Fracture is a short work of Chinese fiction written by Shenzhen-based author Xie Hong, translated by Ding Yan and edited by yours truly. Below is the link as recently published by the Los Angeles Review of Books’ China Channel, please enjoy reading:
Fracture is a short work of Chinese fiction written by Shenzhen-based author Xie Hong, translated by Ding Yan and edited by yours truly. Below is the link as recently published by the Los Angeles Review of Books’ China Channel, please enjoy reading:
2009 and 2010, the beginnings of a new decade, as I become acclimated to life in Shenzhen/Hong Kong and have fun traveling in Southeast Asia (and America), and family stuff… plus I start dating somewhat regularly. Crazy, right?
I recently went to Hong Kong, and happened to be there during the June 4 protests commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre from 1989.
I admire the spirit of dissent in Hong Kong, one of the only places in China were it is possible, and the event was powerful. Over a hundred thousand attendees gathered in Victoria Park and it was an honor for me to be among them.
Here is a video from my humble perspective:
Hong Kong on the Brink is a memoir by an American diplomat who writes about Hong Kong in the 1960s during the tumultuous days of the Cultural Revolution. It’s a personal story with historical relevance.
The author, Syd Goldsmith, is not known as a particularly high-level diplomat. Yet his take as a Cantonese speaker at the American Consulate gives him a window into the inner workings of the time which makes this book about far more than just granting visas. With over fifty chapters, it covers a wide range showcasing both day-to-day life as well as complex international politics.
Goldsmith starts out with his backstory, explaining just how he became a Foreign Service Officer and found himself sent to Hong Kong in 1965. With an exceptional education, he decided to forego the business world and instead enter government service. He also delves into his personal life, his marriage and the birth of his first child, although those topics often seem to warrant less attention than the focus on his career (which he even admits in some critically self-reflective parts).
After a thorough screening process, he is sent to Hong Kong. It was not his first choice, but he soon starts to embrace it and studies Cantonese seriously. In the chapter entitled ‘The Tricks They Try,’ the book gets entertaining with an overview of the scams that immigrants utilized in the hopes of coming to the United States. Goldsmith always writes with no judgment. As a diplomat, he also gets to observe the high life of the rich and powerful. For the first third of the book all seems well even with the backdrop of Maoist China and the Vietnam War… Then, by chapter fifteen it is explained to him that “there was real trouble just below Hong Kong’s appearance of calm.”
The crux of the book is the communist riots of the year 1965, which is often foreshadowed until it finally explodes in the climax of the narrative.
The title of the chapter ‘The Labor Strife Boils Over’ shows an example of how economics caused much unrest in the British colony. In the following chapters it is noted how many of Mao’s infamous Little Red Books have taken over the streets. At first it may not be judged as a serious threat, but the reader can feel the rising tension.
Meanwhile, various chapters jump from one topic to another, from briefly meeting Richard Nixon to an expose of Macau. Eventually, the author becomes a sort of CIA analyst as he meets with Cold War agents to discuss what may come. Not to mention a source for journalists as the resident expert.
Goldsmith can be downright poetic at times. “It strikes me that fright can sear memory, etching it deeply into grooves,” he muses. “A needle will play it like a 33-rpm record, over and over for a lifetime. But the trauma can also reduce memory to ashes.”
I learned a lot in reading this book. There were many complicated factors that tied colonial Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China even during the heights of the Cold War. For example, even under the threat of a possible military attack they still hoped to be able to trade for water with officials across the border. But the book is still from the subjective perspective of one man, and not meant to be a complete history of all things Hong Kong during that decade. Still, a very informative perspective indeed.
Fortunately, cooler heads did prevail in the end although the city went through very challenging times. Syd Goldsmith made it. The extremism of the Cultural Revolution, as we all know, never did fully overtake Hong Kong. The cost of freedom was, however, rather high as the British ultimately seized control.
“By early 1968 Hong Kong’s emergency was pretty much behind me,” the author writers at the end of the book, as he reflects upon what he witnessed and survived.
Hong Kong on the Brink (appropriately subtitled An American diplomat relives 1967’s darkest days) is not introductory and is only recommended for those already familiar with Hong Kong and modern Chinese history. Hong Kong expats particularly curious would be most interested. For a certain kind of reader, this an excellent read.
Published by Blacksmith Books, the book is available on Amazon and at bookstores within the former colony and current special administrative region.
Mao’s Town by Xie Hong is the first English-language novel from Chinese author Xie Hong, and showcases the author’s unique voice in exploring the Revolutionary era of recent Chinese history. Told in short, pointed sentences, Mao’s Town expresses something that only an author who lived through the terrible era could truly understand. Nonetheless, this book gives an excellent introduction to so many horrors of the time–from the hunger pains of the Great Leap Forward to the abusive madness of the Red Guards circa the Cultural Revolution. It was a time that hopefully will never be repeated, but needs to be remembered.
Mao’s Town is told from a childhood point of view, full of memories and written in direct language that always seems appropriate. The central theme is the concept of family as well finding one’s place in a small town which represents the enormous nation of China, and furthermore the narrative explores how the edicts that came down from the dictatorship of Chairman Mao can affect everything for one small boy.
There are the little things that one remembers, details like enjoying food in the early days. Though then the lack of it later when the hardships begin. The protagonist of the story spends his days watching propaganda “Red” films about fighting landlords, celebrates Chinese New Year, and plays with his friends Sun and Ahn as all of the families are eventually torn apart culminating in his brother’s and father’s sagas.
Some of the memories can be very intense, like when a teacher must be chosen as the “rightist” of the school for public punishment. Others seem so innocently naïve, such as when the family gives up their pots and pans out of faith to the Party’s now known horrific steelworks projects. They townspeople kill sparrows, and more, yet never know the full impact even while the path leads to starvation. All the while, the children don’t even know what the word “capitalist” means…
Mao’s Town is a quick read about both Chinese history and about how young minds process tragedy. Recommended for historians of all ages.
Mao’s Town by Xie Hong is published by Whyte Tracks and is available on Amazon.
As I get used to living in and occasionally blogging about Taiwan, I have been trying to be as optimistic as I can get. But there are times when I have to admit certain challenges in changing locales, figuring out new ways to live, finding inspiration to write, and how I don’t always take it as well as I’d like.
Moving is always a bitch, even though in many ways going from PRC China to ROC China still contain many similarities. It’s not like I’m totally new to the whole Mandarin-speaking Asian country thing. And there are so many convenient things about Taiwan, from the high speed rail to those kiosks at convenience stores where you can pay phone bills and order taxis.
Also it’s quite clean. Taiwan is an incredibly efficient and well run little country.
But it’s not all good times, least not for me. Sure overcoming minor challenges is of course positive in it’s own right, of course, yet I’d like to take this time to share the slightly complainy perspective if you will.
There is the subject of transportation. On this I terribly miss Shenzhen. Even with all the China-police state crap, it was so easy (and so cheap) to get around by the subway or bus or hail a taxi. Taipei does have great public transportation, but I’m living a bit out of the big city for now… So that means a scooter.
I had to learn a new skill and everything. I was nervous at first, having zero experience with motorcycles. I was never the kind of expat to rent a motorbike and ride around Southeast Asia. I do like to bicycle, and I cannot say that’s the same. Now I am getting more and more used to zipping around town at 40-60 kilometers an hour, and the left turns are particularly tricky.
It is kind of awesome, actually.
Food. Not that Taiwan food isn’t great, as everyone knows. I mean, the night markets!
I just miss my life in Shenzhen when I could order in inexpensive Chinese food at any time of the day. The grocery stores are well stocked with domestic and foreign items here, and health inspection laws seem to be much better than in the mainland. It’s a great culinary delight to live just about anywhere in Taiwan.
I was however really used to my routine of ordering in tomato-eggs rice from the Hunanese restaurant, and vegetable curry from the cha chaan teng Hong Kong diner, and those peanut noodles from the little stands, and so on.
Currently I have more routines that I’m slowly getting accustomed to, which so far has mostly consisted of ordering inpizza from Dominoes. Soon I will learn better.
Meanwhile in Taipei, what’s better than discovering a One Piece-themed restaurant!!!
Travel is a blessing and a curse. I will probably take the high-speed rail to Taichung over the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival holiday weekend. Even though everyone says the nature and beaches are better along the east coast, which doesn’t have high-speed rail connection.
I was something of an expert at traveling in mainland China, if I do say so myself, that vast land with no end to history and tourist traps and epic cities and quaint villages. Etc., etc. I knew all the good websites to book guesthouses and where to stand in line for train tickets. Guess airbnb does work anywhere though.
It is amazing that the relatively small island of Taiwan contains so many places to go, and it will be years before I travel it all out. For now I am slightly intimidated on how to organize trips to new places.
I did enjoy taking the slow train to Fulong beach a couple of weekends ago; that wasn’t bad.
Then, there’s most important aspect of wherever it is I live: creative output.
Writing-wise, you see, I am in a bit of a rut.
I only got here fairly recently, and it takes time to get a feel for a place in order to write about with a sense of authenticity…
Do not expect a barrage of travel articles any time soon. I’m no expert on the place yet. Inspiration, for me, is more often a train of the slow-running variety.
Do stay tuned for a certain fictional writing project, which is far from ready to be announced and I will give away no hints as yet, but when the time comes then the time will come.
And also, the people. I don’t know too many here as of this writing. I know some. Honestly, the caliber of expat on average is a grade or so higher than many of those crazed outcasts who end up in China.
That’s just one of those things that happen when one moves, making friends can take time and all that.
It’s not that I’m super lonely. I am only a bit lonely.
That is what the internet is for.
Eh, mostly can’t complain.
Still, to everyone out there who’d like to keep in touch and maintain friendships and moreover check out Taiwan, please hurry up and come visit me!
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.
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 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.
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–
Could it be? The final Chinglish??
After years of painstakingly seeking out and taking photos of such delightful Chinglish all over China, my times may be at an end.
I will make an announcement later, stay tuned…
Meanwhile, check these out! Hope you enjoy and have enjoyed 🙂
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.