The “Good Chinese Wife” Interview with Susan Blumberg-Kason

(Note: I’m excited to be giving away one FREE copy of Good Chinese Wife! Want to enter the giveaway? Scroll down to the end of this post for details!)

Susan Blumberg-Kason’s new memoir Good Chinese Wife comes with a revealing subtitle: A Love Affair With China Gone Wrong. Before you even open the book, you already know what kind of love this is – a marriage between a white American woman and a Chinese man that doesn’t end well.

But as I’ve learned over time, there’s tremendous value in sharing the stories of couples that didn’t work out. That’s why I sent out a submission call for stories of love lost and unrequited love. And that’s why Good Chinese Wife should be on the reading list of everyone who follows this blog.

I’m calling it the AMWF memoir of 2014 and you shouldn’t miss it.

Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong

This book has it all. A Chinese love interest with movie-star looks. A romance set in glitzy Hong Kong. A huge red wedding in Wuhan. A fascinating journey across China in the mid-1990s. And a transformative tale of how one shy young woman eventually finds the courage to make a dramatic escape.

But most importantly, Good Chinese Wife is just an incredibly entertaining memoir. It’s the kind of book that you’ll open, thinking you’re only going to read for a little while, and before you know it you’ve devoured the whole story in one sitting.

Susan Blumberg-Kason

As someone who has known Susan for several years, I’ve had the privilege to witness the inspiring metamorphosis of Good Chinese Wife from manuscript to published memoir. It is an extraordinary honor to introduce you to Good Chinese Wife and Susan through this interview.

A freelance writer in Chicago, Susan has written for the Chicago Sun Times, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, and Chicago Parent magazine. Her essay “Ninety Minutes in Tsim Sha Tsui” is included in the fabulous new anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit. She also wrote All the Tea in Chicago, the ultimate guidebook to the city for tea enthusiasts.

I talked to Susan to learn more about her memoir – from what inspired her to write it, to her experiences as a yangxifu (the foreign wife of a Chinese man) in the mid-1990s, to what she hopes readers will come away with from her story.


When did you first realize you wanted to turn your story into a memoir? What ultimately inspired you to write it?

I first thought about writing this memoir after my divorce attorney in California asked me to write out everything that went wrong in that marriage. She needed all the details in case we went to trial. It was 14 years ago and I was living with my parents. They didn’t have a laptop connected to a printer and I wasn’t in the mood to camp out in front of the basement desktop—after having felt so isolated for the past five and a half years—so I hand-wrote it over the span of a week in the company of my family. This document was sixty-seven pages! When I proofread it before sending it off to my lawyer, I thought, “Wow! This would make a great book.”

A week later I saw the movie “Not Without My Daughter” for the first time. It was about a woman who almost lost her daughter when her family traveled to Iran to visit her husband’s family. The husband had lived in the US for 20 years, but when he returned to his motherland, he suddenly wanted to stay there and keep his daughter there. I cried because the same thing could have happened to me. I wanted to share my story with others and hoped it would give parents in cross-cultural relationships something to think about if they’re in similar situations.

Susan at the Tsim Sha Tsui metro stop in Hong Kong.
Susan at the Tsim Sha Tsui metro stop in Hong Kong.

Your love affair with Cai, a man from Wuhan, China, takes place in Hong Kong in the mid-1990s, at a time when you were mainly a graduate student. What are some of your most interesting memories about dating in Hong Kong back then?

Hong Kong was magical back then! I was so happy to be back (I’d lived there for a year in 1990-91) and open to new opportunities, including dating. Maybe it was the thrill of being back and the comfort I felt around Hong Kong people, but I definitely took more chances there than I had back in the US. There was a new confidence in the air as people who had left Hong Kong in the 1980s were returning. One was a friend of a friend who confided some pretty heavy personal history to me on our one and only date. At one point he became violent as he grabbed my arms and squeezed them as if in a vice. I was scared about leaving that bar—we were out in the middle of the New Territories—but in the end he paid for my taxi ride home, which was two hours away. I also went out with a television anchorman who promised a weekend away in Macau, but canceled at the last minute. And then there were the two guys I wrote about in the book, the two I went out with before I met Cai.

Hidden River, China - Cai's hometown
Hidden River, China – Cai’s hometown in Hubei Province

How did people react to yangxifu back in the mid-1990s?

It was a novelty for Chinese men to have a foreign wife. In Hidden River, Cai’s hometown in Hubei province, his parents had a friend whose son had married a Japanese woman. She was a legend in that danwei—whether or not people had met her—because she was a foreigner. So my inlaws were very accepting of me and liked to brag about me with their friends. When I walked around Hidden River, people were all very polite, even when they stared and pointed at my curly hair and western nose.

14583639023_393094e530_oYour wedding in 1995 was special compared to the average wedding banquet in Wuhan. Could you share with us some of the things that made your celebration different?

Well, back then children of Communist Party members had to have modest wedding celebrations. For instance, they could only use a couple of cars in their motorcades and could only have ten tables at their banquets. But because I was a foreigner, those rules didn’t apply to my wedding even though my father-in-law was a Party member. We had twenty tables at our wedding and five or six cars. Traditions were still low key in China then, so weddings were simple and quick. There weren’t tea ceremonies and the like. And women in Hubei didn’t wear red qipaos. It was all big poufy white wedding dresses. I had a difficult time finding a red qipao in Suzhou!

Cai’s parents also play a major role in your story. Give us one of your favorite scenes from the book featuring your inlaws.

I think my favorite scene in the book was when they were leaving San Francisco to return to China. They had lived with us for ten months and after many clashes about childcare, I realized too late, of course, how much I had appreciated their presence at home. Every night we watched Chinese soap operas and news from Beijing while Cai went out. And they were often my only adult interaction at home. As we said goodbye at the airport, I also thought about how difficult it must be for them to leave Jake, their beloved grandson. So this scene is full of contrasts and difficult emotions.

Susan and Jake in San Francisco in 1999.
Susan and Jake in San Francisco in 1999.

Your book includes many memorable characters, but none more so than “Japanese father” — a rather unconventional father-figure to Cai. Without giving everything away, could you tell us something about this fascinating character?

Japanese Father was a music professor who visited China one summer and met Cai in Wuhan. The two became pen pals and wrote long letters to each other almost every week. The Japanese economy was so far ahead of China’s at the time—it wasn’t even comparable—so the opportunities that Japanese Father could offer Cai, and later his friend Rui, were very attractive to young teachers who had no other way of making more than US$75 a month. Japanese Father had a lot of time to spend on his Chinese protégées because he was estranged from his wife and son. His daughter still spoke to him, though.

Susan at the Miramar in Hong Kong.
Susan at the Miramar in Hong Kong.

As the subtitle explains, your story is “a love affair with China gone wrong.” Some people may see your book as yet another story that casts Asian men in a negative light, as well as AMWF relationships and even China itself. How would you respond to those concerns?

The subtitle refers to my initial attraction to China and how that all changed. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just didn’t go according to plan. As for a negative portrayal of Asian men, I can only see two Asian men who don’t come out looking great. Some reviewers think that Cai is sympathetic, and I can see that, too. But the others—Baba, Cai’s friend Rui, my former brothers-in-law, and even the guys I dated in Hong Kong—are portrayed just as men in any other countries. They have a variety of positive traits and aren’t lumped into one general category. And as one friend pointed out, at the end I go to lengths to protect the Chinese male who matters most to me—my son Jake. As for AMWF relationships, I clearly do everything I can to make mine work. In writing my story, I hope that people will see how not to conduct an AMWF relationship! And as for China, I felt aligned with many young Chinese at that time. Every time Cai and I returned to China, he was heartbroken that it was changing so quickly and wasn’t like the China of his childhood. I echoed his feelings and could see how things were different even from my first trip to China in 1988. To me, that’s not being anti-China, but rather wishing for a smoother transition, for China to have eased into the twentieth century instead of leaping into the twenty-first in one blink!

In Hidden River, Cai’s hometown near Wuhan.

Could you share some of the lessons you’ve learned from your courtship and marriage to Cai, and what you hope readers take away from your book?

From the courtship, people will probably conclude that I married Cai too quickly. But I think it’s more than that. He told me from the get-go that he had certain conditions for our marriage. Those are things I ignored or thought I could eventually get him to change. That should have been my red flag, not the time in which we became engaged and married. And from the marriage, I hope people can see that it’s not a good idea to justify bad behavior in the name of cultural differences, whatever those may be. (Unless we come from the exact background as our partner, we will have cultural differences. My new husband and I are from different religious backgrounds.) If something doesn’t sit well, it doesn’t sit well and shouldn’t be tolerated. It doesn’t matter if the person is from Asia or the US or wherever. One more thing: just be yourself and you’ll be fine!


Thanks so much to Susan Blumberg-Kason for enlightening us about Good Chinese Wife!

Want to win a FREE copy of Good Chinese Wife? I’m giving one away on Twitter to anyone based in the US or Canada. And it’s simple to enter! Just tweet the following:

[Tweet “@jossailin is giving away the new memoir #GoodChineseWife and I want to win!”]

Entries must be received by 12 midnight Pacific Time on July 16, 2014! I’ll then notify the winner via messaging on Twitter. Good luck!

UPDATE: Congratulations to @JohnWGuise for winning the giveaway!

12 reasons you should read “Dragonfruit” anthology of true stories of expat women in Asia

Last week, I shared a photo essay as a companion to “Huangshan Honeymoon“, my own true story of the honeymoon vacation where my husband and I brought his father along to view one of China’s most breathtaking mountains. (Well, thanks to the lousy weather, I’ll have to take someone else’s word for just how breathtaking Huangshan can be.)

Yet that’s not the only reason you should pick up a copy of How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asiaa collection I can’t stop raving about because of how personal and soulful every single essay is.

For me, this is the rarest of all anthologies. I actually devoured it from cover to cover in record time, and found something to love in all the essays — regardless of the story. But if you’re looking for the sort of stories that drew you to this blog, well, you’re in luck.

Love reading about cross-cultural relationships? Or dating and marriages and families in Asia? Or just want some great stories from AMWF writers? This anthology is also for you! Specifically, you’ll enjoy these 12 other essays I’d like to introduce to you. Think of them as 12 more reasons (besides, of course, “Huangshan Honeymoon“) why you should buy How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia.

Here they are in order of appearance:

(photo by Giorgio Minguzzi via

1. “The Weight of Beauty” by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas instantly became one of my favorite writers when I discovered her funny and moving essay last summer titled How to be Mistaken for a Prostitute in China. Her contribution to this anthology is yet another exploration of her experience as the Chinese-American wife of a white American guy in China, but it also delves into issues all-too-familiar to many of us — how we view our bodies and ourselves. You can actually read it in the sample chapters featured — and chances are, you’ll love her writing as much as I did.

(photo by LeeAnn Adams via

2. “Finding Yuanfen on a Chinese Bus” by Kaitlin Solimine

When Kaitlin steps onto that rickety, sleeper bus for a two-day journey from Kunming to Guangzhou, she ends up finding the ultimate road buddy (or should I say, “road gal”?). In the process, she ends up reflecting on her dating experiences in China with expats and locals alike. Kaitlin’s essay is so refreshingly honest, delving into all of the off-and-on madness, the one-night stands, the “just for sex” experiences…things most of us would rather keep locked away in our journals and minds. It’s this, plus her beautiful writing, that makes you fall in love with her essay — and long for more.

(photo by Shoko Muraguchi via

3. “Love and Polka Dots” by Suzanne Kamata

Suzanne  has a different kind of AMWF family experience in Japan because of her special needs daughter Lilia, who is deaf and uses a wheelchair. Suzanne promised to take Lilia to an exhibition of artwork from the internationally renowned artist Yayoi Kusama in Osaka (which requires a two and a half-hour bus ride), and you can imagine the challenges involved in taking out a wheelchair-bound child and communicating in a language (signing) that, for Suzanne, can be tiring. Ultimately, they make the journey together to appreciate what Suzanne describes as Kusama’s “playful and whimsical” works of art (with, you guessed it, polka dots) and come away feeling stronger, inspired and even hopeful.

(By the way, many fans of this blog will enjoy Suzanne’s anthology Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering.)

(photo by Jo Schmaltz via

4. “Happy Anniversary” by Stephanie Han

While this essay tells the story of how one Korean American woman happens to fall in love with a white British man in Hong Kong on the eve of the turnover, it’s also an excellent meditation on the peripatetic nature of expat life (especially in an international family). It’s the details that make Stephanie’s essay a joy, from screaming “Kill it!” to the cobra coiled before her door (which challenges her identity as an “animal-lover”) to the $5 gold ring she got as a freebie from a Turkish rug salesman (which she subsequently uses when she gets married).

(photo by Jonathan E. Shaw via

5. “Giving in to Mongolia” by Michelle Borok

A lifelong horseback riding enthusiast, Michelle once again returns to the saddle in her thirties and ultimately her passion draws her to Mongolia for a solo vacation. There she discovers a braver, stronger side of herself and finds herself gradually falling for “a man with golden eyes, a gentle voice, broad shoulders, and close-cropped salt- and-pepper hair” who speaks no English. It’s an epic story of love and personal transformation, and it stars an incredibly handsome Asian guy. What’s not to like?

(photo by Vanessa Berry via

6. “An Awkward Phone Call” by Christine Tan

When she used to blog at Shanghai Shiok, Christine dished out some of the smartest (and most addictive) essays I’ve ever encountered about the experience of being an Asian woman dating a White man. And this contribution doesn’t disappoint, as she continues that conversation and deepens it with completely new and unexpected layers (including the shocking comment that drove her to abandon Shanghai Shiok). It’s moving, confessional and incredibly brave — and personally, I hope we’ll hear much more from Christine (such as finishing the memoir she alludes to in her essay).

(photo by Sarah Kim via

7. “How to Marry a Moonie” by Catherine Rose Torres

Stereotypes about cross-cultural relationships don’t end with “yellow fever”, as Catherine reminds us. “…the term moonie came to mean all Korean men seeking mail-order brides from poor countries like the Philippines. But I expected my friends to know the difference—to know I wasn’t mail-order bride material.” She’s Filipino, Jay is Korean, and the challenges they face go far beyond stereotypes. A terrific essay for anyone who has ever had the bride-to-be jitters (like me!) or managed to survive the kind of “our family will handle everything”, big, fat wedding I had in China.

(photo by Eric Hunt via

8. “The Rainiest Season” by India Harris

As longtime readers know, I’ve railed against the whole “Asian women are stealing our husbands” stereotype that makes its rounds in the expat world. Still, you’ve heard the stories — how some white guy relocates to Asia with his wife in tow, only to toss her aside for a local woman. For anyone wondering what could happen when a marriage blows up this way (and for that matter, how the woman comes to reclaim her own life) here’s your essay. If you’re anything like me, you’ll keep turning the pages and thinking, “Oh. My. God.”

(photo by Jose Javier Martin Espartosa via

9. “Moving to the Tropic of Cancer” by Philippa Ramsden

Living abroad doesn’t make you immune to the ravages of life, such as a potentially life threatening illness. That’s not what Philippa, who hails from Scotland, expected when she moved to Burma with her Himalayan Tamang husband. But suddenly, she’s forced to navigate hospitals, appointments and tests in a completely foreign world — and must find the courage to face one frightening diagnosis. A moving essay from an AMWF sister.

(photo by Sarah Joy via

10. “Ninety Minutes in Tsim Sha Tsui” by Susan Blumberg-Kason

A stroll through this neighborhood in Hong Kong transports Susan right back to the days when she was still the “Good Chinese Wife” to her husband from Wuhan, and all of the challenges she faced back then. While you’re waiting for Susan’s book to come out in late July (titled, of course, Good Chinese Wife), this essay is the perfect introduction to what I’m calling the AMWF memoir of the year.

(photo by Boff Hiroshi via

11. “Here Comes the Sun” by Leza Lowitz

Not every country and culture encourages adoption, including China…and Japan. That’s where Leza and Shogo, her Japanese husband, decide pursue this unconventional pathway to parenthood. It’s a tale of determination, silver linings, and what happens when a little boy suddenly becomes a new ray of sunshine in your life. And if you enjoy this essay, watch for Leza’s forthcoming memoir which covers her adoption experience.

Guo Jian and Ember Swift (photo by Luna Zhang)

12. “Chinese Stonewalls” by Ember Swift

Going abroad has a way of teaching us new things about ourselves. For Ember, who had only ever been with women, falling for a man (Guo Jian, the lead singer of Long Shen Dao) takes her by surprise in Beijing, and eventually pulls her into a life she never imagined for herself. Anyone who has followed Ember’s writing will enjoy the beautiful and life-changing story of how she came to be the queer girl who got married in China.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up your copy of How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? today and get swept away by these and the many other outstanding stories!

P.S.: On Facebook? Follow How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? now!

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?

Following Her Heart To Asia At 45+: Interview With Janet Brown

Tone Deaf in Bangkok by Janet BrownIt’s never too late to follow your heart to Asia. Just ask American writer Janet Brown, who went to Bangkok at age 45 to teach English and ended up falling in love with her newfound home (and, for a brief time, a Thai local). She captured this experience in her memoir Tone Deaf in Bangkok, which reads like a valentine to the city and Thailand itself, the country where she feels most at home.

Then Janet returns to Bangkok at 60 and wonders: could she still remain closely connected to her two sons in Seattle and live happily in Thailand at the same time? That’s the question at the heart of her second memoir titled Almost Home, a book where she also explores the possibility of putting down roots in three other Asian locales — Beijing, Hong Kong and Penang.

Not surprisingly, while Janet currently calls Seattle, Washington home, she has just returned to Asia this year for some traveling and hopes to continue her love affair with the continent.

I’m delighted to introduce you to Janet Brown and her writing through this interview. Besides Tone Deaf in Bangkok and Almost Home, Janet is also the author of the forthcoming book Light and Silence: Growing Up in My Mother’s Alaska, which will be out September 1, 2014. You can follow her writer’s notebook at Tone Deaf in Thailand.


You’re currently in Hong Kong and have plans to return to Thailand. It must be exciting to return to two places that feel like second homes to you and reunite with close friends there. What does it feel like to be back?

Coming back to this part of Asia is always like leaving one life to step into another. It’s exhilarating and joyful and a tiny bit exhausting at first, because to enter one life you have to be prepared to completely leave the other, if only for a little while. I think we call this jetlag, but it’s really the effects of time travel.

As you chronicled in Tone Deaf in Bangkok, you fell in love with your Thai language tutor, who was much younger than you. Did your attraction to him surprise you and if so, how?

When I first met the man I fell in love with in Bangkok, I didn’t even think we’d be friends. He was so conservative and quiet, but that turned out to be a professional mask that covered the face of a rebel. I fought the attraction as it grew, telling myself it was one-sided and absurd, concentrating on the work of learning Thai and getting to know the person who was teaching me to speak it. Because of the age difference between us, I was hesitant right up until the moment that he first kissed me.

Almost Home by Janet BrownWhat did you learn from this brief romance? And what did it feel like to see him years later, as you recalled in your book Almost Home?

I learned that love takes many forms and can be expressed in ways that don’t depend upon a sexual relationship. After our physical intimacy ended, we continued a close and loving friendship up until his death. We met each time I came to Thailand on vacation and stayed in touch through email and photographs. I urged him to marry the woman who became his wife and celebrated the birth of their daughter. Even so, when he first brought his family to see me after I moved back to Bangkok and they came on vacation from Italy, it was much more difficult than I had expected. Although we had become friends, the underpinning of that relationship was still the memory of bodies in a dark room, laughing.

Perhaps the greatest gift he gave me was coming to see me without his family the very last time I saw him, ten months before he died. The bond between us was very strong and very tangible; I feel a deep and inerasable loneliness now that he is no longer in the world.

Where will you spend Chinese New Year? What are your plans?

I’ll be in Bangkok this Chinese New Year, as I was three years ago, on Yaowarat Road in Chinatown as the Lunar New Year celebrations began. It was wildly crowded and I left after an hour of walking and staring. I’d left my phone at home and when I entered my apartment, it rang. “I saw you in Chinatown a couple of hours ago. Why didn’t you answer your phone?” The voice at the other end of the line didn’t surprise me. We always found each other in unlikely circumstances, from the moment we first met. Now I find him in unexpected places, with memories that are so strong that they blot out the world for a minute and once again I’m in another life.

As someone who found a new life, love and adventure in Asia over the age of 45, you’re truly an inspiration. What advice do you have for women over 45 who want to follow in your footsteps, including dating men in Asia?

Janet Brown
Janet Brown

I think women in their forties now are much more open to adventure than their counterparts were twenty years ago. But to those who think they have to settle into a lackluster middle age, I urge them to take a risk and explore different ways of living—and loving. Skydive, damn it.

Author of Tone Deaf in Bangkok and Almost Home, Janet has a third book, Light and Silence, coming out in 2014. She keeps a writer’s notebook at

Tom Carter Interview – CHINA: Portrait of a People

If you know Unsavory Elements — the anthology published earlier this year which includes my essay, “Red Couplets” — chances are you know Tom Carter as well. He edited the anthology and contributed his own essay.

But prior to his “unsavory” endeavors, he became known for his book CHINA: Portrait of a People. This collection of photographs from all 33 provinces in China offers the most comprehensive view of China in book form. Tom spent two years backpacking around the country to capture these photos, which amazes me.

A San Francisco, California native, Tom has been hailed as  “one of China’s foremost explorers” by The World of Chinese magazine. You can buy CHINA: Portrait of a People and Unsavory Elements on, and also follow Tom Carter at his website and on Facebook. For more information on Tom’s work, see his photo gallery on the Atlantic, this video on ChinaFile, and an article he wrote for the Huffington Post.

In this interview, Tom talks about CHINA: Portrait of a People — and shares some of his favorite photographs as well.


(photo by Tom Carter)

It’s clear that you have a great passion for China. Could you talk about how the experience of photographing your journey around the country changed your own perspective on the country?

To be completely candid, prior to coming to China my estimation of the Chinese was not very high.  As a San Francisco City native growing up in North America’s largest Chinese community, I found Chinese immigrants to be rather aloof and unapproachable.  They didn’t seem to “mix” well in our Great American Melting Pot, which in turn validated the Caucasian community’s prejudices towards them; a kind of self-perpetuating vicious cycle.

I eventually came to China (in 2004) not out of any affinity for Chinese culture but simply because I wanted to travel and see the world, but once I got here it didn’t take long to fall in love with the place and its people.  Having immersed myself in its society, my appreciation and passion for Chinese culture far outweighed any occasional lapse in tolerance I still might have been guilty of.

(photo by Tom Carter)

Could you tell us about the most romantic place you photographed?

(photo by Tom Carter)

Gosh, I’m not sure that’s answerable; the notion of romanticism is relative to the person you are at that time.  I’ve watched my own ideas of romance and love mature over the past ten years here in China, from a swinging single American male just looking for a good time, to eventually meeting the woman who I have no doubt is my soulmate.

We were married in a rural village in the Jiangsu countryside and she recently gave birth to our son there as well, at a small public People’s hospital. So for me, that little farming village is one of the most special places in my life.  Romantic?  Depends on how you feel about peasants and pitchforks and livestock and rice fields and bamboo groves…

(photo by Tom Carter)

You brought your wife along with you during your trip. What was it like traveling together as a couple?

Tom Carter showing his camera to some new friends in China. (photo courtesy of Tom Carter)

We met in Beijing in 2005 while I was working there, but then the following year I departed to go backpacking across the entire country alone, which had been a dream of mine since I first arrived.  We stayed in touch – she even bailed me out of not a few hard situations via phone and rendezvoused at her home village over October holiday so that I could meet the parents (and like 50 other random relatives).  When I finally returned to Beijing the following year and landed my book deal (to publish CHINA: Portrait of a People) I decided to go back out on the road for another year to obtain more photos, but this time I invited her to come with me.  She quit her job, bought a backpack, and we re-traced my steps through the 33 provinces and also discovered new places together that I never would have found without her.

I think spending that much time with someone is a true test of any relationship, but for us the balance of bliss and hardship that comes with budget backpacking in a developing country seemed to bring us closer together.  We did a similar trip across all of India in 2009, a rough, brutal journey that she seemed to handle far easier than me (she’s publishing her own book about India next year).  She’s small in stature but even more of a bad-ass than this 6’4” American!  By the end of that trip there was no question in my mind that she was the woman I intended to marry.

Tell us about another fascinating couple you photographed during your travels.

(photo by Tom Carter)

In spite of China’s rapid modernization (and westernization), public displays of affection are still not very common in this country, so I was sure to steal a snapshot on the rare occasion that I spotted one, such as the uniformed highschool students sneaking a kiss behind a bus-stop billboard.

But for me the most special and personal photograph is of the elderly couple in Beijing celebrating their 55th anniversary.  I feel so blessed to have captured their embrace in that photograph – it’s not something you often see any couples let alone old folks in China do.  About a half-decade after taking that photo, that elderly couple became my in-laws (they are my wife’s grandparents) but the following year Laolao passed away, followed quickly by Laoye, whom we can presume died of a broken heart.  But they have been immortalized in the pages of this book for future generations of our family.

(photo by Tom Carter)

What message do you hope people come away with when they read your book?

(photo by Tom Carter)

I think each photograph in this book conveys its own personal message about life and humanity in China: deep-rooted traditions, the importance of family, a dwindling yet proud agrarian class, rich indigenous culture, and dire widening economic and regional disparity. But I try to let the photos speak for themselves without shoving a message down anyone’s throat, which is why I decided against narrating my journey or being too heavy-handed in the book’s captions (which some readers have actually complained about on Amazon).

But mostly I just hope the book inspires people to get out there and explore some of “real” China beyond the touristic sites and the glistening steel-and-glass skylines of its major metropolises. It’s a big, beautiful country, and the regions that aren’t getting any attention are the places that are, in my opinion, the most deserving of it.

(photo by Tom Carter)


Thanks so much to Tom for this interview! Once again, you can buy CHINA: Portrait of a People and Unsavory Elements on, and also follow Tom Carter at his website and on Facebook. For more information on Tom’s work, see his photo gallery on the Atlantic, this video on ChinaFile, and an article he wrote for the Huffington Post.

Tiffany Hawk Interview: Love Me Anyway

Tiffany Hawk, author of "Love Me Anyway"
Tiffany Hawk, author of “Love Me Anyway”

With summer vacation in full swing, for many that means air travel. If you’ve ever spent time on a plane, maybe you’ve wondered about the folks who actually serve you on the plane — the flight attendants. What is it like to be behind that beverage cart asking “Coffee or tea?” And what happens after all the safety demos, meal services, and in-flight duty-free shopping are over?

Former flight attendant Tiffany Hawk offers an insider’s perspective into the business — along with an irresistible coming-of-age story — in her debut novel, Love Me Anyway. The book centers mainly on Emily Cavenaugh, a young twentysomething woman who becomes a flight attendant to escape her humdrum small town and an abusive marriage. But much of the story explores Emily’s torrid affair with Tien, who is quite possibly one of the sexiest Asian romantic leads I’ve ever encountered in fiction. Even his accent makes you want to swoon. Think Antonio Banderas, but Asian. (Humana, humana!)

I recently interviewed Tiffany Hawk about Love Me Anywayand am excited to share that brief conversation with you.

A travel writer and writing coach, Tiffany has written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, NPR, Coast magazine, Sunset,,, National Geographic Traveler and more. Learn more about Tiffany at her website, where you can also find her blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads and Google Plus. Continue reading “Tiffany Hawk Interview: Love Me Anyway”

Dana Sachs Interview: The Secret of the Nightingale Palace

Author Dana Sachs (photo by Cornel Faddoul)

Of all the memoirs by Western women who loved Asian men (and wrote about it), The House on Dream Street by Dana Sachs remains one of my favorites. The writing is exquisite, but more importantly she shares her own vulnerabilities on the page and becomes one of the most delightful narrators I’ve ever encountered.

So imagine my excitement when I discovered that Dana came out with a new novel this year called The Secret of the Nightingale Palace featuring not one, but two stories about Asian men and white women falling in love. The romance at the heart of this novel — which relates to its intriguing title — just stole my heart away. Plus, the book explores a side of World War II that we all too often forget — the US internment of Japanese Americans.

I’m thrilled and honored to have this opportunity to interview Dana Sachs about The Secret of the Nightingale Palace.

Dana is also the author of  the novel If You Lived Here and the nonfiction narrative The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam, and co-authored the book Two Cakes Fit for a King: Folktales from Vietnam along with Nguyen Nguyet Cam and Bui Hoai MaiBoth The House on Dream Street and If You Lived Here were chosen as Book Sense Picks.

You can learn more about Dana by visiting her website, her Facebook fan page, or her Twitter stream. Continue reading “Dana Sachs Interview: The Secret of the Nightingale Palace”

Review of “Kissing Outside the Lines” by Diane Farr in AMWW Mag

Kissing Outside the Lines by Diane FarrAMWW Magazine just recently posted my book review of Kissing Outside the Lines: A True Story of Love and Race and Happily Ever After by Diane Farr.

I mentioned this book last month in a list of memoirs by Western women who love other Asian men. But I really felt the book deserved a review of its own. Kissing Outside the Lines could become the go-to guide for any women who happen to date Asian men and live in a Western country like the US; her experiences with Korean-American Seung Yong Chung cover everything a couple might face:

  • Confronting prejudice and racism
  • Dealing with family and parents (on both sides)
  • Learning more about his Asian culture
  • Planning a cross-cultural/international wedding (they end up having two weddings — one in South Korea, one in the US)

I also think this book can inspire Asian men out there still looking for love — as I said in my review, “who says that Asian men can’t land babelicious former MTV hosts?” In fact, cvaguy, one of my longtime commenters, also gave this book a thumbs up in a comment. I agree with him — this is a smart book written by a very smart woman.

Here’s a snippet from my review:

When Diane Farr first spotted her future Korean American husband from the dance floor, she actually “took both index fingers and pulled on my eyelids, making the international sign for ‘Yes, Charlie Chan…I mean you,’” to signal him over.

This is the first of many cringe-worthy moments in my book review of “Kissing Outside the Lines” between her and a guy she first dubs “the Giant Korean.” (I’m not kidding.)

Who would expect that this same white woman would end up writing about her relationship with a Korean man in her memoir entitled “Kissing Outside the Lines” — one that explores the idea of interracial/interethnic/interfaith relationships as a whole?

Or, for that matter, that she would do it with an intelligence and sensitivity you wouldn’t imagine from a woman who once used a “slant-eye” reference in a pickup scenario.

Read the full review here. And check out Kissing Outside the Lines here.

Book Review: Electric Voices and Stinky Tofu by MandMX

Electric Voices and Stinky Tofu by MandMX
Electric Voices and Stinky Tofu, the first book by MandMX, brings the comics to China, through bumbling, "innocent abroad" situations hilariously told in Chinese and English

With the popularity of Manga and artists like Crumb, it was only a matter of time before comics went to China. — billed as “The One and Only Chinese/English Comic Strip on the web!” — has celebrated (and poked fun at) life in China for foreigners and Chinese since 2008, in a uniquely bilingual comic with MandMX’s signature bug-eyed, and often seemingly paranoid, characters doing and saying the things we only imagined or kept hush hush.

I wonder how that character must feel now, knowing that MandMX are taking him and his crazy foreigner-in-China world to print — in their first book titled Electric Voices and Stinky Tofu.

These comics do so much more to put the reader right back in China, Continue reading “Book Review: Electric Voices and Stinky Tofu by MandMX”