Wall Street Journal: An Expat Has Time to Reflect Now That the Party’s Over

Remember that time I was detained by the Chinese police during a drug raid at a rave? My experience being rounded up by the Chinese police at the big Shenzhen drug raid.

I happened to write a piece about it for the Wall Street Journal’s expat blog. It took a while to get edited and published, but it is finally available and I’d like to share. (Also, don’t forget the last time I published with the WSJ)

Please take the time to read. It was a tumultuous time, some harsh memories, but I’m glad that something positive came out of it for me at least… Well, live and learn.

 

http://blogs.wsj.com/expat/2016/05/24/an-expat-has-time-to-reflect-now-that-the-partys-over/

BN-OD397_Expat__J_20160523102312

 

 

Interview with Sonia Su

My latest interview is with Sonia Su of the aptly-named SoniaSu.com (well, I have the same site-naming system). She’s an American blogger in the nearby city of Guangzhou, and works for GDTV. Her blog details the day-to-day challenges of living abroad, written with humor and an eye for details. Be sure to check it out after enjoying this interview!

 

unnamed

 

The obvious first question: What brought you to China in general and Guangzhou specifically?

I first came to China (Guangzhou) when I just around 10 years old, with my strongest memory from that trip being stepping off the plane and feeling uncomfortable with the polluted air even in the airport. And yet, after taking up Chinese in college, I ended up studying and interning abroad for a semester in Shanghai and falling in love with the city and living in a Chinese megalopolis. Then when it came time to graduate and look for jobs, I looked for opportunities in Asia. In typical Chinese fashion, through some guangxi, I ended up landing an interview at Guangdong TV and then the job I have now. Guangzhou ended up being the perfect city because many of my relatives still live here, so they have been incredibly helpful in getting me settled. Plus, it’s close to Hong Kong, which is where I inevitably want to be.

 

How familiar were you with China before you moved permanently?

With some family trips and the study abroad experience, I came thinking I knew at least some of what to expect. But man, soon enough, we expats realize shit happens and there will be many moments, especially in the beginning, when we’ll want to escape ASAP. As a sheltered ABC (American Born Chinese) from a suburban town, I’m realizing that I will never get used to many things about living in Guangzhou, let alone China. There are plenty of ups and plenty of downs, but it helps to try to develop a deeper understanding of China’s history and its people to get you though some of the outright unacceptable-to-foreigners aspects. Within these several months I’ve been here, I’ve already explored so much of my family’s hometown and continue to learn every day.

 

What has been the biggest challenge to living abroad?

While my language skills need work, I would say cultural differences are more challenging. Even if you know how to express something in Chinese or even if you’re talking with a local who speaks English fluently, at the end of the day, we have different ways of thinking, perceiving, acting, etc. It can be cool to learn about these often-vastly different points of view, but it can also be frustrating to have to explain why freedom of press, for example, is so very important while stuck in the land of the Great Firewall. Frankly, priorities vary in a country where someone with a monthly income of 10,000 RMB ($1,500 USD) in the 1995 was considered today’s version of millionaire and the poverty line was 173 RMB, compared to around 2,000 now, according to my cousin. It can be hard to keep that in mind when you see kids drop their pants and pee on the streets on your morning walk to work.

 

What is it like working in the media in China?

Among the many constant reminders that we are no longer in America, working in media is one of them. Propaganda, which is not a negative term here, is as rampant as one would expect. I could go on for days or even weeks about my experiences.

 

Do you like working on-camera doing interview and hosting shows?

I’ve been working both on and off camera, even directing, hosting, and producing my own shows. That statement alone speaks to the insane opportunity one has in China. Working for the TV station itself opens so many doors. I’m grateful.

 

Your blog is called “adventures abound”; do you consider yourself an adventurer?

I’m an adventurer from the perspective of someone born and raised within the bubble of American suburban life. From another, perhaps not. For the most part, these aren’t exactly the typical adrenaline-pumping adventures of a world traveler. Just recently, I had to go on a last-minute visa run. To someone else, that sounds like the worst “adventure,” but then you read my blog and find out I actually had an amazing time making the most of such scenarios. And the fact that I live on my own on the other side of the world makes anything I do an adventure I need to record.

 

Your blog is about the day-to-day life, and you do post rather frequently. Do you ever find it difficult to come up with new content or do you write all the time?

I rarely have trouble coming up with something to write about. Even if I were still in Maryland, I would probably write about how I have nothing to do. But I’m in China. When is there not a day when I don’t experience something crazy or at least potentially interesting to my readers?

I’ve also just always been a writer in some way. I grew up very soft spoken and would let out my thoughts via journaling. That said, my blog is far from being any literary masterpiece. I write very casually.

 

How would you describe your writing practice?

Now I tend to blog weekly about the experiences and observations I’ve collected. I take a look at all my photos and notes and go from there. And given how many photos I generally take, blogging ends up taking quite a bit of time but is definitely worth it. Taking notes is essential, not necessarily because I’ll forget experiences so soon, but rather those minute details that make a story better.

 

What do you like to read?

I’m less of a blog reader and more of a newsletter reader. I subscribe to an unhealthy number of newsletters, which include blogs, but as for going directly to blogs or websites that aren’t Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, that ironically isn’t a habit of mine.

Being in China and understanding that there’s a lot I don’t understand, I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction on China. One of my 2016 resolutions is to read at least one book a month, so I’m currently finishing up Peter Hessler’s Country Driving. It’s my first Hessler book, and I already can’t wait to read his others. I also highly recommend the Sinica podcast for anyone interested in China.

 

What’s next? Do you plan on staying in China?

I’m planning on applying to grad school to get a Master’s in Chinese studies. When I first came and got the job, I had only planned on staying at most two or three years, but now I’ve realized the need to continue my studies, whereas before I would always tell my dad a Master’s isn’t necessary for what I want to do, which was just journalism at the time. Living in China as an ABC has really sparked that passion in me to delve deeper into U.S.-China relations and aspire to be a “China expert,” or at least follow those out there now, including many who appear on the Sinica podcast. So I’ll stay probably until the end of this year, but you’ll definitely find me back here eventually.

 

Scraping together some Chinglish

Well, here’s a few:

I honestly don’t get this ad. Is it seriously a reference to the recent anniversary of the tragic Cultural Revolution?

 

And, please take care…

Low on #Chinglish lately, this all I got. Well, please care of…

A photo posted by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

Art and the City panel

Went to the Art and the City panel at 812 Design Center in Shenzhen last week.

Here is Bronwen Shelwell’s speech on microspaces, about working in South Africa. Artists mentioned include Steven Hobbs, Hedwig Hoben, Nina Barnett, and Theaster Gates.

Forgive the many cuts in my edit, because there were lots pauses for the Chinese translator to speak which I took out of the video.

Very interesting, and inspiring!

Dream Community – Art Center in Taipei, Taiwan

1

Recently, I took a trip to the Republic of China — also known as Taiwan — to visit the great city of Taipei. There comes a time when we all need a break from the mainland.

My girlfriend was invited to participate in a workshop at 夢想社區 // the Dream Community, and do check out the link. So I tagged along for the holiday weekend. She is a glass-blower, and relished the opportunity to use their studio for which to work on various creative projects. I was very lucky to be there to observe.

The Dream Community is a fascinating place, inspired by the aesthetics of Burning Man (recall I’ve been there) and full of amazing structures. The have a camp called Burning Mazu at the festival and it was quite cool to see how it gets built all the way on the other side of the world. The models, the building of parts, the planning and the labor. It sure takes a lot of work.

20160430_121303

 

The entire space was filled with glorious wonders…

20160428_151322 20160428_151148 20160428_151130 20160428_150109 20160428_150823

 

The space consists of several buildings with workshops inside. You can go there to explore, soak in the atmosphere, and even drop by while people working on projects.

20160428_150843 20160430_121156 20160428_145839

20160428_152125

 

A lot was going on. From the glass furnaces to feats of art car engineering. For one thing, here’s a tile project:

20160429_095136

 

Continue reading

Taiwan Chinglish?

Hello, coming at you from Taipei, Taiwan. I always love visiting here.

Unfortunately though, Taiwan is low on Chinglish. Only one I found is this and it’s even supposed to be artistic:

The only #Chinglish I could find in #台湾 Fucking Snake #art!

A photo posted by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

 

And here are a couple of others from back in SZ

I call double-negative on this #Chinglish!

A photo posted by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

Feelin secure in a roundabout way. #Chinglish-y?

A photo posted by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

 

More on Taiwan later, stay tuned…

 

Financial Times: The End of the Chinese Miracle?

This is a sponsored post. I was recently contacted by the Financial Times concerning “The End of the Chinese Miracle”, and have been invited to share the following video and give some of my commentary. Definitely a must-watch for all China observers:

 

China is certainly changing. And according to the Financial Times, the economic growth will not last forever. Specifically, due to the cheap labor of migrants winding down in recent years. I am not an economics expert myself, but the doubling of wages and repercussions globally do seem troubling. An interesting analysis.

The interview with a migrant worker who has decided to return to his hometown is key. Hundreds of millions may follow suit (the numbers are staggering), and the dependence of the world on ‘made in China’ products is going to have to change. There is also the phenomenon of of Vietnamese coming to work illegally in China explored. While India may be the next big thing, in the meantime the world is going to have to get used to new status quos.

Not mentioned in the video however, is the widely-believed analysis that the crackdown of Xi Jinping’s government is all about keeping China stable — and under the party’s control — as the economic downturn inevitably moves along… Not to mention the explosion of housing prices in major Chinese cites, which I have witnessed firsthand.

I don’t usually get into politics and economics on this blog, it’s mostly been about just my own experiences, yet I always welcome discussions with those smarter than myself. I do try to be optimistic, and the truth is no one can completely predict the future accurately.

But there is certainly much to be anxious about.

Would you like to add to the discussion?