2013 – My epic clusterfuck drama year: It should have been nice, I joined a writing group ad even got a newspaper job. But endless relationship drama kinda’ ruined everything, such as when I got a stalker and also some of that all-encompassing despair of heartache…
2011 and 2012, beginning with my Guangzhou year. Didn’t work out well, so I returned to Shenzhen. Meanwhile so much travel, all over Southeast Asia and returns to Israel and Japan. Plus foreshadowing in Taiwan, and Hipster Pacific Northwest too. And I go to both my sister’s wedding and my best friend’s wedding. Growing up!
2009 and 2010, the beginnings of a new decade, as I become acclimated to life in Shenzhen/Hong Kong and have fun traveling in Southeast Asia (and America), and family stuff… plus I start dating somewhat regularly. Crazy, right?
There’s a new Chinese novel, now translated to English, that has been getting a lot of buzz from Western media lately. I am proud to say that I was a part of the English-language editing process and helped bring this story into fruition:
Death Notice is by bestselling author Zhou Haohui–translated by Zac Haluza and published by Doubleday. It’s a thrilling mystery story about a vigilante-killer terrorizing the police in the city Chengdu. The twists and turns make for a great ride, and is an excellent read for any fans of Hong Kong police dramas (which is appropriate, as the upcoming film adaptation will actually take place in Hong Kong). Check it out via Amazon or your local bookstore.
I’m very honored that the translation company China Educational Publications Import & Export Corporation/CEPIEC, the same who brought famed science fiction trilogy The Three-Body Problem to the world, approached me so that I could add my take to the drafting process. Recently published by Doubleday, I hope that a new round of readers will experience what I did when I delved into the journey of Eumenides and his foes…
And, wait until you see what happens when the sequel is published next year!
Below are some links of articles about the series and the author. The New York Times being particularly impressive, also note NPR and China Daily for further perspectives.
Good readings to all–
I recently went to Hong Kong, and happened to be there during the June 4 protests commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre from 1989.
I admire the spirit of dissent in Hong Kong, one of the only places in China were it is possible, and the event was powerful. Over a hundred thousand attendees gathered in Victoria Park and it was an honor for me to be among them.
Here is a video from my humble perspective:
Hong Kong on the Brink is a memoir by an American diplomat who writes about Hong Kong in the 1960s during the tumultuous days of the Cultural Revolution. It’s a personal story with historical relevance.
The author, Syd Goldsmith, is not known as a particularly high-level diplomat. Yet his take as a Cantonese speaker at the American Consulate gives him a window into the inner workings of the time which makes this book about far more than just granting visas. With over fifty chapters, it covers a wide range showcasing both day-to-day life as well as complex international politics.
Goldsmith starts out with his backstory, explaining just how he became a Foreign Service Officer and found himself sent to Hong Kong in 1965. With an exceptional education, he decided to forego the business world and instead enter government service. He also delves into his personal life, his marriage and the birth of his first child, although those topics often seem to warrant less attention than the focus on his career (which he even admits in some critically self-reflective parts).
After a thorough screening process, he is sent to Hong Kong. It was not his first choice, but he soon starts to embrace it and studies Cantonese seriously. In the chapter entitled ‘The Tricks They Try,’ the book gets entertaining with an overview of the scams that immigrants utilized in the hopes of coming to the United States. Goldsmith always writes with no judgment. As a diplomat, he also gets to observe the high life of the rich and powerful. For the first third of the book all seems well even with the backdrop of Maoist China and the Vietnam War… Then, by chapter fifteen it is explained to him that “there was real trouble just below Hong Kong’s appearance of calm.”
The crux of the book is the communist riots of the year 1965, which is often foreshadowed until it finally explodes in the climax of the narrative.
The title of the chapter ‘The Labor Strife Boils Over’ shows an example of how economics caused much unrest in the British colony. In the following chapters it is noted how many of Mao’s infamous Little Red Books have taken over the streets. At first it may not be judged as a serious threat, but the reader can feel the rising tension.
Meanwhile, various chapters jump from one topic to another, from briefly meeting Richard Nixon to an expose of Macau. Eventually, the author becomes a sort of CIA analyst as he meets with Cold War agents to discuss what may come. Not to mention a source for journalists as the resident expert.
Goldsmith can be downright poetic at times. “It strikes me that fright can sear memory, etching it deeply into grooves,” he muses. “A needle will play it like a 33-rpm record, over and over for a lifetime. But the trauma can also reduce memory to ashes.”
I learned a lot in reading this book. There were many complicated factors that tied colonial Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China even during the heights of the Cold War. For example, even under the threat of a possible military attack they still hoped to be able to trade for water with officials across the border. But the book is still from the subjective perspective of one man, and not meant to be a complete history of all things Hong Kong during that decade. Still, a very informative perspective indeed.
Fortunately, cooler heads did prevail in the end although the city went through very challenging times. Syd Goldsmith made it. The extremism of the Cultural Revolution, as we all know, never did fully overtake Hong Kong. The cost of freedom was, however, rather high as the British ultimately seized control.
“By early 1968 Hong Kong’s emergency was pretty much behind me,” the author writers at the end of the book, as he reflects upon what he witnessed and survived.
Hong Kong on the Brink (appropriately subtitled An American diplomat relives 1967’s darkest days) is not introductory and is only recommended for those already familiar with Hong Kong and modern Chinese history. Hong Kong expats particularly curious would be most interested. For a certain kind of reader, this an excellent read.
Published by Blacksmith Books, the book is available on Amazon and at bookstores within the former colony and current special administrative region.
John Saeki, The Tiger Hunters of Tai O, Blacksmith Books, 2017. 304 pgs.
The Tiger Hunters of Tai O is a new historical novel with a unique perspective. Author John Saeki paints a colourful portrait of Hong Kong in the 1950s, capturing the spirit of the times in this page-turning police thriller. Sometimes hilarious, and sometimes deadly serious, most readers should be fascinated by the intrigue and politics of the era. Though Hong Kong—especially Tai O—has certainly changed over the past half century, locals will find this world a familiar place even while discovering new surprises and secrets uncovered about the region.
The plot ostensibly revolves around a Eurasian police officer named Simon Lee who is investigating suspicious tiger attacks. The…
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Chris Thrall’s memoir Eating Smoke (sensationally subtitled One Man’s Descent Into Drug Psychosis In Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland) was published in 2011 but resparked buzz last year when the book was adapted into a radio dramatization for Hong Kong’s RTHK station.
The memoir is about Thrall’s time in Hong Kong in the 90s when he found himself addicted to ice—that is, methamphetamine—and indeed written in the style one would expect while on speed.
It is a dazzling ride, full of flowing neon and inebriation. First, the British Royal Marine suddenly quits his military position and moves abroad with dreams of making it big in the business world. Before he knows it, his business fails and he has to start hustling. The bulk of the story consists of jumping from one sketchy employment opportunity to the next, constantly maneuvering through new scams which grow increasingly desperate. He stays in the infamous Chungking Mansions, then hangs out among the hippie scene on Lamma Island where it starts out innocently enough with some strong weed, and ends up in the seediest parts of Wan Chai addicted to crystal.
“Quiss” Thrall meets a seemingly never-ending parade of colorful characters who live on the very edge of Hong Kong society, the caliber getting lower and lower as he is dragged down to the dregs. But there are so many he meets that it becomes difficult for the reader to follow what’s going on after a while.
The subtitle of the book declares his descent into the “Triad Heartland”, but the part when he becomes a doorman for a Triad-connected club is just one section among many, which comes rather late in the book. The stakes do get higher as threats of violence and death race towards the climax.
The radio drama, an audiobook really, overall can be quite superior to the book because as an edited abridged version it can get to the point quickly and highlight the best sections. Many odd jobs are skipped over in order to focus on the Triad and drug-crazed scenes. I did miss some, such as the English-teaching episode, although that is a story that has been told before. The unique nature of Thrall’s perspective is worth focusing on, though my personal favorite was the weekend-long DJing gig in China which unfortunately didn’t make it to the radio for some reason.
The narration from RTHK is excellent, with acting that can be funny when necessary as well as solemn, and always powerful. One noted part details the time a woman passed out due to a possible overdose at the club, Thrall calls an ambulance but the boss coldly stated he just wanted her thrown out. Stories like these are best listened to and not only read, so be sure to download the free podcasts…
For the most part, Thrall remains likable through it all until perhaps the finale of the memoir when he descends deeper into madness. His greatest talent is his ability to get by in Cantonese, which grants him a window into an authentic world which most foreigners never get to see. Eating Smoke is a fascinating insight into 1990s Hong Kong that readers and listeners from all over the world would do well to appreciate.
The radio drama is available free as a downloadable podcast on the RTHK website here: http://podcast.rthk.hk/podcast/item_all.php?pid=1130
Eating Smoke is published by Blacksmith Books, and available at Hong Kong bookstores and Amazon.
Well, I have mixed feelings on this.
Published by Signal 8 Press, The 100-Pound Gangster is a remarkable memoir by former gangbanger Henry Lin. Throughout this quick read, the author details his unique Chinese-American experiences growing up in the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco, which were surprisingly rough.
Most are familiar with Chinatown as a touristy place, but specifically back in the 1990s there was serious criminal activity going on at night after all the tourists left.
This book is not your typical Chinese memoir.
The tale is very personal, written informally, and starts out with Lin’s bitter memories about his home family life aside his unstable mother and hateful older brother. Meanwhile, he had to fight against Asian stereotypes and learned right from the start to be tough as the way to survive.
The best parts of the book tell the lesser-know stories and histories of Chinese organized crime, the Triads. From the Jackson Boys to Wo Hop To, it is certainly fascinating. However, even if one starts out emphasizing with the plights of the author the book later suffers due to his increasingly unlikeable nature. True, the narrator grew up around fighting and can’t entire help that violence is always around. It starts with selling fireworks as a child, and then gets far worse… But the way Lin embraces violence—particularly against women—makes it difficult to care for him even when he apparently repents by the end. There is the disturbing focus on guns, for example, and his proximity to murder. Overall, it’s still very much worth the read to learn about this underworld.
Lin’s story gets more interesting as he rises higher and discovers family connections. There always seems to be an Uncle around to give him the leg up, and he eventually ends up in Hong Kong where he meets a Grandfather who is both high-level Triad and possibly a spy.
The story jumps around in time, then going backwards to describe his time locked up in juvie, a place with more violence where he befriends convicted killers. At sixteen, he is locked up for a stint that lasts years. During his longest time behind bars, the young Lin finally starts to reform as he finds hope by writing for prison magazine, and later he’s lucky enough to be selected for a troubled youth school. When he is let out, older and wiser but still quite young, he gets a new start and there are lessons learned which does improve his character.
Yet there is always hustling, or a “one last big heist” crazy story–it seems he can’t get away from money-making schemes. The marijuana game at least is relatively tame compared to the more hardcore gang activities of his peers, and Lin knows this. A large portion of his writing is devoted to how he feels for his former comrades-in-arms caught up in bigger messes, but that may not be something most readers will get. Even if considering The 100-Pound Gangster to be a true crime nonfiction book, it lacks the objectivity for that genre. And so the reader is left conflicted about the quality of the book.
Another issue is that there is a brief mention of romantic elements but only barely glossed over. I would have liked to read more about Lin’s private life which would make him more well-rounded, since this is supposed to be a memoir. But Lin priorities in his writing are clear.
In the final chapter, there is much moralizing as he reflects and wraps it all up. To be honest, the moralizing doesn’t ring true after all reading all that he previously went through. One never gets the sense, despite his intelligence and potential for good, that he truly is that much of a decent person.
That said, Henry Lin is certainly has an incredible story to tell and he does so with brutal honesty. It wouldn’t be an interesting crime tell-all if he wasn’t who he was.
In any case, this is some memoir.
The 100-Pound Gangster is available on Amazon
2016 was, to say the least, a tumultuous year.
It’s already something of a meme to say that 2016 sucks so much. And yeah, that’s largely true specifically in the political sense anyway.
However, in my personal life I can definitely declare that though it’s been hard I can claim lot of positive growth over the past year. I traveled the world, I promoted some writing, I published here and there, wrote another book, and I even moved in with my girlfriend!
There has been a lot on this very blog worth share. I reviewed, I interviewed. And although at this stage it’s hard to say if it will lead anywhere, one of my personal productive favorites of the year was starting anew on my hobby of drawing silly little comics.
In thinking over this arbitrary marking of the Earth going around the sun that we all mark on our calendars, I have thought about it most nostalgically and created a list of links below. Here, a few posts that stand out to me to sum up the crazy intensities of this most epically year:
In February, right after Chinese New Year, I was lucky enough to be detained by the Chinese police after attending an unlicensed rave party. I tested negative for drugs and was soon released, while sadly others I knew tested positive, leaving me with the opportunity to write what proved to be my most popular piece of writing ever. The guys over at Reddit China were somewhat opinionated. But I had my say.
Hey it even led to a piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal.
With my novel South China Morning Blues published — from Blacksmith Books, Hong Kong — in late 2015, I was very focused on promoting the book all over Shenzhen (and Guangzhou, and Hong Kong) over the beginning of the following year and on. It was a big part of my job for months on end. The highlight was definitely in March when I went to both Beijing and Chengdu for a little get-together known as the Bookworm Literary Festival.
The travel it did continue. I visited the great country/not country of Taiwan as part of my girlfriend Bronwen’s art residency in May. Absolutely wonderful place. There will be more on Taiwan come the next new year.
And in June it was time to go to Israel for the bi-annual visiting of the family. What a trip I met some little nieces and nephews, saw my parents, had emotions, all the while some legal complications came up and had to be dealt with.
One event that really stood out in the summer was the art exhibition by Bronwen and some other locally sourced artists over at Sin Sin Fine Art in Hong Kong. Great work. I happened to write an article about it.
At last, the dreaded subject of American politics. Over the second half of 2016, I carried on with my life and moved and wrote and promoted, meanwhile in America (totally affecting the rest of the world) it all went well and truly insane. I became rather consumed in following the politics of the horrible election cycle. Finally, of all things, I was forced to start writing political columns. The anxieties of the day before, then November’s horrific results, and a touch of conspiracy theory commentary.
Sadly, at this rate I will probably have yet more to say in 2017. A lot more. Despite the apocalyptic scenarios at hand, I’ll try to be optimistic about the new year. What’s certainly true is that nobody knows what will happen next.
Thus was the year. I and you survived. Thanks for paying attention to me and my humble perspective. On a concluding note, let us mourn the actual concept of truth and facts with this cartoon by Tom Tomorrow… RIP truth~
Good luck to 2017, we’ll need it!
On my last trip to Hong Kong, I was lucky enough to go to the exhibition from the late David Bowie’s private art collection. It was at Sotheby’s HK location at Pacific Place near the Admiralty area.
Although I didn’t auction any of the pieces, it was a great experience to be able to witness works of art that Bowie had personally owned!
Really fascinating works. The man had an incredible aesthetic, as we all know. The Basquiat pieces particularly stood out:
And there was even a work of art that Bowie collaborated on with Damien Hirst:
More information can be found here: http://www.sothebys.com/en/news-video/blogs/all-blogs/bowie-collector/2016/10/bowie-collector-highlights-on-view-in-hong-kong.html
Unfortunately, the exhibition was only on for one week and I believe it has since moved to London. If you happen to get the chance to see it there, I highly recommend it.
Lastly, do please check out this slideshow:
Of Gods and Mobsters is a 2013 anthology of short stories published by the Hong Kong Writers Circle (you may recall that I participated in a podcast for the HK-based literary society). The Writers Circle publishes anthologies on an annual basis, and this volume in particular was recommended to me. I am pleased to report that the stories are excellent and the quality of writing coming out of Hong Kong is very high indeed.
The stories are grouped together into three parts: Of Gods, Of Tales, and Of Mobsters. Broadly speaking, the stories are split between the genres of magical realism and crime. The pervading theme throughout all are unique examinations of modern cosmopolitan experience—specifically within the strange land of contradictions that is Hong Kong.
The first and longest part tells stories of Western mythology in this Eastern-yet-international setting, which range from James Joyce-esque references to Neil Gaiman-style stories of ancient gods in the contemporary era. Several stories star the Mount Olympus pantheon, starting with Reena Bhojwani’s Hidden in the Night, an entertaining romp about Apollo and Zeus and Hera interacting in the city. Makes for very interesting juxtaposition.
The middle section, Of Tales, still fits with the style of the rest of the book. Aber Revisited by Joy Al-Sofi is a fable in the style of Kipling full of talking tigers, yet the tiger is represents Chinese symbolism. One of the best stories is The Standard by the anthology’s editor SCC Overton, a tragic science fiction romance about the fascinating concept of ethnic minority DNA becoming the future currency standard. It is a genre-bending story, very literary and very poignant. A futuristic banker of all people falls in love with a woman who is a Hakka specimen carrying her people’s genome for the sake of the economy. What a way to capture the essence of Hong Kong.
The final part Of Mobsters exemplifies the spirit of such themes by taking a myriad of story-telling directions. Some mystery, some even satire. Midlife Triad by James Tam is about gangsters in jail who are fans of ‘wuxia’ pulp stories. Guanxi by Edmund Price contrasts the rich (literately) high-life on the Peak, with corrupt Filipinos who break into the world of one wealthy man. I found The Curious Resemblance to the Case of the Speckled Band by Kim Grant very charming, an amusing postmodern take on Sherlock Holmes about a fan who happens to named Holmes who bumbles and strives to be a detective, and actually has a wife named Watson. And The House by Melanie Ho references the board game Clue (known as Cluedo in some countries).
Perhaps the best is saved for last with Ian Greenfield’s story Mr Tse and the Pied Piper of Homantin, which ties the entire anthology together well. The story is both a crime story, and an homage to fairy tales of old. A great satire full of quips on Hong Kongers complex relationship with mainlanders, the shallowness of pop stars, and the prevalence of parent’s dependence on tutors. Ostensibly a retelling of the Pied Piper (also with Snow White, Miss Muffet, and even vampires therein), Mr Tse finds a way to use its structure lambaste nearly everyone in Hong Kong.
Like any anthology, Of Gods and Mobsters has many different short stories of various styles and each may not suit all readers. However, no matter a reader’s preference it cannot be denied that the quality is always high. Not to mention, there are also poems of depth sprinkled within for yet more diversity if one isn’t just into prose. The only major criticism, as it goes with expat literature, is that much of it might only make sense if the audience is familiar with the area. One frequent phrase is “Fragrant Harbour”, which of course is a literal translation of the characters for Hong Kong, but that wouldn’t necessarily be known to most around the world. Nonetheless, for fans of the region the book is sure to have many stories exemplifying the spirit of 香港…
Available in Hong Kong bookstores and on Amazon.com.
“ASSEMBLING,” an international art exhibition bringing together four Shenzhen-based artists, is being held at Sin Sin Fine Art in Hong Kong, and features an array of works that were assembled to complement one another.
The exhibition showcases four young artists from various countries who now call Shenzhen their home: Bronwen Shelwell, Marco Flagg, Tom Hayes and Zhang Kaiqin. The works of art are diverse, ranging from hanging installations to glass sculptures and even a piece made with growing seeds.
Curator Shelwell, who has lived in Shenzhen off and on since 2002, is very familiar with the city and also has experienced working in the art industry in Hong Kong. She currently lectures on art and design at SIFC.
“I’ve worked with Sinsin Man [owner of Sin Sin Fine Art] in the past, and have always been a great admirer of her,” she said. “When she asked me to curate an exhibition in her space, I was very honored and excited. We wanted to put together a group of artists who live in Shenzhen; the challenge was finding artists who are from different countries and work in different mediums.”
Shelwell has a number of her own pieces on display. The centerpiece of “Assembling” would have to be the hanging installation, “One Minute Suspended.”
Powerful in scale and complexity, it has 375 individual balls covered in shards of glass hanging from the ceiling, like a massive Newton’s Cradle. The balls are arranged in a specific pattern, as Shelwell explained. “During our preliminary meetings, Flagg recorded and documented the conversation. My idea for the installation was to take the central minute of that entire conversation and create a pattern based on the soundwaves. The middle line is perfectly straight, and the outer lines of balls follow the patterns of speech of the recorded minute.”
She also has other pieces. There is a wide glass panel with melted red copper inside called “Of Coming Together and Having to Part,” which was created in a factory in Foshan.
Shelwell talked about the process of creating it, “I first arranged fiberglass foam into a wave, and then put two pieces of glass with copper sheets in the middle. Glass has the ability to look incredibly soft while actually being very hard and sharp, and I’ve always been interested in pushing the boundaries of appearance and reality. My other pieces also explore a similar concept with glass in movement and expanding out of a surface.”
Shelwell’s other pieces are a set of three paintings that incorporate shards of glass, entitled “Within,” “Pause” and “Expand.”
Flagg is an American multimedia artist. His hometown is Albany, New York, and he’s been living in China for nearly a decade. Socially conscious, he studied documentary photography, and originally came to China with an NGO that worked in rural education. After first living in Beijing, he’s been in Shenzhen since 2009. His work is a video art piece called “Emergent.”
Among the most striking at the exhibition, “Emergent” is the only piece to incorporate sound. When one enters the space, a flat TV screen draws the eye with a hypnotizing array of animated colors. The accompanying headphones then welcome audience members to listen to a multi-layered conversation. Altogether it is a 1:48 loop which overlaps footage and audio recordings.
He explained the piece at length: “What I’m exhibiting is a multimedia piece called ‘Emergent’ which is documenting the initial meeting of the artists involved in this exhibition. All of us were given a selection of writing to respond to by the curator Bronwen … in a kind of round-table discussion at the gallery itself. I documented the audio and the video, and created the piece as a way to capture the exchange of ideas between these artists.”
Flagg also added the use of spectrometer display footage, switching around the senses of sight and sound. “A spectrometer basically displays the audio visually. With colors, red is more intense or a higher sound. Blue is a less intense or lower pitch sound.”
Flagg indeed finds Shenzhen to be an inspiring place for his style of art. “It’s rapidly developing,” he explained. “While some cities have more so-called traditional culture, Shenzhen is reacting to the issues of the current day in China. We can see that energy in the city. It’s very inspiring.”
Tom Hayes came from Britain to China in 2011 to study ceramics and previously managed the residency program at Da Wang Culture Highland at Wutong Mountain in Shenzhen. “Geoscroll,” a long scroll that uses Chinese iconography, is one of his signature pieces. “Sunplot” is more experimental and incorporates nature. Soy bean seeds planted in a circle represent the gathering of artists, and throughout the month as the plants grow, the art will also always be changing until both eventually disintegrate. “My work seems to be quite focused on processes and materials,” Hayes said. “I’m interested in transience and cycles in nature, and I find that working this way allows me to better communicate these feelings.”
Zhang Kaiqin is from Yunnan, China and has been living in Shenzhen for over 10 years. She studied in the United States, and currently works on the Baishizhou urban art project Handshake 302. Her painting, “An Afternoon in Summer,” is a layered rice paper canvas on which she applied watercolor and beeswax. The piece is light and airy, almost translucent, but upon closer inspection one can see its complexity.
It is fascinating to see how the artists use such a variety of mediums and backgrounds to express the theme of coming together.
“Assembling” will be on exhibit until Aug. 21 at Sin Sin Fine Art at 52 Sai Street in Central, Hong Kong. More information can be found at the gallery website: Sinsinfineart.com.
Been a while since I published something from Shenzhen Daily, but I do have something in today’s edition. Basically I copy-pasted the press release and rewrote some quick bios, and they gave me the credit!
Also, please do check out the exhibition opening release party in Hong Kong, Friday July 22 to meet the talented artists…
Four artists who reside in Shenzhen — three expatriates and one Chinese — will showcase their art at Sin Sin Fine Art in Hong Kong from July 22 to Aug. 21.
Entitled “Assembling,” the exhibition will include ceramic, glass, installation, multimedia and painting, all assembled to connect with one another. Each artist has a unique perspective while sharing the same thread of chance that brought them together, with the content of “Assembling” all collaborating and complementing one another.
The opening reception will be held July 22 at 6:30 p.m. and will feature a performance by Spanish dancer Beatriz Abad Latorre. On Saturday, July 23 at 3 p.m. the artists will meet to discuss how the city of Shenzhen has impacted their work, life and creativity.
Bronwen Shelwell, who is from South Africa and works primarily with glass, is the curator as well as an artist and has a series of glass sculptures. Marco Flagg, a multimedia artist from the United States, will present a video art piece. Tom Hayes from Britain specializes in ceramics, and has produced a “living” sculpture that will grow during the exhibition dates. Zhang Kaiqin is a Chinese artist from Yunnan Province and she will exhibit a contemporary watercolor painting.
Dates: July 22-Aug. 21 (closed Sundays)
Opening reception: 6:30-8:30 p.m., July 22
Discussion panel: 3-5 p.m., July 23
Venue: Sin Sin Fine Art, G/F, 52 Sai Street, Central, Hong Kong
MTR: Sheung Wan Station, Exit A1
Our interview today is with the well-traveled Hilton Yip who blogs @–
My Take: hcyip.wordpress.com
He currently resides in the nearby city of Hong Kong and was nice enough to talk with me about writing and seeing the world. I’m happy to introduce him herein!
How long have you been writing?
I started writing in university and my first published article in a non-student publication was in 2008. I wrote for the main college student newspaper. I wrote for the news team, but I also did opinion, arts and travel pieces too. When I think about it, that’s how my writing and my blogging have developed, in that I’m interested in a few different fields and I write about different things.
How did you get started in blogging?
When I was in university, a lot of people I knew had one so I felt it’d be good to have one as well. Since then, I’ve continued blogging.
My first blog was mainly about personal stuff with a bit of political rants. Some of it is probably embarrassing, but when you’re that age and you’re new to a form of social media as blogs were then, it’s easy to get caught up and write whatever nonsense comes to your mind. The people I knew mostly wrote about personal things too, but I also remember reading some really interesting geopolitical blogs. It’s kind of a pity that blogging doesn’t seem too popular, for instance a lot of China-based expat blogs I knew from a few years ago have stopped, but at least WordPress, which I also use, is still going strong.
You used to live in Beijing, and now live in Hong Kong. How do you feel each place compares when it comes to literary inspiration?
I’ve only been in HK for several months so there’s probably a lot more I need to find out. I think HK feels more hectic and smaller than Beijing but more international, whereas Beijing is more historic, is the capital of China so you’ve got tons of people from all over the country, and is still developing.
Beijing is at least 800 years old as a city. It’s full of centuries-old sites like the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and the hutongs. On the other hand, it is still a city in flux with a lot of strata in society from the obscenely powerful to well-off, urbane folks to migrant workers, educated and not-so-educated. The city itself is still growing in terms of both buildings and people, so much so that it wants to reduce its population. Hong Kong is more international in the sense that besides a large and established expat population and Western restaurants and stores, it has a longstanding Western heritage due to its colonial past.
You have a lot of published articles, as well as personal travel blogs. Is there anything you like better about writing your own blogs as opposed to writing for pay?
Yes, certainly. Writing on my blog allows me to write about anything I want or feel like. Of course, when I write for pay, I usually write about topics that interest me. I’d never write about something I didn’t believe in. But with blogging, there are absolutely no constraints such as word limits or deadlines except in your own mind.
But I have written a few feature articles including couple about Taiwan that I feel proud of, not because it’s spectacular but because it took a lot of time, effort and interviews. One was about English-language programs in Taiwan-taiwanreview.nat.gov.tw.
The other one was about mainland students studying in Taiwan fulltime, one year after they were allowed to do so: taiwanreview.nat.gov.tw. Mind you, these are for a Taiwan state magazine so it may not be accessible without a VPN from China. I’ve done about a dozen travel articles and two of my travel pieces – Travel: Milan, Italy
What kind of places are your favorite to visit?
I like cities with a lot of history and that are bustling, but which are also attractive. Nanjing is my favorite city in China precisely because it has both history and pleasant scenery and streets. In terms of natural places, I like hills and mountains. That is one really good thing about Hong Kong that not many people outside of HK know- that it’s got a lot of good hills to hike with great scenery.
It may sound boring but I really like history museums and I always make sure to visit one whenever I’m in cities, especially major ones. No matter whether it be Tokyo, Seoul, London, Cape Town, Nanjing, Shanghai or even Hong Kong, I always make sure to check out history museums. In general though, I like cities that have a lot of history like Rome, Nanjing and Hanoi and historical landmarks like palaces, ancient structures and old city walls. For instance, I would say the best thing about Xian is not the terracotta warriors but the drum and bell towers, the nearby Muslim quarter, and the city walls. Of course, I like other things like interesting buildings and skyscrapers and especially old neighborhoods where you can walk around and explore.
What kind of places are your least favorite to visit?
There hasn’t been a country that I visited and I didn’t like. Now I don’t quite like China, but that’s from living there, not from traveling. I’m generally open to different kinds of places, but I admit I’m not much of a cafe person. I don’t mind meeting up with people in cafes but I won’t visit a neighborhood for its cafes; I’m not a cafe coffee drinker and I don’t have the habit of doing work like writing in them.
What exotic locales can we expect to see on your blog next; any interesting travel plans?
I haven’t decided on any trips for the near future, since I did a lot of traveling late last year and earlier this year (Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Italy, France). I hope to visit India though that’ll probably be next year.