History of my novel, Friday 10:03 (Part 13)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

(This series begins here.)

So it was my plan to rent a garret in Paris, practice my French, and write my novel.

The day of my last final, in June, 1972, I bought a one-way ticket as far as London, for September 16. I intended to spend most of the summer writing, with two ten-day breaks to volunteer at UCLA’s summer camp for underprivileged kids, UniCamp. I planned one session for elementary-aged diabetics, and a second for the kids I’d been doing ESL with in Chinatown.

What I hadn’t planned on for that summer was falling in love.

Vicki and I had been friends for 18 months. We'd even spent one day together at the beach (see Part 8), but I graduated from UCLA not expecting to see her again. However, for the Chinatown kids I was registering for UniCamp, I needed to interview the parents and I had one Spanish speaking family on my list. In those days I had some fumbling French and the barest beginnings of Japanese. But Vicki was fluent in Spanish and I’d left UCLA the last day regretting that I’d never had a chance for a proper goodbye.

We arranged to go together on a Saturday morning for the interviews. Events of the day conspired so that we had about ten hours to talk about deep things, and sometime during that day, I caught a glimpse of possibilities I’d previously ruled out. Long-story-short, we spent the summer investigating those possibilities. I did my summer camps, but I got very little writing done.

And when she accompanied me to the airport on September 16th, I told her I’d be home for Christmas.

History of my novel, Friday 10:03 (Part 12)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

(This series begins here.)

It has been almost three months since I posted Part 11 of this series, and three weeks since I even mentioned Friday 10:03. That is fitting. Over the four decades that I have been working on this book, I have several times gone years without writing a word.

During these three months, I actually have made considerable progress on the book itself. I reached 75,000 words (about 250 pages, probably 70% of the finished novel) and turned that over to David Anthony Durham, my thesis chair. I also had three shorter sections critiqued by other writers at Mount Hermon, and pitched the book to three different editors and two agents. David got back to me with a very thorough critique (Oy vey! Have I got a job for me!), and we agreed that rather than trying to first finish and then rewrite the whole book (a thesis only needs to be 120 pages), I would rewrite a portion of what I already have, be done with the thesis, and finish the novel with my degree in hand.

But now, with the current events updated, our history must jump back to 1972, the year I graduated from UCLA. I did not even bother to walk in the ceremonies. Instead, I walked out of my last final and went directly to a travel agent. There I bought a one-way ticket to Europe. It was my plan to rent a garret in Paris, practice my French, and take a year to write my novel.

Little did I know.

Great Earthquakes I Have Known: Quake #4, China, 2004

Friday, April 11, 2008

Zhaotong City, Yunnan, August 10, 2004, 6:26 p.m. (5.6 Richter).

That summer, I taught a three week English class at South West China Normal University, at Beibei, Chongqing. When it ended, I took a vacation into Yunnan with some of my new friends from the university. I asked to put Zhaotong on our itinerary, even though few tourists consider it important. I wanted to see what was left from the work of Samuel “Bó GéLǐ” Pollard (柏格理), a British missionary who lived there from the 1880’s until 1914. I once read an abridged version of his diary, and was deeply impressed. In the afternoon, local officials took us to see Pollard’s legacy.

The school that started in his home had grown into a very large and modern-looking institution.

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The forty-bed hospital was sparsely equipped but professional looking.
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(No doubt, by that evening, it was full.)

The church displayed the distinctive beauty of its heavily Miao (Hmong) membership.
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My English-speaking Miao tour guide was a student at the seminary. Both the church and the seminary operate under the “Three Self” government authority.

The one building I was not allowed to go into was the crumbling two story building where Pollard ministered (downstairs) and had his bedroom and office (upstairs). In Pollard’s day, construction was done with mud bricks, and it was so old the officials were worried about it falling down.
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Later, we drove outside the city to the compound of Long Yun (龙云, 1884-1962), the warlord/governor who ruled Yunnan from 1927-1948. This had once been a very elegant estate, with dozens of beautiful buildings.
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These also had been constructed of mud bricks, but their thick walls had been surfaced with fine tiles. The buildings were falling apart and had been abandoned, but were still very pleasant to view.

I even found some spiders to photograph.
The Chinese have investigated the possibility that animal behavior changes just before an earthquake and can be used for predictive purposes. If this spider was trying to tell me something, I missed it.

We enjoyed visiting with the crowd of local people who took an interest in us.
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Then we returned to town in our taxi.

Sometime during that trip, the earthquake hit. It killed four people, injured another 594, collapsed 6,185 houses and damaged 21,867, leaving 126,000 people homeless. Yet riding in the taxi, we never felt anything.

We only realized there had been an earthquake when we arrived back at our hotel. Dozens of people came running out of the tall building to escape one of the aftershocks. Later, we went to an internet café. While sending emails to say I was okay, I was aware of several aftershocks. I never actually saw any damage and only realized the severity of the quake after we had moved on. We had to be on the train at 4:00 the next morning, so I have no idea how Pollard’s original building or Long Yun’s fared in the quake. I may have been among the last people to see some of these historic relics standing.

So from this quake, the seismological lesson is that whether the spiders warn you of the coming quake, or not, take a taxi if you possibly can.