Bookish.Asia Review: South China Morning Blues

South China Morning Blues • Ray Hecht

http://bookish.asia/south-china-morning-blues-ray-hecht/

The Pearl River Delta is home to Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, and cities of millions – such as gritty workshops to the world Dongguan and Zhongshan – that you’ve never heard of. Despite being the powerhouse of the country’s decades-long economic boom, China’s southern cities have been largely ignored by English-language novelists for the more glamorous settings of Shanghai and Beijing. When stories are set in the south, they are usually period pieces taking advantage of the region’s rich historical backdrops of war, revolution, and the treaty port clash of cultures. It was a welcome change to come across a novel set in modern-day Guangdong.

South China Morning Blues is divided into three sections, each named after a city in the region. The multiple storylines begin in Shenzhen, move to Guangzhou, and end on Lamma Island in Hong Kong. The novel provides a kaleidoscopic view of urban China as seen through the eyes of a dozen mostly twenty-something Chinese and foreign characters. There’s Marco, a macho American businessman looking to get laid at every opportunity; Danny, an English teacher finding his feet; intellectual stoner Eric; artist Ting Ting; American-Chinese journalist Terry; and… I’ll stop there. Twelve is too many to run through, which raises the question of whether that number of characters makes for an overcrowded cast.

Although there’s no consensus on the maximum number of main characters a novel should contain, it’s generally thought that eight or nine is the upper limit for a medium-length work. Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, for example — which, with its multiple narrator structure, was one of Hecht’s inspirations — has perhaps seven main characters. When I opened SCMB, and realized that Hecht had chosen twelve because he wanted one character for each animal sign of the Chinese zodiac, the approach seemed like a recipe for disaster.

Surprisingly the big cast works. Credit goes to the author for how he does this by adding a couple of characters at a time, building up layers, and coming back to earlier people as some of storylines are threaded together. The effect is an unusual but engrossing reading experience, an immersive feel of varying waves of engagement. The number and range of characters, subplots, and places gives the novel an epic flavour; it’s a big canvas which contrasts with the mundane considerations of daily life that the characters describe.

South China Morning Blues is written in a stream-of-consciousness, first-person narration. Unavoidably, this is sometimes inane and slow moving; but it’s also often funny and, above all, honest. The novel is painfully true to life: how we actually were when young and finding our way, rather than how we would like to remember ourselves. I laughed aloud in numerous places, perhaps most often for Danny, the non-descript English teacher andlaowai newbie who is soon playing the veteran. In one such scene, a fellow English teacher – young, fresh off the boat, and completely clueless – asks Danny how long he has been in China.

“Well,” I say. “I’ve been in Shenzhen for a year now, but in China almost two years. Before here I lived in a town you’ve never heard of up north.”

“Wow,” he says, easily impressed. I feel cool, sophisticated.

One of the pleasures of SCMB is seeing how characters grow up (or don’t) over the two-year period of the novel. Eager to know how things worked out for them, I raced through the book in three days, pleased with the ending and yet sad the story had come to a close.

SCMB contains a lot of drinking, drug-taking, and sex, but not unrealistically so. Alcohol and drugs are a social lubricant and stress-relief for people in a new place. Likewise, business entertaining in China involves heavy drinking and frequently a side-dish of whoring, so it’s not unnatural that when Marco, the self-styled Casanova, is on a business trip to Dongguan, he should partake of the city’s infamous delights. Marco takes two hookers back to his hotel and is working his magic while the women watch television:

In front of me, I have two bare asses. They cost me only a grand each. That’s in RMB.

Enthusiastically, I slap the one on the left and pound away against the other one. She insisted that I wear a rubber. That part never gets lost in translation. This experience would have felt better without, but whatever….

I wish that I could persuade these girls to perform some lesbian shit. I push their heads together. They kind of kiss for a second, but then smirk and turn away. Don’t these bitches watch porn, or what?

My cock feels ready to explode out from under me, almost like I should call in a bomb threat to the hotel or something.

At times SCMB can be a bit depressing in portraying the shallowness of many Chinese–foreign interactions, but once again it rings true. In fact, I’ve met people like all twelve of the story’s characters. Much of the realism comes from author Ray Hecht writing about what he has himself experienced or seen, having lived in the novel’s two main locations, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Hecht, who was born in Israel but grew up in the American Midwest, arrived in China in 2008 at the age of twenty-six. He works in Shenzhen as a writer and teacher, and has written two previous novels: The Ghost of Lotus Mountain Brothel and Loser Parade.

South China Morning Blues deserves to sell well. It’s easy to see the novel becoming a big hit among the expat population in China, but it should also appeal to general readers. Hecht’s Pearl River Delta tapestry is at heart a racy drama exploring universal themes, so no knowledge of China is required to enjoy it.

* * *

South China Morning Blues is published by Blacksmith Books. It’s available from the publisher’s website, Amazon, and bookstores in Hong Kong.

Author Ray Hecht has a website chronicling aspects of his writing and life in Shenzhen.

 

By  December 11th, 2015

DATING IN CHINA

cropped-cropped-cropped-scmb-cov

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

Introductions

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

Girls

Mona
My first China-based girlfriend, and how that didn’t work out

Julia
The next level… Sigh, was it love?

Mary
A summer romance, a brief flight, all too innocent

Annie – Sky – Lulu – more
Singlehood, bachelor life, the learning process, playing the field…

Zoey

The Beginning
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

The End
Finally, and sadly, nothing lasts forever

 

GUANGZHOU YEAR
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

 

2012

Back to Shenzhen
In which I return to this town that somehow suits me

Emma
I begin the online game~

Jeanie
I have a girlfriend! I really did!

Yuki
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

The Stalker
In which I make a foul choice which ends up following me around all year.
Dark times. No fun.

Carmen
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–

Shenzhen Daily

SZ Daily
Occasionally I write (and edit) for the local English-language newspaper of Shenzhen, the Shenzhen Daily. All very official. The only English daily in South China…

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:

Hong Kong ASSEMBLING Art Exhibition Features Shenzhen-based Artists

Shenzhen-Based Artist Wins Award in Hong Kong

Interview/Restaurant Review: Canadian Opens Vegan Restaurant

Book Review: Good Chinese Wife

Book Review: No City for Slow Men

Film Review: The Wind Rises

Futian District: A Holiday at Lianhua Hill

Interview: American Expat to Run Marathon in Australia

Interview: Expat Cycles to India for Good Cause

Interview: American Starting Local Volunteer Group

Editorial: Kimmel’s Apology Merits Acceptance

Restaurant Review: Vegetarian Oasis

Author Interview – Ray Hecht

Rachel Carrera, Novelist

We are definitely not at a loss for talent today, folks!  A while back when I posted a Call to Writers, asking my fellow author bloggers to allow me to interview them, I was elated with the responses I received.  (And if you would like to participate, please feel free to contact me.)  I asked thirty-five questions and gave the interviewee the freedom to answer only what they wanted.  My friend and fellow-blogger, Ray Hecht, had some wonderful responses which I’m sure you will find as fascinating as I did.  When you’re done reading the interview, please hop on over to his blog and make sure you follow him for more pleasurable tales.  And now, I present to you, Ray Hecht… 

*.*.*

ABOUT YOU::

1. Please tell us your name (or pen name) and a little bit about yourself:

Hi I’m Ray Hecht, I’m an American writer of…

View original post 2,098 more words

DATING IN CHINA – MEGAPOST 1

And now for your reading enjoyment. In case you missed it before. Allow me to lay it all out.

Megapost of my personal dating memoirs, covering the time span of August, 2008 to February, 2011

Links, from the beginning:

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

Introductions

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

Girls

Mona
My first China-based girlfriend, and how that didn’t work out

Julia
The next level… Sigh, was it love?

Mary
A summer romance, a brief flight, all too innocent

Annie – Sky – Lulu – more
Singlehood, bachelor life, the learning process, playing the field…

Zoey

The Beginning
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

The End
Finally, and sadly, nothing lasts forever

 

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Dating in China – Mary

My dating in China continues, with the obvious next stage. Meeting a nice Chinese girl.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Backpacking summer ’09

It was a long, overwhelming summer. I haphazardly traveled to Shanghai plus Hangzhou to visit a Californian friend, I drank, I didn’t sleep, had to deal with high friends, had to deal with drunk acquaintances, had to deal with Californians visiting me and then getting their passports stolen. Then I moved, and I traveled some more.

All this and I was trying to put myself out there, but still mostly taking it slow with girls. (I made out with one girl at an epic club in Shanghai, that was it) After my “success” with a certain beautiful, sexy, glamorous adult woman, and subsequently discovering I really missed her, I suppose a part of me thought I should end up with someone completely different.

Mary was a girl, an English major at a university in Guangzhou. Junior or senior year, if I remember. 21 with medium-length hair and a very youthful vibe. I met her at a gig in Conghua, we hung out in my hotel room and played ping pong in the lobby. She very much had the cute thing going on. And she listened to Green Day.

After we crossed the threshold of fooling around, we vowed to keep in touch. Guangdong Province ain’t that big, and I needed to learn more about the capital megacity of Canton. Shenzhen is nice but that’s not all there is.

She proceeded to visit me, and I visited her. Actually she really made me feel better during the stressful days. We rotated visits every two weeks for a while. I enjoyed Guangzhou and having a bit of a guide. Go on weekend holidays, check out the Pearl River and the safari park. In a lot of ways GZ is better than SZ, it’s more massive and has a bigger scene and of course has more history and culture. Yet somehow the Special Economic Zone always suited me more. The Provincial Capital is too spread out, too much for me. Now, Shenzhen is a first-tier city and bigger than New York City and it’s not even one of the main big cities of China. Guangzhou may be a distant third to Beijing and Shanghai but it’s still incomprehensibly bigger than any Western city. I always thought of myself as a city person, but I must concede that places like Shanghai and Tokyo are way too much for me.

Continue reading

Cities: From Best to Worst. You?

In my thirty years, I have lived in these seven cities. Not travel, I speak of paying rent. American midwest to SoCal to Guangdong, but I think its a decently broad spectrum. I can only speak of my own experience, but I hereby calculate each city in order of of objective awesomeness:

 

– Shenzhen, China

– Long Beach, California

– Guangzhou, China

– Cincinnati, Ohio

– Los Angeles, California

– Indianapolis, Indiana

– Irvine, California

 

Now you list yours:
%d bloggers like this: