Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘foreign correspondence

Capturing a scene in 200 words & getting paid for it

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In the past, newspapers sold on the grimy streets of London or New York City often contained evocative accounts of far away lands. Telegrams would be sent from the Crimea, from Prussia, Indochina, Arabia, Austria-Hungary, and other exotic places.

Whether describing a war, some local ascendancy, or natural disaster, these early foreign correspondents would write in a style now rarely seen, exciting the imaginations of readers back home who could not see (there being no TV) nor travel to foreign countries.

A “vignette” is defined as “a brief evocative description, account, or episode”. They were a popular form in early American newspapers. Indeed, that sublime piece of “reporting” — The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane, written about the American Civil War, could be taken as a long, extended vignette.

I wrote the following vignettes for The ‘i’ newspaper, a British national newspaper, that still finds a place for them. I enjoy writing them. It’s a romantic form that allows the writer to claim some lineage with explorer writers like Wilfred Thesiger or Marco Polo. Well, that’s how I like to think of it anyway.


The ‘i’ newspaper, a sister title to The Independent, pays¬†¬£50 for each 200-word entry.


November 4th — in Beijing

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I’m homeless.

But it’s self imposed. I moved out of my apartment and I’m currently crashing at a friend’s place. I don’t have my own accommodation in Beijing anymore.

On Friday I will be flying to Yunnan, a province in southern China. It’s a beautiful and diverse part of the country. I’ll be staying with a friend and then we’ll travel around the province a little. I am looking forward to it. I’m a big nature lover and Yunnan has plenty of it. It’s something that Beijing, being a huge urban agglomeration, lacks.

October was a much quieter month than September. Here are a couple of pieces I wrote recently. One is about China abandoning its one-child policy after 35 years — big news. The other piece is about craft beer and coffee in Beijing. The latter piece was something I enjoyed writing. It took me a night and a day to put it together, and its more descriptive style brought to mind the older form of foreign correspondence, when those living in foreign lands sent home vignettes and descriptions as well as news; trying to capture the zeitgeist of exotic locations in which the writer lived but who readers back home could only imagine.

I hope that perhaps I can do more such writing. Although capturing the zeitgeist is harder than it may initially appear.

November and December will probably be downtime for me, which makes up for a mediocre and somewhat depressing summer, a summer where I traveled nowhere and did not do many summery things.

But I took the long view and the wintry downtime is something I feel I need. I will be flying back home in December for Christmas, staying with my family in England. I bought a single ticket. Will I be coming back to Beijing? It’s likely, but the question of when will hang around for a while I think.