For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way – 13 time zones to be exact – from my original hometown in south-central Missouri, on the Little Dry Fork creek. Depending on how loosely you define “city”, one could argue that CQ is the world’s largest city. In my quest for a simple life, I publish these observations and admonitions from my 18th-Floor Homestead. Some would call these articles drivel; I prefer to think of them as words from the future – 13 time zones in the future if anyone in my hometown is reading this.
Business and Publishing Updates: LOTS OF THEM!
Mind Fleet continues to revive and expand after my medical vacation. Our two latent movie producers, Alice and Niki, have ambitious plans for creating a larger online presence for Mind Fleet. Phase One, they tell me, will be to make our company representative, Chester Sidney, age 9, into an internet sensation. CS thinks this is great; he wants to be a movie star. He is practicing his modesty and shyness now.
I would prefer to remain in the shadowy background but my 11 years of experience in teaching Spoken English at Zhengzhou University is a resource the two producers insist on using. Thus, I have been busy recording audio files as a native English speaker to voice the text on the cards – all 36 of them. Each card will be mated with an audio file of my dulcet tones voicing the words composed by Miles and Dougal in England. Alice has been happily busy playing with her new toys in Mind Fleet’s elaborate, high-tech recording studio. When completed, the audio and video files I am preparing will supplement the stories on the cards and make them more enjoyable and understandable for readers. I try to cooperate in this brave new world – new to me, anyway – but I insist that there be no more shots of me gobbling a Big Mac! There are some depths below which I will not go.
From England, Miles Hudson tells us that we will have two new stories soon. That means two new educational tools to motivate young readers to develop their English skills. First will be the Postcards from the Body series, followed by Postcards from Art. Others, I am certain, are in the pipeline for 2022. More stories means more ways to attract the attention of students and motivate them to improve their English reading skills.
THE 18TH FLOOR HOMESTEAD: With an eye-catching cover design created by Supergirl Publishing Assistant, Tongyan (Karen) Niu, my newest book was released upon an unsuspecting world this week. The 18TH Floor Homestead will soon be available on Amazon, Kobo, Google Books, Apple Books, and many other platforms. Like CS, I am also practicing my modesty and shyness. The next step will be an experimental printing of the new book as a paperback book for distribution locally. Since the book is not yet approved for sale in China, I must be content to give out a few free copies. Reviews are welcomed but not required. Is anyone reading this in China interested in receiving a free book?
Success Mindsets: The business entrepreneur anthology that I contributed to was released on October 26 and is working its way up the bestseller charts. Last week, I received this welcome news from the publisher in America.
You’re a USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling author, so what’s next?
You can put these accolades on all your marketing materials, including your upcoming book! 🙂
Looks like I can now add “Best-Selling Author” to my email signature and on the blog homepage – even on the new cover of the new book! And I will continue working on my modesty and shyness.
Kon-Tiki2 and Diary of a Country Girl: Torgeir and Lulu are continuing to work on their respective books. Everyone is so busy with other things these days, and short winter days always seem to make things more complicated, longer, and prone to interruptions. Hope both will have their books completed and ready to publish in the coming months.
Christmas Letter to Mom
For this blog post, I invite you to jump in my time machine and go back a couple of years. This post was originally published in December of 2018 but it was describing a very different world. In the ensuing three years, the pandemic has dramatically changed our world and our expectations and, in some cases, our values. My son is now nine years old but he was only one – too young for international travel – when I took a summer holiday trip to visit my parents in my hometown of Rolla, Missouri in America. Something occurred during that trip that became the basis for a family tradition.
One hot, bright July afternoon on that summer holiday, my mother purchased a big, colorful nylon windsock to send back to China for the little grandson whom she had never met. After I returned to China, I hung the windsock on our balcony. I told my son, “When the wind blows the windsock, that means Meiguo Grandma is thinking of you.” After hearing this phrase dozens of times in the coming months, young CS learned an automatic response to seeing the windsock blowing. “That means Meiguo Grandma is thinking of me.” It may have been a little silly and whimsical but it was a frequent reminder of his American family. That windsock still hangs on our balcony, albeit a different balcony overlooking a different city. Then, in 2019, Chester’s Meiguo Grandma passed away. The mantra was gently changed. Now, when the wind blows the windsock, Chester says, “That means I am thinking of Meiguo Grandma.”
Likewise, many aspects and features mentioned in this long-ago letter have changed over the years. Regardless, my 2021 Christmas gift to you, my blog readers, is this glimpse into the past – an era now lost to us forever. But I hope the love and images and happy memories shine through despite any cultural, language, and generational differences.
Maybe you should write a letter to your own mother or grandmother, expressing your feelings as we enter the Christmas season and begin preparing for the New Year.
Merry Christmas! I guess that is the most important thing I will say so I will say it first – although, in my entire life, this is probably the least Christmasy Christmas of all. No special reason for my grinchiness (after that 1960s classic by Dr. Seuss “How The Grinch Stole Christmas“) but the whole Christmas season has been a non-event this year – for me, at least. In China, Christmas is just not a major holiday; it may be an opportunity for a sale or an excuse to have a party or performance but it simply doesn’t reach the levels of the holiday season in America. The stores have decorations but never to the extent of the American seasonal madness. (I guess that I should qualify that statement. Since I haven’t lived in America for the past 15 Christmases, I have no way of knowing how things are done today.)
Your grandson, young Mr. Chester Sidney, would disagree, however. He seems to have a built-in Christmas radar. As we walk down the streets in our neighborhood, he is the first to point out every Christmas tree in the shops, the Santa Claus/reindeer/snowflake decorations on the doors and windows, and occasional Christmas music in the background.
That just inspired a blast from the past, complete with specifics. Going all the way back to the 1960s… My best friend, Mark, who lived at 27 Southbrook Drive, just a short block from the Hillcrest Shopping Center, used to dread Christmas. For Mark, it was the time when the stores at Hillcrest used to play their Christmas music loud enough that he could hear it all the way to his home. And, worst of all, in their 1960s simplicity, they played “Silver Bells” over and over, for – he claimed – 18 hours a day.
Where did that memory come from? I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. It is like I have a brain full of memories, so full that they force their way to consciousness at the least provocation. Of course, I kinda pushed my own button last week when CS and I sat down at my computer and watched Jean Shepherd’s movie A Christmas Story. (Whoops. We interrupt this story for another Christmas flashback. I just had a memory pop up of Boone Prock’s peanut brittle which he made and distributed every year. And that, in turn, brought up the peanut butter and chocolate bonbons you and Dad made by the dozen every year, which I loved so much but never had except at Christmas. That brought up memories of the family Christmas dinners with all our favorite foods filling the tables and kitchen counters. Turkey and ham and green beans covered with those crunchy brown things (supposedly onions) from a can, and cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, pumpkin and pecan pies, hot rolls, and on and on and on. I am typing this letter in the middle of the night so I am guessing that all these food memories are because I am hungry.
Thanks for all the wonderful meals you prepared over the years – still my stomach talking. But I really am grateful for everything you and Dad gave us back in those days. That reminds me of all the years when you and Dad went with Robert and Jewel King out to Zeno’s every weekend. Was it Friday or Saturday night? I can’t remember, but it seems like you did that every weekend for years. Maybe it just felt that way to me. We kids didn’t go with you but, on those rare occasions when I did get to Zeno’s, their steaks were regarded as the standard by which other restaurants were judged. Of course, those were small-town experiences of teenagers who hadn’t been out into the world but I’ll bet that, even today, those steaks would compare favorably with our current favorite restaurants.
Christmas 2018 in Chongqing has been played out on a much smaller, much more modest scale. As I said, Chester has decorated his small (about five feet tall) Christmas tree and we have watched the Grinch movie and “A Christmas Story” on my computer. (Maybe by next year, he will be old enough for the best Christmas movie of them all, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. I’ve got them all on my computer.) Otherwise, it has been pretty quiet. On Friday of this week, my usual weekly meeting with the other retired foreigners, the “geezers”, took place. (Collectively, we have been kicked out of some of the best countries in Europe and North America, plus Scotland. We even allow Aussies and Kiwis.) As always, we met at Starbucks to regale each other with tales of past glories and epic failures – including my contribution of endless loops of “Silver Bells” from Hillcrest Shopping Center. We have coffee and complain about the excess noise, the brainless and ungrateful young people, and how technology is making everything too easy – yet too complicated to understand. Then we go downstairs to another level of the mall and have double whoppers and fries at Burger King. (Yes, they are exactly the same as at the Burger King in Rolla but, because they are so rare in Chongqing, they taste better.)
Guess I will sign this and get back to bed for some more sleep. Today is Sunday, the last Sunday before Christmas. As the Christmas galas hit their peak, here is my agenda for the final few days before Christmas Day: On Friday, meet with the geezers for burgers, flashbacks, and literary and movie reviews (alternated with complaints about CQ drivers). Saturday (yesterday), I went to an English Corner at the Chongqing Library where we had Christmas-themed games and songs. My contribution was to read “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. This afternoon (Sunday), I will be a judge at an English speech contest for a number of local schools. (This particular contest was organized by one of Chester’s first kindergarten teachers in CQ.) Tomorrow (Monday) evening, CS and I will go to a Christmas party organized by the teacher of his drawing class – she also teaches calligraphy to older students – where we have been requested to sing Jingle Bells for his classmates. Simon and Garfunkel, we are not. Not even Flatt and Scruggs or Dolly and Buck. But, we will do our best to introduce that Christmas standard to his six-year-old Chinese classmates. That will be Christmas Eve. If we didn’t have Chester’s drawing class party to attend, we would go out to the geezer’s Christmas Eve dinner at a local hotel which puts out – reputedly – a pretty good spread of traditional Christmas fare. Maybe next year. Then, for Tuesday, Christmas Day… nothing is planned. Chester will get up and go to kindergarten. Sunny will get up and go to work. I will get up… and make coffee.
Merry Christmas, Mom and everyone. I really am grateful for this year and all the past years. They say that Nature has rigged our memories so that we forget the bad parts – or, at least, we don’t cringe so much – and enhance the good parts from our past. Well, at my age, I have a lot of memories to forget and many to enhance – and a lot of gratitude.
Love from China,