Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Archive for February 2016

February 20th — in Thailand

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I’ve been to Thailand before. It’s a fun place.

It’s 5.17am and I’m in my hotel room, just off the road, in some seedy town on the island of Phuket.

I’ve been here a few days and I’m still jetlagged, operating English hours under the hot, Thai sun.

I’m here for a week, making the most of cheap flights and southeast Asian weather, before returning┬áto the grim cold of Beijing.

Today I woke up, went to buy a ticket to go to Krabi (I need to catch the boat in a couple of hours), had some food and then went back to my hotel.

I then slept until early evening, whereupon I took myself to the beach and swam, bobbing up and down until the sun sank into the ocean. I jumped up at that moment, the moment it disappeared, as if I could jump higher than the horizon.

I went back to the hotel and showered, and had dinner and then walked the length of the beach and back. (I did the drinking and the partying yesterday). Then I binge watched the show Californication. I took a break to write the rest of chapter one of a novel I’ve started writing. And continued my binge until I felt the urge to write again, which is where the past meets the present in this blog post.

I’m here alone, traveling solo. Several people have asked me about how it’s been, traveling alone — from the guy at the check-in at Heathrow airport, to the travel operator I bought my ticket to Krabi from, it seems like it’s almost a predicament rather than a position of possibility.

But I like traveling alone. You can do whatever you want. And right now, it’s unalloyed freedom. Balance is important and this week in the sun and the sea and the palm trees and the delicious pad thai and the sense of feeling you get from detaching from “reality” (which is often a reality spent staring at a screen and endless, pointless updates) is a week worth its weight in gold.

It’s a week that will sunny up the weeks to come, and help the creativity flow. I’m a writer and so I chose a week of sun. It seemed like a good idea.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

February 19, 2016 at 10:42 pm

VIDEO: Travel + Journalism in Burma

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This video is the story of the time I spent in Burma. I went there in February 2015. I went there to travel and to do journalism. I wanted to see if I could combine the experience of traveling with the challenge of trying to find stories. As a freelancer, trying to travel and hunt down stories while you do so is a fun challenge. This was my first experiment trying to do that.

The benefits of traveling in this way are many. One of these is that you travel in a different way, as you try to get beneath the surface and look deeper than you might normally do. You also meet people, from locals to intrepid expats. The other big benefit of course is financial, as stories you find and sell helps to offset the money you spent traveling.

The video was shot using a Canon S120 and edited in Windows Movie Maker.


The CNN article mentioned in the video is here.

The previous video I made is: A Year In The Life of a Freelance Journalist Abroad

Choices: how to make them in an age of anxiety

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When I made the decision to go to Beijing, after graduating university, it was an instinctive decision. I knew that it was a choice that would have deep and long-lasting effects. And it has. It’s been a blast.

But after three years of Beijing there will come a time when I will want to make another decision. Whether to continue doing the same thing, or to branch out and pick another fig, and experience something completely new.

But how will I know, when I come to make that decision, that the choice I make, will be the right one?

The first couple of months I spent in Beijing were miserable. Lonely. Hard. This was autumn 2012. You won’t find any posts about those months on this blog because I wasn’t blogging back then. But I do remember looking at the ceiling, in my little rented bedroom, at night, feeling quite alone, and wondering whether what I was doing made any sense.

I didn’t know back then whether the decision to go to Beijing would pay off. I had no idea. I couldn’t predict the future.

The second year was better. There was more momentum, more serendipity. By the third year though, things waned. Got a bit stale. Some of that initial motivation had worn off. And I wondered why that was.

The clue was that I finally understood what the phrase “the struggle is┬áthe reward” meant.

Those initial months in Beijing were hard, but I was struggling towards something. That struggle gave a firmer narrative to life and a meaning to the misery. The struggle itself made everything rewarding, even the hardship — especially the hardship.

There was purpose in it.

A person I admire is Casey Neistat, a filmmaker. He recalled his first years in New York City, after moving there from small-town New England:

The hardest part was the loneliness, like I didn’t really know anyone in the city when I moved here. I remember going home after work to my tiny apartment and it was like, I had no-one to hang out with, I had no-one to call, I had nothing to do. And that lasted for like, I feel like years, of that kind of loneliness.

I spent a lot of time in my head, dreaming and fantasizing about the life in this city I aspired towards.

Elsewhere, on his YouTube channel, he talks about how he lived in closets, in tiny apartments, in his early years in NYC, sharing with illegal immigrants and ex-convicts. All in the pursuit of his dream, of making it in the city.

He’s now wildly successful, with two million subscribers to his YouTube channel, a tech company he founded, and what he calls a golden age, of his present situation.

But there is a sense I feel, from him, that there is a part of him that maybe misses the young, crazy, suffering, part of his life, when he was starving, and all ahead of him was wild potential and possibility.

I am not successful, not to any degree to how Casey Neistat is successful anyway, in my own field. But I’m no longer that young kid scrapping in Beijing, hungry and desperate for bylines.

So there needs to be a re-framing, a different narrative, as I transition toward a different period in my life.

Is there a conclusion to any of this?

Not really. I’ll let you know in a year or two.

I can’t predict the future.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

February 1, 2016 at 1:46 am