A TIME OF GHOSTS: I HOPE YOU WILL READ IT

ATOG

Many of you probably do not know that I wrote a book with a long-time friend of mine, the account of his years growing up in China. It begins before the Communist Revolution and continues into the terrible upheaval that was known euphemistically as the “Great Cultural Revolution.” He related it to me in many conversations, and I made a book of it.

If you are like me, you probably have little interest in politics but a lot of interest in human rights and freedom of thought and of speech. What would you do if your rights were ripped away? What if you could not speak freely, if you had to watch every word uttered to another person, and found you had to be wary of what you said even to many who were supposed to be friends? What if such a simple act as complaining about the heat of the sun on your neck while working was taken by those in authority as treasonous, and you were punished accordingly? What if your house was invaded, your belongings stolen, all with government approval, and you were forcibly shipped far into a remote, strange and barren countryside?

I found that my friend had personally experienced the living hell that China became in those days. He learned firsthand what it is like to exist under a totalitarian regime that permits no dissension, punishes at will, and practices the most blatant forms of mind control.

Nonetheless, in spite of the darkness of those years, in spite of the suffering and betrayal, on his long odyssey through China he encountered rare people now and then, individuals like sparks of light in the shadows, people who helped him to endure.

I hope that those of you who have devices on which to read digital books will read this account. Because I want as many to read it as possible, I made it available at a deliberately very low cost through such places as Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Ebookit.com, etc. I think it will be quite different than anything you have previously encountered.

The book is called A Time of Ghosts. You will find it listed under both my friend’s name (Hok-Pang Tang) and mine (David Coomler) If you read it, you will know why I consider it to be a very significant and important story of one man adrift amid a sea of sorrows in Communist China, one story that has survived out of countless personal stories of that period that have not.

It took a long, long time and a great deal of work to write this book. I devoted so much time and labor to it because I felt the story of Hok-Pang Tang’s life to be not only of historical significance but also a remarkable and enthralling tale of human endurance, a story that should not be lost.

I hope you will read it. And after you read it, I would very much like to know your reaction. If you check the entry on Amazon.com, you will see that it has received excellent reader reviews.

David

COMMENTS:

TranslationCraft says:
November 23, 2014 at 10:39 pm
Hi David — I bought this book last year when you first announced it and I’m glad to see you reminding us about it again.

This is a stunning piece of work. I even cried in some places, imagining the sense of entrapment Hok-Pang felt in a surreal world where all values are turned inside out.

I am so grateful that you wrote down Hok-Pang’s life story for the world to read. I think it deserves the widest possible audience; perhaps there are other on-line magazines or blog that would be interested in reviewing it. His story should not be ignored, not just because of the light it sheds on a crucial period of history that was long shrouded from Western eyes, but also because of the human dimension of tragedy, endurance, despair, and heroic hope.

Thank you, David, for your generosity in laboring to put together “A Time of Ghosts” and making it available to all of us. I know you put enormous time and energy into preserving Hok-Pang’s story; please be assured that it was not in vain, either for his memory or our enlightenment.

Catherine Howard

P.S. Readers with ordinary computers or laptops can download the digital book as well; all the major book vendors now provide free software to do so, meaning those without Kindles or Nooks or iPads etc. can access it just as easily.

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A TIME OF GHOSTS: AVAILABLE IN DIGITAL FORMAT

Dear readers,

I am happy to report that those of you who have been waiting to read my book A Time of Ghosts will, as of today, now be able to read it quite inexpensively, and in most any standard digital mode.

A Time of Ghosts was included in the “30 Best Books on China” reader recommendations in the Guardian (U.K.) newspaper, which had this summary:

The true story of a child who endured the earth-shaking transition of China to communism and found himself inundated in a sea of puzzling propaganda and prejudice. Then, growing to manhood and facing a tremendous internal struggle, he finally embarked on a risky, adventurous, and remarkably revealing odyssey to find a door out of the mental prison that China under communism had become.”

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/table/2011/jun/30/best-books-china-recommendations)

TGcover

It was just made available on ebookit.com for $3.99 in the following formats:

PDF for reading on your PC or on a Mac;
EPUB for reading on iPad, Nook and most Ebook readers;
Mobi for reading on Amazon Kindle

Here is the link:

https://www.ebookit.com/books/0000002860/A-Time-of-Ghosts.html

Here is a list of the major sites where it is available (in addition to other online retailers), with direct URLs to the book that you may cut and paste to your browser:

This is for people who want to go directly to it without searching. They can cut and paste the URL of their choice:

Ebookit.com (All major digital formats):
http://www.ebookit.com/books/0000002860/A-Time-of-Ghosts.html

Amazon.com (for Kindle; click on the book and it will bring up a couple of very favorable reviews):
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=%22a+time+of+ghosts%22+coomler

BarnesandNoble.com (for Nook):

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/time-of-ghosts-hok-pang-tang/1103302498?ean=2940016706030

For iPad, (etc.) use ebookit .com (see above) format dropdown box, or use your iBooks app.

Ebookstore (for Sony Ereader):
https://ebookstore.sony.com/ebook/hok-pang-tang/a-time-of-ghosts/_/R-400000000000001050736

Google books:
https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=UY-H0OLKaN8C

Kobobooks.com (for Kobo):
http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/A-Time-of-Ghosts/book-IRFFLJjalESkualZQPA72g/page1.html?s=gOXStatp9Ea3DyGw0y7ZaA&r=1

As you may recall, I wrote this book over a long period of time through personal conversations with my (now deceased) physician and long-time friend Hok-Pang Tang.

Here is the “squiggle” on it:

Description: A Time of Ghosts is the exciting and absorbing account of Dr. Hok-Pang Tang, who was born into a wealthy and prominent Chinese family in the years before the Communist takeover, but whose family suffered a drastic fall with the coming of the the new regime.

It offers a vivid personal insight not only into a traumatic period in Chinese history, but also a rare and revealing glimpse at the “supernatural” subculture that survived even under Communism.

A Time of Ghosts follows Dr. Tang’s life from his overindulged childhood on through the bitter shocks of the transition to Communism, and finally to his repeated attempts to escape from a soul-destroying political and social system. It is a true personal history that reads like an adventure novel.

Because of its historical and human significance, I have long wanted to make this book easily and inexpensively available, and the digital format has enabled me to do that.  My personal preference is for printed books, but I know that many now use the digital format through one device or another to save both space and money.

If you happen to read the book, I would very much like to hear your reactions to it.  To make a comment (all comments here are private, unless requested otherwise), just click on the “comment” button on this page.

If you would like to see a “typed-text” sample chapter, you may go to my earlier posting here:

https://hokku.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/a-time-of-ghosts-chapter-1-the-house-of-sorrows/

David

A TIME OF GHOSTS: CHAPTER 1 — THE HOUSE OF SORROWS

Dear Readers.

My latest book, A Time of Ghosts, is now available as an ebook, which should make it much less expensive than the previous “print” edition.  See the bottom of this page for details.

Here is a preview chapter.  It is copyrighted, so if you want to use any of it elsewhere, please ask first.

CHAPTER ONE:  THE HOUSE OF SORROWS

I was born in the doorway between two worlds. The old China — the China of emperors and mandarins, of bound feet and marvels — had long been dying but was not yet dead. The new China — its coming anticipated with both hope and fear — was not yet born.

It happened in the great house of many rooms that the Emperor himself had given my grandfather many years before — a place where only the faintest of curtains separated the living and the dead.

My first memory is of ghosts. I was three or four years old. Near sunset on a spring day I went alone into my parents’ bedroom to use the chamber pot. As I sat there, a sudden chill filled the air, and I was seized by a mingled sensation of emptiness and loneliness. At the same time I felt someone watching me from behind, though my back was to the wall. I turned my head to the right and looked over my shoulder at the surface of whitewashed brick.

Out of the flat wall popped two figures in the flowing garments of a hundred years before. They passed behind me, floating half-in, half-out of the wall, in total silence. I jerked my head to the left as they reached that side. Yes, there were two of them. They were facing the wall now, and the one nearest reached back and out toward me, gesturing and grasping like a woman urging a hesitant child to take her hand and follow.

I screamed in horror and ran from the room shrieking and weeping. My family pretended not to believe me. My aunt, in spite of my terror, led me back into the room, where nothing was visible but two large, black spiders on the wall. “See there!” she laughed, “Only two harmless spiders, and you imagined that they were strange creatures!” But there was uneasiness in her forced ridicule. Though I was only a small child, I was not timid. Spiders did not scare me. And I knew it was not spiders that I had seen.

I soon fell ill with a burning fever, and a drastic change came over me. I often lost consciousness, but conscious or unconscious, my mouth muttered on and on in a voice not mine — a voice with the depth and vocabulary of an adult.

My father was beside himself, and took me to a well-known Chinese doctor who had studied Western medicine. Trained in the science of Europe, he examined me carefully but found no reason for the mysterious fever. Finally he admitted that he had never seen anything like it, and could do nothing. He did, however, refer my father to an odd individual schooled in traditional Chinese herbal medicine. And he told my parents that he had verified the Herb Doctor’s trustworthiness in the following way: He visited him as an ordinary patient complaining of illness, and requested an examination and a prescription. The Herb Doctor performed a thorough check, and declared his system to be in harmonious balance with nothing wrong. The Western-trained doctor, however, demanded a prescription for his “illness.” The Herb Doctor refused. The patient then requested a re-examination, but the result was the same — nothing was wrong, and no prescription was given. On further insistence, a third examination was performed, and still nothing was found amiss, and the Herb Doctor absolutely refused to prescribe for a non-existent problem.

Had the herbalist been a fake or unreliable, he would have taken up brush and ink to write a prescription, and would have charged a sizable fee. It would have been an easy thing to do at the urging of an irritated patient. But he was tested three times and preserved his honesty. That is why the “Western” doctor felt confident in recommending him to my parents.

I was quickly taken to the Herb Doctor’s modest home, where he received his patients. His name was Ch’ing Yu Chou, and he was striking and unusual in appearance. He wore the robes of a Chinese scholar, yet in a careless manner. The backs of his shoes had been pushed down through slipping them on and off repeatedly, until they flattened permanently and flapped like slippers when he walked.

By conventional standards his face was ugly — the skin dark and heavily wrinkled, the jowls and chin sagging like those of a dog. His head was pointed and bald, except for a few wisps of hair that clung to the edges. His two front teeth were unusually long, and set amid an unpleasant assortment of neglected and discolored neighbors. That remarkable head perched atop an extremely skinny body.

He examined me intently. My fever, he concluded, was the result of the terror of my experience. My soul had flown from the body, and a ghost had taken its place. That explained the strange adult voice and words coming from the small mouth of a child. It was time for the treatment. He reached out a clawed hand with nails some three inches long, and dipping an extended nail first into one small bottle and removing some powder, then into another from which he extracted a different powder, he prepared a mixture that he folded into a small paper packet. He said it was to be administered with the milk of a human, obtained from a woman who sold her own for such purpose.

The unusual medicine was fed to me while I was unconscious, still gabbling on in a man’s voice. As I lay writhing, head filled with nightmares, I suddenly screamed loudly. At that moment the invading presence left me and I felt the intense heat of the fever rapidly dissipated by a refreshing coolness that spread slowly throughout my body. The strange doctor had cured me. My father was so overwhelmed with gratitude that he gave Ch’ing Yu Chou, the odd Herb Doctor, a permanent dwelling in our family mansion, and with it financial support and friendship for life.

* * *

Mine was not the first strange experience in that great house. My grandfather was a military general of Manchu warrior lineage. He had a violent temper, yet could be kind and softhearted. Strongly built, with broad shoulders and heavy eyebrows, he wore the traditional robe and round cap, and his long, braided pigtail hung down behind as was customary in the latter days of the Ch’ing Dynasty. His mansion, in which I spent my childhood, was a large, white-plastered brick structure with a tiled roof. It lay on the Pearl River in the northern part of the city of Canton.

I have said that the Emperor gave it to him, and though officially true, it is not the whole truth. It really came to him through the wiles of the evil old Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, the real ruler of China, whose hands were stained with the blood of many.

At that time my grandfather was part of the aristocracy in the north of China. The Imperial Court of those days was a nightmarish drama of greed and lust for power, and Tzu Hsi, like a wicked puppeteer, held strings connected to all the secret places of the Forbidden City in Peking. Even the emperor Kuang Hsu danced at her will, and when his mouth moved it was the wishes of Tzu Hsi that were heard.

My grandfather had no stomach for her black designs, and she knew it. The Empress sniffed the air constantly for the slightest whiff of revolt, and feared that my grandfather owed his allegiance more to the puppet Emperor than to her. Consequently she contrived to remove him a safe distance from the capitol. He was informed that for “years of loyalty to the Emperor” he was to be given a fine mansion in the city of Canton, far in the South.

An imperial gift could not be refused, so there was no choice but to leave Peking. Tzu Hsi thus succeeded in banishing my grandfather under the guise of imperial benevolence, but her evil plans for him did not end there. Something far more sinister was to come — the mansion. There was something very wrong with it.

My grandfather soon heard fragments of a grim story. When given to my family, the house had lain empty for some two years. Previously it had been the residence of a high official who had initially supported the wicked Dowager Empress in her plot to keep her son, the Emperor, weak and subservient. But for some reason the former owner changed allegiance, and was quickly perceived as a threat to Tzu Hsi’s power.

The Empress, who seemed to know everything whispered in the shadows, struck quickly and violently. The official was executed in Peking, and all his family in Canton –relatives, children, even servants — were given the “imperial favor” of dying at the hands of soldiers or of committing suicide as the soldiers watched.

The mansion became a scene of unspeakable gruesomeness as soldiers stabbed weeping women and children, while other unfortunates fell on their own knives, hanged themselves, or jumped to their deaths down the deep well in the inner garden. That was the house of suffering and sorrow that Tzu Hsi gave smilingly to my grandfather, knowing he had no choice but to accept.

On the day my grandfather came to officially claim the mansion, he was borne in a palanquin carried by four men. A fearsome guard with a sword led the way. At the rear came ten others, carrying household possessions.

When the procession reached the outer gate, Grandfather got out of the palanquin and prepared to ceremonially enter the house as its new master. But he took only a few steps and halted in amazement. There on the road in front of the gate was a sewer grating, and on the curbstone beside it sat two uncanny creatures, like shrunken, shriveled old men, with outsized heads on tiny bodies with unnaturally small limbs. They were no more than two and one-half feet tall. Each had a palm leaf in his hand, and with these they waved my grandfather away, as if saying “Go back! Go back! Go back!” Even stranger, he found that only he could see them.

When he recovered his composure he addressed them politely, asking leave to pass. Still they motioned him away. Finally he lost patience and pushed forward. It was as though he walked into an invisible wall. He stumbled and fell, hurting his leg. But he was, as I have said, a man of violent temper and a general, and not to be dissuaded from his path, not even by big-headed ghosts. He managed somehow to get to his feet and awkwardly limped into the house, thus completing the ceremony of ownership.

When he came to the mansion a second time, the strange creatures again blocked his path, waving him away. Having already had his pride offended, he drew a large scimitar and struck at them. He succeeded only in damaging the valuable weapon, which also had been a gift from the Emperor. To harm an imperial gift was considered exceedingly shameful, and presaged ill fortune.

Grandfather, however, being headstrong and proud, was so furious and wrought-up that he planned a great defiance of the ghosts. He bought strings of big firecrackers and brought them on his third visit. There sat the strange, wizened creatures, waving him away. He hesitated not a moment, but lit the long strings of firecrackers and threw them directly at the ghosts. There was a great volley of sharp explosions, and my grandfather walked through the smoke and smell of burnt gunpowder and entered the house in triumph.

That night he fell ill. And as he slipped into an uneasy sleep, he had a peculiar dream. The creatures from the curbstone before the gate appeared to him, saying they had tried repeatedly to warn him away from the evil house. But not only had he ignored them, he had insulted them. So now they were departing, leaving him to his fate — his son would not live to carry on his name.

The illness never completely left my grandfather. At first he tried to forget the troubling dream, but disturbing events called it repeatedly to mind. His son — the Little Master — was only some four years old when odd things began to happen around him. Servants often heard him playing with someone, yet when they checked he was always alone. As he grew older they frequently heard him talking to another as he studied, but when they peeked in, no one was there but the Little Master.

Such strange happenings played so on the mind of my grandfather that he would not leave the child alone within the house, and when they went out he was always near the boy and always carried a sword. And then Grandfather ordered the well in the inner garden filled in. Too many strange sounds had been heard coming from it — weird voices, mutterings, whispering, singing, and sighing.

Time passed, but my grandfather did not relax his vigilance. The boy, now thirteen years old, practiced martial arts daily with a sword he kept hung high on a nail. One day after practice he went to return the weapon to its place. He had to stand on a stool to reach it.

There are two versions of what happened next. One says that as he reached up to hang the sword he slipped, and the nail-head, which somehow had become sharp, caught his hand and tore the skin as he fell. The other account, told by the servant who witnessed the event, says that as the boy stretched his arm up to hang his sword, a hand reached out of the wall, grabbed the lad’s wrist, and pulled his palm onto the sharp nail. The servant screamed and reached for the boy, but the Little Master slipped off the stool, the nail ripping his hand open as he fell.

It little matters which version is more accurate. The wound became terribly infected and the boy soon died of tetanus. My grandfather’s dark dream proved true. In spite of his great sorrow, my grandfather remained defiant. The ghosts dared to take his son? Then he would have another! And so within two years he adopted a young boy born to my aunt as his own.

* * *

A Chinese proverb states that no matter how great a family may be, its wealth will not outlast three generations. The life of the Herb Doctor, Ch’ing Yu Chou, who took up residence in our mansion, exemplified that.

He was born into a family of Manchu origin, descendants of the strongly-built warrior people who rode into China on horses and took the reins of power centuries before, initiating the Ch’ing Dynasty. For three generations his family had produced big, strong sons who became generals, military killers. The third-generation general, like those before him, was powerful and imperious, and had taken many lives. But when he produced an heir, the child was born premature and weak. And though the man had many wives, no more children were born to him.

So the aging general watched with concern as the sickly boy grew into his teens. Each year it became more obvious that the son had neither the strength nor the inclination for a general’s life. The old father found himself thinking about his own life. Looking back over the years that lay behind him like withered petals, what had his wealth and power really gained for him? Once he began such thinking, he could not stop. With growing uneasiness he recalled the men he had killed with his fierce strength, and he looked again at his gentle son. What would become of the boy in this vicious world?

At that moment something changed deeply and completely in the old general. He decided to abandon his riches and authority for the tattered robes of a Buddhist monk. He would live out his remaining days in a quiet monastery, where he hoped to find peace both in this life and the next. He gave his son in adoption to a Buddhist family and set out for a distant temple. There he had his head shaved and exchanged his fine silk garments for the coarse robes of a follower of the Enlightened One.

He had taken careful thought beforehand for his son’s future, making arrangements for his education in the art of herbal medicine at another temple so that the boy would have a vocation and could make his own way in the world.  His son thus began learning as a child the skills that would later save my life.

As the gentle, quiet boy grew into a young man, he found that he liked the peace and tranquility of monastic life. He thought to become a monk. The master of the temple, however, had long watched him closely, and told him plainly that he was not of the right material. The master had rightly discerned that the general’s son was homosexual, and consequently that it would not be good for him to live shut up in a community of men, any more than it would be advisable for a young heterosexual monk to live in a community of nuns. So though the young man liked the quiet, pious life of the monastery, he could no longer remain there.

Nonetheless, when he returned to the “World of Dust,” he lived in it much like a monk. In his childhood he had been surrounded by wealth and possessions. In the monastery he learned to do without. Now he was poor. But material things held no attraction for him, and he led a very simple life. His food, like that of monks, was vegetarian.

It seemed that none of the pride and aggressiveness of former generations lived on in him. If someone stepped on his foot, it was he who apologized. His behavior was like that of the third son in the old proverb:

A father asked each of his three sons what he would do if someone were to spit in his face. The first son replied, “I would say, ‘Please don’t do it. If you do it again I will fight.’” The second son answered, “I would take out a cloth and wipe the spit from my face.” But the third son replied, “I would just forget about it and let the spit dry on my face.”

The father did not approve the first answer because it revealed that the son took offense and was aggressive. He did not entirely approve the second answer because wiping away the spit showed that it was regarded as offensive. He approved the third son’s reply because it showed that no offense was felt and even the spit was not seen as repulsive. And that is how the Herb Doctor lived his life and conducted himself in human affairs.

Though he paid little attention to the condition of his clothing and did not bathe as often as some might have thought proper, he kept the Buddhist shrine in his room immaculately clean. There were always a few fresh flowers before the images of Shakyamuni and Kuan Yin. Shakyamuni is the historical Buddha who appeared in India. Kuan Yin is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, whose name means “The One Who Hears the Cries of the World.” Sometimes the flowers were gifts from grateful patients (he charged nothing for treatment, but accepted whatever was freely given); sometimes they were simple wild flowers he happened upon in his wanderings.

He spent much time in continuous repetition of the name of the Buddha Amitabha, noting each repetition by slipping another of the one hundred and eight beads on the string through his fingers. Often he sat lost for hours in meditation, his feet resting on his thighs in the lotus posture. It must have been restful and invigorating, because in our home he was always the latest to sleep and the earliest to rise.

Strange to say, he did have a wife. She was a girl who had been bought for him when he was young. She was given the chance to marry another when he went to study in the temple, but chose not to, and when he returned to the world they were married — a marriage never physically consummated.

* * *

Before the Herb Doctor could take up residence with us, there was still the matter of the house. Life could never be peaceful in a place so infested with tormented and malicious spirits. So he made ready to cleanse it and expel the ghosts.

First he went to the front of our dwelling. There he placed two sharp swords, which hung threateningly across the entrance. Then he moved to the center of the mansion, where on the house-post he suspended an old bag with a drawstring about its opening. Next he wrote many copies of a Taoist talismanic symbol. These he hung on all the walls. After that he cut up a great deal of paper into life-sized images of soldiers. Then he brushed a poem onto paper in black, fluid characters:

Unfair things have a reason;
If there is debt, a loaner exists.
Far, far away is Heaven;
So deep, deep, is Hell.
Your spirit may go wherever it will,
But trouble not the innocent.

And then he wrote another:

Good to good,
Bad to bad;
High is high,
Low is low;
Each returns to its origin.

He had everyone leave the house, being sure to close all the bedroom doors tightly. We watched as he seated himself in an open space in the garden, mumbling and mumbling incantation-like words.  As he muttered on and on, it seemed to my astonished eyes that the paper soldiers rose and stood vigilantly beside him.

All this took place on a calm and beautiful night. We were silent as he burned the papers on which he had written the poems. As they caught flame and flared up, I was jolted and frightened by a sudden crash of thunder. The quiet night turned almost instantly into a storm, and as rain began to pelt down there was a continuous, growling roll of thunder.

The Herb Doctor took a long, horsetail-like whisk, and with it he passed around the house, flicking the long hairs to and fro as he chanted. The spiritual force he created was so compelling that the evil spirits were driven to the entrance like leaves blown before the wind. There they met the swords. The gentler ghosts were pulled helplessly into the open bag on the central house-post. The Herb Doctor took the bag and pulled the drawstring tight. As he did so the thunder and rain ceased, and the night was tranquil again. A servant later told us that he saw blood on the swords across the house entrance. The doctor took the bag away, and we did not ask what became of it.

His final act on that strange night was to tell my grandparents that on the following day, they were to call Buddhist monks and nuns to the house. His instructions were followed, and for three days the air in the old mansion was filled with the chanting of sutras and dharanis to aid the tormented spirits in the other world.

Nine paper bridges were constructed and burned during the intoning of the texts to provide passage out of the nine levels of Hell. Paper money, clothes, and palanquins were burned as the monks and nuns prayed for the release of the suffering ghosts.

Now what is one to make of all this? I can only say that it did happen. I witnessed it, as did the others in the family. We can be modern and scientific and say that the ritual was performed for its psychological effect on us all. One may believe what one likes. But the fact is that from the night of the uncanny storm, all the strange sounds and apparitions within the house ceased, and one could feel that its unhealthy atmosphere had passed away. The living were now the only residents in the old mansion.

There is much more that one could say of the remarkable Ch’ing Yu Chou. I have called him the Herb Doctor for simplicity’s sake, though that was but one of his many skills. He was adept at calligraphy, music, poetry, and was in particular a great scholar of the I Ching, the Book of Changes, in which all that can happen in this world is set forth in the symbolic forms of trigrams and hexagrams. One who learns their transformations and mutations can accurately predict the future, though to do this is far more difficult than Western books on the subject would lead one to believe.

All the Herb Doctor’s learning was pervaded by a deeply Buddhist piety. This had a strong influence on my father, who was very impressed by his new-found friend’s freedom from bondage to self-importance and material possessions. The Herb Doctor treated life and its sorrows and joys as a temporary, passing show to which one should no more become attached than any sensible person would cling to the illusory images moving across a movie screen. One could see from his life that he had realized the significance of the old Chinese tale of the man who got what he wanted. This is the story in brief:

A poor man had just put his rice over the fire to cook when a sage appeared at his door. The two sat down and talked. “What would you like your life to be?” the sage asked. The poor man pondered, then replied that he could think of nothing more glorious than to be wealthy and powerful, surrounded by beautiful women. As he talked on, he suddenly found himself in completely different circumstances. The walls of his ramshackle hut faded and vanished, and he forgot all his years of poverty and discovered that he had become rich.

As time passed his wealth and power grew ever greater, and he experienced all the delights that money, authority, and possessions can bring. But as the years fell away, though it seemed that he had everything a man could want, still something seemed to be missing. He felt himself growing old. His body began to weaken, his senses lost their sharpness. Former delights could no longer please, and for newer pleasures he seemed pressed to find the strength.

Finally, as death drew inescapably near, he suddenly awoke in his own hut to the smell of rice cooked to perfection. He realized that it had all been a dream. All the years of his extravagant life — all the feelings, desires, and joys — everything had taken place during the time it took a pot of rice to cook.

Years later, after the Communists took control of China, my father worried about the uncertain future. He sadly warned the Herb Doctor that he was not sure he would be able to support him much longer. The old doctor was not the least disturbed. “Don’t worry,” he said, “Soon I shall have the means to support myself.” And it happened just that way. He was called by the Communists to become a professor of herbal medicine at the university.

I recall how my father once laughingly mentioned something the Herb Doctor had told him:

“Do you know what he said?” my father chuckled, “He told me that when he dies he will have a fine coffin and eight thousand people will attend his funeral!” He laughed again. “Actually, I think I will have to buy his coffin for him when the time comes!”

But things turned out precisely as the Herb Doctor predicted. He knew in advance the day of his death, just as very developed Buddhists are said to. And when that day came, he bathed and prepared himself and died quietly. And because he had become a very well known and highly respected university professor, eight thousand mourners attended his funeral.

And further, when this strange, kindly, self-effacing old man who had done so much good for me and for others was cremated, he had a final surprise for us. In his ashes were found sarira, the hard stone-like objects left behind when the bodies of great saints are burned.

*Copyright David Coomler & Ruby Tang

———–

HOW TO GET THE BOOK:

I am happy to report that those of you who have been waiting to read my book A Time of Ghosts will now be able to read it quite inexpensively, and in most any standard digital mode.

It was included in the “30 Best Books on China” reader recommendations in the Guardian (U.K.) newspaper, which had this summary:

“The true story of a child who endured the earth-shaking transition of China to communism and found himself inundated in a sea of puzzling propaganda and prejudice. Then, growing to manhood and facing a tremendous internal struggle, he finally embarked on a risky, adventurous, and remarkably revealing odyssey to find a door out of the mental prison that China under communism had become.”

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/table/2011/jun/30/best-books-china-recommendations)

Here is a list of the major sites where it is available (in addition to other online retailers), with direct URLs to the book that you may cut and paste to your browser:

This is for people who want to go directly to it without searching. They can cut and paste the URL of their choice:

Ebookit.com (for all major digital formats; use dropdown box to choose):
http://www.ebookit.com/books/0000002860/A-Time-of-Ghosts.html

Amazon.com (for Kindle; click on the book and it will bring up some very favorable reviews):
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=%22a+time+of+ghosts%22+coomler

BarnesandNoble.com (for Nook):

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/time-of-ghosts-hok-pang-tang/1103302498?ean=2940016706030

For iPad, (etc.) use ebookit .com (see above) format dropdown box, or use your iBooks app.

Ebookstore (for Sony Ereader):
https://ebookstore.sony.com/ebook/hok-pang-tang/a-time-of-ghosts/_/R-400000000000001050736

Google books:
https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=UY-H0OLKaN8C

Kobobooks.com (for Kobo):
http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/A-Time-of-Ghosts/book-IRFFLJjalESkualZQPA72g/page1.html?s=gOXStatp9Ea3DyGw0y7ZaA&r=1

As you may recall, I wrote this book over a long period of time through personal conversations with my (now deceased) physician and long-time friend Hok-Pang Tang.

Here is the “squiggle” on it:

Description: A Time of Ghosts is the exciting and absorbing account of Dr. Hok-Pang Tang, who was born into a wealthy and prominent Chinese family in the years before the Communist takeover, but whose family suffered a drastic fall with the coming of the the new regime.

It offers a vivid personal insight not only into a traumatic period in Chinese history, but also a rare and revealing glimpse at the “supernatural” subculture that survived even under Communism.

A Time of Ghosts follows Dr. Tang’s life from his overindulged childhood on through the bitter shocks of the transition to Communism, and finally to his repeated attempts to escape from a soul-destroying political and social system. It is a true personal history that reads like an adventure novel.

Because of its historical and human significance, I have long wanted to make this book easily and inexpensively available, and the digital format has enabled me to do that. My personal preference is for printed books, but I know that many now use the digital format through one device or another to save both space and money.

If you happen to read the book, I would very much like to hear your reaction to it. To make a comment (all comments here are private, unless requested otherwise), just click on the “comment” button on this page.

David

 

SOMETHING FOR HALLOWEEN

Dear readers,

Halloween is near, and with it comes the end of autumn by the old calendar.  I was working today on readying one of my books for (I hope) eventual availability as an inexpensive e-book.  I happened to be going through a chapter that seemed appropriate for this coming holiday, which used to be considered the time of year when the veil between life and death grew thin.  So here it is — a little preview for those who have not read the now out-of-print paper version.

You will need to know that the excerpt is from the book A Time of Ghosts, which I co-wrote with my long-time physician and friend, Dr. Hok-Pang Tang, now deceased.  The book presents his life in China before and during the horrible days of the so-called “Great Cultural Revolution.”  It is not fiction.  In this chapter he, a young “political” outcast, finds himself adrift in Beijing, without shelter.  I hope you find it of interest.

THE EMPTY HOUSE

            It was near midnight.  Everything in Beijing was strange to me.  I had no idea where to go.

           There were many armed police along the roads, though officially there was no curfew.  I had to watch out for them.  I recalled the advice someone had once given me:  “You must put yourself in the policeman’s position and see how he would look at you.”  I did that, and realized I was certain to draw attention.  As a wanderer in the middle of the night with a backpack and a southern accent, I would look very suspicious. I needed to find shelter quickly to avoid being arrested.

            The working-class dormitory area did not seem to offer any hope, so I caught a bus for another area of the city.  I tried to look out the windows, but it was so dark outside that even with an occasional street light I could see nothing.

            Suddenly a bright glare ahead of the bus caught my eye.  Something was burning at the side of the road.  As the bus passed, it was as though time slowed down.  I could see Red Guards looting a family home in the eerie light of a bonfire.  There was an old man kneeling on the ground with a black board around his neck.  Red Guards were loading furniture and belongings into two trucks parked outside the house.  One held a whip.  Another threw books into the fire.

            As the horrible scene receded into the black night, an idea came to me.  I could find a looted home that had been sealed up, and take shelter there.  Most plundered homes were occupied as soon as the inhabitants had been expelled, but there were certain ones that people avoided – those with a reputation for being dangerous — risky – unfortunate; houses in which someone had committed suicide or had been murdered by Red Guards.  People were superstitious and wanted nothing to do with such places.  They felt that the spirits of those whose lives were cut short might remain in the house with unfinished business, and would trouble anyone who moved in.

            Those who did dare to occupy them were generally involved in something illegal or immoral, so they had a guilty conscience that magnified any supposed oddity.  Then too, people exiled from a house might return secretly in the night to retrieve hidden valuables, and might fight or kill anyone found standing in their way.  Such a mysterious death would never be solved, and people would say that a ghost had returned for revenge. 

            Thus in every city there were sealed and abandoned homes where no one would stay.  If I could find such a house, it would be safe and secure, as long as no one saw me enter.  I decided to try.

            I got off the bus.  The street was almost empty.  I walked a few blocks, and eventually came upon a very old house with its door sealed with crossed strips of paper forming a large X.  It took up a lot of land.  The original owners must have been quite wealthy.  Unlike most traditional houses, this one had a slight Western influence in the presence of a second story.  The front of the house was pasted over with old newspapers on which revolutionary slogans had been hurriedly written, along with the criminal history of the expelled residents.  Papers covered the windows as well.

            On the front door was a notice marked with the seal of a Red Guard station.  On it was written, “PROHIBITED TO ENTER; VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.”

            The notice did not intimidate me, but I wanted a less obvious entry, so I walked about the house looking for another way to get in.  I saw that on the second floor there was an open window, and a pottery pipe some sixteen feet in height drained the roof.  It was very easy to climb up the pipe to the second story.  When I got there, I walked across the clay-tiled roof to the open window.  I then removed some tiles from the gable, and used the spaces thus opened as handholds, as I kicked the window wide open and swung myself in through it.

            I was in a large room — apparently the master bedroom.  Sheets and clothes lay on the floor.  A table and chair were overturned.  It looked like the aftermath of a robbery.  There was a bad smell of something decaying, and spider webs were everywhere, so that with each step they clung to my face and arms and legs.

            I had my flashlight in my pack — but worried that it might be noticed from outside, I covered it with a handkerchief to make the light weaker.  Even so, it was little help, and all the junk on the floor tripped me up as I walked, and I nearly fell in the darkness.

            The wooden floor was strewn with rat droppings, and torn up here and there where Red Guards had searched for hidden valuables.  There was one piece of furniture, a wooden dresser that had proved too heavy to move, so they had beaten it to ruin.

            I wanted to go through the entire house to make sure no one was there, but it was so difficult to walk about through all the debris in the darkness that I gave up.  I just cleared out a corner where I could recline and rest.

            I had become like a rabbit or a deer, always alert for a hunter, so I dared not lie down completely.  I put my backpack against the wall, and sitting down and reclining against it, I closed my eyes to rest a while.  I kept telling myself not to go to sleep completely.  I wondered if I had done right in coming here, but recalled that in Russian spy fiction stories, the most dangerous place often proved to be the most secure.

            I relaxed my muscles and moved slightly to make myself more comfortable.  At once I heard a strange sound, a very regular “dop — dop — dop.”  It seemed to be someone taking footsteps with the intention of being heard.  I was immediately alert; it might be Red Guards coming in to get me.  Perhaps I had been seen entering.

            I remembered my military instructor saying that if you don’t move in the dark, the enemy will not discover you.  So I lay down on my stomach, held my breath, and watched the door to the stairs, holding a broken chair leg in my hand as a weapon and waiting for the guy to come up.

            No one appeared.  A few minutes passed, and the house returned to silence.  I still dared not stand up.  I crawled to the window and looked out, pondering whether I could survive a quick jump from the window in case of danger.  Then I thought again of the footsteps.           

            I recalled the ghosts I had seen as a child, but I had seen none since.  I thought of the old house in the countryside where people had hanged themselves and drank pesticide.  It had a strange atmosphere and odd things happened there, but I had been trained in Western medicine and had grown skeptical.

            And then I remembered my mother telling me what to do if I were to encounter a ghost.  “An honest, sincere gentleman does not fear ghosts,” she said.  “They will leave you alone if you concentrate all your energy in your eyes and look at the ghost.  Don’t be afraid and don’t run away, no matter how terrible or frightening it may seem.  You must stand there and use all your energy and stare at it directly.  If you do that, it will gradually disappear.  Then you will find that only your heart and mind have created the terrible thing — just your own mistake.”  My mother’s advice seemed a little contradictory to me, however, because though at times she appeared skeptical, at other times she would say things like, “The Yang world is much more powerful.  The Yin world is hidden and weak, and only manifests in the dark of night.  It will disappear with the dawn.  Moreover, even among ghosts there are some good, some bad.  The good may help you out, but even an evil ghost, if you keep your energy concentrated on him and are not afraid, will retreat.”

            I do not know where my mother got her theories.  My old granny, however, had been a firm believer in mysterious things.  When I was a child, she always had me wear one very expensive piece of jade.  It was very green and shining, and according to Granny it had a spirit.  If the owner of such a stone were lucky and healthy, the jade would become a very deep and brilliant green.  But if the master were ill, or dogged by ill fortune, the beautiful color would decay and disappear, and the jade would become dark and dull.  But the oddest thing was that if the master met with some unexpected accident or illness, that jade would counteract the bad influence, and as a result it would crack and lose all its green color, and the master would then escape the disaster.

            Such a thing actually happened to my nephew.  He fell from the third floor, which might have killed him, but he was not harmed at all.  Instead his jade was broken.  Such a remarkable “spirit stone” was very costly, and it might take $10,000 to obtain one.  The Chinese wear them for protection, just as Christians wear a cross or crucifix.  But such a stone of quality should have a very advanced Buddhist monk pronounce a blessing on it.  After that consecration it can protect from the hauntings of spirits and demons. 

            I enjoyed such tales, but thought that the chief value of such a stone was psychological.  I had not had mine since the Red Guards took it from me when our house was looted.

            Pondering all these things, I began to feel fear rising in me.  Who knows what bad fortune the people who lived here might have had?  Perhaps they, too, were exiled to some remote labor camp, or perhaps they committed suicide or died here. 

            Dim moonlight came through the open window and cast shadows of broken furniture on the floor.  I thought of the odd “dop — dop” sound that I had interpreted as footsteps.  There must be something to have caused it.  I hoped it was only a cat or a mouse. 

            Given the choice of being arrested for walking the streets outside, or of encountering a ghost, I preferred the ghost.  A ghost seemed easier to escape.

            I listened carefully as the minutes passed.  I heard a crunching sound like someone stepping on dry leaves.  Then the house was silent again.

            I told myself it was just nerves.  I was in a very old, very dark, empty house.  It was natural to be uneasy.  In spite of the odd sounds, no one came and nothing happened.  Eventually I became very sleepy, and seemed to doze off and wake again.

            All at once everything changed.  The whole room transformed.  All the damaged furniture and the mess on the floor disappeared, and in its place was a lovely, tidy bedroom with a young lady sitting on the edge of the bed.  I could see tears running silently down her cheeks.  She was feeding a small child.

            Abruptly came the sound of steps downstairs again, and the lady and her bedroom vanished, and I was back with the broken furniture in the darkness.  I must have been dreaming.  But the noise downstairs was not my imagination.

            Unable to control my curiosity, I very carefully and quietly crept to the stairs, and slowly descended into the lower room.  There, in the dim moonlight, I saw a young teenage boy totally absorbed in trying to crack nuts.  He was so intently concentrated on the matter that he did not notice me as I slipped quietly up to him.

            Suddenly he looked up, saw me, and shrank back quickly in fear, drawing a knife from his waist and holding it toward me threateningly.  We looked at each other in the silent, ghostly moonlight, neither moving.

            He was perhaps fifteen, and very thin.  His hair was tangled and filthy, his face smeared with dirt, his clothes stained and torn.  He was definitely not a Red Guard, just a homeless kid.  Even with the knife in his hand I felt no threat at all.

            I opened my backpack and took out a small bar of chocolate and held it toward him.  He reacted like a timid animal, desiring it, but fearing to take it.  So I tossed it to him.  He caught it, but continued to watch me cautiously.  I looked about the room and saw he was alone, so I sat down and relaxed my guard.

            That calmed him.  He lowered his knife, then shoved it back in his waistband, and ripped the paper off the chocolate, consuming the bar in what seemed only a moment.  He must have been very hungry.  Then he tried to pass me a handful of broken walnut shells and meat mixed together.  From that simple gesture I could tell that he was really a good guy who understood politeness and sharing.  Even in moonlight I could see that his hand was filthy, but I did not want to refuse his gesture of friendliness, so I took what was in it.

            I asked, like an adult to a child, “Why aren’t you home in bed?  Why did you come here in the middle of the night?”

            I could tell that my question made him uncomfortable, and regretted asking.  It was stupid of me.  Obviously he had no home.  I tried to open the conversation anew.  Instead of criticizing, I began praising him as a brave young man.  I deliberately did not call him a kid.  “You are so brave, staying here by yourself in this big house alone.  Aren’t you afraid of ghosts?  I feel a little afraid.  It scared me when I heard you down here.”

            Then he opened up.

            “Even if you are afraid, there’s nowhere else to go.  After a while you get used to it, and then you aren’t afraid any more.  There are some things a guy’s forced to do.”

            His words seemed mature beyond his years, and there was sadness in them.

            “Where is your family?” I asked.

            “They were all exiled.”

            “Oh.  Well, we are in the same boat.  My family was exiled to the countryside too.  But why didn’t you follow them?”

            “Before the exile my family had nothing to eat, so I started going all over the city begging for food.  One day I begged some money and bought some sweet potatoes and brought them home for my family.  But when I got there, they were gone.  I don’t know where they were taken.  I lost track of them.  So I just became homeless and lived where I could.”

            “How long have you been staying here?”

            “A few weeks now.”

            “Is there anybody else who comes here?”

            “Yah, but they are always afraid.  They just stayed a couple of days and left.”

            “Why did they leave?”

            “‘Cause they were afraid.”

            “What of?”

            They said they had seen a ghost here.  But I never saw it.”

            “What kind of ghost?”

            “According to some homeless guys, this house’s owner was the head of a small paper-making shop that made paper for Chinese paintings.  It was a family business.  But they had to hire workers, so they were considered “factory owners.”  In the Great Cultural Revolution the man was criticized because his shop provided materials to artists who made anti-Communist pictures.  Because he sold the paper, they said he was a criminal.  Their three-generation family business, the shop, all the equipment, everything was destroyed.  Without the shop they lost all their money and had nothing to live on.

            “When the Red Guards were tearing up the shop, the son, who was an adult, risked his life to fight them.  They beat him to death with a wooden staff.  The old man and his wife watched them kill their son.  Then they hanged themselves.  Finally, only the daughter-in-law and one grandchild were left in this house.  She took some sort of chemical used to make paper and poisoned herself and her child.

            “Since then a lot of people have stayed here, but they either get sick or injured or have bad nightmares.  They always see the young woman and her child in their dreams, but I never saw them.  I never saw anything unusual happen here, except sometimes when I fall asleep, it seems like somebody is putting a blanket on me.  But if I wake up, nobody is there.  Mostly I just sleep all night, though, and don’t wake up until morning.”

            I thought that whatever spirit remained there, it must be kind and gentle to take care of this boy.  It did not surprise me that he saw nothing while others did.  People who can see ghosts are either born with a “Yin” eye, or they have a poor fate, or they are ill or close to death.

            We talked on quietly about this and that, and soon, because of our common woes, we were like old friends.  Eventually he began yawning, and we stopped.  He soon lay back and closed his eyes.  I looked at him sleeping there in the moonlight.  He was just an innocent little kid.  I wished I could help him, but I could not even help myself. 

            I began to feel sleepy.  The moment my eyes closed, I saw again a young woman in white garments printed with tiny flowers.  Beside her was a lovely little child.  They stood at the top of the stairs looking down at me, motionless and silent.  I felt suddenly overwhelmed by sadness, and did not want to see them more.  I struggled to stand up, but my body felt heavy and would not move, and I felt as weary and drained as if I had been exercising all day.

            At that moment I remembered my old granny, and the Herb Doctor who cured my childhood illness.  During the Japanese air bombardment of Canton, my grandma always repeated the words, “Save from suffering, save from disaster, Bodhisattva Kuan Yin.”  In suffering or danger, Buddhists always called on the Compassionate Bodhisattva.  And the Herb Doctor taught me another mantra to repeat for help in time of great need, but that was a long time ago, and I had forgotten it.  In school the Communists taught me that such things were just superstition.  But my granny’s words were deep in my mind and unforgettable, so now I blurted out, “Save from suffering, save from disaster, Bodhisattva Kuan Yin!  Save from suffering, save from disaster, Bodhisattva Kuan Yin!” 

            No sooner had I done so than the woman picked up the child and slowly began to float away from the stairs and grow faint, like smoke blown on the wind.

            I felt a sudden pang of guilt.  I did not want to hurt her or her child, so I stopped repeating the prayer.  I felt so sorry for them.  My family was broken, yet we survived.  Her family was broken, and all were dead.

            The moment I fell silent, the young woman and her child came drifting back to the stairs in a wavering motion, like a butterfly in flight.  She looked directly at me with inexpressible sorrow, as though begging, imploring.  I remembered my mother saying that to stare strongly at a ghost would make it disappear, so I fixed my gaze on her and concentrated.  Suddenly she tossed a small, white rectangle toward me.

            I awoke abruptly, and had no wish to sleep again.  Though still very tired, I got no rest in that unfortunate house.  Usually when I could not sleep, I would read.  But there would be no books in that place.  No doubt all had been burned or taken away.  But even as I thought that, the faint light before dawn entered the window and fell on a small white book right beside me on the floor.  I picked it up and was disappointed.  It was just a collection of Mao’s writings.  Everybody hated it, because it had to be carried on one’s person all the time to avoid criticism.  No matter that there was a paper shortage and kids had no paper for homework, and people had no toilet paper — all resources had to be put into printing endless copies of this book.  Nonetheless, I grabbed it and opened it.  As I did so, a couple of slips of paper dropped out onto the floor.  I picked them up, and saw that they were a letter, which read:

 

            “Dear Papa and Mama,

            I do not know if this letter will ever reach you.  But if you see this paper, it means I have already left this world.  People say that only after you raise your own children and watch them grow up do you become sensitive, and feel how your parents worked hard to raise you.  And then you appreciate what they did for you.

            I left you to come here and study, marry, and have a daughter to build up my own family.  But I completely forgot to care about you, and did not fulfill the duties of a daughter to return gratitude for your raising and supporting me.  So I always felt guilty.  But I did not want to make you sad.

            Don’t feel sorry for me, because I can meet my husband in the other world, and we will be together again.  I don’t wish for our child to live in this very cruel and feelingless world.  She would only suffer more.  She won’t grow up.  Hard luck destroyed her life too early.

            I chose to marry Ga Kei.  He was the owner of a manufactory.  I knew when I married him that our future would be dim, but I ignorantly and childishly thought that pure and sincere love could overcome everything.  I underestimated how cruel and heartless human beings could be.

            So I don’t miss anything in this world.  I am only sorry that I did not accept my responsibility to take care of you both.  Please forgive me.  Don’t be sorry.  I’ll be in another world where there is no suffering, no blood and tears, no hatred, no cruel political struggles.

            Originally I wanted to send my girl to both of you to take care of, but unfortunately she had such great fear when her grandma, grandpa, and father died, that she has had a mental breakdown.  That would just add to your burden.  If she could grow up, she would just have the burden of her mother committing suicide and using her life to protest the Communist Party.  So at the last moment I decided that I brought her into this unfortunate, cruel world, and I will take her out of it.”

 

            The letter broke off suddenly, and appeared to have been written in hesitating segments.  It had no end, and there had been no chance to send it.

            It was so sad.  Perhaps her parents did not even know she was no longer in this world.

            Just then the morning sun broke into the room.  The boy was still asleep.  I went to open a window on the main floor so I could slip out of the house.  I had one leg outside and was halfway through, but my backpack strap got stuck on something on the inside sill.  I tried to loosen it, but nothing seemed to work.  Worried that someone might see me, I jumped back inside the house to release the strap from whatever had caught it.  I was surprised to find that it had stuck on just one small nail.  But when I tried to release the strap, the nail just went in deeper and snagged it tighter.  Finally I ran out of patience and gave a big tug that shook the wall as well — and suddenly out from behind a framed picture a paper fell.  I was surprised to see the picture still hanging until I noticed it was Chairman Mao.  Someone must have hidden the paper behind it in a hurry, thinking it a good place because of the veneration in which the image was generally held.

            I picked the paper up and got a great shock.  It was an empty envelope addressed to Canton — to my home town.  It was all very strange.  I took the two sheets of the unfinished letter I had found, and put them in the addressed envelope and sealed it.  Then I went to jump out the window again, but suddenly the front door banged open.  Perhaps it was only a breeze from the window, or perhaps the lonely spirits were now free to leave, the last task accomplished.

            I hurried out through the front door and left that sad and lonely house.  I gladly inhaled the fresh morning air of the street.  A few bicycles were on the road — people pedaling off to work.  Early buses were already moving.

            I held the letter in my hand and looked for a post office or mailbox.  Then a very peculiar thing happened, as strange as all that had come before.  I raised my eyes, and there, walking directly toward me, was a mailman in uniform.  I stopped him and asked if he would send the letter for me.  He took it, and we parted.

            It seemed then that something was finished — that I had done the one thing set for me to do there.

 *

(Copyright David Coomler and Ruby Tang)

A TIME OF GHOSTS — UPDATE

Here is a sample page from the beginning of my new book, A TIME OF GHOSTS, which deals with the remarkable life of a long-time friend of mine who was trained in both traditional Chinese medicine and in Western medicine.

One sees from the very first page that it was not an ordinary life. Born to a very wealthy family of aristocratic Manchu ancestry in China before the rise of Communism, his life was radically changed by the turmoil that enveloped the entire country.

It impelled him to undertake an inner and outer journey in search of meaning and freedom.  He met many remarkable people along the way, both good and bad, some very spiritual, some very materialistic, and some not of this plane of existence at all.  This book was written so that they might not be entirely forgotten, as was the case with countless numbers during those troubled years.

I think you will find it to be without any of the dullness of the traditional biography, because it is as filled with excitement and adventure and suspense as a novel — but it is not fiction.  It is a remarkable story — a true story — and one with great meaning to anyone concerned with finding their way in a difficult world.

The book is presently in the process of being formatted as an ebook.  The printed version is not presently available, except perhaps for used copies you might find via online used book sellers.  I will post a notice when the ebook version is available.

David Coomler

MY NEW BOOK: A TIME OF GHOSTS

For those of you who may wish to know, my latest book is now available (see update below).  It is the remarkable story of a long-time friend of mine who was born to a wealthy and powerful family in China before the Revolution, and then lived through the coming of Communism and the immense tragedy and upheaval it brought to countless lives.

There are other books dealing with this period, of course, but this one is a bit unusual.  It deals quite frankly with both the spiritual and — for lack of a better word — the “supernatural” side of life that continued even as a brutal version of Communism was imposed on the country.

I felt it was important for me to get this book published, not only as an historical record, but above all so that the various people in it — rich and poor, spiritual and worldly, saintly and evil, and all those somewhere between — might not be forgotten entirely.

I can honestly say that those who have read the book have been fascinated with it.  It took a very long time to write, and it was not an easy project by any means.  But I hope the result is a fitting memorial not only to my long-time friend who has now passed from this life, but to all those he met in his odyssey through a world turned upside down.

Those interested will find further information and links under the “New Book” tab at the top of this site, or you may click here:

https://hokku.wordpress.com/new-book/

UPDATE:  The book is presently in the process of being formatted as an ebook, which should make it available much more inexpensively than the previous print version.  I will post a notice on my site when it is available.  The photo shown at the top of this page depicts the cover of the previous print version

David