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Lions Roar : September 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2011 20 country in the world.” Whatever you want to say—whatever it is— you can’t really say it unless you have some knowledge of the country. And, just like any place, China’s past is part of its present. There’s something important about knowing what happened in the past because history does repeat itself. There are places in the world right now where people are starving on a mass scale, and do we in the rest of the world do much about it? Not really. After all these years of communism in China, how much of Bud- dhism still remains there? After Mao died, people gradually started going back to traditional beliefs. It took a little while—it wasn’t an overnight thing. But if you go to a Buddhist temple in China now, you will see people making offerings, bowing, and lighting incense. Younger people too. In your fiction there aren’t many references to Buddhism. Do you personally have any connection or experience with Buddhism? My family is Chinese American, and was very traditional in the sense that they borrowed a little from Maoism, old folk tradi- tions, Buddhism, and whatever other things were from their area, Guangdong province. Of course, there are Chinese people who are 100-percent Buddhist or 100-percent Christian. But, I think, the vast majority of Chinese borrow from everything. You grew up in a bicultural family. How did that affect you? More and more, I’m trying to explain to myself who I am and how I fit in. Most of us don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “Who am I and how do I fit into the larger society because I’m in a biracial, bicultural family?” You just don’t think about it. I didn’t realize how much I’d been affected until writing the nonfiction book about my family, On Gold Mountain. In the prologue, I wrote a line that said something like, “Even though I have red hair and freckles, I feel Chinese in my heart.” Of everything I wrote in that book, that’s the one line that people kept coming back to. They asked, “What did you mean by that?” So all of a sudden I had to really think about it in a way I never had before. I’ve always been a little bit of an outsider. I don’t look like every- one else in my family, and when I go to Los Angeles’ Chinatown it looks very familiar to me—I know every street, I know a lot of the people—but I also know that a lot of the time people look at me and think, “She doesn’t belong here.” And when I go to China, in many ways it’s like a larger version of Chinatown. I get it. I under- stand it. Yet I know that because of how I look I’d never be com- pletely accepted there. So I’ve always been a bit of an outsider and I always will be, and I think that’s the perfect thing for a writer. Do you have any ideas for a future book? I would love to write about Kuan Yin and actually follow her path. It would be a fictional autobiography. I love the idea of the goddess who hears the cries of the world. My editor said, “Who’s the villain? Who are her friends?” And I said, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll find them.” ♦ Accepting applications for fall 2012 www.stjohnscollege.edu/GI/EC/EC.shtml 505-984-6083 A Practice for the Mind: Master of Arts in Eastern Classics at St. John’s College EXPAND your practice by reading classical texts from India, China, and Japan. JOIN lifelong learners in engaged discussions of original texts. STUDY either Sanskrit or Classical Chinese. EXPERIENCE conversation as a challenging and fulfilling practice for the spirit.