Taiwan Tales Volume Two – short story anthology

 

https://www.amazon.com/Taiwan-Tales-Anthology-Connor-Bixby-ebook/dp/B078XPDQDM

 

Since coming to Taiwan, I have become a part of the Taipei Writers’ Group and I am now honored to be a part of their new anthology sequel Taiwan Tales Volume Two. My short story “The Taipei Underground” is included among many other works by excellent and talented writers whom I’ve been humbled to share writings with.

Please give it a read, via the Kindle or even order a hard copy. In fact, as always I’m happy to share an complimentary advance edition for reviewers! Also, stay tuned for updates including free promotions and other events coming up soon…

The book will also be on sale at the Taipei International Book Exhibition from February 6th to 11th, featuring yours truly. Do come say hi to me if in the area 🙂

 

Brief synopses of the short stories herein:

“Room 602” by Pat Woods, a Taiwanese ghost story inspired by an unusual local superstition about knocking on hotel doors.

“Notes from Underfoot” by Mark Will, a humorous and erudite story that gives a dog’s-eye-view of life in Taipei.

“The Taipei Underground” by Ray Hecht, a glimpse of the lives of two young people in Taipei Main Station’s cavernous underground.

“Bob the Unfriendly Ghost vs. The Mother Planet” by Laurel Bucholz, dealing a sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying experience of local spirits and Ayahuasca.

“Underworld” by J.J Goodwin, an epic odyssey through a strange world beneath Taipei where local and foreign mythology is alive and kicking.

“A Completely Normal Male Expat” by Connor Bixby, which, in the author’s own brand of neurotic fiction, checks out communication and the dating game in Taipei.

“Onus” by Ellyna Ford Phelps, a story of friendship, dark pasts, and goodbyes as two expats share an all-too-brief connection.

The collection was edited by Pat Woods and L.L. Phelps, and the gorgeous cover image was provided by TWG member Brian Q. Webb.

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Taiwan Tales Volume Two Released!

Presenting my latest short story

Taipei Writers Group

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2017 was, in some ways, a transitional year for the Taipei Writers’ Group.

We had a great time at the 2017 Taipei International Book Expo (TIBE), sold plenty of books, made contacts and plenty of new friends, and did well enough so we’ll be back again in 2018 (February 6-11, more details to follow).

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Japan: the trip

Honestly, still my favorite things about Japan

As some may know, I recently went to Japan with my lovely partner during the New Year holiday. It was a great opportunity to check out one of my favorite countries (and proximity is better than ever now living in Taiwan). Not to knock any other of the fascinating Eastern lands out there, but for my inner geek Japan will always be my first love…

It was my third time visiting, and Bronwen’s very first! In the month beforehand I brushed up on my old collegiate 日本語 studies, listening to audio lessons and dusting off the old phrasebooks. It turned out I can still surprisingly get by in survival Japanese at least, and I’ll never forget hiragana/katakana. Nowadays my Chinese is obviously much better, but I do know a lot of kanji even if I pronounce it wrong. Hence, I like to think I make for a decent Nihon guide.

In our planning stages we decided to forego the overwhelmingness of Tokyo, and instead opted for the more traditional city of Kyoto in the Kansai region. Sure enough it was a great place to explore, low-key and relaxed, and with a temple or shrine on every corner. Nijo Castle in particular stood out. And the Gion District was a cool place full of geisha stylings, and look how good she looks in a rented kimono!

(Note these Instagram links below are albums to flip through, so scroll all)

 

Later we went to Nara, which proved to be the first of our ‘animal friends’ series of photo ops. Nara is famous for it’s roaming deer, as you can see! Hundreds of them everywhere, what a sight. They are quite tame for the most part, except for a few selfish ones harassing tourists with bags of oranges, but basically one buys crackers from street vendors and all day they will safely feed from the humans. Lucky beasts.

It’s even advertised that they are polite and bow, but later I looked it up and they only “bow” because they think humans are about the head-butt them. Interesting facts.

Our Animal Friends, Part 1: #Nara #Deer #Park

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The other main animal friends adventure consisted of going to the central shopping district of Kyoto for an amazing time at the hedgehog cafe!! Yes, the latest of the cafe trends is to play with super-cute hedgehogs. It was very popular and we had to reserve to get a seat.

I felt a bit bad, because our hedgehog was rather not into it. The workers there explained well how to treat the animals right, and it wasn’t uncomfortably exploitative or anything. Just slightly problematic what with the way the little guy kept wanting to run away into corners.

There was also an owl cafe in the area, but I can only handle so much cuteness.

 

New Year’s Eve was had partying, as it should be, at the rocker nightclub known as Metro. It was an excellent showing rotating live bands and DJs, with an almost retro 80s vibe to it. One band blew us away, they were dressed like boy scouts and absolutely insane. Made for a long night of ringing in 2018, and I hope I can maintain some optimism for the year…

I shouted out many a times: “明けましておめでとうございます!”

#明けましておめでとうございます!

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After going to the famous and beautiful Inari Shrine, and then the Toei Studios Park–which was somewhat of a lame tourist attraction and the anime section was pitiful but the samurai village was kind of cool and had horses–on the last day we were off to the nation’s second-biggest city of Osaka to absorb the whole futuristic Japan thing. Which is what I ultimately love about it there the most, though it did get very crowded. A city I visited over ten years previous, so nostalgic.

The bathhouses, the pretty light snow and the cold weather, the majestic mountains in the distance, calculating yen, the bullet trains, the heated seats, the soba noodles, the tempura, the lux toilets, the manga figurines, and the epic video game arcades. Experienced so much on this all too brief eight-day trip. And, she seemed to like it.

Until next time, Rising Sun land…

Bye, Japan! Last set: #InariShrine #NewYears #ToeiPark #Osaka #大阪

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Engrish not Chinglish, because in Japan – also Happy New Year!

Because I am currently in Japan, not China, this is technically an ‘Engrish’ post not a Chinglish post. That’s how it works.

More on my Japan trip in more detail next week, so please be patient…

 

Also, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! Wishing everyone a creative and productive and happy and wondrous 2018. Let us hope that things turn out a bit better for the world already, and not just hope but work at it 🙂

 

Without further ado, two brief pics:

(Hey, it is not exactly easy to find funny mistranslations in near-perfect Japan!)

 

#Engrish not #Chinglish, because guess where I am!

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Butt kinda #Engrish/#Chinglish

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Figure Drawing

A couple of weekends ago, I had my first proper nude figure drawing class since college. I must say it was a very inspiring session. It was a great atmosphere, with the classroom environment really pushing me to do my best. The three-dimensionality of a live model does make for much more wholy-realized sketches than practicing on say youtube, doesn’t it?

The resources were also superior to my usual set. Instead of a no. 2 pencil and simple sketchpad at home, I could utilize charcoal pencils and white chalk and large off-color paper and an easel, etc.

All in all it took three hours which went by before I knew it. The model was very professional and able to make striking poses while staying perfectly still for extended periods of time, which is far more difficult than it seems.

First, there were the many quick 30-second to one-minute to two-minute poses:

 

It was very good for getting back into the spirit of drawing. Then, came the poses at about 15-minutes length and I used a tan paper stock so I could highlight the contrasts of light and shadow. After getting the hang of sketching the body, I wanted to challenge myself by drawing a recognizable face as well:

 

The second-half of the class with thirty-minute plus poses made for more fully-finalized pieces, which I think turned out surprisingly well!

Thinking about the anatomy as a whole and the shoulders-to-waist and forced perspective of the legs, and the shine in the hair and the cloth draped over the chair…

 

I moved my easel station around to get different perspectives, and found that the backside can be a very beautiful angle. Grey paper, by the way, may be my new favorite medium.

 

In the final work, I took my time and even did some layouts of the background so the picture could look as complete as possible. My attempt to bring all the elements together: The sense of movement of the body, and the smudged charcoal shading alongside the white oil lighting and here it is–

 

 

So, thanks for allowing me to share. I hope these turned out well, and I perhaps I’ll now have the opportunity to sketch more soon!

Here is my interview with Ray Hecht

authorsinterviews

Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.

 

Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?

Hello, thanks for having me. I am Ray Hecht, and I’m a thirty-five year old writer.

 Fiona: Where are you from?

Where I’m from is a bit of a long story. I identify as American, but I was born in Israel. My dad is American, and my mom is from the Soviet Union. They met abroad and got married, but my sister and I moved to the United States when we were just babies. My earliest childhood memories took place in Indianapolis, Indiana but I consider my hometown to be Cincinnati, Ohio because that’s where I came of age and where I lived the longest in my life.

I went to college to study film in Long Beach, California…

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Movember!

Well, actually, November — and hence Movember — isn’t really over yet so I shouldn’t have shaved! But I just couldn’t make it…

 

Yet here is the before-and-after pic late into the month. Something to consider.

I lasted about three weeks. I tried out the month thing, and was genuinely curious to see how I would look by letting a beard grow. But it was getting too uncomfortable and scratchy so I took razor to face and there it is.

And yes I see the massive age discrepancy in looks–somehow I am both prematurely grey and young-faced.

Full disclosure: I can get be a bit of hairy dude. It’s not really my preference, but that is simply how my genetics goes. I do appreciate that facial hair is more in fashion these days, makes it a lot easier on me. A close shave every damn day is far too much work. Luckily no pressure of such in the current era.

In fact, a cleanly trimmed short beard is a common look that I think works and society/work seems to approve or at least tolerate.

Why I have a whole weekly system that works for me: How many days it takes to let it fester and how to trim well around that etc. before wiping the slate clean and starting all over.

Thus is my burden of facial hair. Anyway, from the unfinished Movember experiment above you can see what might have been…..

 

 

And that is all I can muster up to say on the subject.

[Review] Hong Kong in the Fifties: John Saeki’s The Tiger Hunters of Tai O

Cha

{Written by Ray Hecht, this review is part of the “Writing Hong Kong” Issue (December 2017) of Cha.} {Return to Cha Review of Books and Films}

John Saeki, The Tiger Hunters of Tai O, Blacksmith Books, 2017. 304 pgs.

tiger-hunters-of-tai-o_800The Tiger Hunters of Tai O is a new historical novel with a unique perspective. Author John Saeki paints a colourful portrait of Hong Kong in the 1950s, capturing the spirit of the times in this page-turning police thriller. Sometimes hilarious, and sometimes deadly serious, most readers should be fascinated by the intrigue and politics of the era. Though Hong Kong—especially Tai O—has certainly changed over the past half century, locals will find this world a familiar place even while discovering new surprises and secrets uncovered about the region.

The plot ostensibly revolves around a Eurasian police officer named Simon Lee who is investigating suspicious tiger attacks. The…

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Inktober

So for the month of October I had been haphazardly trying out the Inktober thing, at least for about the first week plus yesterday…

I tried out some ink sketches utilizing the themes of the day, and occasionally some fun drawings turned out. Always good practice, maybe not totally worth sharing but here you are:

My aesthetic is definitely more cartoony than fine art, but that can be okay right 🙂

 

October 4: Underwater

 

October 6: Sword

 

October 7: Shy

 

October 8: Crooked

 

October 9: Screech

 

October 31: Mask

Taiwan bloggers 1: Marisol of getupandgetlost.com!

 

In my latest interview series, I’d like to introduce Taiwan-based bloggers. Since coming here, I’ve already met many promising writers and it is my pleasure to share some of the greats I have come across.

Marisol is a Canadian who runs getupandgetlost.com, a blog about travel and her unique take on raising a family while living abroad. Check out the post Camping at Wuling Farm for a good example…

She even happens to live in the same region of the ROC as myself, Hsinchu.

Well, she can introduce herself best in her own words. Interview begins here: 

 

First off, how would you best introduce your website?

My blog getupandgetlost.com is about our life as a travelling family, currently based out of Taiwan. It’s about our family experiences here as we navigate this new culture and discover the beauty of this diverse country. It’s about the ups and downs and funnies of everyday life for us. It’s also veering towards becoming a guide for other families wanting to live or travel in Taiwan.

 

What originally brought you to Taiwan?

The answer to that is more complicated than one might expect. The simple answer is that my husband accepted a position as a high school math and art teacher in Taiwan. It was in our plans for a long time that after baby number three, that we would embark on a yearlong adventure abroad. In Canada, one parent receives a maternity/parental leave salary for the first year after the birth of a child. This factored greatly into our timing. We chose Taiwan, in part because of it’s proximity to Beijing. Our oldest child is my husband’s daughter from his previous marriage. My husband’s ex wife was eager to move to Beijing, but we were no so inclined. Taiwan’s proximity to Beijing means that our daughter can live with one family while still visiting the other family frequently.

 

You write about raising a family while living in Taiwan, how would you rate the country when it comes to kids and families?

From this expat’s point of view, I would probably give it an overall pretty good or 7/10. For us, we don’t speak Mandarin, and we have found it very hard to find things to do for our kids. Luckily, I made local friends soon after our arrival here, so they have helped me navigate the language barrier.SAFETY: For the most part, Taiwan feels very safe. I send my 10-year old to run errands for me in the community. I don’t have to worry about my kids walking on drug needles at the park. Community members generally keep an eye out on each other’s children. Streets safety is basically our only issue here. Cars and scooters are not very pedestrian friendly.

COMMUNITY: If you put some effort into connecting with people here, both locals and expats, you will become part of a great community. People here are very welcoming and supportive of each other. From my experience, the locals are incredibly kind to foreigners.

MEDICAL: The medical system here is efficient and inexpensive, but it feels very transactional. You can easily access things here that would take months to access back home, such as an MRI. From our experience, however, we find most clinics to be very busy, and doctors tend to treat the symptoms first (and quickly! – five minutes would be a long visit), rather than look for the root of the problem.

EDUCATION: I think education varies from city to city, and I don’t know enough yet to really comment much on it. It seems like many schools here are very focused on rote learning. Outdoors time, brain breaks, inquiry-based learning, and other current trends of learning are less common here. I have seen some schools, however, that are implementing very impressive and contemporary methods of learning.

AMENITIES: These seem far and few between. As an expat parent who doesn’t speak Mandarin, it’s been tough to find kid-centric centres that are free or low cost. I’ve found one free government run play centre for kids in my city. Pools, for the most part (in my city at least) are very dull and not that exciting for kids. I feel like there are pockets of great things for kids to do, but it’s not consistent within cities or in the country. It would be great to see the government take a bigger initiative here.

OUTDOORS: Taiwan has amazing natural diversity. If you are committed to the outdoors, you can definitely go out and find things to do as a family. There are natural water holes and lovely walks. Again, as an expat, I often struggle to easily explore outdoors because I am simply not aware of where to go.

 

What are some of your favorite places you’ve been to in the world?

Ollantaytambo, Peru:
One of the favorite places I’ve been to was a small town in the Sacred Valley of Peru called Ollantaytambo. Our time there was very chilled out. The town is built on ruins, and there are hundreds of ruins surrounding it. It’s a great place to chill, hike, explore and enjoy work by local artisans.

British Columbia, Canada:
I may be biased, but my home province is such an amazing place! For anyone wanting to visit, you won’t go wrong visiting any one or more of the following places: Vancouver, Victoria, The Okanagan, The sunshine Coast, Tofino/Uclulet and the Rockies.

Avignon France:
This is just such a cool town. I lived there for a year during a university exchange. The old city is beautiful and the history is super cool.

 

What were some of your best experiences living in Taiwan?

The first would honestly have to be becoming part of my community. Most of my friends here are locals who live within a block of me. Connecting with locals and making friends has given me such an insight into the culture here. It’s been awesome! The second would be a 200-kilometer cycling trip we did along the East Coast. We tugged our two younger kids in the trailer and the older one rode her own bike. We joined another family and cycled from Hualien down to Taitung, camping along the way. It was amazing!

 

How would you compare life in Taiwan with Canada? 

DIFFERENT! Life here is less expensive than back home. We can kind of manage on one salary in Taiwan. In Canada this isn’t remotely possible. Life here is simpler and runs at a slower pace, or so it feels. Taiwanese people here are extremely friendly, more so than Canadians on the whole. I know there are different aboriginal groups in Taiwan as well as people who have immigrated here, yet I feel like in Taiwan, there is a firm cultural identity and set of rules or normative values which dictate how we behave towards one another. In Canada, it’s less set in stone as people have so many different beliefs and backgrounds. As a family, life is a bit harder for us, but that could be due to the language barrier. I feel like many families spend a lot of time inside. We struggle with this as we love to be outside with the kids, but the weather makes that challenging at times.

 

Would you recommend Taiwan more as a place to visit or a place to live?

It depends on your purpose I suppose. You could easily spend a week or two in Taipei, eating great food, strolling the streets and exploring the nearby hikes and hot springs. I think you would come out of that having had a meaningful trip. That said, Taiwan is so diverse and the people so kind and interesting… I really believe that you only truly experience and understand this when you’ve lived in Taiwan (or maybe slow traveled).

 

Do you think you will be inspired by travel writing in Taiwan for the long-term?

I’m inspired by the humanity I encounter as I travel and meet people. I’m also inspired by the resilience that I see in my family – especially my children – as we travel and discover the world.
My husband’s contract is for two years and we’ve just started year two. We’re still not sure of what’s to come. 

 

Lastly, do you have any advice for other travel writers passing through Asia/Taiwan?

I can only really speak to Taiwan, but I would advise: 1.) Learn as much Mandarin as possible, starting with numbers (buying things). 2.) Get to know the locals. This is how you truly get to know Taiwan. When a stranger starts to talk to you, engage with them for a few minutes. Taiwan is very much about who you know. Connections get you very far here!
 

 

Thanks, Marisol! Look forward to reading more of your adventures in the future…

 

 

 

Eating Smoke: review of memoir, and audio

 

Chris Thrall’s memoir Eating Smoke (sensationally subtitled One Man’s Descent Into Drug Psychosis In Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland) was published in 2011 but resparked buzz last year when the book was adapted into a radio dramatization for Hong Kong’s RTHK station.

The memoir is about Thrall’s time in Hong Kong in the 90s when he found himself addicted to ice—that is, methamphetamine—and indeed written in the style one would expect while on speed.

It is a dazzling ride, full of flowing neon and inebriation. First, the British Royal Marine suddenly quits his military position and moves abroad with dreams of making it big in the business world. Before he knows it, his business fails and he has to start hustling. The bulk of the story consists of jumping from one sketchy employment opportunity to the next, constantly maneuvering through new scams which grow increasingly desperate. He stays in the infamous Chungking Mansions, then hangs out among the hippie scene on Lamma Island where it starts out innocently enough with some strong weed, and ends up in the seediest parts of Wan Chai addicted to crystal.

“Quiss” Thrall meets a seemingly never-ending parade of colorful characters who live on the very edge of Hong Kong society, the caliber getting lower and lower as he is dragged down to the dregs. But there are so many he meets that it becomes difficult for the reader to follow what’s going on after a while.

The subtitle of the book declares his descent into the “Triad Heartland”, but the part when he becomes a doorman for a Triad-connected club is just one section among many, which comes rather late in the book. The stakes do get higher as threats of violence and death race towards the climax.

The radio drama, an audiobook really, overall can be quite superior to the book because as an edited abridged version it can get to the point quickly and highlight the best sections. Many odd jobs are skipped over in order to focus on the Triad and drug-crazed scenes. I did miss some, such as the English-teaching episode, although that is a story that has been told before. The unique nature of Thrall’s perspective is worth focusing on, though my personal favorite was the weekend-long DJing gig in China which unfortunately didn’t make it to the radio for some reason.

The narration from RTHK is excellent, with acting that can be funny when necessary as well as solemn, and always powerful. One noted part details the time a woman passed out due to a possible overdose at the club, Thrall calls an ambulance but the boss coldly stated he just wanted her thrown out. Stories like these are best listened to and not only read, so be sure to download the free podcasts…

For the most part, Thrall remains likable through it all until perhaps the finale of the memoir when he descends deeper into madness. His greatest talent is his ability to get by in Cantonese, which grants him a window into an authentic world which most foreigners never get to see. Eating Smoke is a fascinating insight into 1990s Hong Kong that readers and listeners from all over the world would do well to appreciate.

 

The radio drama is available free as a downloadable podcast on the RTHK website here: http://podcast.rthk.hk/podcast/item_all.php?pid=1130

Eating Smoke is published by Blacksmith Books, and available at Hong Kong bookstores and Amazon.

Challenges of moving to and living in and writing about Taiwan

 

As I get used to living in and occasionally blogging about Taiwan, I have been trying to be as optimistic as I can get. But there are times when I have to admit certain challenges in changing locales, figuring out new ways to live, finding inspiration to write, and how I don’t always take it as well as I’d like.

Moving is always a bitch, even though in many ways going from PRC China to ROC China still contain many similarities. It’s not like I’m totally new to the whole Mandarin-speaking Asian country thing. And there are so many convenient things about Taiwan, from the high speed rail to those kiosks at convenience stores where you can pay phone bills and order taxis.

Also it’s quite clean. Taiwan is an incredibly efficient and well run little country.

But it’s not all good times, least not for me. Sure overcoming minor challenges is of course positive in it’s own right, of course, yet I’d like to take this time to share the slightly complainy perspective if you will.

 

I canz #scooter~ #Taiwanlife

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There is the subject of transportation. On this I terribly miss Shenzhen. Even with all the China-police state crap, it was so easy (and so cheap) to get around by the subway or bus or hail a taxi. Taipei does have great public transportation, but I’m living a bit out of the big city for now… So that means a scooter.

I had to learn a new skill and everything. I was nervous at first, having zero experience with motorcycles. I was never the kind of expat to rent a motorbike and ride around Southeast Asia. I do like to bicycle, and I cannot say that’s the same. Now I am getting more and more used to zipping around town at 40-60 kilometers an hour, and the left turns are particularly tricky.

It is kind of awesome, actually.

 

#OnePiece: the Restauarant!

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Food. Not that Taiwan food isn’t great, as everyone knows. I mean, the night markets!

I just miss my life in Shenzhen when I could order in inexpensive Chinese food at any time of the day. The grocery stores are well stocked with domestic and foreign items here, and health inspection laws seem to be much better than in the mainland. It’s a great culinary delight to live just about anywhere in Taiwan.

I was however really used to my routine of ordering in tomato-eggs rice from the Hunanese restaurant, and vegetable curry from the cha chaan teng Hong Kong diner, and those peanut noodles from the little stands, and so on.

Currently I have more routines that I’m slowly getting accustomed to, which so far has mostly consisted of ordering inpizza from Dominoes. Soon I will learn better.

Meanwhile in Taipei, what’s better than discovering a One Piece-themed restaurant!!!

 

Fulong beach #Taiwan

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Travel is a blessing and a curse. I will probably take the high-speed rail to Taichung over the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival holiday weekend. Even though everyone says the nature and beaches are better along the east coast, which doesn’t have high-speed rail connection.

I was something of an expert at traveling in mainland China, if I do say so myself, that vast land with no end to history and tourist traps and epic cities and quaint villages. Etc., etc. I knew all the good websites to book guesthouses and where to stand in line for train tickets. Guess airbnb does work anywhere though.

It is amazing that the relatively small island of Taiwan contains so many places to go, and it will be years before I travel it all out. For now I am slightly intimidated on how to organize trips to new places.

I did enjoy taking the slow train to Fulong beach a couple of weekends ago; that wasn’t bad.

 

Then, there’s most important aspect of wherever it is I live: creative output.

Writing-wise, you see, I am in a bit of a rut.

I only got here fairly recently, and it takes time to get a feel for a place in order to write about with a sense of authenticity…

Do not expect a barrage of travel articles any time soon. I’m no expert on the place yet. Inspiration, for me, is more often a train of the slow-running variety.

Do stay tuned for a certain fictional writing project, which is far from ready to be announced and I will give away no hints as yet, but when the time comes then the time will come.

 

 

And also, the people. I don’t know too many here as of this writing. I know some. Honestly, the caliber of expat on average is a grade or so higher than many of those crazed outcasts who end up in China.

That’s just one of those things that happen when one moves, making friends can take time and all that.

It’s not that I’m super lonely. I am only a bit lonely.

That is what the internet is for.

Eh, mostly can’t complain.

 

 

 

Still, to everyone out there who’d like to keep in touch and maintain friendships and moreover check out Taiwan, please hurry up and come visit me!

Audiobooks – Part 2: Many favorites

As promised in my last installment in which I introduced my hobby of Audiobooks, I shall now go through a long list of my favorites recommendations. This post may be a bit all over the place but I perhaps you’ll find something you may like and it was worth it~

(Here is my full Goodreads list for those interested, and links to specific bookshelves shall be shared intermittently below)

 

First off, this doesn’t even technically count as audiobook but sometimes there’s nothing like a BBC radio drama–well, not always BBC but usually the BBC. Instead of one actor reading an entire book, the lost art of the radio drama employs multiple actors and gets rid of those pesky “he said” and “she said”s to efficiently tell the tale in a manner best suited to this particular medium. They are often much quicker listens than the unabridged texts and more entertaining.

Several classics come to mind, but above all The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stands out as the greatest. Trippy sci-fi and trippy comedy, nobody does it better than Douglas Adams! Interestingly, before any other iteration it was meant to be a radio show originally and that was always Adams’ preference. The saga started way back in 1978, and do check out the 2004 and 2005 series too.

Other noteworthy radio dramas include The Hobbit by Tolkien, Neverwhere and Good Omens by Gaiman, Foundation by Asimov, and Neuromancer by Gibson.

If you ask very nicely I may even send you the files but you didn’t hear that from me; support your local BBC and buy legit whenever possible 😉

 

Next I feel I must continue on the subject of Neal StephensonSnow Crash as said is my the best ever, but pretty much any Stephenson tome will give hours upon hours of thought-provoking big ideas and exciting writing.

The pseudo-sequel postcyberpunk The Diamond Age is quite well done, but my second favorites are tied with the epic hacker thriller Cryptonomicon and philosophical extreme geek discourse that is Anathem. I am due to even listen to those a third or fourth time eventually. Reamde is another fun tech thriller, and by the way next on my list whenever I find the time is Seveneves.

 

On the subject of quality science fiction, I’d be remiss if I did not mention the late great Philip K. Dick. A powerful and timeless author who prediction the confusion of reality-questing modernity more than anyone else, P.K. Dick’s novels are not too long and pack quite a punch hence well suited to the audio format.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is an obvious recommendation (and Blade Runner is indeed currently back in the public consciousness!), but my ultimate top pick is the theological tale of madness VALIS. That one needs to be reabsorbed every few years for maximum pondering. Other listens include the also-currently-back-in-the-public-consciousness tragic nazism of The Man in the High Castle, and the random enjoyable mindfuckness of Counter-Clock World.

What should I listen to next? I was thinking either Ubik or A Scanner Darkly. 

 

If I may feel more literary, there’s always acclaimed Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. The dreamy magical realism style makes for gooood listening on those long melancholic nights of travel and introspection…

So far I have only listened to a few favorites The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood, with the former being a slightly superior book in my opinion but the latter’s more grounded nom de plum stylings a better fit in the audio format. Kafka on the Shore made for an interesting production employing multiple actors but it just doesn’t seem to work as well. Honestly, as my reading tastes evolve, I find Murakami becoming more hit or miss. But the hits when hitting are still amazing.

 

Next up is my ‘not even reread’ section. What I mean is, because of my low-attention span I am a quirky yet stubborn reader so I have figured out my best method for audiobooks is to listen to one of my favorite novels that I have already read. It’s a great way to reread and absorb the content more deeply.

However, some audiobooks are so engaging even I can listen to an entire book for the first time and actually pay attention to most of it. These are the not-even rereads.

Often, that especially goes for books written by performers in which the performers say aloud their own works. Especially with comedy books. Yes Please by Amy Poehler was a great surprise in one of the best memoirs I had come across. A lot of charm and heart, with guest speakers. So far it’s the only audiobook I’ve gotten others to listen to! Bossypants by Tina Fey was also wonderful in a similar vein, and The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer didn’t quite work as well but did showcase a perspective worth listening to. And now I have just noticed that pattern has emerged with regards to comedian demographics. I should mix it up. So how about next on my list is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

 

Just a few more of my very favorite favorites to round it out:

There are the nonfiction social justice books, such as Life Inc. and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus by Douglas Rushkoff. I learned a hell of a lot about the system, man. The controversial Going Clear by Lawrence Wright displays a fascinating study of the Scientology Cult, an unbelievable true story of American insanity that left me on the edge of my toes.

Some newer science fiction such as Ready Player One by Ernest Cline which may not always be as smart as it strives but is eminently entertaining. Gun Machine by graphic novelist Warren Ellis was a wild ride told in the grittiest of grit.

Lastly, the absolute most interesting book of them all is certainly Sapiens by Professor Yuval Noah Hareri. A sprawling history of the human race that gives a new light to all that makes us human, expressed in myth-busting factoid after myth-busting factoid. The entire anthropological record always in readable prose. It has since impacted me more than any other book I’ve read in years, giving me so much to think about with where humanity has gone and where to go next. I recommend this book to everyone, from cynics who need to get the proper big picture to naive optimists who don’t truly understand the past. An incredible book, and I just hope I learned as much as I can from initially listening instead of reading. (I did purchase the paperback of Hareri’s followup, Home Deus, so I should be all around good.)

 

That’ll have to be about it. So many memories of walking around the neighborhood and experiencing other worlds, sights and sounds and smells reminding me of the voices who told me stories…

What have I left out? So much! Classics like Orwell, or of the beat era like Burroughs, and important contemporary American authors Bret Easton Ellis and Janet Fitch. I can only fit so much in one organized blog posting, but in any case I hope you will consider some of these brief introductions and enjoy the possibilities of literature in whole new ways.

What are you going to read/listen to next?

Audiobooks: Part 1 – How it all started…

As everyone should know by now, I am something of a reader. At least I try to be. It’s not always easy to find the time, and I am admittedly a slow reader, but the important thing is to somehow schedule enough freedom to carry on the exploration of enough of the world’s fascinating books… and thus certain strategies have evolved with which I can make the most of my limited lifespan and still absorb as much as possible…

Well, on this blog I have thoroughly gone over my love of comics, and occasionally I like to share various reviews. Now the time has come to express my love of yet another literary medium: Audiobooks!

I currently have a special love for the audio format of storytelling, and it’s only been a few years since I have gotten into it. The brilliant thing about it is that you can listen while waiting in line at customs, or squished on a subway car, or jogging, or any number of transit platforms for a life ever on the go.

Personally, I have a rather low attention span and it is still something of a surprise that I have become so into audiobooks. I don’t recommend it for everyone. But if you do grow out of listening to the same songs on your shuffle endlessly, it’s a good method to mix it up and keep the mind active on boring commutes.

My best advice is to simply download a favorite book that you’ve already read–and only the best books are worth rereading–and experience it anew via a talented actor reading you a story.

Besides, isn’t that the purest form of storytelling? Oral traditions are how it all started for humanity, long before the invention of writing. Right?

 

Anyway, a cursory glance at my Goodreads audio shelf shows that I have apparently listened to about 80 separate works. Some shortened, some lengthy—

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636?shelf=audio

 

Not bad, or so I should hope. But, you may ask, how did I start upon this path?

I believe it was in that 2012/2013 era, when I thought I had grown up and established all the hobbies I would have in my adult life. Fortunately there was still more to learn, new habits still yet unfounded.

Now, before I even got into the more book-length audio format (after a brief interest in talk radio) I used to listen to a variety of fascinating psychedelic lectures. This was during my mid-to-late twenties, back in California. I was especially interested in Terence McKenna and his take on psilocybin mushrooms as per extraterrestrial intelligence and the like. That sort of thing.

(Somehow I did miss the boat on podcasts. From time to time some good ones are recommended and I listen, such as Hardcore History or a good NPR story, but for the most part I am an audiobooks boy)

So there I was, and I had in my possession a digital library of the complete series by noted author Robert Anton Wilson. I enjoyed listening to his “maybe logic” philosophy, his take on reality tunnels and the mystical secrets of the mind, but eventually I had run out. However, there on the entirety of the set, I noticed that the great Illuminatus! Trilogy was included. Unabridged.

Hmmmm.

Back then, the only audiobook I had ever finished to was a CD of Neil Gaiman’s youthful tale Coraline, which I listened to on a cross-country train trip in my youth. It didn’t work at all; I was constantly distracted and had to rewind. Didn’t seem to be for me.

But surely the legendary epic that is the Illuminatus! Trilogy would be different? The classic conspiratorial farce is a series that I revisit from time to time in my life, gaining new wisdom, and I was about ready for another reread.

And reread, or rather first-listen, I did. The whole thing. And it was awesome. The first installment of the trilogy was best, even after they changed narrators for the final two thirds. The grand appendix was just like a psychedelic lecture anyhow, and from that day on to today I carry with me the memories of productively learning much secret knowledge of the universe while walking around the neighborhood.

 

 

It gave me such an interesting perspective to hear fresh voices which had previously existed only been in my head . The timing, the intonation, such a different interpretation compared to what had come before. I really loved it. My mind was sharp on many a long otherwise boring bicycle ride back in those months. I retained the whole info-space in a new way, and I dare say–at least temporarily–I was as much an expert on RAW as anyone.

Here, you don’t have to listen to the entire piece but a random skim may give an idea here:

 

 

I had discovered a whole new time-consuming hobby. The next step was to I had to figure out what to listen to next. There were a few options. Abridged books or short novels, poetry or radio dramas, so much to choose from.

I decided to go big, and the next major listen was the crucial postcyberpunk novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. At 17 hours I still contend that this is the greatest audiobook of all time, as read by actor Jonathan Davis. Hilarious, entertaining, exciting, and simulteneously shockingly intelligent.

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