The obvious first question: What brought you to China in general and Guangzhou specifically?
I first came to China (Guangzhou) when I just around 10 years old, with my strongest memory from that trip being stepping off the plane and feeling uncomfortable with the polluted air even in the airport. And yet, after taking up Chinese in college, I ended up studying and interning abroad for a semester in Shanghai and falling in love with the city and living in a Chinese megalopolis. Then when it came time to graduate and look for jobs, I looked for opportunities in Asia. In typical Chinese fashion, through some guangxi, I ended up landing an interview at Guangdong TV and then the job I have now. Guangzhou ended up being the perfect city because many of my relatives still live here, so they have been incredibly helpful in getting me settled. Plus, it’s close to Hong Kong, which is where I inevitably want to be.
How familiar were you with China before you moved permanently?
With some family trips and the study abroad experience, I came thinking I knew at least some of what to expect. But man, soon enough, we expats realize shit happens and there will be many moments, especially in the beginning, when we’ll want to escape ASAP. As a sheltered ABC (American Born Chinese) from a suburban town, I’m realizing that I will never get used to many things about living in Guangzhou, let alone China. There are plenty of ups and plenty of downs, but it helps to try to develop a deeper understanding of China’s history and its people to get you though some of the outright unacceptable-to-foreigners aspects. Within these several months I’ve been here, I’ve already explored so much of my family’s hometown and continue to learn every day.
What has been the biggest challenge to living abroad?
While my language skills need work, I would say cultural differences are more challenging. Even if you know how to express something in Chinese or even if you’re talking with a local who speaks English fluently, at the end of the day, we have different ways of thinking, perceiving, acting, etc. It can be cool to learn about these often-vastly different points of view, but it can also be frustrating to have to explain why freedom of press, for example, is so very important while stuck in the land of the Great Firewall. Frankly, priorities vary in a country where someone with a monthly income of 10,000 RMB ($1,500 USD) in the 1995 was considered today’s version of millionaire and the poverty line was 173 RMB, compared to around 2,000 now, according to my cousin. It can be hard to keep that in mind when you see kids drop their pants and pee on the streets on your morning walk to work.
What is it like working in the media in China?
Among the many constant reminders that we are no longer in America, working in media is one of them. Propaganda, which is not a negative term here, is as rampant as one would expect. I could go on for days or even weeks about my experiences.
Do you like working on-camera doing interview and hosting shows?
I’ve been working both on and off camera, even directing, hosting, and producing my own shows. That statement alone speaks to the insane opportunity one has in China. Working for the TV station itself opens so many doors. I’m grateful.
Your blog is called “adventures abound”; do you consider yourself an adventurer?
I’m an adventurer from the perspective of someone born and raised within the bubble of American suburban life. From another, perhaps not. For the most part, these aren’t exactly the typical adrenaline-pumping adventures of a world traveler. Just recently, I had to go on a last-minute visa run. To someone else, that sounds like the worst “adventure,” but then you read my blog and find out I actually had an amazing time making the most of such scenarios. And the fact that I live on my own on the other side of the world makes anything I do an adventure I need to record.
Your blog is about the day-to-day life, and you do post rather frequently. Do you ever find it difficult to come up with new content or do you write all the time?
I rarely have trouble coming up with something to write about. Even if I were still in Maryland, I would probably write about how I have nothing to do. But I’m in China. When is there not a day when I don’t experience something crazy or at least potentially interesting to my readers?
I’ve also just always been a writer in some way. I grew up very soft spoken and would let out my thoughts via journaling. That said, my blog is far from being any literary masterpiece. I write very casually.
How would you describe your writing practice?
Now I tend to blog weekly about the experiences and observations I’ve collected. I take a look at all my photos and notes and go from there. And given how many photos I generally take, blogging ends up taking quite a bit of time but is definitely worth it. Taking notes is essential, not necessarily because I’ll forget experiences so soon, but rather those minute details that make a story better.
What do you like to read?
I’m less of a blog reader and more of a newsletter reader. I subscribe to an unhealthy number of newsletters, which include blogs, but as for going directly to blogs or websites that aren’t Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, that ironically isn’t a habit of mine.
Being in China and understanding that there’s a lot I don’t understand, I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction on China. One of my 2016 resolutions is to read at least one book a month, so I’m currently finishing up Peter Hessler’s Country Driving. It’s my first Hessler book, and I already can’t wait to read his others. I also highly recommend the Sinica podcast for anyone interested in China.
What’s next? Do you plan on staying in China?
I’m planning on applying to grad school to get a Master’s in Chinese studies. When I first came and got the job, I had only planned on staying at most two or three years, but now I’ve realized the need to continue my studies, whereas before I would always tell my dad a Master’s isn’t necessary for what I want to do, which was just journalism at the time. Living in China as an ABC has really sparked that passion in me to delve deeper into U.S.-China relations and aspire to be a “China expert,” or at least follow those out there now, including many who appear on the Sinica podcast. So I’ll stay probably until the end of this year, but you’ll definitely find me back here eventually.
Very nice interview! It’s quite interesting to get the point of view of an ABC, I’ll check out her blog!
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Such a lovely interview with Sonia. Thanks for sharing. It is interesting to hear that she has a hands-on role in the media in Guangzhou. Networking does help one get around, especially if you do speak the language. I also agree with her on how each of us have our own way of perceiving things. Today’s generation might think they are well off – they certainly are compared to our parents’ generations. But this is not an excuse to act out and act childishly. Then again, each generation and lifestyle comes with its own set of problems.
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Enjoyed reading the interview and thanks for the tip on Sonia’s blog; checking it out now.
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