Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tseyang Palzom's words.

Tseyang Palzom, an 18-year-old in Gangtok. India writes this in her blog (click on the link above to visit her blog).

"I believe that i am a Tibetan though i have never seen Tibet nor have my parents.Being a Tibetan is not about living in Tibet .Its not about wearing a chupa and speaking in Tibetan .Its about who you truly believe you are from within -a Tibetan. Its about that feeling of love and togetherness we feel when we are among Tibetans.We all shout slogans against the Chinese demanding them to get out of Tibet and give it back to us .But how can they give it back to us when it never was taken away from us.Tibet forever continues to remain alive in our hearts .

Its because Tibet is not about the land,its about us ,the Tibetan people and as long as we are alive and united and as long as are carefully preserving our rich culture and language,we are surely heading in the right direction.The Chinese may be living on the plot of land called Tibet and rejoicing over their victory on having gained it. It does not matter because its not about where you live its about what you feel from inside. I am a Tibetan whether I am living in Tibet or whether I am living in Timbuktoo and there is absolutely no one who can take away that identity from me.So what do I care if the Chinese are living on my land.
Being a Buddhist ,I believe in being at peace with myself and to forgive and move on . Hatred and anger does no good. It only eats you away from within and weakens you.It hampers your fulfilling existence on this planet.I do not have hatred for the Chinese within me and I am happy as long as I am alive and am continually working to make this world a better place to live in-not only for the Tibetans but for humanity as a whole."

This young woman very eloquently cuts to the heart of what I am trying to do in Secret of the Plains. A person's culture cannot be taken away, a heart cannot be preempted.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Japanese Garden Celebration of the New Year

Celebrating the New Year at the Japanese Gardens. A surprising day of sun in Portland.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

1966--Year of the Fire Horse

 Years ago, while visiting a small Asian border town, I saw a peculiar advertisement. In English, it read, "Love your girl child." My hosts explained that infanticide of girls was still practiced by some uneducated villagers. The only explanation I was given was something about boys being valued more because girls leave the home when they marry. I couldn't then and can't now reconcile that answer with infanticide. Years later, when I learned about Fire Horse women in Chinese astrology, I understood the significance of the phrase "love your girl child."

When I first began writing my novel, Secret of The Plains, my central metaphor was the snow leopard. In fact my first working title was Search for the Snow Leopards. I knew that the snow leopards were the mysterious creatures of the Himalayas and it made sense. But as I wrote my first draft, I couldn’t find many ways to connect snow leopards with the characters and the image just felt empty. It bothered me, but I knew I needed this central image to drive the story.

Then in January of 2007 I attended a teachers' retreat. It was a day of journaling, poetry, walking, talking, and space. This was just over a month after I left my husband and I was scared and in search of some peace so the day resonated with me. I threw myself into the activities. At the end of the day one of the participants asked me if I was a Fire Horse. It seemed like a strange thing to say to someone and I asked her what she meant. She explained that women born in 1966 were Fire Horses. She was a Fire Horse sign and thought she recognized a fellow adventurous spirit. I was surprised that as broken as I felt someone recognized strength in me. I am not a Fire Horse sign, but I appreciated that the teacher saw these characteristics in me. Her words stirred something in me. I went home and researched Fire Horse Women.

After reading about this sign and the power these women had, their potential to change the world, I knew that Lili, the main character's sister, was a Fire Horse. I also knew that I had found my central metaphor. I immediately changed the images and rewrote the Lili character. The Fire Horses sought me out.  Below is just some of what I learned about this remarkable sign.

Unlike the astrology based on sun signs that my mother reads in her daily newspaper, Chinese astrology is closely linked with Chinese philosophy and astronomy. A person's destiny is determined by his or her birth, the season, and the hours of their birth. Most of us have found our birth year on the placemat in a Chinese restaurant-I'm the Ram. Yet the Chinese actually follow a 60 year cycle that is much more complicated than the animal of their birth year. Depending upon the year born, a person can also be one of the elements wood, fire, earth, metal, or water. For instance, born in December of 1967, I am a Fire Ram. If I had been born just ten months earlier, I would have been a Fire Horse. As a Fire Horse, I would have had a very different destiny.

In general, Horses are outgoing, people-loving, and successful. However, in the Fire element their freedom-loving traits turn to rebelliousness, hubris, and destruction. While this potential was tolerated in a male child, it was thought to be ominous in a woman. The common belief in most Asian countries was that a Fire Horse woman would devastate her nuclear family, drain them of resources, and bring about the early death of her father. If a husband could be found for a Fire Horse woman, he would be mistreated and meet an early death himself. Several stories have perpetuated this fallacy such as a popular Japanese tale dating as far back as 1682 about a Fire Horse woman who nearly burned down the city of Edo.

The power of cultural myth is strong as evidenced by the decline of births in the year of the Fire Horse. The birthrate in Japan during that year is down a half million as compared to the previous and succeeding years. In China, Tibet, and Korea there is also data of a plummet in birthrates. Stories of infanticide of girls from this period persist. You can be sure that women born in 1966 are not quick to reveal this in public.

Today these women are beginning to revise these beliefs, and their stories are capturing the imagination of the world. Fire Horse myths are being rewritten to honor the regenerative strength of women born under the sign of Fire Horse. In Japan the Hinoeuma Association, was formed by six Fire Horse women to raise awareness and better the perceptions of the roughly 1,300,000 fire horse women who were born in Japan.

Films such as the 2005 Canadian film, Eve and The Fire Horse, has raised awareness while also winning accolades such as the Sundance Special Jury Prize. The first woman owned Indian film company, FireHorse Films, was founded by two Fire Horse women, Venita Coelho and Deepti Datt. They told reporters that they chose this potentially controversial name to "encourage creative women in India and around the world, who are unafraid to question the status quo and push the envelope."

Many books, too, have been published. Most noteworthy is by the co-author of Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. Her book, The Legend of Fire Horse Woman, is about the survival of three generations of Japanese women and illuminates the purifying strength of women born into this destiny.

The next cycle for this rare sign will be 2026. Following the movement of these wonderful works by Fire Horse women around the world, will cultural perception be different in 2026? Will families receive these strong women with excitement, or will parents genetically engineer a year of boys. Either way, when I think of Fire Horse women, I cannot help but remember that shaky sign wavering on a screen in a dark movie theater: "Love your girl child."

February 2 begins the Year of the Rat

Happy Chinese New Year! Almost, but the celebrations have begun. Coranna and I will go to the Japanese Garden tomorrow to celebrate with her classmates. And it got me thinking about this next year. February second will mark the start of the Year of the Rat in the earth element. An earth element grounds the rat. This will be a year of hard work but also of renewal. It will be a strong, productive year. A New England girl like me will look back on this year with pride. Many people do not know that the Chinese Zodiac falls within a different element each time. For example, the last year of the Rat in the earth element was in 1948. Rats have also been born in the elements of fire, wood, water and metal.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


I’m crepuscular to nocturnal; my energy rises with the setting of the sun. I’ve been off work for two weeks and for two weeks I’ve been up later and later still, reading, walking, and running in the dark. On Friday my sister's dog died and I put on my I-pod (finally put away my walkman thanks to Wendy)and ran for 4.53 miles, up Beaumont, down Alberta, to the Kennedy School, and home. I ran through a windstorm, pushed back at the wind like I wish I could have pushed back at Graciano's death. Tonight I walked Maya up Beaumont, following the energy of the click of my boot heels in the damp asphalt. Maya creeps along beside me, her primal figure like a spirit shadow at my side. I have always risen to the moon. In college I would sleep by day and jog by night. In Turkey I would blend in with the Ramazan crowds thronging the streets to devour food before the sunlit fasts. The shadows fill my mind with thoughts, and the quiet covers me.

There are many night scenes in my novel. My darkest place is when Cheng falls into the dark of a cave. I wanted to bring him to a primal place of fear, deep in the earth, and muggy with sulfurous underground hot springs. When I was in college, we went spelunking in Wales. I broke my glasses in half sliding down the impossibly small holes. At the end of the adventure we were asked to wedge ourselves between tight slabs of rock and slither to the exit. My fears pressed from me like olive oil, and I rolled out, strengthened and whole. I wanted to do this to Cheng. To make him face his own primal self, to see it, face it, crawl through it, and come out whole.