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This past weekend, Seth, Zoe, and I made our way to the Hong Kong Book Fair. The Hong Kong Book Fair is the largest book show in Asia, with over 500 vendors from over 30 countries and over 1 million guests. We had two purposes for our trip: finding a publisher and buying banned books.
Meeting with Publishers
About two years ago, I came up with the idea for a children’s book called Santa and the Christmas Dragon. Last year, I became friends with Ruth Silbermayr-Song (author of China Elevator Stories) who is an illustrator. Together, we started bringing Santa and the Christmas Dragon to life. The story was written for Chinese kids, so my dream is to find a Chinese publisher for it. So I printed sample pages from the story and took a stack of business cards with me to the book fair.
The fair was very crowded and none of the publishers officially sent representatives from their publishing or editing departments. The fair is almost exclusively for book buyers, so most of the publishers only sent their sales and marketing teams. However, a few editors just happened to be there, so we had good experiences with four different companies. I also have a meeting with a local publisher later this week, so hopefully soon I will have good news and more information about getting published in China.
Buying Banned Books at the Fair
I have almost every digital reader available on my iPad and downloading books from Amazon or via torrents is not a problem for me, so even if a book is banned in China, I typically don’t have problems acquiring them. Buying banned books in Chinese is another issue though. Amazon does not carry many digital books in Chinese and they are nearly impossible to find via torrents. Books avaialbe in Chinese on Amazon.cn are going to the be same ones you can find in mainland China that are either approved or edited by the government. While Zoe is fluent in English, reading novel-length books in English is difficult for her, and she would get a lot more out of them in Chinese. So we were hoping to find a lot of books that she can’t find in mainland China at the book fair. We faced two major hurdles though.
Most books sold in Hong Kong are in traditional Chinese.
Most English books that are translated into Chinese are in Taiwanese-style vertical text. That means the books are written in simplified Chinese, but are printed backwards, backwards, and backwards, The text goes vertically from top to bottom, right to left on the page, and from the back of the book to the front. If you aren’t used to it, it can be very dizzying to read.
There were mainland Chinese publishers at the fair, but they didn’t have anything you can’t already find in China.
In the end, Zoe ending up getting a book about Mao in English for young readers.
Buying Banned Books Elsewhere in Hong Kong
After the book fair, we ended up running into my buddy Ray, and he told us about “the banned book store.” The banned book store is actually ironically named The People’s Book Store (人民公社). The People’s Book Store is located right across from the entrance to Times Square in Causeway Bay (1/F, 18 Russell Street 羅素街18號). Unfortunately, they had the same problem as the book fair: books written for Hong Kong readers and Taiwanese readers. They had a few books in Chinese that mainland readers can read, but not many. Zoe did manage to pick up a book about the Great Famine. They also had a lot of books in English, which was nice. I picked up a copy of Jung Chang’s book on Mao and Seth picked up Xu Yong’s Negatives, a gorgeous photo collection that really is best as a physical book instead of as a digital one.
The next morning, we happened across another banned book store just around the corner called Insiders Books (內部書店) located at 1/F, 57 Percival Street 波斯富街57號1樓. This shop though was almost all political books and had nothing in English.
“Smuggling” Books into China
I really have no idea how many physical or digital banned books I own. Buying books in English in China is difficult, so we always buy books in English when we are in Hong Kong or the U.S. We have brought dozens of books with us to China over the years with no thought as to whether or not they are banned and we have never been stopped or inspected. This trip was no different. We and our books arrived home safe and sound.
So how about you? Did you go to the Hong Kong Book Fair? Have you ever been stopped for bringing books into China? Let me know in the comments!
The Big Con – Our Nightmare Saturday at the Guangzhou Comic Con *UPDATES at the end*
My husband Seth and I are big geeks, as everyone who knows us or has read this blog knows. We have gone to great lengths to recapture some of the geeky atmosphere we left behind in our old country. This has including visiting some pretty lame and poorly organized gaming and anime conventions around China. But while I have complained before about the heat, crowds, and lack of general fun that has accompanied conventions we have been to in the past, the Guangzhou Comic Con, sponsored by Wizard World and Coca-Cola, was by far the worst we have even been to.
We were initially really looking forward to this convention. An actual Comic Con? Organized by Wizard World? Sponsored by Coke? This is gonna be awesome! But, no.
The warning signs that this was going to be a terrible event started about a week before we went. The convention site was moved only a week before, but no messages were sent out in English to ticket buyers nor was the English version of the website ever updated with the new location. It seemed very strange to move such a large event so close to the date, but this is China and things like this happen all the time. Thankfully, we found out about the change and got the new address before we even left Shenzhen. Others, though, weren’t so lucky and didn’t find out until after they arrived at the original location.
The new location was literally a popup tent in the courtyard of a hotel. It was so small! At 10:00, the line was already wrapped all the way around the building and out to the street. 10:00 was when they were supposed to open the doors to let people in, but they didn’t. At this point, it was already more than 80 degrees outside and the lines were in the sun. Seth and I were in our full Steampunk attire and were already melting.
Stupidly, even though we had bought our tickets two weeks before and had a code on our phone, we were still required to go print them out, because having a scanner by the door would have been the smart and logical thing to do. But like all events in China, there were no signs directing you where in go, in Chinese or in English. Seth and our friend Paul had to ask half a dozen people and walk around the venue three times before accidentally stumbling on the kiosks where we were supposed to print our tickets.
Already hot and exhausted, we went to a Costa Coffee for cold drinks and some food. Then Seth headed back out and got in the tortuous line. By 11:00, they still were not letting people in the building. By 11:30 they had let some people in, but not enough to make much of a dent in the line. The popup tent quickly filled and they couldn’t let in any more people until the others left, but no one was leaving because many of them were hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars who were going to be there.
If you were one of the couple of hundred people “lucky” enough to get inside, it wasn’t worth the wait or the money. There was literally NOTHING inside the tent. There was a Coca-cola booth, a That’s PRD booth (a local magazine), a few standees you could take your pictures with, and a documentary playing about “the history of Comic Con.” Most of the tent was blocked off to make room for the queues to meet the celebrities who would be arriving between noon and 1:00 p.m.
By 12:00 the celebrities started arriving, and they were not happy with what they saw. Thousands of guests and fans were still standing outside in the broiling sun, and inside, it was so crowded there weren’t even any chairs for them to sit and sign autographs.
by 12:30, my friends who have two small children had had enough. They took their little children (about 2 and 4 years old, the smallest kids we saw there) to the organizers and demanded an explanation. As one of our friends was chewing out an organizer from Coca-cola (who was shocked we were still there after we had first yelled at him two hours before), her baby started two faint, so they let them go in the tent. That was how we found out there was nothing inside the tent so no reason to stay.
However, about this time, the gorgeous elf king Thranduil himself, Lee Pace, showed up and walked right past them. They snapped a quick picture of him before the crowd started to stampede and about crush their little boy. Pace reached out and shielded their son from the crowd so he wouldn’t be hurt. Lee Pace, real-life hero.
After that, we all had had about enough and decided to leave. We met up with some other friends who had just arrived and they said they would hag out and try to go to the con later if the crowds thinned out.
The crowds never did.
In fact, they got worse.
About 2:30, the organizers announced that no one else would be allowed inside (not that they had let anyone in since about noon) and only VIP ticket-holders would be allowed inside on Sunday. A mini riot broke out, which caused the celebrity guests to be evacuated the police to form a human barricade around the tent. The organizers then said they would issue refunds for all the regular ticket holders, but they didn’t give any directions about how to get the refund. We have contacted event organizers directly as well as Wizard World and Coke via their website, Facebook, and Twitter, all to no response, so we have not received any refunds.
As I said at the outset, we have been to some pretty crazy and disappointing conventions in China before, but this was hands down the worst. As my friend said, “this wasn’t a comic con, this was a straight up con.” We spent money on the con tickets, train tickets to get there, hotel rooms, food, and taxi rides for this event and all we got to do was stand in the sun for three hours in 90 degree weather and get sunburned and dehydrated.
This event was completely unacceptable. This was Wizard World’s first event in Guangzhou and their first year in China. It is clear that no one took Chinese culture into account when planning this event. Regardless of that, though, the lack of any vendors was totally unacceptable. I’m not even going to go into a list of “here are the things Wizard World could do better next time” because EVERYTHING was terrible, EVERYTHING sucked and the organizers were WIZARD WORLD. Organizing Comic Con is what they DO.
Don’t even bother coming back and trying again, Wizard World. You aren’t worth our time or money.
Did you visit the Guangzhou Comic Con or any other convention in China? What were your experiences?
Our friends did finally receive an email from someone at China Branding Group, but I am not sure what the company’s actual involvement in the convention was. The email reads:
Thank you for your very detailed and helpful note. We are working extremely hard right now to fix the situation for tomorrow and I will respond in detail to your email very soon and ensure that I address each of the items below in a detailed response to you once we get through tomorrow. I am extremely sorry at how today unfolded for many of the attendees and will be formulating a mechanism to do what we can for all those that faced these issues.
Thank you very much, again, and my deepest apologies until I provide more detailed follow up.
We will let you know if we hear anything more.
Our friends received the following reply from “Heather,” a Wizard World customer service agent:
Thanks for your note. To attain a refund you will need contact the ticket provider from whom you purchased admission. Wizard World did not contract with the ticketing agency for this event.
I don’t know anything about event planning, especially on an international level, but this seems to be a very sketchy and disinterested reply from Wizard World. What does that even mean that they “did not contract with the ticketing agent for this event?” It sounds like they are just trying to wash their hands of the whole event.
One of the best things about living in Shenzhen is the arts and culture scene. While not the best (Kansas City probably t
akes the cake for arts culture out of all the cities I have lived), it is pretty good. There are tons of concerts, art exhibits, theater performances, and other events to choose from every week. There are also several websites dedicated to giving residents information about things going on in the city. But there didn’t seem to be any central location to find all of SZ’s arts and culture events in one place every week. So I started compiling a list myself. I think it was filling a void in the city, but most of my readers are not from SZ. I have readers from all over the world and all over China, so I didn’t feel that the weekly events was something that would effectively serve the majority of my readers. I was actually talking to several people about how to keep the events posts going, but not inandate my non-SZ readers with useless information.
Thankfully, my posts were getting local attention, and Brent from Shenzhen Party approached me about posting the events to their site every week. This really worked out perfectly. I am able to keep compiling the events every week, but also make sure they are marketed to the right group of people, local Shenzheners. So I’ll still be posting a weekly events page, but not here. If you want to see Shenzhen’s weekly events, head over to Shenzhen Party. You can see the list of this week’s events here. Be sure to also sign up for their mailing list so you can get the events sent directly to your inbox.