Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘South Korea

What I learned from five months of freelancing and travel

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This year, I left England in April, and I travelled for five months. I stayed in Hong Kong for a couple of weeks where I slept on a friend’s couch. I left for Taiwan where I stayed for almost two months, in a hostel, in a student district of Taipei. Next, I flew to Beijing, for an assignment, where I dwelled two weeks at a friend’s apartment.

After that I went to South Korea for half a month, stayed in a hostel. Finally I went to Singapore, where I stayed for just over a month, in hostels and a friend’s apartment. Overall, I travelled to five different places.

  • Hong Kong/last two weeks of April — I wrote a feature (Dynamic Yield) for a newspaper based in the UAE and an interview feature (Hao Wu documentary) for a UK magazine.
  • Taiwan/May & June — I started writing a big feature (Money) for the BBC, and wrote a nonfiction book proposal. I completed two more features (coffee culture in China & virtual banks) for the UAE newspaper.
  • Beijing/July — I worked on an assignment for a US college magazine. And finished off the big BBC feature (which has still not been published, although I have been paid.) I also successfully pitched a feature idea (videogames) to the UAE newspaper.
  • South Korea/July — I successfully pitched an article idea (migration for work/life) for a UK website. I also went to Gwangju for the 2019 FINA Swimming World Championships, and caught up with a friend. I met someone who gave me the seed of an idea for another article.
  • Singapore/August — I met up with a BBC editor; pitched a significant number of unsuccessful article ideas; and successfully pitched the idea (feminism) that originated in South Korea to a HK-based web publication. And pitched another big feature (Time) to the BBC.

I came back to England on 6th September. It’s nice to be back, enjoying the late summer sun and the beginnings of autumn. I am fortunate that I have a family home where I can stay when I am back. It is probably the basis of my ability to travel in the way I do; so I recognise that I have this fortunate foundation.

The biggest lesson I gained from the five months of freelancing was that geography and timeline doesn’t draw as tight a connection to successful pitches and feature ideas as I thought. That time and geography are pretty flexible for a freelance feature writer.

For example, I can pitch an idea in Beijing, start writing it in South Korea, write more of it in Singapore, and finish the article and file it in England. Similarly, I can get the germ of an idea while in South Korea, pitch it while I happen to be in Singapore, and research and interview sources in England.

This is a useful lesson that I will put into effect on future freelance forays. Here are some other things I learned:

  • It always takes time to adapt. It wasn’t until halfway through my time in Taiwan that I finally became comfortable with my nomadic freelance schedule. I came to embrace it.
  • It’s important to remember what you’ve achieved on a daily basis (ticking off or writing down the things completed that day). This gives you a sense of progress and stops ennui.
  • Twitter remains a valuable resource for generating article ideas and making professional contacts. But too much of it is a real downer.
  • It’s a good idea to meet editors in real life. Just for a quick coffee. The physical meet-up remains a powerful networking tool.
  • Accommodation prices in first-tier developed cities are exorbitant.
  • Never be afraid to renegotiate fees or ask for more money.
  • A little bit of praise can go a long way.
  • I have a tendency to tarry so I need to get better at scheduling.
  • South Korea has a lot of Dunkin Donuts and it is hella good.

There is probably more stuff but I can’t remember all of them. I will now probably stay at home for a bit. But already, after two weeks at home, I can feel myself starting to get restless. Soon enough I will be on the road again. To write, to connect, to experience. Onward.

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What’s summer like for a freelance journalist?

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South Korea’s gleaming capital Seoul

It is the 29th of July, France won the World Cup, we’re over halfway into 2018, and I’m still a freelance writer and journalist living in Beijing.

I went to South Korea in the last week of June for eight days. Four years ago I visited North Korea, for the same amount of time, and it became a hugely profitable trip. Going on a tour of the “Democratic” People’s Republic of Korea is quite expensive but I managed eventually to recoup what I spent and more.

Did South Korea turn out to be as successful a freelance trip? Originally I had set out to visit only for travel’s sake but I eventually thought of a saleable article idea, and I emailed my editor with the idea and he approved. It was then a process of finding a fixer. I used Twitter, and I got myself someone who could help me with research, fixing, and interviewing (I cannot speak Korean).

Seoul is a wonderful city, perhaps the most modern I have visited. It was a marvel of city planning and architecture, with a sense of space and flow that left me deeply impressed. I visited the offices of The Korea Times, the country’s oldest English-language newspaper which started following the aftermath of the Korean War that divided the peninsula. I ate Japanese food and drank Irish stout. I ate stupendously good Korean fried chicken. I made friends with a Korean journalist and we watched the Korea v Mexico World Cup game in the centre of the city, on the grass, with hundreds of other Koreans and a surprisingly large number of Mexicans in the middle of the night.

It was a great trip, and I managed to get my article done, and it will make me more than what I spent on the trip, so all in all I consider that a success.

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I have just come back from a trip to Inner Mongolia. It is China’s third largest province (twice the size of France) and is located north of Beijing, spanning west to east.  I had been aching to get to a particular part of this province since I first heard about it last year.

I am hoping to write something about the experience, and sell it, but I have not yet begun to pitch it out to editors.

It was a place of endless grass, undulating hills, an enormous number of insects, and horses, Caucasian Chinese people, and fresh mutton barbecued to astounding flavour.

It was great to get out of sweltering urban Beijing and head to a temperate grassland of breezes and fresh air, and huge blue skies.

Now I’m back in the city and itching to work and write.

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Lately I have come to a conclusion so obvious and simple that it left me wondering why I hadn’t thought of it before.

For someone whose sense of identity is bound to whatever it means to be a writer, I do very little actual writing. I do read a lot. I read widely and constantly.

I have a friend (a published author these days) who once advised me to write something at least once a day, even if it was just a long email, just write something.

That was a few years ago. But now that I am writing fiction seriously, I realise the trueness of this advice more than ever. To get better I have to practice. To become a better writer I have to write, at least a little, every single day. Dancers dance, painters paint, writers write.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

July 29, 2018 at 9:12 am

The weekend of February 13th: getting ready for Myanmar

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I booked a flight to Myanmar on Friday. It’s a one-way ticket. My situation here in Beijing has changed a little. I am now part-time at the Chinese TV company where I’ve been working for over a year. The salary I draw from them is now low enough for me to consider jumping ship, to other jobs, or even to cut loose, though I still consider Beijing my base.

It’s been very cold, although the days now are warming swiftly. The first part of the year in Beijing is always tough. The feeling is one of getting through the depressing days – and difficult for a freelancer I feel. Although commissions have been forthcoming, the motivation to complete them is low. Simply because the sun-deprived body and the comfort-seeking mind dreams of future summery days and craving small satisfactions in the meantime. A bonus of maintaining this blog however is that I can look back to blog posts from the same time last year and see that I felt the same mixture of misery and ennui, and that I eventually got over it.

I bought a TV. I also bought a one-way ticket to Myanmar. How are these two things connected? They aren’t so much as they point to different paths. The TV (which I use to play my Playstation 3) points to my increasing reliance on Beijing and its related comforts: friends, familiar bars and routines. The ticket out is exciting, quite scary and a path to very many unknowns. I am intending, once I arrive, to journey south, eventually reaching the former capital Yangon, although I do want to explore the coastline also. I might even head to Vietnam after. I have not too much money. I am in fact hedging on future freelance payments derived from the stories collected from my travels, to fund present and future life.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

February 15, 2015 at 5:33 am

What exactly is a freelance foreign correspondent?

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Let me try and define it.

You go to a country. You might stay long. Or not for long before returning ‘home’.

You’re in China. In Beijing. And you explore the society and journalism topics about it all, and you pitch and write about them, about China. You grow your list of clients. But you’re also interested in South Korea. About their hi-tech but traditional society. So you read up about it. Maybe make some Korean friends. To ask questions.

Then maybe you hit on something you find fascinating. And salable. An idea you can sell. So you find contacts and maybe a Korean translator with journalism experience. You sell the idea. You book a ticket to Seoul. You find other ideas to make it worth your while. And you do your reporting while gazing at the skyscrapers and wacky advertisements and strutting South Korean girls in their converse shoes, miniskirts and perfectly arrayed hair.

Yes, you look a lot at those girls. Somehow exotic and yet familiar.

You do your reporting and you jet back ‘home’.

You become known for your interesting subjects and your unique take on China. You are also noted for your diversity (South Korea, maybe Japan and south-east Asia too).

You stay a year in China.

You become ‘famous’.

You decide to go to Brazil.

Because why not.

It’s lovely, the sand is warm. And heard you something about the…

 

For part two in this series go here

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

September 30, 2013 at 12:10 am