About Karen Kao China Chinese-American Travel

Orient Express

The first time I crossed China by train was 1984. I was on a group trip organized by the Smithsonian Institute, the start of a lifelong obsession with Shanghai. This particular train took our group from Xi’An to Luoyang. Back then, the journey lasted for 8 hours. These days, you can take a bullet train […]

About Karen Kao Amsterdam Author event Book tour California Creative writing workshops

2017 in Words & Pictures

This so-called Chinese proverb is actually the brainchild of American adman Fred Barnard, who dreamed it up in 1921. He wanted folks to take him seriously, hence the fake Chinese source. Madeleine Thien is no huckster though she is a novelist. In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, she says the Chinese ancients believed that […]

About Karen Kao California Shanghai

Martial Arts

This is me, age 14, on Judo Award Night. Notice that my brothers have already advanced to a yellow belt. I remain in white: the lowest possible level in judo. It seems to me that I got hurt a lot. I didn’t like throwing myself onto the mat. The award in my hand was probably […]

About Karen Kao Prize

Not the Booker Prize

Readers! You’ve come to this blog at just the right time. I need your help and I need it now. Every year, The Guardian newspaper organizes a contest for the best fiction published in the UK. They call it the Not the Booker Prize as The Guardian casts its net far more widely than the Booker […]

About Karen Kao

Kitten Heels

When I was a lawyer, there was a dress code. It was different in Washington, DC, where I first started practicing law, than in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where I ended up. Americans are more prudish when it comes to office attire. Yet there are common taboos everywhere if you’re trying to make a career. a […]

About Karen Kao Amsterdam

Show Don’t Tell

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. W. Somerset Maugham And yet: everyone in the writing world will insist on show don’t tell. Put the reader in the room; let her smell the coffee or the roses or the gunpowder. It’s exactly the right way to describe the launch […]

About Karen Kao Books Chinese-American

Through the Looking Glass: An Asian-American Identity

Reading is a search for identity. We look for ourselves between the pages and sometimes we get lucky. For me, the first time was Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. It’s a mixture of memoir, Chinese myth and family tales of life in and outside of China. She called her style of writing talk-story: reminiscing about […]

About Karen Kao Politics

These Boots Are Made for Walking

A wise man once told me: don’t quit the soccer club because you dislike the coach. He was talking about Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church. I’m thinking of Donald Trump and my US citizenship. Throughout this election season from hell, I’ve promised myself to turn in my passport if Trump becomes president. Maybe it […]

About Karen Kao Craft

At Water’s Edge

Abandon the shoes that had brought you here right at water’s edge This line comes from a magnificent poem called Finisterre. It was written by David Whyte, a poet, speaker and healer of souls. I heard him speak not long after I had abandoned my own shoes. Finisterre is about pilgrimage: the ancient road to Santiago de Compostelo and the village […]

About Karen Kao Chinese-American Family ghosts Shanghai

Welcome to Shanghai

  Shanghai: Now Shanghai today is a sprawling metropolis with a population estimated for 2017 to be over 24.1 million. It could very well be China’s largest city. But that’s not why it’s important to me. My father was born and raised there. It was the site of many, although not all, of the stories he told me. […]