Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Being a Viking

Yrsa is on deadline for her new book, and we definitely don't want anything to interfere with our next Iceland read.  So she hasn't been able to write a new blog for tonight - she says every word she types is painful - but we thought you'd like to revisit her tongue in cheek summary of the Vikings and her own experiences in that line.  So here is Yrsa, being a Viking.

I don‘t think I have every blogged about the Vikings. Oddly enough. The reason I am reminded of this is the very recent opening of the new Viking exhibition in the British Museum in London. Although I am not lucky enough to have been to see it, I have seen the catalog and it promises to be very impressive.

But I do not intend to run through the somewhat bloody history of these forefathers of present day Nordic people, including the Icelanders. I am just going to briefly correct some common misconceptions and interesting facts.

Viking did not originally mean what the English term implies today. It was not a nation or band of people but a profession. To go to víking meant to make a journey by sea, for trading with willing or mostly unwilling people (raiding) in far-away places. Someone who joined such an expedition was a Viking or a víkingur.
In modern day Iceland if you refer to someone as being a Viking you infer that this person is strong and daring. When the Icelandic investors and bankers began to expand their operations to overseas markets they were lovingly referred to as the Export Vikings (útrásarvíkingar). We had no idea that they were old school in terms of raiding. Now the term Export Viking is considered derogatory. But all is not lost, a Viking is still someone healthy and courageous and one of the most popular Icelandic beers is named Víking.

The Viking heyday was the period between approximately 800 to 1170 AD. Despite this relatively short history, the Vikings had a massive impact on western society.  

The Vikings home base was most of Scandinavia, in addition to Iceland and the Faeroe Islands - which are Nordic but not a part of geographical Scandinavia. To begin with these lands were not specific countries and the people had a fluid notion of nationality. As an example it was only in 872 that the various Viking bands or clans in Norway were untied under one king – Haraldur hárfagri – Harald with the beautiful hair. Goldilocks introduced the at-the-time newfangled notion of taxes to the Norwegian Vikings, at which time my forefathers packed up and left. The ones who were willing to pay stayed behind. This is believed to explain why Norwegians, Swedes, Danes and Finns do not mind being taxed up to their chins while the Icelanders and the Faeroese detest it. It is a genetic thing.  

As almost everyone knows, the Vikings were considered highly violent and brutal when raiding and pillaging. As an example of this viciousness old historical texts often mention the fact that they did not respect the sanctity of Christian churches. To me this is incredibly childish. Of course they didn’t. They were not Christian.
Being a history skeptic I must additionally mention an ancient reference to a Viking raid in Constantinople that says the invaders chopped their captives up into little pieces and threw them into the sea. Oh really? Why would anyone waste the energy needed for raiding to chop up captives? I would get it if they intended to scare people but that cannot be the reason since they threw the bits from their boats into the sea. The Viking swords were additionally not made for dicing, although able to pierce and easily kill. So chalk such stories down as exaggerations.   

However, I am sure they were pretty brutal – as were all people raiding and pillaging at the time. Yet, the Icelandic Sagas describe a people that did not consider killing anything pleasurable. A killing had bad consequences. But were occasionally required. Hundreds of years later, when Iceland fell under the Danish crown, public executions required rallying people by authoritative force to watch. No one wanted to see such a waste of life.  

The Vikings were neither dirty nor wild looking brutes. They were in fact very vain. They were clean, owned combs and took baths every Saturday – the name Saturday in Icelandic is “laugardagur” meaning bathing day (laug = pool/bath, dagur = day). At the time this was unheard of in Europe. I am also told that they have found traces of eyeliner on some of the Viking leaders unearthed in archeological digs. Ouch. Try not to think of the 80s but more Pirates of the Caribbean. It feels more acceptable.

The Vikings kept slaves which were mainly captured in Ireland, Scotland and the Orkney Islands. A slave is called “þræll” in Icelandic or a thrall in English Vikingese. The term enthralled originates from this old Norse word.

So, I hope this highly unorganized summary of Viking tidbits contained something you did not know. If not here is my last attempt. When I was born the doctor told my mother that I was a Viking as I was a big baby – even for Icelandic standards. I have not been able to verify this until last week when I was attending a crime festival in Oslo (Krim Festivalen). While there I was walking on a cobblestone sidewalk searing high heels and my hands in my pockets to keep them warm. One of my heels got stuck between the stupid stones, causing me to fall flat on my face. At which point in time I broke my nose. But, being a Viking I did not let that ruin anything. I made my appearances and my face did not even hurt that much. So now I think I could have been a raider.   
Finally, after falling I made sure to wear high heels at all times. You see, horse riding lessons of my youth taught me one good thing. If you fall you must get directly back in the saddle.

Yrsa - Wednesday  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Who says Paris isn't bébé friendly?

I did a lot of research for my next book in which my detective has a six month old bébé. Nuff said about that for now but researching baby friendly spots, cafes, etc. opened up a whole new world my detective would need to know if she had a little person in tow. Here's some basics. And with bébé it's usually finding a place to nurse and la Toilette.

-On the fifth floor of Galeries Lafayette department store behind l'Opera there's an area for babies and young children; a place to breastfeed, a microwave to heat up bottles or food, a changing facility and small play area.
-If you're in the 7th arrondissement at the Bon Marché department store there are great FREE publics toilets with swanky changing facilities.
-Les Bio Gosses is an organic store with everything for young parents and pregnant women.  Food, clothes, toys, games, nursing products and cosmetics. A special thing to know about this store is the hidden area upstairs, where pregnant women can rest, you can change your baby's diaper or breatfeed your baby while your older kids are playing. Les Bio Gosses is simply heaven for parents.

-Point WC on the Champs Elysées this is bathroom boutique line with designer public toilets called Point WC. Point WC are the first 'luxury' public toilets featuring a toiletries boutique and well-being services. Disinfected by staff after every visit, they guarantee cleanliness. Each cubicle is different: with 'designer' 'ethnic' or 'chic' styles' and you chose. Coffee and beverages are available and also a changing area for babies - with a towel provided at no charge - and a comfortable area for breast feeding.

-The stroller hangout, Le Poussette Café in the 9th arrondissment, it's a concept store with café and shop under one roof: Here you will find everything, in a café ambiance, if you are pregnant or have les enfants. There's fashion for children, toys, books, nursing products and bébé decorations.The Poussette Café has an extended program of happenings, everything from baby massage classes to weekend jazz brunch. Enjoy lunch with a friend and your kids can play around in the play corner. Just outside the café, you will find a great playground with facilities for the bigger ones and small children. Et voilà
Cara - Tuesday

Monday, October 20, 2014

Memories False and Lost

“Tell the jury what you saw," the prosecutor asks the man on the witness stand.   We have seen this happen many times in movies and in crime shows on TV and read it in scores of crime novels.  Nothing is as convincing to a jury as an eyewitness report.

We know from Caro’s fascinating post a few months ago, though, how unreliable the hindsight of eyewitnesses can be.  If you missed her report or (ahem!) don’t remember it well, you can find it here:

This morning, while fixing myself breakfast, I listened to an episode of my favorite radio show.   It's called Radio Lab and reports on social and physical science and often about how they intersect and interact. All the episodes are available as podcasts, so I can tune one in whenever I want to hear something to stimulate the little gray cells.  This morning, it was the show called "Memory and Forgetting,” which deals with, among other things, some notions very useful to the crime writer.  Like the fact that memory is dynamic.   One does not put away one’s experiences like storing a can of tomato soup in the kitchen cupboard—with the ability to take out the exact same thing you put in.

Decades before the scientists proved what really happens to memories, Fredrick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner instinctively knew that the more often one accesses a memory, the less likely we are to remember it accurately.  Viz--

Those two characters must have been truly in love and often thought back on their love affair.  That’s why their memories of it are so different.  Science can show us that now.

This means that the more the police repeatedly question the witness, the more degraded will be the quality of the testimony.  But maybe that is what the investigators want?

And memories can be planted.  Scientific investors have been doing that quite successfully for a long time.  All it takes is to tell the subject about a childhood memory reported by, say the his parents or by her older siblings and, bingo, most people will report details of the scene, filling in with memories of other places, the mall where they “remember” having gotten lost.  What never happened begins to feel absolutely real.

If you want to hear the radio show in question, you can find it here:  (I warn you, you will likely become addicted to Radio Lab and be a smarter person for it.)

At the very least, if you listen, you will learn that the human memory—while precious beyond words and the source of our sense of ourselves—is not one hundred percent reliable.  Try to keep that in mind.

Annamaria - Monday

Saturday, October 18, 2014

In Memoriam of a Great One.

I was going to write something else today, not quite sure what but something else.  Then I had a bit of unexpected finger surgery and was told to ease up on the keyboard for a couple of days. So you’re getting a reprieve. Of sorts. 

Instead, I’m going to peck out something meaningful that requires few words.

It’s a final salute to a man, husband, father, and warrior.  One of the best of The Greatest Generation, living a life few writers could ever hope to capture, no matter how hard they might try.

A second generation American of German Irish roots, born on New Year’s Eve 1919 in NYC’S poor Lower East Side, his factory worker father finally made enough to move the family up to the Bronx into another polyglot neighborhood of hard working men and women.

His athleticism and good nature earned him a position as a batboy at Yankee Stadium in the days of Babe Ruth—and later an offer to try out for the Babe’s former team, the Boston Red Sox.   After graduating high school he attended St. John’s University, working two jobs to pay for it, leaving no time to sleep.

Then came World War II, and he made his choice to leave school and go fight for his country.

He trained as a fighter-bomber pilot, flew 133 missions over Germany, never knowing each time he went up if he’d come back.  Many of his friends did not.  He received many decorations—including the unique honor of receiving both the United States and British Distinguished Flying Crosses.  But he never made a big deal of them. He just did his job.

And thought about the love of his life, Virginia.  The young woman he’d met on a one-day pass in flight school, in Sarasota.  And how they’d been inseparable until he left a month later, knowing he could not ask her to marry a soldier going off to war.

Four years later he returned, found her, and they married. 

He started a business. A very good one.  But it ended with the Korean War when he was called back to active duty to serve for twelve years as base commander of the Air National Guard’s 139th Fighter Squadron and 109thAirlift Wing in upstate New York.

There they had three daughters.

And there he buried his wife in 1970. His life was never the same, though he lived it through his daughters, his grandchildren, and reminiscences of a life respected and admired by all who knew him.

A memorial service with full military honors takes place today as he is interred next to his beloved Virginia.

God rest your blessed soul, Colonel Frederick Joseph Zilly, Jr. (1919-2014).


Friday, October 17, 2014

The Case Of Suzanne Pilley

There is a misconception that there can be no murder charge without a body. It used to be seven years before a presumption of death certificate could be granted. But now, death can be presumed if there are suspicious circumstances followed by a lack of  'electronic footprints in the snow.

Suzanne Pilley was a 38-year-old bookkeeper from Edinburgh. On the 4 May 2010 she is clearly seen on her usual morning commute.
                                                                BBC One

Her former lover and co-worker David Gilroy, was arrested and charged with her murder. He was later found by a majority verdict and received a sentence of life imprisonment. He is appealing.
Her remains have never been found.
All the evidence against Gilroy was circumstantial and complicated. The police (Lothian and Borders) and the fiscal office decided to devise a computerised narrative to explain to the jury the events of that day, and that fact that  nobody could have done it, apart from Mr Gilroy.
So on the 4th   May Suzanne is seen on the bus, she gets off and goes into Sainsburys to buy her sandwich and her bottle of water. The security film of her on the self- service  till is extremely clear. She leaves at 8.51. Three minutes later she is seen turning onto the street where she lives ( on CCTV). There is no coverage of her leaving any of the other exits off the street so she must have gone into her workplace but never turned up at her desk. She was a creature of habit and diligent- her co workers were worried.   It was unlikely she had ‘gone away’ as she had not catered for her cat or fish to be looked after.
This is where the computer graphics came into play for the jury. The prosecution built an image of the four story building. The three office floors are open plan with thirty offices on each floor. The ground floor was car parking.  The theory was that Suzanne had never made it into the office, something had happened to her in the carpark below.
Gilroy arrived at work by bus. He was late getting to his desk (about 9.25) and brought forward a meeting in Argyll from two days hence to the next day.  He went home by bus. His colleagues noticed he had make up covering scars on his face and hands. Nobody knew about his affair or the fact Suzanne had just ended it. At the time of the murder,  he was back with his wife and kids and he was very helpful in the investigation.
On 11 May 2010, Lothian and Borders Police initiated a huge public appeal for information. The SIO brought in large digital screens that sat in the centre of Edinburgh, playing footage of Suzanne’s last known movements. It cost a fortune. The SIO said that his boss nearly had a hairy canary when he mentioned the cost per day ( you could buy a car for that amount of cash, daily) but  he waited a while before he mentioned Suzanne’s work were footing the bill. One week later the employers issued a statement that it was out of character for her to disappear and the police immediately said they were now treating it as a murder enquiry.
                                      The search area. Huge and inaccessible

Meanwhile they had traced a silver car that has been seen driving round the wilds of Argyll on remote and very bumpy roads. Gilroy had a silver car. Examination of his car showed that all four springs were broken ( the first time the forensic expert had seen that on a thirty year career) so it had been doing some serious off roading.)
The problem was – what had happened to Suzanne.  The SIO brought in two cadaver dogs from   Yorkshire ( the Lothian and border dog was on his  holidays).  The two dogs, Springers,  who I shall called Bibbity and Bobbity worked together to give corroboration of their evidence. Bibbity waggled his head in the presence of  ‘decomposition  scents’,  Bobbity waggled his bottom.
Separately, they ran through the entire building, round every office, Bibbity went first and only showed two positives, one on a concealed stairwell in the carpark, the other beside a door – a door that had to be opened with two hands, so  anybody wanting to exit has to put down anything they are carrying. Babbity showed the same result, his bottom waggling. These dogs can pick up scents  secreted twenty minutes after death. Pretty impressive. So the theory was that Gilroy and Suzanne  had met for some kind of rendezvous in the stairwell.  Gilroy lashed out,  killed her, left her body there  hidden (scent source one) then went  about his business for the day.
The next day, the day of the Argyll trip,  he brought his car in,  reversed it up to the garage door and placed her in the boot. The dogs later tested positive  when they got access to the car boot.
He was seen buying air fresheners ( his boot stank of it) there was no DNA in the boot, just the smell of those air fresheners.

On the 6th of May Gilroy gave a 11 hour interview to the police. He had  concealer make up on  his face and had  fresh cuts on his hands- little crescent  shaped marks – like someone had dug their fingernails in.  A Pathologist said they were typical of  the injuries made by a victim of strangulation trying to remove their assailants hands. But he had to agree, they could, possibly have come from gardening as Gilroy insisted.

Suzanne suspected Gilroy was hacking into her computer and reading her emails. It was usual for  Gilroy to text Suzanne 50 times a day,  on the 3rd of May, they dropped to less than 10 a day.

                                                 he took a very long way round on quiet roads
                                                                Daily Record

The prosecution proved that, no matter which way they drove the journey from Edinburgh to Inverness, 124 miles and 2 hours of time were  unaccounted for.
 And the prosecution made a point of saying that  anybody in their right mind would use the Rest  and be Thankful, but he didn’t. He drove the long way round. Strange behaviour
Guilty by a majority verdict David Gilroy continues to maintain his innocence.
Suzanne’s remains have never been found.

Suzanne's Dad with his favourite photograph
The Sun

Caro Ramsay  17th Oct 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What a man!

It is a cliché to say the world is in a mess.  In reality, there is too much going on for my head to keep track of – ebola, ISIS, the US elections, plunging stock markets, beheadings, politicians.

So here is a little good news about a remarkable man, with a will of steel and a most infectious laugh.

Last week Desmond Tutu celebrated his 79th birthday and, at the same time, retired from public life.

He is up there with Nelson Mandela as one of my heroes.  The path he took was totally different from Mandela’s, even though they shared the same goal – a democratic South Africa.

Mandela chose the political route to try to attain freedom.  Tutu chose the pulpit.

In the early 1960s, Tutu received his Bachelor and Master degrees in Theology from the City College London, after which he returned to South Africa where he worked for the Anglican Church in various roles, culminating in being appointed the first Black Bishop of Cape Town.

Ever since I can remember, Tutu was a thorn in the government’s side.  Obviously, during the years of apartheid, he was outspoken against the practice of legalized discrimination, but he was also adamantly and simultaneously against the US’s policy of constructive engagement and the African National Congress’s increasingly violent stance.

He acknowledged that sanctions would hurt the poor most of all, but argued that at least their suffering would have a purpose.  And he argued that violence begets violence and that a violent overthrow of the apartheid government would not be in the best interests of the country.

It is likely that his strong position in favour of non-violence may have kept him from being jailed by the apartheid government, which needed no legal basis for incarcerating opponent.

Throughout his career, Tutu championed human rights, and has been active in many different areas.  He has campaigned to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.

In recognition of his activities, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984; the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986; the Pacem in Terris Award in 1987; the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999; the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2007; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. 


Throughout his life, he’s been a gadfly, not only when the apartheid regime was in power, but even today as he criticizes the ruling ANC government for spinelessness and lack of morality.  He is driven by principles and is unafraid of going after anyone or anybody who violates them.

Recently, for example, President Jacob Zuma denied the Dalai Lama – not for the first time - a visa to enter South Africa to attend the first gathering of Nobel laureates in Africa.  There were to be 14 laureates, gathering to honour Nelson Mandela and twenty years of democracy in South Africa.  They cancelled the meeting.

Tutu lambasted the government for kowtowing to pressures from the Chinese government, who regard the Dalai Lama as a terrorist.  Tutu said he was "ashamed to call this lickspittle bunch my government".

Commission – a body constituted after the fall of apartheid.  Its purpose was to have people of all political persuasions, who had committed crimes, such as murder and sabotage, address the commission, admit their guilt, and express remorse.  Usually this also included coming face to face with the families of those who had been killed or maimed.

If the commission felt that the perpetrator had expressed genuine remorse, he or she was forgiven and no charges could thereafter be brought.

What a civilized thing to do!  Oh, that more countries took this approach rather than the age-old approach of revenge.

If you ever have the chance to watch the PBS documentary on the Truth an Reconciliation Commission, do so.  I guarantee you’ll cry for its entire length, first at the barbarism people can perpetrate, then at the power of forgiveness.

Happy birthday Tata Tutu.  May you live for many more years.  May your tongue remain sharp.

Stan – Thursday.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Long Time No See!

Please give a warm, murderous welcome (okay, not literally) to guest blogger Cara Lopez Lee. Her memoir,  They Only Eat Their Husbands: Love, Travel, and the Power of Running Away, is not exactly crime fiction (though boy you could base a fictional killing or two on it) but it is most definitely a book for armchair travelers. Cara has been all kinds of places, including Alaska, Mexico and China. This post is about her dogged attempts to become multi-lingual, which in Chinese, be it Mandarin or Cantonese, is no easy task...

Long Time, No See!

After a year of Mandarin lessons and a year-and-a-half of Cantonese lessons, I can say “Where’s the bathroom?” in both languages, but don’t know what to do if the person answering does anything besides point. In Cantonese, right is “yao” and left is “dzaw”—don’t ask me the tones because Cantonese officially has either six or nine tones, but I hear 16. Problem is, if someone answers, “Down the hall to the left,” I’d hear, “Blah-blah-blah left.” Actually I’d hear “Mut-mut-mut left,” because “mut” means “blah” in Cantonese. After a few left turns, I’d end up where I started, where there’s only one thing I could say to the person who gave me directions: “Ho noi mo gin!” (Long time, no see!)

The above is called “losing face”: either mo min or diu gaa. I prefer mo min, because diu pronounced with the wrong tone means, “f**k,” though I doubt diu gaa translates “f**k-face.” I don’t mind losing face, but I’d rather not get punched in it. 

I first visited China in 1999, during my solo trek around the world. On that trip, I learned such Mandarin phrases as “Ni hap!” (Hello!)“Duo shao qian?” (How much is it?), and “Xie xie” (Thank you). As a beginner traveler, I fell into the trap of believing that, when in doubt, I could mime whatever I needed. Untrue, as I discovered when looking for my bus from Lijiang to Dali. Unable to read signs, I ran from bus to bus holding up my ticket and pleading “Dali?…Dali?...Dali?” The drivers stared blankly. Panicked, I felt a weird temptation to try Spanish, the only other language I knew. Good thing an old man read my ticket and led me by the hand to my bus, or I might never have made it home to write my memoir. 

Seven years later, I started researching a novel inspired by my Chinese-Mexican ancestry. I wanted to find the village of my great-grandfather, Ma Bing Sum, who was born in China. Until the 1970s, Toisan county was where most Chinese-Americans traced their roots. To prepare, I wanted to learn Cantonese. Toisanese is the local dialect, but I live in Denver, where I thought finding a Cantonese instructor would be easier. No such luck. Everyone insisted Mandarin would be more useful, so I surrendered and found a Mandarin tutor. 

Mandarin is hard. 

A year later, I only knew a handful of phrases, like, “I’m an American.” Shit, they could tell that by looking at me. So I hired a translator to help me find my ancestral village. Fiona Zhu, or Zhu Zhu, proved invaluable. My favorite great-uncle had told me my great-grandfather’s village was Gong Hao, but Zhu Zhu discovered that Gong Hao was a district containing eleven villages. So we embarked on a hunt.

On my previous trip to China, I often thought people were angry, because Mandarin tones sometimes sound harsh. Cantonese and Toisanese sound more musical. A comedian once said Cantonese speakers sound like they’re falling off a cliff: “mut-mut-mut-aaaaaaah!” Still, Cantonese can sound angry too if you don’t understand. At one point in Gong Hao, shouting people surrounded us.

“Are they angry?” I asked.

Zhu Zhu chuckled. “No. So nice, everybody wants to help find your family!” 

Ultimately, someone directed us to a 99-year-old man in the village of Git Non, who we nicknamed Old Mr. Ma. He spoke Toisanese. My translator did not. The interview went something like this: 

“My great-grandfather was born in Gong Hao 120 years ago,” I said, “so I’d like to learn what life was like here long ago.” My translator relayed this to his granddaughter in Cantonese, who relayed this to her grandfather in Toisanese, whose answer made the same trip in reverse. 

Five minutes later, Zhu Zhu said, “He wants to know your grandpa’s name.”

“Ma Bing Sum, but he left before you were born, so you wouldn’t have known him.” 

Chinese people are big on family history, so Mr. Ma refused to give up so easily. I told him Ma Bing Sum was born in Gong Hao around 1888 and moved to America in the early 1900s. Then I showed him a letter my uncle once wrote my great-grandfather. Mr. Ma grew excited, “Ho Ho Ho!” My great-grandfather was from this very village! Mr. Ma had met him during a couple of his visits home. He verified that Ma Bing Sum had lived in El Paso with a Mexican wife. He opened the village’s red book of ancestors to a page naming Ma Bing Sum and his eldest three sons. Across the path from Old Mr. Ma’s house stood the humble home where my great-grandfather was born. Down the street stood the huge house he built with money he made in America. 

“Your grandpa was the richest man in town,” Zhu Zhu said. This village was full of my distant cousins. “They say you are family.”

I had tears in my eyes, but I did not lose face. 

Two days later we did a full interview. One thing Mr. Ma shared was that long ago in Git Non, teens approaching marriageable age moved out of their parents’ homes and into two communal homes: one for boys, one for girls. Those homes now appear in my novel. 

Two years later I returned for Qing Ming, a Chinese version of “Day of the Dead” when people clean and decorate family graves and feed their ancestors. The Ma family served a roast pig, which now makes an undignified appearance in my novel. The next day we celebrated Mr. Ma’s 101st birthday. Everyone chuckled with delight when I said Cantonese phrases Zhu Zhu taught me, like M’Goi (thank you) and ho ho mei, (delicious).

That does it, I thought. I’m learning Cantonese and I’m coming back. Mr. Ma won’t understand me, but his family will. I can also return to Guangzhou and Hong Kong where my uncle grew up, and speak the language he spoke. What’s more, I want my novel to feel realistic, and language is culture. I renewed my search for a Cantonese tutor: “I don’t care if Mandarin is more sensible!” I found Jing Jing, a twenty-something tutor from Guangzhou. 

Sometimes Jing Jing’s lessons reveal a generation gap. She worked hard to teach me “Hang gai, Tai hei, Sik fan,” meaning, “Go shopping, see a show, eat”—the Chinese version of “Go to the mall.” She assures me this is “very popular,” though I doubt my great-grandfather said it in the 1910s. Then again, she also taught me the common greeting,“Sik dzaw fan mei ah?” which never goes out of style. It means, “Have you eaten yet?” or literally, “Have you eaten rice?” a reminder that rice is central to Chinese culture. Jing Jing explained that, upon meeting someone, it’s polite to say, “Please give me your advice.” I’m eager to make this request of my Chinese cousins. 

There’s something about a foreigner speaking our language that warms the soul. It says this relationship means so much that I wish to build a bridge between us.

The last time I saw Old Mr. Ma he was waving from his doorway on his 101st birthday, saying, “Bye-bye!” a popular farewell in modern China. I had given him sweets, a card, and a red balloon. He was most tickled by that balloon, not because he’s feeble-minded—we had discussed profound concepts, including how he values the family closeness of village life, which is why he never sought his fortune in America—no, he loved the balloon simply because he’s a joyful person.

I hope I get to tell him, “Ho Noi Mo Gin!”—“Long Time No See.” If he’s no longer around, I’ll ask where his grave is so I can leave an offering. Hopefully by then I’ll know how to ask for directions. 

About the Author:
Cara Lopez Lee’s stories have appeared in The Los Angeles TimesConnotation Press, and Rivet Journal. She’s a book editor, and she’s a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She has traveled throughout Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America, and the U.S. She married her husband at an active volcano in Costa Rica. They live in Denver. You can buy Cara’s memoir, They Only Eat Their Husbands, at Conundrum Press, IndieBound, or Amazon. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

Lisa…every other Wednesday...