Okay, so I was planning a trip to China April 1-19 this year—and had to cancel for obvious reasons. I really wanted to go this spring because my memoir about China is coming out this fall, and I was hoping to see what the latest trends are in China. Every year, Chinese people adopt some new technology and modernize the way they live, whether paying for everything via mobile apps, shopping online, taking Didi cars (like Uber) instead of taxis. What is the latest?
Well, the latest is the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, which started there in January. In fact, my husband and I bought our tickets on January 19. The next day, China reported the third death from coronavirus and confirmed human-to-human transmission, announcing a quarantine in the city of Wuhan. Fortunately, we were able to cancel the payment for our airline tickets with full refund—because it was less than 24 hours after we purchased them.
Bottom line: no China trip for us this spring!
So I have decided to share this trip with you, day by day, showing images of the places we planned to visit and why.
First stop: Hong Kong, April 2-5. Paul and I met in Hong Kong in 1983 and were married there in 1985. Hong Kong is bursting with places that stir up good memories for me—many of which I wrote about in my memoir, When the Red Gates Opened, to be published September 22.
1. Dominion Centre, site of my office for Business Week, in Wanchai
2. Dim sum as served in Hong Kong
3. Luk Yu Teahouse, my favorite dim sum place
4. The flags of China and Hong Kong flying together, after 1997
5. The Queen’s Road overpass, where I watched the 1989 protestors
Although my mother was totally unlike this author’s, I found this memoir irresistible. Burns’s mother, Dotty, was a stunningly beautiful, buxom redhead who dressed to the nines with glittery baubles, went out on the town several nights a week, and made sure everyone in the family revolved around her own wishes. As her only child, the author grew up loving her mother and trying constantly to please her, shocked again and again by her Sicilian father’s kidnapping, her mother’s secret affair, and revelations of hidden identity. No novelist could make this up!
What made the book worthwhile, though, is how this daughter grew out of her mother’s shadow and into her own identity and learned, later in life, how to make emotional sense of her unusual childhood. She finds a much healthier balance of motherhood and fulfilling work and later seeks out inspiration in women who managed to skirt the rules and reinvent their lives. That took persistence and strength of character I admire.
As a diversion from the current ills of the world, I highly recommend reading Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels, by the mother-daughter combo of Isabel Sun Chao and Claire Chao, published in 2018.
Reading this book during this time of panic and pandemic gave me a wonderful break. Each night after an overload of dreadful news, it was a relief to let this book sweep me away on a journey into an idyllic past—that of Isabel Sun Chao’s childhood in 1930s Shanghai.
As the daughter of a wealthy, privileged Chinese family, Isabel grew up in a legendary era of dance clubs, movie stars, priceless artwork, and elegant qipao dresses—leavened with salacious tales of underworld bosses, scheming sons, and multiple mistresses. The Japanese occupation and subsequent bloody civil war barely affected Isabel. But in 1949, the Communist takeover prompted her father to send her off to the safety of Hong Kong, unaware she would never return to her pampered life in Shanghai.
Aside from its deliberately upbeat tone (for the most part), this book also stands out for the remarkable cooperative effort of mother and daughter as co-creators. Isabel’s daughter, Princeton-educated Claire Chao, worked with her mother to tell this first-person story and also added her own perspective to fill in historical context. Adding to its delight, the book is lavishly illustrated with lovely portraits, historical scenes, and whimsical drawings that bring the past to life.
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I’m fascinated with intrepid women—from history and from today—especially those who wrote about their lives. Why? Because I consider myself to be an intrepid woman—one who is/was fearless about traveling the world, willing to venture far outside my comfort zone, and take on challenges that no one...
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