Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘philippines

Surfing in Salvacion

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We stepped through the sandy dirt leaving flooded footprints, amid rain-soaked palm trees, our bare feet leading us to the beach. I carried the piece of carved polystyrene foam, heavier than I expected, the shape long and sinuous and coloured a baby blue.

It was 6am in the morning. The night before I’d slept with my companions on the second floor of a bamboo hut; preparing makeshift beds on the hard wooden floor; the mosquito net suspended above us endowing an instant cosiness.

The palm jungle lent the air a distinct energy as an endless supply of rain lashed down. The air was warm but gradually shed its heat and humidity as the sky lightened.

So we trudged toward the sand and the surging waves of early morning’s high tide. Kinkin, the local surfer, guided us into the water. The sea was a steely kind of grey; having substantial character and mood. It was overcast and windy. The rain pattered down on our bodies, our boards, and the waves.

Surf to the right, said Kinkin, pointing out a row of mangroves to the left-hand side that one would not want to be entangled. The waves cut across to the right. It was something I’d not really noticed before: that waves have changing characters and shift so much. And sometimes there is a freak wave, or more, that cuts against the grain, taking the opposite course to its previously breaking siblings. Kinkin would tell me which direction to go, always pointing out the danger of going too far left, which the channels would draw us to.

The rain, the elements, the slight cold, and the heat of paddling. The effort of paying attention to standing up and holding position, keeping the knees bent, riding the wave. Wiping out. Doing it again. My chest chafing against the board. Riding a sweet one, getting it right. The sea surging with the moon-energy of high tide, collecting the fresh water of rain and me smelling it all, breathing in this opportunity.

img_1432One of my favourite books is Barbarian Days, by William Finnegan, a memoir of his life as a surfer, teacher and journalist — growing up in Hawaii, traveling the world looking for waves, getting political in South Africa, becoming a writer and eventually a correspondent for The New Yorker.

In Barbarian Days there are many words spent discussing water, the ocean, reefs, and endless description — technical, idiomatic, and poetic — of waves and their nature. But it never gets boring. His achievement is to sustain a supreme kind of elegance throughout the hundreds of pages. Reading his memoir was a gateway into a poetry of nature and an impassioned life and I would include some quotations except my copy of the book is thousands of miles away.

It is that kind of achievement to which I aspire. But, lately, I’ve been a little blocked. Not just blocked in writing — actually, I can still write, just the motivation has been a little lacking. But, more troubling, it’s my reading that has suffered.

Ask any dedicated writer and they will tell you that reading is just as important as the act of writing. But for whatever reason I’ve found my ability to read is not as strong as before; my motivation to get stuck into a book is at its lowest ebb for as long as I can remember.

Meanwhile, my subconscious and its store of creativity feels shallower than before, and so I have been convalescing: doing yoga, surfing, swimming, and the physical, natural things our bodies require in order for us to be fully human. The mind-store will replenish. That is just a matter of time. Maybe I have simply read too much and need to write more in order to rebalance the scales. Meanwhile, activities like surfing allow the mind to relax.

We surfed for a couple of hours. Afterward we rode the pickup back to town, the rain still going, the countryside rice paddies getting their necessary deluge. The local girls in the pickup who’d kindly adopted me (the solo traveller) were in high spirits, laughing and bantering, teaching their friend from Manila, the manager of the hostel where I was staying, the local Visayan language. I felt grateful to be among them, glowing from that morning’s rain-soaked surf.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

January 19, 2020 at 4:28 am

Being Home Again

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These are not our horses.

I’ve been at home, living at the parent’s place, since the first week of December. The last time you encountered me was in Vietnam I believe. From October to November I was traveling. I went to the Philippines, Vietnam (where a friend joined me), and Malaysia (where I joined three other friends). I then went to Hong Kong and crashed on a couple of friends’ sofas for two weeks before finally heading back to wintry Beijing. I stayed there for a bit, did some work, socialized, collected much of my things, and then flew to sunny England.

While I was traveling, doing my “location independent thing”, I soon marvelled at how those travel bloggers and so-called digital nomads do it — not the work side of it, but the ceaseless moving around.

Anyway, now Christmas is over and soon this year will fold away into the past. And 2018 has presented me with some genuinely strange memories. Tragic, sad, wondrous, indelible.

I remember when I was in Seoul, Korea, on a vacation/assignment. I would do my reporting in the day when that was required of me, and meet up with a local journalist who I’d made the acquaintance of via Twitter. Damin is her name and she works at The Korea Times. We watched Mexico play Korea in the middle of Seoul, sat on the lawn, drinking beer with all the other Koreans, at midnight.

Other times I was alone, so very alone. And it often happens that when I am abroad and alone I sometimes feel lonely and a little wretched but these feelings are seldom overwhelming. But then I always look back on those times with positivity. As if that alone-ness was the utmost luxury: just pure freedom.

I’d walk the streets of Seoul. Just walking, lots and lots of walking. I think I averaged around 25,000 steps a day. When I’d eaten dinner, I’d walk for an hour or so, and then start thinking about heading back. I was staying in the lovely apartment of someone I met in Beijing who’d found a job in Seoul (he was out of town when I visited). When I got to my destination subway station, of the apartment, I’d head to a convenience store across the street where I’d buy a creamy bread and a couple of beers. I’d walk home with that. I’d load up a football game on my laptop. This was late June and the World Cup was on. I’d eat my creamy bread and watch the game and drink my beers. Then I’d go to bed and try to sleep but often wouldn’t be able to until around 4am. I’d wake around midday and repeat the process. Lots of walking, in the June heat. See a few sights. Have dinner. Buy creamy bread and beers for midnight supper. Football. Bed.

On my trip to the Philippines, which was surprising in many ways, I remember one day being taken to a beach by a local. I was on the island of Palawan, in El Nido. We arrived late in the day, just in time for the sunset. And then we walked on the beach while the sky turned from orange to beige and deepest navy, and she told me her sad story about her French boyfriend who she had a baby with and who wanted to marry her but she didn’t want to marry so young, and he had terrible mood swings, and so she abandoned him, and I listened while the surf washed softly over our feet.

It’s those kind of moments I remember.

That are full of adventure, soulfulness, spontaneity.

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That gorgeous beach near El Nido, Palawan.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

December 28, 2018 at 10:53 pm

Posted in Features

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Doing the location independent thing

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Dear reader,

I am writing you from Hoi An, Vietnam.

Last week I was in the Philippines, taking in El Nido, Palawan, and Manila. I am currently in Vietnam, having stopped in Hanoi and Da Nang. Next stop will be Malaysia. From there it might be Cambodia next, once we reach November, but I haven’t made up my mind yet.

I am working while on the road, traveling with a regular-sized backpack and an H&M carry-on. Vietnamese 4g is excellent by the way.

I’m not rich. The flight ticket from Beijing to Manila was cheap. From Manila to Hanoi, it was just over half that: about £60.

I’m currently staying in this hotel, and it costs £20 a night for a double room including breakfast (and the pool of course).

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For October and November I will be traveling and making money with my location having nothing to do with my work.

But I’ve been able to make this change due to having spent a large amount of time accruing value and contacts in Beijing. That is my foundation.

Beijing is a massive metropole that is connected to international companies and the global economy. It is the capital city of the world’s second largest economy with many brands and businesses hoping to tap into such a large consumer base. It is a good place to make contacts, whether friendly or professional (they can often be the same thing), and a large enough entity to find valuable professional niches.

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being a tourist in hanoi

I have a like-hate relationship with Beijing, but I’ll always recommend tapping into the commercial opportunities inherent in such a large, dynamic, and globally connected city that’s a spearhead of a developing nation.

I migrated to Beijing in 2012 looking for adventure and new experiences. I learned a massive amount in six years. This is what many young people do: migrate for work. It’s a rite of passage for many citizens of the world. Whether it’s trying out Manchester or London; or going further afield in Berlin, Budapest, or Bali, there are opportunities available across the world. All it takes is a little courage.

Location is both important and not important. The modern knowledge economy is based on technology: the Internet to be exact. But having some expertise — how to market to Chinese consumers, or the language, for example — gives you greater value. That’s why I think accruing some sort of expertise before you start blogging your way around the world might be a good idea, or traveling with that mindset to begin with.

But I don’t have all the answers. Next year I’ll probably try the location independence thing longer term, with an emphasis on journalism. One of the great things about freelance journalism is traveling with a sense of adventure and mission; to discover new things that might not look so photogenic on Instagram, but that is often more rewarding.