In which I read an excerpt from my novel South China Morning Blues (Blacksmith Books, 2015) at the Dream United event in Guangzhou, China
In which I read an excerpt from my novel South China Morning Blues (Blacksmith Books, 2015) at the Dream United event in Guangzhou, China
Hello, it’s that time of the middle of the month when I have Chinglish to share.
I have noticed that there are more random t-shirts. Or at least I am capturing more of them.
Some from my recent Guangzhou trip.
I do feel bad taking pictures of random people in the street but it’s just too good…
Here in China, we recently celebrated the National Day holiday which remembers the founding of the modern People’s Republic of China’s founding in 1949. Whether you are a communist or not, everybody gets the day off and it’s time to go on a trip…
Having recently moved, me and my girlfriend wanted to check out the train station in nearby walking distance from our new home. Shenzhen and Guangzhou are very close, by the way, and so it was decided we’d take a trip for a couple of days to the big(ger) city!
It does tend to get very crowded on Chinese holidays. The train didn’t even have seats, although we did sit in the dining car most of the way. Luckily, Guangzhou wasn’t that bad. I suppose most people go to the more popular tourist spots and the first-tier cities get emptied out.
Nice time. I like going to the provincial capital on occasion. Although I prefer living Shenzhen–where it seems slightly less depressing to me somehow.
We went to eat delicious Turkish food in Taojin, and African food in Sanyuanli. The Muslim and African neighborhoods of GZ are excellent places to walk around and explore the scene. Then we made a day of going to Baiyun Mountain, as tourist as it gets there. The cable car made for an amazing view.
What I really wanted to do was go bungee jumping! Lately I’ve been feeling like a need to do something drastic to fight off the haunting ennui of life, and jumping off a cliff might just do the trick. However, after psyching myself and mustering up all the willpower I could muster, when I got there they said it was sold out for the day and I had to reserve 24-hours early 😦
Turns out the crowds were a factor after all. Very frustrating. Well at least I saved money. Maybe next time I’m in town, and it’s not a holiday and I can just show up and spontaneously do it.
Made the most of the trip anyhow. A small carnival, some archery. Finally, dim sum the next morning and we went back to good ol’ Shenzhen.
The lesson is: don’t have a normal job and make your own schedule for vacations. (I don’t, but my girlfriend does)
Lastly here’s my Facebook album if you’d like to see more~
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.
500 words from…is a series of guest posts from authors writing about Asia, or published by Asia-based, or Asia-focused, publishing houses, in which they talk about their latest books. Here Shenzhen-based American Ray Hecht talks about his new novel South China Morning Blues, published by Blacksmith Books based in Hong Kong. Ray’s earlier books were The Ghost of Lotus Mountain Brothel and Loser Parade. He currently writes for Shenzhen Daily, the only daily English-language newspaper in the south of mainland China.
South China is like a giant test tube where ideas and people from all over the world meet. Expats and locals alike must try to make sense of the crazy present, if they are ever going to forge the brilliant future that is China’s ambition. That is precisely what the characters in South China Morning Blues are trying to do. There’s Marco, a crooked businessman with a penchant for call girls; Danny, a culture-shocked young traveller; Sheila, a local club girl caught up in family politics; Amber, a drug-fuelled aspiring model; Terry, an alcoholic journalist; and Ting Ting, an artist with a chip on her shoulder. Their lives intertwine in unexpected ways as they delve deeper into their surroundings and in the process learn more about themselves.
So: over to Ray…
I have always been fascinated by China. So when I was invited to move to Shenzhen I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to learn all I could about this fascinating and strange place.
Shenzhen, famed for supposedly having no culture, was a small fishing village until the post-Mao economic reforms. Now, it’s a city with a population that outnumbers New York. And I realised upon arrival that the future of China can be as fascinating as the past; the Special Economic Zone of Shenzhen became an inspiring place to me.
I wanted to write about the expat scene, about all those weird people who drop everything in their lives back in the home country in order to try to make it big abroad. I wanted to write about the local people, about the youth navigating their way through the 21st century while being pushed by their parents in what must be the biggest generation gap ever. I wanted to write about international traders, party girls, English teachers, drug dealers, courtesans, models, artists, people from all over the world who participate in the new global experiment that is South China.
Meanwhile, Shenzhen borders Hong Kong, a city that defies definition. In one sense it is under the heel of the mainland People’s Republic, yet in other ways it is sovereign, more like a free Western city. Certainly, it is one of the most international places in the world. For me, whenever Shenzhen got to be too much, I could always hop the border and find English bookstores and uncensored films. Hong Kong was like an alternate reality just across the river. I wanted to write about outsiders visiting this compelling place.
Then again, there was the city of Guangzhou. I moved there for a year, to research and better understand this whole Pearl River Delta thing. Guangzhou is even more massive than the other two cities, yet it has an ancient culture which gives it a unique flavour. I went to old temples, and I studied the history of revolutions and uprisings. I think I did some of my best writing while living in Guangzhou.
Eventually I had to return to Shenzhen, where I completed my novel South China Morning Blues, which is told through the perspective of 12 characters that each correspond to an animal in the Chinese zodiac. I filtered my various experiences and research and hearsay into stories meant to capture the essence of what modern China represents. It is a confusing place indeed, but a place where people can learn about themselves as well as the city, and China.
Writing and publishing this novel has been an amazing journey. I am still as overwhelmed and confused as ever by South China, but I’ve been very happy that the book has enabled me to share my humble feelings and observations with interested readers from around the world.
Details: South China Morning Blues is published in paperback by Blacksmith Books, priced in local currencies.
Guangzhou-based poet Aaron Styza organized and spoke at the Yi-Gather event of which I was a part of last month. His poems have been published on Heron Tree, Sediment Literary Arts Journal, and Two Cities Review.
As he is a talented writer in China, I thought it would be nice to interview Sytza and talk about the craft. Little did I know what a fascinating conversation it would be:
(Also, not that I am an expert at poetry but I have occasionally tried to expand my own writing palette…)
What issues or answers does poetry provide or provoke for you?
I’m concerned with the limits of language: how can we measure the effect of what we say? The truth is language cannot adequately express anything. If language were able to express the complexity of thought, there would be no need for poetry. I would say X, and you would understand X. This is not the case. But the inherent inadequacy of language is the very thing that gives poetry its agency: the freedom to investigate a subject obliquely rather than approaching it head-on. Language has a duel effect that causes intense intimacy and terrifying alienation, like birth.
The relationship (or metonymy) between intimacy and alienation haunts a lot of my poems.
How has China shifted your aesthetic focus?
The personas in my poems are often coping with psychological trauma. And like a patient hypnotized into summoning their repressed experiences, poems replay that trauma. Trauma manifests itself as a subjective experience and as a reoccurring, collective experience.
Myths and Fables are a great example of a collective experience: something so ingrained in a culture that it’s inextricable from it. They are our first life lessons and indelible marks on our consciousness. I allude to, and re-appropriate, elements from such sources to “fable-ize” modernity. That is, distance a subject from its context and place in time. And China, with its innumerable stories derived from different characters and dynasties, has opened up a new store for me to work with. This may further reinforce what I said earlier about intimacy and alienation.
What poetic conventions do you avoid or adopt?
I tend to avoid intellectual witticism most, because that techniques imposes the writer’s voice too much and becomes didactic. I admire the poet Robert Frost for his ability to ground his subjects in reality, without intruding his predispositions onto the poem. Even the times when Frost’s voice spikes through the poem—I’m thinking of his piece “West-Running Brook”—he’s laughing at himself, poking fun at his own authority (this is one of many subtleties in Frost’s work which caused him to become one of the most misread and mistaught poets). Yet his representations of the world are some of the closest poetry has come to accessing the humanities. For him, surrendering to the world was a release from it.
Grounding poems in common, understandable images aligns with my own goals (or tastes), rather than getting tied up in heady, theoretical subject matter, or racing to create a new poetic form, which is plaguing a lot of contemporary writing. I’m a sucker for crisp, well-laid images.
As it pertains to artistic inspiration, how does being in Guangzhou, China, contrast with the Mid-West in the United States?
This week I’d like to share another excerpt from my novel South China Morning Blues (last week’s), this time concerning the city of Guangzhou and my favorite character symbolized by the Chinese Zodiac character of 猴… The Monkey!
You can scroll down and read the embedded file below, or download the PDF file via this link:
If you’d like to read more, please feel free to order on Amazon or directly from publisher Blacksmith Books
Last weekend, I was honored to have been invited to the Letters From China bilingual poetry event in Guangzhou courtesy of GZ-based poet Aaron Styza. It was at Yi-Gather, one of my favorite places in the city, and the turnout and conversation were excellent. I, of course, read from my novel South China Morning Blues.
Unfortunately, it was one of the coldest nights of the year and the place doesn’t have heating! This happens when living in the tropical southern regions; all year you’re sweating and you never know what week is going to be actually cold… and you are not at all prepared for it. Seriously, even though it doesn’t get below freezing (and I did grow up in a place with four seasons), the combination of humidity and winds makes for some very harsh conditions.
The next day, something magical happened that made the weather more than worth it! It actually SNOWED. It was about two or three degrees Celsius and by some miracle small pellets of frozen water (maybe technically hail, but looked enough like snow) softly fell to the ground and immediately melted. Brief and ephemeral, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Not that it was a polar vortex like elsewhere, but in the context of this tropical environment it was amazing. Sadly, wasn’t really photographable.
I heard it’s the first time the weather had been this low in the region in some fifty-sixty years. And, a month ago was the warmest year’s winter ever. Not going to get into climate change or anything, just sayin these temperature extremes are interesting.
Anyway, here is an Instagram picture followed by Youtube video concerning the event:
[Yes I know I do not look good nor sound good but the self is an eternal process and I shall work on it]
Almost two weeks later, I’ve finished Ray Hecht’s South China Morning Blues (2015). At 349 pages, this fiction novel definitely should not have taken me as long to finish. I probably could’ve dedicated one weekend to it, but this is nonetheless a pretty good pace for my 2016 reading goals.
Last night, while on the final section of the book—the book is divided into three main sections: Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong—I got ahead of myself and started preparing to write this review. As I Googled the author, I came across his blog and soon enough his WeChat ID. I added him.
What happened next is likely the coolest thing that’s happened so far this year. Not only did he add me back, but we also ended up agreeing on my interviewing him on the book.
“I am 100% interested,” he said. (!!)
Of course, the exact details remain TBD. It could be for GDTV…
View original post 718 more words
Luigi Mondino , December 21, 2015
Ray Hecht’s debut novel is a detailed and sincere depiction of what life is like in the Pearl River area. Divided into three main sections (one for each major city: Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong), the book follows the life of several characters, both foreigners and locals, as they try (or struggle) to find their way without losing touch with reality. Rather than being a simple collection of short stories (very loosely entwined), Hecht chooses to shape his book into a canvas where the expat lifestyle is the effective trait d’union.
Hecht obviously knows what he’s talking about as, being himself a long-term expat in the area, he has drawn from his own personal experience (as it can be inferred from his own personal blog) ideas and stories that lay the foundations of his book, and it shows well: characters look real and relatable, grounded in reality, vivid and rich in their motivations and background. Characters are teachers, journalists, young artists, businessmen, all people that populate bars and clubs in the downtown of each city. Ray Hecht has collected and transformed some of the stories he heard (who knows how much autobiography might be in the book?) into a constellation of small existences that, although bordering on the stereotypical sometimes, often emerge as true in their own need of self affirmation.
Whoever experienced life in the Pearl River Delta can understand or relate to the urgency to be heard or to stand out that everyone in the book seems to display: life is too fast-paced and often people focus on their careers, while everything else slips into the background. If the 12 main characters all have something in common, it is a sense of isolation that compels them to question their own choices and fast-forward life to the next, hopefully safer, stage.
The three sections the book consist of several mini-chapters, each following a different character (some of them recurring from section to section, thus closing the circle and giving the idea of a mini universe where people can’t stop running into the same faces again and again). All stories are narrated in the first person and they read as confessions that break the fourth wall and ask the reader to participate in something private and meaningful that otherwise would be lost.
Each section of the book has its own different nuance that reflects the three different cities in which everything takes place: Shenzhen is a new and fast city, Guangzhou is the old capital, Hong Kong is a hybrid city looking for a balance in its own internal differences. “Shenzhen” opens the book and throws us in the middle of the action: two foreigners, newcomers to Shenzhen, try and mostly fail to integrate in a city with no identity and history. Looking forward with no regrets is the key, even if something gets lost along the way. Marco, the businessman, and Danny, the English teacher, whether they are looking for instant gratification or for some meaningful experience, are constantly semi-detached from reality as they can’t help to feel their presence in the city is temporary, a sensation shared by all the characters in this first section. Life is so fast and opportunities so rich, there is no need or time to look back or to make detailed plans about the future.
“Guangzhou” offers a new take on the expat life in China. Guangzhou, the city, is the old Guangdong capital, an established city with its very own rhythm and style. Whereas Shenzhen’s no identity is reflected in its individualism and fast pace, Guangzhou’s somewhat quieter pace is mirrored by a sense of isolation that is sometimes difficult, or almost impossible, to break. Amber, the Canadian English teacher, Ting Ting, the aspiring artist, and Terry, the Asian American journalist, represent the struggle to find themselves in a vast and disperse city: whether you are looking for a professional achievement or to find people to hang out with, Guangzhou is a giant maze that needs to be crossed.
“Hong Kong” is the last section, the shorter and the most crowded: most of action occurs at a rave party on Lamma island, where we re-encounter many of the characters from “Guangzhou”. The party is where individual stories come to an apex and some of the loose ends are tied up (but not completely, we just manage to say goodbye to the characters we have been following so far). Chapters are shorter and there is more interaction than before between characters, so rather than focusing on individual stories, Hecht chooses to let all the tension explode at a party that can be read as a turning point in everybody’s life.
Hecht writes his characters in need of sexual gratification and infuses them with a need for drugs of any type. I admit this sounds like a stretch sometimes, since the high recurrence of such behaviors flattens out diversities rather than creates an invisible bond between characters. This detail represents one of the flaws of the book, flaws that don’t hinder its effectiveness, but reveal Hecht’s somewhat beginner’s naivete: characters seem to all convey the same emotional range, as well as same ambitions and doubts. That is a forgivable since their backgrounds and environments help in giving each character his or her own flavor, but Hecht doesn’t seem totally in control of his own voice (but 12 different characters, one for each sign of the Chinese Zodiac, is a huge challenge for a novice).
As one of the first attempts to describe the expat life of common people, both foreigners and locals, SCMB succeeds in capturing a particular moment in time and space in which we are allowed to peek in. Hecht’s prose flows smoothly (style is simple, but not bland) and although the reading experience is always rich in details and facts, less characters and more plot would have given the book a more solid texture. Looking forward to Hecht’s sophomore effort is from now on something worth doing.
South China Morning Blues is published by Blacksmith Books. It can be purchased from Amazon or at select bookstores.
In light of so much interesting content last week, I have decided to combine an update of my book promotions with Chinglish, as well as a video below. Hope this makes for a doubly entertaining read.
Last weekend we went to Guangzhou, and enjoyed Yuexiu Park. Though there was lots of uphill walking, it’s nice to see pagodas and the beautiful nature settings. Paddleboating was most fun indeed.
And so many Chinglish signs. Glad to see that they haven’t changed the place in years 🙂
Later, it was a treat to discover this awesomely named dim sum restaurant. Delicious and PRO!!!
Finally, Saturday night I came to read ma’ book at the awesome Open Mic event at one dimly-lit hip art bar Loft345…
Always nervous to do these sorts of things, it’s even worse to record and hear myself. Do I really sound like that? Well, I did my best and that’s all that can be done; seems to work out most of the time.
This blog is a prelude of sorts. Not much in life to report as yet, but soon I hope to have some interesting autobiographical content to share.
Tomorrow I will go to the Hong Kong airport and pick up my dad. He will stay in South China for about ten days. His first time in the region. Finally, get to show off my expat life. He has no idea how epic it will be.
I saw him — as well as my mom and brother and sisters — last year in Florida at a family wedding. For me, about once a year is a good pace to meet family members.
We have a complicated relationship. Although I’m not very pleased with where I come from, at this age shouldn’t everything be fine? It’s not like I have some great trauma in my life to fret over. I’m simply not terribly proud of my mediocre background. Nevermind, moving on. Hopefully, in the near future, I can make something of my life to be proud of and get over that.
In truth, it’s rare to have visitors in China and I appreciate it. My sister came the second year I was here. My best friend visited the year after. That’s about it. If you know Americans and their typical lack of passports, it’s not easy to get them to fly across the world just to hang out. Wish more would.
My dad and I will be staying in Hong Kong the first few nights, planning to go to the Peak and the Star Walk and the Heritage Museum. Then we will cross over into Shenzhen, and I haven’t thought up all the details as yet. I often like to make it up as I go along with trips. Perhaps Dafeng art village and some crazy shopping markets. I do look forward to showing off the tremendous scale of mega-metropolitan modern China. We will also spend at least one day in nearby Guangzhou; I’m thinking of checking out the traditional buildings in Yuexiu park. Unfortunately no time for Beijing and the Great Wall & Forbidden Palace etc. Next trip I promise.
That would be the tentative plan. Gimme some time to blog more after the fact…
Despite the disappointing ‘comic con’, my little trip to Guangzhou wasn’t a total waste. In fact, I had a great time. It’s an amazing city, even bigger than the already-overwhelmingly mega cities of Shenzhen and Hong Kong. I recommend Turkish restaurants for example…
We decided to head to the Redtory/红专厂 art district, to showcase the lovely artistic side of the city. Like 798 in Beijing, it is made up of a former factory that has been refurnished into a space for galleries and hip little coffee shops. While Beijing’s version is far more successful and artistically valid, we make do with what we can in the Pearl River Delta.
To get there, simply go to Yuancun station and right outside exit B there is a shuttle bus which only costs 2 yuan. Drive through an urban village area, it’s a little out there, but transportation is very convenient.
Open 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
And then we made it!
Looks like a lot going on:
There was a quaint market, always fun to buy little trinkets and gifts.
Take a stroll to see the various shops.
Even some factory-themed readymades.
With many galleries featuring powerful works of painting, photography, and sculpture
916 Studio: The Persistence of Images curated by Wang Chuan
RMCA Hall: Black Birds exhibition by Israeli artist Avital Cnaani
The Redtory Museum of Contemporary Art featured an exhibit on “Neo-Mororism”
Tickets only 10 yuan
Lastly, I love this little mascot guy posted all over the place!
Hey, just because I’m taking it easy with blogging (am I really?) doesn’t mean no more Chinglish!
A bit from my Guangzhou trip:
One of the things I’ve missed out on by living in China is the glory of comic conventions. I went to the San Diego con — biggest in America, a number of times. I used to go to small ones in Cincinnati. Buy discount bundles of comics, get some signed by artists and writers. In San Diego, of course, many big-time celebrities to gawk at. Pretty much the funnest thing there is to do.
I did go to an animation festival in Shenzhen a few years back, and it was fun. Students making CGI films, Japanese manga translated into Chinese. But no Western comics.
With the popularity of the Marvel films all over the world, Wizard World — and I’d gone to a Wizard World in Chicago back in the day — decided to host their first convention in China at the nearby city of Guangzhou. Imagine my pleasure at hearing this!
Then imagine my extreme disappointment when I went last month and it was an abyssmal failure. 😦
Now, I didn’t expect much. Wizard World Guangzhou was beaten by the Shanghai comic con, and the reviews weren’t great. Just a bit of cosplay, toys to buy, and very little actual comics to purchase but apparently at least a few. As Marta Lives in China had written about: https://martalivesinchina.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/shanghai-comic-con/
What a long story the failure of the Guangzhou con. Where to even start?
Only a few days before schedule I’d suddenly heard that they changed venues. Guangzhou, host city of the large scale international Canton Fair, should know how to do big events. China has trade conventions all the time; I’ve been to many. Yet the new venue was suspiciously small. Apparently they built a big tent or something.
We arrived Saturday in the afternoon, and heard from friends that they’d been waiting in line in the scorching heat for several hours. Two Americans in China has more details here: http://www.twoamericansinchina.com/2015/05/the-big-con-nightmare-guangzhou-comic-con.html
Nothing but long lines. Hours and hours of this. We decided to go eat nearby, in no hurry to join the lines and wait, and gather some intel.
Finally, after hours of walking in circles just wondering if the line was even moving, the story had been pieced together. Turned out the the original venue had backed out. There were rumors they wanted to overcharge the westerners at the last minute, and/or they double-booked. Probably another stupid boring trade show about cell phone parts or something. Gosh forbid they do an exhibition with some culture.
Fanstang, the incompetent Chinese-based organization working with Wizard World (and Wizard bears responsibility too), only had time for this very small alternative location. Seemed all the vendors were cancelled. Couldn’t even buy a dang T-shirt. I never did get to see the inside, but a few others had and said it was extremely disappointing.
The only discernible point of this thing was to look at a few celebrities.
I felt silly taking pics with the crowd, but what else was there to do?
This guy is Stefon from Vampire Diaries, so I’m told. Paul Wesley.
And this girl on the right walking away is Skye from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I don’t watch. Actress Chloe Bennet.
And that is unfortunately all I got.
The biggest name was Lee Pace, Thranduil from the Hobbit and Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy. Whatever.
I took these pictures when the celebrities were leaving. It was scheduled until 6:00, I figured the last hour or so could be enjoyed there, but at 4:00 the stars got fed up and left. It was over.
The remaining crowds were not happy. It was very difficult to get a straight answer about refunds. Finally, an American in charge told me the rest of the story. The police wouldn’t let the people in, as there were something like 7000 tickets sold but the venue could only hold several hundred people. Yes, that big a discrepancy. Only “VIP” tickets would be let in the next day, which cost 500 yuan, and absolutely not worth it. They were still figuring out details on regular-priced ticket refunds and sending signed autographs or something.
In the end, what a clusterfuck. An epic China fail if ever there was one.
What bothers me the most is how much it embarrasses China. Talk about losing face. All these celebrities, who have much social capital, are left with a terrible impression of doing business in China. These people are not impressed with Guanghzou. If this worked it could have been a lot of fun for fans and opened up Western pop culture to this grand country. Instead, it reinforced the worst examples of how China is not quite yet ready to be a modern country. I’m very sorry about that, but what other conclusion can be drawn? It’s true.
The lesson is to tread carefully in China, and don’t have high expectations.
That said, with my low expectations we still had some fun in China.