The story of JINCAN begins in southern China (Macau), introducing Shen and his quest for the perfect poison to carry out a final mission. Shen sails across the Pacific to San Francisco, with the hope of escaping his past. It is in San Francisco that Shen and Greystone meet.
In some of the places that Shen and Greystone travel to or through, San Francisco, Panama and the Sierra Nevada mountains, I have written a description of the place as seen through the eyes of early explorers or indigenous people. In this post and ones to follow, I am giving you a taste of how I have introduced each new location, starting with San Francisco.
The story of JINCAN begins in southern China (Macau), introducing Shen and his quest for the perfect poison to carry out a final mission. While Shen sails across the Pacific to San Francisco, with the hope of escaping his past, Greystone attempts to arrive in California before him, taking a route that cuts across Panama.
A THUNDERBOLT HAD ME JUMPING OUT OF MY SOAKED SKIN. It was close enough to taste — metallic, acidic — and to feel its charge in my fillings. Even more horrifying, the light-burst exposed the ocean. Heaving beneath me, it was viscous and black, conjuring up the images of my darkest fears — tentacles as thick and long as the ship’s mast, curling up, studded with suckers, each ring armed with a beak ready to tear flesh.
A few of us chose to brave the storm up on deck rather than to suffer in the airless hold. Clinging to a pole or rope while being lashed by icy rain was preferable to the misery belowdecks. Down there, men groaned with each roll of the ship, clutching their bellies, squirming in pools of vomit. From time to time one would claw his way up through the hatch. The denizens of the stinking hold would manage only a few shaky steps before again spilling their guts and scurrying back down to the stink. Shivering under my raincoat and hat, I hid from the storm as best I could, pressed into a corner.
At dawn, the downpour softened to a drizzle and with a calmer sea I began to feel safer from the retreating squall. Then, as if in defiance, the storm released a deep, slow rumble — nature telling me with a belch that it had its fill. Another roar shook me to the core before ebbing away.
Under a burst of light, purple welts lined the sky. Panama seemed to wink at me; a weary gesture from her bruised eyelid that said, “So, now you too.”
Hers was a story of turmoil. Thrust off the seabed by its cataclysmic coupling she was smothered in layers of sludge. Driven ever upwards, she eventually broke surface. With first breaths she conjoined the landmasses to either side, cleaving the Earth’s ocean into two.
Coveted as a prize long before she was named, her slenderness was what made her so alluring. Separating Atlantic and Pacific oceans by a mere 50 miles at her narrowest point she so served as a bond between them. For centuries, conquistadores, mercantilists, and pirates fought to have her. Even my former homeland Scotland had tried its luck at setting up a colony on her Atlantic shore in order to establish an overland trade route. The 17th Century Darien Scheme failed miserably after only a few years, resulting in the destruction of the finances of the entire country.
There were several versions as to the origin of the name ‘Panama’. A fellow passenger regaled us one evening saying,
Some ascribe it to the fact that a species of tree abounds there. Others say that it is because the first settlers arrived in the month of August when butterflies are plentiful, and that the name means ‘many butterflies’ in native tongue. Perhaps the best known story is that a fishing village originally bore the name Panam, named after a nearby beach, and that the name meant ‘many fish’. Yet still another version says that a Kuna chief gave the land the name ‘pannaba’, the Kuna word meaning ‘very far’.
Whether the name referred to trees, butterflies, a sandy shore or plentiful fish, I had indeed traveled very far, and still had farther to go.
Panama had declared independence from Spain just thirty years earlier and was now part of Colombia. Given the recent interest in California, I wondered what designs America had on her. There was already talk of a railroad straddling her back to link the two great oceans.
And so, yes, now me too, I thought in reply to a final burst of light from the receding storm.
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My new book, JINCAN is available via Amazon and other booksellers.
More than 60 guests joining The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival
Jung Chang, acclaimed author of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (1991), which the Asian Wall Street Journal called the most read book about China; Mao: The Unknown Story (2005, with Jon Halliday), which was described by Time magazine as “an atom bomb of a book”; and Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China (2013), is joining the The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival 2018 edition, scheduled to happen from March 10-25, at the Old Court Building, Macau. Along with Jung Chang, the Festival will bring to town more than 60 writers, translators, musicians, filmmakers, performers and visual artists.
“Chegar a leitores portugueses e chineses de Macau é uma inspiração para continuar a escrever”
Marco Lobo vê-se como um contador de histórias, à semelhança do seu avô, Pedro José Lobo. A publicação de uma biografia dessa figura lendária da história de Macau poderá estar entre os seus próximos projectos.
No centro do seu mais recente romance, “Mesquita’s Reflections”, está Vicente Nicolau Mesquita, soldado macaense, figura controversa que atraiu Marco Lobo do mesmo modo que tantas outras personagens cravadas de defeito, mágoa e ousadia. Na mesma narrativa, a figura preponderante do antigo governador Ferreira do Amaral e as sucessivas tensões que enformaram uma cidade historicamente atravessada de elementos nefastos. A inspiração para a literatura, continua a buscá-la o autor nas raízes portuguesas, chinesas e escocesas, mas também no papel que a religião e a tecnologia desempenham nas sociedades subjugadas. Filho de Sir Roger Lobo, o escritor é também neto de Pedro José Lobo, figura incontornável na Macau do século XX, cujo vazio de produção biográfica poderá vir a contornar. Marco Lobo vai marcar presença na 7ª edição do Festival Rota das Letras. Uma oportunidade, assume, para alcançar leitores chineses e portugueses.
PONTO FINAL: O seu mais recente romance, cuja acção decorre na Macau do século XIX, tem o seu enfoque numa figura muito polarizante e controversa, um soldado do exército macaense, Vicente Nicolau Mesquita, encarado historicamente como um herói ou um vilão, dependendo da perspectiva. Como é que o descreve e o que o fez escrever sobre a sua vida?
In my current work-in-progress, a detective novel set in the 1850s, the protagonist travels from New York to San Francisco via the Panama Route, i.e. opting to cross from Atlantic to Pacific overland rather than sail all the way round the tip of South America. Here is an excerpt:
TEN MILLION YEARS AGO, a massive block of the earth’s crust ripped through the surface as it tilted to the west. Rivers cut deep ravines on both sides of the new mountain range. Lava boiled up and then flowed down into canyons which over millennia, eroded to leave high plains along the ancient river channels.
Still, the gods were not done sculpting. Glaciers carved out crescent-shaped gorges throughout the range. Working in unison, river and glacier exposed the uppermost portions of the plutons forming the Sierra’s crest.
Long before Garcí Ordóñez de Montalvo dreamed of gilded Amazons, or the Franciscan missionary and chronicler Pedro Font, named the serrated peaks ‘Sierra Nevada’, the mountains were home to America’s native peoples. In Yokut lore, the birth of the peaks is explained: There was once a time in the world when nothing existed but water. At the place where Lake Tulare is now, a pole stood far out of the water. This pole provided a perch for Hawk and Crow. First, Hawk would rest on the pole for a while, then Crow would knock him off and sit on it. Thus, they took turns sitting on the pole above the water for a very long time. At last, they created the birds which prey on fish; Kingfisher, Eagle, Pelican, and others. They also created Duck. Duck was very small, but she dived to the bottom of the water, filled her beak with mud, and then died when trying to return from the depths. Duck floated on the water, lying dead. Then Hawk and Crow took the mud from Duck’s beak and began making the mountains. They began at the place now known as Ta-hi-cha-pa Pass, with Hawk building the eastern range and Crow forming the west one. They tamped the mud down hard into the water and piled it high, working toward the north. Finally, Hawk and Crow met at the place we call Mount Shasta. Their work was done, but when they looked at their mountains, Crow’s range was by far larger than Hawk’s. Hawk said to Crow, “How did this happen, you rascal? You have been stealing earth from my bill. That is why your mountains are biggest.”
Crow laughed at Hawk.
Then Hawk chewed some Indian tobacco and it made him wise. At once he took hold of the mountains and turned them around almost in a circle, putting his smaller range where Crow’s had been. And that is why the Sierra Nevada Range is larger than the Coastal Range.