Category Archives: Tracing China’s Past

Old Mr. Ma – Cara Tells a Story of Home for The Storytellers Project

As many of you know, I’m writing a historical novel inspired by family stories my Mexican-Chinese grandma used to tell me: tales of secret immigrants and mixed races, family loyalties and betrayals. I’m also involved in the world of live personal storytelling, and The Storytellers Project recently invited me to share a true story about my search for my ancestral past. Here’s a video of that virtual show on the theme of Home. You’ll see my 9-minute story at 19:34. Warning: In the story, I mention sexual abuse, though not in a graphic way.

Old Mr. Ma – Cara at The Moth GrandSlam in L.A.

At The Moth GrandSlam on July 24 at L.A.’s historic Regent Theatre, I was honored to share the stage with some of the best storytellers around as we told stories on the night’s theme: Identity Crisis. Please check out this 6-minute video of me performing Old Mr. Ma, the story of my grandma, me, and my search for her father’s Chinese roots.

About The GrandSlam: These events always feature 10 storytellers who have won local StorySlams. Each tells a five-minute story to a live audience in a friendly competition for one of The Moth’s greatest honors: GrandSlam Champ. On our night, 500-plus people listened to us share the most vulnerable, unusual, ridiculous moments we’ve spent seeking answers to the question: who am I? It was a thrilling night of people connecting through the power of story.

About The Moth: “The Moth’s mission is to promote the art and craft of storytelling and to honor and celebrate the diversity and commonality of human experience.” Put simply, The Moth is: true stories, told live, without notes. If you haven’t yet, I recommend listening to The Moth Radio Hour or The Moth Podcast. Beware: it’s addicting.


HONG KONG TRADITIONS: A History Museum, High Tea, and Modern Lights

If you’ve been following my series, Tracing China’s Past, the following is a look at the final day of my first South China research trip for my novel. Tortillas from The Chungking Café will be loosely based on the history of my Mexican-Chinese grandmother.

I learned “The Hong Kong Story” at the Hong Kong Museum of History. The elaborate, enormous exhibits included an actual fishing junk.

April 14, 2008 – Hong Kong

Yesterday, on my last full day in China, my translator Zhu Zhu and I learned “The Hong Kong Story” at the Hong Kong Museum of History. Our jaws really did drop in reaction to the elaborate, enormous exhibits, which included: an actual fishing junk, a recreation of a Punti ancestral hall, a bridal sedan chair, an entire Hong Kong store that was in business from the late 19th to late 20th century, and a recreation of a traditional Cantonese teahouse of the sort that would have been popular when my great-grandfather Ma Bing Sum was a young man preparing to leave China for America.

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GHOST VILLAGE, LIVE MARKET: Old Culture in Modern Hong Kong

I’ve taken two trips to China to do research for a historical novel. Tortillas from the Chungking Café will be loosely based on the family history of my Chinese-Mexican grandmother. Here are more of my journal notes on Hong Kong, as I continue “Tracing China’s Past”:

April 13, 2008
Hong Kong, China

We visited a place that retained some of the traditional beauty of old Hong Kong: Hoi Pa Village and Tak Wah Park.

Yesterday my translator ZhuZhu and I took the Metro to Tsuen Wan, one of Kowloon’s outlying housing estate districts. Don’t let the term “housing estate” fool you; in Tsuen Wan, as elsewhere in Kowloon, most people live in tiny apartments in dismal, repetitive high-rises. However, we visited a place that retained a vestige of the traditional beauty of old Hong Kong: Hoi Pa Village and Tak Wah Park.

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As I continued my quest to Trace China’s Past…

Hong Kong
April 12, 2008

Yesterday my translator Zhu Zhu and I returned to Hong Kong Island for another historic walking tour, because my feet just weren’t sore enough yet. This time we walked to the old Central Police Station on Hollywood Road, built in 1919. The building shares a block with the former Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison. Because Hong Kong began its British colonial history as a bustling port of international trade, it attracted many pirates. Hollywood Road was once famous for public executions — beheadings mostly.

Hollywood Road was once famous for public executions — beheadings mostly.

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TORTURE & CHOPSTICKS – My Aunt was a Chinese Prisoner of War

Back to my promise to tell you about my search for family history in China — which I haven’t forgotten, though my recent book release has kept me quite busy. Here’s one of the more unusual rabbit holes I jumped into as I tried to chase a piece of my great aunt’s past… as a prisoner of war. Out of respect for her privacy, let’s call her Aunt Darla.

Hong Kong, China
April 11, 2008

I don’t know how difficult it would be to break out of a Hong Kong prison, but breaking into one is pretty much impossible. Yesterday, my translator Zhu Zhu and I took a bus from Hong Kong Central to the small beach town of Stanley on the far reaches of the island. We got off near the entrance to Stanley Prison. The prison was built in 1937, and by 1942 it was taken over by the Japanese after they invaded Hong Kong. Sometime between 1942 and 1945, my Aunt Darla, her fiancé, his family, and my other aunt’s husband Nippy were held prisoner at Stanley Internment Camp.

Sometime between 1942 and 1945, my aunt, her fiancé, his family, and my other aunt’s husband Nippy were held prisoner at Stanley Internment Camp.

According to second-hand stories: Darla and Nip had gone to the harbor to see off Darla’s fiancé and his family, who were moving to Macau. Her fiancé’s dad owned hunting rifles, which he tried to hide in a mattress to take with them. The Japanese found the rifles and accused everyone in the group of collaborating with the Portuguese, since Macau was a Portuguese colony. They were all arrested and thrown in Stanley Prison.

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STAIRWAYS TO HISTORY – A Change of View on Hong Kong Island

I’ve been busy working on my digital story project for the Biennial of the Americas, with Lighthouse Writers Workshop and PlatteForum. But I haven’t forgotten my promise to tell you about my two research trips to China in search of family history. So, let’s see, where was I…

Hong Kong, China
April 10, 2008

Yesterday afternoon, Fiona Zhu and I went on a brief walking tour, to find the Hong Kong Island of British Colonial times, and the Hong Kong Island where my Uncle Roy witnessed the fiery arrival of World War II.

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