A Pocket Cheng History

 

(...or sometimes it's Christopher, or Mr Cheng, but I really like Chris).

 

I am a husband, a writer, a teacher, an uncle, a godfather, a brother, a friend and even a pal!!

 

I didn’t start out being a writer. In fact all I ever wanted to do was be a primary school teacher. Today all I ever want to do is to write. I know my best book is yet to come.

 

I grew up with my family in a large federation house in Sydney. Primary school was fun (I still know some of my magical primary school teachers), high school was okay and eventually I snuck into University – what a blast - to get my teaching qualifications and eventually my Masters of Arts in Children’s Literature. Not many males trained to be teachers at my university!

 

 

At the Zoo

When I graduated I didn’t get my own class straight away so I taught in a few city schools and for a year at Taronga Zoo, but soon the telegram (important messages that were sent for fast delivery … before we had personal computers!) came and I had to leave the city and head for Bourke where I stayed for nearly three years … but not all the time. Every month I would come home to get a dose of city life! My next job at North Sydney Demonstration School was short lived because I received a phone call from the Taronga Zoo asking me to come and set up a new program – the Zoomobile, a travelling zoo, the first in Australia and there I stayed with Corky, Ding and Monty and a few other odd companions for nearly 8 years.

 

This was my favourite school. I taught at the Education Centre - when I wasn't zooming around in the Zoomobile. It was a great time at the zoo meeting lots of celebrities (most people want to visit Taronga zoo when they come to Sydney - even pop stars), and working with the keepers and the other animals there but the best part was teaching children. I taught thousands of children in my years at Taronga Zoo. I sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to monkeys and I even drove Santa into the Christmas Carols at the Zoo. At the zoo there was also lots of television work to do. I would pop up on many different television shows and usually with an animal or three. It was here where I also wrote my first published book, Night Creatures. And this is when I realised writing was fun!

With Zoomobiling over I returned to the classroom at Dulwich Hill Public School (with my beautiful kindergarten class) for a few terms before leaving the classroom.

 

After teaching I spent my daytime hours for the next four years working as the National Children's Development Manager for one of the big Australian booksellers. I travelled around Australia as the children's book specialist helping people find out how cool Aussie kids books are and organizing kids events. I met other magical children's authors and illustrators while more and more of my nights were spent writing my books. And this was when I bought my house, a little yellow single storey terrace in Sydney … for me and all my books!

 

At Purdue

 

But before becoming a full time writer I spent a number of years working in the United States of America.

 

One of my great mates who I have known for over 30 years is a professor at Purdue University (www.purdue.edu), Indiana in the USA. For 5 years I spent around 6 months each year working for him in his science laboratory. He is Professor of Cytomics, Professor of Immunopharmacology & Biomedical Engineering, Director of the Purdue University Cytometry Laboratories and President of the International Society for Analytical Cytology … which simply means he loves science. His laboratory studies tissue injuries and wound healing and the effect of toxic chemicals on immune function. He has some really amazing microscopes that can see the tiniest of things, even the cells in the blood that throbs through our bodies, and he also specializes on blood research.

 

But I wasn’t a scientist in his laboratory although I did get to do some really cool experiments and use his amazing microscopes. I was the Education Advisor for a series of science based CD-ROMs all to do with cells and cell biology – the BioScope Initiative (www.bioscope.org).

 

I learnt so much working with my friend. Did you know that …

 

a human red blood cell is only 5 microns long (that’s small) and that it has a half life of 70 days?

 

neutrophils - the cells that destroy bugs by eating them (phagocytosis) only live on the circulation for a half life of 7 hours. There are 3 neutrophils for every lymphocyte in the blood, about 5000 per microlitre, that’s about 5,000,000 per millilitre, and when you give a litre of blood you are donating 5,000,000,000 neutrophils!!!

 

Anyway, you basically replace all those neutrophils every 24 hours – now that’s a lot of cells per second!!! Can you calculate that?

 

The normal number of CD4 T cells in the human blood is 500-1500 per microlitre. In AIDS, the number of CD4 cells is really vital for survival. When you get below 400 CD4 cells per microlitre you must go on antiretroviral therapy.

 

Click here to find out more about my wonderful friend, his work (especially in the field of Cytometry) and his lab. Cytometry is the study of cells and their environment.

 

(JPR Bio - www.cyto.purdue.edu/flowcyt/staffpgs/jpr-bio-photo-jan-2007.pdf)

(Lab website http://cyto.purdue.edu)

He has also established “Cytometry for life” (www.cytometryforlife.org) a foundation for intervening in the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

 

While I was working at Purdue University I also was privileged enough to be asked to lecture a few times to the undergraduate students … not on science but on Australian kids books (and the life of an author) for my friend Professor Jill May – at 7.30 in the morning (at least the students didn’t fall asleep).

 

A writer’s life is a solitary one stuck at the computer or with paper and pencil trying to come up with ideas to write about … not!

 

My previous jobs were fun (except maybe for staff meetings, writing reports, wet weather duty and wearing suits) but nothing beats what I get to do now in this writing life. This is the BEST job in the world. I get to stay home and work in my study, surrounded with books, tapping away at my computer. I wear whatever clothes I like. I don’t have to dress up in suits or teach. I get to prepare my lunch right before I eat it and have coffee or tea whenever I like. And no one tells me what to do! I visit friends when I like and I get to travel to schools to meet people who love kids books nearly as much as I do!

 

Sure there are many times spent with fingers attacking the keyboard, but there are lots of times spent chatting with other authors and illustrators. I might also be researching the next book and if it is historical fiction I could be buried in boxes and boxes of musty papers, scribbling notes and learning stacks.

 

Now I get to write picture books, historical novels and information books … and have fun doing it all. The thrill of opening a package that contains my new book is exquisite … I often ask myself “did I really write that?” because I am often well into the development of the next book when my published book first arrives.

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Christopher Cheng