Two and a half years in an American
public school changed my life forever. I was fifteen
when I arrived at Sequoia High in Redwood City, California.
It was 1967, the year my parents took my four siblings
and me to the U.S. so that we could have the best college
education. Before then, we had been living mostly in
Having traveled half the world to go to school, I dived
right away into my studies. To my shock and horror,
I discovered that in an American public school, a student’s
popularity was often in inverse proportion with his
grades. Being a foreigner and straight A go-getter,
I was an outcast. My social life consisted of hanging
out with teachers after school and doing extra-credit
work (which endeared me to my classmates even more).
One teacher who always kept an open door was Mrs. Bradley,
my English teacher. On the pretext of discussing books,
I went to her after school every day.
It should have come as no surprise that I majored in
English at U.C. Berkeley. After graduating, I went back to
Hong Kong. Journalism became the outlet
for my urge to write. AFP, the French news agency, employed
me. I took on feature writing and produced my share
of China watching. In 1976, when the Asian Wall Street
Journal started operations in Hong Kong, I joined the
young and dynamic pioneer staff. It was a privilege
to participate in the birth of a newspaper.
Two years later, personal and career factors led me
to apply for graduate studies in the U.S. The School
of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University
accepted me. Living in D.C. where the school was located, I had
the opportunity to intern at the State Department. After
obtaining my master's degree in International Affairs,
I went to work for the Congressional Quarterly. Six
months later, the World Bank hired me as a “Young
Professional,” the title for a management-track
recruit. At the time, China had just become a member
of the World Bank. My Chinese proficiency was an advantage.
For six years, I traveled to my home territory, East
Asia, to assess Bank-financed projects. In a spurt of
adventurousness, I transferred to East Africa, specifically
to work on Somalia. The excitement that awaited me went
far beyond my expectations. I watched the country explode
into civil war, some say despite western aid, others
say because of it. The Somali tragedy moved me deeply,
and I began searching for answers.
The old writing bug bit me again. To understand something,
I have to write about it. In 2000, when I was no longer
with the World Bank, I published a spy thriller, Nightfall
in Mogadishu. It was my way of coming to terms with
what had happened in Somalia. My second book, Journey
across the Four Seas, is about my mother’s life.
I wrote it after my elderly parents moved in with me.
To take care of them, I needed to come to terms with
who they were.
I now live in Northern Virginia with my husband, a former
colleague of the World Bank.