When I was 5, I abandoned my own family, who lived in Macau and then Hong Kong, for my Ah Pau, my maternal grandmother. From then on, I lived with her and her family in a small town in southern China, which was surrounded by rice paddies. When I was a fourth grader, even though I was a popular letter writer for my relatives from when I was eight, I thought I could only be a saleslady when I grew up, because I didn’t want to be a rice farmer. Then when I was twelve years old, I decided I wanted to be a writer. My friend told me that I could apply to the government for a special ration coupon for a bowl of dan lai (sweet milk custard). It would strengthen my brain, she said, since a writer uses his brain to make up stories. In order to satisfy my craving for dan lai, I decided I wanted to become a writer. (From the late fifties up to the early eighties, many kinds of food or fuel were rationed by the government.)
I finally reunited with my own family shortly after this conversation. I often told my adventures to my siblings and cousins. They loved my stories and they often helped me with my chores and offered me their snacks. To kill two birds with one stone, I had to make up more adventures to please them and they weren’t even aware that I was tricking them. I published my first story in a student newspaper when I was 12. Praise from the editor and the fee I got from that story encouraged me. I thought being a published writer was as easy as snapping my fingers. It was much easier than being a saleslady! From then on, from junior high school to college, I was a freelance writer. I wrote prose and free verse poems and many were published in Chinese newspapers and magazines. I majored in Chinese literature to prepare myself to be a Chinese novelist to make my living. Unexpectedly, I met my husband when I was a senior in college. We used a Chinese/English dictionary to communicate, because I had barely passed the required English courses. We got married and immigrated to the US. I wrote a 350-page story about our love story on Chinese manuscript paper for his master’s degree graduation present, but he couldn’t read it. That’s why I decided to put aside Chinese writing and learn how to write in English. It was then that I realized being a published writer in English wasn’t as easy as snapping my fingers! It took me more than 15 years before my first chapter book (First Apple) was published. Of course, my husband is my first editor. I went through so much frustration, so many ups and downs, but I didn’t stop writing, because I truly believed that I could write. I still love to look at the ocean, go crabbing and eat seafood. But we have just moved to the upstate, away from the ocean. Besides going to the ocean, I love to travel to faraway lands to learn about other people’s daily lives. As far as things that I dislike: I still fear driving on the interstate and I hate coloring my hair. Maybe someday I will write something about “Gray is Beautiful!”
Now, since I have published a number of books in English, I plan to translate my future books published in English back into Chinese. Ironically, since it has been so long since I have written a story in Chinese, I need a Chinese friend to go over my Chinese manuscript and smooth out my Chinese writing.