China Caper Now Available for Purchase

china-caper-by-chloe-ryan-winstonSomeone is stealing priceless historic artifacts from China, a nation and population proud of their heritage. Briana Fraser—an Ashland, Oregon book and travel shop owner who’s no stranger to adventure—is tasked with discovering how these valuable artifacts are being stolen and sold to collectors in other countries—and by whom.

Suspects are abundant, especially those in Briana’s tour group, seen by authorities as the best source of the thefts—as well as good spy cover for our heroine. With her history background, Briana is the ideal cultural spy, but she’s still less than prepared for the danger she encounters in her search to unmask the thief. Her adventure takes Briana to the famous terracotta soldiers, the Forbidden City, and the massive Great Wall. And her up-to-date look at a long-mysterious country, now opened to the West, is an added aspect to her search.

With typical Briana fervor, she tackles the task, putting herself and her new friends in danger. To save her life and speed up the mission, she is joined in China by her former partners from Professor Phillips’ secret semi-spy operations to help solve the caper. But as things heat up between Briana and one of her partners, events conspire to get in the way of romance.

China Caper is now available for purchase on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon and on NOOK and in paperback from Barnes and Noble.

Getting Cash from a Chinese Bank

Anyone planning a trip to China should know it will be one of the most fascinating, memorable and valuable of trips.  Things are delightfully different from our lives: the involvement of children in social activities, which gives them great confidence as adults; the pride in culture that we’re missing a little in ours; the recognition that hard work can be its own reward; and the visible drama of history and culture that is apparent on city streets in that country.Chloe China post 1            Chloe China post 2

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Of course, one needs to be prepared for such a trip, and I thought I was, until the day I went into a bank in Xian and tried to withdraw some money.  Was I out of money?  No. Then what was the problem?  My brain.  I couldn’t recall my magic number.  I looked at the wall behind the money machine.  There were no helpful numbers written on that wall.  It was, like most Chinese businesses, sparkling clean.

I did all the things I usually do when “stumped”: start with numbers, start with places where I’d used the machine successfully, pictured walking up to my ATM machine at home.  Twenty minutes, and considerable underarm perspiration later, something clicked in my now-desperate memory…the right four digits.  And I walked out with the money, without resorting to a bank robber’s mask, gun, or getaway car!

The “moral” of this example of my stupidity?  To remind you to write your ATM number somewhere in your wallet or luggage, so you can retrieve it before going to a bank.  Of course, disguise it, but not enough so that you won’t recognize it. I’d suggest keeping it in your shoe, but that is a very bad idea. Foot sweat will blur the numbers.  Have a great trip!

Children in China

One of the most satisfying opportunities to have in China is to attend some sort of event—a wedding, a school graduation, a birthday party, or even spring harvest. In our country, we miss the boat without having the kinds of celebrations those events create in China, particularly where children are involved.

First of all, color dominates, and it’s usually red, a pure bright red signifying success and joy.  But, best of all, is the children are included—front and center—in the happenings, not just as restless observers, but as active participants.

As a result, Chinese children grow into confident adults, able to appear in front of a group with calm smiles—unlike at many events here in the U.S. where children are eliminated from “grown-up” activities, perhaps often present, but not truly participating. Then they get into trouble for “horse playing.”

When in China, I frequently observed children under the age of 12 or 13 who calmly introduced programs, sang or danced without noticeable flaws, and received quiet praise without the “ah shucks” response  of many of our children.  As a result, they grow into adults without having that aura of confidence and skill that carries them well into their futures.Schoolkids in China

Perhaps because of that lack of integration, for want of a better word, I have the same “ah shucks” attitude when someone appreciates, approves, or applauds something I’ve done or written or said.  My response—because I grew up in an era of “children should be seen, not heard”—my lack of social skills hasn’t been helpful.

I believe—after many observations of a wide variety of social events in China—where children are seriously included in whatever the activities might be, that they develop the social skills of confidence, manners, appreciation, and even joy when included in what we consider adult happenings.

In U.S. audiences, where children are hushed, scolded, spanked even, there seems to be that loss of confidence that carries over into their own adult lives.  If children are not included, it is quite apparent that they will become restless, leading to shushings, spankings, and even removal from the scene.  Then everyone is unhappy.

When in China, dealing with things domestic and diplomatic, I was always amazed by what I sensed was an unspoken assurance emanating from the people with whom I had contact.  After a time, and after attending many celebrations of varying kinds, my conclusion is that we should include more often, isolate less frequently, our children and grandchildren in our celebratory events.

That does not mean we should praise poor performances; we already give meaningless medals for mere attendance at an event, or false recognition for children who don’t really participate, but sit as observers.  Now there is a tenor of change working its way through such an emotionally damaging policy.  Pictures of children, who realize the medals they just received were meaningless, ripping up the scroll or breaking the plaque, or stomping on the medal, have surfaced in recent months.

Children who don’t realize the lack of value in such empty recognition often falter and fail as adults who face the real world. The results then aren’t good. We need to get children involved like the Chinese do….early and often.  And—happily wearing lots of red.

 

The Precious Green Coat

Not everyone has one; not everyone needs one; not everyone wants one–but I have, did need, and wanted a green Chinese coat.  When you read those words, you are probably thinking of a silken robe-like coat which would keep only a slight breeze at bay.

No….this is a coat.  But you are half right.  I was in China, my first trip–and it was November. It doesn’t take a genius to look at a globe and know that a light sweater won’t do the trick if one needed to be warm in any country at that late-year date.  At that time,  China still had two kinds of shops:  one for the locals and one for wealthy locals and visitors.  I went into the local shop…..and there it was…..a traditional, heavily-padded coat and it just oozed warmth when one looked at it.  

I paid $10 US for the coat; over two decades later it still hangs in my closet. I’ve worn it once in public–in a late November high school football game in California’s Central Valley.  I was “on duty” as a supervisor of what few Tulare Union students had followed the team, and, to make things worse,  basketball is my game and I truly dislike football.  But I was warm!

Someone told me later–a “friend”–that I resembled a large green elephant seated in the grandstands that night.  I’ve tried to “spin” that as a compliment, but never succeeded.

It takes up a great deal of room in my closet, and I’m trying to “cut down” on “stuff.”  I’ve taken seven or eight packed boxes of books to the local library; I’ve sorted through “brilliant things” and I’ve re-written and actually tossed some of those; I’m left with the closet—and the green coat.

I will not give it up.  It’s a part of China’s history—and part of my history.  Perhaps I’ll lose enough weight not to be confused with an elephant if I ever wear it in public…..which I won’t…lose weight or wear it.

The other item you should take with you when in China is a head scarf.  Not to honor churches you might enter; that won’t be a problem.  It’s to have it handy in case one of those breezes doesn’t “loft”, they blow off of what in Russia are called the “steppes”……I don’t know what the Chinese call those chilling winds, but I call them “truly cold.”  However,  I’m sorry, I won’t loan you my green coat.

 (A much more complete picture of China, its culture, etc., is found in “China Caper,” a novel  coming out in the fall.  Briana, the US courier–whom you met/will meet in the current “Argentine Assignment” and this fall’s “Belize Barter”–is on the trail of individuals who are stealing a part of China’s history–its artifacts.)

A Question Asked is a Lesson Learned

One day in our village in China, I was invited to join a couple of the town’s leaders to check some nearby fields.  I didn’t know the tall, green crop that was waving in a slight breeze, but it surrounded the town. As we walked out to the field, we passed a new self-propelled combine, a brand that I recognized since I was a farmer’s daughter.

We walked into the field, where there was an odd interruption in the ripe crop … a familiar-looking square of pounded dirt.  My host explained the crop would be cut down by about 20 workers, carried to the pounded dirt where other men would tramp on the plants to separate the leaves from the crop itself.   He told me that this work required long hours and many workers.

Before I thought, I asked, “You have that new self-propelled combine down the street.  Why don’t you use that? It would be so much easier and faster?”

The men looked away.  One, who spoke excellent English, answered, “If we used the combine, 19 or 20 men would be out of work.”  Now I was the embarrassed one.

I nodded, appropriately impressed on this first trip to the fields. Inside, I knew I’d never mention the combine again; the odds were against it.  One man on the self-propelled versus 20 or more men out of work?  A no brainer.

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From Digging in the Dirt to Celebrating the Result with Global Volunteers

We were in An Wei’s hometown, a small village really.  An Wei had brought this group of Global Volunteers for a working project—a new elementary school.  It was to be built on the hard ground that we checked out on this first day in the village.  Eager children sang a welcome to us as we climbed off the bus bringing us from Xian, a wonderfully historic city which should be on everyone’s China “must visit” list.

When we walked into the house where our group would stay, both Kay and I sniffed, immediately noticing a smell.  It was fresh, light-blue paint on the walls. Our twin beds sported fluffy new coverlets and plump pillows.  Someone, and we suspected the village women, had worked hard to make our accommodations the best that much elbow grease could provide.  The living room/kitchen area also exhibited fresh care in anticipation of our arrival.  Several youngsters stood, one with her thumb in her mouth, to gauge our reactions.  Their smiles told us they were pleased that their efforts were so well-recognized.

From the very start we felt at home, despite the two pigs in a small enclosure just outside the front door.  But the school was our project, and a day later, after we ate a light breakfast, we were looking at a large hole in the ground, the rough circumference of the future school. A large, hopeful group of families watched us.

Several of us worked in the older elementary school which our efforts would replace.  We were there primarily to help Chinese teachers develop better skill in the English language, particularly with pronunciation.  I chose to work with children in the 4th year.  It would be eye-opening to me—a teacher by profession in the U.S.  The first thing I noticed was the silence in the room of about 30 students.  As the weeks went by, my major task was getting them to make a sound.  They sat straightly still, obedient, with eyes that showed an eagerness to learn. I almost checked to make certain they were still breathing.

But I learned something else this first week.

Each day after school we walked around town to learn more about the people—and for them to learn about us. Classes lasted an intensive half-day, so we also were involved with the construction of the new school.Chloe Digging with Global Volunteers 001

The men in our group poured cement on a flat stone, added water to it, and transferred it to our  volunteer women who then walked it over to the where the walls for the basement would be.  No one dared to apply a math test to this lengthy effort.  The cement-on-stone hand-mixing process operated just beneath a cement mixer lashed to a tall pole.  Several of us questioned why the cement mixer wasn’t running.

“No electricity,” was the answer, accompanied by a shrug.  Meanwhile, I was hoeing bushes,  shrubs, and weeds, sometimes shoveling dirt.  One day, a little boy came up to me, took the shovel away and said, “Grandmothers should not be doing this kind of work.”

While I talked with him, I noted three black stretch cars coming full steam ahead up the dirt road, heading our way.  I quickly took the shovel back, and yelled at my fellow volunteers.  “Get busy.”

I knew who the men were that crowded into the cars.  The Party men.

They carefully got out of their cars, carefully walked over to peer into the hole in the ground, carefully looked at each of us—me with sweat rolling down my face, a shovel in my hand.  Then they left.

The next day, we were told we didn’t have to go to work, and would instead be bused to visit a major historical site some miles away, which would take at least five hours. I was surprised; this was contrary to the usual Chinese work ethic, but I didn’t complain.  We took the trip, enjoyed a visit to the site, had a fine lunch, and returned to our village.

As we drove down the main street, we all noticed the new addition to that street—a 3- or 4-foot-wide, 5- or 6-foot-deep trench that ran the entire length of the village—and out to the new school site.  None of us knew what it was until the next morning.

Work Site of Chinese SchoolWhen we arrived at our work, the cement mixer was running, and our work became not only faster, but easier.  I looked at the wires coming from the pole to the mixer, and recalled the ditch through the town.  It didn’t take a math genius to add two and two.

The Party men had “lost face” in front of Americans.  The people of the village didn’t care who or what had made electricity happen for their homes and jobs.  They knew the reason; we quietly became instant heroes.

School Children

In China, and World War II

On my earliest China trips, Chinese men and women were still spitting on the sidewalks; little children were still squatting beneath a sidewalk tree, pulling their slitted pants bottoms to one side, and using the tree area as a bathroom.  The Chinese have now forbidden the spitting, thankfully, but I haven’t been there to see if that’s really forbidden.  (Somewhat like the one child per family rule, which today has created a problem:  since “boy” babies were the most desired, there aren’t enough grownup girl “babies” for them to marry.  So … there may be some relaxing of that law, but it may be too late to save a generation.)

Once in a while in China, one sees a red symbol on a wooden gate leading to an inner courtyard.  And one wonders if that is showing the individual who lives there was a Mao supporter.  (Of course, the Chinese ruler during WWII, who was our “ally”, has his detractors, too.  Much of the dislike was for his wife, who, when she visited Washington, D.C. as a honored guest of the White House, required that her bed sheets be changed each day – sometimes twice a day, if she’d napped in the afternoon.  For American women who were worried about using too many food coupons, coming up short at the end of the month, that didn’t sit well.  Yes, we had shoe coupons, too.  I think we got threeWar Rationing Shoe Stamp pairs of shoes a year, but I could be wrong about that.  And there were no silk stockings. Or cigarettes.  I think there were coupons for meat etc.  I was a welcome guest at my grade school friends’ homes:  I came bearing butter (which I’d churned, tsk), eggs, and some other item I don’t recall.)

One of the delights of being in China is seeing the glorious, colorful architecture.  Unfortunately, on my last trip there, the new buildings look like they belong in New York, not China.  I’ve mentioned it, but don’t get positive response from my Chinese hosts.  I want China to stay China;  New York to stay New York. And ne’er the twain should meet—at least architecturally.  (It’s that pesky history teacher instinct in me—sorry.) I appreciate the culture and history of China so much that it outweighs in my mind any possible difficulties.