Inspiration Uptown & Downtown

Dear Reader,

I had the most amazing day yesterday. I went to the New York Historical Society with a bunch of Princetonians to see the special exhibit on the history of Chinese Americans.IMG_0764It is the first major exhibit of Chinese American history at a mainstream museum, according to Princeton Professor Beth Lew-Williams, who had brought students from her Asian American history class for a look. Alumni, organized by the amazing Mo Chen ’80, joined them. IMG_0474I write about Chinese American families, so I knew I would find inspiration and details here for my work.

The exhibit opens with artifacts from the first American ship, Empress of China, that sailed to Canton in search of a new trading partner, in 1784, when our country was brand-new: IMG_0476Did you know that George Washington ordered his china from China?

Chinese began coming to the U.S. in the 1840s to join the gold rush in California, followed by work on building the transcontinental railroad. The Chinese were barred from becoming U.S. citizens, but in Thomas Nast’s cartoon in Harper’s Weekly, 1869, a Chinese family is included at the national thanksgiving table:IMG_0492Here are some Chinese pioneers from the bad old days:IMG_0499Here’s the dude who may have been the first to use “Chinese American” as an assertion of identity, in his newspaper published in New York in 1883, a year after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. He meant it as a challenge.IMG_0699His name was Wong Chin Foo (1847-1898). He spoke fluent English, had a sharp tongue, a sense of humor, and no fear of bullies. He challenged an anti-Chinese activist to duel to the death, using his choice of weapon: “chopsticks, Irish potatoes or Krupp Guns.”

Did you know that the U.S. passed a LOT of anti-Chinese laws? Here are the walls enumerating them:IMG_0508The centerpiece of the exhibit is a re-creation of the barracks at Angel Island, the immigration station where Chinese immigrants were detained and interrogated before entry into the U.S. or deportation, from 1910-1940:IMG_0718IMG_0744Detainees left many sad poems on the walls at Angel Island, here is one:IMG_0738I’ve been to Angel Island. While this exhibit conveys some of the scariness of the interrogation room, and the hardships endured, it conveys none of the discomfort of the surroundings. The exhibit feels cozy and womb-like, while the actual building was barren, filthy, drafty and very likely unheated. Actually, the re-created rooms are quite beautiful, like cabins at an expensive sleep-away camp, not the ugly holding pen that it was.

The exhibits ends with portraits of prominent Chinese American New Yorkers, among them, my friend-that-I’ve-never-met-except-in-cyberspace, the Wall Street Journal dude, Jeff Yang: IMG_0754Hey Jeff! Congrats to your son for being the star of the new TV series, Fresh Off the Boat!!!! What a hard-working and adorable kid!!! Woohoo!!!!

After that, we all got into this mega stretch limo:IMG_0759Whoa baby! When you’re an author, you don’t get a ride like this very often.

The lap of luxury:IMG_0762Off we went to our Chinese banquet in Chinatown.

Sadly, I don’t have any photos of our feast because I was too busy eating. One thing I learned at Princeton: When you eat with Tigers, SNARF as fast as you can, or starve. I kid you not.

The other thing I learned at Princeton: After you eat, take something for the road.

So after our banquet, we headed straight over to Fai Da, my favorite bakery: IMG_0765Marissa, Nick and George were just getting started. You should have seen all the goodies they got! Tigers need a lot of tiger food for the long, hungry ride back to campus.

Then over to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for one more treat:IMG_0766By then it was snowing hard, making our afternoon together look like a magical world inside a snow globe.

And it was.

Thank you, Mo, for organizing the trip, and thank you,Tigers, for being utterly inspiring! You guys ROCK!!!

 

 

 

Yoga & Writing & a New Season

Dear Reader,

Here’s an interview with me that my yoga studio published recently on their blog: http://suryayogaacademy.com/service/blog/2015/01/31/surya-spotlight-lenore-look-writer–published-author

Yes, I do a lot of yoga during the winter months when I’m holed up writing. It keeps me limber and somewhat sane.

Tomorrow school-visit season begins again in earnest! YAY! HOORAY!!!

I will be meeting the young readers at Central Valley Elementary School in Central Valley, NY. Hello Crusaders!!!! I hope you’re ready for a really FANTASTIC day tomorrow :) :) :) !!!

 

My Very Own PDK

Dear Reader,

When you’re an author, you have to give many speeches. If I had known that I would have done better at math. But that’s another story.

Anyway, it’s still kind of scary to get up and speak in front of an audience although I’ve done it a sqillion times. So I always look forward to the fall and winter months in which I hide away and write, with no speaking engagements until the spring.

But this year, because a really wonderful teacher and her classes have been writing to me for at least two years, maybe three, I accepted an invitation to visit the FACTS Charter School in Philadelphia in October, and to be their keynote speaker at a special dinner afterwards. And I was so glad I did!

FACTS (Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures) is located in Philadelphia’s Chinatown.IMG_9857 It is a public charter school, K-8, founded ten years ago by Hao-Li Tai Loh to meet the needs of immigrant and refugee students. Their mission, according to their website, “is to provide children with an education which has high academic standards, is truly community based, incorporates and respects the lives of students and their families, engages students in understanding their own cultures and communities, and engages students in understanding their role as active participants in working for a just society.”

Wow. And that is exactly what I found when I entered these doors:IMG_9858The students at FACTS learn about the arts, languages and histories of many cultures. The students, teachers and staff are multi-lingual and from many different countries.

Here I am meeting the fantastic Teacher Annie Huynh for the first time: IMG_9859Alvin Ho has been required reading in her class and she has had her fourth graders correspond with me for the past few years. She is SOOO inspiring and gifted. See that beautiful pin on her dress? She made it! Thank you Teacher Annie and fourth graders for loving Alvin and for inviting me to visit you! You’re guys are super-duper!!!

Every adult at FACTS is called Teacher, even me! I was called Teacher Lenore :). The principal, Pheng Lim, explained that that’s because they believe that every grown-up has something to teach.

Wow. That really made me think. What was I teaching?

And you know, I learn a lot from kids. They’re teachers too. And they have the qualities of the very finest teachers: wise and inspiring, accepting and non-judgmental, open and inquisitive. As an author for children, children are my best teachers.

But I digress.

I LOVED this class in African dance:IMG_9897Two artists-in-residence teach the movements and rhythms of various tribal dances. There were drums and tambourine and many smiles all around.

Teacher Annie’s fourth grade class presented me with my very own PDK:IMG_9943It’s an AUTHOR DAY SURVIVAL KIT!  I wish that I could post the photos of them presenting it to me, but I’m not allowed to post photos showing students’ faces, so these will have to do.

The inside of the lid contained this inspiring message:IMG_0025

Here’s a look at the stuff inside:IMG_9947It included this super-duper FACTS t-shirt too! IMG_9945Wow! This is the BEST PDK ever!!! It was so thoughtfully put together. THANK YOU!!!

I received other gifts too. Jocelyn made me the cutest charm/ponytail holder:IMG_9927Thank you, Joss! I am still wearing it today!

And the ultimate, biker-chick-cool gift these days … IMG_9907Shakia gave me — gasp! — a TATTOO of my name on her arm!

Dudette!!!

Is that the BADDEST, or what?!!!

If you ever have a multiple choice quiz on Alvin Ho, you could be in for some trouble.

Just saying.

Here we are in my afternoon presentation in the gym:IMG_9877

That evening, I was treated to a wonderful dinner celebrating FACTS School’s 10th anniversary. There was a traditional Chinese lion dance:IMG_9918And African dance too. See the FACTS slideshow here for more photos.

And a very delicious menu:IMG_9919IMG_9921I didn’t take any more photos than these because I had to give the keynote speech (my first ever!) and was too nervous to notice that the whole evening had gone by before I picked up my phone/camera again.

But I’ll say this. I met Hao-Li Tai Loh, the woman whose vision started this school. And I met her mother too, who told me that Hao-Li and I were born in the same year of the Tiger! Wow. I felt humbled and honored to have been invited into her amazing life’s work.

And I met many other people who share her vision and work very hard every day to give the children at FACTS the education and respect that that they deserve. Greetings and good wishes came in from all over the world via Skype.

It was a very inspiring, enchanted evening. One of the best I’ve ever had.

A HUGE THANK YOU to everyone at FACTS, students, parents, Teacher Annie, Principal Lim, Rebecca, Hao-Li, alumni and donors, for inviting me to be a part of such a special occasion. I will remember it forever.

FACTS Charter School

I received a lovely card from fourth graders at the FACTS (Folk Arts – Cultural Treasures) Charter School in Philadelphia. Here are the lovely handwritten messages inside: IMG_9849Teacher Annie Huynh has had her class write to me for a couple of years now. They like reading Alvin Ho! And I will finally get to meet them this FRIDAY, October 17!!!!! Woohoooo!!! Wazoooo! Hooray!!!! Yipeeeee!!! I’m SOOO THRILLED, I can’t even tell you!!!! I’ll be visiting Miss Annie’s class in the afternoon and then doing an author presentation to the entire school. After that, I will be giving the keynote address at the school’s 10th anniversary fundraising dinner. Wow! TEN years!!! Congratulations, FACTS! Check out the details on their website here: http://www.factschool.org/ See you all very soon!!!! XXOOXOXO

Dear Dad

Dear Reader,

The time has come to tell you of something very sad.

My dear father died two weeks ago.

His death was sudden and unexpected. He had just finished making dinner, complained of a headache to my mom, and within five minutes, lost consciousness forever. He had suffered a bleeding stroke, which is like a lightning strike in the brain. He was 83.

My family and I are still in shock. Lightning strikes in the brain don’t give any warning. My dad was active and vibrant and in good health. I had just spoken to him by phone a few days before.  His oldest friend who came by his hospital bed (he was on life support until my daughters and I could fly across the country to say our goodbyes), said that my dad had just visited him the day before, and had brought over Asian pears from his garden.

My dad was like that. He always had a couple of fruit trees, tended them carefully year-round, and loved giving away the bounty. When I was little, he couldn’t wait for August when he could finally tell people to bring over their grocery bags to fill with plums. He’d even made a fruit picker by tying a clothes hanger to the end of a long bamboo rod to hook the “best sun-ripened” ones from the top of the tree. He really loved standing in the shade of that tree and looking up into its heavy, summer darkness. I know this because I was perched on the little wooden platform halfway up the tree, looking down. I saw my dad’s face open with wonder, bewilderment and absolute disbelief at his good luck. Year after year.

Here is my dad in his recent garden:dadingardenSee what I mean about his ability to marvel?

With my mom on a recent trip to China.dadnmominchinaMy dad had taken me to his ancestral village in China, in 1998. You can read an excerpt from an essay that I wrote about the trip here, or you can find it in its entirety in Best American Essays 2001 (Houghton-Mifflin). liondadMy dad was the very end of the lion’s tail in the Chinese New Year lion dance in Seattle’s Chinatown in the 1950s.

When he wasn’t kung-fuing down King Street, he could make today’s A&F male models look like tufted sofas:modeldadAnd wasn’t he adorable standing in front of a jukebox?jikeboxdadFeeding the ducks in Lake Washington was a life-long activity, but here, it looks like he was actually dipping his BARE FEET in the water. Something I’d never seen him do!duckydad

My parents, shortly after they were married in Hong Kong, 1960:dadnmom1960

My dad hanging out with me and my brother:youngdad

My dad at work:chefdad2

My dad at play:chessdadMy dad doing tai chi:taichidadMy dad ALWAYS bought Chevrolets. The only time he bought a different make of car, a Mercury, it was a complete and utter LEMON. Here he is with his latest Chevy. Note the super-duper hiking boots! chessdad 1And the pen in his breast pocket. He was never without a pen, or his watch.

Here is the eulogy I delivered at his funeral:

My dad was a very modest man and would likely consider a eulogy to be unnecessary and a form of bragging. So please allow me to address him in a personal letter:

Dear Dad,

When I was little, I had no idea what a brave man you were.

When you left your little village in southern China in 1949, you were 19. You had 100 Hong Kong dollars distributed in small sums among the pockets in your clothes and tucked into your socks. Later, bandits held up your bus and demanded all your money, and you pulled out ten dollars from a pocket and said that it was all you had. They believed you. You carried a drawstring bag that contained two extra shirts. It was all you owned. Your mother had not even packed you a lunch because, as you remembered it, “there was nothing left to eat.”

 I loved your stories of survival as a little boy during the Second World War, when Japanese soldiers occupied your village. Your father and your yehyeh were living in Seattle. You were only seven. Every morning you and your mom and gningnin and younger brother would escape to the caves in the mountains. Every night you would come home after the soldiers had returned to their camp. They would take your chickens and your rice. But they couldn’t take your sense of adventure as you outsmarted the enemy troops. Your lives were in great peril, and your sense of wonder at the enemy planes that flew overhead must have driven your mother mad.

You not only survived enemy soldiers, but you also survived floods. When the Pearl River Delta flooded every spring, you were ready. You and your brothers took down the wooden doors of your house and used them as rafts. You would paddle around using your hands. Floods were such GREAT FUN, the way you told it. It never occurred to me that it was a dangerous event until I asked you a few years ago, “what was GninGnin and Lo Bak doing while you were paddling around?” You looked at me as though it should be obvious, and said, “They were saving the chickens and rice, of course, and screaming their heads off!”

As a young man in Seattle during the 1950s, you were brave to take a job as a dishwasher making $2 a day. You put yourself through school at Edison Technical College. You found a better job as a waiter. Then you bravely returned to Hong Kong in 1960 to marry my mom.

Marriage takes a lot of courage, but fatherhood takes even more. You became a dad three times during the 1960s. I don’t know what you were expecting, Dad, but ABCs are horrible children. We are not the nice respectful children that are born in China. We wear our shoes in the house. We speak English fast and Chinese slow, if at all. Our chopsticks don’t work. And our homework machines are not as good as the ones made in China. And did anyone ever tell you that when ABCs become teenagers all hell breaks lose?

Well, you braved it all, Dad. You screamed at us when we were bad, and you took us out for McDonald’s hamburgers when we were good. But whether we were good or bad, you went to work. You worked at Boeing as a mechanic until you got laid off in the 1970s. Then you worked as a cook in many different Chinese restaurants. You worked long hours. You worked swing-shifts. You stood at a hot stove all night long. I know you did this so that you could heat our home and feed us red meat, two things that you wouldn’t have had to do if we were living in the village. And eventually you did it to send me to college.

Thank you, Dad, for sending me to Princeton. It changed my life. You were very brave to let me go so far away.

You were very brave to try church. It is very different from anything you had ever known. You stayed away for many years while my friends picked me up Sunday mornings. You thought it was some strange club that required lots of money, which you didn’t have. It wasn’t until I had graduated from college that you gave it a try. Thank you for waiting, Dad, and for not giving away my tuition! Now I see that it has brought you many friends.

Thank you, Dad, for taking care of mom. She’s loved depending on you because you’re the type of man who is strong and brave and steadfast. She could depend on you no matter what. When mom faced some health challenges in recent years, you took her to every doctor’s appointment. You were the last person she saw going into surgery and the first person she saw when she came out. You were amazing, Dad. You really were. You had your own health issues, but I never heard about them until afterwards when you would say, “oh, BTW, i just got a stent put in,” as though you had just had your shoes repaired!

Thank you, Dad, for living so bravely and with a wealth of humor and grace. You always had a child’s sense of wonder, a tall tale to tell, or an astonishment to share. You laughed and you made us laugh. And the harder we laughed, the more embellishment you would give your stories.

While you made us laugh, nothing made you laugh more than being a grandpa. Thank you, Dad, for being a GREAT gunggung to Charity and Madison. You’ve given them so many wonderful memories of playing Chinese chess with you, going to Coulon Park, playing in the sand, getting clams from Ivars and you buying them anything that they even glanced at in the gift shops.

Thank you, Dad, also for taking me and the girls to many places in China, including your village, where you took down those doors when you were their age. They will never forget it.

None of us will ever forget you, Dad. You are a truly kind soul who gave SO much to everyone who came across your path. You lived a good life. You fought the good fight. You were brave and loyal and true. And now that I am still little, but old, I know just how lucky I am to be your daughter. Thank you, Dad, thank you for everything.

Your loving daughter,

LenorekeepingupwithdadKeeping up with my dad, November 1966.

Wah Neng Look, 1930-2014, my dad, my inspiration. 

ALVIN HO 6 RELEASED TODAY!!!

alvinhoTravel to China with Alvin and his family. What kinds of things are scary when you’re in a foreign country?

Just in time for summer reading. Perfect for schools with a China or Chinese curriculum (yes, I’m talking to you, Barrrington and South Barrington schools, and New York City public schools). Here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about China but were afraid to ask :) !  Order yours today!

 

How to Launch a @Delta2 Rocket @NASASocial

VANDENBERG AFB, CA — Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the launch of the OCO-2 satellite, and tweeting about it on Twitter. My young readers are not on Twitter, however, so I will recap the events for them here with some never-before seen photos of this top-secret military base (and hope that I don’t get busted!).

How to Launch a Rocket

1. Arrive at the top-secret south entrance at the pre-arranged hour. IMG_92522. Pretend you can’t read English as you step past this sign:IMG_92563. Present two forms of government-issued I.D. for your security clearance:IMG_9254Which you must wear on your person at all times while on base.

4. Don’t miss the bus.IMG_92575. Step inside the hangar.IMG_92596. Listen to NASA scientists explain how to launch a rocket within a 30-second window to place the OCO-2 satellite in a precise point in an orbit with 17 other satellites. IMG_9263It’s all very extremely precise and complicated, so …

7. Ask a lot of questions! BrZN2VjCIAEx0ti8. If one of the scientists follows you out of the building saying that you still look confused, try your best to look smart. More importantly, try to your best to understand what he’s saying or you’ll end up misinforming your readers, or omitting vital information entirely.

9. As soon as you get back on the bus, cry. Cry that not only are you not smart enough  work at NASA, but you’re not even smart enough to understand the answers to your own questions :( !

10. TGFBT. Thank God for Bus Tours.IMG_9265Above is one of the Space Launch Complexes (SLC, pronounced as “slic”).

Below is the Pacific Ocean, just north of Honda Point, where 11 Naval destroyers ran aground in 1923, and seven sunk. IMG_9267Vandenberg Air Force Base is built on 64,000 acres of farmland that had originally been a part of a larger Army base, Camp Cooke. The Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, and the following year, the U.S. responded by launching a Thor IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) from Vandenberg.

In 1959, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev rode through Vandenberg on the train (the tracks run right through the military base) from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo. His American hosts had wanted him to see the Atlas missiles aimed at the Soviet Union visible from the train.

Not far from Honda Point is  SLC 6, designed for the space shuttle:IMG_9270The space shuttle program was cancelled after the Challenger disaster in 1986. No shuttle ever launched from Vandenberg.

But there’s evidence that the space shuttle was here:IMG_9273The sides of the canyon had to be cut away in real time to accommodate the space shuttle wings as it was being towed to SLC 6. Power lines also had to be elevated.

I have seen with my own eyes the space shuttle Enterprise being towed up the Hudson River on its way to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on June 6, 2012. And lemme tell you, it was a behemoth in a kiddie pool.

But I digress.

11. Eat lunch. IMG_9274Here are the non-commissioned officers cooking a yummy Santa Maria BBQ for us, complete with fresh homemade salsa, chili and veggie burgers for those with food issues. Thank you, NCOs!!!

12. After lunch, enter a top-secret, classified area (note the barbed wire and fence):IMG_9282What could possibly need security like that within a secured military base?

Gasp! The world’s only Thor rocket launcher in existence today, that’s what!IMG_9287IMG_9290Empty, it’s a 6010-pound aluminum can. But with fuel, it’s a 110,000-pound monster. This is the “grandpa” of the Delta 2 rocket, and was used to launch medium-range ballistic missiles as well as reconnaissance and weather satellites.

Here is our Thor guide, Jay, pointing to the missile head that once contained a weather satellite:IMG_9285And here is one of the control panels:IMG_9286Oops! The anti-espionage sonar must have scrambled my phone and prevented me from taking a clear photo.

But I got a clear shot of the warning:IMG_9289Jay explained that back in the bad old days when they launched a Thor IRBM, they simply pushed the building (it’s on wheels on a track) away from the rocket, tilted the rocket and its missile head to vertical and blasted away. IMG_9284If this rocket ever goes missing, you didn’t see it here. This post will self destruct. I will no longer be blogging … unless there’s free wi-fi in the Federal Penitentiary at Lompoc. Gulp.

Did I tell you that I had to drive past the penitentiary on my way to the off-the-map south gate in the morning? The prison is a working farm on land that was formerly a part of the military base. I’m not so good at planting stuff. Especially under a hot white sun in the desert.

Hmmm. Well, I sure hope I don’t get busted for showing you all this top-secret rocket stuff.

Or for trying to twist Charles Bolden’s arm to give me a closer look at that LIVE rocket behind us:IMG_9314Mr. Bolden, who is the NASA Administrator, was often riding atop the rocket itself as an astronaut, so surely he wouldn’t bust an author for approaching the gate within a few hours of the 42nd liftoff from Vandenberg because how else would she launch a rocket, right?:  IMG_9338Yikes!!! Can you believe I got this close to a FUELED rocket that was about to blast off into outer space on 227,000 pounds of thrust, accelerating from zero to Mach 22 in eight minutes???!!! Yes, that’s 22 times the speed of sound, or 16,874 mph. But not only is it supersonic fast, it’s “unbelievably precise and accurate,” as Randy Pollock, the original architect of the OCO, said in the morning news conference.

As it turned out, the OCO-2 launched on its second attempt, on July 2, at precisely 2:56:44 a.m. We couldn’t see it through the coastal fog from the public viewing area more than 3 miles away, but we heard its strong rumble and felt its sonar waves shaking our bones.

The OCO-2 is circling the earth every 99 minutes. It’s on a two-year mission, but has enough fuel for 12 years. It is collecting hundreds of thousands of measurements each day of the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. The data will be used to help us manage climate change. With one eye on the stars, and its arms turned toward us, NASA scientists say it’s watching the earth breathe.

Wow.

It takes my breath away.

A space shuttle-sized THANK YOU to Stephanie L. Smith, Courtney O’Conner, Veronica McGregor, John Yembrick @NASASocial, and Larry Hill, Vandenberg AFB Chief of Community Relatons and Tour Guide Extraordinaire, for your warmest welcome and hospitality at the launch of OCO-2. And a special thank you to all the NASA scientists and engineers who were so inspiring: Ralph Basilio, Ken Junks, Randy Pollock, Pavani Peddada, Ann Marie Eldering.