Dhaka!

It’s early Sunday morning, and in a little while I’ll be doing my first presentations at the American International School of Dhaka. (The work week here is Sunday – Thursday.) Yesterday was my first day in Dhaka. Photos and account to come; for now, I’m jotting down a few thoughts about current events here.

Bangladesh has been in the news lately because of hartals. A hartal is a general strike, nationwide. As a rule these occur perhaps once a month or so. In recent weeks there have been hartals once or twice a week. Hartals are called by the political parties and are usually peaceful. Sadly, the latest hartals have resulted in violence.

The so-called ‘dip’ zone in Dhaka — short for diplomatic, where the embassies are located — is to some extent immune from the hartals: Those who work at the schools, embassies, and hotels in the zone do not go on strike. (Interesting, no?) However, the zone is still affected: traffic in Dhaka, which normally does a good imitation of Medusa’s hairdo, goes even more insane; shops close; and perhaps most significant, foreign nationals are forbidden to leave the dip zone. (Maybe not forbidden, but very strongly advised…)

Thus, I’ve been told, even if there is a hartal, it will have very little effect on my visit here. I’ll be working in the dip zone and spending most of my time here anyway.

I guess I should feel relieved about this. But I find I’m having mixed feelings. A nationwide strike? This is something I’ve never experienced. If I’m visiting a country where a general strike is happening, shouldn’t it affect me? I’m probably being naive here…and don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the haven of the dip zone. But contrary to appearances, ha, when I travel abroad I’m interested in more than just the food.

I travel to renew the discovery that cultural differences are, at root, evidence of our shared humanity. Those differences aren’t always ‘charming’. They’re often inconvenient or disturbing or worse. Such moments are a great gift: the opportunity to learn, and it seems to me that experiencing a hartal might well be one.


Days four & five, plus photos

–More presentations at Taipei American School’s lower school, plus one in the auditorium for the Middle School. Sincere thanks to Barb, Rose, and Angela at TAS; the staff at the lower school library; Jackie and the rest of the PTA; the administration and teachers; and especially THE STUDENTS! for a GREAT week.

–Final Taipei dinner with SCBWI-Taiwan! Many thanks to Candy Yen, Taiwan’s Regional Advisor, for organizing this get-together. The restaurant was Cha for Tea, which Candy chose because she knows how much I love the tea in Taiwan: Not only does this place carry a dazzling variety of top-quality teas, tea paraphernalia, and exquisite teaware, everything on the menu is prepared with tea!

Candy also invited Lee Tang, now of Commonwealth Publishing, who published the Taiwanese edition of A SINGLE SHARD when she was at Eastern Publishing. Lee Tang came with two staff members, Elaine and Luisa, whom I’d met on my last trip to Taiwan, so it was a lovely reunion. A lot of talk about children’s books and publishing!

I’m writing this at the Taipei airport, awaiting my flights to Hong Kong and then Bangladesh, for the next leg of my adventure–at the American International School of Dhaka. See you there…

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With librarian Barb Middleton.

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One of many presentations . . .

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. . . to very attentive students!

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Signing the terrific posters created by Betty, one of the library assistants.

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At a local market with Rose, librarian for the lower school’s Chinese-language library.

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With Candy Yen, SCBWI-Taiwan’s Regional Advisor.

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With SCBWI-Taiwan members.

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With Elaine, Luisa, and Lee Tang.

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At Cha for Tea: Soup with green-tea noodles. (First course was ‘tea-flavored kimchi’ with a tea-vinegar shot; dessert was tea jello! All quite tasty.)

I received several lovely gifts of tea: from Scholastic’s Sonia Dung, from Lee Tang, and from Candy. I’ll get home with plenty of my favorite: delicious Taiwanese mountain oolong. A wonderful souvenir of my trip.


Day Three, Taipei American School

(If you want to know about Days One & Two, follow me on Twitter, @LindaSuePark.)

A Very Busy Day…and an awesome one.

–Two presentations to enthusiastic fifth graders! The lower school library is beautiful, with giant books for room dividers:

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Librarian Barb Middleton.

–After lunch, a hike with Barb up the mountain just a few blocks from the school. It wasn’t mountain-climbing–there are a thousand stairs to get to the top. We did, um, almost all of them. The view of the city below is stunning, but it was a little hazy and the photo didn’t come out that well.

–Back to hotel, sweaty and aching, but feeling great for having exercised. Shower, rest, get ready for the evening…

–Dinner with Barb and her husband Scott, who teaches 1st grade at the school. Taiwanese food!! I remembered eating Taiwanese food–subtly and interestingly different from Chinese food–on my last visit. Barb & Scott took me to Xing Peng Lai where we ate fried stuffed tofu (stuffed with bacon and scallions); crispy pork ribs (flavored with five-spice powder, I think); fresh bamboo; steamed chicken; and sauteed Chinese broccoli. Taiwanese food is simpler than Chinese food, with fewer ingredients in most dishes. The chicken came to the table in naked pieces, looking bland and rubbery and pretty unappealing. But then I took a bite…and it was the chickeniest chicken ever, making me feel like I’d never really eaten chicken before. Also loved the broccoli and the bamboo.

(I keep forgetting to take food photos…too busy eating!)

As we were finishing our meal, a tall distinguished elderly man entered the restaurant. The whole crowded room immediately burst into applause. The man made eye contact with me and nodded and smiled. I was puzzled; it was as if he knew me, and I was sure I didn’t know him. Barb had gone to settle the bill, and as she passed by him to return to our table, he stopped her and shook her hand. “Who’s that?” I asked. “No idea,” she said. The waitress explained who he was in rapid and excited Mandarin, which none of us speak, so we left the place quite bewildered.

Standing outside was a younger man whom I noticed had initially entered the restaurant with the older gentleman. So we asked him who the guy was. “That’s the ex-president,” he said. “Ex-president?” I said. “You mean, of Taiwan?”

Indeed. Lee Teng Hui is still very popular in these parts. He gave off sort of a Clintonesque vibe. I looked him up online later and was amazed to learn that he’s 90 years old; he could easily pass for 65. It turns out that Xing Peng Lai is one of his favorite restaurants, and he eats there often.

Very pleased to have had a brush with a Taiwanese celebrity!

–Family Night at TAS. An audience of parents and kids, around 200 of them, and then a loooooong line for booksigning. Parents here are so supportive of their kids’ reading!

–Return to hotel stupid with exhaustion. On the plus side: slept all night without waking! The cure for jetlag is to have a completely packed day, served up with a little exercise. 🙂


I love Enola!

In the past week I’ve romped through the six ENOLA HOLMES mysteries by Nancy Springer. Enola is the (much) younger sister of Sherlock Holmes (I almost wrote ‘the fictional younger sister’ – ha). Both Sherlock and Mycroft appear throughout the series as the fourteen-year-old Enola runs a missing-persons business in London. Delightful. It’s always a wrench when I get to the last book of a series, but the last Enola book — THE CASE OF THE GYPSY GOODBYE — is the best series closer I’ve ever read. Very satisfying.

I’m home for a few days after a week of presentations in Pennsylvania and Illinois: to the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia; at Winchester Thurston school in Pittsburgh; at East Richland Middle School in Olney, IL; at King and Prairie schools in Urbana, IL; at the Urbana Free Library; and at the SCBWI-Illinois weekend workshop. All my hosts were terrific; thanks to Jennifer Kraar, Pat Carlson, Elaine Bearden, and Alice McGinty, as well as the librarians and teachers who did such a good job helping prepare the students for my visits.

Olney is famed for its white squirrels, and one obligingly made an appearance just before I left town:

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Two of the many shots I took…

I’m off again on Thursday – to Taipei American School first, then the American International School of Dhaka in Bangladesh! Fingers crossed for good travel karma….


It’s been a while…

…mostly because I’ve been in The Cave, working on a project. But now I’m on the road again, having a great time!

First, New York City, for the SCBWI-International conference. I spoke at the “Elements of the Novel” writers’ intensive on Friday, Feb. 1, on a fabulous slate with Matt Kirby, Meg Rosoff, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and Jane Yolen, ably moderated by editors Arianne Lewin and Krista Marino. A great group of participants made for a thought-provoking and inspirational day.

I roomed with author Julia Durango; heard presentations by Shaun Tan, Julie Andrews & Emma Walton, and Mo Willems; saw lots of old friends; ate a LOT of great food (the ultimate deviled eggs at Red Rooster; a ricotta-filled raviolo and a pasta dish with rabbit and olives at Maialino; delicious tapas and sherry and desserts at La Fonda del Sol; great butter chicken at Vermilion); signed books at the autographing session for many lovely readers. It was a PACKED weekend–as a bonus, I got to spend some time with Dot–and probably a little too much fun. 😉

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With SCBWI Regional Advisor and uber-blogger Lee Wind, mutually admiring our matching spectacles.

Now I’m in Boca Raton, doing two days of school visits at Saint Andrews School. Today I did three presentations at the Middle School, with enthusiastic and well-prepared students! What a pleasure to speak to such attentive audiences.

Tomorrow I’ll be with the elementary students, then home tomorrow night…reluctant to leave behind the glorious 75F+ weather!

Currently reading: THE TENTH OF DECEMBER, by George Saunders. Adult short-story collection. Wonderful.


KIDLITCARES: talent auction to benefit Red Cross disaster relief

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Teachers and librarians! The KIDLITCARES talent auction to benefit the Red Cross disaster relief fund for victims of SuperStorm Sandy: Bid on a chance to win a 30-minute Skype with me, or another GREAT offering from children’s authors and illustrators.

http://www.katemessner.com/blog/

There are critiques and manuscript consultations for writers, too! Check it out!

Many thanks to Kate Messner for masterminding the effort.


Recent reading: THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND

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I confess to approaching this book with trepidation: I don’t ‘get’ selkies. Never have. Trolls and goblins; dragons and elves; imps and fairies–no problem. Mermaids, check. Monsters, zombies, vampires, check. I get all those. But selkies? The woman/seal thing just doesn’t work for me. I can’t explain it other than to say that it doesn’t make ‘sense’ the way other fantastical creatures do. (Which I realize doesn’t make sense either.) Much as I admired and enjoyed THE FOLK KEEPER, by Franny Billingsley, it did not convert me.

Shoulda known better. Shoulda guessed. This is Margo Lanagan, who doesn’t merely weave straw into gold. She weaves rotted, manure-encrusted, half-digested and regurgitated straw into pure, precious, lustrous storytelling . THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND (YA/adult) is divided into chapters told by several characters’ points of view. Already a challenge, right? And the beginning was compelling but also confusing; I had to hang in there and trust that the path would become clearer.

It did.

An island where all the children are boys. Mothers who are beautiful and strange. And the most memorable witch in modern literature. Read this book if you like weird and wondrous stories rendered in gorgeous writing.

I GET IT NOW.

I believe in selkies.


travel journal part 2, food and books

First meal of the trip: In Melbourne, channeling Anthony Bourdain by having a bratwurst at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria market.

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My favorite (er, ‘favourite’) meal in Australia was a fairly simple one–on the road, at Weller’s Inn & Pub, Kangaroo Ground, Victoria.

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Squash soup, garnished with baby cilantro.

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Toasts with spread assortment. Excellent toast. We had great toast all over Australia. This is not a small thing.

Having thus dined lightly, we attacked the desserts with unseemly fervor:

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Rhubarb crumble with creme fraiche ice cream.

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Fabulous sticky-toffee pudding, and on request they brought me a whole little jug of extra sauce!

In Indonesia:

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Picnic prepared by our hotel, eaten in the mountains above Ubud in Bali. From bottom right, potato salad with bacon, assorted satay, barbecued pork ribs, vegetable tartlets, little fruit-sago puddings (wrapped in banana leaf), fresh fruit. All delicious.

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Sumatran specialty: fish-head curry.

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Sundanese food: rice flavored with fish and vegetables wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed.

In both Sydney and Jakarta, we ate at the Din Tai Fung dumpling house. Superb soup dumplings–filled with pork in Australia, with chicken in Jakarta. Deservedly popular, Din Tai Fung steams A LOT of dumplings….

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Tower of steamer baskets at Din Tai Fung in Jakarta.

What I read while traveling:

*FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK, by Melina Marchetta. YA fantasy.
XO, by Jeffery Deaver. Adult mystery/thriller. (ebook)
*CRACKER!, by Cindy Kadohata. Middle-grade historical fiction, dog story.
THERE ARE NO SPIES, by Bill Granger. Adult thriller.
DRIVING FORCE, by Dick Francis. Adult mystery.

*highly recommended.

An odd selection this trip. I brought the first two books with me at the outset, and planned to buy titles for my Nook as needed. (I’m still mostly a Book reader, but I do use my Nook for ebooks when traveling.) I learned that you cannot download books onto your Nook when you are abroad, who knew? (Actually, it makes sense….) Fortunately, I was hanging out with librarians at that point: The last three titles were either borrowed from the library of the school in Jakarta, or from the paperback-swap shelves in their faculty lounges.


photojournal, Australia-Indonesia

So many photos. Hard to choose just a few. But here goes anyway…

Melbourne

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In the Green Room, Melbourne Writers Festival, with fellow panelists Neil Grant, Majak Daw, and Debbie DeLaps.

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Signing after another session with Carole Wilkinson.

Sydney

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Writers’ lunch in Sydney, with Justine Larbalestier, Deb Biancotti, Deb’s partner Chris, and Steven Dunbar. (Scott Westerfeld, Libby Gleeson, and Melina Marchetta had already departed. Margo Lanagan was bodily in Ireland, but with us in spirit.)

Brisbane

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At the beautiful Queensland State Library, with the standard for the Brisbane Writers Festival–a heart made entirely of books!

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A slew of Madelines? No–the booksigning queue, with Australian students in school uniform!

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University of Queensland Press: my AWESOME Australian house! Kristina Schulz, children’s publisher, and Meredene Hill, marketing manager.

On to Indonesia:

Jakarta

At Jakarta International School (JIS), librarians Liz Smilie, Kate Hodgson, Leslie Henry, and Matt Schafer did an amazing job preparing for my visit–along with the staff, administration, and especially the teachers and students!

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One of several banners made by the library staff.

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Presenting to students at PIE/JIS Elementary School.

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Librarian Leslie Henry, PEL/JIS Elementary, with the terrific wall of READ posters featuring individual students!

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With the Creative Writing class at JIS High School.

Meanwhile, my husband was off on adventures of his own….

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…touring a trashpickers’ community…

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…playing a little soccer with the kids there… (with thanks to Adi Imanuddin for those two photos)

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…and painting a room at the House of Hope orphanage.

A few last images of a magical trip:

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Floral offering on Bali.

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Boat kite from Bali, now hanging in our bathroom.

And finally…remember the welcome banner at the school? Go back and take another look at it. The librarians had it recycled–into a gift for me:

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BEST. TOTE BAG. EVER.


from Bali…

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country, comprising thousands of islands. Last week was spent on the island of Java, where Jakarta is located. This weekend we’re on Bali, the only island in the entire archipelago which is Hindu, not Muslim. I will have to post more about this later, when I can get a faster internet connection, but wow, am I learning a lot!

I’m very fortunate that the person I’m traveling with likes to take photos. It seems that I get so wrapped up in the moment that I almost always forget! However, my camera is the only one that can be connected to the computer at this point, so here are a few feeble offerings, which will alas do little to convey the magic of this trip.

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‘Hideaway picnic’ in a gazebo in the mountains above Ubud, Bali, arranged by the Gangsa Villas in Sanur, where we’re staying. (HIGHLY recommended. The Gangsa is a giant step up from the kind of place we usually stay at…a special treat because we’re celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary on this trip!)

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View from the gazebo.

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Terraced rice fields, redefining my concept of the color green.

Tonight we fly back to Jakarta. Tomorrow I will begin another four days of work at Jakarta International School, this time with the middle- and high-school students. Looking forward to meeting them and their teachers!

For now, one final image from Bali:

Our villa has a pool. (A pool just for us…) It is flanked by plumeria trees, which drop their blossoms into the water.

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