Postmodern Cantonland: a review of ‘South China Morning Blues’

http://www.travis-lee.org/2016/07/16/postmodern-cantonland-a-review-of-south-china-morning-blues-by-ray-hecht/

by Travis Lee

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Postmodern Cantonland: a review of ‘South China Morning Blues’, by Ray Hecht

The Gibson-esque Sprawl exists, and it’s here. We’re sitting in a postmodern Cantonland. Culture and identity can’t keep up, and everything gets spread thinner and thinner. Tens of millions of migrant workers enter the area every day, and hundreds of thousands of us aliens from overseas
mix in too. Maybe this is what the future of globalism looks like. It’s prosperous to be sure, but not very romantic.

In the summer of 2008, I received an email. If you’ve ever taught English in China, then you know the email, and its promises. Free apartment, travel money, paid holidays, and my favorite: the opportunity to experience life in a developing, dynamic country.

In South China Morning Blues by Ray Hecht, we hear from twelve people experiencing life in China, the developing, dynamic place for expat reinvention since 1979.

The book opens in Shenzhen with Marco. Marco isn’t just an expat businessman, he is the expat businessman, a failure in the West who has come, has seen and is all set to conquer:

“Jackie”, my workmate (Chinese people and their English names, am I right?), bobs his head up and down. Looking so damn out of place, he wears the same white dress shirt, with the outline of a wife-beater underneath, which he wears every day. Badly in need of a haircut and with long pinky nails, he looks like he couldn’t get a job here serving drinks, and yet I know that he makes a salary four times the national average.

Marco never learns Jackie’s real name, and by the time Jackie steals Marco’s clients and leaves him high and dry, it’s too late; Marco shows up in Guangzhou, heavier and humbled.

There are twelve narrators whose chapters are marked by their Chinese zodiacs. Most of them want to be someone else, someone “successful”, what they want to see in the mirror instead of what they actually see. If I tried to sum up everyone’s stories, I’d never finish this review.

So I’ll touch on a couple:

Sheila and Lu Lu are young Chinese women caught between modern life and tradition. Both bend, and it’s Lu Lu who breaks, marrying a policeman she met while working as a KTV girl. She cheats on him, staying stays in a loveless marriage for the financial support, which comes in handy; her husband arranges everything, and Sheila helps her give birth in Hong Kong, ensuring that her child will have all the benefits of Hong Kong citizenship.

Terry is a Chinese-American writer who works for a local magazine by day, by night putting together “the great expat novel”, Cantonland. He becomes involved with Ting Ting, an artist who has moved to the Pearl River Delta region from Beijing. Not content to merely practice art, Ting Ting treats herself like a work of art, coloring her hair and recoloring it when her natural roots show through. She yearns to be an instrumental part of the next great art scene. Ting Ting is too concerned with appearances; she spends hours coloring her hair for her date with Terry, and he never comments on it.

The party at Lamma Island closes out the book, but while the book ends, everyone’s stories don’t stop.

We do.

We stop hearing about these people as their lives go on: Terry is a step closer to writing his book, Lu Lu has given birth to her baby and Marco?

He sits unnamed on the ferry, a shell of diminished importance.

***

Some people have lamented the lack of a “great” expat novel; they wish to see an expat equivalent to The Sun Also Rises. Another reviewer brought this up concerning Quincy Carroll’s excellent Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside.

Instead of looking back and making comparisons, let’s look forward. Along with Up to the Mountains, books like Harvest Season and South China Morning Blues set the standard for fiction from a transient class of lifelong outsiders.

Available at Amazon and the publisher’s website.

ASSEMBLING 貳 +叁 = 伍: Shenzhen-based artists exhibit in Hong Kong

Been a while since I published something from Shenzhen Daily, but I do have something in today’s edition. Basically I copy-pasted the press release and rewrote some quick bios, and they gave me the credit!

Also, please do check out the exhibition opening release party in Hong Kong, Friday July 22 to meet the talented artists…

 

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“Expand” by Bronwen Shelwell

http://szdaily.sznews.com/html/2016-07/14/content_3571221.htm

Four artists who reside in Shenzhen — three expatriates and one Chinese — will showcase their art at Sin Sin Fine Art in Hong Kong from July 22 to Aug. 21.

Entitled “Assembling,” the exhibition will include ceramic, glass, installation, multimedia and painting, all assembled to connect with one another. Each artist has a unique perspective while sharing the same thread of chance that brought them together, with the content of “Assembling” all collaborating and complementing one another.

The opening reception will be held July 22 at 6:30 p.m. and will feature a performance by Spanish dancer Beatriz Abad Latorre. On Saturday, July 23 at 3 p.m. the artists will meet to discuss how the city of Shenzhen has impacted their work, life and creativity.

Bronwen Shelwell, who is from South Africa and works primarily with glass, is the curator as well as an artist and has a series of glass sculptures. Marco Flagg, a multimedia artist from the United States, will present a video art piece. Tom Hayes from Britain specializes in ceramics, and has produced a “living” sculpture that will grow during the exhibition dates. Zhang Kaiqin is a Chinese artist from Yunnan Province and she will exhibit a contemporary watercolor painting.

Dates: July 22-Aug. 21 (closed Sundays)
Opening reception: 6:30-8:30 p.m., July 22
Discussion panel: 3-5 p.m., July 23
Admission: Free
Venue: Sin Sin Fine Art, G/F, 52 Sai Street, Central, Hong Kong
MTR: Sheung Wan Station, Exit A1

 

http://sinsinfineart.com/2016/assembling/assembling-eInvitation.html

Interview with My Take’s Hilton Yip

Our interview today is with the well-traveled Hilton Yip who blogs @–

My Take: hcyip.wordpress.com

He currently resides in the nearby city of Hong Kong and was nice enough to talk with me about writing and seeing the world. I’m happy to introduce him herein!

 

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How long have you been writing?

I started writing in university and my first published article in a non-student publication was in 2008. I wrote for the main college student newspaper. I wrote for the news team, but I also did opinion, arts and travel pieces too. When I think about it, that’s how my writing and my blogging have developed, in that I’m interested in a few different fields and I write about different things.

 

How did you get started in blogging?

When I was in university, a lot of people I knew had one so I felt it’d be good to have one as well. Since then, I’ve continued blogging.

My first blog was mainly about personal stuff with a bit of political rants. Some of it is probably embarrassing, but when you’re that age and you’re new to a form of social media as blogs were then, it’s easy to get caught up and write whatever nonsense comes to your mind. The people I knew mostly wrote about personal things too, but I also remember reading some really interesting geopolitical blogs. It’s kind of a pity that blogging doesn’t seem too popular, for instance a lot of China-based expat blogs I knew from a few years ago have stopped, but at least WordPress, which I also use, is still going strong.

 

You used to live in Beijing, and now live in Hong Kong. How do you feel each place compares when it comes to literary inspiration?

I’ve only been in HK for several months so there’s probably a lot more I need to find out. I think HK feels more hectic and smaller than Beijing but more international, whereas Beijing is more historic, is the capital of China so you’ve got tons of people from all over the country, and is still developing.

Beijing is at least 800 years old as a city. It’s full of centuries-old sites like the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and the hutongs. On the other hand, it is still a city in flux with a lot of strata in society from the obscenely powerful to well-off, urbane folks to migrant workers, educated and not-so-educated. The city itself is still growing in terms of both buildings and people, so much so that it wants to reduce its population. Hong Kong is more international in the sense that besides a large and established expat population and Western restaurants and stores, it has a longstanding Western heritage due to its colonial past.

 

You have a lot of published articles, as well as personal travel blogs. Is there anything you like better about writing your own blogs as opposed to writing for pay?

Yes, certainly. Writing on my blog allows me to write about anything I want or feel like. Of course, when I write for pay, I usually write about topics that interest me. I’d never write about something I didn’t believe in. But with blogging, there are absolutely no constraints such as word limits or deadlines except in your own mind.

Most of my for-pay articles have been either travel, book reviews and opinion pieces.
But I have written a few feature articles including couple about Taiwan that I feel proud of, not because it’s spectacular but because it took a lot of time, effort and interviews. One was about English-language programs in Taiwan-taiwanreview.nat.gov.tw.
The other one was about mainland students studying in Taiwan fulltime, one year after they were allowed to do so: taiwanreview.nat.gov.tw. Mind you, these are for a Taiwan state magazine so it may not be accessible without a VPN from China. I’ve done about a dozen travel articles and two of my travel pieces – Travel: Milan, Italy
http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/855345.shtml.

 

What kind of places are your favorite to visit?

I like cities with a lot of history and that are bustling, but which are also attractive. Nanjing is my favorite city in China precisely because it has both history and pleasant scenery and streets. In terms of natural places, I like hills and mountains. That is one really good thing about Hong Kong that not many people outside of HK know- that it’s got a lot of good hills to hike with great scenery.

It may sound boring but I really like history museums and I always make sure to visit one whenever I’m in cities, especially major ones. No matter whether it be Tokyo, Seoul, London, Cape Town, Nanjing, Shanghai or even Hong Kong, I always make sure to check out history museums. In general though, I like cities that have a lot of history like Rome, Nanjing and Hanoi and historical landmarks like palaces, ancient structures and old city walls. For instance, I would say the best thing about Xian is not the terracotta warriors but the drum and bell towers, the nearby Muslim quarter, and the city walls. Of course, I like other things like interesting buildings and skyscrapers and especially old neighborhoods where you can walk around and explore.

 

What kind of places are your least favorite to visit?

There hasn’t been a country that I visited and I didn’t like. Now I don’t quite like China, but that’s from living there, not from traveling. I’m generally open to different kinds of places, but I admit I’m not much of a cafe person. I don’t mind meeting up with people in cafes but I won’t visit a neighborhood for its cafes; I’m not a cafe coffee drinker and I don’t have the habit of doing work like writing in them.

 

What exotic locales can we expect to see on your blog next; any interesting travel plans?

I haven’t decided on any trips for the near future, since I did a lot of traveling late last year and earlier this year (Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Italy, France). I hope to visit India though that’ll probably be next year.

Sri Lanka was my last overseas trip and it was in January. It was my first time there and after hearing and reading a lot of good things from other people who went, I’m glad to say a lot of it is true. It’s really attractive and got an awesome combination of history, mountains and nice beaches. My favorite places there were Galle, a seaside fort community, the Hill Country (Nuwara Eliya (a town in the mountains featuring tea plantations), and Sigiriya, ahistoric fortress.

I went to Europe late last year, my first time there, and it was much better than what I’d expected. I went to several countries including France, Italy and Germany. I liked all of them but I really enjoyed Italy. As I said, I like historical structures, and in Rome, there is so much. I mean, in China, even ancient cities like Xi;an and Beijing, as interesting as they are, don’t retain much historical structures in comparison. I also really enjoyed the food and I found the cathedrals and the art spectacular. Also, the sense of good style and design, not that I am an expert, in Italy was everywhere. Even walking on a shabby street, I’d see houses that look much nicer than what you see in Asia. Honestly, Asian cities just don’t have that kind of beauty.

 

Bureaucratic kerfuffle in Israel: My Trip

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There I am

As you may know from brief biographies published on occasion, I am American but I happened to be born in Israel. But what does that exactly mean? I moved when I was a baby and I don’t speak Hebrew, I don’t even particularly care about Israel other than a general appreciation for the Western mythological tradition, and in fact if you speak to me in private I would express that I am quite critical of the intense political situation there. If you wanna get into religion then let me say I’m basically atheist at this point.

I identify myself as completely American and somewhat proud of that—not that America is perfect but there is an argument to be made that America’s contributions to the world do outnumber the negatives. And, America is just plain more interesting.

The short and long of it is that I left Israel at two-years old. I have no memory as “sabra”. My dad is from Chicago and my mom is from the former Soviet Union; they met there and me and my sister were born abroad but raised in the United States of America: the midwestern states of Indiana and Ohio to be specific. I consider my hometown to be Cincinnati. For the past decade I’ve had a California driver’s license. Even though I’ve lived in another interesting country for quite a while, China, I will always consider myself an American abroad.

I did visit Israel a few times in my adult life. When I was a teenager on one of those trips, a couple times to see family. What can I say? The food is good. It’s English-friendly and easy to get around. That’s about the main takeaway for me.

So, over the last several years my sister has chosen to live in Jerusalem and do the whole religious thing. Not for me, but to each their own. She has a family, a precocious hyper son whom I met at a wedding in Florida two years ago. Since then, her family has grown with the addition of two super-cute nieces I had yet to meet. Hence, the time came for one of those international trips to meet the family!

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Ridiculously super-cute

I had arranged to fly from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv for a brief, one-week trip. My mom was flying in as well. Right off the bat, unwelcoming Israeli security became an issue as I was personally escorted through the HK airport. It was better than the strip search last time. The real bureaucratic issue was when, after the grueling 11-hour flight, I was told off at the Ben-Gurion customs…

See, I have never even had an Israeli passport. I left as a baby under my parents’. I could claim dual citizenship, but I’ve never had any desire whatsoever. In 2011 I came for my sister’s wedding, and there wasn’t a problem with my U.S. passport until I left and a border guard yelled at me for not having an Israeli passport. I was told I would not be allowed in next time without it. In the years since I tried my best to forget about that. It was kind of offensive, being told what my identity is.

They must have remembered, because when I came in the guard knew I was warned already and gave me a very hard time for not getting the passport. Gotta give their record-keeping system credit. Apparently I had to go to the Ministry of the Interior to sort it out, or I would not be allowed to leave the country!

Bit scary to be told that. What, should I contact the American embassy and say Israel is trying to kidnap me? I do get it; Israel is very aggressive about getting more migration for their own reasons. However, I am not into it. Least I know I’m too old to get drafted.

I suppose it could come in handy if there was a world disaster and I needed a second country’s passport. Still, I try not to plan my life around paranoia.

So, they eventually let me through. I was nervous but ready to embrace the trip. My Dad—who happened to be in the area—picked me up along with my British brother-in-law. It was late, and already I preferred the cool, dry desert air to the humid jungle weather I had come from. We went to my dad’s accommodations to pass out, and the next day I saw my sister’s family!

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Me and Mom and Sis and boy

I had met her son/my nephew in 2014 but I never met my nieces until that day. They are ridiculously cute. And not only that, but we then returned to the airport to pick up my mom! A real family reunion of a trip. I doled out gifts of Chinese trinkets and we all caught up on life. It’s always nice to see one’s immediate family after years away.

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The dreaded Ministry of the Interior

Finally, on Day 3, I went to the dreaded Ministry of the Interior. My dad helped me out a lot. I brought my (American) passport and my printout of flight details, and that’s all I had. No Israeli documentation whatsoever. We took a number, waited, then were told to go somewhere else to take a number. It was early in the day and I can’t complain as it was rather fast for a government ministry. At last, a lady took us in her office. I had two choices revealed: I could pay to receive an Israeli passport and it would take a few days, or I could get an exit permission letter right then and there at no charge. I chose the latter. She highly recommended that I get the passport and I must eventually if I ever come to Israel again, seriously I really better not forget, but this would be allowed for the current trip.

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Model of ancient Jerusalem at Israel Museum

Now over with, I was free to enjoy the rest of my time! There were so many dinners with family. Playing with the kids. Taking photos. Eating delicious Middle Eastern food. Oh the hummus, the hummus!!! Lots of walking around the central district of Jerusalem, which is mostly an overly religious city, but touristy Jaffa Center at Ben-Yahuda street was tolerable. We went to malls, restaurants, and argued. It’s a family tradition. Arguing with my dad was the worst (we have a complex relationship), and there was a rather heavy disagreement with my sister as well over the settlements and alternative medicine. But don’t get me started, as this is supposed to be a mostly apolitical blog. The theological discussions were remarkably civil.

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Comics!

When asked about my favorite place on the trip, I have to admit it was going to the comic book store in the metropolitan city of Tel Aviv. I love checking out comic shops when going to a new place. The beach was also nice. The Israel Museum comes highly recommended; at the time they had an exhibition on ancient Egypt. They even have the Dead Sea Scrolls, an amazing sight to see (though they don’t let you take pictures there). I did enjoy the old city of Jerusalem, with the Western Wall and the Christian District, all those old churches and ancient structures.

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Beach

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Taking the Western Wall very seriously

One project I was working on while there was an interview series with my mother. She’s had a crazy life immigrating from one country to the next three times over, and I wanted to learn more about it. I treated the interview like journalism, recorded several hours of footage, and that’s all I’ll say about that until I create something to share next year.

The days went by too fast and before I knew it was over. After a funny episode of almost being late because I needed a new belt, I was driven back to the airport. I said my goodbyes, and the exit paper was no problem. All that was left was memories and souvenirs. I was headed back to that other controversial country of China, back to what had since become familiar to me, my life in Shenzhen. Not that life is stable here, the scenery is ever-changing no matter where…

Whether one likes it or not, family is where ya come from and they are important. I hope I’m on good terms with them. I’m not happy about everything when it comes to where I am from and my past, but then again perhaps I should get over those issues and appreciate all that’s been done for me. My mom and dad did their best, they are good people, and I thank my sister so much for helping me organize this trip. I wish her the best of luck with her new family, and I am sure she will do great.

That said, perhaps next time we should all visit in another country. Somewhere chill, I wouldn’t want to get in trouble over passport customs issues or anything.

 

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A rare photo of almost the entire family in one place. Note the food

 

Israeli Chinglish… Hebrlish?

So, I’ve been a bit quiet over the last week because I am currently traveling. In Israel. It’s not my favorite country, to be honest, but I have family to visit and hence here I am. Get into the controversies later.

Hope to have a longer post next week detailing some adventures and challenges. Be patient and stay tuned…

In the meantime, I’ve been looking for some Chinglish to share! (Or would that be Hebrlish?) It’s a very English-friendly country, westernized in all the good and bad ways, and about the only thing I saw was this sign at the beach mentioning “rockery.” Also, me.

 

Does this count as Ivrit #Chinglish?

A photo posted by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

 

In #TelAviv, meh

A photo posted by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

 

Novel review – South China Morning Blues

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SouthChinaMorningBlues_800As someone hoping to get a novel published, it’s only right that I occasionally read a book from a writing friend, blogger or an otherwise beginning author who’s in a similar boat as myself. The book I’m talking about today is written by Ray Hecht, a fellow blogger who grew up in the United States but has been living in China since 2008. So it feels appropriate that his first novel is about the clash of Western and Eastern culture and how it affects different people differently.

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End of the Tour: Shenzhen Writers Night

Discover AndExperiencE ASIA

 

Last weekend I hosted the “Shenzhen Writers Night.” It was something I was thinking about for a while, as a sort of ending to my book tour of the past year. And I wanted to create a special reading atmosphere, so I broadened the event to include other talented authors I know in Shenzhen and South China.

If I do say so myself, I think it went very well. I found a good space at the youth hostel in the OCT area, which is Shenzhen’s own answer to a hipster neighborhood. Me first, I tried out at reading from the last chapter of my novel in order to signify the end. A spoiler if you may, but I had never read that aloud before. The array of talent and creativity from the other authors was amazing; the stories and the poetry and the performances. It went by faster than I realized…

Although this was supposed to be the end of my tour, now everyone keeps asking me when there will be another reading. So, guess I’ll have to do it again! After learning a lot about how to organize and promote such events, and thinking about more writers to showcase from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, I certainly have some ideas.

Ah, a better picture from Friday's #reading

A photo posted by Ray (@raelianautopsy) on

 

By the way, the event was even reviewed on the site BASEDtraveler and That’s PRD magazine — here are the two pieces complete with appropriate links from all the participants, so please do check out more from these great writers:

 

 

http://www.basedtravelershenzhen.com/shenzhen-writers-night

Shenzhen Writers Night

by Rachel Dillon

Friday 3rd June saw the first ever Shenzhen Writers Night, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it. It was held in the community room of the YHA Youth Hostel in OCT Loft, a lovely area full of arts events and exhibitions, cafes, restaurants, shops and bars, and was an eclectic mix of writers from all over the world with all different styles and genres of writing.

Organised by Ray Hecht, an American who has lived in Shenzhen for about seven years, he opened the event with a reading from his novel South China Morning Blues. Unusually, he read the final chapter, giving us a flavour of the whole book and a taste for more. Luckily he had a few copies for sale. My copy is on my nightstand, waiting to be read.

Next was Amada Roberts of Crazy Dumpling fame. You can read my review of her first cookbook here and she has just published the sequel, aptly titled Crazy Dumplings 2: Even Dumplinger. However, she decided that cookbooks weren’t exactly riveting listening for an audience so she read an excerpt from her debut novel, published under her pseudonym Leigh Anderson. The Vampire’s Daughter, a gothic fantasy romance, was quite a contrast from South China Morning Bluesespecially considering the part she read – a touch on the erotic side with a dramatic cliff hanger to keep the audience gasping for more. Read my review of The Vampire’s Daughter here.

Lom Harshni Chauhan’s novel Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul is all about raising her daughter with Indian spiritual values while living in Shenzhen, where she has lived for the past 13 years. She read a humorous excerpt about how the name of the book came about during a conversation with her daughter where she declared that, “The body is the visa for the soul.” Very profound for a six-year-old.

The next person on stage was Adrian Blackstock, a musician who has lived in Shenzhen since 2012. He is currently working on an album due to be released in July this year. Called VaChina, it is a musical celebration of China, Africa, Virginia (where Adrian is from originally) and where all humans began. Adrian chose to recite the lyrics of two of the songs from his upcoming album, and gave a riveting performance.

After a great introduction from Adrian, it was my turn. I read some of my travel writing – a piece about travelling on the Trans-Mongolian railway last summer which I wrote as a guest post for Clara from expatpartnersurvival.com and you can find on my blog here; followed by a bit about my experience visiting Chernobyl, which was the absolute highlight of my trip.

I then had the pleasure of introducing my friend Senzeni, whose writing I love. She was one of the finalists of the That’s PRD writing competition last month, along with myself and another friend; Senzeni won third prize with her piece which is published in this month’s That’s PRD magazine. (There’s also a small picture of me!) Senzeni read a short story from her upcoming anthology of short stories, due to be published later this year. Humorous and thought-provoking, Senzeni’s writing is full of emotion and captures snapshots of different people’s lives from a whole new perspective.

The final writer was Aaron Styza, who had come all the way from Guangzhou to share some of his beautiful poetry with us, including The Science of Speech, which has been published on HeronTree.com. Again, a completely different style of writing and genre, Aaron’s poetry was an excellent ending to a very eclectic and enjoyable evening.

As many people are going away for the summer (including me), we are hoping to do another Shenzhen Writers Night in September. Check back here after the summer for more information on future events.

Resources
If you missed the event but would like to find out more about the authors and their writing, here are a few links:
Ray Hecht’s South China Morning Blues and his site www.rayhecht.com.
Amanda Robert’s Crazy Dumplings and Crazy Dumplings 2: Even Dumplinger, along with The Vampire’s Daughter under her pseudonym Leigh Anderson, and her blog www.twoamericansinchina.com
Lom Harshni Chauhan’s Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul
Adrian Blackstock’s album site vachina.bandcamp.com
My blog www.persephone2015.wordpress.com, which is more about travels outside of Shenzhen
Senzeni Mpofu’s competition article in this month’s That’s PRD magazine
Aaron Styza’s poems on TwoCitiesReview and Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, plus an interview with Ray Hecht here.

 

 

http://www.thatsmags.com/shenzhen/post/13952/photos-shenzhen-writers-night-recap

PHOTOS: Shenzhen Writers Night Recap

by Bailey Hu

Last Friday night, June 3, was the premiere of Shenzhen Writers Night, a new event local author Ray Hecht organized in order to showcase the voices of talented writers in the area.

The event was held in the community room of a youth hostel in OCT-Loft, as advertised earlier on That’s PRD.

Seven talented writers spanning a wide range of voices and styles gathered to share their work. Each read an excerpt of what they’d written, sometimes prefacing it with an explanation, before introducing the next author.

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As the host, Ray started off the night by reading from his latest book, South China Morning Blues, a novel about modern life in the Pearl River Delta.

Two other writers, Amanda Roberts and Lom Harshni Chauhan, also read parts of books they’d published. Amanda, who also runs a local women writers’ group, shared a steamy scene from her gothic-inspired The Vampire’s Daughter (published under the pen name Leigh Andersen).

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Lom’s chosen excerpt from Visa, Stickers, and Other Matters of the Soul, on the other hand, was a sweet, spiritual contemplation on the author’s close relationship with her daughter.

Two of the writers at the reading were also finalists in the That’s PRD writing contest last month. Rachel Dillon, who also wrote about the reading, shared a couple travel pieces while Senzeni Mpofu, who won third place for her short story, read another piece that will be part of her upcoming anthology.

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Breaking up the mostly prose lineup, Adrian Blackstock and Aaron Styza made a strong showing with their samplings of song lyrics and poems, respectively.

Adrian turned his reading into a true performance as he used expressions and movements to accompany his musical compositions. Aaron, while opting for a more traditional reading, ended the night on a strong note with his deeply reflective work.

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Fittingly, the atmosphere in the hostel felt communal, even casual, with audience members occasionally laughing or asking the writers questions.

Organizer Ray Hecht commented he was “happy with talented writers sharing their stories in Shenzhen,” and that he was strongly considering holding follow-up events in the future.

Senzeni Mpofu agreed. “It was great,” she said, and she was “hoping to see more.”

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Adrian Blackstock added that he “enjoyed the diversity” of writers and their work on display during the reading.

Amanda Roberts saw the reading as a venue “for authors to get themselves out locally,” and had been pleasantly surprised by some of her fellow writers. When asked if she’d attend future events, she responded: “definitely.”

Book Review: South China Morning Blues

I am Meursault

(Standard disclaimer: Book reviews don’t follow the usual blog rules of taking nothing seriously)

What is nice and what is nasty? When we wander through life we tend to consciously divide the people we meet into two camps: nice guys and assholes. Probably no other social classification is as clear-cut once we move away from fixed biological terms like race, gender and age (though in this day and age even those are debatable). We all know who the nice guys and the assholes are: just look around the office you perhaps work in. Nice guys will be those stand-up chaps who share resources, participate in the social events, and always have a good word to say about anyone. Assholes, on the other hand, tend to be rude and often vindictive. We all want to be seen as nice guys, right?

This classification seems to be a general rule within Western…

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Book Review: Umbrellas in Bloom

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https://thenanfang.com/book-review-umbrellas-bloom/

 

Jason Y. Ng is the author of HONG KONG State of Mind and No City for Slow Men, and has now rounded out a trilogy with Umbrellas in Bloom: Hong Kong’s Occupy Movement Uncovered (all published by Blacksmith Books).

While his previous books simply described modern Hong Kong social dynamics, the latest is explicitly political and an altogether different style than the others. Now that he has written book-length political commentary, Ng has become a crucial player by being first to record the 2014 “Occupy Central” protest movement in any English-language book. It is certainly a must-read.

Umbrellas in Bloom covers a lot of ground. The complex political system of Hong Kong is detailed in very readable fashion, with all the grievances spelled out. Various charts explain how the economy has left the majority of citizens behind, and why so many were upset enough to camp out in protest for all those months. Most of all, the mainland Chinese government is shown to blame for suppressing universal suffrage for the former colony under the so-called “one country, two systems.” Indeed, observers of Beijing and Asia as a whole would do well to read this book and understand the climate of Beijing in relation to Hong Kong.

The language of the book does reflect a specific point of view; do not mistake it as a scholarly, objective report. Ng delves deeply into his unique experiences and certainly takes sides. It makes for a good read, and it’s refreshing that he does not censor himself and expresses his informed opinion with confidence. Perhaps there is an element of preaching to the choir, even getting repetitive at times—“blue ribbon” supporters probably won’t change their minds after reading—but for international readers seeking to understand, the writing style works.

The book is very personal as well. It begins on September 28th, 2014, the day tear gas was fired into crowds as the whole world watched in horror. Then, the tone jumps around as it looks back on the history of Hong Kong politics. The central villain is Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, known as a corrupt stooge of the mainland Chinese government, although the entirety of the Legco system in Hong Kong is highly unrepresentative. As 2017 approached—the promised time for universal suffrage, the Occupy Central movement grew. There was also the Scholarism student movement, led by famous student Joshua Wong (Wong wrote one of the book’s forwards). Then the tale of three villages: the occupied areas of Admiralty, Mongkok, and Causeway Bay. Different ideologies and challenges are showcased, from the police to thugs and internal struggles between different factions and nativists. Some of the most heartwarming sections are about the young people he met, such as Kent and Renee and Hinson, engaging characters all.

In the end, due to a court order of all things, the Admiralty occupation fell. Four days later, on December 15th, the police cleared out the other encampments and the Umbrella Revolution was left to ponder its own legacy. Ng is quite optimistic; surprising considering nothing on paper seemed to get enacted yet, but he does point out that other famous social justice movements throughout history took decades to achieve their goals. His conclusion is definitely that it was worth a try. “The 11 weeks I spent in Umbrellaville were the happiest in all my years in Hong Kong,” he writes. Perhaps the soul of Hong Kong has been changed in subtle ways that are not clear yet, but in the long run history will prove that things did change…

There is so much to learn from Umbrellas in Bloom. However subjective, it is definitely required reading for expats and Sinologists. Whether you were there or only watched on the news from afar, the fallout is still occurring today and enlightened observers should learn what they can.

Highly recommended for all China watchers.

Umbrellas in Bloom is available in Hong Kong bookstores, and can be ordered from Blacksmith Books.