chinese ancient doors

Shanghai story

About once a month, Sister Maureen, the Loretto School principal, would take me out of class to accompany her downtown on her errands. I was always glad to oblige – as if I had a choice – especially if she interrupted a class on English grammar.

Carrying her umbrella, I went with her on the tram up Avenue Joffre in the French settlement to the International settlement where all the businesses bided. First, we went to the utility company to pay a bill, then on to shopping. Added to the umbrella were parcels and I juggled them all very nicely, except once, when the crook of the umbrella caught itself onto the boarding rail of the tram. Fortunately the tram was not moving though it was about to. Exhibiting swift, sleight of hand while dropping all the parcels, I unhooked before I was carried away. Sister Maureen was only amused and said something about my providing constant entertainment. Perhaps that was why she maintained her monthly dates with me and not with any other student.

I think now that taking a student with her held another purpose. It must not have been seemly for a nun to be seen traveling alone, although as I recall, Sister Maureen would have dispelled any notions of impropriety because she was tough looking and well along middle age. She had a gruff manner that did not in the least intimidate one. Getting her to laugh was rewarding. It was hard giving up school when the commies took over Shanghai. Is it any wonder I wrote those novels about it all?

Mojo at six weeks

“Mojo’s Way” Redux

The piece about Mojo ran 2300 words, an unwieldy length for most cat magazines, which prefer 800 words or less. I proposed that they publish in increments and was not surprised that the offer was turned down. One magazine wanted to buy all rights, for $50. I mean, what era are they living in?

I went overseas to the UK and then to Australia, where I found a most friendly cat magazine, Ozzicat. They publish both online and in paper, and length did not matter. I am glad for the little guy, because that pussycat deserves wide exposure.

On a sunny day yesterday Loaner and Mojo and I lay on the grass again and I took a few pictures. Come to think of it, I should post at least one on this site. Look for it. I found a chip of wood of the right size and heft and said to Mojo “Zummm!” and he became alert. From our fetch games inside the house this signals the start of our fetch-and-catch game. So we were off, throwing and chasing, only it didn’t occur to him to carry it back in his mouth to me. It was not his purple yarn ball and didn’t taste right. But at 2:00 a.m. he jumped up on my bed and chirruped. That was my cue, and I groped and found — the wood chip. I had stashed it behind a flowerpot on the deck and didn’t think he cared.

For her part Loaner watched benignly, automatically giving off a Pssst! whenever he cannoned into her. All is well with the troops.

Mojo’s Way

I was casting around for a writing market for “Mojo’s Way,” a chronicle of my kitten’s growing pains based on Meow’s Way, which won in the cat category at the Animals Animals Animals Book Awards in Chicago. I did not go there to the awards,IMG_0509 fearing I might disappear in a snowdrift and not be discovered until next summer. It can be seen at smashwords.com. “Mojo’s Way,” however, was an awkward length at 2300 words for cat magazines, which all prefer stories about 800 words or less.

Was it worth proposing to Modern Cat that my story be published in two or three increments? They are running a contest, but the limit is still 800 words. I Love Cats is adamant about their 800 words, as well. The pay there is $50 and emphasize the editor’s right to edit. I do not fear that part but the wall is always that 800 words.

I searched abroad and found Ozzicat in Australia — no pay but a most welcoming website with no length restrictions — and I sent the story there. I think they will publish it though I have no confirmation of that as yet.

In the meantime, I keep having to update the story. I expected that, because he is still only seven months old and a dauntless opportunist. I couldn’t find my jeans one day and searched to no avail, until I stepped on something under the dining table. I would have given much to see him dragging the jeans and not interfered just to see where he was taking them. I suspect he had planned to add them to his private stash where all his lost toys have ended up, but found the jeans wouldn’t fit wherever that place is.

This morning I changed my bedsheets with his help, and decided to leave him under the bottom sheet. No problem there; he found his way out in short order.

My adult cat, Loaner, watched all this, perhaps feeling relief that she was to be let alone for a while, but was disappointed. I suspect she would miss him, though, and he certainly would miss her, for he stays close most of the time. We are a team, all three of us.

On sunny days, the troops and I go to lie on the grass. Mojo sniffs dandelions between forays into my hair, while Loaner snores. We could do worse.

red cat resting at the sun

The two-faced English language

The son of a Brazilian friend and his fiancee came to America to marry. I met them and helped them find a place to live and served as witness at their wedding in San Francisco’s City Hall.

He said to me, “English is easy to learn. It won’t take me long.” His bride was not so sure. His was a remarkable statement and showed how some foreign-language speakers get stuck permanently in the pidgin-English mode. Pronunciation, unlike the Romance languages, is changeable even when two words are spelled similarly. Is “height” said the same as “weight”? Is “Winding” as in winding a watch the same as “wind” as in the elements?

Then there is the trap of a word having two meanings with changed emphasis on syllables. “Refuse'” as in No and “ref’use” as in garbage. And just for fun: “flat” as in apartment or “flat” as in lacking shape.

Even native speakers, and more than a few TV anchors, pronounce “prece’dence” meaning being ahead of, as “press-edence” which means established in fact.

As a student at the Loretto School in Shanghai (and three others where I spent an average of six months at each during one war and another revolution. It didn’t help starting a semester in the middle of a textbook), I was bewildered by the rules of grammar as expounded by Sister Grace Claire. They sounded so complicated and made little sense when she parsed sentences. The very word “parse” gave me pimples. I see now how she failed to convey the music of the congregation of words in a sentence. Instead, they were clumps of sod with no discernible value to each other. If she had only said, in explanation, “Giving a present to he and I is incorrect, because you cannot give a present to ‘he‘ or ‘I‘. All you have to do is perform that test, and then you will know which pronoun to use.”  It took me decades to shake the terror of those early lessons.

My young Brazilian friend went home to Brazil satisfied that he had learned “English”.

african owl hanging by a tree

The writer Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons’ novel Song of Kali enveloped me in a strange journey into India that reminded me again of an old old saying that didn’t explain much when I first heard it. “The black hole of Calcutta” could have meant anything but Simmons took it to a special realm. The book is a couple of decades old and now I wonder if he strained the goodwill of India with his depiction of a city that instills a severe physical revulsion in the reader.

Even the sinister presence of the goddess Kali crawling on six limbs in the ill-lit darkness does not horrify as do images, in the poor quarters, of waist-high piles of stinking garbage overrun with rats in alleyways. Simmons presents a particularly sickening scene of the protagonist foundering in garbage and human waste. The overlying, stifling heat over Calcutta and masses of human beings jostling each other at the airport almost killed off this reader.

I wonder if matters have improved since, if they were ever that bad, though I don’t suppose the crowds at the airport have changed. A long time ago, in 1952, the cargo ship Sebastian Cabot, which carried my family and me from China to Italy, made stops at Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Bombay (now Myanmar), and Karachi, Pakistan.

My sister and I spent a night ashore in Bombay in the home of Father Roque Pereira’s sister, while Father Pereira escorted us on a brief ride through the city. I recall the streets at night covered with sleeping bodies that caused our host to drive slowly around them. He even took us to a movie and I remember the name of it — The Golden Horde. The next day, my sister and I addressed the Catholic University’s students in a church, telling of the communist persecution of Catholics in Shanghai. I signed autographs, for undeserved celebrity, as I hadn’t done anything except being exiled from China.

i am told by a California Writers Club member that India holds six million readers of English literature. The population is catching up with that of China. History and humanity stagger on.

elephant silhouette sunset

China bans ivory imports

I have yet to read the entire news story but I saw the blurb at the head of the San Francisco Chronicle today and wanted to celebrate….sort of.

The government of China is corrupt; officials dealing in trade and commerce have always levied their positions into ones of personal profit. It would take much more than a totalitarian regime to stifle that instinct. It is, indeed, a right that comes with the job. In the old colonial days the Chinese “comprador” — a Portuguese word meaning “buyer” but actually a delicate interpretation of “middle man” became millionaires bringing together foreign and domestic business interests. Compradores were so influential that foreigners could well forget about establishing any kind of foothold in China if a generous commission wasn’t paid first.

Black markets the world over are comprador enterprises. My tuition at Loretto School was paid with U.S. dollars purchased on the black market.

What has all this to do with the ban on ivory? I may be excused for being cynical about the effectiveness of the ban because very likely the ban will give rise to the black market in the ivory trade. There are ways, so many porous ways–Thailand being one channel– that ivory will continue to enter the country. It will cost more, but hey, what’s a million more or less to the new manufacturing billionaires? Think of the snob value of owning forbidden gewgaws made of elephant teeth!

I hope I am very wrong. For the rapidly dwindling elephant population I hope so with all my heart.

elephant silhouette sunset

China bans ivory imports

I have yet to read the entire news story but I saw the blurb at the head of the San Francisco Chronicle today and wanted to celebrate….sort of.

The government of China is corrupt; officials dealing in trade and commerce have always levied their positions into ones of personal profit. It would take much more than a totalitarian regime to stifle that instinct. It is, indeed, a right that comes with the job. In the old colonial days the Chinese “comprador” — a Portuguese word meaning “buyer” but actually a delicate interpretation of “middle man” became millionaires bringing together foreign and domestic business interests. Compradores were so influential that foreigners could well forget about establishing any kind of foothold in China if a generous commission wasn’t paid first.

Black markets the world over are comprador enterprises. My tuition at Loretto School was paid with U.S. dollars purchased on the black market.

What has all this to do with the ban on ivory? I may be excused for being cynical about the effectiveness of the ban because very likely the ban will give rise to the black market in the ivory trade. There are ways, so many porous ways–Thailand being one channel– that ivory will continue to enter the country. It will cost more, but hey, what’s a million more or less to the new manufacturing billionaires? Think of the snob value of owning forbidden gewgaws made of elephant teeth!

I hope I am very wrong. For the rapidly dwindling elephant population I hope so with all my heart.