Once again, my take on the main four types of expats —
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.
Once again, I feel that I should share my personal musings on the American political situation. We are now in the, what, middle of the month 2? It both seems that the times have gone by so fast, and after all the crap overload it also felt likes it’s been forever. Anyway this is my general update.
Near as I can tell, the most I can come up with for an optimistic interpretation of current events is that basically America does not have a president at all.
Think about it. No one is in charge.
Even if you live in bigoted right-wing bubble-land, in which it’s been “carnage” and the country needs fascism or whatever to fight the evils of centrist democrats, what exactly has been accomplished so far? The only real action was the oppressive travel ban, a disaster by any measure, and now there’s a new lighter version (which still makes no sense, they can’t even cite any terrorist threat from those six countries since Iraq was taken off the list. There’s no cited threat from refugees of any of those countries!) which my very well may be also overturned by a court .
Apparently, with all the nonstop Russian revelation scandals, the new narrative is it’s all because of… Obama! That boogeyman role just won’t go away. Funny how if you believe in that then you get to blame your own failings on the opposition forever. More on being divorced from reality below.
Even with the GOP controlling both houses, the repealing and replacing of Obamacare is a train wreck of nothing getting done. Why is it so hard after years of criticizing the healthcare plan? The president is supposed to get his way with his party in charge of the legislative, and yet still there is nothing. Hell, the only thing both sides of the aisle seem to agree on is that the new healthcare plan sucks.
And there is the fact that hundreds of administrative positions are still yet to be filled, because there are “too many government jobs.” Apparently this is due to real-president Bannon, who has said he wants to dismantle the permanent administrative state.
So in conclusion, this is not a real government. This is a shell of a government, with a TV president. Anything at all worth supporting exists only in the minds of the cult of the right-wing media bubble, and the entire world outside that audience demographic is looking on in horror as America just phones it in. All for show, and a shit show at that.
This is bad. Very bad. But perhaps, in a way, it’s not that bad. At the very least, we can know that these people are to incompetent to even run their fantasy tyrannical dictatorship.
So, of course I have to mention the latest tweets. What can I say? This is undeniable proof that the guy supposedly in charge doesn’t understand how his job works. He doesn’t understand anything about government, he doesn’t understand the separation of powers, which is kind of a big deal. Most bizarrely of all, he doesn’t even think to simply ask his employees if his predecessor illegally wiretapped him. His whole role of commander is to generate controversy on the internet and that’s about it.
Rather than ask his damn employees, this guy–who we know literally spends more time on Twitter than national security meetings–reads something unsubstantiated from the right-wing bubblesphere and proceeds to go on an embarrassing tweet rant. Why would he do that? What is the point of disrespecting the office of president so very deeply? Is it really that worth it to rally his ever-shrinking base by whining about Obama, if that’s what it is, and therefore accomplish absolutely nothing other than making him impossible to work with?
No doubt law enforcement is not into this. This can’t be good for the FBI, CIA, NSA, and every other organization who reportedly no longer give classified information to their boss because of the valid fear of Russian leaks.
Maybe the true mark of this new era is that it doesn’t really matter anymore who is president. From here on, it’s just going to be idiot celebrities.
Ha, and can you believe that everyone was so impressed with the whole “the time for trivial fights is over” speech?? What a joke that pivot was! I repeat: HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
It’s like, I used to believe that when someone becomes president the secret masters of the universe would take him to a back room and explain how the system really works. I assumed that happened to Obama, because honestly he did sell out on many issues. But with this guy, I don’t think those who really run things took him to the back room. I think they ignored him
Therefore, basically I don’t believe he’s a real president.
Sadly, in this new era of wannabe celebrity kings, many ordinary people will fall through the cracks. It’s going to be a difficult transition, and people will have to do a better job of taking care of each other as the welfare state and infrastructure slowly collapses. The environmental damage will possibly be the worst. In those few roles with which the executive branch is still doing anything, there is still tremendous damage to be done. It’s not fun for the immigrants arrested in raids, for example.
But overall, now we’ll get to see how the far society can go on when no one is in charge
And maybe just maybe it will somehow work out, and that’s the only thing there is to be mildly optimistic about.
by Travis Lee
Postmodern Cantonland: a review of ‘South China Morning Blues’, by Ray Hecht
The Gibson-esque Sprawl exists, and it’s here. We’re sitting in a postmodern Cantonland. Culture and identity can’t keep up, and everything gets spread thinner and thinner. Tens of millions of migrant workers enter the area every day, and hundreds of thousands of us aliens from overseas
mix in too. Maybe this is what the future of globalism looks like. It’s prosperous to be sure, but not very romantic.
In the summer of 2008, I received an email. If you’ve ever taught English in China, then you know the email, and its promises. Free apartment, travel money, paid holidays, and my favorite: the opportunity to experience life in a developing, dynamic country.
In South China Morning Blues by Ray Hecht, we hear from twelve people experiencing life in China, the developing, dynamic place for expat reinvention since 1979.
The book opens in Shenzhen with Marco. Marco isn’t just an expat businessman, he is the expat businessman, a failure in the West who has come, has seen and is all set to conquer:
“Jackie”, my workmate (Chinese people and their English names, am I right?), bobs his head up and down. Looking so damn out of place, he wears the same white dress shirt, with the outline of a wife-beater underneath, which he wears every day. Badly in need of a haircut and with long pinky nails, he looks like he couldn’t get a job here serving drinks, and yet I know that he makes a salary four times the national average.
Marco never learns Jackie’s real name, and by the time Jackie steals Marco’s clients and leaves him high and dry, it’s too late; Marco shows up in Guangzhou, heavier and humbled.
There are twelve narrators whose chapters are marked by their Chinese zodiacs. Most of them want to be someone else, someone “successful”, what they want to see in the mirror instead of what they actually see. If I tried to sum up everyone’s stories, I’d never finish this review.
So I’ll touch on a couple:
Sheila and Lu Lu are young Chinese women caught between modern life and tradition. Both bend, and it’s Lu Lu who breaks, marrying a policeman she met while working as a KTV girl. She cheats on him, staying stays in a loveless marriage for the financial support, which comes in handy; her husband arranges everything, and Sheila helps her give birth in Hong Kong, ensuring that her child will have all the benefits of Hong Kong citizenship.
Terry is a Chinese-American writer who works for a local magazine by day, by night putting together “the great expat novel”, Cantonland. He becomes involved with Ting Ting, an artist who has moved to the Pearl River Delta region from Beijing. Not content to merely practice art, Ting Ting treats herself like a work of art, coloring her hair and recoloring it when her natural roots show through. She yearns to be an instrumental part of the next great art scene. Ting Ting is too concerned with appearances; she spends hours coloring her hair for her date with Terry, and he never comments on it.
The party at Lamma Island closes out the book, but while the book ends, everyone’s stories don’t stop.
We stop hearing about these people as their lives go on: Terry is a step closer to writing his book, Lu Lu has given birth to her baby and Marco?
He sits unnamed on the ferry, a shell of diminished importance.
Some people have lamented the lack of a “great” expat novel; they wish to see an expat equivalent to The Sun Also Rises. Another reviewer brought this up concerning Quincy Carroll’s excellent Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside.
Instead of looking back and making comparisons, let’s look forward. Along with Up to the Mountains, books like Harvest Season and South China Morning Blues set the standard for fiction from a transient class of lifelong outsiders.
Remember that time I was detained by the Chinese police during a drug raid at a rave? My experience being rounded up by the Chinese police at the big Shenzhen drug raid.
I happened to write a piece about it for the Wall Street Journal’s expat blog. It took a while to get edited and published, but it is finally available and I’d like to share. (Also, don’t forget the last time I published with the WSJ)
Please take the time to read. It was a tumultuous time, some harsh memories, but I’m glad that something positive came out of it for me at least… Well, live and learn.
Please check out my first piece for the Wall Street Journal expat blog! A simple story that us abroad may be able to relate to, and I think it turned out well: It’s about that time my dad came to visit me and how that parents-visiting thing goes as an expat…
And that’s my face when a bun is wasted.
Being an expat living in a major Chinese city of millions – with thousands of Westerners within the English-speaking foreigner scene – you never know who you will meet and what part of the world they may introduce you to… particularly when it comes to romance!
As I’ve written about extensively, it just never seemed to work out with me and Chinese girls. I haven’t followed up on those old blogs in a while, but know this of my present situation: I have not been lonely over the past year.
In the summer of ’14, I happened to fall for an artsy South African girl. Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say there were some interesting stories along the way. I’m not going to share all those personal stories at this time. Suffice to say it’s been serious, intense, and loving.
I am however happy to share the fact that last holiday (Moon Festival coinciding with National Day) she took me on a tour of her home country. An entire new continent I’ve never been to, a whole other land. I am still in awe of all I had seen.
I must admit, it was a challenge at times. Sad though it may be, at this late stage in my life this was actually the first time I had ever met a girlfriend’s parents! Wow. Really? Well, that’s me.
I was rather nervous. There was, in actuality, the issue of class. White South Africans tend to live in the suburbs, in gated communities, walled off by electric fences. I grew up a step below, and over the past half-decade gotten comfortable living in the lesser developed end of a developed city in developing country.
South Africa in actuality may be one of the most unequal countries in the world, but I’m not saying that my girlfriend’s family are that rich. Just normal middle class. Yet even that is tricky for me to be comfortable with. I liken myself to a starving artist-writer in China mind you, not some trader-businessman.
Really, it wasn’t that bad.
All that said, the country is full of beauty like no other… I can see what people love so much about Africa.
My lovely did an incredible job of planning this trip. (How could I plan? I followed her. And it worked out very well that I did.) Everyday, off to a new place. New sights to see. New wonders to behold.
Off we went.
We flew in from Hong Kong. Transferred at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, to the view from the aircraft of exquisite waterfalls and Mt. Kilimanjaro. My first time entering the Southern Hemisphere. Wish I could have explored Ethiopia more. Next time.
Though we were tired, I was determined to start exploring right after landing. Being picked up from the Johannesberg airport was almost a disappointment; I’d wanted to learn about trains right off the bat. But it was tiring after the second flight being over ten hours.
The driver took us to the guest house in Melville, the hip part of town. On the drive over I stared out the window and took pictures. The highway only showed what looked like middle-American suburbs. In fact, much of what I would see of the middle-class homes and shopping malls pretty much reminded me of American suburbs.
Melville was awesome. Full of vegetarian restaurants (we ate Mexican food the first night, yum!), used bookstores (I spent way too much money), and most importantly of all a comic book shop. Outer Limits: I got an old Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud I’d been wanting to reread and share for ages.
They didn’t have the latest One Piece manga volume, but later I did find it at a shop in Pretoria.
And Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture still hadn’t come out yet, always late.
By the second day my ears no longer popped and jetlag not too bad, we hung out some more in Melville and bought vintage clothes at this cool place made out of trucker containers called 27 Blocks. After some errands at the bank, I got a Sim card for my phone. Another highlight was simply going to a grocery store. Again, due to the western context, it was nice to simply be in a supermarket.
We checked out and took a tuk-tuk driver to downtown Pretoria, at the City Bowl area near the Gautrain station. There, although heavy with all the luggage, we went to yet another bookstore (found a used Warren Ellis graphic novel) to meet up with Eleni – blogger of Greek Meets Taiwan – who lives in the area. It was tricky to find the time, but small world that it is one might as well take advantage, and had coffee with her boyfriend and talked about education.
A lot of interesting talks showing me how it really is in South Africa…
Running a bit late, we took the Gautrain to Pretoria. This was the moment. My girlfriend’s dad, first time ever in my life to meet him. Although I did talk to him on Skype the week before. It was cool, no big deal at all. Nice man.
The dad and his wife – I would meet the mother later (now that I think about, perhaps divorced parents is one of the things that brings us together) – drove us out for dinner. We stopped by at a hoity-toity golf club where I did not feel comfortable at all. But it was interesting to see their scene. I was treated to an endless array of delicious meals, put on weight, and I’m very grateful he invited me into his home and was so kind.
The house in the suburbs was as suburban as ever. Except as said in South Africa they have electric fences. Stayed in our own guest bedrooms, watched cable TV, and caught up with my online life.
Already my third day in this land, and then sadly it started to get boring.
Year of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming of Age in Hong Kong is a new memoir by Hong Kong-based American writer Shannon Young, who is also editor of the anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?
In Year of the Fire Dragons, Young gets very personal, and begins with the romantic story of meeting a Hong Konger named Ben in London. The long distance relationship continues while she intimately explores the Special Administrative Region.
The book details Young’s time as a NET teacher (Native English Teacher) in her first year in Hong Kong as she figures out how to maneuver the city. With an outsider’s perspective, she gives vivid descriptions of shopping markets, embraces the glamour of Central, learns about tensions with the mainland, discovers cultural differences in teaching, and travels the world.
The prose is often fanciful, with lines such as, “The humidity surrounded me like steam pouring out of a broken dumpling,” and, “As the sun dipped toward the horizon, we fell silent, watching the way it reflected through the quiet ripples marking our passage.”
Young is a talented writer. Her knowledge of food in particular truly gets to the core of Hong Kong culture. However, she can get lost in details at times, with scattered chapters ranging from Cantonese classes to clubbing in Lan Kwai Fong. She repeatedly introduces various friends over drinks and then we never see them again in the course of the book. Of course, it is a memoir and real life often doesn’t translate into novel-style story structure. Still, one of the most intriguing and consistent subplots is about her sister’s expat romance and wedding, which contrasts with Young’s own relationship.
The main bulk of the narrative concerns the challenges of having a long-distance partner, focusing on the tragic irony that her boyfriend Ben is from Hong Kong yet she lives there and he doesn’t. As the book progresses, Young finds it harder and harder to defend the two-year plus relationship to her coworkers and friends. No spoilers how it all turns out, but rest assured Young’s perspective is always optimistic despite tough times.
One of the most interesting parts comes in the midpoint when Young reveals her roots: her father was born in Hong Kong (though not raised there). Quotes from the letters of her Asia-traveling grandparents are included.
From 1955: Actually, Hong Kong is a wonderful place to live—we think. Of course there are many things one could complain about, as there are wherever you go, but we think there are far more things to enjoy and be thankful for.
Truly an amazing find, to see the similarities between expats of that era and those of today!
The book as a whole may not be particularly interesting for old China hands. Experienced expats and English teachers probably won’t learn many new things. But for readers less familiar with Hong Kong and life abroad, this memoir can make the perfect introduction.
Recommended both for Hong Kong newcomers and as a good gift for China-based readers to share with friends back home in order to explain what life is like for expats.
Year of Fire Dragons is published by Blacksmith Books, available in Hong Kong and on Amazon.
Many thanks to fellow Ohioan-expat Jocelyn Eikenburg for the interviewing me, and for appreciating my meager writings.
As readers should know by know, I have compiled together my Dating in China stories into a tell-all eMemoir. While you can read the blogs here for free, if you want to know even more to these stories and beyond then there’s a Kindle document for sale…
You can also read the eBook for free if you just ask, I’ll email it to you and a mere review on the Amazon link would be appreciated 🙂
The latest edition includes a bonus: the silent comic I drew last year. A friend recommended I add that, and I thought not a bad idea.
Previously posted here- https://rayhecht.com/2014/02/24/3/
I’d like to thank the very talented Jeridel Banks for the above design. The consensus is in, and pretty much everyone agrees this cover is much better than the one I did myself.
If you ever have any design or editing needs, please join Odesk.com and check out her profile: www.odesk.com/o/profiles/users/_~01a930cbc899bcc679
She comes highly recommended!
Ms. Banks’ writing can be found at at The Ends Don’t Tie with Bunny Rabbits via tiewithbunnyrabbits.com
I have now completed my memoirs, in eBook form.
You may be familiar with the Dating in China blogs already, but there’s more to the story…
I have decided to edit them, and put them out there as an eMemoir of sorts on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Press.
Yet, this is not just a simple copy-paste and proofread for typos. Since this version isn’t all out there online for free, I have written more to the story. Certain personal, more graphic details. Certain things left unsaid that would be unbecoming on a public forum.
Not to mention further chapter continuing where the blog left off, and an epilogue.
If you’ve enjoyed my writings this past year, you may enjoy taking a look. And if you’d like to write a review on Amazon yourself, I will happily forward you a copy!
Even if you only have fond memories of reading the previously-blogged edition and prefer to leave it at that, it would be very considerate if you shared some thoughts. Positive or negative, tell the world what you think. Link above.
Thanks very much to all you readers out there!
When one nerdy, young American moved from California to China in the autumn of 2008, he had no idea what was coming. He knew there would be an adventure and it would have its challenges, but he didn’t know it could get that bad.
From the deserts of Black Rock City, Nevada, to the towering metropolis of Hong Kong, this memoir takes our humble writer all across the globe in search of love. Well, maybe not always searching for love, but in search for something.
It starts on a psychedelic trip in Burning Man, and continues in the “overnight city” of Shenzhen. That’s in the Pearl River Delta, among the densest megacities on Earth. In breakup after breakup, one lonely expat struggles to understand the Chinese mystique. Featuring an ensemble cast of international girls, he had many experiences and leaned a few lessons along the way. The story continues to further exotic locations: Beijing, Canton, Bangkok, Manila, Ohio, the ruins of Cambodia, and Seattle.
Once or twice, he may have even found love. And lost it. Hearts were broken. Minds were mended. All in a haze of romance encounters, online dating, and travel.
This is his story. Complete with travel photos, and quotations from “Seinfeld” and Mo Yan.
DATING IN CHINA
(Table of Contents)
Firstly, from 2008 on:
Prologue: How I came to China
Part 1: Burning Man
I go to a big trippy festival
Part 2: Doing LSD at Burning Man
I expand my mind and receive an invite abroad
Intro to Dating in China
First things first, let me explain how this thing will work
I arrive in China
The story officially begins, I get here
My first China-based girlfriend, and how that didn’t work out
The next level… Sigh, was it love?
A summer romance, a brief flight, all too innocent
Annie – Sky – Lulu – more
Singlehood, bachelor life, the learning process, playing the field…
Long-term relationship begins, a defining point in my life
An American intermission
You can’t go ‘home’, and I try and I fail and I drift
Finally, and sadly, nothing lasts forever
In the city… the city of Canton…
And now, 2011 to early 2012:
My Guangzhou Year 1
An intro to the new status quo, as I pack up move to the ancient land of Canton/
the modern megacity of Guangzhou
Dating GZ Edition – Kendra
First story, I meet a crazed American abroad and adventured therein
Public nudity and disrespect, among other themes
China to Thailand to Cambodia
I travel, I bring a certain Cynthia, I make mistakes
But hey, that’s life and at least I got to see a new place
Dating – visitors and friends, others
Some characters from previous entries reappear, old friends reunite, a funny story happened one day
This time it’s not just about me
Rejected in Guangzhou
The stories everyone seems to want to know. Rejected!
Featuring Josephine, Seline, and more
The End – my humble successes
On a final positive note, sometimes life works out rather fine
It was a good year, I experienced a lot
I really shouldn’t complain
Back to Shenzhen
In which I return to this town that somehow suits me
I begin the online game~
I have a girlfriend! I really did!
I must admit, things got a tad gross.
Hope this wasn’t the beginning of a certain pattern…
2013: Epic Clusterfuck Year
Not Dating in America (and Hong Kong, and Canada)
2012 comes and goes and the world doesn’t end,
Meanwhile a bad start as I embark upon a year of drama bullshit
In which I make a foul choice which ends up following me around all year.
Dark times. No fun.
I meet someone cool and travel to the Philippines
A brief positive note, albeit all too brief
Sonia – Jing – Amelia
POF, a site, met some peoples from differing lands, times are had,
and then I quit online dating forever more
The Very End
And I do mean it, the very very end.
I reflect and I consider and now it is time to move forward–
It’s not much in the realm of hardcore investigative journalism, but some fun lite reads herein. Here are a few humble lite posts worth resharing: