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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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…

 

 

 

Interview: Arthur Meursault, author of Party Members

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Only known image of the mysterious author!

 

Party Members was certainly one of the more interesting of my reviews on China-centric books. Whether one agrees with the intense tone of the novel, or thinks it goes too far, no one can deny that the author displays a uniquely powerful talent at expressing his particular vision…

I was lucky enough to recently procure an interview with author Arthur Meursault, in which I ask questions to explore his writing process and inspiration.

And a very interesting interview it was, henceforth below:

 

 

Party Members is a rather unique China novel that delves into themes few other novels would dare to tread. What was your process like in writing the novel?

This will be ammo for my critics, but honestly speaking the book was remarkably easy to write. Once I decide to write something I find it difficult to concentrate on anything else until it is completed. Just ask my wife: She had to clean the house single-handed for about twelve months. Initially, Party Members started as just a short story about some middle-class Chinese nouveau riche one-upping each other over dinner (the current Chapter 3 in the book), but I just kept adding more and more detail till it mutated into a full-blown novel.

In total it took me about a year to write, then I just left the file in a hard drive folder doing nothing for another year before I went back and did some editing to it. When I get the urge to write I can do just that–I’ll write and write until the demon is out of me and the words are on the page. It’s like a madness that I have to exorcise and I genuinely find it difficult to sleep or concentrate at work if I have an idea that I haven’t committed yet to the page. Editing, on the other hand, is a tiresome process and one that I don’t find enjoyable. The resident Grammar Nazi at my publisher is an extraordinary individual who has a passion for correcting obscure grammatical errors with his red pen of pain. At first I thought that I had done a decent job of proofreading my own copy, but Mark at Camphor destroyed my confidence like a nerd at a prom night getting drenched in a vat of pig’s blood.

 

The book does go into some dark places. As an author, do you ever feel disturbed that your imagination goes in unexpected directions?

If you were to read some of my other short stories–and you can find a couple on my blog–you’d be surprised at how light Party Members is compared to some of the other things that I dream up. I’m generally a pretty misanthropic type of guy. If you were to ask me what my belief system is I’d probably tell you I was a nihilistic antinatalist who views all life as malignantly useless – but I’d tell you that with a smile and follow it up with a “knock knock” joke. As for whether I get disturbed by my dark thoughts or not, my answer would be that I feel I’m just one step ahead of most people. Look at the way the world is turning, and my dark thoughts are increasingly becoming today’s reality.

 

Since releasing the novel, have you been surprised at some of the reactions whether positive or negative?

It is divisive and the classic type of book that will get one star from one reader and five stars from another. That’s how I intended it to be. I didn’t want to write a safe harmless book that people could agree on, I wanted to write a book that would upset and disturb those who kid themselves to the nature of reality and bring solace or a knowing smirk to those who see the darkness in life. The response has been exactly that, but with some additional modern criticisms from “the current year’s” SJWs who stifle thought by saying that a straight white male shouldn’t be allowed to express a negative thought about anything other than himself.

 

When did you know that you were going to be a novelist?

I’m not a novelist–I’m very clear on that. I have a full-time job which takes up 95% of my waking life… and I just so happen to have written a novel. As much as I would like it to define me,it unfortunately won’t. Tomorrow I will still have to continue the day job and the reality is that a niche interest book about China with naughty content in it most likely won’t sell that well and will be all-but-forgotten once I tire of trying to promote it. Maybe, just maybe, one day I will swallow my pride and write something that has a potential of selling: An erotic fiction featuring vampires or the story of a tenacious black woman who fought against 1960s racism to become the first botanist in space. However, having sold my soul, I still wouldn’t call myself a novelist.

 

What authors and books have inspired you?

Have you ever heard of The Fourth Turning? It’s a theory published in the late 1990s that claims history follows the same 80-year cycle continuously. It also says that within that 80-year period there will always be four individual generations with four individual personalities. Furthermore, a person can look for people with similar thoughts and moods by looking for their generational counterpart in the previous cycle. So a person like myself who grew up during the “Unravelling” of the 1980s and 90s should find like-minded authors within the generation that grew up approximately 80 years ago during the previous “Unravelling” cycle. Since all my favourite moody and cynical writers like H.P. Lovecraft, Albert Camus and F. Scott Fitzgerald are from that era, I’d advise any author seeking inspiration to do the same process.

God, that’s a bit of a dry response, isn’t it? I’m in danger of taking myself too seriously.

 

Do you prefer reading books about China, or more international literature?

There comes a point in any man’s life when he simply can’t read anymore books about China. One more autobiography about the Cultural Revolution or an alcoholic English teacher in tier-88 Hunan, and I’d probably grab a samurai sword and go berzerk outside a Beijing branch of Uniqlo. I still read books about China, and when I do I post reviews of them on my blog, but for every book I read on China I now read another ten on something else. Michel Houellebecq is the king of the current European zeitgeist.

 

Are you working on anything new?

It isn’t easy when struggling to keep hold of a full-time corporate job during a period of economic decline, but I’m slowly working on a collection of short stories. I’ve written about half of them and they’ll be so dark that they’ll make Party Members look like The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Some of the stories include tales of a woman driven mad by her garden wall and a new computer game craze that makes people infertile. If that sounds all a bit too much then I can try and appear a little more balanced by telling you that I have already written a full-length children’s story about pugs but I keep getting tempted to add sinister undertones to the draft.

 

What advice if any would you give to aspiring expat writers?

Do it. Please. The world needs more writers. That vlog on YouTube you are planning may seem tempting–and there’s probably more money in it too–but there are already enough spiky-haired excitable people giving us 8 Reasons why Asian Girls are Better or The 3 Best Pumpkin Spice Lattes in Beijing. Buzzfeed might thank you for that, but your grandchildren won’t.

 

Lastly, do you have any thoughts on the future of literature in Asia be it by foreign writers or by locals?

Big Western Publishing will continue to publish boring but “worthy” books by well-connected authors who say the right things. Small Independent Publishing will continue to publish interesting and original works by new authors that will be ignored by almost everybody. And Chinese Publishing will continue to publish the works of Xi Jinping.

Canadian Matt Sigurdson opens vegan restaurant Green Room in SZ

http://szdaily.sznews.com/html/2016-08/08/content_3590068.htm

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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.

深圳市南山区文心三路天利名城购物中心b座西门142号

http://greenroomasia.com/

Interview with My Take’s Hilton Yip

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

My Take: hcyip.wordpress.com

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

 

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How long have you been writing?

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

 

How did you get started in blogging?

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

What kind of places are your favorite to visit?

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

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

 

What kind of places are your least favorite to visit?

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Interview with Sonia Su

My latest interview is with Sonia Su of the aptly-named SoniaSu.com (well, I have the same site-naming system). She’s an American blogger in the nearby city of Guangzhou, and works for GDTV. Her blog details the day-to-day challenges of living abroad, written with humor and an eye for details. Be sure to check it out after enjoying this interview!

 

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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.

 

GZ Poet Aaron Styza

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Guangzhou-based poet Aaron Styza organized and spoke at the Yi-Gather event of which I was a part of last month. His poems have been published on Heron Tree, Sediment Literary Arts Journal, and Two Cities Review.

As he is a talented writer in China, I thought it would be nice to interview Sytza and talk about the craft. Little did I know what a fascinating conversation it would be:

(Also, not that I am an expert at poetry but I have occasionally tried to expand my own writing palette…)

 

What issues or answers does poetry provide or provoke for you?

I’m concerned with the limits of language: how can we measure the effect of what we say? The truth is language cannot adequately express anything. If language were able to express the complexity of thought, there would be no need for poetry. I would say X, and you would understand X. This is not the case. But the inherent inadequacy of language is the very thing that gives poetry its agency: the freedom to investigate a subject obliquely rather than approaching it head-on. Language has a duel effect that causes intense intimacy and terrifying alienation, like birth.

The relationship (or metonymy) between intimacy and alienation haunts a lot of my poems.

 

How has China shifted your aesthetic focus?

The personas in my poems are often coping with psychological trauma. And like a patient hypnotized into summoning their repressed experiences, poems replay that trauma. Trauma manifests itself as a subjective experience and as a reoccurring, collective experience.

Myths and Fables are a great example of a collective experience: something so ingrained in a culture that it’s inextricable from it. They are our first life lessons and indelible marks on our consciousness. I allude to, and re-appropriate, elements from such sources to “fable-ize” modernity. That is, distance a subject from its context and place in time. And China, with its innumerable stories derived from different characters and dynasties, has opened up a new store for me to work with. This may further reinforce what I said earlier about intimacy and alienation.

 

What poetic conventions do you avoid or adopt?

I tend to avoid intellectual witticism most, because that techniques imposes the writer’s voice too much and becomes didactic. I admire the poet Robert Frost for his ability to ground his subjects in reality, without intruding his predispositions onto the poem. Even the times when Frost’s voice spikes through the poem—I’m thinking of his piece “West-Running Brook”—he’s laughing at himself, poking fun at his own authority (this is one of many subtleties in Frost’s work which caused him to become one of the most misread and mistaught poets). Yet his representations of the world are some of the closest poetry has come to accessing the humanities. For him, surrendering to the world was a release from it.

Grounding poems in common, understandable images aligns with my own goals (or tastes), rather than getting tied up in heady, theoretical subject matter, or racing to create a new poetic form, which is plaguing a lot of contemporary writing. I’m a sucker for crisp, well-laid images.

 

 

As it pertains to artistic inspiration, how does being in Guangzhou, China, contrast with the Mid-West in the United States?

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Interview with Glen Cornell

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Glen Cornell is a local friend, and heads the ChinaSquat language & teaching resource website for expats. He lived in China for a total of five years, starting out as an English teacher in Dalian and finishing up in Shenzhen for three years working for a manufacturing company while simultaneously working as a freelance teacher. He also started up the Shenzhen Book Exchange, an amateur library of sorts for expats to find books in their own language. He recently returned to America and I thought we could catch up via blog…

 

Hi Glen, how’s the transition back home been? Where are you living now?

I was very ready to move back to the US, but to be completely honest it’s been a bit of a whirlwind the past month, but that’s what I expected. I left China in a bit of a hurry going after a job opportunity that I really couldn’t pass up on. Part of me had hoped things could have gone more smoothly, but normally the transition for expats from China to the U.S. can be a really tough one, with weeks of unemployment, so I’m really glad that I was able to avoid that.

I’m now living in Boston, Massachusetts, working in sales for a marketing software company called HubSpot.

 

Can you go over about your decision to move to China? Where were you in your life when you made the choice? Why China?

I first decided to come to China about six months after graduating. It was 2010, and the recession still felt like it was in full swing. My “dream job” after college fell through and I was working at a steakhouse living with Mom and Dad. It wasn’t ideal. However, two of my good friends, one from childhood and the other college, were living in China and pushing for me to come check out that side of the world. On my end, I was just happy to get out of my current situation and see a new country. I was also thinking that learning Mandarin would be a good career move, as China and Chinese were becoming more important in the world.

 

How exactly did you actually get to China? Did you have a job lined up?

So I took a pretty risky move and just came on my own. My friend Eric Lewandowski was currently living in Dalian and he encouraged me to just get myself there with a tourist visa and then I’d find something. In retrospect, that was probably a dumb move, but luckily for me it worked out. I flew in to Chengdu and did some “sightseeing” for a week, and then moved to Dalian to crash on Eric’s couch while looking for work. I found a job my first day in Dalian, and moved into a new place within 5 days.

 

So clearly you’re not afraid of making big decisions in a hurry.

I guess one could say that.

 

Without getting into too many specific details, how would you generally summarize your time living in Dalian and working as an English teacher? And how did you get to Shenzhen?

Actually I lived in Xiamen too before I moved to Shenzhen. Haha, it’s a pretty important part to my personal story, but I’ll get to that later.

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Why I Write

http://www.whyiwrite.net/2016/01/ray-hecht/

 

Ray Hecht

South China Morning Blues 

Ray Hecht is an American author based in Shenzhen, and blogs at rayhecht.com. Raised in the American Midwest, he studied film in Long Beach, California before moving to China in 2008 where he divides his time between fiction writing and freelance journalism. South China Morning Blues (Blacksmith Books, 2015), a story of depraved expats within the hypermodern southern Chinese sprawl, is his debut novel.

 

Why I write

That is the ultimate question, isn’t it? I don’t truly know the answer. Perhaps because I am a lonely person and I got into certain habits and now after years of this I am compelled. I want to express myself, I have enough ego to believe that others should read what I write, and it’s just a part of what I do and who I am. I have these things in my head and this compulsion to write it down and I hope beyond hope that people would like to read.

 

How do you go about writing?

I try to write every day. When a long-term project is going, I write about four days a week on a decent week. Good weeks more, bad weeks less. To me, it’s not about hours so much as word count. Five hundred works at least, or a thousand words on a very productive night. That may take hours or it may take 30 minutes.

I like to stay up late, because that’s the time when everyone leaves me alone. That magic time from midnight to about 2 a.m. I used to write later, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with a night owl lifestyle these days. That’s when all the original words come to me, and the next afternoon I tend to do rewrites.

 

Where do you write?

I like to lay down in my bed in my underwear with the laptop. I remember the old days when I had a big PC, it was much harder to motivate myself. The laptop is the most perfect invention ever…

 

Worst distraction?

…excepting, of course, that the Internet is the absolute worst distraction ever. If left to my own devices I tend to constantly check my email, Facebook, news sites etc. Porn isn’t even as bad as social media. Sometimes though you just have to unplug and force yourself to finish a deadline. Unless there’s research to be done.

 

Best inspiration?

I suppose I’m inspired by various things. A good song can inspire. A book, a show. A crazy life experience can especially inspire. Most of all, combing through my own memories of complex life issues and mix and match it into new combinations; somehow that give me ideas about what to write.

 

How often do you get writers’ block? Do you ever doubt your own ability?

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. However, I doubt my own ability all the time. When I compare myself to the major authors whom I respect, I am not in the same league at all. But I’ve chosen to write and even if it’s shit I have vowed to finish what I started.

The thing about writer’s block is that I always have more ideas than I have time to write them down. It should always be that way. Instead of being choked by the blank page, I suffer more from sheer laziness. Writing can be mentally exhaustive, and although endless ideas are swirling around in my mind, sometimes I don’t have enough energy to record and tinker with those ideas.

 

Contemporary writer you always read?

I always read new Haruki Murakami and Neal Stephenson. Murakami isn’t as good as he used to be, frankly, in my humble opinion. Stephenson is such an insanely prolific writer that it takes me longer to catch up with his latest thousand-plus tome then it does for him to write, yet I always do try to catch up.

 

Favorite book on China?

Speaking of which, Reamde by Neal Stephenson is a great book that takes place in China, full of hackers and gold-farming. He really gets it right.

 

Favorite Chinese author?

My favorite may be Su Tong, and especially his novel My Life as Emperor. Written very matter-of-factly and full of cruelty, it rather haunted me.

 

Favorite book?

There are several books that have supremely influenced me. I’m going to keep it in the realm of fiction: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is the ultimate irreverent yet smart novel, with so much energy. I know I’m not smart enough to write science fiction, and cyberpunk in particular, I am purely a fan with no desire to emulate.

I have to mention The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea which sent me on a lifelong journey to figure out what the hell is going on in the world.

As for literary inspiration, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and Bret Easton Ellis’ Glamorama are works that have directly influenced how I string words together…

 

Favourite writer?

As for other mediums, I would like to say that comic book writer Grant Morrison is one of my absolute favorites. Able to write mindfuck profound postmodern comics, as well as fun superheroes, and I am very envious of his abilities.

 

The book you should have read but haven’t?

I am currently trying to find the time to start Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I have a feeling it’s going to be a tough one.

 

You look back at the first thing you had published and think…

Wow I was lucky!

 

How did you get started writing?

I scribbled on occasion when I was a kid, more interested in drawing than writing. When I was in school I decided to study film on a lark, and I didn’t really finish, but I decided I like prose more than screenplays because you can be alone. I decided to write novels when I was twenty-three years old, wrote several, and then almost 10 years later it worked out.

 

Does writing change anything?

I suppose it changes your social life, because friends and loved ones can’t understand why you are always avoiding the outside world. It’s worth it though, I hope.

 

What are you working on now and when is it out?

Well, I’m still working on promoting South China Morning Blues which is currently out in Hong Kong and beyond.

I have another novel in the works, a full draft is finished, and it’s not about China. It’s about how technology effects relationships and I got the idea from last time I visited America and observed as an outsider the whole Tinder dating thing. If I’m incredibly lucky it will be published in less than a year. A lot has to fall into place. I believe it will be published eventually. Wish me luck!

 

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Radio Interview on Morning Brew in Hong Kong

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Last Friday, I was honored to be invited to Phil Whelan’s Morning Brew show on Radio 3 in Hong Kong.

I was a bit nervous, but after doing a half-dozen odd promotional events for my novel South China Morning Blues I have indeed been getting better at this public speaking thing.

It was only less than a half-hour, and we talked fast. That’s how radio goes. Just hope I could keep up! Phil was nice, and spurred on a very interesting conversation. The topics were varied, as we delved into people-watching then censorship then about what can be gotten away with on television. Finally we went back to the topic of my book and I read a short excerpt.

I think it actually went well! I would love to do more shows like this in the future, if anyone will have me…

But I’m still not ready for a podcast.

 

Please check out the link below and click on the listening portion that says Ray Hecht – South China Morning Blues:

http://programme.rthk.hk/channel/radio/programme.php?name=radio3/morning_brew&d=2015-12-04&p=2505&e=335512&m=episode

Interview with Ray Hecht on His New Novel “South China Morning Blues”

(Originally posted on: http://www.speakingofchina.com/bookreviews/interview-with-ray-hecht-on-his-new-novel-south-china-morning-blues/)

 

People have called China endlessly fascinating. But you could say the same about the expat scene here. In the seven-plus years that I’ve lived in this country, I’ve come across some real characters here – people I could have sworn were straight out of a novel.

I’m reminded of many of them after reading Ray Hecht’s new book South China Morning Blues, which features a motley cast of young expats and Chinese locals living across Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, including:

…Marco, a crooked businessman with a penchant for call girls; Danny, a culture-shocked young traveler; Sheila, a local club girl caught up in family politics; Amber, a drug-fueled aspiring model; Terry, an alcoholic journalist; and Ting Ting, a lovable artist with a chip on her shoulder.

 

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Through 12 distinct viewpoints, South China Morning Blues takes readers on a tour of the dark underside of the expat scene in China, culminating in a dramatic life-and-death situation that brings everyone together. It’s a fresh take on life in 21st century China and definitely worth a read.

I’m happy to once again feature Ray Hecht on the blog and introduce South China Morning Blues to you through this interview.

 

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Here’s Ray’s bio from his website:

Long story short, raised in America from the Midwest to the West Coast on a starchy diet of movies and comics and science fiction paperbacks. There’s a Mid-East connection in there too. I like to write fiction about such states as California and Ohio, and such provinces as Guangdong. Japan being an interesting topic as well. Lived in Shenzhen, China since 2008 (has it really been that long?), a lovely Special Economic Zone Hong Kong-bordering chaotic city that has given me so much. I occasionally partake of some freelance journalism for various local publications.

You can learn more about Ray Hecht and South China Morning Blues at his websiteand buy a copy at Amazon.com, where your purchase helps support this blog.

—–

 

What inspired you to write this novel?

Good question to start out with. A few things come to mind: After living in China in those earlier years, I found the country to be absolutely fascinating, and I wanted to share the experience of the land by telling stories.

Also, I’d long been a fan of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and had a lot of respect for his system of multiple narrators that all have distinctive versions of experiences,and being more interlocking short stories than one big narrative. I think one of the philosophies that fiction can teach us is the subjective nature of reality. The way some people, say, move to Guangzhou and complain how they hate it while other people see it totally differently and love it.

Another inspiration, I must say at the risk of sounding pretentious, was James Joyce’s Ulysses. Not that I’m smart enough to write something like that — or even smart enough to truly understand the famously-dense book. But the way the novel utilized mythological metaphors, as per the Odyssey resonating in early 20th Century Dublin. I wanted to try something like that. The ancient mythologies of the world will forever be able to inspire modern stories.

Well, for me, characters are most important. A character needs unique personality traits, archetypes that make them stand out, something interesting about their histories and personas. After that’s established, a plot begins to form… And so the idea evolved to use the Chinese Zodiac to structure the characters of a novel…

 

Your novel is told through the perspective of 12 main characters as they live in or visit three major cities in South China — Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. How did you decide to structure your novel like this?

As said, I had the idea to base characters off the Chinese Zodiac in order to tell stories about modern China. Seemed to make sense at the time.

I’d already ended up living in Shenzhen, which is a major city most people around the world have never heard of. The city is next to Hong Kong, and I spend a lot of time there. For the sake of literary research (also because I wanted to research a historical novel about Canton circa revolutionary 1911) I moved to Guangzhou for an off year in 2011. I find all these cities fascinating in their own unique ways. I mean, Beijing and Shanghai are great, but I ended up in the southern Pearl River Delta region and I am glad I did. No place on Earth has more stories.

It seemed obvious that my novel about the soul of present China would have to incorporate those three cities.

 

Like your memoir, South China Morning Blues features quite a bit of sex and recreational drug use. How much did your personal experiences influence your writing in this book?

Ah, an embarrassing question. Hmm, how can I put this…?

First of all, my biographical writings may have some sex but I don’t think there’s much to brag about. Outside of a handful of tell-all dramatic episodes, by far it mostly concerned online dating and several serious relationships. Not too crazy, right?

The sex scenes in SCMB are, shall we say, meant to be more literary. At least more literary in the sense of literature I like to read. Being more extreme than real life in most cases. Many of those scenes were inspired by way of hearsay of other people I know, my own imagination, and a bit of research online. Not really based off my own personal experiences very much.

(Hey, I did say that Trainspotting was an inspiration.)

As for recreational drugs, I experimented a bit in my youth — and by youth I mean my mid-to-late twenties, I was very boring as a teen — and I think I was always responsible about it. To be honest, I’m often shocked when I observe how extreme drugs and alcohol are in the China party scene. It is something that needs to be depicted, whether glamorized or not. No outright spoilers here, but if you read to the end there are consequences for the characters who abuse themselves and I think it’s important to showcase that side.

All in all though, I want to show all sides of real life. Using illegal substances, having irresponsible sex, pushing the boundaries, and making mistakes; these are all things that human beings actually do. And they are interesting things. I believe they are things worth writing about. Worth portraying, without too much judgment. More or less, presented as is. That’s writing.

 

Tell us about one of your favorite characters from the novel and why you like him or her. Continue reading

Interview with Ray Hecht on writing and his new book, “South China Morning Blues”

http://www.travis-lee.org/2015/10/30/interview-with-ray-hecht-on-writing-and-his-new-book-south-china-morning-blues/

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Interview with Ray Hecht on writing and his new book, “South China Morning Blues”

For author Ray Hecht, the answer is a psychedelic experience at Burning Man.

Author of Loser Parade411, The Ghost of the Lotus Mountain Brothel (which I reviewed here), and Pearl River Drama, his most recent book is South China Morning Blues. available now at the publisher’s website and for pre-order on Amazon.

I asked Ray his thoughts on writing, his inspiration for South China Morning Blues and much more:

 

Can you recall a single instance that inspired you to be a writer or is it something that you’ve always had an attraction to?

I can’t recall a specific incident, it’s something that developed slowly. I originally wanted to be an artist before I wanted to be a writer. I felt like writing would be a good thing superfluously in my teens, and tried some stories. It was in college – late years in college in my twenties – I decided to study film screenwriting. I remember at 23 for some reason I vowed to write a novel a year. I didn’t follow up on that particular pace, but I have been writing seriously ever since.

 

Do you work on a specific schedule, where you write every day?

I mainly like to write in the middle of the night, but life doesn’t always let me. Usually I do first drafts after midnight. Then, next day at noon to the afternoon I might slowly do rewrites. It would probably be a good idea to get a consistent schedule, wouldn’t it!

 

Do you have a preferred writing program? (Word, text editor, etc.?)

Microsoft Word of course. I’ve even been studying some of the more intricate ways to edit and use the software to the best of my ability. Got a lot of typing shortcuts memorized. If it’s not too obvious to say, isn’t Word basically a must in this day and age?

 

You’ve mentioned that your love for ‘Trainspotting’ and ‘Snow Crash’. Could you tell us more about why you like these novels?

I love the danger and the outlaw attitude and the intelligence and the punk rock aesthetics and just how damn sexy it is. The novels are quite different, although they are both written in present-tense first-person narration. They are also both novels that exploded their respective writers on the scene.

‘Trainspotting’ by Irvine Welsh is magnificent literary achievement. The phonetic dialectic in writing, the grittiness of the drug culture, the power of each separate narrator’s unique voice. And yet, it is a free-flowing art work that explores all over without sticking to the rigidity of a narrow plot. Plus, it can even be darkly funny.

‘Snow Crash’ by Neal Stephenson is incredibly smart, a complex cyberpunk postmodern science fiction epic, and yet it doesn’t take itself too seriously and is often hilarious. I wish I was smart enough to write science fiction, but I’m not. I do highly admire Stephenson’s ability to be brilliant and at the same time be that cool.

 

What do your friends and family back in America think of you being a writer? Are they supportive? Do you ever find that some people just don’t understand what being a writer actually is?

I’ve been very surprised how supportive most of my old friends have been. Although, due to the nature of my writing topics I tend to keep family at arm’s length. Hopefully though, I impress everyone back home and most are proud of me.

However, I tend to think most people don’t understand what being a writer is at all. Rather, they imagine that being a writer is this thing to be. Especially people who want to be writers. Nobody seems to imagine what it is to write. Writing is a thing to do. Lots of people want to be writers; most people do not at all want to do any of the writing. That’s the part people always get so particularly wrong.

 

What was the impetus for writing South China Morning Blues?

To put it bluntly, I feel compelled to spend endless lonely hours writing. I needed subject matter to write about. I ended up in China, studied a bit, observed here and there, and the stories had to be told. That’s the short version.

 

While reading your book I saw a lot of familiar people and situations. Was it much the same for you, in that you were drawing from personal experience?

Some of it was personal. Much of it was hearsay. A whole lot never happened to anyone I know (that I know of) but things I only learned of online.

I’ll go ahead and reveal this right now: The drug stuff was based on personal experience. The sex stuff was not.

 

Were there any big scenes / characters cut at the editing stage?

Not too much. Perhaps there should have been. I rewrote and rewrote and polished, and perhaps this is bad writing advice, but I don’t like to cut out too much.

 

The presence of Chinese zodiacs. Did you know about that when you started or did it happen naturally?

I knew the basics of the Chinese animals, even when in America – though never a believer – I knew I was dog year and so on. When I set out to write this novel, I further researched. The acknowledgments gives a shout out to the book I mainly used.

Can’t say it happened naturally; it was a conscious choice from the beginning to structure the characters that way in the foundation and then see which way their stories would go…

 

In the book we see people struggle with identity and ambition. Danny says, “Back home, my old college classmates are surpassing me”, a feeling I can relate to. Do you think the ambition that many foreigners in China have — opening the business, becoming the great writer, etc. — is a way for them to keep up with their contemporaries?

Sure. But not only for expats, many people often feel anxious that the people from their past are surpassing them. With expats in particular, the contrast between one’s own weird life and those left in the home country can be stark. It’s a positive thing to healthily compete and start a business or forge a craft. At least expats in China tend to be interesting people (even if weird) and that can make for good goals. Being motivated by old cohorts surpassing, whatever works.

 

Going with the previous question, do you think there is something about China that attracts these kinds of people?

Good question. There is something about the expat phenomenon that attracts odd people. Odd in good ways and bad. Adventurous, or the dreaded loser stereotype, I don’t know. But there’s something there.

And why China of all places? I suppose it’s a big place, and it’s blowing up right now in world history. I’ve always liked that the economic growth puts it in this sort of limbo between undeveloped and developed, full of cheap outdoor restaurants and expensive shopping malls, and somehow that can suit certain people.

 

To close it out, do you have any advice for new writers who are reading this?

Going back to perceptions of the writer versus writing, I can only say to write. You’d think it would be obvious. Don’t fantasize about being this mythical creature called the writer. Be a person who writes. Then, when the writing gets good, whatever your niche may be, go out there and network and best of luck to you in getting published.

That is all.

 


 

Big thanks to Ray Hecht for doing this interview. To learn more about Ray, visit his website. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

South China Morning Blues is available now on the Blacksmith Books website and for pre-order on Amazon.

Continue reading

Author Interview With Ray Hecht

Accidental Bohemian

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Hello Readers,
I am very excited for my latest author interview with China-based writer, Ray Hecht whom I was introduced to here on wordpress. Besides his impressive talent, I am delighted to interview him.

1. When did you start putting pen to paper?
I started writing a few short stories for fun in high school, although at that time I was far more interested in drawing and comics. I remember the age of 23 I officially told myself I want to start writing novels and haven’t looked back since.

2. What’s your literary poison – prose, poetry, etc.?
As in producing or consuming? I am primarily a fan of comics and novels. No offense to short stories and poetry. I read all manner of comics from superhero to indie to Vertigo-esque fantasy to manga. With novels I highly respect the sort of “neo-Beat” aesthetic epitomized by Irvine Welsh and Bret…

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Jocelyn Eikenburg of Speaking of China

This week’s author interview is with Jocelyn Eikenburg, of SpeakingofChina.com fame, her successful blog focusing on relationship dynamics across the world. As an American woman married to a Chinese man and living in Hangzhou, she has experienced a lot and writes well about the expat perspectives.

She also submitted to the anthology book How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? which I happened to review. Do give it a read.

Without further ado…

 

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First question, of course: What brought you to China?

I was about to graduate from Marshall University and, like a lot of young people, had no clue about what I wanted to do with my future apart from one thing – travel. I couldn’t get enough of international travel after a semester studying abroad in Spain. I figured I would snag a job in a Spanish-speaking country somewhere in the world, and continue my international adventures like that.

Except, I couldn’t find a job that really appealed to me.

So one day I walked into the International Affairs office at my university for guidance. That’s when the director asked me, “How about teaching in China?” As it turned out, Marshall University had run a successful teach in China program for years (Appalachians Abroad).

I remember thinking at the time, China? He’s got to be kidding. Nothing about my life suggested all roads lead to China.

But later on, as I pondered his suggestion, I realized that, deep down, I was quietly fascinated by a number of things connected to China – from Taoism and green tea to tofu and traditional Chinese medicine.

Of course, spending an entire year in a country where you can’t speak the language and know little about the culture is a scary proposition. But I was even more frightened of having nothing to do after graduation and the opportunity to travel ultimately won out over all my fears. So I signed on to teach English in Zhengzhou, China.

Who’d have thought that one chance decision would end up setting the course for my future?

 

What was your biggest challenge?

Initially, not knowing Chinese at all created some stressful and even embarrassing situations for me when I first arrived in China. I hated going out to run even the simplest errands, like mailing a letter, because I’d have to spend an hour trying to memorize a few phrases and then still end up understanding almost nothing they would say to me. Or I’d have these moments in small stores where I would turn as red as the little Chinese dictionary in my hands, paging through it in an often futile effort to express myself. I’m confident I entertained quite a few shopkeepers during my first few months in China.

 

How did you get involved in the anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?

Through Susan Blumberg-Kason, I learned of Shannon Young’s call for submissions for a new expat women’s anthology focused on Asia. I thought it might be fun to write about the time my husband and I used our honeymoon vacation in China to take his dad to visit Huangshan, so I sent Shannon an essay about that. Then, of course, I crossed my fingers and hoped I might actually make the cut!

I feel really fortunate to have been chosen for the anthology, as I share the pages with some incredibly talented writers.

 

Any China-centric authors you enjoy?

Pearl Buck definitely stands out as one of my favorites. I read The House of Earth (The Good Earth, Sons, A House Divided) many years ago when I was in Shanghai, and just fell completely in love with her style, not to mention how she wrote so compassionately about the Chinese and their culture. Not surprisingly, I ended up checking out every single Pearl Buck book in the local library after my husband and I moved back to the US for some time.

There’s this one quote from her book Kinfolk that has stayed with me over the years:

“It takes a certain kind of person to live in China now….Someone who can see true meanings, someone who does not only want the world better but believes it can be made better, and gets angry because it is not done, someone who is not willing to hide himself in one of the few good places left in the world–someone who is tough!”

China has changed much since the 1930s and 1940s, when Buck was writing most of her books, and yet there’s truth in this quote even today.

 

Is it difficult to find new subject matter for Speaking of China?

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Button Masher T.O.

Hi there, gamers!

Although my nerdy tendencies are primarily focused on the medium of comicsI do have more sides to myself as shared in this old post: Casual Gamer

With this in mind, I hope it is appropriate to interview Mr. Corey van den Hoogenband of the website Button Masher T.O.

 

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http://buttonmasherto.com


Let’s begin. Firstly, how would you describe the Button Masher T.O. blog?

 

Button Masher T.O. is a joint project among a handful of writers, podcasters, and video creators, covering and sharing the nerdy junk they love in Toronto and beyond. We’ve
been around for just over half a year and are proud to say we’ve had over 30,000 visitors, collaborated with several other talented bloggers and sites, and had articles upvoted to the top of various gaming subreddits on more than one occasion.

 

 

What is the backstory to the creation of Button Masher T.O. and what led you to write for it?

 

So Nic and myself, along with Damion, were the three original founders of the site, and the whole thing with Nic is that our entire ten-year friendship has essentially been one long conversation about video games. We met in the schoolyard talking about fake cheat codes we imagined for Soul Calibur II, and solidified our friendship through countless rounds of Smash Bros Melee. Seriously – COUNTLESS.Nic and I had been wanting to do something like Button Masher for years, and around December I felt really compelled to share a lot of gaming opinions. I write for another Toronto based arts blog that respects video games as an art form, but I knew that they weren’t really the place for games discussion – that’s just not what they cover. So rather than sulk at the fact my current site won’t publish my gaming stories, I opted to unite with Nic, along with Damion, to create a new site that would host all our gaming outbursts. Enter Button Masher T.O.

 

What is your personal process by which you get an idea for a post, and how do you go about writing it?

More likely than not, the process begins with me jumping out of bed late at night to grab my phone and make a memo about what it is I want to write about. I can say with confidence though that in my experience the key to writing a successful article is writing about what you care about and why you care about it. There’s going to be a million other sites covering the exact same news stories whether that’s gaming, politics, what have you – and readers can get that same news anywhere. What’s going to bring people towards your article is how you perceive that news. Your opinion is your greatest ally – and if it differs from everyone else, even better!

If you wanted an example, early in July a trailer dropped for the “A Matter of Family” Batgirl DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight. I noticed that in the trailer Harley Quinn, a character I think is great, is sporting her original outfit from the ’90s Batman cartoon. Instead of writing an article saying “Check out this new trailer!” like everyone else did, I wrote something along the lines of “Harley Quinn Goes Old School in New Batgirl DLC.” Even a month later, that article brings in at least 30 visitors a day.

 

Are there any writers who particularly inspire you?

I think I’m influenced most greatly by Greg Miller and the rest of the guys at Kinda Funny. I’ve been reading Miller’s stuff since he first showed up at IGN in the late 2000s, and his style of writing worked in such a way that it didn’t feel like text on screen, it felt like your nerdy friend telling you why you would or wouldn’t like game x. I hope my writing comes across the same way to readers – that there’s a guy on the other end who’s excited to tell them about whatever the article is about.

 

Now that the Button Masher podcast is up on iTunes, can you share some interesting things about making a podcast?

Without a doubt the hardest part of a podcast is starting each episode. Once the ball is rolling you feel fine going for 30, 40, 50 minutes, but I know whether it’s me on Podcast Engage or Nic hosting CineMasher, we always do four or five intro attempts before we get it right. “Heeeeello internet and welcome to the… no no no that was way too lame.” Picture that but in ten plus variations each episode.

 

I see you cover a lot of cool nerdy pop culture, focusing on video games but not exclusively so. From Muppets to Bojack Horseman, what are some of your favorite non-gaming franchises and stories?

Well the whole idea of not exclusively covering games is an extension of our longing to just share and celebrate the stuff that we would talk about anyways if Nic, Damion, the others, and myself were sitting around at a bar. When it comes to non-gaming I’d say some of my personal favourite franchises would have to be Batman: The Animated Series, Breaking Bad, the A Song of Ice and Fire books, and most recently this exceptional comic book series, Saga.

 

What were your favorite games growing up?

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was the first game I got addicted to. I was too young to beat the game’s first temple so I’d just run around exploring Termina as Link until my three day cycle ran out, then I’d start again and repeat. You wouldn’t believe how excited I was when I found an old Nintendo Power Magazine with a walkthrough of Majora’s Mask’s dungeons and realized there was more to Zelda than just cutting down bushes. My life was changed…I’ve yet to figure out if that was for better or worse.

 

What are your favorite games currently?

Right now I’m obsessed with Batman: Arkham Knight. I caved and bought the 40 dollar season pass, so hopefully it’ll supply me with the Batman fix I desperately crave all the way up until the new year. I’m a weak, weak man.

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