Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘summer

Moving Onward

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2016 has been a pivotal year.

In January I managed to secure a freelance contract with a PR firm. This guaranteed income stability, the single biggest contributor to freelance happiness this year, in contrast with last year where I had no such guarantee. This year I also decided to start writing a novel.

This summer has been busy. I added two jobs to the one I had with the PR firm. The others are teaching English (which I did for a month, paying for the next three months’ rent) and the other is copywriting.

Copywriting is a new occupation for me. And as a writer it always amazes me how much there is still yet to learn. As a writer of nonfiction and journalism I’d never really paid that much attention to adjectives and verbs, they came quite naturally. But in advertising and marketing every word needs to count, conveying information about the brand and the product.

It’s about trying to locate the voice of a brand and then trying to speak with the voice of that brand consistently. It’s a craft uniquely suited to novelists and screenwriters, rather than journalists I feel. It’s more about character and voice, rather than information.

What does this mean? Have I abandoned journalism for the dark arts of advertising? Have I become something I’d always forsworn was the easy, commercial position?

At the start of this year I thought I’d take a step back from journalism to concentrate on my own writing, namely fiction and essays. There are, after all, many more forms of writing. And journalism is a severely limiting form with very rigid constraints.

I will always continue practicing journalism, and I still do. I’ve got an article to work on right now in fact. But journalism seems to be dying. Well, print journalism anyway. Part of it died in a very real way this year when The Independent newspaper was shuttered in March.

The British newspaper industry appears to be in terrible decline. The Daily Telegraph is not what it once was amid colossal changes and scaling back. The Guardian is asking readers for donations. Regional and local papers announce regular falls in revenue and circulation. Across the pond even mighty names like the New York Times report troubling times as the entire industry’s business model is being made redundant.


With the addition of those jobs to my freelance portfolio success, or some measure of it, has followed. This criterion of success is making more money. Before, I was surviving only on the income generated by one job, and the meagre income of infrequent freelance gigs. I’d become used to surviving (quite well, if not lavishly), this way.

When I was catapulted into something else entirely, into greater earnings, that very change made me feel vulnerable. It made me feel anxious.

I spent some time trying to diagnose what this was.

Money is an abstract idea. It’s conceptual. And that means it has the capacity, as an idea, to control and influence you beyond its physical component. Think of it this way: money, which is really just some bits of paper or bits of metal, is almost worthless in itself. Its value comes from the value we have given it. And this value can stretch and grow in accordance with the value and meaning to which you give it yourself.

Once I realized this, I understood how to get over its control over me, at least partially. It means trying to hold onto things that really matter: spending time well, my books, going for a swim, having a joke with friends, walking in nature. It sounds corny but money should fall under your own whims and decisions, not the other way around.


I have been reading a fair amount this summer, getting through novels. I have also been writing fiction. It’s been a revelation to me.

Even as I read and write more, my adoration of it, of language, ideas, character, and story, develops still.

I’ll leave you with a quote from a recent profile I read of Eimear McBride, the Irish novelist, in which she says writing never stops being hard and painful and yet it brings her great joy. But, she adds: “happiness and joy are not the same”.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

September 1, 2016 at 9:52 am

Why I want to work this summer – July 11th

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This is my third summer in Beijing, and the first one where I want to work.

Looking back to last summer, I spent 20 days in Thailand, and I wrote a post in June entitled “What should a freelance journalist do in the summer?

In that post I said it should be the season to unwind and get rid of stresses, but this year I feel differently.

I want to work and do productive things. And this isn’t about money. Yes, I don’t have enough of it to travel. And I still feel the urge to go somewhere where I can swim and frolic.

But I wouldn’t want to do that for an extended amount of time; a weekend would suffice.

Why this might be, I am not sure. Perhaps it is natural that appetites change and the propensity to knuckle down and set to should swing by at different life-stages.

Current days

I have various approaching deadlines and quite a lot to do. And new opportunities have cropped up.

Friends of friends have started up a food company that is doing very well, and they invited me to come up with an advertising campaign. This is a fun challenge.

I am also in the process of designing a course on journalism skills and better writing, which I will be delivering to a multinational company’s Beijing office. This is well paid.

I need this money, it will pay for the next three month’s rent, which I have to pay in a lump sum, and the money from freelanced articles will contribute to food and other living expenses.

The plan is that I will hopefully have enough to do something travel-related in September.

A few weeks ago I had a very hard time — I was not in a good place. But everything has perked up again. Living abroad is often about overcoming those dark days, and trusting in the eventual good times. Optimism must sustain you.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

July 11, 2015 at 12:30 pm

What should a freelance journalist do in the summer?

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My productivity lately has nosedived. Temperatures in Beijing meanwhile peaked  – last week it hit 41 Celsius. Summer in general is a difficult time for me. I find it harder to concentrate on work.

It feels perverse to be indoors hunched over staring at a computer screen when people are doing summery things. Hormones also go through the roof (or is that just me?) and the mind drifts toward an addled state fixated on hedonism, idleness and pleasures.

I’ve got a couple of commissioned pieces on the go. My day job (at the TV company) has been more demanding of late, requiring more energy but really that’s an excuse. Another disruption is that I’ve been homeless for about three weeks now. I’ve been staying (and overstaying) on friends’ couches around Beijing, after me and other tenants were kicked out of our rooms by the landlord. Landlords have far too much power.

I finally found a new place I was happy with but can’t move in until June 11th, so tonight I will be sleeping on a couch at my workplace. I’m writing this post now at my office’s desk at 11pm Beijing time.

So what should a freelancer do during this season? I’d like to know what other freelancers do, so please do leave a comment. I guess many cannot really afford to take much time off if their livelihood depend on the income, and they don’t live in a cheaper location such as China. Summer is often a dry period for news and contracted freelancers for newspapers often take time off.

I guess summer is a time for reading, relaxing, doing what humans like to do, traveling, swimming, eating, drinking, lounging, sexing, snorkeling in sapphire waters on a James Bond beach, taking time off and making memories that when the cold and drab colours of winter come back will offer some reserve of sun.

Soon I’ll be reunited with my half Japanese, half Ukrainian Canadian girlfriend in Thailand for 10 days. It’s going to be awesome. In the meantime I will work on two 5000-word essays on the freelancing life in Beijing and my Chinese political heritage for two editors that might one day be powerful champions. I will try to write but I guess I will mostly read. And that is just as important.


The Great Wall Music Festival, May, 2013. It was fun.


Written by Lu-Hai Liang

June 4, 2014 at 2:21 pm