In which I read an excerpt from my novel South China Morning Blues (Blacksmith Books, 2015) at the Dream United event in Guangzhou, China
In which I read an excerpt from my novel South China Morning Blues (Blacksmith Books, 2015) at the Dream United event in Guangzhou, China
Expat Jimmy is the latest by noted China-expat author Travis Lee. This quick read of an eBook is more of an eNovella, or even eNovellete, and the brevity of the piece is in fact one of its greatest strengths.
Expat Jimmy takes place over the course of one day in Wuhan in the summer of 2008. Basically, it’s about the impressions of a young graduate named James as he is introduced to second-tier China. In some ways the narrative is not particularly original—many expat authors (yours truly included) have covered the angle of an ESL westerner intrigued and shocked by the modern East. However, in condensing this rather archetypal story into one day, Lee succeeds at capturing the essence of this sort of story. Wasting no time, his tour of Wuhan in the mid-aughts covers everything a reader could want: all full of wonder, disgust, fear, and hope.
The main character can be passive, as he is led around town by Adam who is certainly a stereotypical ESL teacher with issues. Yet neither James nor Adam are the true stars of the show. It’s the city of Wuhan that steals the limelight, and that is the point.
Then there is the one-page epilogue which maps out Jimmy’s character arc in more long-term fashion for a good sense of closure and leaving the reader wanting more, but overall it’s just about that one normal day…
It does strain credulity a bit that so much fills up one jet-lagged day. But it works, and I wouldn’t want to read it any other way. Even as the day progresses into bouts of drinking (yes, there is Baijiu), with all the harshness of sex and drugs and cynical interpretations of Chinese family dynamics, climaxing even to near-death experiences as Jimmy witnesses one progressively seedier scene after another; even including all this, the overall feeling of the story is enthusiasm. The initial enthusiasm still outweighs all else.
This quote says it best: “I want you to take it all in. Every sight, every smell, everything. Because this is a once in a lifetime event. You will never again feel t his optimistic, the sense of wonder you’re going to feel at being in China the first time. Nothing compares to it and nothing ever will.”
There is just nothing like the first time moving to a new country.
So read Expat Jimmy, and learn much about Wuhan and explore that elusive concept of the so-called “real China.” Being such a pithy read, there’s no reason not to.
Expat Jimmy is available at Amazon.
Author Travis Lee blogs at www.travis-lee.org.
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::
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!)
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
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~
It’s that time again, when I’m short on content and it’s fun to just share pictures of bad English translations.
From reptile food to special toilets…
Enjoy, and do feel free to add me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/raelianautopsy
The first month of 2017 is up, and over in America at least it does not look good.
So let us distract ourselves with hilarious Chinglish pictures I have procured for your entertainment:
Stay classy, world!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
The world keeps getting crazier, and I keep having to blog about it.
I give in. I am now officially a political blogger. Sorry about that.
While I am not qualified to be a proper journalist or columnist, I hope I do have something of an interesting point of view. As an American abroad who just likes to read and has a bit of an international background, I’ll share. It’s my perspective, after all, and while I’m hardly the most knowledgeable person in the world I still may have something interesting to say on occasion.
For this week’s post I’d like to talk about the current prevalence of conspiracy theories—or as some would prefer the term conspiracy fables—in the current national dialogue. This issue is in fact near and dear to me, as I have been a fan of such mythology for many years. Honestly, I am shocked that the fringe stuff me and my friends researched back in the early 2000s, which I always thought should be taken with a grain of salt, is now taken very seriously by the mainstream. Yes, the mainstream; if you won the election then you are officially the mainstream.
I feel like my favorite underground band sold out, and sold out bad.
So here’s my story. I happen have the privilege of being able to claim conspiracy theory subculture even before 9/11. I have been fascinated by all kinds of things since I was young, and perhaps it was even a bit gothy to have an interest in the occult. Certainly nerdy. Oft times I lurked the metaphysical section of my local bookstores, and absorbed much.
Honestly, look up my old conspiracy bookshelf on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/765636-ray?shelf=conspiracy
One crucial book that comes to mind is The Biggest Secret by noted crackpot David Icke. Yes his whole reptilian thing is a joke and the British in particular like to mock him. But his books are interesting as a sort of thought experiment in combining every New World Order/Illuminati theory into one arch crazed mindset. All those UFO ancient astronaut theories, mixed with the extreme far right and “law of attraction”-eque New Age. It’s certainly… something.
It was in those books that I first heard of the child abuse allegations that are now so big on reddit. Basically, I thought the idea that world leaders where all pedophile Satanists to be a highly improbable worst-case scenario and not worth taking too seriously.
What I still really appreciate about my reading at the time was discovering Robert Anton Wilson, who co-wrote the epic conspiracy satire novel(s) The Illuminatus! Trilogy. RAW, in a valid mix of philosophy and psychology and science, taught that everything is subjective on some level. That there are many optional reality tunnels, and the only rational way to make it through the paranoia of conspiracy theory subculture is by way of the radical agonistic.
And then in the autumn of 2001 it happened. 9/11 changed America and changed the world, as we all know. At the time it seemed to actually confirm some suspicions that global government and authoritarian martial law really was just around the corner. I don’t know, perhaps the weirdness bubbling under the surface in the late 90s wasn’t so much predicting the future but rather Jungian collective unconscious. Who knows.
The Bush years gave a lot to be paranoid about. First there was the stolen election, then the mandatory patriotism right after the attack, and eventually an anti-war movement which never gained enough steam as the neocons invaded Iraq. There was much to protest, even if the protesters stayed in the fringes. Eventually history proved that the WMDs were a lie and it was a tremendous mistake to nation build in the Middle East. You’d think the main antiwar movement from the time would now get more credit since then instead of the new far right.
As a thoroughly self-righteous collegiate, I ranted on Myspace about the evil government. And, while hopefully maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism, I posted links Infowars articles and watched Alex Jones documentaries about how 9/11 was an inside job…
During the Bush years, any alternate media source was appreciated. The thing about conspiracy theories though, is that we’ll never know for sure. If something is truly covered up, one can speculate but claiming to know for sure is dangerous. Still, I was a media junkie and wanted to consider as many sides as possible. I also listened to talk radio and watched Fox News and read heavily-cited books by liberal journalists. In trying to be an independent, I was no democrat and often took up the libertarian viewpoint.
There was a lot of overlap between libertarians and conspiracy theorists in those days. The Ron Paul candidacy in 2008 even seemed hopeful. Alex Jones, while obviously nuts for the most part, did seem to be one of many sources worth at least slightly considering. He was supposed to be against all government, smashing the false left-right paradigm, an interesting character if nothing else. Now it’s all gone to hell and it turns out the worst elements of the so-called movement, like complaining about feminists, was the only side that stuck. Infowars is currently a partisan hack website that only cares about one side of the aisle, becoming even less of a viable alternative media source.
I guess it was because I moved to China during the Obama years that I didn’t realize how extreme America was getting. Although I tried not to be partisan, I certainly had to eventually conclude that the democrats are the lesser evil (if one must get into lesser and worser evils). Criticizing Obama was fine by me, on for example issues of Wall Street. But being a racist asshole saying he’s secretly an illegal immigrant was not fine by me.
I grew out of the need for fringe conspiracy theory information, choosing to instead indulge in more evidence-based reading material. I have gleamed some valuable information about the Bilderberg Group of Bohemian Grove or the Federal Reserve or what have you, but it was time for me to take that and move on. I had gotten enough out of it, I questioned the system and all that, and then I was to learn about the world in a more realistic light. Little did I know how bad it was getting in the meantime.
An article about how many of the online libertarian scene completely sold out (or lied all along) to become the alt-right: http://www.salon.com/2016/12/09/how-the-alt-right-became-racist-part-2-long-before-trump-white-nationalists-flocked-to-ron-paul/
Well, here we are in the horrifying political year of 2016, and I may have been premature in considering conspiracy theory websites to be irrelevant.
It’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around it. Fine, they always leaned right, but this has gotten ridiculously hypocritical. Logically, if someone believes that 9/11 was perpetrated by the government then isn’t that a bigger deal than where Obama was secretly born or Hillary’s emails? I do not understand the priorities of conspiracy theorists anymore. I suppose most of them were bigots the entire time, easily switching from the old Birch Society days with the ‘Jews run the world’ narrative to contemporary fears of Muslim infiltration; the fact that they were anti-Bush for a while was the aberration.
Here we are now in the middle of the second decade of the 21st Century, and I have found myself arguing with grown adults about Pizzagate. Here in Shenzhen. Can you believe it?
I’m called a sheeple, and weird counterculture types support the tyrant monster that is Trump, because of Pizzagate.
That’s how bad it has gotten.
I’m loathe to even get into it, but here’s the Snopes if you don’t know already: http://www.snopes.com/pizzagate-conspiracy
Mostly I find it unbelievable that artist Marina Abramovic is a cannibal member of the Illuminati. Seriously, it is a dark theory and must be a red herring even if one does believe that the government is filled with pedophiles. A deep-level misinformation campaign perhaps. All in all come on, that’s just not a rational reason to support fucking Trump.
But the Internet has spoken and reddit can’t stop it and humanity is officially doomed.
Party Members by Arthur Meursault is an intense, ugly, gruesome work of fiction that will leave most feeling nauseous. It’s also a page-turner that is kind of essential reading for China observers. Reader discretion is advised, be aware that this one may offend many if not all…
Basically, the novel is a satire which viciously critiques the excesses of contemporary post-economic reform China. As titled Party Members, it stars a low-level Communist party member who lives in a third-rate polluted city and decides to indulge in the very worst of corruption. It is incredible how far it goes, which is a testament to author Meursault’s mind in both imagination and depravity.
The protagonist, who is certainly no hero of the story, is Yang Wei. He starts out as a very unremarkable Chinese man. “Not one in a billion, but one of a billion,” exceptional in his mediocrity. The story starts out critiquing how dull and quaint the average Chinese citizen can be in their complacency, but soon Yang Wei stands out indeed as being a particularly shameless party member.
To be specific, one day Yang Wei’s penis starts talking to him and pushes him to literally act like a dick in order to get what he wants. So begins an series of progressively worse moral failings, from familiar disrespect to copious descriptions of prostitution and shallow consumerism. The literary critic in me ponders whether hearing of voices represents schizophrenia, or if an unreliable narrator device is at play. Although later scenes seem to indicate that it is ‘true’ in the world of the story, for reasons unknown his penis seems to gain the ability to speak and thereafter instructs him to be a terrible person.
Comparisons of Irvine Welsh’s Filth come to mind, which was about a corrupt police officer who had a tapeworm that could talk. Somehow, Meursault is even able to outdo the famed Welsh in writing vulgarities.
Despite whether or not the particulars of the story will appeal to all readers, Party Members is mostly well-written by technical standards and stays interesting one way or another. However, the descriptions can get too dense, and there are far too many adjectives. Even several long-winded speeches, satirical as they are, can come across as whiney nihilistic teenage rants. “The only way to be successful is to be a complete and utter dick… Just shit all over it!” More often than not the novel descends into telling not showing, with plenty of words such as “scumbag” thrown around in the narrative, unnecessarily reminding the reader how to judge the various scenarios.
Subtle, Party Members is not. Crass and disgusting, it still can’t be denied that it reads fast. It’s also hilarious at times, with ridiculous situations one can’t help but laugh at. In a sick sort of way. From toilet humor (there is actual drinking of piss as part of a scam marketing campaign), to the recurring theme of copiously describing greasy KFC food.
Yet, as the plot goes on it gets uncomfortably worse. Once the chapter about the child named Shanshan comes—which is about a terrible urban legend in China concerning car accidents and homicides—it becomes very hard to read.
The ending is legitimately horrifying. The question remains though, is this strange China tale supposed to be classified as horror?
Most unlikable protagonist ever. Which is of course the point.
It must be said that China is an enormous and complex country, with major problems but it may not be fair to look at it through the lens that Party Members embraces. The most cynical possible interpretation of Chinese society is a point-of-view worth exploring through this book, but there is a bigger picture and hopefully this isn’t the last word when it comes to China fiction. Meursault is certainly very knowledgeable about China issues and a talented wordsmith, but it just doesn’t seem healthy to focus that intently on the worst of the worst with no solutions whatsoever. Perhaps the genre is dystopia, in that case? Dystopia which takes place in the present.
All in all, reading this will leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. And being able to do that is something of a literary feat, in a way.
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.
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~
A few weeks ago I participated in a nice little talk show in Shenzhen to promote my novel, and riff about writing and creativity. I posted some info here: Annie Talk Show
Unfortunately I only had a link to the QQ video at the time, which wouldn’t embed. I am now pleased to share that I have since uploaded it to my seldom-used YouTube page and that’s much easier for view non-Chinese Internet viewing.
I’m afraid it may not be my best presentation of myself, but I’m always pleased if anyone would like to watch…
It’s been a while since I posted any Chinglish pictures I have come across, and a lot of Chinglish I have come across.
(You may have seen if you follow my Instagram…)
How about mid-monthly Chinglish? That seems a good pace for sharing.
From hikes to restaurants. Notice the increasing focus on random shirts…
I do feel kind of bad taking pictures of people on the subway, but I sometimes I just have to!
Threads of Silk is a new historical novel written by Amanda Roberts — blogger at TwoAmericansinChina.com — and published by Red Empress Publishing, which is sure to fascinate fans of Chinese history. The novel is about one woman’s perspective in the twilight of the Qing Dynasty (which ended in 1911), and is full of historical details. The author certainly did her research; the world of Threads of Silk is grand and exotic and rings true.
The story opens in rural Hunan and is told through the character of Yaqian, a poor girl who raises silkworms and enjoys her simple life in the countryside. After being taken up by upper class mentors, she learns embroidery and is eventually taken to Peking where she stays for the bulk of the novel. The capital city is full of politics, treachery, funerals, the aging dowager empresses, the final child emperor, and there’s even a prince. Yet this is no fairy tale by any means.
The start is somewhat on the slower side, focusing on the atmosphere of the time, and the narrative pace eventually picks up. The bulk of the tales take place within the Forbidden City, a most fascinating setting, although there is a sense that all what goes on in all of China is crucial.
Year by year Yaqian survives and grows. It’s the details that makes the stories feel truthful. Roberts paints an era of intrigue with Han Chinese versus Manchu. Much of the book is also focused on cruelty towards women, and there is ample material full of foot-binding and all the minor crimes that were part of society at the time. Ultimately, the strength of the main character shines through. Especially when it comes to the overlap of politics and family…
The country of China irrevocably changes in the course of these pages, but overall it is a human story about the people who are caught up in history. Right up until the end.
The novel covers such a grand and ambitious scope that it occasionally feels like there is a checklist of historical events to go through. It does work, and it is somewhat the point of the novel to show how a woman of humble origins would have witnessed all that occurred. For the most part the flow works with Yaqian’s life, and the exposition is part of the interest in reading Threads of Silk.
Available on Amazon
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!
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.
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.
Last weekend I hosted the “Shenzhen Writers Night.” It was something I was thinking about for a while, as a sort of ending to my book tour of the past year. And I wanted to create a special reading atmosphere, so I broadened the event to include other talented authors I know in Shenzhen and South China.
If I do say so myself, I think it went very well. I found a good space at the youth hostel in the OCT area, which is Shenzhen’s own answer to a hipster neighborhood. Me first, I tried out at reading from the last chapter of my novel in order to signify the end. A spoiler if you may, but I had never read that aloud before. The array of talent and creativity from the other authors was amazing; the stories and the poetry and the performances. It went by faster than I realized…
Although this was supposed to be the end of my tour, now everyone keeps asking me when there will be another reading. So, guess I’ll have to do it again! After learning a lot about how to organize and promote such events, and thinking about more writers to showcase from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, I certainly have some ideas.
By the way, the event was even reviewed on the site BASEDtraveler and That’s PRD magazine — here are the two pieces complete with appropriate links from all the participants, so please do check out more from these great writers:
Shenzhen Writers Night
by Rachel Dillon
Friday 3rd June saw the first ever Shenzhen Writers Night, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it. It was held in the community room of the YHA Youth Hostel in OCT Loft, a lovely area full of arts events and exhibitions, cafes, restaurants, shops and bars, and was an eclectic mix of writers from all over the world with all different styles and genres of writing.
Organised by Ray Hecht, an American who has lived in Shenzhen for about seven years, he opened the event with a reading from his novel South China Morning Blues. Unusually, he read the final chapter, giving us a flavour of the whole book and a taste for more. Luckily he had a few copies for sale. My copy is on my nightstand, waiting to be read.
Next was Amada Roberts of Crazy Dumpling fame. You can read my review of her first cookbook here and she has just published the sequel, aptly titled Crazy Dumplings 2: Even Dumplinger. However, she decided that cookbooks weren’t exactly riveting listening for an audience so she read an excerpt from her debut novel, published under her pseudonym Leigh Anderson. The Vampire’s Daughter, a gothic fantasy romance, was quite a contrast from South China Morning Bluesespecially considering the part she read – a touch on the erotic side with a dramatic cliff hanger to keep the audience gasping for more. Read my review of The Vampire’s Daughter here.
Lom Harshni Chauhan’s novel Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul is all about raising her daughter with Indian spiritual values while living in Shenzhen, where she has lived for the past 13 years. She read a humorous excerpt about how the name of the book came about during a conversation with her daughter where she declared that, “The body is the visa for the soul.” Very profound for a six-year-old.
The next person on stage was Adrian Blackstock, a musician who has lived in Shenzhen since 2012. He is currently working on an album due to be released in July this year. Called VaChina, it is a musical celebration of China, Africa, Virginia (where Adrian is from originally) and where all humans began. Adrian chose to recite the lyrics of two of the songs from his upcoming album, and gave a riveting performance.
After a great introduction from Adrian, it was my turn. I read some of my travel writing – a piece about travelling on the Trans-Mongolian railway last summer which I wrote as a guest post for Clara from expatpartnersurvival.com and you can find on my blog here; followed by a bit about my experience visiting Chernobyl, which was the absolute highlight of my trip.
I then had the pleasure of introducing my friend Senzeni, whose writing I love. She was one of the finalists of the That’s PRD writing competition last month, along with myself and another friend; Senzeni won third prize with her piece which is published in this month’s That’s PRD magazine. (There’s also a small picture of me!) Senzeni read a short story from her upcoming anthology of short stories, due to be published later this year. Humorous and thought-provoking, Senzeni’s writing is full of emotion and captures snapshots of different people’s lives from a whole new perspective.
The final writer was Aaron Styza, who had come all the way from Guangzhou to share some of his beautiful poetry with us, including The Science of Speech, which has been published on HeronTree.com. Again, a completely different style of writing and genre, Aaron’s poetry was an excellent ending to a very eclectic and enjoyable evening.
As many people are going away for the summer (including me), we are hoping to do another Shenzhen Writers Night in September. Check back here after the summer for more information on future events.
If you missed the event but would like to find out more about the authors and their writing, here are a few links:
Ray Hecht’s South China Morning Blues and his site www.rayhecht.com.
Amanda Robert’s Crazy Dumplings and Crazy Dumplings 2: Even Dumplinger, along with The Vampire’s Daughter under her pseudonym Leigh Anderson, and her blog www.twoamericansinchina.com
Lom Harshni Chauhan’s Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul
Adrian Blackstock’s album site vachina.bandcamp.com
My blog www.persephone2015.wordpress.com, which is more about travels outside of Shenzhen
Senzeni Mpofu’s competition article in this month’s That’s PRD magazine
Aaron Styza’s poems on TwoCitiesReview and Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, plus an interview with Ray Hecht here.
PHOTOS: Shenzhen Writers Night Recap
by Bailey Hu
Last Friday night, June 3, was the premiere of Shenzhen Writers Night, a new event local author Ray Hecht organized in order to showcase the voices of talented writers in the area.
The event was held in the community room of a youth hostel in OCT-Loft, as advertised earlier on That’s PRD.
Seven talented writers spanning a wide range of voices and styles gathered to share their work. Each read an excerpt of what they’d written, sometimes prefacing it with an explanation, before introducing the next author.
As the host, Ray started off the night by reading from his latest book, South China Morning Blues, a novel about modern life in the Pearl River Delta.
Two other writers, Amanda Roberts and Lom Harshni Chauhan, also read parts of books they’d published. Amanda, who also runs a local women writers’ group, shared a steamy scene from her gothic-inspired The Vampire’s Daughter (published under the pen name Leigh Andersen).
Lom’s chosen excerpt from Visa, Stickers, and Other Matters of the Soul, on the other hand, was a sweet, spiritual contemplation on the author’s close relationship with her daughter.
Two of the writers at the reading were also finalists in the That’s PRD writing contest last month. Rachel Dillon, who also wrote about the reading, shared a couple travel pieces while Senzeni Mpofu, who won third place for her short story, read another piece that will be part of her upcoming anthology.
Breaking up the mostly prose lineup, Adrian Blackstock and Aaron Styza made a strong showing with their samplings of song lyrics and poems, respectively.
Adrian turned his reading into a true performance as he used expressions and movements to accompany his musical compositions. Aaron, while opting for a more traditional reading, ended the night on a strong note with his deeply reflective work.
Fittingly, the atmosphere in the hostel felt communal, even casual, with audience members occasionally laughing or asking the writers questions.
Organizer Ray Hecht commented he was “happy with talented writers sharing their stories in Shenzhen,” and that he was strongly considering holding follow-up events in the future.
Senzeni Mpofu agreed. “It was great,” she said, and she was “hoping to see more.”
Adrian Blackstock added that he “enjoyed the diversity” of writers and their work on display during the reading.
Amanda Roberts saw the reading as a venue “for authors to get themselves out locally,” and had been pleasantly surprised by some of her fellow writers. When asked if she’d attend future events, she responded: “definitely.”