Brief update: Hsinchu, Taiwan

Suffice it to say that I have been busy lately.

But not too busy to write a brief update on Week One of my new Taiwan life…

First of all, I cannot stress enough how much work it is to move. Moving indeed sucks But it’s a necessary part of life sometimes. All in all the move wasn’t that bad; it was the normal amount of sucking that one would expect when moving to a nearby country-not-country but still basically a totally different country.

In the weeks before leaving Shenzhen, much of my time was spent asking local convenience stores to donate me cardboard boxes so I could pack up everything. Eventually, I got about twenty boxes to stock up my books and clothes and boardgames and books and toys and comics and even some pillows/blankets but mostly books.

It was a highly heavy process.

On the second to last day, a local shipping company came by to take all the stuff. Later, they got back to me and said that it all weighed 266 kilograms.

It was a pretty good deal at 17 RMB per kilogram. If anyone is moving out from Shenzhen, I can happily connect you to these fine people. No they are not paying me to say that.

However, that was not the end. Still didn’t include my giant suitcase which I filled to the absolute brim. Plus there was my giant backpacker backpack, which they really shouldn’t have let me use as a carry-on for the flight.

Anyway soon came the last day, and Bronwen and I took a ferry from the new Shekou pier in Shenzhen and were off the Hong Kong airport. Thank goodness for those trolley things or I likely would no longer have a working spine.

The flight was only one and a half hours. Recommended as well.

Luckily, we got a driver at Taoyuan Airport out of Taipei, and were driven to Zhubei city which is in Hsinchu county. It’s not far from Taipei, and there’s a high-speed train for quick access, so though I am not a Taipei-er for now TPE will still be my airport of choice…

The next few days consisted of much shopping and organizing of the household and generally exploring the town. I have so far concluded that I like this place and I am happy to live here. The next on my checklist is a bicycle with which to further explore and get around.

Finally, several days later the packages arrived. Then more work.

Some books and stuff

 

Things seem to be stabilizing now. I plan to continue to keep myself busy here, and hope to achieve many a goal in the coming Taiwan-based years. Home is lovely, and I must admit I am feeling somewhat optimistic. Which is a rare feeling for me.

What the hell, I wholeheartedly and happily announce that I am into living here 😊

 

Well, wish me luck and please come visit anytime! (Americans note: You do not even need a visa in Taiwan)

 

 

And so now I conclude this brief update blog with a quick tour of the place:

Come visit! I has home. #homesweethome

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Announcement! #Taiwan

Here it is, what you’ve all been waiting for, my announcement:

As some of you know–and some of you don’t–after a whopping eight years in China, I am finally moving out of Shenzhen… I will soon be living in Taiwan, which is sorta China but like a different kind of China.

#台湾 ✈

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I am excited about this move. To be honest, I like the People’s Republic of China in many respects but I have always thought I should move on one day. The human rights issues and internet censorship for example have gotten worse of late.

I always thought I would end up in Hong Kong, but after visiting Taipei last year my girlfriend and I have given much thought to Taiwan. I think it will suit me better. While Hong Kong has a lot of English-langue publishing to be sure, the stressful workaholic lifestyle just isn’t for me. There is a bit less money to be made in the R.O.C. (Republic of China), but I absolutely love the chill atmosphere. Also, they speak Mandarin. Also, there is a thriving art scene. Also, culturally it’s a mix of Japan and China but less crowded. What more could I ask for?

Now I just gotta brush up on my traditional characters.

On July 31st, the last day of the month, Bronwen and I will be living in Zhubei within Hsinchu Country out of Taipei. That’s where the jobs were. So I visited last week to secure an apartment and explore, and while I hope to end up in Taipei eventually I’m happy to be in the Hsinchu area for the time being. Lovely place.

I must say I am liking this city of #Hsinchu

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I will surely miss Shenzhen. I still say it’s the best city in mainland China, and perhaps I’ll visit from time to time. No other city has given me so much and I will always treasure the memories. So personal struggles and accomplishments in this city. One might say it’s where I ultimately grew up into real adulthood. One doesn’t have to say that, but one could say that if one was so inclined.

It’s been a lot of work moving. Apparently I own a bit too many heavy books. There were several a terrible choice in throwing away clothes and shelved toys, deciding who will get discarded and who will get to come, and then boxing away the rest. Today, the moving company picked up all this stuff and now my apartment is very empty.

#Moving!

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And that’s about it for my life in Shenzhen. This past month I had a great going away party, some last-minute meetups with friends at book exchanges and improv nights and Hong Kong pubs, and I am ready to move on the next phase of Life Ray. Meeting the landlord on Sunday and flying one-way on Monday.

Wish me luck!

Lastly, please more people come visit me because it’s a great advantage that now there’s no need for a visa for all my American friends (and most other countries, except for South Africa but that’s a whole other conversation but at least it’s easier than China). Just come visit.

Well, look forward to more political posts about Taiwan and soonish–

 

Shanghai 上海

Last weekend I went to Shanghai, for a reading. It was my second trip to China’s biggest and most cosmopolitan city, and though I only had a three-day weekend holiday I made the most of it and saw many sights.

We stayed in the French Concession area, near Garden Books, and on Saturday we went up and down the old colonial area the Bund along the Huangpu River . Where we ate much delicious food, and even rode around on Mobikes!

Here are many old buildings::

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Then, it was recommended to take a ferry to the skyscraper-heavy Pudong side. I liked the bottle opener building. And of course the iconic Pearl Tower. It looks particularly beautiful at night, an image everyone has to check out.

The shopping road Nanjing road as well herein, and that covers all the good spots:

(Plus, the next day went to the charming alleyways of Tianzifang!)

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And at last, we were lucky enough to discover this excellent glass art exhibition near Tianzifang. Curated by Chang Yi with extensive work by Loretta H. Wang, the Why Glass? show utilized traditional Chinese styles to showcase brilliant glass sculptures often with Buddhist themes:

See more at the Liuli China Museum website

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It was an excellent trip. I also got to meet Marta of MartaLivesinChina.com and I thank everyone who came to the reading. It’s an honor to share my work with Shanghai, and if you’re ever in the area you can buy my book now fully stocked there (as well as other great books)…

 

Until next time, Shanghai~

 

Christmas travel: Yangshuo, and Chinglish

Over the course of this blog, I’ve often written of my travels. Yet I never got around to having a particular category for travel. Y’know, like with those tabs above such as ‘Art,’ ‘Reviews’, ‘Comics,’ and of course ‘Chinglish.’ Travelling was but miscellaneous.

That ends now. I made a Travel category, and retroactively organized my old travel stories as such. Feel free to browse.

 

Now, I shall speak of my recent trip to beautiful Yangshuo (阳朔), which is technically a county as part of the greater city of Guilin (桂林). I’ve wanted to go for a long time to see what everyone likes so much about those limestone karst hills on the 20 RMB notes.

With several days off for the Christmas holiday, and the new express bullet train taking only three hours from Shenzhen, there was no reason not to go. Super convenient for those who hate flying but like traveling.

Off we went. After arriving in Guilin on the first day, which is more of a hub than a destination, we immediately continued our travels to the small village of Laozhai (老寨). Deep in the misty mountains, populated by the Yao minority group, it was very nice and all in all the essence of that feeling of getting out of the city. There were many chickens, some pigs, relaxed nice old locals, and under their guidance we made some tofu. Smallest village I’ve ever been to.

 

Pressed for time, the very next day we were bused to scenic Yangshuo where we would be staying for the bulk of our trip. The guesthouse was excellent and our host immensely helpful, can’t be recommended enough. On the first evening we went to bustling West street for dinner, and over the course of the trip much pancakes and pizza would be eaten indeed.

Bicycling in #Yangshou, #Guilin

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Everyday we rented bikes and cycled down the country roads to explore. Outside of West street, it becomes very towny fast. Little villages, epic views of karsts. There was bamboo rafting along the Lijiang river. I went horse-riding!

I am man. I have conquered #horse.

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One particularly nice view was along the grande Moon Hill rock formation, next to some life-size Transformers which I assume are not really allowed under copyright law but hey it’s rural China.

Somehow I think #Transformers are not legally approved. Look at that view of beautiful #MoonHill!

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Even met some friends. A couple known from their days in Shenzhen had moved to Yangshuo and we had a nice dinner to catch up, and by coincidence another friend happened to be traveling at the same time to join us.

 

Good times. The last day was bittersweet as it is when traveling ends.

Short blog, but you get the gist of it. The new year is approaching, and I said it would be a travel posting but I didn’t say it would be that detailed. Well I do hope to return to lovely Yangshuo one day…

 

 

Oh, and there was some Chinglish to be found if not that much and here you are:

I didn't find much #Chinglish in Yangshuo, but though spelled correctly aww this is cute

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Last of the #Yangshuo posts, a bit of harmonious #Chinglish #Engrish…

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Not bungee-jumping in Guangzhou

Here in China, we recently celebrated the National Day holiday which remembers the founding of the modern People’s Republic of China’s founding in 1949. Whether you are a communist or not, everybody gets the day off and it’s time to go on a trip…

Having recently moved, me and my girlfriend wanted to check out the train station in nearby walking distance from our new home. Shenzhen and Guangzhou are very close, by the way, and so it was decided we’d take a trip for a couple of days to the big(ger) city!

It does tend to get very crowded on Chinese holidays. The train didn’t even have seats, although we did sit in the dining car most of the way. Luckily, Guangzhou wasn’t that bad. I suppose most people go to the more popular tourist spots and the first-tier cities get emptied out.

Nice time. I like going to the provincial capital on occasion. Although I prefer living Shenzhen–where it seems slightly less depressing to me somehow.

 

Is it bad to celebrate #RoshHashana by going to a delicious #Muslim restaurant? 😀

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We went to eat delicious Turkish food in Taojin, and African food in Sanyuanli. The Muslim and African neighborhoods of GZ are excellent places to walk around and explore the scene. Then we made a day of going to Baiyun Mountain, as tourist as it gets there. The cable car made for an amazing view.

What I really wanted to do was go bungee jumping! Lately I’ve been feeling like a need to do something drastic to fight off the haunting ennui of life, and jumping off a cliff might just do the trick. However, after psyching myself and mustering up all the willpower I could muster, when I got there they said it was sold out for the day and I had to reserve 24-hours early 😦

Turns out the crowds were a factor after all. Very frustrating. Well at least I saved money. Maybe next time I’m in town, and it’s not a holiday and I can just show up and spontaneously do it.

 

Made the most of the trip anyhow. A small carnival, some archery. Finally, dim sum the next morning and we went back to good ol’ Shenzhen.

The lesson is: don’t have a normal job and make your own schedule for vacations. (I don’t, but my girlfriend does)

Lastly here’s my Facebook album if you’d like to see more~

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154194430368411.1073741898.507883410&type=1&l=8289d48e12

Bureaucratic kerfuffle in Israel: My Trip

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There I am

As you may know from brief biographies published on occasion, I am American but I happened to be born in Israel. But what does that exactly mean? I moved when I was a baby and I don’t speak Hebrew, I don’t even particularly care about Israel other than a general appreciation for the Western mythological tradition, and in fact if you speak to me in private I would express that I am quite critical of the intense political situation there. If you wanna get into religion then let me say I’m basically atheist at this point.

I identify myself as completely American and somewhat proud of that—not that America is perfect but there is an argument to be made that America’s contributions to the world do outnumber the negatives. And, America is just plain more interesting.

The short and long of it is that I left Israel at two-years old. I have no memory as “sabra”. My dad is from Chicago and my mom is from the former Soviet Union; they met there and me and my sister were born abroad but raised in the United States of America: the midwestern states of Indiana and Ohio to be specific. I consider my hometown to be Cincinnati. For the past decade I’ve had a California driver’s license. Even though I’ve lived in another interesting country for quite a while, China, I will always consider myself an American abroad.

I did visit Israel a few times in my adult life. When I was a teenager on one of those trips, a couple times to see family. What can I say? The food is good. It’s English-friendly and easy to get around. That’s about the main takeaway for me.

So, over the last several years my sister has chosen to live in Jerusalem and do the whole religious thing. Not for me, but to each their own. She has a family, a precocious hyper son whom I met at a wedding in Florida two years ago. Since then, her family has grown with the addition of two super-cute nieces I had yet to meet. Hence, the time came for one of those international trips to meet the family!

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Ridiculously super-cute

I had arranged to fly from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv for a brief, one-week trip. My mom was flying in as well. Right off the bat, unwelcoming Israeli security became an issue as I was personally escorted through the HK airport. It was better than the strip search last time. The real bureaucratic issue was when, after the grueling 11-hour flight, I was told off at the Ben-Gurion customs…

See, I have never even had an Israeli passport. I left as a baby under my parents’. I could claim dual citizenship, but I’ve never had any desire whatsoever. In 2011 I came for my sister’s wedding, and there wasn’t a problem with my U.S. passport until I left and a border guard yelled at me for not having an Israeli passport. I was told I would not be allowed in next time without it. In the years since I tried my best to forget about that. It was kind of offensive, being told what my identity is.

They must have remembered, because when I came in the guard knew I was warned already and gave me a very hard time for not getting the passport. Gotta give their record-keeping system credit. Apparently I had to go to the Ministry of the Interior to sort it out, or I would not be allowed to leave the country!

Bit scary to be told that. What, should I contact the American embassy and say Israel is trying to kidnap me? I do get it; Israel is very aggressive about getting more migration for their own reasons. However, I am not into it. Least I know I’m too old to get drafted.

I suppose it could come in handy if there was a world disaster and I needed a second country’s passport. Still, I try not to plan my life around paranoia.

So, they eventually let me through. I was nervous but ready to embrace the trip. My Dad—who happened to be in the area—picked me up along with my British brother-in-law. It was late, and already I preferred the cool, dry desert air to the humid jungle weather I had come from. We went to my dad’s accommodations to pass out, and the next day I saw my sister’s family!

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Me and Mom and Sis and boy

I had met her son/my nephew in 2014 but I never met my nieces until that day. They are ridiculously cute. And not only that, but we then returned to the airport to pick up my mom! A real family reunion of a trip. I doled out gifts of Chinese trinkets and we all caught up on life. It’s always nice to see one’s immediate family after years away.

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The dreaded Ministry of the Interior

Finally, on Day 3, I went to the dreaded Ministry of the Interior. My dad helped me out a lot. I brought my (American) passport and my printout of flight details, and that’s all I had. No Israeli documentation whatsoever. We took a number, waited, then were told to go somewhere else to take a number. It was early in the day and I can’t complain as it was rather fast for a government ministry. At last, a lady took us in her office. I had two choices revealed: I could pay to receive an Israeli passport and it would take a few days, or I could get an exit permission letter right then and there at no charge. I chose the latter. She highly recommended that I get the passport and I must eventually if I ever come to Israel again, seriously I really better not forget, but this would be allowed for the current trip.

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Model of ancient Jerusalem at Israel Museum

Now over with, I was free to enjoy the rest of my time! There were so many dinners with family. Playing with the kids. Taking photos. Eating delicious Middle Eastern food. Oh the hummus, the hummus!!! Lots of walking around the central district of Jerusalem, which is mostly an overly religious city, but touristy Jaffa Center at Ben-Yahuda street was tolerable. We went to malls, restaurants, and argued. It’s a family tradition. Arguing with my dad was the worst (we have a complex relationship), and there was a rather heavy disagreement with my sister as well over the settlements and alternative medicine. But don’t get me started, as this is supposed to be a mostly apolitical blog. The theological discussions were remarkably civil.

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Comics!

When asked about my favorite place on the trip, I have to admit it was going to the comic book store in the metropolitan city of Tel Aviv. I love checking out comic shops when going to a new place. The beach was also nice. The Israel Museum comes highly recommended; at the time they had an exhibition on ancient Egypt. They even have the Dead Sea Scrolls, an amazing sight to see (though they don’t let you take pictures there). I did enjoy the old city of Jerusalem, with the Western Wall and the Christian District, all those old churches and ancient structures.

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Beach

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Taking the Western Wall very seriously

One project I was working on while there was an interview series with my mother. She’s had a crazy life immigrating from one country to the next three times over, and I wanted to learn more about it. I treated the interview like journalism, recorded several hours of footage, and that’s all I’ll say about that until I create something to share next year.

The days went by too fast and before I knew it was over. After a funny episode of almost being late because I needed a new belt, I was driven back to the airport. I said my goodbyes, and the exit paper was no problem. All that was left was memories and souvenirs. I was headed back to that other controversial country of China, back to what had since become familiar to me, my life in Shenzhen. Not that life is stable here, the scenery is ever-changing no matter where…

Whether one likes it or not, family is where ya come from and they are important. I hope I’m on good terms with them. I’m not happy about everything when it comes to where I am from and my past, but then again perhaps I should get over those issues and appreciate all that’s been done for me. My mom and dad did their best, they are good people, and I thank my sister so much for helping me organize this trip. I wish her the best of luck with her new family, and I am sure she will do great.

That said, perhaps next time we should all visit in another country. Somewhere chill, I wouldn’t want to get in trouble over passport customs issues or anything.

 

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A rare photo of almost the entire family in one place. Note the food

 

Israeli Chinglish… Hebrlish?

So, I’ve been a bit quiet over the last week because I am currently traveling. In Israel. It’s not my favorite country, to be honest, but I have family to visit and hence here I am. Get into the controversies later.

Hope to have a longer post next week detailing some adventures and challenges. Be patient and stay tuned…

In the meantime, I’ve been looking for some Chinglish to share! (Or would that be Hebrlish?) It’s a very English-friendly country, westernized in all the good and bad ways, and about the only thing I saw was this sign at the beach mentioning “rockery.” Also, me.

 

Does this count as Ivrit #Chinglish?

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In #TelAviv, meh

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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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Continue reading

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…

 

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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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…

Beijing Chinglish

Hello readers,

My tour continues in Beijing and beyond to Chengdu, and more on that soon enough. (And more on the security situation in Beijing, on a serious note…)

But first, via Instagram, some Chinglish in Beijing. Including disgusting meat. And a just plain weird candy.

Without further ado:

#Beijing #Chinglish 1: Donkey burger/buregr?? Ew. I really hope that's a mistranslation

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#Beijing #Chinglish 2: nice pootty toilet? Ew again

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#Beijing #Chinglish 3: Yeah man, I wanna be a pure menfolk! And so cheap

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No witty puns necessary. Ummm....? #balls

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Guangzhou – Reading & Chinglish

In light of so much interesting content last week, I have decided to combine an update of my book promotions with Chinglish, as well as a video below. Hope this makes for a doubly entertaining read.

Last weekend we went to Guangzhou, and enjoyed Yuexiu Park. Though there was lots of uphill walking, it’s nice to see pagodas and the beautiful nature settings. Paddleboating was most fun indeed.

And so many Chinglish signs. Glad to see that they haven’t changed the place in years 🙂

 

 

Later, it was a treat to discover this awesomely named dim sum restaurant. Delicious and PRO!!!

Best tagline for a #dimsum place ever!

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Finally, Saturday night I came to read ma’ book at the awesome Open Mic event at one dimly-lit hip art bar Loft345…

#Guangzhou Open Mic #read

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Always nervous to do these sorts of things, it’s even worse to record and hear myself. Do I really sound like that? Well, I did my best and that’s all that can be done; seems to work out most of the time.

South Africa Part II: Kruger Park and Cape Town

In the last installment, I arrive in South Africa which is the home nation of my lovely girlfriend. I explore Joburg, meet her dad, and experience the chill South African lifestyle of braais.

Now, the real part of the trip was to begin.

All the while, I should mention, Trevor Noah loomed in the background. Yes, by coincidence it was the same week that Trevor started at the Daily Show! I’ve always been a big fan of Jon Stewart and I was really looking forward to it. It was a big deal, his face was everywhere. South Africa seems to be pretty proud of their native son taking over my countries best political comedy show. His face was on every newspaper. Especially after the now legendary Trump-as-African-dictator bit.

(Although the place we mostly stayed at had cable, soon I would be without it, without even Wi-Fi on my laptop to catch up with TV. I’d eventually catch up, I always do, but to tell the truth being off the grid was hard on me. More on that in a moment. )

Also, people paid attention to the Rugby World Cup. Not only am I an American, I am an American who doesn’t follow sports. I didn’t really care. People seem to care a lot still. Something or other happened, Japan, Samoa, Wales, New Zealand. I don’t know.

Okay, on with the story.

 

Days Five to Nine

Day Five was a busy day. In the morning we went to downtown Pretoria and saw the capital Union Buildings. Then, transferred to another parent and in the evening we were to spend time with the mother. Again, I was anxious. Again, it was no big deal and everyone was totally welcoming.

I suppose being in one’s thirties, parents would have to accept whomever their daughter chooses to be with. Even me.

An uneventful evening, and then the next day the trip to the Kruger Park began!

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Oh no, I knew it would partake of some driving, I knew it would be a challenge, but I didn’t know it would be that much driving.

My girlfriend’s mother’s husband drove, and we sat in the back. For days on end, we were driven around sitting in the back. Felt as if I was twelve-years old again.

Luckily I had my iPod. Got a lot of audiobook listening done: Gun Machine by Warren Ellis. I recommend it, a good listen.

First day out, a slow drive north with many stops at sleepy little towns where there’s nothing to do but buy postcards and trinkets from locals. Finally we arrived at Grasskop to stay at log cabin guesthouses on the night before the Kruger Park camping started. A nice town, an interesting art hotel nearby, and we ate decent Portuguese food.

Another thing about these old people I was hanging out with, they are serious morning people. Nice people, absolutely generous people who are kind enough to support and show me around their country on this tour. But seriously morning people. And I happen to be not. Had to get used to that.

At dawn left for the Kruger Park. Finally made it!

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The way the Kruger Park conservation park works, is that it’s not some zoo with animals on display for you. It’s an enormous area the size of a city or province. The animals simply go about their life. There is a fence around the edges, and I’m sure the rangers control the animal populations to some degree. Yet for the most part the animals are living exactly as they would in the wild, and any visitor can certainly get the sense that this is no zoo. No zoo pretensions here, it’s totally authentic nature, the way South Africans like it.

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One just drives around, on dirt roads, following a map if one likes or only wandering, and see what animals turn up. If there’s a lion, roll up the window. If an elephant is standing on the road, no choice but to wait until he decides to walk on (please don’t antagonize the elephants).

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Right off the bat I saw a lot. Giraffes chewing on the leaves of trees. Zebras hanging around. Families of elephants enjoying the day and spraying themselves with water to cool down. Endless herds of impala. With my binoculars, I sat in the backseat and we parked around various locations and took it all in. I got some good pictures.

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The campsites don’t open until the afternoon, so we really took it easy. Like, hours and hours of taking it easy. After a certain point, I was listening to my iPod and reading my thick George R.R. Martin (Storm of Swords, best book of the song).

The campsite parts of the day were more chill. You aren’t even allowed to go for a drive when it gets dark, unless it’s a guided tour, so we stayed in. Read in the cabin, relaxed. Swam if there’s a pool. Listened to the noisy frogs at the nighttime pool. Read some comic files on my computer, unitizing my laptop best I could though there wasn’t even any Wi-Fi! Used up the airtime on my phone fast.

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Every day we went to a different campsite, each with its own stylized bungalows. “Round hovel” or something it’s called in Dutch/Afrikaans. The first had these silly-looking blue-headed guineafowl birds that walked about.

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The second included a rhinoceros exhibit with a fenced trail, and we happened to even see a rhino walk right up (sadly no camera on me so no rhino selfie). Poor endangered creatures, least they have their horns here.

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The final was near Crocodile Bridge and filled with baboons and vervet monkeys walking around the site chill as can be – do not ever feed the monkeys.

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Every night, of course this being South Africa, we drank wine and had a braai. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but it’s not my scene to be so into nature. I could have used a little bit more technology to pass the time. I mean, the stars were beautiful. The animals were indeed beautiful. Like that scary late part of the night when the leaves were rustling and the flashlight revealed a baby elephant came right up to edge of the camp to munch on greens. I was so nervous upon approaching. That was some moment. Even the hyena was beautiful.

Yet, I sometimes feel worried that there is something wrong with me. I cannot appreciate it the way other people can appreciate. I need something to read. I need some interactive media to comfortably remind me that the rest of the world exists, some distractions. I like that. Unlike locals that are ever content listening to the winds on a slight buzz. All the while, I partly felt like there was this underlying conflict because I wasn’t having some spiritual epiphany out there in the African wilderness.

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