Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘freelancer in beijing

Where I am right now

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Published on Monday, December 7, in The Independent, p. 23.

After four weeks in Yunnan, I am back in Beijing. Before I fly back to England for Christmas I am staying on a friend’s couch in Beijing.

Recently, I was published for a piece analyzing international affairs. It was my first time writing such a piece for a national newspaper. I asked the editor for advice on tone, to which he replied: “It’s supposed to be written in an authoritative manner, by you, our correspondent, who knows about China’s approach to climate change”.

The pressure was on. Certainly I did not want to write an article with my name on it, and my picture, a first for me, that had holes in it — or a poorly researched piece that could make me look like a fool in the printed paper, and online, for an audience of millions.

But the piece was well received by the editor and appeared in Monday’s issue of the paper. As a foreign correspondent I have made progress since August, when I received a phone call from London, from the foreign editor of The Independent, asking me if I was available to write a story.

The call came around 6pm my time, which is about 9am in the UK, and of course I said “yes”. The editor knew me because I had, some months ago, Tweeted him on Twitter asking if I could contribute to his paper. We exchanged messages but nothing came of it. As no-else was available at that time, that day in August, he suddenly remembered me and gave me a call.

That evening, I rushed around Beijing, doing interviews, calling people, and wrote up my story in a Starbucks. The story I wrote impressed the editor and was printed the following day. From then on I got more work with The Independent.

A couple of things to note, especially for any budding freelancers out there. While I was on the phone to the foreign editor, even though it was my first ever time speaking to him proper, I still asked him if I could have a higher fee for the article I had not yet written. He said “yes”– he’d give me a bit of a higher rate (he didn’t have much of a choice) and so I established, from the beginning, a precedent for getting higher rates from them.

It’s important that freelancers do not price themselves out of their jobs, and importantly, price other freelancers out of their jobs.

It’s important that editors respect you, and that you respect yourself and your work. It is a question of confidence that you value yourself to a point where you feel you can ask for better payment. But it’s a good habit to have.

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I’m still broke — May 18th (life of a freelance journalist abroad)

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It has been over a month since I quit my regular script-editing job at the TV company. And since then I have only been surviving on my freelancing income.

Since I came back from my Burma trip, which cost too much due to a mishap with flights, I have been more or less broke — having had to ask for an extension on paying my rent, and for a personal loan to bail myself out.

I have had two job interviews. One of these jobs would’ve been perfect; offering a flexible schedule and a great salary. I did not get it however. The other job is for a big news agency where competition is tough so I am unsure about my prospects.

I had a lot of stop and starts when I first came out here – gigs that fell through, pitches that were lame, a bank account that was at zero so many times I nearly packed it in and went back home (on multiple occasions).    — Kate Hodal, freelancer turned Southeast Asia correspondent

When I read these words from Kate Hodal, I always feel better knowing that those before me, and also my peers, have struggled financially doing journalism.

But equally, when I see freelancers who are for more prolific than I am I feel spurred on to work harder and to find my own spread of amenable publications.

This is not to say I haven’t been enjoying myself — enjoying the acres of free time, partying with friends. That’s the beauty of China, money goes further: the experience of being broke here is unlike being broke in England, where relative poverty reduces choices more starkly.

But I thank the lord for my bank account’s overdraft.

Freelancing in Beijing: One Year On

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So I’ve been in Beijing for a year. Okay, it’s a little longer than a year: I arrived in Beijing 11th October, 2013.

Next month, I’m heading home (Hastings, England) for Christmas. I’ll be there for almost a month. It’ll be good to detoxify in England for a little while. Beijing is full of pollution…

So I’ve been here for over a year. What has happened? Originally, as I wrote in my first post while back in the city, I wanted to improve my Chinese to near-fluency (failed that one); get a decent paying job (that happened but may change in the very near future); travel more, write more.

I did travel more. But I did not write as much as I wanted to or should have done. That was the failure of this year. Second to that was not actively learning Chinese.

I made a group of friends. I lost a few who drifted away. I moved through a relationship (the loveliest I’ve had). I went up in the world by moving in to a nicer apartment. I gained some great new bylines. I lost freelancing momentum. I lost some enthusiasm. I regained some bad habits. I’ve felt professionally and personally stagnant. And I look to the future with the brightest ambitions but tempered with anxiety and doubt.

I cannot see the future. I think I know where I want to go, but the path to it is so unclear. I am 25. Young to those who’ve already experienced it, older to those still beating a fresh path. It does seem a little like a crossroads, although this could be just “end of the year” talk.

But the optimism remains.

How to summarize a year? I freelanced for Aljazeera, selling the pitch after the reporting trip which was risky but it worked out. I had CNN cancel a story on me but I managed to publish it elsewhere (unpaid but it got me in with some new editors). I wrote more and more for a section of a UK newspaper whose pay rates went up midway through the year.

I wrote for a video games publication I respect and it gladdened me as I want to break into games writing. I had a few commissions not contingent on my being in Asia which demonstrates how location can be irrelevant to freelance.

Money

I made £1634.35 from freelancing since I arrived in Beijing last October.

This money definitely helped the UK bank balance but clearly I’m not actually making bank from this. It supplemented the far healthier income I got from the Chinese TV job which meant I survived comfortably (although it often did not feel like it), with it financing an expensive reporting trip, visa runs to Hong Kong and two vacations.

But there have been short periods I’ve had to scrimp, and early next year I can foresee cash flow problems. I am not getting rich whatsoever. I am still surviving.

The freelance income probably merits further discussion. Certainly if I didn’t have the TV job I would have had to be much more prolific freelancing. The amount I earned, over a year, is not much at all. But it was good to have these semi-regular injections of cash which I plundered every so often to buy plane tickets. Certainly I’m going to have to step up the production rate if I’m going to be able to afford the kind of travel I wish to do next year.

Success: or lack thereof?

Like I’ve written before, the feeling of progression for a freelancer is not so obvious. We don’t go from Associate Freelancer to Deputy Freelancer to Freelancer-in-Chief. But the failures of the past several months I attribute to not chasing the stories hard enough, to not working in pursuit of the big stories, of the interesting people and things that are happening. I realize these failures and I hope that they’re instructive for what I need to change for 2015.

Life

Because moving to another country, settling in to a new city, isn’t just about bylines and becoming “successful”. There’s so much not said, so much that’s a part of living, especially in your 20s, struggling to understand what it is you’re supposed to be struggling toward. An account merely focused on the journalism and not the journey misses the daily textural quality of life, and the results of which you had never determined would be the destination.

To put it plainly, this blog captures some of that struggle. But of course it misses the thousand small things that you learn, that you understand and helps to expand a sense of what is possible and what is knowable when you are placed in a situation foreign to you.

Struggling to understand what it is you’re supposed to be struggling toward

I mentioned before I was in a relationship. The truth is, it was quite short in duration (although I visited her in Thailand, and we kept in touch). But the intensity of it made it feel that much longer and deeper. And that’s the important thing. The memory of it, the intensity. It doesn’t matter that some experience may be short-lived, because all that you’ll remember of it is that fleeting moment, and what you experience, from one moment to the next, are simply moments. Bubbles in time.

That is why I place great importance on the adventure of moving abroad, or simply to invite new challenges. My life in Beijing has its very great share of downs. But the ups don’t necessarily ameliorate the downs. Because that’s not the point. It’s not even about being “happy”. It’s about how much I’ve put myself through. About finding great contentment in the fact I’ve made a go at this crazy life in Beijing. And have, more or less, made it. I feel great pride in that. Because it’s an achievement purely for myself.

Links:

Freelancing in Beijing: Three Month Update

Freelancing in Beijing: Six Month Update