Eating Smoke: review of memoir, and audio

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Book Review: Umbrellas in Bloom

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https://thenanfang.com/book-review-umbrellas-bloom/

 

Jason Y. Ng is the author of HONG KONG State of Mind and No City for Slow Men, and has now rounded out a trilogy with Umbrellas in Bloom: Hong Kong’s Occupy Movement Uncovered (all published by Blacksmith Books).

While his previous books simply described modern Hong Kong social dynamics, the latest is explicitly political and an altogether different style than the others. Now that he has written book-length political commentary, Ng has become a crucial player by being first to record the 2014 “Occupy Central” protest movement in any English-language book. It is certainly a must-read.

Umbrellas in Bloom covers a lot of ground. The complex political system of Hong Kong is detailed in very readable fashion, with all the grievances spelled out. Various charts explain how the economy has left the majority of citizens behind, and why so many were upset enough to camp out in protest for all those months. Most of all, the mainland Chinese government is shown to blame for suppressing universal suffrage for the former colony under the so-called “one country, two systems.” Indeed, observers of Beijing and Asia as a whole would do well to read this book and understand the climate of Beijing in relation to Hong Kong.

The language of the book does reflect a specific point of view; do not mistake it as a scholarly, objective report. Ng delves deeply into his unique experiences and certainly takes sides. It makes for a good read, and it’s refreshing that he does not censor himself and expresses his informed opinion with confidence. Perhaps there is an element of preaching to the choir, even getting repetitive at times—“blue ribbon” supporters probably won’t change their minds after reading—but for international readers seeking to understand, the writing style works.

The book is very personal as well. It begins on September 28th, 2014, the day tear gas was fired into crowds as the whole world watched in horror. Then, the tone jumps around as it looks back on the history of Hong Kong politics. The central villain is Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, known as a corrupt stooge of the mainland Chinese government, although the entirety of the Legco system in Hong Kong is highly unrepresentative. As 2017 approached—the promised time for universal suffrage, the Occupy Central movement grew. There was also the Scholarism student movement, led by famous student Joshua Wong (Wong wrote one of the book’s forwards). Then the tale of three villages: the occupied areas of Admiralty, Mongkok, and Causeway Bay. Different ideologies and challenges are showcased, from the police to thugs and internal struggles between different factions and nativists. Some of the most heartwarming sections are about the young people he met, such as Kent and Renee and Hinson, engaging characters all.

In the end, due to a court order of all things, the Admiralty occupation fell. Four days later, on December 15th, the police cleared out the other encampments and the Umbrella Revolution was left to ponder its own legacy. Ng is quite optimistic; surprising considering nothing on paper seemed to get enacted yet, but he does point out that other famous social justice movements throughout history took decades to achieve their goals. His conclusion is definitely that it was worth a try. “The 11 weeks I spent in Umbrellaville were the happiest in all my years in Hong Kong,” he writes. Perhaps the soul of Hong Kong has been changed in subtle ways that are not clear yet, but in the long run history will prove that things did change…

There is so much to learn from Umbrellas in Bloom. However subjective, it is definitely required reading for expats and Sinologists. Whether you were there or only watched on the news from afar, the fallout is still occurring today and enlightened observers should learn what they can.

Highly recommended for all China watchers.

Umbrellas in Bloom is available in Hong Kong bookstores, and can be ordered from Blacksmith Books.

South China Morning Blues: Excerpt 2

This week I’d like to share another excerpt from my novel South China Morning Blues (last week’s), this time concerning the city of Guangzhou and my favorite character symbolized by the Chinese Zodiac character of 猴… The Monkey!

You can scroll down and read the embedded file below, or download the PDF file via this link:

South China Morning Blues: Monkey

 

 

 

If you’d like to read more, please feel free to order on Amazon or directly from publisher Blacksmith Books

http://www.amazon.com/South-China-Morning-Blues-Hecht/dp/9881376459

http://www.blacksmithbooks.com/books/south-china-morning-blues

 

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Excerpt: South China Morning Blues

Now that New Year celebrations are over with, I’d like to share an excerpt of my novel South China Morning Blues published by Blacksmith Books.

You can read the embedded piece below, or download the PDF via this attachment:

South China Morning Blues – Shenzhen: Prologue

 

It is the very beginning of the story, a prologue to Book I’s setting of Shenzhen. Opening in media res with one character represented by the Chinese Zodiac animal 虎 (Tiger), the story then jumps back and forth with the point-of-view of 兔 (Hare), and finally gets to the introductory character 牛 (Ox). I hope it isn’t too difficult to keep track, hope it’s worth the effort.

These tales represent my attempt at capturing the jagged essence of the modern cityscape experience, as expats and locals try to make sense of this rapidly-changing setting. These people are flawed, don’t always do the right thing, but maybe just maybe they come across as somewhat realistic humans. There are all kinds out there. At least, there are 12 knds out there…

 

If you’d like to read more, feel free to order on Amazon or directly from the publisher

http://www.amazon.com/South-China-Morning-Blues-Hecht/dp/9881376459

http://www.blacksmithbooks.com/books/south-china-morning-blues

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Book Release!

Last night was a big night for me. After all this time, my novel South China Morning Blues has finally been published!

So I crossed the border to go the offices of Blacksmith Books in Hong Kong to get some books. Always enjoy visiting there. I now have dozens and dozens of hard copies, which I took with me across the border to Shenzhen in the mainland (so heavy that the wheels on my suitcase broke!) and a new era of promotion begins.

There’s a sort of book tour in the PRD on, with books to be available at various events in Shenzhen, as well as Guangzhou. You kind of have to do it all yourself in China. Eventually I’ll make it up to Shanghai and Beijing. Down in Hong Kong, it’s more official at proper bookstores…

With my dream coming true, and it is rather surreal, just thought I’d share some pictures:

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And that’s that. Now on to encouraging people to actually read it and get something literary out of these stories!

Book of the week – South China Morning Blues

(The following review was posted on Susan Bloomberg-Kason’s website, author of the engaging tell-all memoir Good Chinese Wife. I am honored that she appreciated my novel, and in several weeks we will be participating in a panel at the Hong Kong literary festival. Please see her website and the links below for more.)

 

http://www.susanbkason.com/2015/10/04/book-of-the-week-south-china-morning-blues/

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For almost a year, I’d been hearing about Ray Hecht’s forthcoming novel, South China Morning Blues (Blacksmith Books, 2015), which comes out from the publisher on October 15 and on Amazon later this year. When the author sent me a review copy, I found myself pausing at every break during the day and evening to get in more reading. This is not one to miss!

Most China novels and memoirs take place in other regions besides the Pearl River Delta. Hecht’s book is different in that it’s separated into three sections named after cities: Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. I haven’t been to Shenzhen in 17 years and Guangzhou in 19, but felt like I was being transported back to a place I once knew well and one I’d visited a couple times, respectively. And I think I know Hong Kong well, so was excited he kept that one for the end.

Through his writing, Hecht shows he’s an adept observer of life in southern China and Hong Kong, capturing the spirit of each place he writes about and the issues that define these places. His twelve characters appear throughout the book and each brings a different perspective. There are English teachers, a journalist, artist, businessman, and a young woman who marries an old Taiwanese sugar daddy, to name some.

The format of the book is quite clever. As I mentioned above, it’s broken into three sections according to locale. But within each section, the chapters are arranged according to one of the twelve characters. Hecht doesn’t label the chapters with the characters’ names, but rather by the Chinese character of their zodiac animal. My short-term memory is not the greatest, but I found I had no trouble keeping up with which character was which.

It was fascinating for me to read about dating in Shenzhen and Guangzhou since I had heard some stories from my ex-husband’s friends who moved south to Shenzhen for better working opportunities. But I never knew foreigners who lived in Guangzhou back then, so that part was new to me. And the Hong Kong section was fun and completely realistic with many of the characters ending up at a rave on Lamma Island.

This is a dense book, yet a quick read. If you have trouble keeping the characters straight–which you shouldn’t have since I seemed to manage all right–you can always flip back to the list of characters and their zodiac animal at the front of the book. The stories are not always happy (in fact, more often than not they are pretty depressing), but they are realistic and tackle issues that many young people–expats, locals, and those who relocate from other parts of China–face every day.

The book is available for a GoodReads raffle until October 14. Click here to enter. I’ll be appearing with Ray at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival on Sunday, November 8 at 3:30pm. For more tickets and more information, click here.

 

 

Premiere of my novel: South China Morning Blues… Order now!

Here I go. My first (real) novel is about to be published, thanks to the good people at Blacksmith Books.

South China Morning Blues

http://www.amazon.com/South-China-Morning-Blues-Hecht/dp/9881376459

Not talking about an eBook here, but a physical novel. Not to mention professionally edited.

Of course, if you like eBooks please feel free to download at your leisure.

If you however prefer physical books to hold in your hand: Expect to see the novel soon available at bookstores everywhere in Hong Kong, and beyond. Don’t be hasty, feel free to pre-order it today!

My ensemble tale of modern China, full of expats and locals criss-crossing their lives through the cityscape. Twelve voices. Gaze within.

And check out this beautiful cover…

SouthChinaMorningBlues_cover

From Canton to Hong Kong, the booming megalopolis of the Pearl River Delta has endless stories to tell. Who finds themselves in rapidly changing 21st-century China? There’s Marco, a businessman with a penchant for call girls; Danny, a culture-shocked young traveler; Sheila, a local club girl caught up in family politics; Terry, an alcoholic journalist; and Ting Ting, an artist with a chip on her shoulder. Their lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

#Free #eBooks by Ray Hecht

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With my new novel South China Morning Blues coming out thanks to the good people at Blacksmith Books, I’d like to celebrate by freely sharing all my previous eBooks for this week only!

Remember, the Amazon Kindle app is free as well. Please don’t forget to write a review.

Go to http://amazon.com/author/rayhecht and check out the following:

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http://www.amazon.com/411-Ray-Hecht-ebook/dp/B00EUBZRL2

411 is a horrifying short story loosely based on my time as an operator in the early 2000s. Intended to disturb, the tale concerns a deranged disgruntled employee utilizing technology to enact revenge upon the world. Read if you dare.

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http://www.amazon.com/Loser-Parade-Ray-Hecht-ebook/dp/B00ETYSS5W

Loser Parade is my first novel, written in my mid-20s, which juxtaposes Los Angeles culture against my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. Although dated, I hope that the story does well express the themes of lost love. Loser Fenton Ota comes home a failure, and decides to write and produce a play in order to impress a girl. Inevitably, a romance ensues and the relationship is entirely based on lies. Things take a turn for the strange when his play-within-a-play starts to get to his head…

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http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Lotus-Mountain-Brothel-ebook/dp/B00JJUXZFE

The Ghost of Lotus Mountain Brothel serves as sort of a prelude to the contemporary China novel. Set in Canton in the year 1911, the setting oddly reflects the present era of foreigner exploitation and political uncertainty. This historical novella presents the story of a lowly girl in times of great change. Revolution may be just around the corner, but she’s only trying to survive.

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http://www.amazon.com/Pearl-River-Drama-Dating-Memoir-ebook/dp/B00RQQIA26

Pearl River Drama is by far my most popular eBook, and perhaps with good reason. My expat memoir is, of course, focuses on dating. Through it all, I hope my heart made it through these experiences intact. “Sex, drugs, and Mandarin lessons” indeed.

An interview with Jocelyn Wong

Today I have an interview with Hong Kong-based food blogger and journalist. Jocelyn Wong.

She writes at the aptly named http://jocelynwrites.com, do check it out for some delicious posts…

 

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When did you first decide that being a writer was for you?

I pretty much got the bug after winning my first writing competition that I entered for fun because I liked the topic. It was something along the lines of Hair Disasters. I shared my experience of getting a bad haircut which ended in tears and getting the back of my head shaved. After that I entered an SCMP writing competition and won. The next step that really solidified my passion for writing was getting a two-week internship with Young Post which got extended to the end of the summer. Afterwards, I got hired as a freelancer for them and everything else is history.

 

Do you find being a journalist to be rewarding work?

Absolutely. Working for Young Post is one of the most inspiring experiences for me. Getting to work so closely with the talented youth in Hong Kong and being a part of their lives — helping them improve their English bit by bit, day by day.

 

Are you inspired by any writers, Hong Kong-based or otherwise?

There are some pretty big names out there that I’m inspired by but for now my aspirations lie in tangent with those of Jason Ng – the SCMP columnist who wrote the best-selling Hong Kong State of Mind and Pete Spurrier – who owns Blacksmith Books. Someday I want to have my own publishing house and discover new writing talent.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Ray Hecht would like to note that his forthcoming novel South China Morning Blues will be published by Blacksmith Books)

 

Being that you have a food-based blog, are you interested in cooking as well as being a foodie?

I have always been interested in baking — so it’s more likely that I’ll end up as a pastry chef rather than a cook. I love just working up a storm in the kitchen with the blender, mixer and flour. Copious amounts of flour and brown sugar decorate the kitchen floor by the time I’m done baking some treat or another; also, I just love the smell that fills up my apartment after I’m done baking. The smell of molten chocolate is absolutely heavenly.

That being said, I do love getting my hands dirty in the kitchen. Instead of making ramen noodles in college, I remember spending the bulk of my free time googling recipes of healthy food, because I couldn’t bear to gain that “freshmen fifteen” if I could help it.

Now that I’m back in Hong Kong, I’ve really enjoyed having a full kitchen with proper counter space and international ingredients and spices to work with. Back in my college days, I’d have to do prep in my living room because my kitchen was so small. I think I whip up some pretty good scallop medallions, and I devised my own perfect pesto sauce in my college days.

 

What kind of food did you grow up eating?

I was lucky enough to grow up in a multicultural environment and my parents are foodies as well. Even at home, my mother would try to cook as many different types of cuisine as possible, even if most of it was Chinese. China has a diverse food culture and I feel like I really got to know it as I grew up (since at one point, my father couldn’t bear the thought of not having at least three Chinese meals a week. This is how my mother got creative – by having those restraints).

In terms of eating out, we were regulars at the now defunct Japanese restaurant in the old Ritz Carlton in Central, Tenjaku in Lantern St, as well as Brasserie on the Eighth, Ming Yuen in Parkview and the McDonalds by Repulse Bay just to name a few. I still maintain that Hong Kong has the best McD’s in the world.

When I went to university, that’s when I got serious about cooking. I was also really conscious about staying healthy. That being said, I had my fair share of 2 a.m. pizzas and Timmy’s (surely you’ve heard of our famous Canadian Tim Horton’s doughnuts), but generally I’d say I kept a healthy diet. Within months of settling into college, I really quickly learned how to make healthy and delicious foods like grilled ahi tuna with green and white peppercorns, turkey burgers and bake gluten free cookies (that don’t taste like cardboard).

 

Do you enjoy the Hong Kong restaurant scene because of authentic Cantonese cuisine, or because of the diverse international range of tastes in the city?

Continue reading

Book publishing update, and how this blog shall go from now on…

Sorry, no comics-related update this Monday. All finished. It’s a new month at that. A fine welcome to the warming season to you all.

Here I am with this post, and I’d like to briefly go over the future of the blog…

Life hasn’t been letting up, and there’s been a lot keeping me busy. I hope to focus my energies on upcoming writing projects, new fiction and a bit of journalism. Something’s gotta give, and now that I’ve completed my comics fandom I may have to take a break from regularly-scheduled themed postings.

There will be the occasional interesting update about my life, China-related and otherwise. Stay tuned for news of a certain disappointing convention in Guangzhou, for example.

Moreover, next month my novel South China Morning Blues will be published.in Hong Kong! Thanks to the good people at Blacksmith Books. I’m trying to play it cool, but in fact that is quite the dream come true. And with that will come endless self-promotion.

Prepare for forwards of reviews, pictures of me at literary events, and plenty of general getting-the-word-out. That’ll be my content for a while yet.

Hope you enjoy my tale of expat opera and postmodern locals. Happy summer. Don’t melt.

(The following is a working cover)

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http://www.amazon.com/South-China-Morning-Blues-Hecht/dp/9881376459

From Canton to Hong Kong, the booming megalopolis of the Pearl River Delta has endless stories to tell. Who finds themselves in rapidly changing 21st-century China? There’s Marco, a businessman with a penchant for call girls; Danny, a culture-shocked young traveler; Sheila, a local club girl caught up in family politics; Terry, an alcoholic journalist; and Ting Ting, an artist with a chip on her shoulder. Their lives intertwine in unexpected ways.