Interview with Sonia Su

My latest interview is with Sonia Su of the aptly-named SoniaSu.com (well, I have the same site-naming system). She’s an American blogger in the nearby city of Guangzhou, and works for GDTV. Her blog details the day-to-day challenges of living abroad, written with humor and an eye for details. Be sure to check it out after enjoying this interview!

 

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The obvious first question: What brought you to China in general and Guangzhou specifically?

I first came to China (Guangzhou) when I just around 10 years old, with my strongest memory from that trip being stepping off the plane and feeling uncomfortable with the polluted air even in the airport. And yet, after taking up Chinese in college, I ended up studying and interning abroad for a semester in Shanghai and falling in love with the city and living in a Chinese megalopolis. Then when it came time to graduate and look for jobs, I looked for opportunities in Asia. In typical Chinese fashion, through some guangxi, I ended up landing an interview at Guangdong TV and then the job I have now. Guangzhou ended up being the perfect city because many of my relatives still live here, so they have been incredibly helpful in getting me settled. Plus, it’s close to Hong Kong, which is where I inevitably want to be.

 

How familiar were you with China before you moved permanently?

With some family trips and the study abroad experience, I came thinking I knew at least some of what to expect. But man, soon enough, we expats realize shit happens and there will be many moments, especially in the beginning, when we’ll want to escape ASAP. As a sheltered ABC (American Born Chinese) from a suburban town, I’m realizing that I will never get used to many things about living in Guangzhou, let alone China. There are plenty of ups and plenty of downs, but it helps to try to develop a deeper understanding of China’s history and its people to get you though some of the outright unacceptable-to-foreigners aspects. Within these several months I’ve been here, I’ve already explored so much of my family’s hometown and continue to learn every day.

 

What has been the biggest challenge to living abroad?

While my language skills need work, I would say cultural differences are more challenging. Even if you know how to express something in Chinese or even if you’re talking with a local who speaks English fluently, at the end of the day, we have different ways of thinking, perceiving, acting, etc. It can be cool to learn about these often-vastly different points of view, but it can also be frustrating to have to explain why freedom of press, for example, is so very important while stuck in the land of the Great Firewall. Frankly, priorities vary in a country where someone with a monthly income of 10,000 RMB ($1,500 USD) in the 1995 was considered today’s version of millionaire and the poverty line was 173 RMB, compared to around 2,000 now, according to my cousin. It can be hard to keep that in mind when you see kids drop their pants and pee on the streets on your morning walk to work.

 

What is it like working in the media in China?

Among the many constant reminders that we are no longer in America, working in media is one of them. Propaganda, which is not a negative term here, is as rampant as one would expect. I could go on for days or even weeks about my experiences.

 

Do you like working on-camera doing interview and hosting shows?

I’ve been working both on and off camera, even directing, hosting, and producing my own shows. That statement alone speaks to the insane opportunity one has in China. Working for the TV station itself opens so many doors. I’m grateful.

 

Your blog is called “adventures abound”; do you consider yourself an adventurer?

I’m an adventurer from the perspective of someone born and raised within the bubble of American suburban life. From another, perhaps not. For the most part, these aren’t exactly the typical adrenaline-pumping adventures of a world traveler. Just recently, I had to go on a last-minute visa run. To someone else, that sounds like the worst “adventure,” but then you read my blog and find out I actually had an amazing time making the most of such scenarios. And the fact that I live on my own on the other side of the world makes anything I do an adventure I need to record.

 

Your blog is about the day-to-day life, and you do post rather frequently. Do you ever find it difficult to come up with new content or do you write all the time?

I rarely have trouble coming up with something to write about. Even if I were still in Maryland, I would probably write about how I have nothing to do. But I’m in China. When is there not a day when I don’t experience something crazy or at least potentially interesting to my readers?

I’ve also just always been a writer in some way. I grew up very soft spoken and would let out my thoughts via journaling. That said, my blog is far from being any literary masterpiece. I write very casually.

 

How would you describe your writing practice?

Now I tend to blog weekly about the experiences and observations I’ve collected. I take a look at all my photos and notes and go from there. And given how many photos I generally take, blogging ends up taking quite a bit of time but is definitely worth it. Taking notes is essential, not necessarily because I’ll forget experiences so soon, but rather those minute details that make a story better.

 

What do you like to read?

I’m less of a blog reader and more of a newsletter reader. I subscribe to an unhealthy number of newsletters, which include blogs, but as for going directly to blogs or websites that aren’t Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, that ironically isn’t a habit of mine.

Being in China and understanding that there’s a lot I don’t understand, I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction on China. One of my 2016 resolutions is to read at least one book a month, so I’m currently finishing up Peter Hessler’s Country Driving. It’s my first Hessler book, and I already can’t wait to read his others. I also highly recommend the Sinica podcast for anyone interested in China.

 

What’s next? Do you plan on staying in China?

I’m planning on applying to grad school to get a Master’s in Chinese studies. When I first came and got the job, I had only planned on staying at most two or three years, but now I’ve realized the need to continue my studies, whereas before I would always tell my dad a Master’s isn’t necessary for what I want to do, which was just journalism at the time. Living in China as an ABC has really sparked that passion in me to delve deeper into U.S.-China relations and aspire to be a “China expert,” or at least follow those out there now, including many who appear on the Sinica podcast. So I’ll stay probably until the end of this year, but you’ll definitely find me back here eventually.

 

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Book of the week – South China Morning Blues

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Girl with the Microphone Tattoo: Dating in Hong Kong

This week’s interview is with the mysterious “Girl with a Microphone Tattoo”, a new blogger whom you must check out. Topics include some rather appropriate themes as per this site: Dating in Hong Kong.

Some very well-written and interesting perspectives below. Honest, frank, in tune with the modern state of romance in the world, and also anonymous

 

http://www.girlwiththemictattoo.com

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What inspired you to start such a personal blog?

I actually had a blog from a few years ago that discussed my personal life. As with the internet, things go awry and some people (who weren’t involved at all in the stories) started to attack me for my content which made me delete those posts immediately.

You actually were the one that inspired me to start this new blog. I really enjoyed reading your Dating in China series – I found it entertaining to hear things from a man’s perspective, cause most of the men in my life are largely closed off and unwilling to talk about such matters.

My friends had also always told me I had the most interesting and convoluted love life so I thought it’d be fun to share it to a wider audience and see what happens, without the consequences of people I know lashing out at me again.

 

Do you find the unique geographical circumstances of Hong Kong to be a positive or negative in dating? How would you compare it to dating in other places in the world?

The variety of people you meet is interesting to say the least. Because Hong Kong is such a compact city, it’s easy to meet different types of people easily and quickly. Another great thing about the compactness of the city is that I can go on dates without needing the stress of commuting, worrying if my hair is going to stay in place  or staging a conversation between me and my romantic partner.

I’ve found that in other places like North America, I would stress about different little things on my journey to the date – spending time on a conversation and/or stressing over how I look. In Hong Kong, it’s more about worrying about the transportation to the date: Whether it is crowd surfing on the MTR or worrying if you’re going to be that last person who squeezes into the bus… There is significantly less time for me to worry about date-y things until I get to the location.

That being said, I personally find that there are less variety of people with an international perspective in other places like North America, which is important to me since I grew up here and am seeking for someone who is worldly.

 

What are the advantages and disadvantages to the international flair of HK residents? Is it a good or bad thing that there are so many expats?

Personally, I don’t mind that there is such a large expat community because I love meeting new people with all sorts of backgrounds. But it does lead to a few nasty surprises sometimes when you realise the ephemeral nature of these relationships. It’s happened to me a couple of times where I found out this guy I really liked was leaving in a few weeks. So far nothing that crazy has happened to me but I have heard horror stories where people have just packed up and left without so much as a goodbye and that just breaks my heart. Those people are pretty much robots without a heart or conscience.

I know that these stories might be one in a million, but it really only takes one to fuck you up and cast a shadow on your future relationships.

As for HK residents, I like that a lot of them have an international flair and know what’s going on around the world beyond the Asian or HK bubble. It means I can basically talk to them about anything: From Marxist ideals to the Umbrella Revolution and Starcraft 2, the list goes on.

 

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the game of love in Hong Kong?

Don’t get too serious too quick. Sure, it might seem like the man/woman is perfect for you at the time but you really don’t know them yet. Take your time and get those good and nasty surprises out of the way before you really commit. Also, I have found that people here can be really flaky sometimes, (like a lot of the time) so bear that in mind and have some fun!

 

It seems hard to be a girl these days. Ever long for the days before Tinder and such apps, back when men were supposed to be more gentlemanly? On the subject, just what is your general opinion of dating apps?

Continue reading

Writing, dumplings, and the expat life with Amanda Roberts

Last week’s interview with Jocelyn Wong about food was surprisingly popular, and I hope you all enjoy this interview with writer Amanda Roberts of TwoAmericansinChina.com.

She has a cookbook available that you just may find interesting…

Crazy Dumplings

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First of all – as the typical question goes – what brought you to China?

It was a dream of mine for a long time to teach in China. I graduated with my master’s degree in English in 2009, right about the time as the economic crash, so full-time teaching jobs in the U.S. just weren’t available. By the time my husband and I started looking for jobs nationwide, we decided “if we’re gonna move, let’s move big!” So we packed up and moved to China.

 

Have you found the expat scene to be welcoming and positive? What challenges have you overcome?

China is a big place, so the expat communities can vary widely. In the first town we lived in, we were only two of four expats in a little rural town in Hunan Province, so that was hard. We really got along with the others, but it was still isolating. Then we moved to Changsha. While Changsha had a bigger scene, there wasn’t much to do in the town, so it was very boring and hard to find people with similar interests. Moving to Shenzhen was a huge change. There are so many expats here for such a (relatively) small town. They are also very well connected via social media, so they’re easier to find. We have made many great friends here and are members of several hobby groups, so life here is pretty good.

 

What are your top complaints about living abroad? (This one optional)

I miss having a clothes drier! I have a cat and a dog and their fur gets everywhere so my clothes are constantly covered in pet fur. Shenzhen is also very damp, so sometimes it can take days for clothes to dry.

I also miss having a vehicle. Not a car, but at least a motorbike or something. We had motorbikes in Hunan, but they are banned here in Shenzhen. It can make going places very difficult and makes me feel almost debilitated at times.

 

What’s your favorite thing about living in China?

I love my job. It’s nice to be working in the writing and editing field and I also have a lot of freedom to work on my own writing projects.

I also just like living abroad. I like the people, the atmosphere, the ability to travel and save money. I don’t know if we will stay in China forever, but I don’t think we will ever move back to the U.S.

 

How did you decide to become a writer?

I’ve always been a writer. I was on the school newspaper in elementary school and was a reporter and anchor for a weekly televised teen news program when I was in high school. I published quite a few things in college. I’ve taught writing at American universities since 2007. Writing is who I am. But I had never pursued “writing” as a career until after I moved to China – I had always considered myself a writing teacher. Now, I identify as a writer and editor. I think living here has given me much more of a voice, something important say. I also have the time and financial independence to write, which are the two big hindrances for most aspiring writers.

 

What’s the story on the creation of your cookbook?

The first place we lived in China was a county town in the middle of nowhere. We were two hours by bus from the nearest town with a McDonalds or Walmart and four hours away from the nearest city. So we used to take lots of long bus rides in the countryside. But I can’t read in a moving vehicle – I get nauseous. So I spent those trips just thinking. I came up with lots of book ideas while on those trips. One of which was Crazy Dumplings. I had just spent the week in the countryside with my goddaughter’s family for Chinese New Year surrounded with so much good Chinese food and, of course, lots of dumplings! I had the itch to write a cookbook for a long time, but I thought a Chinese cookbook or an expat cookbook would be too much work for my first foray, so the idea of focusing just on dumplings came to mind. I had a dozen recipes in mind by the end of the day.

 

How have you found online-promotional platforms such as Kickstarter to be helpful? Continue reading

Interview with Travis Lee

Today’s interview is with up-and-coming author Travis Lee, who writes about expats and China. Topics to be discussed will include the nature of living abroad as well as meditations upon the act of writing.

 

More from Travis Lee can be found at these links:

http://www.travis-lee.org

https://www.facebook.com/travislee19

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/travislee

 

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Firstly, can you tell us about how you came to China?

My how I came to China story is nowhere near as interesting as yours, I’m afraid. I was a French major in college, and as graduation loomed like a fall into a deep pit, I applied to teach English at a French high school, in the assistant d’anglais program. I wasn’t selected.

To this day, I’m not sure why. I had a high GPA, good recommendations, good French and previous in-country experience, so I had all the right checks in the right boxes. It could have been the sheer number of applicants; the professors who assured me that everyone gets in had done the program in the seventies and eighties.

Whatever the reason, that changed everything. Had I gone to France, I wouldn’t have my wife, my daughter, the books I’ve written. We wouldn’t be doing this interview. Right now, I’d be finishing my PhD, praying for tenure.

So instead of preparing for a summer in France, I moved back home and worked on plan B: volunteering in France. While I looked for positions, I received an email through my university’s career services distro: a Tennessee alumnus who worked in Wuhan was looking for English teachers. I read through the email. Free apartment, travel money, chance to see a dynamic country in a real Chinese city. Plus, a Western toilet. Don’t you love how he used Western toilet as a selling point?

I did all the paperwork, and on August 26, 2008 I touched down at Tianhe Airport in Wuhan, China.

 

What your life was like here?

Like most experiences, it looks better in hindsight. The earlier times are not better, just earlier, but it can hard to acknowledge that.

So, my life, in a word? Free. I felt like I had a lot of opportunity. I had enough time to pursue any hobby I wanted. I studied a lot of Mandarin, kept up with my French, taught myself some Calculus, and I wrote. This was the time in my life when I began to take writing very seriously. I “turned pro”, as Steven Pressfield would put it.

Although I was poor and twenty pounds overweight, I look back on my two and a half years fondly. My life changed completely. My first year and a half or so wasn’t easy — a lot of ESL teacher politics, personal issues — but once I moved past that, things got better. One thing that helped was Wuhan University. There I had only one co-worker, a normal guy, and I never saw him anyways. I taught great students in the afternoons, freeing up my mornings to study and write. I made friends with some great classmates. Wuhan University has a sizable international student population; a very cosmopolitan atmosphere.

I read a lot of expat blogs too. There was a certain buzz in the air. I found some great writers, who unknowingly helped me a lot, just because I read what they wrote.

 

What do you miss about China? What do you not miss at all?

I miss the free time I had. I miss how even the simple act of going to the store and buying a soda could turn into a story. And travel. I saw some nice places; wish I’d seen more.

What do I not miss? Respiratory infections, one. Internet censorship, the typical stuff that can make life in China hard.

At Wuhan University we were letting my brother-in-law stay over sometimes. The guy who worked the front desk noticed him coming in and out, and he asked us for 200 RMB a month. I said no, and the Foreign Affairs Officer came over and told me to either pay more or my brother-in-law couldn’t spend the night. Their excuse was the electric bill.

 

Can you describe your writing process?

I’m very much a cover-the-canvas guy. I can’t do outlines; I’ve tried it before, and I ended up either deviating from the outline or not writing the actual story. Outlines work well for class, not so much for writing. I prefer the spontaneity; I can’t write if I know exactly what’s going to happen. It kills all the fun.

So I write and write and write until I have something, and after some time has passed, I revise it. I go through about three drafts. I used to retype my drafts, I stopped doing that. I don’t have the time. I work and right now go to school full-time; I write new stuff in the mornings, revise at night unless I have a big test coming up.

I listen to Final Fantasy music when I write, either Final Fantasy Radio or my own playlist. It helps lock me in my own little world.

 

Which books and authors have inspired you?

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Beautiful writing, very emotional. Child of God is good too, mainly for the prose. There’s a line in Child of God where Cormac McCarthy describes a woman’s widening pupils as a “breaking brimstone galaxy”.

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo. This book captures what it’s like to chase your dream against many obstacles.

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. It has the best writing advice I’ve ever seen. But it’s not limited there; you can apply it to any calling.

 

What are you working on now?

The Pale Ancient & the House of Mirrors, about a missing foreign journalist and his friends’ efforts to find him. I want to publish it through a China-based publisher.

Richard, an amateur foreign journalist, goes missing while investigating a blood cult in Hubei province. Four people are affected: Mary, a newbie China writer who dreams of cementing her name alongside the expat greats; Ying Li, a small-town police sergeant; Chris, a freelance translator whose own experience with the cult has left him scarred; and Daniel, an expat media mogul with drug problems and a failing marriage.

 

Why did you choose to write this particular story? Continue reading

Book Review: How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?

Dragonfruit

https://thenanfang.com/book-review-one-dress-buy-dragonfruit/

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia is a new book that explores the feminine side of expat life. Edited by Shannon Young, the anthology covers the stories of 26 women, mostly split between Hong Kong and Japan (from Tokyo to Fukushima), and differs from most travel memoirs by giving new perspectives to Westerners in Asia.

The first, “Forwarding Addresses,” concerns shopping for tropical fruit and coins the title of the entire book. Written in letters, Shannon Dunlap describes her time in Cambodia and the difficulties in learning to speak rudimentary Khmer. The author even recognizes her own privilege in being able to already speak English, and at least she tries to adapt to local customs.

“The Weight of Beauty” by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun takes place in Shenzhen. Again about language, but this time concerning the plight of being a Chinese-American fluent in Cantonese but not Mandarin. It’s not easy to look like everyone else and be judged for not speaking the common tongue, something white expats don’t have to deal with. Cheng-Tozun decides to take a language class, and finds an empathetic connection by discussing life’s tragedies with her teacher.

Stephanie Han is another displaced Asian (ethnically Korean) and authors “Happy Anniversary.” Taking place in the important year of 1997 in Hong Kong, Han is able to eavesdrop on racist rants from the British. A romance in the second-person, she eventually grows past the anxieties of being a nationless expatriate.

“Jewish in China” by Eva Cohen also explores various ethnic combinations. Jews in China are often told they are “so smart and so good at business”, as this writer can attest to. During a Passover sedar, Cohen meets a Chinese professor of Jewish studies with an incredible background. The professor has even published works about the Jews of Kaifeng.

“Huangshan Honeymoon” by blogger Jocelyn Eikenburg concerns interracial marriage and her disappointing honeymoon in Anhui, with a father-in-law and rainy weather interrupting the expected majestic scenery. Chinese husbands are big on filial piety. It’s a challenge, as Eikenburg reflects on the early days of the relationship back when her to-be husband’s father was against their dating, but in the end she feels closer than ever to her new family.

Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of the memoir Good Chinese Wife, lived in Hong Kong in the 90s, and recently returns in “Ninety Minutes in Tsim Sha Tsui” to reflect over some very personal memories, such as receiving news that her Chinese husband at the time had given her an STD. It continues with a one-time meeting of her then-husband’s ex-wife. Don’t we all all wish we could go back and give our younger selves advice?

“Cross” by Safron Marchant shows a deeper side to the themes of pregnancy and motherhood. Marchant tries to start her own family by way of fertility treatment in Hong Kong. The trials are very tough; hormones and clinic visits can be devastating. “Here Comes the Sun” by Leza Lowitz rounds out the theme of motherhood. It’s never easy, as Lowitz fails at pregnancy and goes through the complex process of adopting in Japan. It is heartwarming at the conclusion, with the new mother’s efforts finally rewarded.

Some stories are not as strong as others, which is part of the deal when it comes to anthologies. From getting pregnant in Vietnam to retiring in Malaysia, busing in Bangkok, and vacationing in Mongolia, the range of writing styles and scenes are very diverse.

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? is recommended for both men and women. Anyone interested in travel, immigration, women’s issues, and simply human stories will easily find something interesting within this anthology.

Now available at bookstores in Hong Kong and on Amazon.

Dating in China – The Very End.

InstagramCapture_ce74db8c-ce5f-4a4e-8f07-70752448bcca

A picture of me I took yesterday

2013, as I keep saying, was my Epic Clusterfuck Year.

Online dating, star-crossed romance, stalking, embarrassments abroad. I had it all.

Meanwhile, my so-called ‘career’ began to slowly take off. I published many an article, worked as a copy-editor, got a certain book deal. I moved, I moved again. All the while searching for that perfect match, and when the search availed I started again, with more baggage piling up and more losses to show for it.

It used to be that I did my thing, make the ol’ money and moderately exercise and read books and study, and I was more or less productive. I was prolific, and nobody in the world knew. Then this year came, it all escalated, I had no more time to myself, and I know my craft suffered for it.

In the end, I had very little to show. Very little to brag of indeed.

And yet, it got even worse. The story was far from over.

And yet, I will not continue this story.

 

I thank all you readers for being interested in my petty life, and for letting me share and purge. It’s been very therapeutic. I do hope it’s been a good read.

Unfortunately, we are now catching up to the present, and it is still too soon. It is getting a bit too real.

It’s awkward enough when I’ve written these things and someone out in real life tells me they remember that time. I shan’t do that anymore. I’m not out to expose secrets here; I’m obviously not completely into anonymity either, but I do have limits.

So that is that.

 

Allow me merely be reflective upon a memoir’s epilogue not yet written.

Wait a year or two or ten, and I may get back to you in more detail.

It’s a shame, it would have made for some great writing… Woulda’ been ten blogs worth at least…

 

Sigh: One. Her. Pejorative Nickname. I had a whole internal dialogue about what pseudonym or pronoun to use and what level of respect is accorded, and I will not share the conversation with you! Sorry.

 

Nevermind that.

Look. I know I’m not particularly innocent. I know I’m not.

But there was one day I lost the very last shreds of my innocence, and I can never ever get it back.

I heard things I never heard before, I was told things no one else has ever since told me.

That lasts.

I am, however, so over it.

 

I’m slightly better at relationships since that time. A little bit. A teensy, tiny, very little bit. But slightly better nonetheless.

A better class of person has graced my own personage, and know that it is appreciated.

I learned about all I could learn from the scenario. Okay? Okay?!! Okay.

At this point in my life I’d prefer to play it cool. Grow somewhat, take things seriously, and simultaneously be cool.

To get over myself, as it were.

Enough already with the self-indulgence.

 

It is 2014. In fact, 2014 is almost over. It is an even-numbered year, and I tend to do better in even-numbered years. It has been a year of much reflection and evolution, it truly has.

I hope I can keep it up.

Soon it will be another odd-numbered year, and it will be hard on me and I’ll need all the help I can get.

There are new challenges to consider, new stages in life and amazing things yet to occur. There will be novelty. There will be grace. There will be magic and fire and art and power.

Time to seize this living thing.

 

The dealing-with-my-issues stage is over. It is now time to go go go–

 

 

Wish me luck.

 

 

 

Thanks again for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

–Ray

Dating in China – My Guangzhou Year

Zhujiang_new_townGZ

In early 2011 I broke up with Zoey and I was depressed and I thought I should start Dating in China yet again. It didn’t go well. A full year with one person, despite the trying and failing at improprieties, and I was a tad out of practice.

A very significant chapter of my life had ended, and I knew it would take a lot of work to reach the next chapter of my life. I realized I needed a new start.

What did I really have in Shenzhen? Frankly, a bunch of shallow friendships and little job security. I liked my apartment and my general setup but I wasn’t tied down. If I wasn’t tied down, shouldn’t I take advantage and go somewhere new?

Many expats simply live out of their suitcases, but not me. The heaviest things I own are my books. I sell them, I give them away, but I always get new ones and I’m left with a big stack. That and my clothes and various knickknacks and toys, and it’s not as easy for to move to, say, Shanghai or Seoul or Bangkok as it is for that other kind of expat.

I made the decision to move to Guangzhou — also known as Canton — that third major city of China (a distant third, but third nonetheless). Why did I choose GZ? Several reasons. I liked the city. I planned to do more research of Guangdong Province for my writing projects. I even wanted to study Cantonese. Most of all, I wanted to get a van to pack up all my stuff and move somewhere only a few hours away because it’s easier.

I went there on a research trip and looked around and found a stable thing going, and I committed. Next there was the hassle of putting all my things in boxes, had a going-away bar-hopping party night with friends at the local lesbian bar, and 500 yuan later I moved. My Guangzhou year had begun.

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Expat Demographics in 4 Quadrants part the first: Loser English Teachers and Cool English Teachers

In my latest post, I shall attempt to categorize the demographics of the mainland Chinese expat in four quadrants. Just a theory of mine I like sharing. Please note this is very much generalization. It is not meant to encompass all foreigners, it’s about Westerner expats and their scene. In fact, this mostly goes for males so I’m going to assume masculine terms below. Forgive me for painting with a broad brush, there are degrees and exceptions but I think it by and large counts.

Often the casual observer makes an even simpler observation on expat demos; there are loser English teachers, and everybody else. There is more than a kernel of truth in that stereotype to be sure, but I hope to be a bit more detailed so as a to give a break to our ESL friends and simultaneously not give a break to some other sorts.

It breaks up as so: Loser English Teachers & Cool English teachers, and Good Businessmen & Evil Businessmen

 

Loser English Teachers: This is an archetype we all know well. The dropouts, the drunks at clubs, the young and (sadly, sometimes very) old who don’t seem to be employable anywhere else in the world and tend to have no skill sets and are only hired because of a foreign face. It’s downright profiling.

Not necessarily native-English speakers at all, they can hail from any country in the world and simply bounce from one ‘performing monkey’ job to the next. The blond Russians, the aloof central Europeans, and some seriously awkward French-Canadians.

The native speakers themselves are more often than not terrible at English, especially in writing, and obviously have no business teaching anything. Yet here they are. The Australians with serious alcoholism issues, the Americans with barely a high school education, the British sex addicts.

They drink, they party, they fuck, and they learn nothing. And, without being too crass, let’s just say they are into Asian chicks. And they generally can’t get chicks back home. You surely know what I mean.

It should be noted, however, that as China has progressed these past years the average Chinese female citizen is not so easily impressed by a white face and expects more. Time to learn some new skill sets, people.

Simply put, these guys are not TEFL-certified and the desperate shady schools that hire them are not doing a service to their students at all.

 

Cool English Teachers: But it’s not all bad. A lot of people take up the opportunity to move to China because they are actually interested in Chinese culture. They might go after graduation, or later in life to reinvent themselves, perhaps take advantage after a gap year of backpacking, and ESL is an easy enough job to see the world and get your foot in the door in China.

They might party, but that’s not all they do. With more long-term plans in mind, they learn Mandarin and can eventually get jobs in other fields. Then there are the very long-term expats who settle down here and raise families as well.

Anyway, no shame in being that kind of ESL guy at all, and I for one think they are undeservedly lumped in with the losers. As for teaching, credentials aren’t everything and there are solid people out there who just have a knack. There’s my defense.

What do you think? Recognize any expat friends up there? Ever taught English yourself, where do you fall on the scale?

(Btw, a group I notice left out is the qualified international school teacher. Like, they can teach math and actually majored in teaching. That is a wholly different animal, more like the Good Businessman than anything else as far as being people with “real jobs” who just happen to work in China. With that…)

Part the second, Good Businessmen & Evil Businessmen, to be continued…

Book review: Unsavory Elements

http://www.amazon.com/Unsavory-Elements-Stories-Foreigners-Loose/dp/9881616409

If you happen to be a China expat, no doubt you have a crazy story to tell. I may feel like an old China hand myself at this point, but I came in 2008 just as the last of the real wildness was getting homogenized. I have my own stories, but nothing like the best of these. Somehow editor Tom Carter has captured the cream of the crazy China experiences, and what a read it is.

Like any anthology, it can be hit or miss. However, there are no great misses, only adequate stories lost among the truly memorable. From famed “Oracle Bones” author Peter Hessler’s story of refugee thieves at the North Korean border in “View from the Bridge”, to Michael Levy’s opening “Selling Hope” about crooked English teachers (a theme very familiar to anyone living here), every account is solid and interesting and the consistent quality is impressive. But it seems to get darker as the book reaches its conclusion, and I for one appreciated that. Charming expat family stories – such as Aminta Arington’s “Communal Parenting” and Susan Conley’s “Where There Are Crowds” – give way to tales of extremely illegal activity detailing the underbelly of Chinese society – of which I will list my favorites below. Thing about China though, is the dark underbelly is never that well-hidden and we all knew it was there the entire time… My personal favorites: “Stowaway” by Pete Spurrier, about hardcore backpacking and sneaking through trains and living on the edge of running out of money and visas; “Diplomacy on Ice” by Rudy Kong details the world of Northern hockey with a healthy does of extreme bloody violence; “You Buy Me Drink?” by Nury Vittachi details easily-impressed gangsters and scammers; “One of the People” by Bruce Humes might be the most terrifying of all, about being mugged and his time in a Shenzhen hospital almost getting his hand amputated, and yet horrifying though may be it’s always written with lighthearted humor; “Thinking Reports” by Dominic Stevenson is another downer, an excerpt from the hash-smuggling author’s time in a Shanghai prison writing propaganda reports, and as serious a situation as it is he never wants any pity only to tell his story; and “Empty from the Outside” by Susie Gordon covers more drugs and call girls all while living the highlife. Finally, the namesake story “Unsavory Elements” by the infamous Tom Carter. If you haven’t heard, he goes to a brothel. It’s really not as offensive as I was expecting, it’s one of the funniest pieces and gives an important yet irreverent insight into what’s really goes on after late nights of partying in this country. A unique book with a unique take on China, with none of the standard journalistic flair and dull economic theories. This is about real life and a real window into the emerging soul of the rising Middle Kingdom. There is something for everyone in the midst of all these talented storytellers. While it was very entertaining to me as an expat, I would recommend this book most of all to people who have never even been to China. The world should know, these are the real stories of this insanely fascinating land.