Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tides of Change

My parents picked up a copy of National Geographic's Journey Into China, which was published in 1983. I haven't gone through much of the 500-page book, but I immediately flipped to the section on South China to read the writer's impression of the region as well as look at the photos of places I've been. I'm not surprised that two of the most prominent parts of South China are Gulangyu and Xiamian--islands in Guangzhou and Xiamen that are home to colonial-style structures.

On the journey through Guangzhou, the author, David Pearce, mentions that it is the center of a growing import and export industry--at the time they produced bicycles, watches, and radios. He also mentions that Beijing eliminated customs duties to and from Taiwan in 1979. The quote that accompanies this is that "There are no politics in business." Quite a change from what is in the news lately.

I'll have to read through more to see how some of my favorite destinations have changed in 27 years.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mobile Homeless

Shenzhen Daily is taking an interest in the plight of the migrants. It highlights the difficulty of finding affordable housing in the region, even though many new buildings have no residents. People who can afford housing tend to purchase multiple apartments and seem unconcerned when they can't find tenants--a lack of flexibility during rent negotiations leads to many empty apartments. This has led to workers, such as the ones in the article, to live on the streets.

It was not uncommon to see laborers all around my neighborhood in Nanshan district--they picked through trash for recyclables or potential building materials; they offered one-time services to residents and businesses. But many of these people seemed to disappear at night. Most of these people could be found by the reclaimed land of Shenzhen Bay--they slept next to piles of styrofoam and other reusable materials on a road that was inaccessible to traffic. Along side streets in the neighborhood, people slept on cots hidden by bushes and trees. Down the main road, next to the Guomei parking lot was a shack set up against a small power station--no one seemed to notice the family living inside, and they never bothered anyone on the street.

While there are still many opportunities in Shenzhen for the migrant population, it has become less popular. With more factories opening in the interior of China, migrants are choosing jobs closer to their hometowns, thus creating a job shortage in cities like Shenzhen and Guangzhou. The minimum wage in Guangdong has risen over the past few years (in Shenzhen it was 800 RMB/month in 2005, it's now over 1000 RMB/month), but the cost of living has skyrocketed.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

You're to Blame

I don't know why I read opinion articles anymore--they just make me want to bang my head against a wall. Political commentaries are the worst with mangled and bastardized "facts" and statistics that suit the particular writer's point of view while ignoring any contradictory argument no matter how well-supported it is.

But the opinion piece I'm referring to today has nothing to do with politics. It's about how Peter Hessler has ruined another foreigner's experience of living in China (yes, there have been others with this complaint). China Daily ran this article yesterday (which was posted elsewhere online a week earlier):
Peter Hessler singlehandedly ruined my life in China.

I've never seen Hessler, author of the bestsellers Oracle Bones and River Town, but I eke out a bitter existence every day in his footsteps.
Sounds rather harsh. Fortunately, the writer added a little bit of what passes for humor in some circles. The real complaint is that all the stories expats love to tell their friends back home have already been told by Hessler in one of his three books. There's nothing left for foreigners in China to do to impress the folks back home. Hessler previously issued an apology for "ruining" the China experience for everyone else.

After reading his books (I'm almost done with Country Driving), I can say that he didn't ruin anything for me as an expat in China or as a writer. I have many stories to tell that Hessler never experienced (or at least didn't write about). With the size of the country and how quickly it changes, there will be plenty of tales for foreigners to regale us with.

I met Peter Hessler at an author event at Asia Society last month and have exchanged e-mails with him (he is a very nice guy). He admits that there are still books to be written about China--but writers have to search a little deeper to find them now.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Not Quite Chinglish

The worst trend I have noticed over the last few years is the lack of appreciation for the editor and proofreader. I frequent freelance job boards and see a preponderance of job posts that pay less than minimum wage for editing, proofreading, and writing. These are no longer viewed as skilled positions. Businesses believe that anyone can do these jobs and are starting to outsource the work to non-native English speakers. These businesses end up with text that reads like gibberish.

The other day I started looking at the descriptive tags for wines in Jersey City. Here's one that I found:
Delicate notes of mature fruit and floral emerge, while the sapore is fresh thanks to one balanced acidity, very supported from one good wealth of body and structure. For its fragrance the wine is ready to the commercialization and to it since drinks the successive spring to the grape harvest.
 Does this make any sense to anyone? The copywriter for that winery should be ashamed and unemployed. And there were other tags and labels that were almost as disgraceful as that one.

Monday, March 08, 2010

For the Women

Today is International Women's Day, which doesn't mean much around here as most women still have to work. In honor of the day I thought I'd share a few sites managed and written by women (particularly sites I find interesting).

Solo Travel Girl -- Written by Jennifer Huber, a world traveler who has frequently stopped by this blog.

Freelance Writing Jobs -- Created by Deb Ng, a fellow New Jerseyan who is also a friendly and helpful writer. She also published one of my articles on the site back in November.

Aimee Barnes -- A New Yorker who spends a lot of time writing about China. She writes some fascinating articles, and she's one of the few bloggers I have met.

China Sports Today -- News of sports around China, written by Maggie Rauch.

Thechannelc -- Mostly tech posts, but some other interesting posts as well. Written by the humorous and friendly Carolyn Chan, whom I met in Shenzhen.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Going Slow

It's been a busy week since I last posted. I've finally gotten myself back into a reasonable creative writing routine and I'm trying to work my way up to consistently higher daily word counts. Rather than going about in my usual fashion of working on a dozen manuscripts at once, I'm taking the time to focus my attention on one until it's finished. This also means that I will limit my distraction time on this blog and social networks.

Though it was finished a few weeks ago, the new issue of Terracotta Typewriter is online. As always, I'm looking for new work to publish in the next issue, which I hope to have complete in May.

I've also been refocusing my attention on my Chinese studies. Listening to Chinesepod as background noise and reading the same chapters of my textbooks again and again have not helped me make progress since returning to the states. Since Jia convinced me to start a new Web site to teach non-Chinese cooking to the Chinese, I've decided that I need to learn more vocabulary and grammar related to cooking (mostly because Jia doesn't have a lot of time to translate the site between work and studying). So, I'll do my best to start translating the posts at Laowai Kitchen on my own and ask Jia to edit my attempts at written Chinese. A lot of the posts on the site are about traditional foods that we take for granted, but I'm also experimenting in the kitchen--usually with positive results.

And because it is Friday, here's a photo of the inspiring beauty of the Fujian countryside. This group of tulou on the hillside was our first stop on our morning journey through the region. Most tourists have photos from above and below the group--the Chinese think it looks like four dishes and a soup from above (I agree, it does resemble a Chinese table setting).