Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘Asia

Taiwan & the convenience of travel

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The 50 NTD (£1.30) canteen in Shilin

Last year, I spent almost two months in Taiwan, or 55 days to be exact.

Earlier this year, I was back again: from February 21 to March 2.

2020 is a leap year so that was 10 days in total. I did very little while I was in Taiwan. I stayed in the same hostel in Taipei, in Shilin district, as I did last year. I went swimming and used the pool’s “spa”. I went to the gym (pay as you go). I went to a second-hand bookstore and bought a novel: David Szalay’s All That Man Is.

I met a local journalist, a Taiwanese-American, who I befriended over Twitter. I met a couple of friends (one of whom I met last year in Singapore, while another is a friend of the blog). I ate at a canteen where you can choose a meat and two veg dishes, from a selection, with rice and free soup — that costs about £1.30.

Mostly, I made sure to eat. I ate delicious beef noodles. Egg pancake things for breakfast. The freshest, best bubble tea on the planet. And I wandered the local night market, stopping at my favourites. Supping on milk papaya. Getting the local delicacy of grilled mushrooms. Trying a shack that did steak with Camembert. And I queued for the best bao I know of. These bao (meat buns) are just so good. I love them.

I was in Taiwan for 10 days and I mostly ventured within a 100 metre radius of my hostel. Why was I in Taiwan?

I was there as a stop-gap. I’d been in Thailand, and I was up on my 30-day tourist visa, and not wishing to extend another 30 days, I decided to fly from Bangkok to Taipei. It cost £68.29 and it’s a 3hr 45min flight. 10 days in Taipei. And then I flew from Taipei to Cebu (Philippines) for £35.70 — a 3hr flight.

I was in the Philippines for 11 days, eventually flying out from Manila to Fukuoka (Japan) for £45.80 — a 4hr flight.

All of this is to say something about how convenient travel is (or was). Some have wondered how I afford to travel like I do, but looking at these airfares you can see that international travel can cost about as much as train fare. In Europe, these airfares can be even cheaper, but Asia is a larger region than the EU.

And going from Thailand to Taiwan to Philippines really did feel more like taking buses to different stops in the land of Asia than it did proper international travel with its boundaries and borders. Planes collapse our sense of distance.

We all might know this in the abstract, but it’s a different thing when it’s lived experience. Looking back at my time in Taiwan, it feels so fleeting, and, in perspective, it was. It was just 10 days. Yet those 10 days, although I didn’t do a lot, shouldn’t be taken for granted. I want to zoom in on that short transit stay and blow it out, to honour it, now that such convenience is a past time. It was fleeting but those days were once my daily reality.

And maybe this interruption, as our society feels now, will one day also feel like it was a short transit to somewhere else, as it indubitably is, and all these months of worry and anxiety will come to be remembered as a fleeting time, but which was once all that you knew.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

August 25, 2020 at 4:29 pm

How I learned to love reporting (and life) again while in Burma

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At Inle lake, March 5th. A great strawberry shake can be found up the road from Remember Inn.

At Inle lake, March 3rd. A great strawberry shake can be found up the road from Remember Inn.

I’ve been in Burma now for 12 days and I am writing this post from Rangoon, the country’s commercial capital and largest city, and my end destination.

I traveled from Mandalay, where I touched down from China, then I went via slow boat to Bagan, a place filled with hundreds of pagodas dotted along a picturesque landscape, before heading to Inle lake to meet an interviewee.

I am hoping to meet two journalists living here in Rangoon who are around my age. Joshua Carroll, a British freelancer, and Catherine Trautwein, an American who writes for The Myanmar Times.

Along the way I have enjoyed the sunshine and warmth of the climate and the people. It is an immense relief to be away from Beijing, away from the cramped conditions of mind and body that was the prison of overly WiFi’d Beijing.

Here I’ve been able to relax, and to practice slow journalism. Sitting at temples, cafés and restaurants, waiting for a local to come talk to me or just observing what’s around and in front of me. Picking up kernels of story ideas or pouncing when one comes along, changing schedules on the fly.

Being on the road without the distractions of Internet and social media (Internet is quite patchy in Burma) has meant I’ve been writing more in longhand, a welcome change of pace.

I might head to Vietnam after but I have not yet made up my mind. All this travel and the money spent on it I hope to recoup by selling the stories I am picking up along the way, but it is risky as I am not certain they will sell.

But the momentum of travel, the sensation of discovery, new people and new places brings you alive, shaking off the chill of a dark winter. It has been a great tonic.

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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Freelance Journalism: Adventure & Travel (Getting to Know Asia)

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I'd like to do more of this. But without the cameras. A notebook will do.

I’d like to do more of this. But without the cameras. A notebook will do.

Hello. By the time you read this I should have already arrived in Beijing, after flying from England which is where I have spent the past 27 days. Time to get back to the Big Beige.

January is a busy month for me, with a couple of commissions, and most urgently the planning of a trip to Myanmar. I’ve talked about it in previous posts but finally it should be on the cards. I have a story related to it that I’ve been developing for a while now. But the biggest reason I want to go there is simply to look around and make it less unwelcoming: to get to know it.

Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was once a British colony and is the second largest country, after Indonesia, in southeast Asia. That fact alone, its bigness, is beguiling.

It is a Buddhist country, nominally now a democracy after decades of military imposed rule, filled with unspoilt landscapes, and yet riven with hate crimes and ethnic conflict, as well as drug barons, mines and smugglers. A perfect recipe then for a journalist.

This year I intend to go out more from my Beijing hub. I want to have bases spread throughout Asia. Once you’re familiar, once you’ve mapped out and made a place previously unknown known, it’s so much easier to grasp the geography of traveling.

It’s part of why I like this idea of freelance foreign correspondence: the adventure. I’d gotten complacent, too comfortable and sequestered in Beijing. It was seeing a fellow freelance having so much fun that spurred me. He has been journeying around China and Myanmar traveling and writing and getting published. Goddamit! I want some of that! Some of that momentum and adrenaline and the wild experiences. Brent Crane, I salute you!

I hope to ask him to write a guest piece about how he did it, how he traveled and wrote at the same time. Did he first travel somewhere and then look around for stories or did his successful pitches determine his itinerary? Hopefully he will oblige and teach us, because I haven’t actually done it yet and it would be good to know.

From freelance to foreign correspondent – one person’s success story

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“I sold or gave away most of my stuff and headed east, pretty much on a whim”.

Those are the words of Kate Hodal, The Guardian’s south-east Asia correspondent. The story of how she got there is an inspiring antidote to these gloomy times. She also has some fantastic advice about multimedia journalism, especially video, for which she says there is tremendous demand. I had the fortune to interview Kate, via email, while I was based in China.

Here is the interview: http://www.journalism.co.uk/news/journalist-q-a-from-freelancer-to-se-asia-correspondent/s2/a553906/