2015. Blacksmith Books. 352 Pgs.
South China Morning Blues
By: Ray Hecht
I received and ARC copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
I had a serious love/hate relationship with this book.
I’m issuing a tepid recommendation of South China Morning Blues.
To be honest, I was a bit confused by this book, and within 30 pages (the number of pages I commit to before deciding to give up on a book) I had taken offense and was ready to quit. As someone who has lived in Shanghai for a few years and who has grown quite fond of China and Chinese culture, the complaints about and blatant disrespect towards China and its people really turned me off. Upon opening the book the reader is assaulted with foul attitudes. To make matters worse, this book is drenched in licentious behavior, which is the…
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A LONG way from his hometown, Kitimat, British Columbia, Canada, Matt Sigurdson has opened a Western-style vegan restaurant called Green Room in the Coastal City shopping mall in Nanshan.
He is relatively new to China, having moved to Shenzhen in January 2014. “My brother was living in Shenzhen at the time so I came to see him,” Sigurdson explained.
The 38-year-old has already had years of experience working in restaurants. “After moving to Calgary, I started as a weekend waiter in a family restaurant and quickly grew to love the environment. I was challenged further, and took on the lead waiter role. I spent three years there before I moved on to a newly built high-end concept restaurant, and took on a management position.” Eventually he moved to Shenzhen, and became a bar manager at a restaurant in Sea World in Shekou.
Sigurdson spent a lot of time examining the market in Shenzhen, and found that people were already making healthier choices in their lives. “I spent a lot of time examining what was going on in Shenzhen, and found that people here were already taking a healthy direction in their lives. I noticed an abundance of gyms and fitness centers. There were already a handful of Chinese vegan and vegetarian restaurants so we knew that it wasn’t a completely foreign idea. It would be a risky move, but we could pull it off.”
Sigurdson had many challenges in opening Green Room. “Every new thing we had to do to take the next step forward was a trial,” he said. “From learning the value of equipment and products to trying to explain how we wanted the place to be built. Day by day I learned more and more about each step, the vision became clearer, and we persevered and stuck through to the end to accomplish one of my goals in life.”
Some of the popular items are the eggplant rollups, rainbow spring rolls, Thai coconut soup, and avocado tacos. The restaurant produces all their own sauces and dressings from scratch. Juices and smoothies are made fresh when ordered. Sigurdson especially appreciates his regular customers. “The positive feedback I’ve received has made it all worth it,” he said.
Green Room is located near Coastal City mall adjacent to the Houhai metro station. The address is Wen Xin 3rd Road, Tiley Fame City Center, Block B, #142.
As I look back upon my years, I notice that I’ve moved a lot. About every year. I don’t know why this is so. I’ve lived with roommates, I’ve lived by myself, and in my time in Shenzhen and Guangzhou since 2009 I have moved about ten times. Still, for some reason, my previous apartment held a record for me: I stayed there for two whole years.
But then the lease ran out. I opted not to renew. At the same time, my girlfriend’s lease ran out and her landlord insisted on taking back the apartment. We proceeded to look for a new apartment. It wasn’t easy, but after a month of searching we finally found the perfect place. As the real estate bubble in China ever grows, prices have been going up and it’s not like it was back in the day. The tricky part is to find a good-sized clean place that’s not too far from the city center yet affordable.
Moving always sucks, but we made do. Moving two people into one house sucks twice as much, but I can make do. I actually find unpacking kind of fun. Organized books, collectibles, clothes. I am not the kinda expat who lives out of my suitcase, I like a lived in home.
And now I have made that major step. We live together. Without further ado, I present the Chinglish from my snazzy new apartment complex…
There you are. Here’s how the apartment actually looks by the way, while I’m Instagram sharing:
Also had a housewarming party last weekend that was awesome (pictures don’t do justice, take my word), it was quite the Shenzhen scene gathering if I do say so myself.
So, I hope you would like to come visit sometime! There’s a guest bedroom and everything. We want visitors.
Wish you luck on your next move as well
“ASSEMBLING,” an international art exhibition bringing together four Shenzhen-based artists, is being held at Sin Sin Fine Art in Hong Kong, and features an array of works that were assembled to complement one another.
The exhibition showcases four young artists from various countries who now call Shenzhen their home: Bronwen Shelwell, Marco Flagg, Tom Hayes and Zhang Kaiqin. The works of art are diverse, ranging from hanging installations to glass sculptures and even a piece made with growing seeds.
Curator Shelwell, who has lived in Shenzhen off and on since 2002, is very familiar with the city and also has experienced working in the art industry in Hong Kong. She currently lectures on art and design at SIFC.
“I’ve worked with Sinsin Man [owner of Sin Sin Fine Art] in the past, and have always been a great admirer of her,” she said. “When she asked me to curate an exhibition in her space, I was very honored and excited. We wanted to put together a group of artists who live in Shenzhen; the challenge was finding artists who are from different countries and work in different mediums.”
Shelwell has a number of her own pieces on display. The centerpiece of “Assembling” would have to be the hanging installation, “One Minute Suspended.”
Powerful in scale and complexity, it has 375 individual balls covered in shards of glass hanging from the ceiling, like a massive Newton’s Cradle. The balls are arranged in a specific pattern, as Shelwell explained. “During our preliminary meetings, Flagg recorded and documented the conversation. My idea for the installation was to take the central minute of that entire conversation and create a pattern based on the soundwaves. The middle line is perfectly straight, and the outer lines of balls follow the patterns of speech of the recorded minute.”
She also has other pieces. There is a wide glass panel with melted red copper inside called “Of Coming Together and Having to Part,” which was created in a factory in Foshan.
Shelwell talked about the process of creating it, “I first arranged fiberglass foam into a wave, and then put two pieces of glass with copper sheets in the middle. Glass has the ability to look incredibly soft while actually being very hard and sharp, and I’ve always been interested in pushing the boundaries of appearance and reality. My other pieces also explore a similar concept with glass in movement and expanding out of a surface.”
Shelwell’s other pieces are a set of three paintings that incorporate shards of glass, entitled “Within,” “Pause” and “Expand.”
Flagg is an American multimedia artist. His hometown is Albany, New York, and he’s been living in China for nearly a decade. Socially conscious, he studied documentary photography, and originally came to China with an NGO that worked in rural education. After first living in Beijing, he’s been in Shenzhen since 2009. His work is a video art piece called “Emergent.”
Among the most striking at the exhibition, “Emergent” is the only piece to incorporate sound. When one enters the space, a flat TV screen draws the eye with a hypnotizing array of animated colors. The accompanying headphones then welcome audience members to listen to a multi-layered conversation. Altogether it is a 1:48 loop which overlaps footage and audio recordings.
He explained the piece at length: “What I’m exhibiting is a multimedia piece called ‘Emergent’ which is documenting the initial meeting of the artists involved in this exhibition. All of us were given a selection of writing to respond to by the curator Bronwen … in a kind of round-table discussion at the gallery itself. I documented the audio and the video, and created the piece as a way to capture the exchange of ideas between these artists.”
Flagg also added the use of spectrometer display footage, switching around the senses of sight and sound. “A spectrometer basically displays the audio visually. With colors, red is more intense or a higher sound. Blue is a less intense or lower pitch sound.”
Flagg indeed finds Shenzhen to be an inspiring place for his style of art. “It’s rapidly developing,” he explained. “While some cities have more so-called traditional culture, Shenzhen is reacting to the issues of the current day in China. We can see that energy in the city. It’s very inspiring.”
Tom Hayes came from Britain to China in 2011 to study ceramics and previously managed the residency program at Da Wang Culture Highland at Wutong Mountain in Shenzhen. “Geoscroll,” a long scroll that uses Chinese iconography, is one of his signature pieces. “Sunplot” is more experimental and incorporates nature. Soy bean seeds planted in a circle represent the gathering of artists, and throughout the month as the plants grow, the art will also always be changing until both eventually disintegrate. “My work seems to be quite focused on processes and materials,” Hayes said. “I’m interested in transience and cycles in nature, and I find that working this way allows me to better communicate these feelings.”
Zhang Kaiqin is from Yunnan, China and has been living in Shenzhen for over 10 years. She studied in the United States, and currently works on the Baishizhou urban art project Handshake 302. Her painting, “An Afternoon in Summer,” is a layered rice paper canvas on which she applied watercolor and beeswax. The piece is light and airy, almost translucent, but upon closer inspection one can see its complexity.
It is fascinating to see how the artists use such a variety of mediums and backgrounds to express the theme of coming together.
“Assembling” will be on exhibit until Aug. 21 at Sin Sin Fine Art at 52 Sai Street in Central, Hong Kong. More information can be found at the gallery website: Sinsinfineart.com.
by Travis Lee
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 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.
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…
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
Venue: Sin Sin Fine Art, G/F, 52 Sai Street, Central, Hong Kong
MTR: Sheung Wan Station, Exit A1
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!
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.
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.