Dream Community – Art Center in Taipei, Taiwan

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

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

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

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The entire space was filled with glorious wonders…

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

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

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Taiwan Chinglish?

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

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

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

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And here are a couple of others from back in SZ

I call double-negative on this #Chinglish!

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

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More on Taiwan later, stay tuned…

 

Financial Times: The End of the Chinese Miracle?

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

 

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

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

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

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

But there is certainly much to be anxious about.

Would you like to add to the discussion?

Asian Book Blog: 500 Words

500 words from Ray Hecht

http://www.asianbooksblog.com/2016/04/500-words-from-ray-hecht.html

500 words from…is a series of guest posts from authors writing about Asia, or published by Asia-based, or Asia-focused, publishing houses, in which they talk about their latest books. Here Shenzhen-based American Ray Hecht talks about his new novel South China Morning Blues, published by Blacksmith Books based in Hong Kong. Ray’s earlier books were The Ghost of Lotus Mountain Brothel and Loser Parade. He currently writes for Shenzhen Daily, the only daily English-language newspaper in the south of mainland China.

South China is like a giant test tube where ideas and people from all over the world meet. Expats and locals alike must try to make sense of the crazy present, if they are ever going to forge the brilliant future that is China’s ambition. That is precisely what the characters in South China Morning Blues are trying to do. There’s Marco, a crooked businessman with a penchant for call girls; Danny, a culture-shocked young traveller; Sheila, a local club girl caught up in family politics; Amber, a drug-fuelled aspiring model; Terry, an alcoholic journalist; and Ting Ting, an artist with a chip on her shoulder. Their lives intertwine in unexpected ways as they delve deeper into their surroundings and in the process learn more about themselves.

So: over to Ray…

I have always been fascinated by China. So when I was invited to move to Shenzhen I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to learn all I could about this fascinating and strange place.

Shenzhen, famed for supposedly having no culture, was a small fishing village until the post-Mao economic reforms. Now, it’s a city with a population that outnumbers New York. And I realised upon arrival that the future of China can be as fascinating as the past; the Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen became an inspiring place to me.

I wanted to write about the expat scene, about all those weird people who drop everything in their lives back in the home country in order to try to make it big abroad. I wanted to write about the local people, about the youth navigating their way through the 21st century while being pushed by their parents in what must be the biggest generation gap ever. I wanted to write about international traders, party girls, English teachers, drug dealers, courtesans, models, artists, people from all over the world who participate in the new global experiment that is South China.

Meanwhile, Shenzhen borders Hong Kong, a city that defies definition. In one sense it is under the heel of the mainland People’s Republic, yet in other ways it is sovereign, more like a free Western city. Certainly, it is one of the most international places in the world. For me, whenever Shenzhen got to be too much, I could always hop the border and find English bookstores and uncensored films. Hong Kong was like an alternate reality just across the river. I wanted to write about outsiders visiting this compelling place.

Then again, there was the city of Guangzhou. I moved there for a year, to research and better understand this whole Pearl River Delta thing. Guangzhou is even more massive than the other two cities, yet it has an ancient culture which gives it a unique flavour. I went to old temples, and I studied the history of revolutions and uprisings. I think I did some of my best writing while living in Guangzhou.

Eventually I had to return to Shenzhen, where I completed my novel South China Morning Blues, which is told through the perspective of 12 characters that each correspond to an animal in the Chinese zodiac. I filtered my various experiences and research and hearsay into stories meant to capture the essence of what modern China represents. It is a confusing place indeed, but a place where people can learn about themselves as well as the city, and China.

Writing and publishing this novel has been an amazing journey. I am still as overwhelmed and confused as ever by South China, but I’ve been very happy that the book has enabled me to share my humble feelings and observations with interested readers from around the world.

Details: South China Morning Blues is published in paperback by Blacksmith Books, priced in local currencies.

798 Arts District – Beijing

Thanks for waiting. Haven’t posted about art in a while, but rest assured I am still here and still writing sparse art blogs to encourage visits. Don’t ever forget the arts.

While I usually post art about Shenzhen, but recently I went to Beijing (trip went very well) and decided to check out their very esteemed art scene.

Of course, I speak of the 798 art district, the original Chinese-former-factory art district!

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While I have heard around that it isn’t what it once was — is anything ever? — I did have a great time wandering the coffee shops and observing the various outdoor sculptures.

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As for specific shows at specific galleries, UCCA was recommended to me and I’m glad it was.

The show was Elmgreen & Dragset: The Well Fair, which frankly blew me away. I rarely say that about exhibitions. In extremely postmodern terms, the art was about the nature of art galleries more than anything else. There was much question about whether things were “real” or not, whether the rooms and paths were art or part of the regular building. A broken staircase leading to the emergency exit, a donation box, signs pointing to a VIP room, even a fake washroom. It was quite an experience. And, some sculptures just plain melancholic.

Please check out the above links for more information, and my slideshow below though hardly doing justice:

 

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I wandered around a bit more afterwards. Yang Gallery, a showcase of “Abstraction Geometry”, and general wanderings come to mind…

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There’s a lot to see at 798. Do check it out if ever in Beijing.

Oh, and I got a caricature drawn. Looks like me?

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Cha: Asian literary journal review of South China Morning Blues – Different Shades of Blue

From the March 2016 edition of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal

http://www.asiancha.com/content/view/2349/541/

 

Different Shades of Blue: Ray Hecht’s South China Morning Blues

  by Kathy Wong

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Ray Hecht, South China Morning Blues, Blacksmith Books, 2015. 352 pgs.

South China Morning Blues is Ray Hecht’s debut novel and revolves around expatriates living in the Pearl River Delta region where Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are situated. Compared to Shanghai and Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen have been less written about in literary works in English. Even when the Pearl River Delta region has been featured, it often serves as a historical backdrop for the political vicissitudes of the early 20th century. Yet, Hecht’s novel shines a spotlight on contemporary Guangzhou and Shenzhen, together with Hong Kong, which are becoming more popular for expatriates looking for a piece of the Chinese Dream. Hecht avoids the clichéd portrayal of the challenges and difficulties faced by expats abroad; instead, with carefully crafted storytelling featuring multiple voices, he leads us through interlocking narratives which depict what life is really like when foreigners are immersed in the Southern Chinese world of the 21st century.

Hecht, who has lived in China for several years, makes use of personal experiences, hearsay, research and his own imagination to create a novel about young expatriates and local Chinese as they struggle and find their way through hardship and temptation. The novel is divided into three sections, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Each of the three cities depicted by Hecht exudes its own unique idiosyncratic features—Shenzhen, the fast-changing and westernising metropolis; Guangzhou, the traditional capital striving for rejuvenation and globalisation; Hong Kong, the hedonistic and frustrated modern gateway between East and West. But the differences between the cities lie not only in the textures of their cityscapes and geopolitical positions, but also in how social relations between locals and foreigners are interwoven.

As hinted at by the title of the novel, South China Morning Blues is filled with the different sorts of ‘blues’ faced by expatriates in the three cities, such as language barriers, cultural shocks and biases, as well as dark moments to do with casual hook-ups, prostitution and alcohol and drug abuse. Hecht strategically sheds light on life in the region by adopting a multifaceted narrative mode: he creates a chain of interlocking stories told by a dozen narrators. Twelve sets of subjective experiences related to expatriate communities are represented—not only foreigners from different cultural backgrounds are given a voice, but local Chinese residents, including those who do not speak much English, are also heard. Interestingly, each of these characters is assigned one of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs at the beginning of the novel, and as the story progresses, each is signified by his or her zodiac sign rather than their real name. This intriguing conceit creates a sense that twelve anonymous and universal archetypes are interwoven to form a coherent narrative.

The novel starts with a nightclub encounter, followed by a one-night stand between Marco, an American expatriate businessman, and Sheila, a local Chinese woman, in Shenzhen. In this episode, rather than giving detailed sensual descriptions from the foreigner’s perspective, Hecht switches between the two characters’ viewpoints. There is not much actual dialogue between them; instead, Marco and Sheila each reveal their own unspoken thoughts:

  兔 [Hare, representing Sheila]

  The sex feels okay. I like the style of his home. It’s very big and neat. I suppose that a cleaning lady must come here every day. What did he say his job is? I didn’t understand.

  虎 [Tiger, representing Marco]

  The sex feels awesome. I’m so turned on that I’m going to cum any second. She’s skinny, no ounce of fat on her. I love that flat stomach. She didn’t put up any resistance. Totally into it! Goddamn, I still have the charm!

Switching perspectives in this fashion not only creates a swift and breathless rhythm for the erotic encounter, but also functions as a tool to juxtapose two sets of competing opinions. Indeed, this experimental narrative mode is what makes the novel so original. Through this storytelling technique, Hecht invents alternative spaces in which individuals’ candid judgments, if not biases, are revealed.

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Chengdu Chinglish

Always on the lookout when I’m traveling, you should know already that I recently visited Beijing and Chengdu on a very fruitful trip.

It’s always interesting to discover Chinglish in a new city. Last week I shared Beijing, this week you can see some interesting pics I uncovered in the lovely city of Chengdu, including flowery poetry and randomness at the airport:

Enjoy!

 

#Chengdu #Chinglish 1: #flowers

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#Chengdu #Chinglish 3: Ok not that funny but I took a great risk photoing so please appreciate!

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#Chengdu #Chinglish 2: Would you like a large bowl of noodles? At the airport no less

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Bookworm Literary Festival: An Overview

What a week!

I was lucky enough to be a part of the Bookworm Literary Festival, both in Beijing on March 14th and Chengdu on the 19th, and what a week it was. I got to share my novel South China Morning Blues and represent Southern China to a whole other side of the expat scene in this big country.

First, I decided to take an express train from Shenzhen to Beijing. It took a reasonable eleven hours, still with no no ears popping it’s preferable to flying, and with the sleeper bunk overnight it was nice. I do recommend the express trains one-way. When I arrived in Beijing on Sunday morning, it was cold!

Good thing I packed warm clothes. Four days scheduled in Beijing, I then set out to explore. Staying nearby Bookworm in the Sanlitun area, I went to several panels at the literary festival, including one about pregnancy abroad featuring Ruth from ChinaElevatorStories.com.

#BookwormLiteraryFestival

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The obvious tourism thing to do was to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I got some good photos, but mostly the experience was more about seeing all that security than it was seeing the major BJ sites. Due to the big government meetings currently of course. Seriously, the situation was insane. The padding, the lines on the streets. I must have had my bag x-rayed a dozen times; it was glowing green by the end of the day.

I do recommend going to the 798 arts district, though it may not be what it once was. The exhibition at the UCCA was particularly interesting, and I will write about that in detail later.

My talk on Monday went very well. I read a favorite scene, had an excellent conversation about blogging with Adam Robbins of CityWeekend.com, and the questions from the audience were very thought-provoking. And I am happy to say that my book is now officially stocked at the premiere bookstore in Beijing.

Been great, #Beijing!

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My flight to Chengdu on Thursday went smoothly. The Bookworm was even kind enough to send a representative to pick me up! I also met my lovely girlfriend there — who could only get a three-day weekend off, and it was all timed well in that she was flying from Shenzhen.

Together, we had a great time in Chengdu. We enjoyed the hotel and went to various famous spots such as Kuanzhai Alley, Song Xian Qiao antique street, and Jinli. The food was absolutely wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, Beijing is worth visiting, but it can get a bit grey and looming and just overwhelming in scope. Chengdu was incredibly welcoming and reminded me what I have always loved about China travel all over again.

It's been brilliant, #Chengdu! 我喜欢 #成都😀

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My talk on Saturday was fun. In fact, girlfriend was nice enough to record much of it so you can watch below. Yes I know I say “um” too much, but I do like to think I am improving at expressing myself somewhat at these sorts of things.

 

I would also like to add that it was a pleasure to meet and hang out with renowned Irish author Eimear McBride — she of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing fame. Her talk was powerful and full of literary inspiration. Bought a book, got it signed, and will definitely read soon. The world needs more books like that, and authors like her.

I was sad to leave Chengdu on Sunday, but it was time to go home and resume my normal life down in the humid tropics. Phew. Well, that was the most intensive book tour week I have had so far in my career. I will be forever grateful to the good people at Bookworm (and one day I must go to the other location in Suzhou), yet at the same time I feel relieved to be back home to plan the next stage of events…