Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘Hong Kong

Update: 8th May – in Taiwan

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I am currently living in a hostel in Taipei, Taiwan.

Taiwan is a sweet potato-shaped island in the South China Sea that is a de-facto independent nation, but is not officially recognised as such by many countries.

It has a complicated relationship with mainland China. But unlike its large neighbour, it is a developed democracy, and the home to Foxconn, the company that makes Apple’s iPhones.

It is barely bigger than Hainan island, which is a Chinese holiday resort island, and is home to 23 million people who use traditional Chinese characters (rather than the Simplified version used on the mainland).

Before I arrived in Taiwan, I was living on a friend’s couch in Wanchai, Hong Kong. There I stayed for two weeks. I went to Sonar music festival. My friend had a house party and I went to some seedy expat bars with her Russian roommate.

Hong Kong is a marvel of engineering and 7.5 million people live in a compact area, and yet it all manages to work. But the city is an expensive one and I couldn’t afford to tarry.

So I find myself in Taiwan. It’s a place I first visited 11 years ago, in 2008, when I stayed for six weeks. Back then, I found it a nice place, but a little dull, as it lacks nightlife and bars.

It still doesn’t have the kind of nightlife that Beijing does so well.

From 2014 to 2016, Beijing’s bar, club, and cafe culture peaked. And discussing with a friend the other day, we realised that Beijing might have been the best party place in Asia.

No other place rivalled Beijing, during those years. The combination of cheapness, the expat to locals ratio, the diversity of bars, and the undeniable sense that this was an exciting time to be. The Gulou area of Beijing had a scene. And it was great.

Nowhere else had that. Seoul is more pricey and caters more to the locals. Southeast Asia can be sleazy and caters more to backpackers. Beijing was up-and-coming, and the scene was buzzing, before it got abruptly shutdown from late 2016 onward.

The local authorities started bricking up bars and denying licenses to a host of restaurants, cafes and bars that had sprung up. In the space of a few months, a scene that was beloved by the bohemian Beijing crowd was quickly squashed out of existence.

It still exists, but is a shadow of what it used to be.

Taipei, Taiwan, is a nice place, no doubt about it. It is comfortable, affordable, and orderly. But it lacks the grit, the pure excitement of what Beijing had during its brief golden years.

But that is okay, I am quite enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of Taipei, for now.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

May 8, 2019 at 4:58 am

Update: April 15th, 2019

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Hi reader, I’m writing you from the couch (also my bed) of my friend’s small but cosy apartment in Wanchai, central Hong Kong.

It’s been over a month since my last post, so sorry about that. In the whole of the previous month of March, I did not do any journalism. I wrote no articles for news publications.

I did spend three weeks in Spain, most of that time at the house of one of my best friends. She lives in the countryside with her husband, two kids, and an array of animals.

[Insert: an array of animals]

At her house, I worked on my own writing, for competitions and publishing initiatives. We shall see if they go anywhere.

I wrote an essay for a writing competition. I put the finishing touches to a short story for another competition. I applied to initiatives, schemes, and opportunities. It’s all for the aim of my long term goals.

I did some copywriting for the ongoing work I have with a digital marketing company, for some income.

It was great to spend time with my friend, after the kids had gone to sleep, sat around the miraculous fire-machine they have (Spanish nights in March are still chilly), with some wine, and just talk. It was great to just talk.

I then went back to England for a week where I bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific. A direct flight that cost a little too much, but the food and service was satisfactory. Since I’ve been in Hong Kong, I’ve been working on a couple of journalism stories, and a book proposal.

I’m staying with my friend who works for the South China Morning Post, and her roomie, and we went to a music festival on the weekend and we had a house party. So that was good.

For a freelancer, some nights socialising, drinking, and partying can underpin a kind of easy-going happiness. It replaces the socialness of an office. And the fact I’m moving around again also seems to be the basis for a type of joy and happiness, if not contentment, that can serve to fulfil the whole point of freelancing: freedom to look ahead, at unhemmed horizons, and a licence to roam.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

April 15, 2019 at 2:40 pm

A week in Hong Kong

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We met in Thailand when I asked you “where are you from?” and you replied “I’m from Thailand”. We agreed to meet again in Hong Kong, an island in-between us. You work in Bangkok and I work in Beijing.

We walked along the promenade of Kowloon harbour, looking at the lights that light up the sky. It’s a sight I’ve seen many times but it was the first time for you. You took photos and I was glad that you were there. That first night in Hong Kong was slow and easy, the next day we’d ride the ferry and watch the clouds reflect in the water.

The escalator is the longest outside escalator in the world. It transports you up the hill while either side are cafes and shops, bars and restaurants. Buildings are called needle buildings, tall and slender, reaching up. I look at them and marvel at their vertical structure, holding occupants whose lives I don’t know, each window a room.

We took a taxi to The Peak, which offers wide angle views of the city stretched out before us. I laugh when I hear an English friend refer to it as “the bay area” when I return to Beijing.

We stay up there, on The Peak, until the evening. The night is beautiful. We take a bus back down. Trying to remember chronologically now is not easy. Events in the memory just pop into my head. There was a cafe we stumbled into just before it started to rain. I ordered a latte. Outside the water drummed onto the streets and the cars. Inside the air conditioning made it a little too cold. It was an afternoon, just a week ago, and it’s already receding. The coffee was damn good though.

I ate a lot and felt hungrier than usual. You noticed. You were also sad sometimes and I couldn’t figure out why exactly.

On one of the days we took the metro to the island where the big Buddha sits. He was wreathed in fog looking majestic. I also took you to the Wisdom Path. I first went there nine years ago as a youth embarking on my first year abroad. I was eighteen and carried with me a copy of On the Road.

We sat and chatted one evening at the hotel. You were lying against the headboard of the bed while I sat at the desk. The TV was on. I said I liked Thailand because everything is so cheap. And you ranted (in your soft, gentle way) about how you didn’t like how foreigners said that, and you really didn’t like how your Korean boss would go to an expensive restaurant and order a lot and you had to join in and pay. “She don’t care about me, about us”, you said. I listened and smiled. I really appreciated that conversation. It pays to just listen sometimes.

I left the hotel first while you had to spend a day alone. My flight was earlier. You hugged me close and kissed me. You said “see you” and “bye bye” while I said nothing as I looked at your eyes and your head softly laid on the end of the bed. And I was gone.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

June 3, 2016 at 5:50 pm

The perfect laptop

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The laptop I have now is great, except it’s dreadful battery life

I’d quite like to buy a new laptop.

I am going to Hong Kong very soon and it’s a good place to buy tech.

I bought the laptop I currently use there two years ago. I like its portable form factor, touchscreen and excellent keyboard. A nice keyboard is a priority for me, as a writer.

It’s a Lenovo ideapad S210 Touch. It has a Core i3 processor, 4gb RAM, Windows 8.1, and a 500gb HDD. It cost about £325.

I sometimes open a dozen or more tabs in Chrome and occasionally edit photos and video. Its performance is fine and it has not let me down. Only one thing has been its bane. Woeful battery life.

If it’s not plugged in, it now lasts less than an hour on a charge.

I like to work in cafes, travel not infrequently, and sometimes I have to do some urgent copy-editing, and in those circumstances having a laptop where I don’t need to worry about having to find a power socket would be awesome.

My essentials for a laptop are great battery life and a good keyboard. Desirable would be an HD touchscreen, a light and small form, an SD card slot, and an SSD. The excellent placement of the scrolling buttons (I read a lot) are nice details my Lenovo has.

I’ve looked around a lot. And trying to find the perfect match has been nigh on impossible. The Macbook Pro, with its excellent screen and good battery life, is too heavy. The MacBook is very expensive with a disgusting keyboard.

The Macbook Air has good performance, stellar battery life, and the 11-inch is incredibly portable. I just wish the screen was better.

Windows alternatives are the Dell XPS, Lenovo Yoga 900, and the HP Spectre x360.

The HP is my choice from that list. But I am tempted by the Macbook Air 11-inch’s excellent battery life (which doesn’t deteriorate as fast as Windows laptops) and its extreme portability. I’ve also never had an Apple laptop so I am interested in looking over the OS wall. It’s just a crying shame Apple has not deemed to update the screen.

18th May — In Beijing

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It’s 28 degrees outside and hazy. Beijing’s spring is the shortest season. Soon the sweltering heat will arrive. Blue skies have been fairly common and it’s always good to see the city suddenly green.

I finished two books recently: John Updike’s Rabbit Redux and Evan Osnos’ Age Of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. 

The latter is a nonfiction title that is the most comprehensive, evocative, and insightful book on contemporary China I have read. The author was China correspondent for the New Yorker. He is widely regarded as brilliant.

His book is a page-turner, written with narrative drive, and telling the China story with great human stories. He had incredible access to some of China’s most notable and influential figures. And the story he has carved out; of rising fortune, middle class excess, and, later on, spiritual searching, manages to capture China with something approaching the greatness of a novel.

Checking out the book’s Notes on Sources I was awed by Osnos’ depth of research and reading. This guy seemed to have read everything. Was he just reading and writing all the time?

I put this question to a friend of mine, someone who has met Osnos, and who knew his Chinese assistant. My friend told me that the assistant told him that Osnos just wrote all the time, from morning to night.

And it was such a basic realization: to be outstanding, you have to work extremely hard.

It’s obvious of course. But we kid ourselves by imagining secret elixirs, fabled shortcuts, magic ingredients. It’s baloney. Only through work can accomplishment be achieved.

*

I haven’t been working so hard. I’ve been having a great time.

I’ve been socializing with friends, drinking and partying. We went to a music festival that was very enjoyable. I’ve been working out and tried out boxing and Muay Thai. This year so far has been a hoot.

I’ve had very little journalistic published this year.

Last week I finally finished an essay I spent two months laboring over. It’s 2000 words long. I sent it to the editor but he has not deemed to reply yet, not even to acknowledge that he’s received it. I know editors are busy people. But for a freelance it can be demoralizing and frustrating to hear such silence. All I can do is patiently wait. And hope.

*

Next week I am going to Hong Kong to meet up with someone. It’ll be a vacation. Someone asked not long ago how can I afford to travel so much. I didn’t know quite how to respond. Truth is I don’t really know. I do not receive parental handouts. And the money I make is not by any means a great amount. In fact it’s only around a little more than double what my rent is.

I think it may be psychological. It is true what many of those travel bloggers say, that travel actually is not as expensive as what people may imagine. And that as long as you account for accommodation and things like flight tickets travel is just like being home — you still have to eat and get around and the usual expenses but you’re just doing it somewhere else.

I think that mindset is good to have. You always have to buy things to eat and in Asia that’s usually cheap. Hostels and even hotels can also be similar to what you pay for a monthly apartment. So travel is only restricted by time and busyness, your conceptual perception of how much time you have. For a freelance, who thinks in freelance ways, it comes easily. I don’t burden myself too much though, on the frugality, while traveling. Because, what’s the point?