Iowa Writes

from Zakery's Bridge

Cara, tenth grade, from Taiwan

Everyone loved it when our families came to school for Marathon Day. It was our day to have fun. We didn't have to wear uniforms, just shorts and T-shirts. Instead of a real marathon we had lots of activities for the whole school, kind of like field days in the United States—running races and playing games. Each class put on marching events and performances. Some kids acted out funny skits. Families brought picnics and everyone watched and laughed. My favorite event was the bean-bag game. We had to toss them into baskets attached to poles high above the ground. To make it even more challenging, someone from each team walked the baskets around the field. There were two teams, red and white. Everyone tossed as many bean bags as they could before the whistle blew. We picked up the ones that missed and threw them again. The team that got the most into the other's basket won. At the end of the day everyone gathered for lunch and prizes. We spread our blankets out on the field at the base of Shuan Foung Mountain and opened our picnic boxes. My mom and dad owned a bakery in Hsin Tien city, and we brought my mom's cakes and cookies. Everyone loved them.

Regular days at school were nothing like Marathon Day. In Taiwan we spoke Mandarin, a form of Chinese, and went to school six days a week: Monday through Friday, plus a half day on Saturday. Our school was called Shuan Foung Elementary, after the double mountain outside our classrooms. In class we learned to read and write Chinese characters. It's different from English where we use an alphabet to sound out words. In Chinese there is no alphabet. Each word has its own symbol or character and you have to memorize them. Calligraphy, the art of writing Chinese characters, is honored and passed from one generation to the next. There are about 5,000 characters for the words in everyday Chinese language, and at least 80,000 in all. It takes a lot of practice to master them. In class we studied their meanings and wrote them over and over. Jasmine and I were in fourth grade and kindergarten when we moved to Iowa, so we don't know all of the characters. Now we are learning more.

Jasmine is my best friend. We have always been together—in Taiwan and Iowa. Now we go to school in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in California. We take regular classes, plus we are learning more of our Chinese language and culture. During breaks we come home to Iowa. The two of us stick together.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting


Zakery's Bridge: Children's Journeys from Around the World to the Heartland is a collection of nonfiction stories based on conversations with refugee and immigrant children in Iowa. For more information about this forthcoming book, please contact Kay Fenton Smith (

A children's author based in Des Moines, Kay Fenton Smith is involved with youth literacy through volunteer reading and writing programs. In addition to Zakery's Bridge, she is working on a middle-grade novel.

Carol Spaulding-Kruse is associate professor of English at Drake University in Des Moines, where she teaches fiction writing and ethnic American literature. She is the author of Navelencia, a multi-generational story about a Korean-American family.

This page was first displayed
on June 12, 2007

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