Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘Bangkok

February: freelancing woes (and salvation); Bangkok & Taipei; and my hunger for some time off

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cafe in bangkok

This year February is longer than usual. And the leap day falls on a Saturday. Will you do something special with this twenty-ninth day?

It’s been a while since I wrote you, reader. And last time we met I was in Chiang Mai chafing at the idyllic nature of it all. After Chiang Mai I went to Bangkok and I simultaneously missed Chiang Mai, its luscious nature, and felt glad to be away from it. Such are our contradictory natures. 

I arrived in Chiang Mai on the 22nd January and I left Thailand, via Bangkok, on the 21st February. I spent 30 days in Thailand, unexpectedly extending my stay by several days.

I write you from a hostel in Taipei, Taiwan. It is the same hostel I stayed in for over a month last year. Next Monday I leave and travel back to the Philippines. I won’t explain all my comings and goings to you, but just know that traveling is sometimes based on whims and it is perilous to ignore those whims.

A week ago or so I had a bit of a crisis. Basically I was having a meltdown because I had spent too much money in Thailand and I had no work booked in. The pitches I had managed to send off in the past month had all been rejected and I even had had one commission cut off. The money going out was not being replaced by money coming in. This is not sustainable.

I even thought about quitting journalism and just finding some stable and safe job. Then I hustled. I pitched. I worked. I have mostly stayed in or around my hostel, venturing out only to buy food, to go running and swimming. Salvation came via a commission that wasn’t even my pitch. It was from an editor who I contacted via Twitter last August while I was in Singapore, and with whom I arranged a coffee-meet. Since then I have kept in touch with this editor, pitching her on occasion, and finally I have received paid work. I have received more work, copywriting, via my network too. In Chinese this is known as guanxi — a term that goes beyond the western-equivalent word: networking. To develop good guanxi is key to a good life.

So I will have money coming in again, which is good. Money is always good.

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a park in taipei

I also feel like I need to settle down somewhere for a while and work on literary writing. That is really important to me. To find some space and move away from the commercial writing (journalism) and to seek the solace and joy of working on my own stuff. I am still not sure where this place will be. I’ll let you know…

I’ve been a journalist for over seven years and a full-time freelancer for five. Maybe it is natural that my thoughts turn to some kind of career break. It would be great to hear from another journalist, or anyone, who has taken a break of this kind, and what they learned from the experience, or even maybe transitioned to doing something completely else. I always enjoy hearing other people’s stories. 

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

February 29, 2020 at 5:57 am

Chiang Mai, productivity, and the need for fixity

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I have been in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for two weeks. We have entered February and I have begun to feel the need, urgent and rising, to start getting my nose to the grindstone.

January was taken by time spent in Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Thailand. And it was a wonderful month.

The time I’ve spent in Chiang Mai, so far, has been good. I have succumbed to all the sensations this country, and city, is so well-equipped to provide. But I remember now why I didn’t quite gel with this place in the first place (I first visited Chiang Mai in 2016). It’s to do with the blissfully chilled-out vibe; the sultry heat; the jungle air. This place pulses with a certain energy, like a powerful narcotic, that makes it extremely difficult — for me at least — to be productive.

It really does feel like straining against a strong drug, or a seductive spell, that has slipped over me, and I need to fight and make enormous effort in order to break free of this enchantment. As a freelancer, and a traveling one, I need to work and to slip back into productive schedules otherwise I can kiss this lifestyle goodbye.

Different people gravitate towards different energies. Some people fall in love with Chiang Mai: attracted to its wonderful combination of nature, cafes, traveller, hippie/Thai qualities. Although many people have remarked that my own personality would be a good fit for this place (I generally seem laidback, easy-going, and even, perhaps, lazy) it is a misjudgement. I find myself leaning more towards grittier, dirtier places with dynamism to spare. There are limits. Manila, capital of the Philippines, probably has too much grit than I can take.

But Beijing, where I was based for six years, was gritty and dirty, until it was cleaned up in the past few years. Most travellers are not very fond of Bangkok, preferring natural Chiang Mai or the lazy paradise islands of the south, but I like Bangkok and its superior energy, the pace, the grittiness of its daily life.

Chiang Mai has wreaked havoc on my productivity and I find myself wanting to leave this place.

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Last year, when I travelled to five different places over four months, my most productive time was spent in Taipei, Taiwan. There’s a good reason for this. I was living in a hostel, which I ended up staying in for over a month. The hostel allowed residents to be quite self-sufficient and I quickly found local landmarks. I fell into a routine. Oolong tea to wake up with, brewed in the common area at my hostel. Go out for a sweet potato bought from the nearby convenience store for breakfast. Walk around for a bit. Return to the hostel to work, or else head to a nearby café to work. Lunch at a local cafeteria which was cheap as chips. Have a bubble tea in the afternoon. Nap. Or swim at the local gym. Evening, head to the night market for dinner. Night-time: work in the kitchen of my hostel, which was quiet and low-ceilinged, and which was conducive to long bouts of writing.

The month I spent in Singapore was also fairly productive; ditto for the half-month I spent in Seoul. But Taipei was king of a productive me.

I find myself in want of this kind of schedule now. I will continue to travel, but I am aware that I may need to make some kind of big change. To find a spot to settle in, in order so I can work and achieve the goals that are important to me. I cannot stay in Chiang Mai. This place destroys my sense of achieving goals. But today, I am faring better, as I write this blog post. But having a fixity — a fixed place; a stable routine — is something I will need to find again. But where shall I go? What city shall I call my temporary home? This is the other question that haunts me. Recommendations welcome.

My writing life

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Bangkok & Chiang Mai

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Last month I went to Thailand, for the second time this year.

I was in Bangkok for about a week in total, and several days in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second city and about an hour away, by plane, north of Bangkok.

Jungle and hills surround it and it doesn’t feel like a city at all, more like an overgrown village with a temporary leasehold over the jungle.

Quite a few of my friends told me about their love for Chiang Mai. It’s a very chill, laid-back place with lots of cafes and guesthouses. But for me it was too chill. I prefer the raw energy of Bangkok which feels alive and visceral — intense — like life has been crammed into every inch.

In Chiang Mai I happened to meet up with Brent Crane, a fellow freelancer, who was on a journey traveling overland from Cambodia, where he’d spent a year at the Phnom Penh Post, to Nepal. Brent’s a prolific freelancer (and a guest contributor to the site) and by the time I’d met him in Chiang Mai he’d already sold features to The New Republic and Men’s Journal, making more than enough to cover his travel expenses.

I was taking it easy; reading and writing more of my novel. In Chiang Mai I didn’t do much of the things you’re supposed to do (elephant riding, trekking, jungle zip-lining, etc). I didn’t really have the appetite to do them so I didn’t.

If you’re there though try Counting Sheeps (sic) hostel. It’s comfortable, centrally located, and very good. Say hi to Goieurh too, who taught me how to play checkers. And you really should check out the Sunday evening market in the old town.

In Bangkok, I made a new friend who I came across playing Pokemon Go. It was on the steps next to Paragon, a shopping mall in downtown.

I also spent a couple of nights in Sofitel Bangkok, a five-star hotel. Having written for travel publications such as Wanderlust, CNN Travel, and NineMSN, I got a deal.

The suite they gave me was grand and lovely. It was the biggest hotel room I have ever stayed in. I was chauffeured to and from the airport in a Mercedes, which had WiFi and hot towels. I had my own personal butler and access to the VIP lounge, where there was served wine, canapes, fruit, cakes, cheese, prawn cocktails, and other beverages. There was a cool swimming pool, and breakfast buffet with a rack of honeycomb. The bathroom had Hermes toiletries.

It was the best I’ve ever been treated — a truly luxurious and memorable experience at the Sofitel Bangkok. Did I mention dinner on their rooftop restaurant L’Appart? It was elegant French fare — delicious scallops — and I had great company.

Having twice stayed in five-star hotels this year, the experience is rather agreeable I have to say and checking online the expense for these hotels in Asia isn’t as extravagant as you may think so it’s worth spoiling yourself sometimes. The experience really does linger long in the memory.

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