Eating Smoke: review of memoir, and audio

 

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.

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Book review: PET. a memoir of love and sex and domination

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When I came across “The Lesbian Pickup Artist” Flye Hudson’s guest post on SpeakingofChina.com which included an excerpt from the book PET., I was surprised to see the worlds of AMWF blogging (Asian Male White Female) overlap with the PUA scene (Pickup Artists). I’m not terribly familiar with pickup artists, but like many males I read Neil Strauss’s famous book The Game and tried to incorporate some of the advice without putting in too much effort embracing it. As a student of human nature, it’s certainly an interesting phenomenon. And that’s without even getting into misogynistic controversies.

PET. is a memoir by Flye Hudson about her experiences loving a professional pickup artist who happens to be a Taiwanese-American. It is definitely not a how-to guidebook, but simply an avenue for Hudson to express all that she went through in this tumultuous romance – some of which gets quite dark. It is intensely honest, even while names and locations are renamed, but feelings are the point and the honesty gets brutal.

The story begins by detailing the perils of online dating. Hudson, a bisexual woman of college age, posts on a fetish site that she prefers Asian men and only one guy stands out. Called Ryder Chan in the book, he soon explains that he wants a dominant-submissive relationship. Much of the memoir is about that as much as pickup. The Taiwanese/Chinese cultural side is minimal, with some scenes about the family but many people in America have an immigrant background and it’s not the central theme. The true focus is its about a submissive woman who falls in love with a hardcore dominant man, and all the conflict that enfolds from that dynamic.

Her lover is a rather unique individual, and makes her his “pet.” They engage in many sexual adventures which make for a good read. Lots of drama concerning multiple threesomes, hooking up with exes, cheating, his pickup artist history, and trying to work out a sort of open relationship on his terms. Hudson’s narration is often more about feelings than about detailed descriptions, and those feelings tend to range from intense love to intense self-loathing. The invisible “Borderline” is even a character of sorts, not a bad literary technique.

The biggest criticism in my view is that Ryder Chan is not much of a likable person at all. Hudson goes on and on about how much she loves him and the power of his love and being accepted, but judging from the stories shared he is usually rather cruel to her. There is so much talk of loyalty, again and again he gives orders and demands loyalty, and it’s hard to understand what the great appeal is. Basically, the love angle is an example of when writing is telling not showing, as so much of the text talks about love without showing stories that prove it. Even in the worst moment – without giving away spoilers – Chan basically drives the narrator to her worst point in her life and then saves her from it after the fact.

Although, it could be that as a more vanilla reader myself I just don’t understand the whole dom thing. PET. Is also about the author’s journey to be accepted for who she is, darkness and all, and her lovelife is her choice. Perhaps the point is that Flye Hudson loves him, not the readers.

One other disconcerting aspect that must be said is the PUA tendency to rate women by looks. It is a sexual memoir and I do admit I enjoy reading descriptions of beautiful women in intimate scenes.And there’s nothing wrong with having tastes and preferences. But on the other hand, berating women for not being hot in certain parts seems unnecessarily cruel and feels somewhat disappointing coming from a woman author.

All in all, PET. is a self-published memoir which is a vehicle for the author to express herself. It seems to be totally successful at that. The writing is casually and amateur and melodramatic sometimes, it could use some editing, but ultimately the subject matter is so damn interesting that the book is totally worth the read. For anyone curious about alternative lifestyles, whether or not readers themselves would necessarily embrace that sort of thing, it comes quite recommended.

Available on Amazon.

Book Review: Year of the Fire Dragons

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https://thenanfang.com/year-fire-dragons-memoir-documents-expat-life-hong-kong/

 

Year of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming of Age in Hong Kong is a new memoir by Hong Kong-based American writer Shannon Young, who is also editor of the anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?

In Year of the Fire Dragons, Young gets very personal, and begins with the romantic story of meeting a Hong Konger named Ben in London. The long distance relationship continues while she intimately explores the Special Administrative Region.

The book details Young’s time as a NET teacher (Native English Teacher) in her first year in Hong Kong as she figures out how to maneuver the city. With an outsider’s perspective, she gives vivid descriptions of shopping markets, embraces the glamour of Central, learns about tensions with the mainland, discovers cultural differences in teaching, and travels the world.

The prose is often fanciful, with lines such as, “The humidity surrounded me like steam pouring out of a broken dumpling,” and, “As the sun dipped toward the horizon, we fell silent, watching the way it reflected through the quiet ripples marking our passage.”

Young is a talented writer. Her knowledge of food in particular truly gets to the core of Hong Kong culture. However, she can get lost in details at times, with scattered chapters ranging from Cantonese classes to clubbing in Lan Kwai Fong. She repeatedly introduces various friends over drinks and then we never see them again in the course of the book. Of course, it is a memoir and real life often doesn’t translate into novel-style story structure. Still, one of the most intriguing and consistent subplots is about her sister’s expat romance and wedding, which contrasts with Young’s own relationship.

The main bulk of the narrative concerns the challenges of having a long-distance partner, focusing on the tragic irony that her boyfriend Ben is from Hong Kong yet she lives there and he doesn’t. As the book progresses, Young finds it harder and harder to defend the two-year plus relationship to her coworkers and friends. No spoilers how it all turns out, but rest assured Young’s perspective is always optimistic despite tough times.

One of the most interesting parts comes in the midpoint when Young reveals her roots: her father was born in Hong Kong (though not raised there). Quotes from the letters of her Asia-traveling grandparents are included.

From 1955: Actually, Hong Kong is a wonderful place to live—we think. Of course there are many things one could complain about, as there are wherever you go, but we think there are far more things to enjoy and be thankful for.

Truly an amazing find, to see the similarities between expats of that era and those of today!

The book as a whole may not be particularly interesting for old China hands. Experienced expats and English teachers probably won’t learn many new things. But for readers less familiar with Hong Kong and life abroad, this memoir can make the perfect introduction.

Recommended both for Hong Kong newcomers and as a good gift for China-based readers to share with friends back home in order to explain what life is like for expats.

Year of Fire Dragons is published by Blacksmith Books, available in Hong Kong and on Amazon.

 

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Author Shannon Young

Smashwords Edition

Here is the latest…

 

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A new edition up on the Smashwords eBook website:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/532806

 

One advantage of Smashwords is that you can download in multiple formats, and don’t need a Kindle account. There’s the direct PDF, as well as .ebub.

I can also do a coupon code to give free copies, if anyone is interested. Just ask!

Of course, reviews as always are appreciated (especially – sorry SW – on the Amazon link: Amazon.com/dp/B00RQQIA26)

Presenting an updated cover of Pearl River Delta

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http://amazon.com/author/rayhecht

As readers should know by know, I have compiled together my Dating in China stories into a tell-all eMemoir. While you can read the blogs here for free, if you want to know even more to these stories and beyond then there’s a Kindle document for sale…

You can also read the eBook for free if you just ask, I’ll email it to you and a mere review on the Amazon link would be appreciated 🙂

The latest edition includes a bonus: the silent comic I drew last year. A friend recommended I add that, and I thought not a bad idea.

Previously posted here- https://rayhecht.com/2014/02/24/3/

I’d like to thank the very talented Jeridel Banks for the above design. The consensus is in, and pretty much everyone agrees this cover is much better than the one I did myself.

If you ever have any design or editing needs, please join Odesk.com and check out her profile: www.odesk.com/o/profiles/users/_~01a930cbc899bcc679

She comes highly recommended!

Ms. Banks’ writing can be found at at The Ends Don’t Tie with Bunny Rabbits via tiewithbunnyrabbits.com

Pearl River Drama: A Memoir

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http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00RQQIA26

 

I have now completed my memoirs, in eBook form.

You may be familiar with the Dating in China blogs already, but there’s more to the story…

I have decided to edit them, and put them out there as an eMemoir of sorts on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Press.

Yet, this is not just a simple copy-paste and proofread for typos. Since this version isn’t all out there online for free, I have written more to the story. Certain personal, more graphic details. Certain things left unsaid that would be unbecoming on a public forum.

Not to mention further chapter continuing where the blog left off, and an epilogue.

If you’ve enjoyed my writings this past year, you may enjoy taking a look. And if you’d like to write a review on Amazon yourself, I will happily forward you a copy!

Even if you only have fond memories of reading the previously-blogged edition and prefer to leave it at that, it would be very considerate if you shared some thoughts. Positive or negative, tell the world what you think. Link above.

Thanks very much to all you readers out there!

 

 

— —

When one nerdy, young American moved from California to China in the autumn of 2008, he had no idea what was coming. He knew there would be an adventure and it would have its challenges, but he didn’t know it could get that bad.

From the deserts of Black Rock City, Nevada, to the towering metropolis of Hong Kong, this memoir takes our humble writer all across the globe in search of love. Well, maybe not always searching for love, but in search for something.

It starts on a psychedelic trip in Burning Man, and continues in the “overnight city” of Shenzhen. That’s in the Pearl River Delta, among the densest megacities on Earth. In breakup after breakup, one lonely expat struggles to understand the Chinese mystique. Featuring an ensemble cast of international girls, he had many experiences and leaned a few lessons along the way. The story continues to further exotic locations: Beijing, Canton, Bangkok, Manila, Ohio, the ruins of Cambodia, and Seattle.

Once or twice, he may have even found love. And lost it. Hearts were broken. Minds were mended. All in a haze of romance encounters, online dating, and travel.

This is his story. Complete with travel photos, and quotations from “Seinfeld” and Mo Yan.

DATING IN CHINA

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DATING IN CHINA


(Table of Contents)

Firstly, from 2008 on:

Prologue: How I came to China

Part 1: Burning Man
I go to a big trippy festival

Part 2: Doing LSD at Burning Man
I expand my mind and receive an invite abroad

Introductions

Intro to Dating in China
First things first, let me explain how this thing will work

I arrive in China
The story officially begins, I get here

Girls

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

Julia
The next level… Sigh, was it love?

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

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

Zoey

The Beginning
Long-term relationship begins, a defining point in my life

An American intermission
You can’t go ‘home’, and I try and I fail and I drift

The End
Finally, and sadly, nothing lasts forever

 

GUANGZHOU YEAR
In the city… the city of Canton…

And now, 2011 to early 2012:

My Guangzhou Year 1
An intro to the new status quo, as I pack up move to the ancient land of Canton/
the modern megacity of Guangzhou

Dating GZ Edition – Kendra
First story, I meet a crazed American abroad and adventured therein
Public nudity and disrespect, among other themes

China to Thailand to Cambodia
I travel, I bring a certain Cynthia, I make mistakes
But hey, that’s life and at least I got to see a new place

Dating – visitors and friends, others
Some characters from previous entries reappear, old friends reunite, a funny story happened one day
This time it’s not just about me

Rejected in Guangzhou
The stories everyone seems to want to know. Rejected!
Featuring Josephine, Seline, and more

The End – my humble successes
On a final positive note, sometimes life works out rather fine
It was a good year, I experienced a lot
I really shouldn’t complain

 

2012

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

Emma
I begin the online game~

Jeanie
I have a girlfriend! I really did!

Yuki
I must admit, things got a tad gross.
Hope this wasn’t the beginning of a certain pattern…

 

2013: Epic Clusterfuck Year

Not Dating in America (and Hong Kong, and Canada)
2012 comes and goes and the world doesn’t end,
Meanwhile a bad start as I embark upon a year of drama bullshit

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

Carmen
I meet someone cool and travel to the Philippines
A brief positive note, albeit all too brief

Sonia – Jing – Amelia
POF, a site, met some peoples from differing lands, times are had,
and then I quit online dating forever more

The Very End
And I do mean it, the very very end.
I reflect and I consider and now it is time to move forward–

Dating in China – The Very End.

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A picture of me I took yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet, I will not continue this story.

 

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

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

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

So that is that.

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Nevermind that.

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

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

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

That lasts.

I am, however, so over it.

 

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

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

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

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

To get over myself, as it were.

Enough already with the self-indulgence.

 

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

I hope I can keep it up.

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

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

Time to seize this living thing.

 

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

 

 

Wish me luck.

 

 

 

Thanks again for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

–Ray

Book Review: Good Chinese Wife

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szdaily.sznews.com/html/2014-09/16/content_3005971.htm

“GOOD Chinese Wife” is a new memoir published by Sourcebooks, and is a poignant tale expats should enjoy about the overlap of China and the West. Susan Blumberg-Kason details her unfortunate marriage to a Chinese music scholar, as they meet while studying in Hong Kong and then travel to his hometown in Hubei Province before eventually settling in San Francisco, California.

The central question posed by their troubled relationship is whether their differences were due to culture or personality. Interracial marriages may have some problems, but are certain individual defects masked by the excuse of culture?

As their relationship begins, Blumberg-Kason appreciates her future husband’s background. She studies Mandarin as a postgraduate in Hong Kong in the early 1990s, and stays there through the time of the handover in 1997, and for a reader familiar with South China it can be very interesting to compare that time with the current era.

The shy student falls in love with Cai, a handsome divorcee and ethnomusicology major, and the fact that he quickly escalates into topics of marriage on early dates seems to be a source of attraction for her. In that sense, the cultural difference was an advantage.

The book goes over her travels to the Hidden River village in Hunan and subsequent meetings with Cai’s family, and serves as a good introduction to Chinese culture for readers new to the subject of China. Blumberg-Kason is very knowledgeable, and the book is also peppered with quotes from Ban Zhao’s traditional “Instruction for Chinese Women and Girls” which contrasts well with the narrative.

The memoir deals with many hard truths, and Blumberg-Kason can be very frank with personal matters. The first sex scene comes as a shock to the reader, not because of graphic depictions, but because of the realization that the couple is engaged to be married yet they have not even reached that intimate stage. When she does get married, at the young age of 24, their passionless first night together during a honeymoon in a Hong Kong hotel further foreshadows more troubles.

Time and time again, as the book progresses, Blumberg-Kason questions herself and accommodates Cai’s behavior, yet he doesn’t seem to care about his wife’s concerns. From the isolating vacations in his home town, to skipping out on going to an import foreign-language bookstore in Shanghai and an interest in “yellow films” over his own wife, the reader wonders why she comes across so weak and why she puts up with him.

Pregnant, they move to America and the situation worsens. He does not adapt well to living abroad, and constantly complains to her. Though Blumberg-Kason claims he is a good husband during her pregnancy, he grows more distant after their son is born and the book darkens in tone. In particular, when he gives her a STD and then denies it, the situation couldn’t be worse. Always trying to keep the peace, she repeatedly states that she didn’t want to know the truth about his private life.

It soon becomes obvious that their marriage will not work, and yet it takes a long time for the book to finally reach the point when Blumberg-Kason stands up for herself and leaves him. Cai even says to her: “You’re lucky I don’t hit you.” After she gives birth to their son, he tells her “Women are dirty.”

It is a sad state that this is a nonfiction memoir, and so many real women stay in such relationships for far too long. Perhaps there is a lesson there about not rushing into marriage.

“Good Chinese Wife” is well-written and reads like a page-turner novel, although it does get stuck in details at times. If it were a novel, the passages about student dances and descriptions of clothes and food might be cut due to not being relevant to the plot. But the book is a memoir, which is dense with everything Blumberg-Kason has chosen to share.

This book is recommended for readers interested in contemporary Chinese culture, as well as for anyone who has ever experienced problems stemming from cultural differences.

“Good Chinese Wife” is available at bookstores in Hong Kong and on Amazon.

For more from this author, see Susan Blumberg-Kason’s blog at susanbkason.com.

Susan Blumberg-Kason photo

Intro to Dating in China

I think I’m old enough at this point to begin considering my memoirs.

How about a series focusing on that ever-fascinating subject: girls?

Please allow me to introduce this new blog category: Dating in China

After years and years of commitment issues, the stories have stacked up. The innocent, the naïve, the loved, the forgettable, and the mistakes. I could tell a few stories. Of the young, the old; the crazies, the addicts; the rich, the poor. Memories I will keep forever. Some were so breathtaking, others settling. Nice. Mean. Smart. Never stupid. And the one psycho who eternally holds a place in my heart.

Well. I’ve never really been one to high-five with the bros over my conquests. I’ve sincerely kept most of this to myself for greater part of my life. Now simply seems like the right time to put it all out there.

Still, I must admit this will get rather self-indulgent. Deal with it. I have made the decision to embrace my inner narcissist, and why not?

I do worry this may be pandering. I have always had goals of literary merit, but this is sure to be pure emo gossipyness. On the other hand, I try to take the writing process seriously and perhaps it’s good for the soul to share. I shall do my best to go over this subject matter in an intriguing and mature fashion. And people out there may even enjoy the read.

The names have been changed to protect the guilty as they say. Obviously.
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