Category Archives: Blog Post

Souvenirs?

I have a hard time buying souvenirs.

I’m a terrible housekeeper, so I almost never buy tchotchkes that require dusting. Sometimes I try to get something that can be hung on the wall, but those items usually aren’t luggage-friendly. Often I get back home dismayed to realize that my ‘souvenirs’ are several crumpled airline ticket stubs and a half-empty hotel-sized bottle of body lotion.

On this trip I’ve done better! Besides the delightful pieces of pearl jewelry (see previous post), I’ll be bringing back a little kaleidescope from the shop of the Palace Museum in Taipei. (I love kaleidescopes.) And I’m very excited about the item that’s being purchased for me today…

I’m Korean-American, right? I grew up eating rice. The japonica variety–short-grained sticky Asian rice. Rice-love must be encoded in my DNA, because for years now I’ve been on a mission to sample as wide a range as possible of the world’s rices. Indian basmati and Thai jasmine: yummmm. I can eat unseemly amounts of the arborio and carnaroli risotto rices of Italy. Paella, pilaf, fried rice, rice and beans, yes please. I’ve chowed my way through all those fancy little Lotus-brand bags, Bhutan red rice, Forbidden black rice, etc. My favorite dish on the dim sum cart is the ‘treasure rice’–sticky rice steamed in a lotus leaf, with surprise goodies in each bite.

Here in Dhaka, to my surprise and utter delight, I found MY rice. The ‘if-forced-to-choose-only-one-kind-to-eat-for-the-rest-of-my-life’ rice. I ate it on my third day here; it was part of the hotel’s buffet. The waiter said it was ‘lemon rice,’ but of course what I wanted to know was the type, not the name of the dish. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out: It was Kalijira, known to the Bangla as ‘The Prince of Rice.’

It’s reminiscent of basmati, but with tiny exquisite grains–smaller than short-grain rice, and slender, not stubby. I realized that I’d eaten this rice before–the Lotus product, several years ago. But obviously I hadn’t cooked it right, because it left no strong impression.

The Kalijira on the hotel buffet was remarkable. I’m finding it difficult to explain exactly how or why. It was aromatic, like basmati, but more than that, the texture, the mouth-feel, was simply perfect. It was the Platonic ideal of rice. I got to eat it again at Joya’s house, which is where I learned what it was.

(I took a bite of the rice at Joya’s feast with a little trepidation, thinking that it couldn’t possibly be as good as I’d thought–that I’d been hungry at the hotel or whatever. Nope–it was EVEN BETTER.)

AISD’s upper-school librarian Colleen Boerner, my lovely host for this visit, consulted with her cook Paul, who knows the neighborhood markets intimately. Paul has kindly agreed to purchase two kilos of Kalijira for me today.

Now THAT’S a great souvenir.

What do you buy for souvenirs when you travel?


A great day in Dhaka

1st, 3rd, and 7th graders at AISD: All were attentive and enthusiastic. The older students had great questions! Today I'll be seeing fifth grade, and then doing two more presentations–to teachers in the afternoon and parents in the evening.

After the 7th-grade session, I went back to the hotel and had a nice lunch: cream of tomato soup and a tandoori-chicken sandwich on beautifully flaky naan-style bread. The food at the hotel is really good. Then, a special treat: Marina, who teaches Bangla language and culture, picked me up to go pearl shopping!

Marina took me to two shops. With her help, I chose the size, color, and shape of the pearls I wanted, then the length and type of clasp. Most of the pieces will be delivered today, but a couple were made right then and there:

Dhaka pearl

dhaka pearls

Small white pearls, right, and larger gray ones, both strung on clear 'fishing line' so they look like they're floating.

Marina did the haggling on my behalf. She's an impressively accomplished bargainer, and I was truly grateful–I'm terrible at haggling.

A quick swim in the hotel pool, then it was off to a very special dinner. Joya is an administrative assistant at the school. She and her family welcomed me and several teachers into their home for a feast of Bangla food!

dhaka phuchka
Phuchka: a crisp, paper-thin shell of fried lentil paste holds a stuffing of mashed potato, chick peas and chilis. I ate two, and had to physically restrain myself from gobbling the whole lot.

After phuchkas and lovely bite-sized samosas (filled with ground beef, Bengali style), we went in to the dining room where the long table was loaded with food: rice and naan; chicken, beef, coconut shrimp, several vegetable dishes, homemade pickles…every dish beautifully presented and so aromatic!

Dhaka eggplant
Two kinds of eggplant: fried crisp in rounds, sweet and silky in strips.

"The riverbank was lined with men selling freshly cooked hilsha fish; the smell was almost unendurably delicious. More than anything, I longed for my mother to augment her already lavish picnic with a pair of hot bought hilsha fish."
–from SCENES FROM EARLY LIFE, by Philip Hensher.

I had read this passage just a few days ago, and immediately wanted to try hilsha (or hilsa) fish. I was taken to a seafood restaurant my first night here; alas, no hilsa. But there on Joya's table…

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A pair of hot hilsha fish! Joya explained that it had been cooked in a pressure cooker, which softened the small bones and made them completely edible.

Dhaka Joya
With the gracious hostess. I was also delighted to meet Joya's husband and parents.

A final note, literally: When I got back to the hotel, I found this letter in my room:

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So far this morning I have not had a laundry emergency.


Dhaka: a few photos

I haven’t had much of a chance to take photos yet, but Dhaka is so interesting that even my feeble attempts seemed worth posting. Those rickshaws I mentioned earlier? They’re decorated all over:

Dhaka rickshaw
The canopy…

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…the seat and the floorboard. The back too, but I couldn’t get a shot of it, as this one is permanently parked in a corner of the school library.

Dhaka bird
The Lakeshore hotel has a rooftop swimming pool. I spotted this bird there and was quite taken by its long tail…

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Anyone know what kind of bird it is?

Dhaka hands
Sculpture in the lobby of the Lakeshore.

Dhaka orchid
Orchid plant blooming at the American club (ARA) in Dhaka.

Dhaka traffic
Spotted in traffic: a pedal-cart transporting bamboo rods…

Dhaka traffic 2
…that were at least 25 feet long!

Finished first day of presentations: kindergarten, 8th grade, and the whole high school, all great audiences. Tomorrow: 1st, 3rd, & 7th grade. Looking forward to meeting more readers!


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 . . .

Taipei 0313 students
. . . to very attentive students!

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

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

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

SCBWI Taipei
With SCBWI-Taiwan members.

Publisher Taipei
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. 😉

with Lee Wind

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.