Review: The 100-Pound Gangster – a crime story memoir

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

Reflections on the year 2016

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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!

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Exhibition of David Bowie’s private art collection

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.

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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:

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And there was even a work of art that Bowie collaborated on with Damien Hirst:

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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:

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Of Gods and Mobsters by the Hong Kong Writers Circle

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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.

 

 

 

Hong Kong ASSEMBLING Art Exhibition Features Shenzhen-Based Artists

http://szdaily.sznews.com/html/2016-07/28/content_3581798.htm

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“Of Coming Together and Having to Part” glass panel by Bronwen Shelwell, underneath the entrance to the gallery.

 

“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.”

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“One Minute Suspended” hanging instillation by Bronwen Shelwell above “Geoscroll” by Tom Hayes in the center of the gallery.

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.”

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“Pause” carefully arranges glass shards on a metal print in seemingly random yet controlled pattern.

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.

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“Emergent” video art piece by photographer Marco Flagg.

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.”

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Seeds grow into beans for Tom Hayes’ “Sunplot,” a living piece of art.

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.

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“An Afternoon in Summer” by Chinese artist Zhang Kaiqin, made from watercolor and beeswax.

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.

 

 

ASSEMBLING 貳 +叁 = 伍: Shenzhen-based artists exhibit in Hong Kong

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…

 

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“Expand” by Bronwen Shelwell

http://szdaily.sznews.com/html/2016-07/14/content_3571221.htm

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
Admission: Free
Venue: Sin Sin Fine Art, G/F, 52 Sai Street, Central, Hong Kong
MTR: Sheung Wan Station, Exit A1

 

http://sinsinfineart.com/2016/assembling/assembling-eInvitation.html

Interview with My Take’s Hilton Yip

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!

 

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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.

Most of my for-pay articles have been either travel, book reviews and opinion pieces.
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
http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/855345.shtml.

 

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.

Sri Lanka was my last overseas trip and it was in January. It was my first time there and after hearing and reading a lot of good things from other people who went, I’m glad to say a lot of it is true. It’s really attractive and got an awesome combination of history, mountains and nice beaches. My favorite places there were Galle, a seaside fort community, the Hill Country (Nuwara Eliya (a town in the mountains featuring tea plantations), and Sigiriya, ahistoric fortress.

I went to Europe late last year, my first time there, and it was much better than what I’d expected. I went to several countries including France, Italy and Germany. I liked all of them but I really enjoyed Italy. As I said, I like historical structures, and in Rome, there is so much. I mean, in China, even ancient cities like Xi;an and Beijing, as interesting as they are, don’t retain much historical structures in comparison. I also really enjoyed the food and I found the cathedrals and the art spectacular. Also, the sense of good style and design, not that I am an expert, in Italy was everywhere. Even walking on a shabby street, I’d see houses that look much nicer than what you see in Asia. Honestly, Asian cities just don’t have that kind of beauty.

 

Book Review: Umbrellas in Bloom

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https://thenanfang.com/book-review-umbrellas-bloom/

 

Jason Y. Ng is the author of HONG KONG State of Mind and No City for Slow Men, and has now rounded out a trilogy with Umbrellas in Bloom: Hong Kong’s Occupy Movement Uncovered (all published by Blacksmith Books).

While his previous books simply described modern Hong Kong social dynamics, the latest is explicitly political and an altogether different style than the others. Now that he has written book-length political commentary, Ng has become a crucial player by being first to record the 2014 “Occupy Central” protest movement in any English-language book. It is certainly a must-read.

Umbrellas in Bloom covers a lot of ground. The complex political system of Hong Kong is detailed in very readable fashion, with all the grievances spelled out. Various charts explain how the economy has left the majority of citizens behind, and why so many were upset enough to camp out in protest for all those months. Most of all, the mainland Chinese government is shown to blame for suppressing universal suffrage for the former colony under the so-called “one country, two systems.” Indeed, observers of Beijing and Asia as a whole would do well to read this book and understand the climate of Beijing in relation to Hong Kong.

The language of the book does reflect a specific point of view; do not mistake it as a scholarly, objective report. Ng delves deeply into his unique experiences and certainly takes sides. It makes for a good read, and it’s refreshing that he does not censor himself and expresses his informed opinion with confidence. Perhaps there is an element of preaching to the choir, even getting repetitive at times—“blue ribbon” supporters probably won’t change their minds after reading—but for international readers seeking to understand, the writing style works.

The book is very personal as well. It begins on September 28th, 2014, the day tear gas was fired into crowds as the whole world watched in horror. Then, the tone jumps around as it looks back on the history of Hong Kong politics. The central villain is Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, known as a corrupt stooge of the mainland Chinese government, although the entirety of the Legco system in Hong Kong is highly unrepresentative. As 2017 approached—the promised time for universal suffrage, the Occupy Central movement grew. There was also the Scholarism student movement, led by famous student Joshua Wong (Wong wrote one of the book’s forwards). Then the tale of three villages: the occupied areas of Admiralty, Mongkok, and Causeway Bay. Different ideologies and challenges are showcased, from the police to thugs and internal struggles between different factions and nativists. Some of the most heartwarming sections are about the young people he met, such as Kent and Renee and Hinson, engaging characters all.

In the end, due to a court order of all things, the Admiralty occupation fell. Four days later, on December 15th, the police cleared out the other encampments and the Umbrella Revolution was left to ponder its own legacy. Ng is quite optimistic; surprising considering nothing on paper seemed to get enacted yet, but he does point out that other famous social justice movements throughout history took decades to achieve their goals. His conclusion is definitely that it was worth a try. “The 11 weeks I spent in Umbrellaville were the happiest in all my years in Hong Kong,” he writes. Perhaps the soul of Hong Kong has been changed in subtle ways that are not clear yet, but in the long run history will prove that things did change…

There is so much to learn from Umbrellas in Bloom. However subjective, it is definitely required reading for expats and Sinologists. Whether you were there or only watched on the news from afar, the fallout is still occurring today and enlightened observers should learn what they can.

Highly recommended for all China watchers.

Umbrellas in Bloom is available in Hong Kong bookstores, and can be ordered from Blacksmith Books.

Hong Kong Writers Circle Podcast

A couple of weeks ago I went down to Hong Kong in order to participate in an interview with the Hong Kong Writers Circle. I met SCC Overton, editor of their anthology (latest being Of Gods and Mobsters which I look forward to reading), and we had a great discussion about my novel South China Morning Blues and the craft or writing.

(Although one never does like how one sounds when recorded…)

It is online now, and I am pleased to share. Please have a listen and check out the site as well:

 

http://www.hkwriterscircle.com/hkwc-podcast-16-south-china-morning-blues/

 

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Asian Book Blog: 500 Words

500 words from Ray Hecht

http://www.asianbooksblog.com/2016/04/500-words-from-ray-hecht.html

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.

Cha: Asian literary journal review of South China Morning Blues – Different Shades of Blue

From the March 2016 edition of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal

http://www.asiancha.com/content/view/2349/541/

 

Different Shades of Blue: Ray Hecht’s South China Morning Blues

  by Kathy Wong

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Ray Hecht, South China Morning Blues, Blacksmith Books, 2015. 352 pgs.

South China Morning Blues is Ray Hecht’s debut novel and revolves around expatriates living in the Pearl River Delta region where Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are situated. Compared to Shanghai and Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen have been less written about in literary works in English. Even when the Pearl River Delta region has been featured, it often serves as a historical backdrop for the political vicissitudes of the early 20th century. Yet, Hecht’s novel shines a spotlight on contemporary Guangzhou and Shenzhen, together with Hong Kong, which are becoming more popular for expatriates looking for a piece of the Chinese Dream. Hecht avoids the clichéd portrayal of the challenges and difficulties faced by expats abroad; instead, with carefully crafted storytelling featuring multiple voices, he leads us through interlocking narratives which depict what life is really like when foreigners are immersed in the Southern Chinese world of the 21st century.

Hecht, who has lived in China for several years, makes use of personal experiences, hearsay, research and his own imagination to create a novel about young expatriates and local Chinese as they struggle and find their way through hardship and temptation. The novel is divided into three sections, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Each of the three cities depicted by Hecht exudes its own unique idiosyncratic features—Shenzhen, the fast-changing and westernising metropolis; Guangzhou, the traditional capital striving for rejuvenation and globalisation; Hong Kong, the hedonistic and frustrated modern gateway between East and West. But the differences between the cities lie not only in the textures of their cityscapes and geopolitical positions, but also in how social relations between locals and foreigners are interwoven.

As hinted at by the title of the novel, South China Morning Blues is filled with the different sorts of ‘blues’ faced by expatriates in the three cities, such as language barriers, cultural shocks and biases, as well as dark moments to do with casual hook-ups, prostitution and alcohol and drug abuse. Hecht strategically sheds light on life in the region by adopting a multifaceted narrative mode: he creates a chain of interlocking stories told by a dozen narrators. Twelve sets of subjective experiences related to expatriate communities are represented—not only foreigners from different cultural backgrounds are given a voice, but local Chinese residents, including those who do not speak much English, are also heard. Interestingly, each of these characters is assigned one of the twelve Chinese zodiac signs at the beginning of the novel, and as the story progresses, each is signified by his or her zodiac sign rather than their real name. This intriguing conceit creates a sense that twelve anonymous and universal archetypes are interwoven to form a coherent narrative.

The novel starts with a nightclub encounter, followed by a one-night stand between Marco, an American expatriate businessman, and Sheila, a local Chinese woman, in Shenzhen. In this episode, rather than giving detailed sensual descriptions from the foreigner’s perspective, Hecht switches between the two characters’ viewpoints. There is not much actual dialogue between them; instead, Marco and Sheila each reveal their own unspoken thoughts:

  兔 [Hare, representing Sheila]

  The sex feels okay. I like the style of his home. It’s very big and neat. I suppose that a cleaning lady must come here every day. What did he say his job is? I didn’t understand.

  虎 [Tiger, representing Marco]

  The sex feels awesome. I’m so turned on that I’m going to cum any second. She’s skinny, no ounce of fat on her. I love that flat stomach. She didn’t put up any resistance. Totally into it! Goddamn, I still have the charm!

Switching perspectives in this fashion not only creates a swift and breathless rhythm for the erotic encounter, but also functions as a tool to juxtapose two sets of competing opinions. Indeed, this experimental narrative mode is what makes the novel so original. Through this storytelling technique, Hecht invents alternative spaces in which individuals’ candid judgments, if not biases, are revealed.

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2015 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture

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I recently went to see an exhibition at the 2015 Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture in Shenzhen. Formerly a flour factory, the reapproriated factory space (which is often a thing in China) was amazing. Who knew the Shekou Ferry area, ala 蛇口客运码头 Exit D1, could host such brilliant works?

Mary Ann O’Donnell of Shenzhen Noted and Handshake 302 Art Space (located in my neighborhood of Baishizhou) introduced the “n=distortion” exhibit — produced by  several young artists around the Pearl River Delta who came together for an ensemble piece to represent the region…

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It was very interesting to see how artists from Hong Kong, Dong’guan, Zhuhai, Foshan, and other nearby cities took their budgets to create unique representations of their respective locales. From Shenzhen’s shallow barber pole — all about money — to Macau’s small but flashy attempt to seek attention, each came together to form a whole which one artist could never come up with his or herself. I particualrly enjoyed Guangzhou’s bamboo construction made out of chopsticks. In the end they were presented upon a boat in the main hall.

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The main building hall was massive in scale, multiple floors, dynamic installations, and herein it’s difficult to express in pictures. The theme being “Re-living the City,” many of these pieces are meant to be interactive, with audience members walking through and even adding to the experience by way of turning musical knobs or drawing in chalk. Do put aside a lot of time to absorb the full experience when you come on by.

I hope the following slideshow inspires further interest:

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The exhibition will continue until February 28th, full of many workshops and talks scheduled. I will make the time to visit again, and if you’re in the area I highly recommend that you do too!

See official link for more details – http://en.szhkbiennale.org/

 

(Related: n=distortion web page)

(Shenzhen Daily article)

theNanfang.com: SCMB a Glimpse Into Expat Life in a Fast-Changing PRD

South China Morning Blues a Glimpse Into Expat Life in a Fast-Changing Pearl River Delta

https://thenanfang.com/south-china-morning-blues-a-glimpse-into-expat-life-in-a-fast-changing-pearl-river-delta/

Luigi Mondino , December 21, 2015

Luigi Mondino

 

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.

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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.

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

Radio Interview on Morning Brew in Hong Kong

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Last Friday, I was honored to be invited to Phil Whelan’s Morning Brew show on Radio 3 in Hong Kong.

I was a bit nervous, but after doing a half-dozen odd promotional events for my novel South China Morning Blues I have indeed been getting better at this public speaking thing.

It was only less than a half-hour, and we talked fast. That’s how radio goes. Just hope I could keep up! Phil was nice, and spurred on a very interesting conversation. The topics were varied, as we delved into people-watching then censorship then about what can be gotten away with on television. Finally we went back to the topic of my book and I read a short excerpt.

I think it actually went well! I would love to do more shows like this in the future, if anyone will have me…

But I’m still not ready for a podcast.

 

Please check out the link below and click on the listening portion that says Ray Hecht – South China Morning Blues:

http://programme.rthk.hk/channel/radio/programme.php?name=radio3/morning_brew&d=2015-12-04&p=2505&e=335512&m=episode

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