Though a thousand li away in distance, she could see the Wall in her mind’s eye, straddling the horizon like a long sleeping dragon that had feasted well, and in the Wall she could see Honglun strapped to his post, his eyes turned heavenward. Neither the sun nor the moon cast their light on him. Neither the rain nor the snow dampened him.

Each day the Emperor’s armies rode over Honglun as they moved from one end of the Empire to the other. Chingmei taught Xinfook that the strength of the Wall came from his father and the Empire was mighty through the might of his father.


I looked at my granddaughter and she was thoughtful. She rubbed her finger at a spot on the table. I knew what was coming next.

‘Am I named after the Chingmei in your story?’

‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘In our family it has been the name given to the first born girl ever since Xinfook started his family. So you see you are special in two ways, to be a first born girl and to bear the name of a remarkable woman.’

My daughter and Gerald nodded in agreement.

Something glistened in my granddaughter’s eyes. She was looking at me a little differently.  A change I think. 

‘I need to go to bed now,’ she said and stood up.

 ‘Ping An, Chingmei,’ I said.   

‘Goodnight Pohpoh, ping an.’
I hope you enjoyed the story. I shall try to unsloth myself and post a blog before Christmas. If I can't manage that, I wish you all the best for the season.


Sunday, 22 September 2013


 Well I must say, this was the first I'd been invited to participate in the above, and forgive me for blowing my wee trumpet, I was very successful as a speaker. Had the house in laughter throughout the 45 minute session. What it takes to become famous!!! I don't know if I would advise it, but of course I lie. I loved every minute of this festival and would love to do a hundred more.

           Another thing that's happening since I last blogged is the America's Cup Race in San Francisco. Now, I know most people in the US or UK or anywhere else are not interested in this Rumble of Rich Boys. But we, the NZ taxpayers, forked out $36 million to challenge it and all of us are very involved. Many of us might never have got on a boat except the Inter-Island Ferries or the the Waikheke Island ferries, but suddenly, we've all become expert sailors and are using sailing jargon. Of course, I am able to lay claim for a bit of knowledge as I used to own the TE AROHA a historical schooner which we used around the Hauraki Gulf here in Auckland and had personally done a season in the Ladies' Races out of our Squadron. So at least a know what a gyp is, or a halyard.

Now for those not in the know about this particular race, it originate on the East Coast of the USA over a hundred years ago and the US had always won---- until along came Sir Peter Blake, our very own super yachtsman who brought it to NZ. And it's been in our blood ever since. For the Blake campaign, we all bought red socks and are still wearing them, at least the diehards are, when they watch the races. You see, Oracle USA is basically Larry Larsen, the billionaire. But Team NZ is the entire country of 4.300,000 people. So we are all rooting for a victory especially as we are a country of sailors. Sailing is part of the national psyche.

       And NZ needs only one more win before getting it back here to Auckland. It's been a biting, nerve-wrecking thing to watch. The giant cats are so huge, so state of the art science. They are the equivalent of rockets on water. The technology on them is absolutely the best ever. Anyway, I shouldn't rave on about this because it might be boring for non-sailors. For those interested, you can google it. I've now decided that strong, masculine men do light my fire.!!??

Anyway, to continue with the story of THE CONNECTION. I wasn't able to do it last month as I got rudely interrupted by someone or something since forgotten. But I do hope you enjoy it. For those who have just come on the blog, you can read back serials.

Soon Chingmei’s food ran out.

There were many villages scattered across the valleys where she exchanged work in the fields for food - work normally done by men. At each place she stopped the stories were similar to Lungshan. The men had been taken and none returned.

When the day finally came and she saw the curving monument looming on the distant mountains, her spirits lifted. She walked faster. It took most of the day but she reached the wall just as the sun was sinking. It cast shadows across her path like a demon looking for a soul.

Thousands of wooden shacks cluttered the hillsides and thousands of men worked cutting and chiselling stones out of the mountains. Above the din, the shouting of the work commanders and the occasional crack of a whip mingled with the neighing of horses as mounted soldiers rode back and forth.

Exhausted, Chingmei slumped weeping to the ground. How could she hope to find her husband and father amongst all these men? Her clothes and eighth pair of shoes were in tatters, her calloused feet bled but her resolve was still strong. She decided to rest for the night and in the morning she would begin her search for Honglun and her father.

Chingmei rose with the sun.  

She stopped a passing guard. “Sir, can you show me where I can find the men from Lungshan? They came three years ago, three hundred men in all.”

“Be gone, woman, who is to know where anyone comes from?” He strode away.

Dispirited, Chingmei walked on further. She walked over many hills. Late in the afternoon she found a man who knew the way.

‘Sister, see that large gate over there?  The men you seek are just beside it.’

 She ran to the gate. She shouted the names she knew. Faces turned, tongue-tied, these ghosts of her beloved kinsmen. Finally one found his voice. “Hong, Hong, your wife is here!” From a distance, a skeletal figure with sunken eyes, cracked lips and sinewy arms held stiffly apart, moved towards her. The sight of the advancing man appalled Chingmei but she recognised her husband and rushed to him.

‘At last, at last,’ she sobbed. ‘Where is Father?’ Her legs, weakened by her arduous journey collapsed under her and she fell to the ground.

Honglun knelt beside her, clutching her thin shoulders with his bleeding fingers. Tears rolled down his leathered cheeks.

           ‘Chingmei, your father died on the march here as did mine,’ Honglun said. ‘We had to leave them where they fell. There were many others who died that way. Only the young survived.’

            The life had gone from his eyes, the fire from his belly. In despair Chingmei looked at the men around her and her hopes died with the realisation that few would return to their homes.

            “Honglun, we have a son,” Chingmei said.

            She saw a spark of light in his eye.

            “Hey! Get back to work, you lazy pack of mules!”

            Several guards descended upon them.

A whip lashed the men’s backs. With yelps of pain they dispersed back to their work. Honglun held Chingmei, ignoring the order.

The head guard, flanked by others came towards them.

 “Ha!  What have we here? A woman!”

He flicked her hair from her face with his whip and studied her with a toothless sneer.

“Please! I came only to find my husband.”

 “Well, and you have. Ha! But you’re no good to him here, lady. However…” he leered.

She cried out as they tore her from Honglun’s arms. With a bellow of rage, Honglun leapt at the guards. He was struck on the head with a cudgel. ‘Put him in the Wall!’ The guard shouted to the other workers. ‘You! Wall him up, do you hear? Or you will all be walled up.”

Chingmei watched in horror as the men of her village dragged Honglun’s unconscious body towards the Wall. They lowered him inside and tied him against one of the wooden supports then proceeded to stack blocks of stone around him.

 “This is how we bury the dead, sister,” a guard laughed.

  As the stones slowly piled higher, Chingmei heard Honglun moan.

“He’s not dead! Let him go! Please let him go! Please.”

She struggled to free herself. But the guard gripping her arm held tight.

The men stopped.

“Continue! Or you join him inside!” ordered the supervisor.

Chingmei screamed.

A hush fell around them as other workmen in the vicinity were attracted to the commotion. Honglun fixed his eyes on Chingmei as his friends piled on more stones. Then he started bellowing.

 Chingmei cried out. ‘I love you, my husband!’

 “What’s his name? What is our son’s name?” called Honglun.

To be continued.

Sunday, 25 August 2013


26th August 2013

Well, hi Readers,
       You must be wondering why I've named this blog The Titan. That, dear friends, and I hope there are some music lovers amongst you, is the name of Mahler's first symphony. I have just played it with the MANUKAU SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA here in Auckland on Saturday night and it will be a night to remember. It is an incredible work, in four parts, the longest being Part 4. It has all the passion and pathos of a truly great drama and for variety and pace, it outstrips Wagner's Ring Cycle or anything that Wagner wrote and I am a fan of the man.
       Let me tell you about the Manukau Symphony. It was formed 20 years ago (Saturday was our anniversary which was celebrated with wine and cake post-concert) and was named after Manukau City. Auckland at that time was divided into 4 cities, so spread out is it. But now we've gone back to being one and the mayor presides over more people than the Prime Minister can command as a third of the population lives in Auckland. It is also the most diverse, culturally and is the Polynesian city of the world, there being more Polynesians here than all over the South Pacific and most of them live in Manukau. However, the Polynesian aspect stops there as both the orchestral players and the audience are mainly Europeans or Asians (Chinese and Korean). But changing the name is difficult and we have built our reputation on it.
     Anyway, The Titan concert was magnificient. We had a full hall and the audience leapt up and gave us at least a ten minute standing ovation. So we twenty years, we have finally come of age. We now play to packed halls and with each concert, we go up a notch, having done Rachmaninov's piano concertos, Tchaikovsky's several symphonies, Elgar, Beethoven, etc. in all their glory.
      To having blown my trumpet on behalf of my orchestra, I shall continue giving a report about my literary work. At this time A CHINESE ODYSSEY: THE MING ADMIRAL has been  edited and I am in the process of making the corrections. While the editing was being done, I carried with THE CHINESE DIASPORA: A LIFE DIVIDED which is now nearing the end. This third part of the book covers the Chinese Labour Corp in the First World War in the trenches of France. I'm sure this is news to many of you because that war basically involved Britain, France and Germany though Turks and Anzacs were also heavily involved. But over 140,000 Chinese were shipped and trained there to be coolies and they leave their graves in various parts of France and Belgium. The Ming Admrial will be out by Christmas. Now I haven't time to continue with the short story series which will continue asap. Ciao Everybody.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Spring in Winter

Hi, everybody,

Well, what a time of music this last month has been. The Auckland Symphony played two concerts for community and was well received as always by packed theatres. The programme was called Little Britain and Peter Thomas, our conductor and director cheekily started the concert with God Save the Queen, an anthem we have not used for about 40 years. New Zealand's national anthem is God of Nations, which we normally sing in both English and Maori. So that surprised everybody who scrambled to their feet!
Have you noticed how most people only know the first verse of their national anthems? We have three verses and everyone I know just knows and sings the first.
Well, below is the photo of my first book which is on all e-book sites. It's the first of a trilogy on the Chinese Diaspora of the 19th Century and takes in the Taiping Rebellion, the biggest peasant uprising in China by Hong Xiuquan who believed himself to be God's Chinese Son and Jesus' younger brother. The story takes the protagonist to Australia and New Zealand where he ends up in a Christianised Maori village struggling to come to terms with their new religion and loss of land in a new and changing world. So it tells the culture of both races in both countries as well as the gold mining days in Australia and Central Otago, New Zealand. If you like your stories meaty, full of heart, then this book is for you.
There is a free chap on Amazon too. Please give me four stars!

Now my serialised short story, The Connection continues. Enjoy....
Soon Chingmei’s food ran out.
There were many villages scattered across the valleys where she exchanged work in the fields for food - work normally done by men. At each place she stopped the stories were similar to Lungshan. The men had been taken and none returned.
When the day finally came and she saw the curving monument looming on the distant mountains, her spirits lifted. She walked faster. It took most of the day but she reached the wall just as the sun was sinking. It cast shadows across her path like a demon looking for a soul.
Thousands of wooden shacks cluttered the hillsides and thousands of men worked cutting and chiselling stones out of the mountains. Above the din, the shouting of the work commanders and the occasional crack of a whip mingled with the neighing of horses as mounted soldiers rode back and forth.
Exhausted, Chingmei slumped weeping to the ground. How could she hope to find her husband and father amongst all these men? Her clothes and eighth pair of shoes were in tatters, her calloused feet bled but her resolve was still strong. She decided to rest for the night and in the morning she would begin her search for Honglun and her father.
Chingmei rose with the sun.  
She stopped a passing guard. “Sir, can you show me where I can find the men from Lungshan? Theycame three years ago, three hundred men in all.”
“Be gone, woman, who is to know where anyone comes from?” He strode away.
Dispirited, Chingmei walked on further. She walked over many hills. Late in the afternoon she found a man who knew the way.
‘Sister, see that large gate over there?  The men you seek are just beside it.’
 She ran to the gate. She shouted the names she knew. Faces turned, tongue-tied, these ghosts of her beloved kinsmen. Finally one found his voice. “Hong, Hong, your wife is here!” From a distance, a skeletal figure with sunken eyes, cracked lips and sinewy arms held stiffly apart, moved towards her. The sight of the advancing man appalled Chingmei but she recognised her husband and rushed to him.
‘At last, at last,’ she sobbed. ‘Where is Father?’ Her legs, weakened by her arduous journey collapsed under her and she fell to the ground.
Honglun knelt beside her, clutching her thin shoulders with his bleeding fingers. Tears rolled down his leathered cheeks.
 ‘Chingmei, your father died on the march here as did mine,’ Honglun said. ‘We had to leave them where they fell. There were many others who died that way. Only the young survived.’
To be continued.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

July 19th 2013

Hello Everyone!

I shall have a birthday on the 21st but, as usual, will not be celebrating because it is too embarrassing to be old. Though it is a privilege not that many people have on the planet. In reality, I am grateful for another year spent well. The other day I was counting how many friends have hit the deck this year of the Snake and I counted 8.. Eight from my small circle. So I am happy another birthday comes around. It is not a big 0, so will let it slip.
Have received the score for Mahler's 1st Symphony - The Titan, which we must rehearse for the MSO concert at the end of August. It is truly titanic - 16 pages!!! Thank heaven it's not too difficult for my part. Also a NZ composer, Gareth Farr has written a work commissioned by MSO and as Gareth is a percussionist, there will be some very exciting drumming. All the violins get to play are easy accompaniment. Which is good. I adore drums of all sorts. Drums, bagpipes, all the brass and woodwind instruments. They are the stars of an orchestra.
I've sent A CHINESE ODYSSEY:THE MING ADMIRAL off to my editor who has the enviable lifestyle of living in France. So jealous. I adore that country, the sublimity of the countryside, the food, the wine, the rivers. I used to live there in a village in Poitou Charent, Department 79 and actually ran an art gallery! Imagine an art gallery amidst fields of corn and wheat, and what else. No wonder I went broke. But I did leave a couple of work in France- frescoes which I painted in the corniches of two farmhouses, one in Poitou Charent and one near Toulouse. So a part of me will be there a long time.
Anyway, I shall post here a continuation of my short story, THE CONNECTION. Hope you enjoy it. If you do, please direct your friends to this blog.

              ‘I need you to make time for us,’ I tell my daughter.  

              ‘Why, Ma?’

              ‘I think it’s time I tell you all a story.’ My daughter translates this to granddaughter who pulls a face, her eyes roll upwards, her mouth slackens, her shoulders slump. ‘I don’t need to be here, right?’ she says.

‘Yes, you especially, need to be here,’ I insisted.

 ‘Ohh Mum, it’s not fair. What has any of this to do with me?”

My granddaughter’s whining weakens my resolve and I begin to weep.  Tears for my recently departed husband, tears for my loneliness in this new country and tears of utter frustration at my granddaughter’s continuing rejection.

  My son-in-law, Gerald, walks in and sees us looking like three cats with their tails cut off but only one is moaning her loss.

‘What’s this, a family weepathon?’ He says,  cheerful as he tries to escape to his study with a quick ‘Excuse me’.

 ‘No! Please stay.’

I must have spoken too sharply because he quietly takes a seat next to my daughter, patting her hand as he did so.
            This is my family; Gerald, the big man with his receding hairline and open good-natured face, my daughter, sharp, power-dressed and lastly my grand daughter, beautiful, self-absorbed and so expecting of life.

              ‘Translate well,’ I tell my daughter.  And I begin my story.


The Great Wall was built by Qin Qi Huang, the first Emperor of China. He built it to keep his enemies out and his subjects in. The Wall stretched across the entire northern frontier, from the east to the west. People marvel at its formidable grandeur but I tell you now, as magnificent as this rocky structure was, for our family the building of the wall is the story of a remarkable woman’s enduring love and her fearlessness in the face of overwhelming adversity. This woman was your great, great, great grandmother, Chingmei.

Chingmei was born on a winter’s night in Lungshan, a village surrounded by wooded hills high on the eastern banks of the Yellow River.

“Aiya! A girl!” wailed her father. “And at night! She is born to be lazy!”

But Chingmei more than made up for the sons her father craved. She eagerly worked alongside the other villagers, growing and harvesting sorghum - from this they made wine to sell downriver in the city of Lu.
             At the age of ten, she was betrothed to Honglun, a childhood friend.

The Emperor needed repairs made on the Great Wall in the West. His troops were sent to cut down the trees from the surrounding hills around Lungshan. Chingmei and Honglun grew up to the sound of axes hacking and trees falling. As their age increased, the forests decreased until by the time of their marriage, the hills were bare, denuded and silent - birds no longer woke the villagers with their morning chorus. They had disappeared as did all the forest animals.

The plundered the land turned to dust.              

 The following year the emperor’s army returned and marched away every male between the ages of thirteen to fifty to work on the Wall. Lungshan resounded with the weeping of women and children. From that day on only the sounds of dogs barking and roosters crowing disturbed the melancholy stillness that had settled over the village.

   Three months later, Chingmei bore a son whom she named Xinfook - New Luck. He was the first boy to be born in Lungshan since the men were taken and all rejoiced. Each evening Chingmei would look towards the setting sun, longing for her husband and her aging father. She prayed to the Moon Goddess for their safe return. The seasons passed, her prayers remained unanswered.

By the end of the third spring no one had returned from the Wall.

Chingmei could wait no longer. She would go and find her husband and father and bring them home. Leaving Xinfook with her mother, she slung a pack over her shoulder made up of bedding, some dried food and a few wheaten cakes – and set off on her quest. There were many hills and valleys she would need to cross and she prayed her new cloth shoes with their strong straw soles would see out the journey.

    Travellers she passed told her stories of the wall, of fatigue and starvation and men dying by the thousands. They said the structure was as high as fifty men and the ramparts so wide six horsemen could ride side by side between them. It curved along the hills like a sleeping dragon, its bastions like a dragon’s spine. Stones were hewn out of the surrounding mountains to build it.

In summer the scorching sun burnt the skin so badly the men peeled it away like parchment.  The winter snow froze them as they worked from weak sunrise to frozen darkness with little rest. Food was scarce and it was whispered that men ate the bodies of their dead comrades.
Mysterious lights flickered along the ramparts on dark moonless nights when no man dared to be awake. It was said the western wind carried the death wails of the labourers.

          Chingmei shuddered when she heard the stories but refused to believe her husband and father would be among the dead. Had not the Moon Goddess sent her in search of them? Would she do this if they were dead? 
To be continued...

Friday, 5 July 2013

Sat 6th July 2013 A new story

Sat 6th July 2013 A new story.

This is actually my second attempt this week. I wrote a lovely long blog on July 3rd wishing all my US friends and readers a happy July 4th, but it somehow refused to transmit. So, belatedly, Happy July 4th.
I grieve for the wonderful 19 fire fighters who died in that awful wild fire in Arizona. They are irreplaceable in the hearts of all who love them and their deaths a great shock to their community. I hate waste of any sort and this death is a very great waste of fine young lives. May there be no more.

I haven't done any recording of MEMORIES IN THE BONE this last week because I am trying to work on the sequel to it. Am about a third of the way through, then got stuck for ideas. I guess I really need a vacation as it is winter down here but have no shekels since I spent up large on marketing in the US for MEMORIES IN THE BONE. One good way you readers there can help is to go to your local library and request it. Then you can read this for nothing. Baker&Taylor and Ingrams are the distributors in the US and they specialise in stores and libraries. Can you do that please?

Now I am going to post the first part of another short story. I call it THE CONNECTION meaning that of the human kind. It is a story about an old Chinese woman's problems with her western born granddaughter. I believe this is a very universal problem -- that is the connection between grandparents and their grandchildren are often severed. So I hope you enjoy this. It was one of my first short stories and in a way is cathartic. I too, did not treat my grandmother all that well when she was alive.


                                                           THE CONNECTION
              My granddaughter has large almond eyes, thick wavy black hair and skin the colour of a peach that had been left a little too long on the branch. Her European father calls her complexion olive and says she could pass for an exotic Greek.
              She is beautiful by any measure, East or West. I can see that. But her attitude, it pains me. She does not treat me with respect. She should call me Nainai, not Granny and she should spend time with me after school. She never asks how my day has been or how my lunch was with Mrs. Chan and the other women in our mahjong club. No, instead, she throws her bag onto the floor and goes straight for the fridge to forage for food. She helps herself to whatever she likes from the fridge but never offers me anything, not that I am hungry at that time of the day, but it is courtesy, you see, this is what she lacks.
           She barely says, “Hi Gran”, barely looks in my direction and I, at nearly seventy has to learn foreign greetings because my own granddaughter refuses to learn enough Chinese to greet me in the language of her ancestors.
             She spends too much time on the phone and not enough time doing her homework.  I always know who she is talking to by her tone. I may not know a lot of English but you don’t get to my age without picking up on nuances, even in a foreign language. She has a special way of speaking to that boy down the road, that Andrew Willeskie; a winsome smile plastered across her face, a soft inflection to her voice.
           I caught them kissing. She is only fifteen and now she has lost her innocence. Disgraceful, but she does not care what I think nor does anyone else in the family.

I feel unwelcome in this house.

My son-in-law Gerald tolerates me well enough. At least his four years teaching at Tianjin University had given him an understanding of our ways. But my granddaughter, New Zealand born and bred, whose only excursion to China was when she was six months old to visit with me, despises the old ways.
            I knew when my daughter married a European that there could be trouble with their progeny, that they who would be confused as to which camp to belong to. I know, from the way my granddaughter looks at me when her friends visit and how she hustles them to her room and keeps them there till they leave, that she is ashamed of me. They never say goodbye to me, not even in English. It is like I am an insect, a cockroach in the kitchen. But my daughter is blind to my granddaughter’s behaviour.  She has a full time job at the bank in the city. She is much too busy to notice such things.
            When my daughter and son-in-law are out in an evenings, I eat dinner alone in the big western kitchen; every pot and pan out of sight, all its surfaces cleaned and sterile, like this house. My granddaughter will not eat with me. I know she likes Chinese food but rather than spend more time in my presence than is necessary she warms up a slice of pizza and takes it to her room.
 I want my granddaughter to know that this old Chinese woman she despises so much is descended from a remarkable woman. I want my granddaughter to be proud of her Chinese heritage and to make her appreciate me, her ancestress.

To be continued...

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Antarctic Blast 24th June 2013

What a week of freezing storms it has been. What is the world coming to? Fires, Tornadoes, floods and in New Zealand, storms. The only people happy at the moment are the ski field operators on both islandsand the kids who have the opportunity to make snowmen. But for the rest, forget it. At least as I sit in Auckland with a blanket over my knees in front of a heater, I am grateful I have such comfort. It breaks my heart to think of those poor people in Christchurch who are still waiting for the pathetic, idiotic powers that be as they camp in the bitter cold. Believe me, Chch quite often has temperatures several degrees lower than Auckland.

ON such mornings, I make sure I give the wee birds their crust, crumbled up of course. Though I figure that up here there would still be plenty of bugs and seeds to see them through till spring. Which reminds me, I must clean out the nest in my patio to make space for a new one in spring. I hope it will be a fantail this time. Though I love all birds, the fantails and wax eyes are my favourites.

Over the weekend, I have been rehearsing with the Manukau Symphony Orchestra for our concert on the night of the 29th at the Telstra Event Center in Manukau, Auckland, in case any of you readers are Aucklanders.
On the programme is Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with Peter Sledge as soloist, An American in Paris, Elgar's Cockayne Overture also known as The London Overture, Britten's Matinee Musical and finally the sweet Greensleeves, an eternal favourite.It is a very full house already, we've been told.

On the writing front, I have finished CHINESE ODYSSEY: THE MING ADMIRAL  which will be edited soon, and Chapter 14 of the sequel to MEMORIES IN THE BONE. This will be called CHINESE DIASPORA, A LIFE DIVIDED. Have also recorded up to 17 chapter for an audio book of MEMORIES IN THE BONE. which will be for the blind and elderly as well as libraries. Also last Tuesday, I spoke to a Chinese Immigrant Book Club at Glenfield Library. This is a wonderful way to encourage reading amongst new immigrants. It is the first book club I have come across where men outnumber women. Next week I shall be talking to the Parnell Library Book Club which is more upmarket, on July 4th, US Independance Day.
MEMORIES IN THE BONE is set in the Taiping Rebellion in China, in the same timeline as the US Civil War, but on a much greater scale with much worse results. The protagonist is smuggled out of Shanghai into the goldfields of Australia and finally comes to New Zealand, seeking peace, redemption while being dogged by the mysterious Scarface. It's a historical thriller. Ask for it in a library near you or get it at Amazon. It has been favourably reviewed in the US and given Editor's Choice by IUniverse, the publishers.

Now to continue with The Wedge. This is a short story made out of the final chapter of a novella which I hope to publish on Amazon soon.

        If he knew he was ill, he never showed it, either to Mother or me. She was too busy to notice his usual thinness turn into gauntness and I was too self- absorbed, to notice it either. I was in my second semester as a freshman when she summoned me home - to find him in a deep, drug induced sleep at Qilu Hospital. Tubes had been inserted into his nose, his breathing  noisy, laboured and raspy. An IV tube had been inserted into his right wrist. He was an awful pallor and looked close to death. My shock turned to anger. “Why wasn’t I told earlier?”
         “He didn’t want you to worry,” she said in soft sombre tones. “The doctors say he hasn’t much time left, so I called you. He doesn’t know you are here.” She tried to hold my hand. I shook hers away. “I’m sorry, Francesca. I didn’t know he was so ill, did you?”
           “No,” I replied, sick at heart. “I guess neither of us paid him much attention all these years.”
          The cancer was in the lungs. He had been a heavy smoker all his life, at least as far back as I could remember and now he was paying the price for that habit. He died three weeks later, barely regaining consciousness. I sat by his bed for long hours talking softly to him, the only intimation I got that he heard what I was saying was a flickering under his eyelids or the corner of his lips quivering slightly upwards. A surprising number of people came to his funeral, more Mother’s friends than his; that I could recognise.
           I agreed to stay on with Mother after the funeral but could not bear to be close to her somehow; even in death his presence came between us. I blamed her in part for his condition but mostly I blamed myself for not caring enough for him. Remorse spun its web over me. I could not help but replay our lives of the last fourteen years over and over again. My guilt, ferret-like, sought to torture the prey that was the uncaring, unloving daughter that I had become in the last few years. It caught me, shook me mercilessly till I could do nothing but cry for him and for our wasted years of hurt, loneliness and bewilderment.
           I hid my pain from Mother and spent my few days at home tidying up his study. I folded away his cot and not knowing what to do with his books merely dusted them and put them in order. I threw out the remaining bottles of Moutai Jiu and the drinking glasses along with them. His ghost haunted every corner of the room; his smell pervaded its tininess. “Leave his personal things,” Mother said as I began going through his meagre wardrobe, “I shall sort them out by and by.” I left them.
       On my final day I returned in the late evening to a dark house. Mother had said she would take me to her favourite restaurant as it was my last night with her; so, perplexed, I let myself in and turned on the lights. Not a sound came from anywhere in the house. Then I peeped into her bedroom. From the street light that came through the window, I saw Mother. It was a woman I had never been allowed to see before. She lay there, sprawled on the bed, an empty bottle of brandy on her dresser and a spilled snifter on the floor beside her. Around her was strewn the contents of a box: letters, photographs, little bits of memorabilia. As I moved closer it took one glance for me to see that they were the souvenirs of her past. After the initial shock I realised that at last I would find out the secret that had driven the wedge between us all!
           I took a torch from the kitchen and sat beside the bed going through the contents as fast as I could, for fear of waking her up. I picked up several old photographs, in most of them a foreign man held centre stage. He was tall and handsome, fair haired and blue eyed though with a distant air in his bearing. He looked cool, aloof, as if his thoughts were elsewhere. Their body language shouted at me - she was eager and playing up to him, smiling up at him, clinging to him but he was withdrawing from her, trying to stand apart. I saw in those old photographs an impossible and unlikely relationship. They were worlds apart in character and in culture. Then there was one letter, worn from too many readings, torn into shreds and then pasted back on another sheet of paper, folded in an envelope with Italian stamps, addressed to her in a neat precise hand,.  It was from him, the Italian, and it was non-committal and impersonal. She must have torn it up in anger and later had had a change of heart. I looked at the back of the envelope; there was his name and address. Francisco Petriolli. Francisco, Francesca! She had named me after him! Would Father have known that? Not before she went to Italy, maybe after. Then how did he feel about me after that? But would he have known at all? Would she have even mentioned him by name?
        There were other photographs: - of her and Father in their early days together. Again the body language revealed their relationship: - he was eager in his youthful rapture, gazing at her with happiness and pride through his horn rimmed glasses. She was cool and self-contained; her body slightly withdrawn from his arm around her shoulders, comely in her newly acquired Western dresses. Then letters! Letters from her to me sent from Italy! Opened and read by Father himself; they had to be, who else, but not to me! I read them and slowly my anger towards her dissipated as I felt in them her love and her emptiness. She had enclosed photographs of herself; alone and some with friends. She had sent postcards all addressed to me, telling me how she was missing me, how much she loved me. She had written of an old friend who had died in a big earthquake not too far from her in a place called Umbria. How sad she was, how she had mourned for him. Him! The Italian.
        I now looked at her as she lay in her brandy induced sleep, snoring slightly with her mouth open. Her skin was still beautiful, unlined, and her figure under her black woollen dress still held its youthful litheness. My mother, who, through chasing a dream of an impossible love, lost the true love and respect of a good and honourable man. I realised then how much she must have suffered all these years when she knew that in failing to get what she thought was a scintillating prize, she had lost the comfort of an enduring marriage; that she had driven a wedge between us all.
         I let her sleep on. We never had that dinner and the next morning I took the first train back to Shanghai.
The End


Monday, 10 June 2013


Hi everyone,
I wonder how many of you have heard of the Michael Hill Violin Competition? It is a bi-annual one that brings very talented young violinists from all over the world to New Zealand and draws judges of the greatest talent and integrity. And more importantly, it has put New Zealand on the map as a country known not just for its rugby but for finer aspects of culture so crucial for the survival of the human race.
The competition was started by one of our country's great philanthropists who had wanted to be a concert violinist in his younger days, but luckily for many, had to take on the profession of jeweller on which he made his fortune. I have met him, shaken his hand and congratulated and thanked him for this special gift and he proves to be most kind, generous in all ways and happy that the competition has raised the bar, especially amongst young New Zealanders.
So you can go to www. Michael Hill Violin Competition 2013 then archives and see the entire lot, from the heats in Queenstown to the semi-finals and finals in Auckland. Enjoy the music and marvel at the amazing talent. They say that playing a concerto uses 98% of one's brain. No wonder I can't do that. I am only a lowly second.
Now I am giving you the first few chapters in another short story. It's called THE WEDGE and perhaps it comes from my feelings of regret over my own father. Though set in China, the story is universal. I hope you enjoy it.

                                                        The Wedge

       My father died three years ago. He was sixty two.  He had cancer, but I suspect the real cause of death was a broken heart. He lost the will to live the day my mother went to Italy, intending to leave us, possibly forever, if things had worked out for her. That was many years ago.
 I barely remember that time. He told me she would be coming back after a few months and his love and care for me increased even more. I remember the love he showed me: a gentle, sad love he expressed with tears in his eyes and in the way he stroked my hair tenderly away from my face. I remember how he sat beside me watching me feed myself, a task he would sometimes take over when it proved too much for me. He would chuckle at my attempts to use chopsticks; watching fondly as I tried vainly to spear a piece of meat or tofu with them, or when I tried to use them, one in each hand, to slice an item that was too large to swallow whole. But underlying his chuckles was a deep well of sadness that I could detect. They were, you see, on his lips only; his eyes were dead in the wash of sorrow. Try as I might, I could not unite his eyes with his lips in a cohesive expression of joy.
He must have spent all his free time with me and I remember I was content and felt safe and warm with him. He did not smile much that I remember. I tried clowning to make him laugh but all I ever got was a wan, listless smile. I tried so hard. He never really laughed again after Mother left but he was always there for me and I loved him so much in my  dependent, childish way.
         When Mother returned, he withdrew into himself. He turned his study into a bedroom and slept there till the day he died. He refused her entry into his den, and even the home help was forbidden to clean it. I was the only one privileged enough to be allowed in and what I saw and smelled distressed me, even at that age. After forbidding Su Ah Yee entry to clean it, he did not do any himself. Over the years the dust gathered and lay thick over everything that had not been touched awhile. His dirty clothes were piled up in a corner mouldering till he got it into himself to put them into the wash tub for Su Ah Yee to attend to. When he ran out of glasses he would wash them himself or asked me to wash them for him. I was the only witness to his downward spiral into his personal oblivion. At first I would report what I saw to Mother who would shake her head, sadly silently. Eventually I gave up the reportage.
           Growing up I was aware of the tension in our house. In front of me their conversation was short and terse; of this and that happening around the campus, the city, the province, the country; a distant polite exchange of news between strangers whose one-time intimacy was now only a memory of pain. I never knew how they behaved behind my back, but in front of me, they were politely cool to each other. I seem to recall Mother making early overtures at normal conversation with Father, only to be rebuffed by a grunt, a rustling of newspapers, and a puffing of his pipe. Eventually she gave up and buried herself into her own work. I was the pivotal point of their relationship; the one each spent time with, although even this tenderness towards me felt strained. Each was building an invisible wall to hide behind, a wall that increased in height and depth as the years passed and I was kept out by both.
          My parents explained very little of anything to me. My daily needs were met but I felt bereft. It was as if each had decided to leave the ministering of my emotional needs to the apartments in neat lanes lined by mature sycamore trees, yet inwardly I lived in a world of torn loyalties and conflict. I was never sure to whom I could reach out, so I soon learnt to keep my hands to myself, physically and emotionally.other but forgot to inform the other of this. The result was that nobody administered to me. So there I was; outwardly a privileged girl from a university family living in the quiet staff
As I grew older, I became aware that Mother had suffered some form of trauma in Italy but she never explained what it was and each time I asked, she grew visibly upset. I soon learned not to broach the subject. Father was disinterested in that part of her life or he made a great effort of seeming to be. When she received her Doctorate in Music he offered an indifferent congratulatory nod before retiring to his study and his Moutai Jiu.

I will write soon. Nowadays, I am doing the finishing touches of my second historical novel called A CHINESE ODYSSEY:  THE MING ADMIRAL. It will be edited next month. Also I am recording my first  MEMORIES IN THE BONE as an audio book for the blind and elderly and trying to find time to write the sequel to MEMORIES IN THE BONE. So if I am a bit tardy with this blog. I beg forgiveness, but don't give up on me. And please, direct your friends to it when they want something to read on a rainy day.

By the way you can request MEMORIES IN THE BONE at your local libraries for a free read or if you want to spend a wee bit of money, it is on Amazon for $3.99 US Enjoy! Take care of yourself.


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Thursday 30/5/2013

I must say, I am tardy yet again, Smack! Smack! but life has been a bit full these days. I have finally put A Chinese Odyssey - The Ming Admiral - into a pdf file and sent that to my greatest critic, my daughter Melanie who doesn't mind telling her mother where to shove it. And she likes it!!! So am most encouraged and am thinking of entering it for the Kobo Writing Competition. Apart from the prize money, which will fund my next research trip to Malaysia, it will be great on the CV, won't it?

Don't know about you people up in the Northern Hemisphere, but way down here in old NZ we are freezing! In Auckland, I drove through a hail and sleet storm just two days ago. And right now am writing this dressed in 3 layers of woolies, two pairs of socks and am sitting in front of  a radiator with a rug over my legs.! At this time of year, I long for summer. Am thinking of India.

Anyway, here is the final episode in  A MAID I KNEW.  I must tell you, she is based on a real maid I knew when growing up in Malaya. Wherever she is now, I wish her well, even though I know she has no English and would not be reading this. I hope you empathise with her.

Continuing A Maid I Knew.

When I was ten, my parents took a vacation abroad – to New Zealand. “We’ll be gone for only three weeks,” Mother told us before they drove off to the airport. “Kai Cheh will look after you.”
Well, Kai Cheh decided to take a holiday too -- from cooking. Most days she told Lan to take me out for meals, paid for from the housekeeping money. Lan was growing bigger by the year and her chest had expanded until she could fit Mother’s cast-offs without any alterations needed. It seemed my parents’ absence was the nexus she needed to blossom into the glamorous young woman she secretly hankered to be.
These frequent outings necessitated in her dressing up – but not in Mother’s cast-offs. She raided Mother’s wardrobe and vanity, and turned herself into a small-town’s replica of the current leading movie stars from Hong Kong. We sneaked out as Kai Cheh snored on, caught a bus into town and wandered the streets window-shopping; with Lan preening at her reflection in the shop windows we passed.  I followed her self-appraisal, watched her painted face; powdered, rouged and lip-sticked and attracting a lot of strange attention. I worried about being discovered.
“Lan, look,” I would whisper, “that man’s staring at you. What will we do if he approaches us?” I would tug at her, or rather, Mother’s dress.
“Let him try,” was the pert answer as she flicked her hair, fingered Mother’s costume jewellery around her neck or from her ears and we would move on. Each time, I fancied, her gait became swingier and her hips swayed more provocatively on Mother’s high heels as the eyes followed her.
Somehow, most of our evenings would end with dinner in a small eatery with a newly acquainted ‘uncle’ who paid the bill at the finish. I would concentrate on eating, trying to be oblivious of the noise around us – the clanging of the woks, the loud conversations of the other diners, the shouting of the cooks’ assistants as they relayed orders to the back. Lan and her new friend concentrated on each other, oblivious to everybody else, including me. Then when it was time to catch the bus home, I would be given a trinket by the friend and a ‘Don’t tell your mother,’ instruction by Lan.

My parents’ return was greeted noisily by Kai Cheh who assured them of my good behaviour. Mother did not notice if anything in her wardrobe or vanity had been tampered with. I was happy and very relieved that I could eat dinner at home as normal. Lan did not have the chance to dress up for town again. Not that I knew. But her night-time stories became less frequent.
Two years later my family re-located to Wellington where Papa had a job at the city council. Mother opened a flower shop on Lambton Quay, specialising in Ikebana displays for hotels and restaurants. I was put into Wellington Girls’ High. It seemed their holiday in New Zealand was to reconnoitre as to the suitability of the country to emigrate to. Obviously, New Zealand had won them over. I had bidden Kai Cheh and Lan a tearful farewell but since neither of them could read or write in any language, I could not write to them in the only one I could, English.
My new life provided many wonderful diversions which soon recessed Lan into the memories of my childhood. Three years later, we went back for a holiday during which Mother and Aunt Lily took me shopping at the bazaar. There I spotted Lan, fully made up, teetering on high heels, hand in hand with a man.
“Lan! Lan! It’s me!” I waved excitedly and ran across to them.
“Oh, Lengleng, how are you?” Her off-hand, flaccid greeting evaporated my joy.
I saw the look pass between them and any curiosity about him died in my heart. Then I waved across to Mother and Aunt Lily, whose disapproving face plainly told me she was talking about Lan. I saw the shock on Mother’s.
That evening I overheard Mother tell Papa, “…it appeared that soon after we left, the poor girl took to prostitution…”
Lan had sold herself for a life of cheap cafe meals and colourful bibs and bobs.

A new story next week. I hope you have all enjoyed this.