Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Freelancing in Beijing: One Year On

with 5 comments

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So I’ve been in Beijing for a year. Okay, it’s a little longer than a year: I arrived in Beijing 11th October, 2013.

Next month, I’m heading home (Hastings, England) for Christmas. I’ll be there for almost a month. It’ll be good to detoxify in England for a little while. Beijing is full of pollution…

So I’ve been here for over a year. What has happened? Originally, as I wrote in my first post while back in the city, I wanted to improve my Chinese to near-fluency (failed that one); get a decent paying job (that happened but may change in the very near future); travel more, write more.

I did travel more. But I did not write as much as I wanted to or should have done. That was the failure of this year. Second to that was not actively learning Chinese.

I made a group of friends. I lost a few who drifted away. I moved through a relationship (the loveliest I’ve had). I went up in the world by moving in to a nicer apartment. I gained some great new bylines. I lost freelancing momentum. I lost some enthusiasm. I regained some bad habits. I’ve felt professionally and personally stagnant. And I look to the future with the brightest ambitions but tempered with anxiety and doubt.

I cannot see the future. I think I know where I want to go, but the path to it is so unclear. I am 25. Young to those who’ve already experienced it, older to those still beating a fresh path. It does seem a little like a crossroads, although this could be just “end of the year” talk.

But the optimism remains.

How to summarize a year? I freelanced for Aljazeera, selling the pitch after the reporting trip which was risky but it worked out. I had CNN cancel a story on me but I managed to publish it elsewhere (unpaid but it got me in with some new editors). I wrote more and more for a section of a UK newspaper whose pay rates went up midway through the year.

I wrote for a video games publication I respect and it gladdened me as I want to break into games writing. I had a few commissions not contingent on my being in Asia which demonstrates how location can be irrelevant to freelance.

Money

I made £1634.35 from freelancing since I arrived in Beijing last October.

This money definitely helped the UK bank balance but clearly I’m not actually making bank from this. It supplemented the far healthier income I got from the Chinese TV job which meant I survived comfortably (although it often did not feel like it), with it financing an expensive reporting trip, visa runs to Hong Kong and two vacations.

But there have been short periods I’ve had to scrimp, and early next year I can foresee cash flow problems. I am not getting rich whatsoever. I am still surviving.

The freelance income probably merits further discussion. Certainly if I didn’t have the TV job I would have had to be much more prolific freelancing. The amount I earned, over a year, is not much at all. But it was good to have these semi-regular injections of cash which I plundered every so often to buy plane tickets. Certainly I’m going to have to step up the production rate if I’m going to be able to afford the kind of travel I wish to do next year.

Success: or lack thereof?

Like I’ve written before, the feeling of progression for a freelancer is not so obvious. We don’t go from Associate Freelancer to Deputy Freelancer to Freelancer-in-Chief. But the failures of the past several months I attribute to not chasing the stories hard enough, to not working in pursuit of the big stories, of the interesting people and things that are happening. I realize these failures and I hope that they’re instructive for what I need to change for 2015.

Life

Because moving to another country, settling in to a new city, isn’t just about bylines and becoming “successful”. There’s so much not said, so much that’s a part of living, especially in your 20s, struggling to understand what it is you’re supposed to be struggling toward. An account merely focused on the journalism and not the journey misses the daily textural quality of life, and the results of which you had never determined would be the destination.

To put it plainly, this blog captures some of that struggle. But of course it misses the thousand small things that you learn, that you understand and helps to expand a sense of what is possible and what is knowable when you are placed in a situation foreign to you.

Struggling to understand what it is you’re supposed to be struggling toward

I mentioned before I was in a relationship. The truth is, it was quite short in duration (although I visited her in Thailand, and we kept in touch). But the intensity of it made it feel that much longer and deeper. And that’s the important thing. The memory of it, the intensity. It doesn’t matter that some experience may be short-lived, because all that you’ll remember of it is that fleeting moment, and what you experience, from one moment to the next, are simply moments. Bubbles in time.

That is why I place great importance on the adventure of moving abroad, or simply to invite new challenges. My life in Beijing has its very great share of downs. But the ups don’t necessarily ameliorate the downs. Because that’s not the point. It’s not even about being “happy”. It’s about how much I’ve put myself through. About finding great contentment in the fact I’ve made a go at this crazy life in Beijing. And have, more or less, made it. I feel great pride in that. Because it’s an achievement purely for myself.

Links:

Freelancing in Beijing: Three Month Update

Freelancing in Beijing: Six Month Update

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5 Responses

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  1. It’s been great following your journey – all the best in 2015!

    Tudz

    November 30, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    • Thank you! How did you come by my blog and how long have you been reading? I’m interested in my readers! 🙂

      Lu-Hai Liang

      December 1, 2014 at 9:20 am

  2. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog. The adventurish tone is tempered and balanced by the reflections alongside. Have a great Christmas and New Year Lu-Hai!

    Gordon Shure (@GordonShure)

    December 16, 2014 at 12:13 am

  3. […] This blog is a guide on becoming a roving freelancer, as well as a chronicle of my journey. The above video, I hope, fills in some of the blanks: a visual record. A written round-up of 2014 can be found here: Freelancing in Beijing: One Year On. […]


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