Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Archive for February 2015

A Writer’s Journey: The Adventures of a Roaming Journalist in Asia – by Brent Crane

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Brent Crane (pictured) is an American journalist who traveled through China and Myanmar for six months. Along the way he published stories with the DailyTelegraph, Aljazeera, Roads & Kingdoms, The Diplomat and VICE, among others. He also shot for the BBC. This is his guest post for the site.

Brent Crane (pictured) is an American journalist who traveled through China and Myanmar for six months. Along the way he published stories with the Daily Telegraph, Aljazeera, Roads & Kingdoms, The Diplomat and VICE, among others. He also shot for the BBC. He can be found tweeting @bcamcrane and his blog is thecongeechronicles.tumblr.com. This is his guest post for the site.

I landed in Beijing on June 16th, 2014, in the early afternoon on a one-way ticket from Boston. I had just turned 24. China was not new to me. I’d been before in 2011 when I had studied in Kunming and also before that in 2010 for the Shanghai World Expo. But this was my first time in the nation’s capital and I thought it’s very grey here.

I stayed with a friend from a study abroad program at the Beijing University of Science and Technology. When she and others asked what I was doing in China I’d get shy and mumble, “freelance journalism”, and felt like a five year old saying, “I want to be an astronaut”.

I wasn’t confident because I really didn’t know what a freelance journalist was or if I could even be one and I usually stumbled when I tried to explain anything. I’d come to China off a whim and depending on who I was talking to they’d either be impressed or think I was an idiot.

Now, seven months later I can answer people with more assuredness. I have written and shot for the Diplomat, the Daily Telegraph, VICE, Al-Jazeera and the BBC, among others. In the name of “journalism”, I have been smuggled into rebel-held territory in Myanmar from China, toured refugee camps, reported on one of the year’s largest and most daring democracy movements, sampled hairy stinky tofu and tracked down a Hunanese peasant who claimed that a tea brewed from animal feces had cured her cancer. I sampled that too.

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Published pieces about being in China: 2012-present

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Some friends and I.

Me and some friends

Here is a list of articles that I have had published about my time in China. The following collection of articles are specifically about life and the experiences I’ve had in China, rather than journalism about China itself. This post will be updated whenever something new is out.

Fast track to love? Hunting for a date on Beijing’s subway

This is a lighthearted piece about the time I took on a bet to see if I could get a date while riding Beijing’s crowded subway system within a week. A piece of whimsy that was fun to write but hard to pull off.

“Finding a date in Beijing is not especially difficult. If you know where to go, you can have your pick of either wayfaring expats, happy-go-lucky students or young, eager Chinese all on the lookout for potential mates. Beijing, like any other great city of the world, is a mass of people trying to hook up”.

An ode to Chinese greasy spoons

This is quite tightly written and quite a personal piece too. About the first fragile months after I’d moved to Beijing, my ambition as a young journalist, and growing up in the city through the habit of eating out.

When I first arrived in Beijing in the autumn of 2012, I was nervy. A confused young journalist straight out of university and with big ambitions. I walked the large, grey streets of the city aware of my surroundings, but alien to the environment. Everything was ordinary and extraordinary, new and old; a city of 21 million people where the mundane – a beggar, a street festooned with litter – jostled with the outlandish. 

Travel and Videogames: Missing Play in Beijing

I’ve been a gamer for a long time but since moving to Beijing I’ve mostly not been able to. This essay explores the incredibly strong desire I had to play and how much I missed playing my console. It’s also about travel, reality and the desire for adventure.

“I knew that I should be having adventures and experiences for real, too. For myself, rather than through a virtual character. That I should get to know “reality”…. When I was 18, I decided to go abroad. I lived in a small town thousands of miles away from home. I learnt a lot about relationships, what I want and how to get it, all that stuff”.

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The weekend of February 13th: getting ready for Myanmar

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I booked a flight to Myanmar on Friday. It’s a one-way ticket. My situation here in Beijing has changed a little. I am now part-time at the Chinese TV company where I’ve been working for over a year. The salary I draw from them is now low enough for me to consider jumping ship, to other jobs, or even to cut loose, though I still consider Beijing my base.

It’s been very cold, although the days now are warming swiftly. The first part of the year in Beijing is always tough. The feeling is one of getting through the depressing days – and difficult for a freelancer I feel. Although commissions have been forthcoming, the motivation to complete them is low. Simply because the sun-deprived body and the comfort-seeking mind dreams of future summery days and craving small satisfactions in the meantime. A bonus of maintaining this blog however is that I can look back to blog posts from the same time last year and see that I felt the same mixture of misery and ennui, and that I eventually got over it.

I bought a TV. I also bought a one-way ticket to Myanmar. How are these two things connected? They aren’t so much as they point to different paths. The TV (which I use to play my Playstation 3) points to my increasing reliance on Beijing and its related comforts: friends, familiar bars and routines. The ticket out is exciting, quite scary and a path to very many unknowns. I am intending, once I arrive, to journey south, eventually reaching the former capital Yangon, although I do want to explore the coastline also. I might even head to Vietnam after. I have not too much money. I am in fact hedging on future freelance payments derived from the stories collected from my travels, to fund present and future life.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

February 15, 2015 at 5:33 am

Why did I move to Beijing?

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I moved to Beijing basically on a whim. If you have read previous blog posts, you may know that originally I had decided to move to Beijing in the autumn of 2012, after finishing university, and that, upon arriving, I knew exactly four people in the city, had no job and no concrete plans. That narrative is already established.

If you ask many of the students, the expats, the foreigners who have come to China, why, for all purposes, did they happen to choose China – So why China?” is the conversational fallback – they will often mumble out something.

They might mention the economic miracle, how it’s good to get to know China and Chinese and the culture, how employers might find it useful or at least you’ll stand out from the crowd. They might mention interest in learning the language, or an affection for Asian culture more generally. Or they might have come because they heard about others doing it, and it’s a good place to teach English to earn a bit of money.

A lot of people in Beijing, the migrants, the foreigners, don’t really know why they are here. Two and a bit years after arriving I feel now is a good time to identify why exactly I decided to come here, for myself, to work it out.

The reasons why of course reflects vast forces of which we’re barely aware. The confluence of economic, political and social factors far too large to comprehend on a macro level. It’s one of the tasks a journalist and writer should have in fact, trying to untangle this web of influence, to make clear the strands that tie people, politics and the decisions of every day, together.

The reason why I came here is obviously bound to that. China is big and large, important and vital. It made sense journalistically, and trying to make sense of it all presents great opportunities for the freelance journalist. But this is not why I came to Beijing. It is and it is not. Just like you may choose a job or a partner based on a checklist of reasons (because it offers better promotional offers; because she has a good family background), it does not really speak to the truth, the gut instinct of why you chose to do what you did.

I think the bigger part of me chose to move to Beijing because for the need of adventure, for experience, and for a narrative greater than that offered by the humdrum exactitude of the everyday. You may find such a reason laughable in its innocent sincerity, but such romantic ideals, I guess, are the ideals in which I find most fascination.

In Elif Batuman’s book The Possessed, she talks about a theory of the novel based on Miguel Cervantes’ classic novel of adventure Don Quixote: “The novel form is about the protagonist’s struggle to transform his arbitrary, fragmented, given experience into a narrative as meaningful as his favourite books”.

Likewise, I find great empathy with the sentiment expressed by a reviewer writing in the New York Times about Jack Kerouac: “He trusted, finally, in his own energy, but it was an energy produced from the finest sources: great books, adventurous friends, high moral purpose and wide experience”.

That is what I live for. And when I set out, at 23, to go far away, to a new city, I guess a part of me instinctively knew it was the right decision to make, despite the subsequent misery of the first three months after arrival and some of the later moments of being here.

Why did I move to Beijing? Because anything else would’ve been easy. And the quest never is.

Blog posts from last January, 2014:

3 month update: freelancing in Beijing

Great journalists and great journalism: how to make a name for yourself pt. 2

How I got my first ever paid freelance gig