Totaled Again!

No one should ever have to celebrate a birthday in the emergency room. But that is exactly what I did this past May 16th on my 47th birthday. I was put there because a reckless driver slammed into my already “totaled” car. My car is now truly totaled.

I can’t give any details because my case is still under investigation. But I will say this. This is the second accident in less than six months for me. The first one was a rear end collision with a commercial truck (see Totaled). Ironically my first accident was in vicinity of another accident that happened the following day on May 17th, the day after my birthday. That accident took the lives of three people needlessly.

I use to live in China. I lived there for fourteen years. In all those years I was indirectly involved in just one accident.


I was a passenger on a bus heading to Shanghai. I was sitting in the middle of the bus and was just anticipating my day when I heard a big WHAM in the back of the bus.

The driver pulled over to the side of the road and ordered all of his passengers off the bus. We waited on the side of the tree lined road for another bus to take us.

Exactly what made that WHAM? Two riders on a motorcycle collided with the bus. The driver and his female passenger were very lucky. They were not seriously hurt. The woman was clearly shaken and the man had a few cuts and bruises.

Their motorcycle however, was not so lucky. Half of it was pinned underneath the bus.

In this country I have encountered more reckless drivers than in China. I’ve seen drivers overtake six cars in one go in the presence of oncoming traffic. I’ve had cars pass me on the shoulder in front of a sign that says “no passing on shoulder”. I have also gotten stuck in a long line of cars due to a container blocking the road and I have seen motorcyclists weave in and out of cars – no helmets – into oncoming traffic. These are accidents just waiting to happen. I was told that the deadly May 17th crash was due to speed and a vehicle over taking other vehicles.

Someone was late to work.

In China I’ve had taxi drivers drive into oncoming traffic. I’ve encountered drivers on their phones. I’ve even ridden in cars where there are no seat belts.

Yet I’ve had no serious accidents other than the one I just mentioned.

Why? In a country where we’ve had a car culture since the turn of the 20th century why am I encountering more reckless drivers in my own country where we also have better safety standards? Drivers in China could be forgiven for driving recklessly because they haven’t had a car driving culture as long as the US. They drive their cars like they do with their bikes. They attempt to park their cars on sidewalks as if they were parking a bicycle.

China does have its share of car accidents. Before I left there was a story of a crash that involved school children. They were on a mian bao che or a mini bus on their way home from school. The bus was over crowded. People were even sitting on stools in the aisle thus blocking their escape route. The driver was also reported to be on medication thus his ability to drive the vehicle safely was compromised. As a result he accidentally drove the bus into a ravine killing everyone.

The Ministry of Education was looking into ways to make travel safer for children. They were looking into purchasing US style school buses equipped with seat belts and a stop sign.

But ultimately safety depends on the driver. As I was listening to the story I thought you can have all the safety gadgets in the world but ultimately it depends on the driver.

Safety ultimately relies on the driver.

Graduation season is upon us. With all the pomp and circumstance ceremonies comes the graduation parties where alcohol may be served. So here are some of my safety tips to keep people on the roads safe.

  1. If you are going to drink select a designated driver before partying.
  2. Leave home early for work. Plan ahead.
  3. No texting, talking, or using a portable device while driving.
  4. Buckle up. In Hawaii it’s the LAW!

I’ll add one more traffic accident story.

While traveling through Inner Mongolia my tour guide and I came across a burned out truck on the side of the road. Behind this truck was a sign that explained what had happened to that vehicle. This sign included very graphic pictures of the accident. The police had placed that truck in an effort to convince people to drive safely.

So I’m going to take a page out of the Chinese traffic police play book and post pictures of my now totaled car as a reminder to please drive with aloha.



What I Learned Teaching at NIM

I read Suki Kim’s article with great interest. Her teaching experience in North Korea brought back memories of my first ESL experience in China. Her photos brought back memories of standing behind a lectern in front of a black board in a plaster white classroom. But it is her experience in teaching writing classes that I’d like to address because teaching students who have never been exposed to western ideas and who have not been taught to formulate their own ideas or opinions is another thing we have in common.


After completing my first year of Chinese language I decided it was time for a life long dream to come true. It was time for me to live in a foreign country on my own terms.

I got a job teaching English at Nanjing Institute of Meteorology(NIM), now Nanjing University of Information Science Technology. One of my jobs was to teach English majors who already had jobs lined up to teach at various middle schools in Jiangsu. My first question I posed to my students was why they chose English as their major.

“We don’t get to choose,” one student said. “The school chooses.”

They failed to tell me which school did the choosing. But this did beg another question. As a former university student in Hawaii I got to choose my major. How is it that students have to study something they may not enjoy doing? I asked this of my colleague Kristen, a fellow American teacher.

“I had a graduate student who wanted to be a doctor and who loved kids,” she said. “He would have made an excellent pediatrician. But he got sent to serve as a meteorologist in Tibet.”

One student who clearly did not enjoy studying was a young man named George. He was one of those students who would be miserable at his future job. He was very shy. I had him in my oral and writing classes. He would sit in the back and keep to himself. He hardly said anything. When I asked him a question he would just stand there and look at his desk. He ended up repeating a year because he failed all of his classes.

I had another student named Carson who was also slated to be an English teacher but his true passion was law. He told me during one English Corner session that at the end of each day he would read law books.

“Carson,” I said, “you’re English is pretty good. You might study international law because a lot of foreigners want to do business in China. They need people like you.”

I have no idea what became of my students. I can only hope that they were able to survive and thrive in China’s changing economy. This was my first glimpse at planned economy.

Another thing the article reminded me of is the lack of critical thinking and creativity in China.

Like Kim I taught writing at NIM my second semester. I had twenty hours of classes a week. Half of those classes were writing classes and the other half were oral speaking classes. Some of my students had me twice a week, once for writing and once for speaking. In each group of students I had at the most sixty bodies in a room. I had anywhere from 100 to 200 journals to grade on any given week.


I love writing. I love to teach creative writing. But this experience forever turned me off to teaching writing at least in China. I was reading sentences that had every writing error imaginable from punctuation to spelling mistakes to run-on sentences.

Then there is the use of Chinglish in their essays. I would get in-class writing assignments with sentences like I look look at toothbrush or my favorite hobby is listen to music. Imagine reading 200 essays full of run-ons and Chinglish expressions. I could not get beyond their grammar and spelling and the Chinglish. They were a huge barrier for me.

There is also the huge problem of plagiarism. In addition to giving them in-class writing prompts I also required them to keep weekly journals. They could write about whatever they wanted.

Bad idea.

I got such flowing and beautifully written essays about the NBA and wine etiquette. These essays looked as if they were written by a native English speaker. At first I ignored it but later I had my suspicions. I compared their in-class assignments with their journals and thought to myself how is it that this student wrote this crappy essay in class but in her journal she writes beautifully about wine?

Obviously there is a disconnect. But I could not prove it. They don’t give me any source because they are trying to pass this essay off as their own. The only way I could prove my point is it another student wrote the same wine essay verbatim.

Despite these setbacks my first year at NIM was one of my best experiences. I would sometimes surprise my students by visiting them in their dormitories. Many of them would tell be that I am their first foreigner they have ever met. They’d invite me to their dormitory parties where I learned how to make jiaozi(see Where’s the Cu article). My graduate students would invite me to have lunch with them after class. We’d drink beer and bai jiu until we’d get drunk even at 12 noon. They’d shower me with Christmas gifts and cards and one of them even invited me to their hometown of Xi’an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.

I do miss that experience. Back in those days China was not as developed as it is now. Back then NIM was surrounded by farmland and it was an hour bus ride over the Yangtze River to Nanjing’s city center. I miss the almost god-like treatment given to foreign teachers like me. Nowadays there are a lot of English teachers that schools have become more demanding; they want blonde hair blue eyed westerners because they increase the school’s profits.

Still I am grateful that I’ve had the experience. After all, not too many Asian Americans like me have had the experience Ms. Kim and I have had; to teach English in our ancestral homeland.


Chinese Egg & Tomato Omelette


I once took an Australian co-worker to a hole-in-the-wall Muslim restaurant where they had pictures of their menu on the wall. I pointed out xi hong shi chao ji dan (西) and translated it to her as an “egg and tomato omelette”.

“That’s an odd combination,” she said.

Not so for me. When I first arrived in China in 1995 and had my first dining hall food this was the first dish in which I could easily recognize the ingredients; eggs and tomatoes.

It also happens to be very easy to make and is quite adaptable. Here’s a very simple recipe:

Eggs and Tomato Omelette

1 large tomato

4 eggs

1 clove garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons oil divided

Dice up tomato and mince garlic. In a skillet heat one tablespoon of oil and stir in garlic until brown. Stir in tomatoes and add salt and pepper. Cover and simmer on low heat for two minutes. Uncover, stir and cook tomatoes until the liquid evaporates. Remove tomatoes from pan and set aside. Heat remaining oil in skillet and scramble the eggs until cooked. Add the tomato mixture and blend well. Serve on a bed of rice.

The beauty of this dish is that you can add other ingredients to your taste. I’ve had this with baby bok choi, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, and cheese.



Hawaii Writers Guild


People ask me how long it took me to write Banana Girl: An Asian American Woman’s Life in China.

It took me nearly ten years.

As a writer living in a non English speaking or writing country getting feedback for my book was nearly impossible. Getting native English speakers together for a get-together can be challenging. Getting a native English speaker to proof read and give feedback on my manuscript can be daunting because the expat population is so spread out and transient. I don’t really get to know people and trusting them with my precious manuscript is very important to me.

As for posting my manuscript in the mail? Expensive. I paid 300 yuan or nearly $40 for sending 200 pages of my book to my father for him to give me feedback. My book is 366 pages long. Imagine how much it would cost me to post the entire book.

I would have loved to have a website that would accept my manuscript via e-mail and that would give me feedback for a fraction of the cost to send my book through the postal service.

If you are a writer living outside of Hawaii and are interested in getting feedback on your manuscript I invite you to visit our website at




This is one blog post that I didn’t want to post. I had a difficult time writing and editing it without welling up into tears. Unfortunately this experience has now become a part my re-entry experience back into my home country the USA.

December 6th, 2 pm. At the traffic light at Kona Keahole International Airport.

I was heading into Costco to get gas for my 2002 Prius. I was sandwiched between two commercial trucks while approaching the traffic light. The truck in front of me had no container but it did have a barrier on its cab blocking my view of the light.

It went through on a yellow light. After it drove through then I could see the traffic light. There were other cars in the area and I didn’t think I would have time to go through the yellow light. So I stopped.

By then the light turned red. I then looked in my rear view mirror to see another truck – this one with a container – barreling in on me. I screamed. But it was useless. There is nothing like watching a two ton truck barreling in on you.

The second truck rear-ended my Prius.

As soon as I was given a green light I went through and pulled over to the right to check on my car. The truck driver also pulled over to the side and asked if I was ok.

I was physically ok. But mentally I was somewhere else. My car was once involved in another minor fender-bender which resulted in a dent in the front bumper. I heard stories from friends about their experiences in dealing with insurance companies. They hated dealing with them because their agents cause so much stress.

I was not looking forward to dealing with any insurance company. But because I was hit by a commercial trucking company and had no idea what kind of damage my Prius incurred I had to call Geico, my insurance company.

I got out of my car and checked out the back. The truck put two holes in my bumper and cracked my trunk door. I took pictures while the driver called the police.

I then took a walk around the truck. On the doors it said “Kona Trans and it had the company logo.

The police did arrive while I was on the phone with Geico filing a claim. A witness, a woman I’ll call Sherrie, also stepped forward and gave me her phone number. She saw the truck hit me while I was waiting for the red light to turn green.

“You’re gonna need this,” she said as she handed her name and phone number on a piece of paper. “Dealing with insurance companies is a pain in the neck.”

Meanwhile the police were questioning the truck driver. But they never questioned me. They just got my name and my contact information and they gave me the other driver’s info.

They never bothered to get my side of the story. “The driver said you stopped so suddenly,” said the officer.

And you believe him? I’m at a stop light.

 A RED stop light.

 What the heck am I supposed to do?

Sherrie stepped in. “It was red,” she said. “I saw the whole thing.”

The officer ignored her. He didn’t even bother to write her name or contact down on the information exchange form.

After we exchanged information I headed to Costco where I found out there was much more significant damage to my car than previously thought. I stood behind my car and noticed that the right side was bent out of place causing my right rear door to bolt shut.

Crap! I thought as I snapped additional pictures of my door.

The next day I submitted the Hawaii County Police Department Accident Information Exchange document I got from the police to Geico. Here’s what was printed on the front of that form:

Name of driver


Vehicle Registration Number or license plate

Driver License Number

Telephone Number

On the back is the insurance information. What the officer wrote is in italics.

Date of Accident: 12-06-16

Time: 14:05

Location: Queen K/Keahole Road

Owner of other vehicle(if different from driver): SJA Partnership

Insured by: First Indemnity Ins

Injured Name and Address

Witness Name and Address

I read the info to Geico over the phone. However, they called me back two days after the accident to say that they could not find SJA Partnership or First Indemnity Insurance.

What the fuck?

I’ve worked as a security guard. One of the first things I was trained to do was to observe and report. How come the reporting officer did not even do that? How come Kona Trans, which was clearly written on the truck, is not on the form?

As I mentioned earlier the officer did not include Sherrie’s name and contact information on that form. I had to write that in. In fact, I made the corrections to the form.

“Well, I did take a walk around the truck and I do remember seeing Kona Trans written on the cab.”

Observe and report.

Geico followed up with another call to explain my claim to me. “If you decide to have your vehicle repaired through us you will have to pay out-of-pocket and you may have to pay an additional…”

By then they lost me. I’m getting dizzy and I’m speechless.

Wait a minute, I thought. I pay $70 a month for car insurance but because I only have collision insurance and nothing for repairs I’d have to pay more?

 The other option was to go through Kona Trans’ insurance company First Insurance. I wouldn’t have to – hopefully – pay for anything. They hit me at a red light. They should pay.

I contacted First Insurance. Anna, the woman in charge of my claim had a strange voice mail message.

“I’m out of the office from November 5th to November 28th.”

Uh, it’s now December 9th.

 I left a message on her voice mail. This went on for several days. At one point I left a snarky message suggesting she change her recording because it is now December.


I even started calling the First Insurance front office for updates.

It took me two weeks to finally get a hold of Anna who called to interrogate me and get my side of the story.

“What’s the make and year of your car?”

“It’s a 2002 Toyota Prius.”

“What time did the accident happen?”

“Around 2 pm.”

“Where did it happen?”

“At the traffic light at the intersection of Queen K and the airport road.”

I then told her my side of the accident about the yellow light turning red, about the first truck going through on a yellow light, and Kona Trans hitting me while I’m waiting at a red light.

Then I never hear from Anna again until after New Years. She calls me up with a bit of good news.

“Kona Trans has taken full responsibility for the accident.”

“Great,” I said. “What is next?”

“You need to take your car to Kraftsman Autobody in Kona.”

I scheduled an appointment for first week in February. I just wanted to get on with my life and not have to deal with Kona Trans or any insurance company. I work in Kona and I do a lot of driving. I see a lot of Kona Trans trucks on the road. Every time I see them I either say something unpleasant about them or I flip my magic finger. Every time a car gets too close to my rear end I say, “too close buddy!” Every time I see a truck with a container I get anxious.

I took my Prius to be assessed. I was hoping they’d be able to at least fix my door. My safety check expires August 2018 and that door is of concern. I’m still able to drive it. Why can’t they just knock out the kink in my door?

Charles, the assessor, scrambles beneath my car to take more pictures. “The right side has been shifted upward causing that bolt in your door.”

Okay.  The skeptic in me thought.

“I’ll send these pictures to First Insurance and will let you know. It will take a few days.”

Bad news. The repairs are just over $8,000. Total loss.

Fuck. What the hell am I supposed to do now?

A few days later one of Anna’s associates, a guy named Carl calls me up with a deal.

“We’re offering to buy your Prius for $3,061.”

“And what am I supposed to drive should I accept your offer?” I asked. “I do a lot of driving and I need a reliable car.”

“You can use the $3,061 as a down payment for a new car.”

Down payment I thought. What about the monthly payments? Who is going to pay them? I don’t think I should pay because I’m the victim. I have no interest in buying a car new or used. Why should I have to pay for anything?

 “What if I keep the car?” I asked trying to keep my inner Oscar the Grouch in check.

“We’d give you $2,861. That’s $3.061 minus $200 for repairs.”

This is ludicrous! The repairs are over $8,000! $200 won’t cover the cost of repairs!

I decided to ask Geico for help. After all they are my insurance company.

“I was wondering if you could deal with First Insurance,” I said haltingly. I struggled to find the words.

“I’m sorry. But once you decide to go with the other party’s insurance company we cannot intercede on the negotiations.”


I was crying over the phone. I have to deal with First Insurance’s bullshit. I shouldn’t have to deal with Geico – my insurance company’s bullshit.

“Fine. Can you at least set up an appointment with another auto body shop?”

“Certainly,” said the other saccharine fake voice on the other end of the phone. I have no idea if this person had any idea that I was sobbing my friggin eyes out.

“Does this mean you are going through us?”

“No. I still want Kona Trans and First Insurance to pay.”

Geico set up an appointment with Big Island Collision Center for a second assessment in Kona.

When I get there however, I find out that the appointment was cancelled.

By now I’m on the verge of crying again. I have driven all the way from Waimea, an hour’s drive to Kona, to find out that my appointment has been cancelled.

“I didn’t authorize the cancellation I told Paul the assessor at Big Island Collision Center.

I’m now sobbing and cursing. Shit. Shit. Shit.

“Are you using Geico to cover the repairs?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. “I’m going through Kona Trans’ insurance company. I don’t think it’s right for me to pay for repairs because they hit me.”

“That may be the reason why Geico sent the cancellation notice,” said Paul. “You told them that you were going through First Insurance.”

“I never authorized the cancellation,” I said. “Nor did I get a cancellation notice from Geico.”

Then I made the mistake of telling Paul that I already had the car assessed at Kraftsman and that the Prius was deemed a total loss.

“Then there is no way we can fix it,” said Paul. “Kraftsman is also a part of Geico’s network. If Kraftsman deems it a total loss then it’s a total loss.”

I lost it. I broke into tears. “Shit. You mean to tell me that I drove all the way from Waimea for nothing?”

Seeing how pissed off I was Paul finally agreed to take a look at my Prius. I showed him the two holes in my rear bumper, the crack in my trunk door, and the faulty rear door. He told me the same thing Charles told me; the whole right side has been moved up causing my rear right door to bolt shut.

“You could ask First Insurance about getting a salvage title.”

Great. What is that?

I’ve lived in China for fourteen years where I didn’t need a personal car to get around. I could flag a taxi or catch a bus or a train to go where ever I pleased.

Ever since I’ve returned I’ve had to learn new terms like “total loss” and “salvage title”. To me a total loss would mean that my car would have to look like an accordion.

Now this term salvage title.

After I left the auto body shop I contacted Geico to inquire why my appointment was cancelled without my authorization and why I was not given any notice. They called me back.

“You said you were going through…”

“Shit,” I yelled. I just hung up. I was livid at Geico, my own insurance company. I’m also mad at First Insurance and Kona Trans for putting me in this position in the first place. Once again I’m sobbing this time in the Costco parking lot.

Fix my Prius or get me another car Scott free I said in an angry e-mail to Kona Trans and to First Insurance. With my part time job I’m in no position to purchase a big ticket item such as a car. I can’t and shouldn’t have to make any payments. You hit me. You pay.

 “We’ll pass this info along to our total loss assessor,” was Carl’s lame response.


It’s experiences like these that I wish I were back in China. Since I didn’t have a car I didn’t have to deal with unsympathetic insurance agents. I also had a full time job and could travel to where ever I pleased and do what ever I wanted.

I don’t want another car. I wish for my Prius to be repaired and Kona Trans expense. According to their website they’ve been in business for nearly seventy years and they have a huge fleet of trucks. They should be able to pay $8,000 for repairing my car. I understand the insurance translation of the phrase total loss that meaning the repairs cost more than the value of the car. But if Kona Trans is paying for it than it costs me nothing.

However, it’s unlikely because no auto body shop wants to fix it. What the fuck? I can’t get what I want. I’m forced to go car shopping. I don’t want to. But that is where I am in this shit. I can’t afford a brand new car and even most used cars are more that $3,000. I need a car for work. The options they have presented leave me either penniless, car-less, or both. They will not mail the check until I have transferred the title. In the meantime I’m supposed to shop for a car with my limited funds while they take my Prius. What if I’m not able to find another car? What am I suppose to drive to work? What am I suppose to live off of? I find these options unacceptable. I do not want to be temporarily broke. Nor do I not want to be temporarily without a car.

I understand that repairing my car is much more than its current value and that it would be smarter for me to take the $3,000 and spend it on the purchase of another car. That would be the smart thing to do. I’ve done my Kelley Blue Book research for my Prius. For a 2002 model the highest value I can get is $1,500. $3000 is a steal. But what kind of car can I get for $3000? I barely have that much in my bank. If I had enough to tie me over I’d take it.

Offering me $3000 may be smart. But it’s not the right thing to do. I wish they would stop doing the smart thing. I wish Kona Trans and First Insurance would do the right thing;either they pay for the repairs or give me enough money to purchase another car Scott free of monthly payments.

Because of this collision with Kona Trans, a renown moving and storage company, I cannot recommend their services to anyone. I may not have been a customer of theirs. But I have seen the damage these big rigs can do. If you do decide to use their services then consider the following issues:

  1. What are their drivers track records regarding accidents and safety? What is required of their drivers?
  2. What precautions are taken in securing containers? What precautions are taken to secure goods in these containers? What compensation do they offer in case of property damage or theft?

Just remember you DO have the right to ask questions. They are moving YOUR stuff! If one of their drivers is involved in a collision what are the odds of your stuff getting damaged? Just food for thought.

If you do decide to use Kona Trans as your moving and storage company that is your choice. But as for me I’d rather not deal with them and wish for this whole ordeal to be over.

March Mandarin Class



We are offering our free, monthly Mandarin classes. This month’s class is March 11th at 10 am at the Carter Professional Building Rm. D21. Ping Dane, an experienced Chinese language teacher from Shenyang, China, will be teaching the class. For more information please contact Jada at or call 808-854-5567.

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