Wait, I thought this was a friggin’ writing blog? What are you even writing?!

21 Mar
Writer Wordart

Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

Hi! Let me introduce myself. My name is Katherine and I am a BAMF writer (that stands for bad-ass mother-f…never mind).

No, actually I am just a pre-published SFF writer (that stands for Science Fiction/Fantasy). I’ve got one YA (?) fantasy novel written, one non-SFF novel written (also YA), about 40,000 words of one non-YA (?!) fantasy novel and a lot of excuses about why I don’t have time to write more just now.

I think a lot of now-successful writers started writing their blogs AFTER being published (writers of a different generation??), and another group of writers has now become published BECAUSE of their blogs (i.e., they turned their blogs into books–often these are nonfiction writers). I’m just somebody who likes blogging, and I also do a lot of traveling (and way more thinking about traveling), and wanted a place to keep in touch with homies and just do a little journaling. So I’m writing this blog and building an online presence *at the same time* as starting my writing career…because I love you all sooo much. ❤

I was casting about for what to write about, and I realized I have all these pretty China photos lying around. So as I rev up this blog, I decided to post the prettiest ~150 of them, along with explanations/anecdotes/incriminating stories with names changed to protect the guilty. In the process hopefully we’ll get to know each other a bit. 🙂

Ideally, this blog will be a mix of travel writing, info about my progress as a writer plus fun snippets of what I’m working on, random adventures and honestly probably a fair bit of complaining about law school (since I just got in…zomg). So welcome, feel free to say hi in the comments section, and try and enjoy the ride!

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Hangzhou Trip Part 2: Three Dudes, Two Monuments, One Fascist on Holiday, No Eye Contact

20 Mar

In Hangzhou I stayed at a hostel right next to Jingci Temple (pronounced Jing-tsuh), where this gentleman was paying his respects. It was pretty wild to be staying within walking distance of a Buddhist temple that dates from the 10th century, even if it had been “embellished” since then–you see, Chinese culture doesn’t value authentic, untouched ruins the same way Western culture does. Or maybe modern mainland businesspeople just value tacky touristy paint jobs and overdevelopment more. At this particular temple, I actually ran into the construction crew building an entire hall from scratch…that was embarrassing. Then again, maybe it’s an adaptation to 1) the Cultural Revolution and/or 2) a historical tradition of building mostly in wood.

At the southern edge of West Lake, the temple crowd was apparently not noisy enough to keep the monks from drifting off.

No offense meant to any Buddhists in the crowd–I just couldn’t stop myself from photographing monks-acting-like-normal-people. Doing normal-people things, like napping with their shoes off. On that note…

Later I made it over to Leifeng Pagoda (mentioned previously here) and ran into a bunch of PRC soldiers. Or, as I liked to think of them, Fascists on Holiday. I got a shot of one of these gentlemen admiring the view of West Lake.

I was totally afraid I’d be deported for taking this photo, so you best appreciate it.

Next time: The Silk Museum, The Tea Museum, and Buddhist Cliff Carvings on Peak Flying From Afar (what?)

Preview #2 of my first fantasy novel, Nine Circles: In Which Liz Is Introduced

19 Mar

For those of you just tuning in, the first three pages of Nine Circles can be found here.

In the following snippet, we meet Liz for the first time. Rated PG-13 for sauciness.

Northanger Abbey (2007 TV drama)

Northanger Abbey (2007 TV drama) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nine Circles, Chapter One

Bryan’s chosen table was towards the back, where he was much less likely to be carded. He slid his father’s old brown leather jacket off, feeling overheated in the warm air. He again noticed the dark stain on the right sleeve, and made sure the seat was clean before setting it down. He wondered what could make a mark like that. With his father, you never knew—he’d been in the chemistry lab night and day, mixing all sorts of reagents. Science wasn’t exactly Bryan’s strong suit, but it seemed to come easily to Liz.

Smarter than me, he thought to himself. Yet another reason for being nervous about asking her out. Not just a pansy. Just a normal guy coming to the very rational conclusion that I don’t stand a chance with her and will probably die alone while reading my mother’s copy of Northanger Abbey.
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Hangzhou Trip Part 1: Leifeng Pagoda and White Snake, or: How Ancient Chinese Sorcery is Counter-Revolutionary, Comrade

19 Mar

West Lake is what makes Hangzhou famous. That, and Dragonwell tea, of course. There are many folktales about West Lake, hyped to glorify the overglutted regional tourist industry, to be sure, but one in particular caught my attention–that of White Snake.

According to legend, White Snake was a spirit who fell in love with a human man. She transformed herself, as spirits can, into a beautiful woman and they married. They started a pharmacy together (China has been civilized for WAY too long, that there are pharmacies in folklore, by the way) and did a bustling trade in traditional remedies. Every version I’ve read is careful to note that these were kind-hearted people’; if villagers were too poor to purchase their medicines, they would give them away free of charge.

That’s when Fa Hai, a meddling monk-slash-sorcerer, stepped in. During Dragon Boat Festival one year, he told the husband that the woman he’d married was really a spirit. White Snake at this time had weak magic because she was pregnant, and also because villagers were performing many rituals to drive away spirits–a common theme of Chinese holidays.

Various misadventures and miscommunications ensued, and despite White Snake’s best efforts to prove her true love and devotion, her husband left. When the time came for her to give birth, he returned to visit their son with a gift from Fa Hai–a hat. But these things are never quite what they seem, and the hat turned out to be magic. It swallowed White Snake up and trapped her inside. When Fa Hai got a hold of her, he imprisoned her within the stones of Lei Feng Pagoda.

Here, again, the story depends on who’s doing the telling. Does the White Snake ever escape, or is she bound for eternity? Does her sister, Green Snake, defeat Fa Hai? Does her son rescue her, or does he die of old age before she can be reunited with him? Frustratingly, they never seem to mention if her husband forgives her for her deception.

We’re left with nothing but questions. Can a white snake become a woman?

Does love transcend mortality?

Probably because of White Snake’s association with medicine, villagers came to believe that bricks from the pagoda in which she was supposedly imprisoned had the power to repel illness or prevent miscarriage. Many people stole bricks to grind into powder for remedies, until finally the structure became unsound and collapsed. Lei Feng Pagoda, built by aristocrats, was a symbol of the Chinese empire which, symbolically enough, crumbled to pieces in the early 20th century. It’s possible that “White Snake” became “White Lady” (her alternate title) during this time, in the consciousness of the People–Lei Feng Pagoda was no longer protecting them from a rogue spirit, but imprisoning an innocent commoner who’d lost everything for love.

I think if I write any story directly inspired by China, it’ll involve White Snake. I love the image of a spirit imprisoned in a tower–not a woman trapped inside, awaiting rescue, but a magical presence bound to the very rocks of the place, looking out over a lake and waiting for the human construction to crumble before the ravages of time.

I think my White Snake wouldn’t mind waiting. But when she gets out, she’ll be having words with Fa Hai the sorcerer.

I think that kid's studying either Potions or Herbology. Man, Hogwarts would TOTALLY have a study abroad program in Hangzhou.

Is that glow Fa Hai's protection spell, or tacky neon tourist lighting? You be the judge.

Beijing Trip Part 3: The Great Wall, A Trip to Heaven and Oh Yeah Some Animal Slaughter

18 Mar

No trip to Beijing would be complete without a day-trip to the Great Wall. You heard me: it’s a clean 3-hour bus ride there, in the best of times. I was really lucky because I got to see the reconstructed wall, complete with handrail (you know, for the Mongolian invaders who were differently abled) as well as the epic, crumbling old Wall. Contrary to popular misconception, the Great Wall mostly dates from the Ming period. It’s also not visible from space. There’s also no Santa Claus. But there are probably hundreds of skeletons within the foundations and environs of the Great Wall, because of all the workers who died building it. Cheery, no?

This enterprising lady sold me a t-shirt, and promptly invited me in for tea! She had no idea who I was, and she didn’t speak a word of English, but she made sure I felt darn welcome in Beijing. I’ll never forget her hospitality. 🙂

That’s Tiantan–the Temple of Heaven. Actually literally it’s the “altar” of heaven, I believe. Translation is a tricky thing. This is the same park/temple complex that had “pavilion of animal slaughtering,” at one end. Not animal killing, or execution. Slaughter. Doesn’t that make you feel all Zen? Wait no, that’s more a Japanese branch of Buddhism. But “feeling all Dao,” or “feeling all Taoist” doesn’t really have quite the same ring in English…

Just give me a few years more Chinese language study, and I’ll be all like, “Hold on guys, let me go get my I Ching on.”

Roof detail from the Temple of Heaven. China does roofs differently from the West, but it does them well.

Overall I actually enjoyed Beijing way more than Shanghai (don’t tell my Shanghainese friends!). Shanghai seemed very much about shopping and clubbing and status, whereas in Beijing I saw way more people just chilling and playing majong in the street. Suits were older but well taken care of.  There was more history. Plus I sort of just like wheat in my food.

Next post: Hangzhou, the Paris of the East (heavy on the Haussman)

Beijing Trip Part 2: Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the palace beyond the Not-So-Forbidden City

17 Mar


The above shot is from the Summer Palace–the emperor’s version of a lake house, this estate stretches across a huge park with various waterways. Specifically, I took it from “Suzhou Street,” an imitation of a town in Jiangsu Province famous for canals. You know, because it’s not enough to be in Beijing, at the UNESCO World Heritage-listed garden palace of the Qing Dynasty. You’ve gotta go to the Disneyland-ified version of Chinese Venice transplanted into that park. Go tacky or go home.

A restored historical corridor, by the lake. It wasn’t inside a house, mind you, or obviously connecting two buildings. It’s just an ornately decorated corridor, in the middle of the bank of the lake. Those Qing courtiers didn’t want to muss their lace robes on the way to lunch, I suppose.

Completely randomly, I wandered into an area of the Summer Palace that seemed to be devoted to period culture reenactments, a la Colonial Williamsburg (or for you fellow Californians: like the Renaissance Faire. ;). This fine group of ladies performed a musical piece on traditional instruments. They weren’t this blurry in person, but it does make them look like an old-timey painting, doesn’t it?

Next stop: the Lama Temple. See that writing? It’s in Chinese, yes, but also Tibetan (makes sense, since it’s the largest Buddhist temple in Beijing), and more unusually–Mongolian. Are they multicultural enough for you yet?!
(And we always say China is a homogeneous society…ha! Only according to their government…)

She’s spinning a prayer wheel, also in Tibetan, I believe. I think the idea with prayer wheels is it’s another way of sending a message to heaven–instead of orally saying your prayers, you just write them down and spin. Which is cool because it’s like combining the mystical power often ascribed to the written word and the power of circles. Makes me think about whirling Dervishes.

Plus, it looked super fun to spin. (I did not play with the prayer wheel, come on you guys I am more mature than that. Plus there were people around.)

Next post: I had tea with a street vendor, visited Temple of Heaven Park, and SAW THE GREAT WALL!

Beijing Trip Part 1: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

16 Mar

Tiananmen Square

My first holiday period of the year was what the Chinese call “Golden Week,” a sort of extended National Day celebration. Students get a break, and so do workers–and it takes place during the first week of October, which is the only time of year that Beijing isn’t scorching, freezing or covered in sand. So that explains how I wound up in Tiananmen Square (above) along with everyone else in China.

I’m a total fair-weather traveler. That week I was almost trampled to death, but the temperature was so mild! Success.

That’s me in the Forbidden City (neither forbidden, nor a city!). Why yes, I am wearing a very classy t-shirt, because I’m just that kind of girl. I’m standing in front of a big lion guardian, can’t remember if it was the lady or the dude lion guardian–the lady guardian had a cub under her paw, while the dude guardian had a ball. Because as we all know, ladies give birth to babies, while men give birth to…balls?

The lighting that day was pretty stellar, even if it was crowded (these shots don’t really convey the density of humans). What’s really crazy about the Forbidden Palace is that even after China became a republic (in 1911), the last emperor Puyi lived there for over a decade (until 1924). It’s like the Chinese Empire just kept living on, within those walls, for a stolen 13 years.

I’ve got a feeling that kid was NOT WELL-BALANCED when he finally got out.

I think if you’re going to get mixed up in Chinese history, your safest bet is to be a conqueror. Intellectuals go out of fashion, kings get overthrown, capitalists periodically get expelled…I think the best advice is to enter shooting arrows from horseback. For a more offensive take on Chinese history, and to experience what I was subjected to in the bus on my way to the Great Wall, see this South Park episode.

Next post: the Summer Palace!