California Chinese-American Los Angeles


Whenever I go to Los Angeles, my Mom has a list of things for me to do. I’m not complaining. My brother’s list is much longer. This time my task is to clean out a bedroom closet. Not all of it, just a few designated eyesores. One of those items is a beauty case Grandma […]

Craft Shanghai The Shanghai Quartet

Mind Map

This is the map into my interlocking novels, The Shanghai Quartet. It’s a bulletin board my husband made for me, 6 feet wide and 4 feet tall. The backdrop is a map of modern Shanghai, enlarged many times over, onto which I’ve pasted the street names in use when this was Old Shanghai. Onto that […]

China Family ghosts

Ghost Month

Throughout Asia, Ghost Month is the moment to commemorate the dead. A good reason to think about ghosts and why they appear in my novel, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. ancestor worship My novel takes place in Shanghai 1937. Think big band and the foxtrot, opium dens and ballroom dancing. All that jazz as China […]

China Family ghosts Shanghai


When I dream about Shanghai, I see the Bund, the Pudong skyline, the plane trees of the old French Concession. People from every nation once strolled under those trees. Japanese, Brits, Russians, Americans, Portuguese, German, French and more. In my dreams, I hear their strange speech. I can taste their odd foodstuffs: pretzels from Germany, […]

Craft Family ghosts Revolution Shanghai

McTyeire School for Girls

The tricky thing about writing historical fiction is getting the details right. Were there ballpoint pens in Shanghai in 1937? (Yes.) Or plastic chopsticks in 1954? (No.) The average reader might not care but mine would. They already know something about China or they want to delve deeper. My readers want a story that feels […]

Chinese-American Family ghosts Shanghai


This photo of my paternal grandmother was made long after she and my grandfather had fled China. Her life was long and rich. She had witnessed the fall of the Qing dynasty, the rise of Communist China and the landing of the first man on the moon. 15 children Wong Su-ying was born in 1892 […]

Family ghosts Shanghai

Customs House

My paternal grandfather worked for the Imperial Maritime Customs Service from 1906 to 1909. It was a curious place to work and an extraordinary creation for its time. On behalf of the Qing court, a British-led Inspectorate of Customs collected import duties owed on foreign goods. Grandpa was probably a low-level clerk, an office boy. […]

Jazz Shanghai

All That Jazz

My father has many gifts but dancing is not one of them. My mother taught me to dance: the two step, the waltz, the cha cha cha. She played the jazz tunes of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. We danced in the living room. She wore house slippers; I was in bare feet. She led, […]

Hong Kong Shanghai War


Nian is a servant in my novel, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. She’s new to the Song household, the lowest in rank among the servants. Song Anyi arrives at the family home – more dead than alive following a vicious rape – and Nian becomes her amah. I never had an amah although both my […]

Family ghosts Shanghai

Old House

My father called it the Old House. Every week he would go there to visit his grandparents. My father described the Old House as a mixed-up design. It had a courtyard and a main hall like a proper Chinese house, but also two stories. The first time I visited Shanghai in 1984, Grandaunt Ta-An was still […]