Fracture is a short work of Chinese fiction written by Shenzhen-based author Xie Hong, translated by Ding Yan and edited by yours truly. Below is the link as recently published by the Los Angeles Review of Books’ China Channel, please enjoy reading:
Fracture is a short work of Chinese fiction written by Shenzhen-based author Xie Hong, translated by Ding Yan and edited by yours truly. Below is the link as recently published by the Los Angeles Review of Books’ China Channel, please enjoy reading:
This here is my autobiographical comic, Always Goodbye. Just a humble lo-fi take on my life, year-by-year…
Read them first at Webtoons.com: https://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge/always-goodbye/list?title_no=224697
Prologue, my parents meet in the middle of the world, I am born, and the family grows and goes. Suffice to say, to be continued–
Excerpt from the short story collection Taiwan Tales Volume Two, now available on Amazon:
The Taipei Underground
by Ray Hecht
Jerry Lee, also known as Li Shi-huang or merely Xiao Shi to his friends, stared across the cash register station to gaze longingly at the cute girl at the shop across the hallway. She had short hair, glasses, a well-fitting T-shirt. As she carefully stocked a shelf, for a split-second their lines of sight crossed over.
Suddenly, Jerry turned away and looked at a passerby eating a sausage, all the while exaggerating the movement of his neck as he pretended that was what he was looking at all along. He immediately regretted the embarrassing instinct, but it was too late and he had no choice but to go along with the ruse.
He continued to gaze rightward, pushing himself to ignore the girl from across the hall, and found himself making a 180-degree U-turn. The motion was interrupted by a shout from his cousin, whom he usually semi-affectionately referred to as Cousin Lee.
“Jerry! Come here.”
He walked to the back of their shop, squeezing between narrow passageways of obsolete computer equipment. The gray plastic was full of dust and wonder, hiding away computer chips decades old. All of it was close to his heart, and he never tired of working in such a magical place.
“Check this out,” Cousin Lee said as he plugged a replica of a 1981 console into a 40-inch widescreen HD monitor. He was tall and gangly, taller and ganglier than even Jerry, but spoke with an obnoxious confidence. Within the confines of these walls, he was in his element. “Pretty cool, right?”
A tune began to ring through the halls, a somehow familiar but simplified melody of an animated television theme song adapted and skewered through the primitive digital ringer of 8-bit glory.
The sounds brought everyone comfort, reminding them of a time before time, that pre-millennial age that was somehow part of their ancestral genetic memory or collective unconscious.
Jerry couldn’t help but bob his head.
The menu screen was in Japanese, a language Jerry knew only vaguely, but he grabbed the controller and played along through sheer muscle memory. Before he knew it, the little trademarked sprite had hopped and bopped its way through three whole levels.
“He’s good, isn’t he?” Cousin Lee said to a browsing customer.
Jerry, in the zone, felt distracted and content.
After a quick win, he returned to the register and stole more glances. He couldn’t help wondering about the girl. With no information about her other than that she was new at the workplace, his imagination had many gaps to fill. She’d been there about a month. What had she done before? Where was she from? The boss, was he her father? Uncle?
Why was she here?
The shop across the aisle was a different kind than that of the second-hand computer game variety. It was altogether low tech, specializing in cute toys of plastic and plush. It was located between one model robot dispensary and a knockoff handbag boutique, alongside a deep chasm of specialty stores that stretched infinitely in both directions underneath the streets of the city. Not unlike cave grottos at certain Biblical archeological sites, each one carved its own unique religious iconography onto the walls of the contemporary cultural landscape.
Several hours later, Jerry was ordered to close up shop. He counted the cash, put aside receipts, and jotted down inventory.
“Make sure you go to the bank in the morning,” his cousin said and then zipped up the cash bag tight.
“Good.” As they lowered the railing to lock up the family business, both saw the shop across the aisle doing the same.
“I hate that shop,” Cousin Lee said, spitting fire and saliva. “Ever since they opened, they do all they can to steal our customers. Those video game toys, all the same characters I advertise. I spend the marketing money, and they try to reap the benefits.”
“Yeah,” Jerry muttered.
“Do they think I’m stupid? What a shame. Nobody wants to buy the originals anymore; people just steal everything online and then only buy some cheap dolls.”
“It is a shame,” Jerry added in a weak attempt at consolation.
“I know those people just make the toys themselves. I can see them sewing in the back. That’s theft of intellectual property! I ought to report them.”
“But don’t we sell emulator rigs?” Jerry asked, giving the matter some thought. “Like, the software is all downloaded online for free. And then we sell it. Isn’t that basically the same thing?”
“It’s not the same!”
Jerry offered no retort. He simply watched his cousin go in one direction and the girl go in another. If only he could ditch him and find a way to talk to her alone. He sighed slowly as he followed behind, and resigned himself to his fate.
“Xiao Shi,” Cousin Lee said with an air of closure, “I will see you tomorrow. I think I ate something rotten, so I’m going to go to the bathroom in the mall. Don’t wait up.” It was a reasonable request, considering the caliber of restaurants available for dinners in the tunnel.
His cousin turned a corner with a slight moan, and disappeared.
With a nervous trot, Jerry made his way to the subway station.
It was a day like any other. He planned to scan his card and wait at the platform of the subway train in order to transfer once over the course of ten stations so that he could arrive at his small apartment in the outer district, and then at last go to sleep and do it all over again tomorrow.
This day, however, was slightly different. A minute before the train was due to arrive, he noticed she happened to be waiting two cars down. All alone, tapping away at her mobile phone. Heart thumping at a reckless pace, he cautiously approached her.
She half-looked up. “Hello?”
“I work across the hall from you.”
“You do?” She tore her eyes away from the phone stuffed it in her purse, and inspected him closely. A flash of recognition abruptly lit up her eyes. “Oh, it’s you. I’ve seen you around. What’s your name?”
“Li Shi-huang. Or, you can call me Jerry.”
“Everyone calls me Sha Sha,” she said. “So, uh, how do you like working in the tunnel?”
“It’s pretty good, I guess. Usually there are a lot of people window-shopping and not enough sales.”
“I know exactly what you mean.”
“Yeah.” A pause. “Where are you going now?” he asked.
“Home,” she answered, with a bluntness that he regretted hearing.
He didn’t know what to say next. “I hope you have a good night.”
“You too. I’ll see you next time.”
He smiled and was about to turn away, even finding himself on the cusp of formulating an apology for bothering her. But before he could react she interrupted his transition with a: “Hey, do you want to hang out some time?”
“That would be cool,” he blurted out.
“Let me see your phone,” she said.
They each procured their mobile devices, turned to the appropriate application, and she scanned his personalized digital code.
Silently, they both smiled and entered separate trains and waved goodbye.
Nice to meet you, he later texted in bed, along with an accompanying image of a smiling bunny rabbit.
She replied with a blobby wink.
The next day there was much back-and-forth. Instead of glances from across the chasm, the two pairs of eyes stooped downwards as the gravity of a glass screen pulled them all in to a small private world of written letters and animated pets.
I loved this character as a kid, she said, after a link to a humorous GIF of a cartoon pocket-sized monster in fierce battle.
This is my favorite one, he said as they simultaneously livestreamed a showing of a popular action-adventure strategic game.
Look at that!
I love it!!
We shall have to get together soon to eat some delicious food and listen to music…
I like strawberry ice cream, but no hamburgers.
Slowly through intermittent conversations they learned more about each other. Dreams, passions, personal histories, dietary restrictions, and various other preferences and peeves.
She learned that he was new to the city after moving the previous year, and he still spent many weekends exploring tourist spots. He learned that she was a part-time student, full of visions of design and creativity and financial independence.
They made plans to meet at a night market—one that he had never been to but had researched and assured her was vegetarian-friendly.
Not to mention, he wrote, the further away the better.
No one said it aloud, nor typed it up, but they both felt relief that there was slim chance of bumping into any family members or mutual acquaintances.
I can’t wait to be there with you. Only you.
In person, they ignored each other. Work was one world, and there they had their own separate reality. There was no need to actually speak.
It didn’t need to be spelled out.
The families wouldn’t approve.
They met in secret two weekends in a row, waiting in line at crowded food stalls shrouded in moonlight and then watching movies in dark rooms lit up by vast screens. Never in daylight, never with risk of discovery. In person they kept their words at a minimum, in contrast to the essays written by thumb.
Eventually, the power of skin touching against skin proved to be the most powerful—yet most dangerous—communication of all.
On the third date, Jerry and Sha Sha decided to risk everything by staying at a small love hotel a mere six metro stations away. It was for the most part a natural progression.
In bed, after said communication had completed, Jerry held her in his arms and felt compelled to take a dare by suggesting the logical next step. “You should come to my apartment next time. I’ll cook you some dumplings. It will be great.”
“At your home?”
“I do have to warn you that it’s a bit far, and it’s small,” he joked. “And it’s messy. But I promise I’ll clean up.”
“Well, it sounds nice, that is, but you know I live with my father, and he’s very strict.”
“Just say you’ll be visiting a friend. Or not. Come on, Sha Sha, you are old enough to do whatever you want to do.”
“Don’t pressure me. I mean, I wish I could, but just don’t think I can’t stay the night like that.”
“But, I got a new console and we could play—”
“Fine,” Jerry conceded, hopes dashed. “I understand.”
“This is happening too fast. I’m very busy with the afternoon classes and work and I barely have enough time to spend with you already,” she said, her voice shaking and quick.
“I get it. Fine then.”
“To tell you the truth…” she went on, “I don’t even know if this arrangement is really working out for me. I simply don’t know.”
“I said I understand!” Jerry shouted, surprised at his own anger.
She rolled over in the bed, turning away from him, and shut her eyes.
He said nothing.
Soon after, they got dressed and left for home.
The next day, Cousin Lee suggested that Jerry should accompany him on one of his bimonthly trips abroad. He needed new inventory. Jerry agreed.
As a last ditch effort, he later reached out to Sha Sha to see if she wanted to see him again before leaving.
Just go, she wrote, in simple and unadorned prose.
OK, he jotted.
His heart lost, he clicked send.
There was no reply.
Since coming to Taiwan, I have become a part of the Taipei Writers’ Group and I am now honored to be a part of their new anthology sequel Taiwan Tales Volume Two. My short story “The Taipei Underground” is included among many other works by excellent and talented writers whom I’ve been humbled to share writings with.
Please give it a read, via the Kindle or even order a hard copy. In fact, as always I’m happy to share an complimentary advance edition for reviewers! Also, stay tuned for updates including free promotions and other events coming up soon…
The book will also be on sale at the Taipei International Book Exhibition from February 6th to 11th, featuring yours truly. Do come say hi to me if in the area 🙂
Brief synopses of the short stories herein:
“Room 602” by Pat Woods, a Taiwanese ghost story inspired by an unusual local superstition about knocking on hotel doors.
“Notes from Underfoot” by Mark Will, a humorous and erudite story that gives a dog’s-eye-view of life in Taipei.
“The Taipei Underground” by Ray Hecht, a glimpse of the lives of two young people in Taipei Main Station’s cavernous underground.
“Bob the Unfriendly Ghost vs. The Mother Planet” by Laurel Bucholz, dealing a sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying experience of local spirits and Ayahuasca.
“Underworld” by J.J Goodwin, an epic odyssey through a strange world beneath Taipei where local and foreign mythology is alive and kicking.
“A Completely Normal Male Expat” by Connor Bixby, which, in the author’s own brand of neurotic fiction, checks out communication and the dating game in Taipei.
“Onus” by Ellyna Ford Phelps, a story of friendship, dark pasts, and goodbyes as two expats share an all-too-brief connection.
The collection was edited by Pat Woods and L.L. Phelps, and the gorgeous cover image was provided by TWG member Brian Q. Webb.
Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
Hello, thanks for having me. I am Ray Hecht, and I’m a thirty-five year old writer.
Fiona: Where are you from?
Where I’m from is a bit of a long story. I identify as American, but I was born in Israel. My dad is American, and my mom is from the Soviet Union. They met abroad and got married, but my sister and I moved to the United States when we were just babies. My earliest childhood memories took place in Indianapolis, Indiana but I consider my hometown to be Cincinnati, Ohio because that’s where I came of age and where I lived the longest in my life.
I went to college to study film in Long Beach, California…
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Do-overs in life; wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go back and re-live a moment in time you would like to either change or find closure for? Saturnine has that chance, thanks to a tech company that claims to take a person back in time to re-live any moment they want, but they do not guarantee you can change the events set in motion, after all, the past is in the past, it is written on the timeline of life, or can it be erased? Saturnine did indeed go back to re-live the night she her boyfriend walked out of her life for good. Many times, but could she find the answers she was looking for?
SATURNINE, IN HER HEAD, OUT OF TIME by Ray Hecht may be a short tale, but it packs a punch for young woman living with regrets from the past and the boy she let get away. Mr. Hecht has created a complete and intriguing tale with just a few well- placed words. Entertaining, thought-provoking and fun, I was left wondering what one thing in my life I would like a do-over on until I realized that, nope, I’m good and probably better off not going through my personal Ground Hog Day adventure!
This book plays off several shades of the contemporary grunge with a persistent neo-noir gradation. It saturates the cliché and builds it up through every paragraph till it blows into a cumulonimbus of decay. It is a tale of ‘missed connections’ and opportunities. A dystopic dirge keeps throbbing in the background while the four protagonists dance to its tune in perfect psychedelia.
It is hard to go through the book from this frame of reference. We can see ourselves in the pages making love to cellphones and avatars and losing sight of the reality while sinking deep into the mire of a new strain of love, the new romance. No one cares anymore for ‘the real thing’. Is there actually something real? Well, we do not have the time to spare on that kind of discovery. In an age of fast food and digital cash, finding true love seems rather…
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Last week on a Sunday afternoon I participated in an event in which writers based in Shenzhen can read their works aloud. It was part of the Shenzhen Book Exchange, which is an interesting sort of amateur library that English-language readers put together to promote reading and finding books while abroad. I’ve borrowed a lot of books from there, and donated a few myself.
While at it, I decided to print some of my one-page comics and share them as little books. That went over pretty well. (They don’t work very read aloud but great to give away.) Now six pages long. The working title of this slowly-growing anthology is “A Random Assortment of Cautionary Tales.”
I am somewhat afraid that I’m not very good at reading. The audience seemed attentive, but maybe I read too fast. Ah well, I’m not quite an actor but I hope the words are interesting.
Reading from my new story THIS MODERN LOVE:
As much as the point was to share my works, it was also much fun to organize the event in that I found new writers in Shenzhen to work with as well as help to edit for translations. While I’ve read at the book exchange before, and I had a ‘Shenzhen Writers Night’ earlier in the year, this was the first time putting those two in particular together and I think it was a good forum for the city’s literary scene. I’m lucky to have come across these great authors, both established Chinese and (such as me) aspiring American. Here they are with links to their works below:
Greta Bilek is a self-published travel writer and author of the book China Tea Leaves. Writing about travel in China, she finds inspiration in ancient poems, historic travelogues, stories told by Chinese friends and more. This is her second time presenting at the Book Exchange, sharing reflection from the road and experiences of taking on layers of cultural traditions as an expat.
Tiga Tan is the scriptwriter and novelist. She has written more than 300 episodes of TV series for Shenzhen’s children’s channel and the animated series Fuwa for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She is author of “G.O.D.I.S.E.T” a science fiction novel. She read from her short fairy tale “So Long, Aga.”
Nicole A. Schmidt is a published author, poet, educator and editor. She shared poetry, creative non-fiction and art she has created while in China. She is the author of Inside a Young Soul, and runs NAS Writes as an editing platform.
I hope you will take the time to look up these writers and learn more about their brilliant works! I’m honored to have had the chance to share the creative side of Shenzhen.
I’m looking forward to the next event already…
Enter now for the chance to win one of three hard copies of THIS MODERN LOVE, now as part of a promotion on Amazon. There is a one in one hundred chance of winning.
What do you have to lose? Sign up! Tell your friends!
(Sorry, but only available in America and for those with a Twitter account)
And if anyone would be interested in reviewing, I would be happy to send a promotional eBook edition. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for being a reader,
If you are a member of Goodreads.com, please enter my giveaway for the chance to win a free hard copy of my novel THIS MODERN LOVE.
And even if not, email me at email@example.com and there are always eBook editions to be easily distributed. Reviews always appreciated.
(Perhaps even a positive distraction to read a book, what with all the recent turmoil. Yeah I may have scheduled this at an inopportune time. More on that next post as I gather my heavy thoughts…)
For this week, my new novel THIS MODERN LOVE is free for downloading. As part of a Kindle Direct Press promotion, you can receive the novel for your Kindle device, or Kindle app/program on your smartphone or PC (the Kindle app is free by the way, no excuses!)
I hope you will enjoy the read. I am also still happy to directly share for reviewers via email if PDF is your medium of choice. In any case, I am slightly proud of this work and would like to know what readers think.
Tales of American love and sex, or lack thereof, in the 21st century…
Due warning: some graphic content
I am pleased to announce the release of my latest novel, This Modern Love.
Unlike my previous writings about China, this story is primarily concerned with America. It is about the way that technology has skewed modern relationships, and explores various themes of youth and immigration, sex and emptiness and the whole soul-of-my-homeland thing.
Please check it out on Amazon. It is available as a Kindle eBook as well as a paperback edition. I believe it works well as a digital read.
If you would like to review, please contact me and I’d be happy to send it to you.
Thanks for reading!
American love isn’t what it used to be.
Roommates Jack and Ben are complete opposites when it comes to romance. For Jack, a mere waiter, it’s easy to use to the latest to app meet a new girl every weekend. But Ben, even though he’s a programmer, can’t seem to figure out how to maneuver online dating.
On the other side of town, sisters Andrea and Carla have their own issues. Andrea is a bit of a wreck, stumbling from one dramatic episode to the next. Carla is more concerned with blogging than dating, though she does get lonely at times. In an age of narcissism and alienation, it’s just so hard to meet someone.
Over the course of one day, these thoroughly modern men and women keep passing each other by. From yoga class to the club – all in a haze of drugs, sex, and selfies – opportunities for true love come and go, and no one notices because they were too busy staring at their phones.
Welcome to the 21st century.
Last weekend I hosted the “Shenzhen Writers Night.” It was something I was thinking about for a while, as a sort of ending to my book tour of the past year. And I wanted to create a special reading atmosphere, so I broadened the event to include other talented authors I know in Shenzhen and South China.
If I do say so myself, I think it went very well. I found a good space at the youth hostel in the OCT area, which is Shenzhen’s own answer to a hipster neighborhood. Me first, I tried out at reading from the last chapter of my novel in order to signify the end. A spoiler if you may, but I had never read that aloud before. The array of talent and creativity from the other authors was amazing; the stories and the poetry and the performances. It went by faster than I realized…
Although this was supposed to be the end of my tour, now everyone keeps asking me when there will be another reading. So, guess I’ll have to do it again! After learning a lot about how to organize and promote such events, and thinking about more writers to showcase from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, I certainly have some ideas.
By the way, the event was even reviewed on the site BASEDtraveler and That’s PRD magazine — here are the two pieces complete with appropriate links from all the participants, so please do check out more from these great writers:
Shenzhen Writers Night
by Rachel Dillon
Friday 3rd June saw the first ever Shenzhen Writers Night, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it. It was held in the community room of the YHA Youth Hostel in OCT Loft, a lovely area full of arts events and exhibitions, cafes, restaurants, shops and bars, and was an eclectic mix of writers from all over the world with all different styles and genres of writing.
Organised by Ray Hecht, an American who has lived in Shenzhen for about seven years, he opened the event with a reading from his novel South China Morning Blues. Unusually, he read the final chapter, giving us a flavour of the whole book and a taste for more. Luckily he had a few copies for sale. My copy is on my nightstand, waiting to be read.
Next was Amada Roberts of Crazy Dumpling fame. You can read my review of her first cookbook here and she has just published the sequel, aptly titled Crazy Dumplings 2: Even Dumplinger. However, she decided that cookbooks weren’t exactly riveting listening for an audience so she read an excerpt from her debut novel, published under her pseudonym Leigh Anderson. The Vampire’s Daughter, a gothic fantasy romance, was quite a contrast from South China Morning Bluesespecially considering the part she read – a touch on the erotic side with a dramatic cliff hanger to keep the audience gasping for more. Read my review of The Vampire’s Daughter here.
Lom Harshni Chauhan’s novel Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul is all about raising her daughter with Indian spiritual values while living in Shenzhen, where she has lived for the past 13 years. She read a humorous excerpt about how the name of the book came about during a conversation with her daughter where she declared that, “The body is the visa for the soul.” Very profound for a six-year-old.
The next person on stage was Adrian Blackstock, a musician who has lived in Shenzhen since 2012. He is currently working on an album due to be released in July this year. Called VaChina, it is a musical celebration of China, Africa, Virginia (where Adrian is from originally) and where all humans began. Adrian chose to recite the lyrics of two of the songs from his upcoming album, and gave a riveting performance.
After a great introduction from Adrian, it was my turn. I read some of my travel writing – a piece about travelling on the Trans-Mongolian railway last summer which I wrote as a guest post for Clara from expatpartnersurvival.com and you can find on my blog here; followed by a bit about my experience visiting Chernobyl, which was the absolute highlight of my trip.
I then had the pleasure of introducing my friend Senzeni, whose writing I love. She was one of the finalists of the That’s PRD writing competition last month, along with myself and another friend; Senzeni won third prize with her piece which is published in this month’s That’s PRD magazine. (There’s also a small picture of me!) Senzeni read a short story from her upcoming anthology of short stories, due to be published later this year. Humorous and thought-provoking, Senzeni’s writing is full of emotion and captures snapshots of different people’s lives from a whole new perspective.
The final writer was Aaron Styza, who had come all the way from Guangzhou to share some of his beautiful poetry with us, including The Science of Speech, which has been published on HeronTree.com. Again, a completely different style of writing and genre, Aaron’s poetry was an excellent ending to a very eclectic and enjoyable evening.
As many people are going away for the summer (including me), we are hoping to do another Shenzhen Writers Night in September. Check back here after the summer for more information on future events.
If you missed the event but would like to find out more about the authors and their writing, here are a few links:
Ray Hecht’s South China Morning Blues and his site www.rayhecht.com.
Amanda Robert’s Crazy Dumplings and Crazy Dumplings 2: Even Dumplinger, along with The Vampire’s Daughter under her pseudonym Leigh Anderson, and her blog www.twoamericansinchina.com
Lom Harshni Chauhan’s Visa, Stickers and Other Matters of the Soul
Adrian Blackstock’s album site vachina.bandcamp.com
My blog www.persephone2015.wordpress.com, which is more about travels outside of Shenzhen
Senzeni Mpofu’s competition article in this month’s That’s PRD magazine
Aaron Styza’s poems on TwoCitiesReview and Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, plus an interview with Ray Hecht here.
PHOTOS: Shenzhen Writers Night Recap
by Bailey Hu
Last Friday night, June 3, was the premiere of Shenzhen Writers Night, a new event local author Ray Hecht organized in order to showcase the voices of talented writers in the area.
The event was held in the community room of a youth hostel in OCT-Loft, as advertised earlier on That’s PRD.
Seven talented writers spanning a wide range of voices and styles gathered to share their work. Each read an excerpt of what they’d written, sometimes prefacing it with an explanation, before introducing the next author.
As the host, Ray started off the night by reading from his latest book, South China Morning Blues, a novel about modern life in the Pearl River Delta.
Two other writers, Amanda Roberts and Lom Harshni Chauhan, also read parts of books they’d published. Amanda, who also runs a local women writers’ group, shared a steamy scene from her gothic-inspired The Vampire’s Daughter (published under the pen name Leigh Andersen).
Lom’s chosen excerpt from Visa, Stickers, and Other Matters of the Soul, on the other hand, was a sweet, spiritual contemplation on the author’s close relationship with her daughter.
Two of the writers at the reading were also finalists in the That’s PRD writing contest last month. Rachel Dillon, who also wrote about the reading, shared a couple travel pieces while Senzeni Mpofu, who won third place for her short story, read another piece that will be part of her upcoming anthology.
Breaking up the mostly prose lineup, Adrian Blackstock and Aaron Styza made a strong showing with their samplings of song lyrics and poems, respectively.
Adrian turned his reading into a true performance as he used expressions and movements to accompany his musical compositions. Aaron, while opting for a more traditional reading, ended the night on a strong note with his deeply reflective work.
Fittingly, the atmosphere in the hostel felt communal, even casual, with audience members occasionally laughing or asking the writers questions.
Organizer Ray Hecht commented he was “happy with talented writers sharing their stories in Shenzhen,” and that he was strongly considering holding follow-up events in the future.
Senzeni Mpofu agreed. “It was great,” she said, and she was “hoping to see more.”
Adrian Blackstock added that he “enjoyed the diversity” of writers and their work on display during the reading.
Amanda Roberts saw the reading as a venue “for authors to get themselves out locally,” and had been pleasantly surprised by some of her fellow writers. When asked if she’d attend future events, she responded: “definitely.”
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.
From the March 2016 edition of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal
Different Shades of Blue: Ray Hecht’s South China Morning Blues
by Kathy Wong
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.