Celebrating Talk Story

To thank the Sponsors and all those who put in a lot of hard work to create the Talk Story Events and well as to those who attend, I’m offering a FREE copy of the e-book version of my first book, Conversations With a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium. You can download your copy from April 12-16th. Please feel free to tell your friends and family.

“After a lifetime of blocking the ghosts who tried to talk to her, Carole found the courage to overcome her fear to speak with her father’s ghost. Their conversations helped Carole understand her father’s reluctance to share his story about his journey from China to the U.S. and guided her to the Louie family ancestral villages. Their conversations were more than a genealogical exploration; they were the beginning of a spiritual journey, a journey into the spirit world and past lives, a path of healing and love.”

 

I hope you will enjoy my story and if you do, I hope you will write a review on Amazon.

I invite you to join me at the TALK STORY EVENT on April 14th. To learn more about TALK STORY, go to my previous blog.

What the hell!

Have you ever wondered what Hell is like? That’s where I journeyed the first time I saw my father’s ghost. Here’s a preview of his hell:
 
____Here I go again. A familiar tug at my third eye, a tingling sensation spread from my forehead pressing against my eye sockets and down to my upper lip as the music of Tibetan Buddhist monks chanting filled the meditation room. My spirit rose above my body as the veil between the meditation circle and the Tenth Hell of the Buddha disappeared. Before I could question what, I saw in my mind’s eye, the music pulled me deeper and deeper until I felt as if I’d slipped through Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole.
                                                     ***
My vision blurred around the edges, but before me, an intricately carved kang sat in an alcove adorned with painted panels depicting the seasons.
 3rd hell
Butterflies danced around spring white peonies, followed by ducks swimming by white lotus blossoms heralding summer. Balls of white chrysanthemums announced fall’s arrival while white plum blossoms created lacy patterns against a winter sky.
 
A Buddha-like man sat crossed legged on silk brocade cushions of saffron and maroon on the wooden kang used as a sofa or a bed. He propped his left elbow on a pile of pillows to his side, and his right arm rested on the scholar’s table that filled the middle of the kang during the day. Embroidered silk slippers sat at the ready on the saffron and maroon wool and silk rug with a classic shou/longevity medallion in the middle, and eight Taoist symbols of immortality adorned the border. Incense from bronze tripod incense burners strategically placed on each side of the kang wafted about him.
 
I recognized the man who sat folded up into a ball at the foot of the kang’s platform. I saw his white chef’s jacket pulled down exposing his flimsy undershirt. He sobbed as he pulled at his hair and slapped his exposed bony shoulders. Sweat dripped from his hairline and followed the curve of his back. He lifted his head. If I entertained any doubts before, they melted away when I saw my father’s face.
 
“Lord Buddha,” Dad said. “I am ashamed. I know what I did wrong.” Looking around at the others who writhed in agony in their corners of this hell, he knew his sins had caught up with him. “Will I be in the Tenth Hell forever?”
____________________________________
CWAGH_FULL_COVER_3-24-17_X

“Ching Ming Time”

It’s that time of the year again. As my father’s ghost would say, ” Ching Ming time.” I did not know what Ching Ming was until my father’s ghost visited me and wanted me to perform the ceremonies. Ugh! Ceremonies! As far as I knew Dad did not do these ceremonies when he was alive, so what was the big deal?

I am put off my many ceremonies, but like a dutiful daughter, I went through the motions and then something happened. I felt a more peaceful energy around Dad. I may have fumbled some of the rituals but what I discerned was that my intentions were pure. I began to understand the power of intentions.

So, for my Chinese friends who will be visiting their ancestors’ graves, sweeping them clean, and making food and gift offerings, remember to bring your good intentions with you in that basket along with the incense and paper money.

IMG_5791

For more info about Ching Ming, here is a great article: http://www.chineseamericanfamily.com/how-to-plan-a-tomb-sweeping-ceremony/

This celebration of the deceased has caused me to celebrate life. So whatever your beliefs, I will share with you two of the biggest lessons I have learned from my ghosts/spirits: 1. leave nothing unresolved, and 2.  treat others and yourself with compassion and love. I believe this world and the spirit world will be better for it.

Rooting for Truth 寻找真相 Doors of Guangdong

 

I had no idea when I started “rooting” that it would be so much more than finding my father’s village and honoring my ancestors in their homeland. It will take me years to fully process the experience. As a student of architecture, I was fascinated with the doors and windows. They became the symbol of my journey. So, here is my ode to the doors of Guangdong.

doors-of-guangdong

 

The journey to our ancestral villages in China,

thousands of miles away from our birthplace,

began with a single step.

Like knights on a heroic quest,

we’ve overcome many obstacles.

We’ve slain dragons of ignorance,

learning how our forefathers and mothers

were treated on the Gold Mountain.

We’ve unearthed records from the National Archives.

Some have been fortunate to learn the oral histories.

I was not one of those

because my father and my older brother

could not,

would not

speak about their lives in China,

and yet,

I persevered as we all have

until,

at last we stepped through

the doorways of Guangdong,

where the past and the present collided.

We touched the hands of the villagers

knowing that

the red thread of fate

pulled us together once again.

We know our quest is about so much more

than dots on ancestral tablets

even as we honor our ancestors.

We know it was our choice

to make this journey

and to take from it

whatever we choose.

Where will our next step take us?

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

We may have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.

Before I sat down with the files in the research room at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), I had no idea what my grandfather or great-grandfather looked like or that they had a birth name and a marriage name. I had no clue about the challenges they faced, the obstacles they overcame, and their tenacity to rise above every challenge and obstacle to create a successful business.

Not only do I know more about my ancestors but I have now walked the streets of their villages in China. I have knelt at the altar of those whose shoulders I stand on.

family-collage

My great-grandfather came to the “Gold Mountain,” the land of the beautiful flowery flag, in 1881 on the SS Gaelic.

He became one of the partners in the Fong Sang Lung & Co. store on DuPont Street, ships-collagewhich is now known as Grant Avenue. In 1907, my grandfather followed in his father’s footsteps even though the Chinese Exclusion Act created more hurdles. He helped the store rebuild after the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco. And in 1928, my father made the same trek across the ocean and faced a new generation of discrimination. Discrimination that haunted me for many years.

I felt sad and elated at the same time as I read the files; sad to read the interviews that were more like interrogations, to witness the difference in the way the sojourners were treated as opposed to the way their white witnesses, amazed to think about the vast amount of information they remembered and communicated during those interviews. I am in awe that the information held clues for my search for truth in villages half way around the globe and painted a picture for me of those whose shoulders I stand on.

Now more than ever, I understand the words of Martin Luther King, 
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Like King, I too have a dream of a nation, a world where we honor, love, and celebrate our uniqueness.

Rooting for Truth 寻找真相 Reflections

Thirty-one years ago, I started out on a similar journey. China re-opened its doors in the 1970s after over two decades. I was determined to learn more about my father’s homeland even though he would not answer my questions about his life in China prior to his immigration to the U.S. I was clueless of the circumstances that brought him to the Gold Mountain – gam saan (Cantonese), jīn shān (Mandarin) 金山. I was equally ignorant of the trials and tribulations that forced the sojourner to become an immigrant.

In 1985, I took advantage of China’s cultural exchange program and joined a group of interior from the American Society of Interior Design. We did the grand tour from the Forbidden city in Beijing to the terra-cotta soldiers in Xian, to the canals and famed embroidery shops of Suzhou. I did not know at the time that we were only eighty-four miles from my father’s village when we were in Guangzhou. I discovered the difficulty of doing research in China because I did not speak, read, or write Chinese. The first clue was when I asked “Do you know anyone name Louie?” Finally, I figured out that I needed to write the character .

“Ah, ha,” my guide said, “Yes. Lei.”

Thinking she misunderstood me, I repeated “Louie. Lou-ee,” as if sounding out the word would bridge the gap between her understanding and mine.

“Lei. Mandarin dialect. Maybe Louie different dialect.” That was another clue that my quest was going to be a challenging one, but little-by-little, I’ve learned some words through my research efforts.

This time as I boarded the plane for the first leg of my journey from Virginia to California, a distance almost half the width of China, I did so with the knowledge that I would go to my father’s birthplace. Will I be able to enter the house where my grandmother, Lee Yuet Ping, became part of the Louie clan and gave birth to three of her six children? Louie Hung On, my father, was her first-born. What else will I find there?

In less than one day of travel time, I’ll make the journey that took my father over one month via the S.S. President Jackson. I will go through customs with my duly stamped Passport-Visa. Dad, who was seventeen on his first trip, was held for many days at Angel Island, an immigration center in San Francisco Bay. I am traveling as an American tourist. Young Louie Hung On traveled as a student and son of a merchant which in 1928 avoided being turned back due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first law passed to restrict free immigration of all Chinese laborers. However, being a merchant’s son did not protect him from being culled out of the lot for health reasons, and if Dad had traveled a few years earlier, his case of clonorchiasis, Chinese liver fluke, would have sent him back across the Pacific. Four years earlier, it was discovered that clonorchiasis was easily treated, so Dad’s stay on Angel Island was extended a few days or weeks rather than months or years as was the case for many detainees.

angel-island

Customs will probably ask me a few questions. My group leader said it will be easier to travel as a tourist even though my intention is also as a writer. It was not so easy for Louie Hung On, who traveled with clan members, but not his father or uncles, and who faced hours of interrogation alone. He was not a “paper son” who had to memorize information about another family, a scheme Chinese used to out-smart the Exclusion Art, but I imagine it was scary for him to arrive in a foreign land and sit in front of foreign interrogators in a strange over-crowded building full of countrymen searching for wealth and a way to help their families back home in their villages. Villages I look forward to seeing and where I hope to gain a greater understanding of my Gold Mountain father.

Rooting for Truth 寻找真相 My Journey to the West

Like Xuanzang, the 7th Century dynasty monk, who went West in search of knowledge from the homeland of Buddhism.

xuanzang

I am heading West in search of the homeland of my Chinese roots. My journey has also been one of discovery about Buddhism, Taoism and even Christianity and the roles they have played in my families’ lives. For although I was raised in the Christian faith, I am open to exploring Buddhism and Taoism and feel I have gained much by what I’ve discovered. Like Xuanzang, I have a thirst for knowledge.

journey-to-the-west_2
Earliest known edition of the book, Journey to the West, a Chinese novel published in the 16th century during the Mind Dynasty and attributed to Wu Cheng’en

 

Even though I do not speak, read, or write Chinese, I am moved by calligraphy paintings and slowly but surely I am learning the language. If I do not learn anything else on this journey, I have discovered the truth about my Chinese name. For many years, I thought my name was Louie/Lei Bao Lian, precious lotus blossom of the Louie/Lei (thunder) clan. However, when I showed my Roots guide the paper where Dad wrote my name, he said that it translates to “precious age.”

caroles-name-written-by-james-louie

If that misunderstanding does not complicate the issue enough, there are the various spellings depending on which dialect you choose. Dad spelled my name Bo Line. Obviously, he did not follow the rules of transliteration, but rather created his own. I’m not sure why he told me my name had one meaning but then wrote the calligraphy for another. Maybe, he inadvertently gave me a clue about another lifetime, one as Precious Lotus Blossom. I wouldn’t be surprised because I do remember many life times in China. I believe those memories draw me back to China, and then, I wondered: did Xuanzang have a similar urge to go back to India, to read the original Buddhist texts because he remembered writing them long ago? I cannot say for Xuanzang, but for me the journey West has also been a journey within. How appropos as I explore the teachings of Buddhism. For in my search to find my father’s village, I have learned to overcome suffering, to walk the middle way, and to live my dharma. Even though I may be far from nirvana, I am happier about my journey in this lifetime.

kuan-yin-onlotus
Quanyin on a lotus blossom