Category: Guest Post

Interview with Kay Bratt – Author of The Palest Ink

Interview with Kay Bratt – Author of The Palest Ink

Today I’m happy to have talked to Kay Bratt, the author of The Palest Ink.  Kay Bratt is a child advocate and author of the series Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters and the acclaimed memoir of the years she spent working in Chinese orphanages, Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. After living in China for several years, Bratt now resides in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina with her husband, daughter, dog, and cat. Learn more about her memoir and works of fiction at www.kaybratt.com.

Be sure to read all the way to the end for your chance to win a copy of The Palest Ink!

  • For those who may not be familiar with your background, tell me about your experiences in China and how they influenced your writing.

The Palest Ink jacketI lived in China for almost five years when my husband’s company relocated us there for business. During my years as an expat, in addition to learning to combat culture shock the bulk of my time and energy was spent on volunteer work for the local orphanage. Not only did I find myself attaching to many of their children, but it was in the midst of the women who worked there that I became captivated by the lives of the working class Chinese people.

  • How did this latest book come about? Is it part of a larger narrative?

The idea for The Palest Ink came about a few years after the first book in my best-selling series, The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters was published. That book was inspired by a newspaper article I’d read of a scavenger in China who took in abandoned girls and raised them. The main character in the book is elderly, but it started with a prologue of him escaping from a commune when he was but a young man. His experiences during the Cultural Revolution were alluded to and set the foundation for the kind of man he grew into. Readers commented often in reviews and on social networking that they’d love to know more about his time during that period. As I wrote each subsequent book to highlight more about him and his adopted daughters, more ideas came to me about experiences that could’ve shaped his self-sacrificing persona. I began doing more research on the Cultural Revolution and the survivor stories I stumbled onto were captivating yet harrowing. Many of those accounts are woven within the pages of The Palest Ink to bring authenticity to the novel.

  • Many of your works focus on your own experiences in China, but this book was set in the Cultural Revolution. Was this book a step outside of your comfort zone as a writer?

I began planning this book almost two years ago and during that time, I told myself I wasn’t yet ready to write it. It took those two years of making notes and gathering research before I felt comfortable enough to tackle such an important story set during a catastrophic time in history for China. It is my goal to use my characters and their heart-wrenching storylines in The Palest Ink to pay tribute to those who survived, and to the memory of those who did not.

  • What are you working on now/next?

Currently I’m tackling a story based on the injustices the Chinese experienced upon immigrating to the United States in the late nineteenth century. Two of the main characters were bought and used as domestic servants in Hong Kong and decide to make their break for freedom, but find that Gold Mountain isn’t all it was made out to be in their imaginations. Another child, destined to be abandoned in China, is smuggled out of the country and those bound to protect her will find that she ultimately is the answer to their quest for security.

  • Stepping away from the book for a moment, would you like to share anything about your work as an advocate for children in the Chinese welfare system?

01-unbrokenWorking as an advocate for children in the Chinese welfare system, I came face to face with many myths and misconceptions. I myself came into the orphanage with pre-conceived notions and it took immersing in their culture for several years to become re-educated about their child welfare issues. Most importantly to me, it is untrue that the Chinese do not love their daughters. Many baby girls are relinquished for the reason that the family cannot afford them, especially when they are born with any sort of special need or medical condition. Though hard, mothers often relinquish their children in the hopes that the child will receive the care they need and is not afforded by the mother or her family. The majority of children I knew in the orphanage had some sort of special need or medical condition. Rarely did I meet an absolutely healthy child.

  • How can expats in China help China’s orphans?

In addition to supporting reputable non-profit organizations already on the ground in China, if an expat can connect with a volunteer group that does work at their local orphanage, it’s best to work with them to help China’s orphans. A volunteer there can give a list of accurate needs, as well as monitor how any donations are used to confirm it is for the children’s best interest. If there is not a volunteer group already in place, an expat can work with the facility to start one! One can read my memoir, Silent Tears; A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage, to see how it all worked out for me.

~*~

“Bratt brings to life the struggle of two individuals during China’s terrible time that all should know about with an honest, yet compassionate style. She brings us as close as we ever want to be to an evil time, yet shows some found the courage to preserve their dignity. A must-read.”

—Mingmei Yip, author of Skeleton Women and other China-inspired novels

“The Revolution itself is well-documented and the historical significance of Chairman Mao’s Red Guard leaves fear in its wake. The danger and fear that come through the writing create discomfort and unrest, much as it must have been during the times. The danger is palpable, and adds to the chaotic feelings left after the reading of this work. If you enjoy history, revolution, courage, romance and family, then this will make a great work for your library. Kay Bratt has given us a work of intensity.” —Blogcritics.org 

“A mesmerizing and moving story of coming of age.” —Fresh Fiction

The Palest Ink, the story of Benfu’s early years fills in so many gaps in my knowledge of China during the Cultural Revolution, a topic that is practically taboo in China right now. This prequel to the four Scavenger’s Daughters books shows me what the Chinese term ‘eating bitter’ really means. Kay Bratt sure has done her research, and presents the tale of those tumultuous years in a fascinating narrative.” —Sibylla Grottke, WanderlustAndChineseInk.com

THE PALEST INK

by Kay Bratt

Author and child advocate Kay Bratt has captivated readers all over the world with her compelling and vivid books about China and its people. She lived there for almost five years and was drawn to the cause of China’s forgotten and abused orphans. Her experiences working in a local orphanage and fighting against the Chinese bureaucracy as she tried to change the social conditions led her to write a bestselling memoir, Silent Tears, A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. She also wrote a series of novels set in modern day, Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters, based on the true stories of some remarkable Chinese people she’d read about. Over the years, readers have clamored to know the origin story of the series’ beloved character, Benfu. 

book1Now, here is Benfu’s story in THE PALEST INK (Lake Union Publishing; Publication date: October 27, 2015), a beautifully rendered novel about two best friends from different walks of life, set against the backdrop of Chairman Mao’s tumultuous Chinese Revolution. 

In 1966, Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution in order to reassert his authority over the Chinese government. All over China he shut down the nation’s schools, calling for a massive youth mobilization to take current party leaders to task for their embrace of bourgeois values and lack of revolutionary spirit. In the months that followed, the movement escalated quickly as the students formed paramilitary groups called the Red Guards and attacked and harassed members of China’s elderly and intellectual population. At the beginning of the Revolution, Benfu is a sheltered son of scholars who is looking forward to a promising career as a violinist. On the other side of town, Pony Boy belongs to a close-knit lower class family who is faced with a perilous opportunity. The upheaval all around them forces Benfu and Pony Boy to grow up quickly, and they must make some hard choices between family, friendship, and loyalty to country while doing their best to survive one of the most chaotic times in history.

Kay Bratt tells a story both intimate and epic, weaving fiction with real-life accounts of innocent people who were persecuted, beaten and imprisoned, with their families torn apart. She discovered through her research that the truth about what really happened during what was informally called “The Ten Years of Chaos” was all but wiped from the history books due to Mao’s efforts to suppress accounts of his abuse of power and hide them from the world.

 For readers of Lisa See and Amy Tan, or anyone eager for an engrossing book about friendship, family, loyalty and the fight for truth and justice, THE PALEST INK will inspire you, consume you, and touch your heart.

~*~

 About the author

Kay Bratt, credit Eclipse Photography StudioKay Bratt is a child advocate and author. She was born in Kansas and lived all over the U.S. before settling in the Carolinas. Kay’s experiences of growing up as the constant new kid—and usually one of the poorest—ignited a passion to advocate for children in need when she became an adult.

When Kay’s husband’s career took them overseas to live in China, she was drawn to the cause of that country’s forgotten and abused orphans and devoted herself to working in a local orphanage. She found that journaling helped her to bear the emotional impact of the abhorrent conditions she witnessed. Upon her return to the U.S. after five years in China, Kay wrote about her experiences and her fight against the Chinese bureaucracy as she tried to change the social conditions in a bestselling memoir, Silent Tears, A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. The book resonated with readers all over the world and became a bestseller. She continued to write, but it was when she came across an article about a scavenger in China who took in abandoned children that she was inspired to write the book that launched her bestselling fiction series, The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters.

Her new novel, THE PALEST INK, a prequel of sorts to The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters, will be published by Lake Union Publishing on October 27, 2015.

Kay continues to be a voice for children who cannot speak for themselves. In addition to using her writing to gain awareness, she has actively volunteered for several non-profit organizations, including An Orphan’s Wish (AOW), Pearl River Outreach, and the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for abused and neglected children. In China, she was honored with the Pride of the City award for humanitarian work.

Kay lives in South Carolina, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, daughter, dog, and cat.

www.kaybratt.com | @kaybratt

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Robot Restaurant in Harbin, China

Robot Restaurant in Harbin, China

Today’s guest post was submitted by Barbie Jazz. 

The future is here! A restaurant in downtown Harbin employs around 20 robots instead of humans to take orders, cook, serve, and entertain guests. robot-restaurant-5[6]The restaurant opened back in June 2012 and remains a popular tourist spot in Heilongjiang.

As soon as guests walk in, a front-of-the-house robot warmly greets them with, “Earth person, hello! Welcome to Robot Restaurant!” Then, they are guided to an empty table. After browsing the menu, guests can place their orders through the robots, which are then relayed to robot chefs who are able to consistently cook several types of noodles and dumplings. Once the dishes have been cooked, a robot waiter will take them and deliver them to the customers’ tables. The robots are true eye candy, especially when they start to sing after serving the meals to guests.

robot-restaurant-1[2]China Daily estimates that these entertaining and useful robots range from 1.3 – 1.6 meters in height. They can show more than 10 different facial expressions and speak simple Chinese. Perhaps these robots show a sad face when a food item is out of stock. Of course, not everything works automatically as some of the robots’ movements are controlled by human staff sitting inside a computer room.

The robots were designed and created by a local business called Harbin Haohai Robot Company. Liu Hasheng, the company’s chief engineer, says that the management invested around 5 million yuan into the restaurant, with each robot costing around 200,000 – 300,000 Yuan. Food costs around 30 – 60 yuan per item, so the company is probably just using the restaurant as a promotional material than an actual profitable business. Perhaps the company is doing this so they can get noticed by big businesses, particularly the gambling industry in Macau, which is always in need of personnel. robot-restaurant-550x377These establishments operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, making robots the perfect substitute for humans during dead hours. According to resource website Mayfair Casinos, the Venetian Macao is the biggest hotel and casino establishment in Macau, and Harbin Haohai’s robots will make perfect employees for this enormous place that is always in need of able hands.

The Robot Restaurant in Harbin isn’t the first robot restaurant in the world. In 2010, a restaurant in Jiang used robots to replace line cooks. In Hajime Restaurant in Thailand, robots that look like samurai have replaced the job of human waiters.

Two Americans in China is always accepting guest posts and books for review. For more information, contact us at TwoAmericansinChina@gmail.com. 

Xi’An’s Very Own Capsule Hotel

Xi’An’s Very Own Capsule Hotel

Today’s guest post was submitted by Karen. I love staying in inexpensive hostels when traveling around China. This new capsule hotel might be worth checking out if you ever visit Xi’an. 

capsule 2Taking up an entire floor of a commercial center near Xi’An’s train station is China’s first, fully-functional capsule hotel. Capsule hotels were popularized by Japan, and China’s construction of the same concept is a nod to the Japanese culture that’s popular among the Chinese youth.

Each capsule in the Xi’an Youth Capsule Hotel is 1.25 meters high, 1.2 meters wide, and 2.1 meters long. For about $10 a night, people can sleep cozily in a capsule that is complete with a WiFi connection and a small flat-screen TV.

Apart from the hotel rooms’ personal size, Xi’an’s capsule hotel differentiates itself from the rest by having zodiac sign themed areas. The staff classifies guests into different star-sign zones upon checking in. Men can only sleep in the Taurus and Sagittarius zones, while women may stay at the Aries and Virgo zones. Guests who snore loudly are assigned to the Leo zone, the zodiac sign for lion.

The hotel’s staff says that the Leo zone is not meant to embarrass anyone. It was constructed in order to be fair to guests who want peace and quiet while sleeping.

capsul hotelWhile the hotel is still very novel to both locals and tourists, experts are worried about the lack of amenities. Hotels around the world rely on casinos in order to bring in serious revenues. Staying in the hotel may only cost $10 a night but apart from an Internet connection, TV, and a small area for table games that offer entertainment like ping pong, there are no other facilities to entertain guests. Pundits have been suggesting that the hotel employ the services of an online casino provider since there’s WiFi and a small screen TV inside the capsules anyway. It would be very advantageous for the hotel to have an online casino service, and InterCasino – one of the biggest slot gaming providers in the world – enumerates several benefits of such games on this page. The capsule hotel’s management, however, doesn’t seem to be very interested in the idea yet. But hopefully it’s only a matter of time before the establishment looks to offer more entertainment to its visitors.

The Xi’an Youth Capsule Hotel is located at Building 7, Wanda Plaza, Mingle Yuan Xincheng District, Xi’an.

Have you ever stayed at a capsule hotel? Where do you like to stay when you visit Xi’an?

If you would like to submit a guest post to Two Americans in China, email us at TwoAmericansinChina@gmail.com. 

How I Met Your Father – Love in 1980s China

How I Met Your Father – Love in 1980s China

While watching the American TV show “How I Met Your Mother,” I asked my mom how she met my father.

“Why do you want to know that? It is not romantic at all,” she asked.

“Oh, come on, I just want to hear your story,” I replied.

“I grew up in a family without much love, especially our father’s love,” she began. “I was the 4th daughter in my family, the child they never wanted. You can tell that from my name. My oldest sister was named Jia Lian, which means “family union;” my second sister was named “Jia Pin,” which means “family peace;” Third Sister was named Yuan Feng, which means “no more daughters.” Then I came into the world. I know they were disappointed – they just want a son. But it wasn’t my fault. They named me Ju, which means “chrysanthemum” just because I was born in the fall. Then finally, my brother came, so they gave all their attention and love to him. I was all but forgotten even though I was only 2 years older than he was.

“I never liked my father – he was his son’s father, not a father to his daughters. But I don’t blame my mother; she was always a kind woman. She did what she had to do. And I thank my sisters for being the ones who raised me.

“Anyway, that was the family I grew up in. I didn’t get much love from Father, and back at that time in the countryside, boys and girls didn’t really talk much. Your family would always arrange blind dates for you when you were old enough. I am talking about 16 or 17 here. And when both families agreed with each other, your marriage would be done. I didn’t want that. I was so scared that I would get a rubbish guy and then my life would be ruined.

“We 4 girls didn’t go to school much because your grandfather was saving every penny for his son, forcing us to leave school at young ages. But I worked really hard to make money ever since I was a child. I knew I would have to depend on myself for everything.”

I had to interrupt her at this point. “Yes, Mom, I have heard your tough childhood story thousands of times. But how did you meet Dad?”

zoe parents2“Alright, alright,” she said. “We were both paid to help a man to build his house. Our families lived pretty close actually, but we had never met each other before. Then he saw me and got interested in me.”

“Wow, romantic, huh? Fall in love at first sight! You must have been very pretty when you were young.”

“Haha, I was 19 years old when I met him, the best age of my life. But people in the village already started thinking of me as a leftover girl and my mom had started to worry about my marriage already.”

When she said that, I could see her cheeks blush. “Wow, Mom, you are blushing. Are you shy now? Haha!”

“Ah no, I just never talked about it to anyone before. So for several days, he helped me a lot. I was a little shy but would touch his arm and pay attention to him. He was a very straight and honest man; those are his best qualities.”

“So what happened later? You didn’t marry him after that, did you?”

“So for many days, we talked a lot whenever we had the time. His family situation was rough, too. His mom died at a young age because of cancer. He also had 3 younger brothers. His father, now your grandfather, couldn’t afford 4 sons at the same time, so as the oldest son in the family, your father accepted his responsibility. He dropped out of school and started working for very little money.

“This was the life for 70 out of 100 Chinese countryside families back at that time. Poor! We worked very hard but got very little in return. You think it unfair? Talk to Chairman about it! You do whatever the Party wanted you to do. When they wanted to make steel, every family had to donate whatever was made from metal in their houses… well, taken is a better word because if you didn’t do it, they just came to your house and smashed everything.”

“Oh yeah, I know about that time. Then you had to go to the community canteen to eat, and would only get a certain amount of food, barely enough to fill a stomach. And then after that period, you didn’t work for yourselves, you worked for the community and earned point tickets. Then you can buy food with those tickets. Of course, this was after they took all the cookers to try and make steel and failed. And the Red Army, just savages, tried to take down all educated men. Oh god, this was the darkest time and stupidest time, wasn’t it?”

“Haha, you tell me! I am so glad you didn’t have to go through all these things.”

“Oh, back to business. We can talk about that another time. What happened later between you and dad?”

“Oh well, it was a small village, so he used to walk me home when we finished work. One day, he told me he was going to Guangzhou because there were more job opportunities and salaries were much better. After hearing this, I was a bit upset, but I didn’t say anything. ‘I will call you when I can,’ he said. ‘And I want you to visit me there, would you?’ he begged. ‘Ah, well, I don’t have enough money to buy a ticket,’ I said. ‘Don’t worry. I will send you some money when I get paid,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to do that. You need to send the money to your family!’ ‘I like you, Ju!’ he said. For a few seconds, I couldn’t hear my heartbeat, and then I could feel my face burning and my heart was beating like a running deer. ‘Ah, umm… I have to go home now, bye,’ was all I could say. And I just ran off! After a few seconds, he shouted loudly, ‘I am leaving in 4 days. I hope to see you at the bus stop.’ I didn’t answer him; I just kept running and running.”

“Hahaha. Mom, you were so cute!”

“The next day, I saw him outside my house. He waved at me when he saw me, so I walked towards him very slowly, ‘I came to tell you I leave in 3 days. I hope you will come see me off at the bus stop,’ he said. ‘Ah, I am not sure if I am free that day. I will see, ok?’ I lied. ‘I really want you to come,’ he pleaded. ‘Ok, I will see,’ I said.”

“Oh, Mom, you are a terrible liar!”

“Time went fast. I didn’t see him for the next two days. On the last day, I was still hesitant about if I should go or not, so I talked to one of my sisters about it. She said, ‘well, I think you should go. It’s only a goodbye. It won’t do you any harm. I think you like him a little bit, actually. Just go to say goodbye.’

“So I went to see him off at the bus stop. I could tell he was really happy I was there. He waved to me even after he got on the bus and until I couldn’t see him anymore. For some reason, something in my heart was changing. That day was beautiful – pure blue sky and beautiful sunshine. The last thing he told me was ‘I will call you.’
zoe parents“He called me after 3 weeks. He told me about his life there, that he missed me, that he wanted me to visit him, that he would send me the money to visit him after he got his first paycheck. We talked so much that day. It was nice. The next time he called me, it was a month later.”

“Why did it take so long?”

“You silly girl. Technology wasn’t so good back at that time. We didn’t have mobile phones, and your grandfather didn’t have a telephone. The only way he could call me was to call the central telephone house in the village, and then somebody would have to come over and tell me I had a phone call. Then after a few minutes, he would have to call again to check if I were there. That time he called me to tell me the factory he was working for was holding a month’s salary for some insurance. So later, after he got paid, he sent me the money to buy a ticket as he promised. I stayed there for 3 days. He took 3 days off work, showed me around, and we saw some interesting things that I never knew existed. And when it came time for me to go back home, your father gave me all his salary, only leaving very little for himself. He said I was going to need it.

“So that was how I knew your father was a reliable man and I decided to accept him. Then the next year, I went to Guangzhou with him and got a job there. After we had saved enough money, we got married.

“So that is the story how I met your father. It’s not as romantic as you may think, but it is pure and real. In a society where everybody cares about money and power and romance, he is the one and only in my life. He gives me love and I love him too.”

I can’t help but think to myself, ‘no, this is the most romantic thing and greatest love I have ever known.’

 

zoe-face (1)Zoe Gong was born in rural Hunan in 1995 and is fluent in English. She has worked in English training centers and at expat restaurants since she was 16. She is currently a tourism management major at Changsha University in Hunan. 

China Street Photography

China Street Photography

Today’s guest post comes from David at Photography Dock. I am sure all expats want to take the best and most striking pictures of their travels abroad, so I was thrilled when David offered to do this guest post on taking street shots in China. I hope you will find it as educational as I did. 

Having lived in China for more than 5 years now, I’ve decided to embark upon a journey of sharing what has most impressed me from this fascinating country. I’ll be covering the areas that I think matter most, and of course include illustrations and guidance to help you take good photos when you next spend time in China.

For part one of this journey, we will look at what has always been my favourite subject to photograph here – the people on the streets! China street photography is an incredibly rich and rewarding experience, mostly because of the sheer diversity of shots available. So let’s take a look at my 5 important areas to remember when shooting people in China, helping you to improve your own China street shots.

1. Capture the stark contrasts in generations

Perhaps the most interesting contrast to be found in China is the difference between the young and the old. It’s difficult to describe just how different the experience of life has been between these two generations. So much has changed in this country’s environment, and so much is still changing.

The first shot is taken at my favourite local spot, Da yan ta (大雁塔). Singing, breakdancing, and skating all regularly happen here side-by side. The picture reflects just how important the younger generation sees hobbies these days – and it’s all about bragging rights.

A young skater – 1/200, f5.6, ISO 800
A young skater – 1/200, f5.6, ISO 800

I took the second shot another province across from mine in Lijiang, Yunnan. Another fantastic part of this culture is watching the older generation rise early, and meet together to sing and dance. You can see the first character just soaking up the ambient music, with the background figure throwing his arms around in joy whilst dancing to the music.

Early morning music and dance – 1/1000, f2.8, ISO 100
Early morning music and dance – 1/1000, f2.8, ISO 100

All of this action is easily caught by just researching the area in advance so you know where to go and for what optimal times to see the most interesting action.

2. Show the skills of the people

Another fascinating part of life here in China is that one minute you can be strolling down the street to pick up some vegetables, and the next you find yourself completely absorbed in watching some skilled individual at work on the roadside.

Another skilled worker – 1/60, f5.6, ISO 400
Another skilled worker – 1/60, f5.6, ISO 400

The above shot is from a famous food street on the south side of Xi’an. Every time I pass by, there is some kind of new and interesting food being made, often with some level of skill being applied to produce it.

The second shot shows another individual producing and displaying his best calligraphy skills for others to appreciate. Chinese in its written form is not just about communication, at its highest form it is considered an art.

The art of calligraphy – 1/160, f10, ISO 100
The art of calligraphy – 1/160, f10, ISO 100

These types of shot are usually available within the commercial districts of each city. Often they are not registered shops, but just places that are run off of the back of some bike, or three-wheeler. So a bit of luck is also involved with finding them.

3. Display the wonderful ethnic diversity

“What is China like?” The longer I live here, the harder it becomes to answer that question. With 1.3 billion people, across numerous mega-cities, and provinces, and including over 50 vastly different minority groups, the only real answer I find myself able to give is ‘well…it’s very diverse!’

The Naxi people group – 1/800, f2.5, ISO 100
The Naxi people group – 1/800, f2.5, ISO 100

The previous shot is again from Yunnan showing some of the Naxi people sitting outside in their wonderfully vibrant clothing. Such fantastic colours makes for wonderful photography!

Be sure to look for what stands out, and visit areas that you know will feature a different culture within the culture. Just be very careful of tourist traps. Because in China when a place becomes well-known you can be certain it will very quickly become overcrowded and expensive. China’s huge population makes this a certainty.

4. Reflect both work & leisure

The massive advancement of China in recent years has meant that there have been many average Chinese people working their socks off to try and move this vast country forwards. I can think of few cultures where people work as hard as they do in China.

Hard at work in the midday sun – 1/800, f2.5, ISO 100
Hard at work in the midday sun – 1/800, f2.5, ISO 100

The first picture was taken in the Xi’an botanical gardens, but away from all of the beautiful flowers. After busily snapping many shots of flowers, I noticed how these two individuals were slaving away on a very hot summer’s day to begin planting new flowers. There are examples everywhere of people working hard, try to get close enough to even show those sweat beads!

An impromptu game of cards – 1/100, f2.2, ISO 100
An impromptu game of cards – 1/100, f2.2, ISO 100

The second picture showed one of the many outdoor gatherings of men playing cards that can be seen across the city. The seemingly impromptu gathering for games of chess or cards always brings plenty of emotion to an often rather stoic faced people. Of course, emotion also makes for great photos! So also look out for leisure activities, especially earlier in the mornings in local parks.

5. Shoot both the old and the new

One more smartphone user – 1/640, f2.2, ISO 100
One more smartphone user – 1/640, f2.2, ISO 100

The other major contrast of life in China is between the old and the new. Technology races ahead, and new buildings soar into the sky on almost every street you go down. But yet those older traditions are quietly, but stubbornly refusing to disappear.

Some early morning swordplay – 1/1250, f2.8, ISO 200
Some early morning swordplay – 1/1250, f2.8, ISO 200

Be sure to capture the borderline obsessive use of technology in this land, but also don’t forget to capture the Tai chi, various forms of swordplay, or the (my not so personal favourite) Chinese opera singing. Capturing a different culture on film is all about discovering exactly what is unique, and in China you don’t really have to look far to find that.

Bonus tip: Try switching to auto-ISO, and set the shutter speed to at least 1/100th for your shotsinfo-148099_640during travelling. That way a change in environment will not result in blurred or under/over exposed photos.

davidDave Cossey is the writer and owner of the ‘photography dock’ blog. He can be found living and working in the ancient city of Xi’an, China alongside his wife where he has remained away from his home in the UK for the past 5+ years. He is an avid photographer, and his passion lies in enabling others to take their very own great photos.”

 

 

What about you? What are your tips for taking great photos while traveling? Feel free to share some of your best shots in the comments! 

Would you like to write a guest post for Two Americans in China? Send us an email at TwoAmericansInChina@gmail.com. 

Living with Epilepsy in China

Living with Epilepsy in China

A photo of a crash in Hubei that killed 4 people after the driver of the car suffered an epileptic seizure.
A photo of a crash in Hubei that killed 4 people after the driver of the car suffered an epileptic seizure.

Recently, a man in Hubei was sentenced to life in prison for causing the deaths of four people when he crashed into a group of pedestrians after suffering from an epileptic seizure. Most of the comments in response to the article have centered around how stupid it was of the man to keep his illness secret and keep driving. Of course, the man should not have been driving, but I thought it was important to have a discussion about why someone in China would feel the need to keep an illness like this secret. I thought it was best to have someone who knows what it like to have epilepsy and live in China talk about it. Ondreianna MacKenna, a member of Women Writers of Shenzhen, has agreed to share her story about living in China with epilepsy. 

IMAGINE walking down the street when your thoughts suddenly become sluggish and thick like feet walking in a muddy creek bed. Then you realize you can’t feel much of your body and the edges of your vision are beginning to slide into a gray fog ever so slowly. You take a breath to calm yourself, but something else, something other than your own mind hijacks your thoughts and an icy panic runs up your spine while the world around you begins to tilt and turn like a twisted, tormenting theme park ride.

This is what the beginning of a seizure feels like, at least for some people. For me, this is normal. While I can’t say you ever quite get used to the confusion, the fear, the pain (both mental and physical) and the hijacking of both your mind and your body with varying levels of awareness, I can tell you that it is a struggle that I am well equipped to handle. I have lived with seizures all of my life and have seizures nearly every week (sometimes more often), even at 29.

There are many limitations to having epilepsy or other seizure disorders; however, the challenges and the limitations take a different turn when one moves to a foreign country. My husband and I have been living in China for two years now. China is a wonderfully vast country full of cultural idiosyncrasies, interesting foods, an old culture, a complicated people, amazingly beautiful lands, frustrations, joys, wonders and even mysteries. I love living here, but it is often a minefield rife with dangers for someone like me – someone with seizures.

Common Seizure Triggers

One of the most common triggers (things that cause seizures in those who have seizure disorders) is flashing lights. This is generally called photosensitive seizures, meaning you are sensitive to light and, in this case, to light patterns. So I have to be extremely cautious walking around popular squares or areas of cities at twilight and nighttime; because if there is one thing China likes it is anything that will get your attention. Rapidly changing and moving images on huge LED screens liter these common areas and cause me a plethora of issues. These can range from a severe headache to twitching/spasms to even a full seizure all dependent on how much light directly catches my eyes and the duration of exposure. Adding to these mines there are often string lights or runner lights that are flashing around doors or signs for shops, hotels, stores, restaurants, and other misc businesses that would like to have flashy neon adverts.

epilepsy 3Another trigger for me is crowds and lots of chaotic noises. I know, I know, most people ask me, “Then why in the world did you choose to move to China of all places?” Yes, it is true that China is often perceived as being the motherland of chaotic crowds and the cacophony of noise they release, but the simple answer is that it’s not like that everyday everywhere. I came from a small area with a low population, but even there I sometimes had to worry about crowds like in a busy restaurant, special sales at superstores, or even in day to day living at a busy university. You can’t escape crowds if you want to be a part of a society at large and not live on a farm in isolation.

So I adapted and developed a strong fighting spirit along with a keen sense of observation. With a world so full of dangers in the environment around you and inside you, at all times you must be sure of where the safe areas are, where the exits are, and possible aids (i.e. something to drink, dark places, quiet places) and learn a great deal of physical discipline. This is how I walk through China in my everyday life. I step around crowds or focus on counting my steps so my brain is occupied and, therefore, less able to take in bad stimuli if I have to go through crowds. I wear headphones a lot so that outside sound is muffled or my music drowns it out.

Epilepsy Stigmas in China

You might ask, “Could you ask for help?” The answer in America and other countries is a hesitant “yes,” I could, for the most part; however here in the East there is a rather strong stigma that pushes those with seizure disorders to be silenced. I learned very quickly through experience and reading other people’s stories online that I must keep this a secret or risk some fallout. The stigma can range from fear of it somehow being a contagion that could be inflicted on other people – which elicits fear and sometimes verbal violence – to being a symptom of some kind of darker psychological disorder hinting at possible dangers or violence everyone around.

epilepsy 2Other stigmas from less developed areas revolve around seizures being some kind of trick or punishment from an external source such as spirits, karma, or even bad luck. Thus, if you are being punished by some higher power, then you have done something to warrant this and should be given a wide berth.

Madness, possession, contagious disease, cosmic punishment, psychologically disturbed, irreparable human, mistake, broken, reject, and subhuman are many of the labels thrust upon people with seizures in this society. They are often told they should never marry nor should they hold a job. In fact, if a person were diagnosed with epilepsy before marriage, the sufferer would be denied a marriage license. And of course, children are out of the question. Often people are fired if they have a seizure at work. The person or even family members are often shunned and ignored in their own neighborhoods. If the one suffering from seizures is a child, many other parents will not allow their children to play with “those children” for fear of some sort of damage or repercussion falling on their children.

I have been lucky enough to not have anything but minor seizures out in public or make it back to my apartment in time for a larger seizure. I have to be careful of not getting overheated or overly tired, and I have to be careful about the foods I eat too as some chemicals (MSG) and foods (pork for me) can worsen or even cause seizures.

I am truly blessed because I grew up with parents that were patient and loving even in the grips of a child suffering from a disorder they didn’t understand well. However, many children and even adults here in China do not have that same level of support. Orphanages here are filled with children who have various disabilities or disorders; they are thrown away for falling short of “perfect.” epilepsy 1Teenagers and adults are often sent away or kept in seclusion, denied even the basics of a proper education.

Recently there was a man in Hubei who was sentenced to a life in prison after a seizure resulted in a fatal car crash while he was driving. Yes, he should NOT have been driving, that is undeniable, but he will never receive treatment, support, or good medicines in prison. This is an example of how China deals with “disruptive” disorders, they tend to put you somewhere and ignore you in hopes that the problem will go away.

The Future of Seizure Disorders in China

Now please don’t think that things are hopeless, because they are not. In the last eight years, China has made some remarkable strides in trying to get more information out there about seizure disorders for public consumption and to delineate disorders and disabilities. There are disability groups and agencies popping up all over China, and some colleges are now trying to aid students with special needs. I admit the progress is slow, but it is wonderful and heading in the right direction.bigstock_freedom__995237

I would like to end this blog about living in China with epilepsy by explaining that while life for me is limited and often more difficult than some people, I have more freedom and independence here than I did back home. Things are more closely placed here and the public transits are remarkable. Back home, we had lots of land, so everything is so spread out that walking was not feasible. Public buses were unreliable and often not running, subways didn’t exist and taxis were too expensive, if you can even find one. In China, I am able to go anywhere I want, when I want, and how I want. For the first time in my 29 years of life, I am able to taste what being an independent adult tastes like and this is one of many reasons I feel freer here in China than in America despite hiding my “dirty little secret.”

IMG_5060Ondreianna MacKenna has been living in China since 2013 and Shenzhen since 2014. She is working on getting her PhD in clinical psychology and is an aspiring author and blogger. You can visit her at her blog Surviving China where she is happy to answer any questions about epilepsy, seizures, or living with such conditions in China.

Zoe in America – First Stop: San Francisco!

Zoe in America – First Stop: San Francisco!

Zoe's first time on an airplane!
Zoe’s first time on an airplane!

I had been excited for over 6 months about my trip to America since my godparents told me they were going to take me there for Chinese New Year, but from the very beginning, I barely knew anything about our plans. My mom decided this would be a surprise trip for me and she did a good job. So most days started like this: “Zoe, are you ready to go? Are you excited?” “Yes, yes, I am. But where are we going?”

My dad even messaged me before my trip to Shenzhen. He told me they had secret plans for San Francisco.

“Hey Zoe, do you know what are we gonna do in San Fran?”

“No, so what are we gonna do?

“Do you really wanna know? But you have to promise not to tell mom that I told you this.”

“No no no, don’t tell me, no spoilers!”

“Ok, I won’t tell you our hot air balloon trip…”

“Oh my god, you are so mean, but I love you.”

“because we are not going on one.”

“I …….”

So deep in my mind, I thought we were going on a hot air balloon trip. And I pretended I knew nothing about it.

The minute we got out of the airport and were waiting for a taxi, I looked at the sky, it was a beautiful afternoon, the sunset was like a fire in the sky, but not so strong as fire. Yes, it was like a giant exploding orange, and I saw so many birds, I was like a 5-year-old child, so excited and so surprised. And then I finally realized, “OH MY GOD, I AM IN AMERICA!”

Tour Guide Dave explaining some Chinese-American history to Zoe.
Tour Guide Dave explaining some Chinese-American history to Zoe.

Then we walked into Chinatown, I thought it was just happened on the way to the bridge. But then my mom said, “ here we go, Chinatown, that’s our trip for today!” I thought she was joking. “Haha, you are funny.”The next day, they took me out, of course I knew nothing about where were we going! I just kept guessing by looking at the building near us. San Francisco is so crowed, it was just like Hong Kong. So when I saw the Golden Gate Bridge, I was so sure we were going to the world known bridge. I shouted, “ yay, I saw the bridge!” but they pretended they didn’t know what I was talking about! So I am even more certain. Maybe we would take the hot air balloon on the bridge! But, we didn’t!

But then I noticed they were kinda serious, but we stopped moving!

“errr….what? really? Chinatown? But I am a Chinese myself!” but at the end of the trip, it was definitely a great place to visit!

I do know Chinese culture well enough, but I didn’t know anything about American Chinese culture! We had a tour guide, David. He is an  American Chinese himself, but could not speak Chinese (most people in Chinatown speak Cantonese.). He showed us around Chinatown and told us a lot about the history. IT was all very surprising to me. I thought the first Chinese immigrants just came to America and then “la de dah , we were in America” and then lived happily ever after. But I was totally wrong. They first came here as railway labor workers. They didn’t have citizenship, they couldn’t get married, they couldn’t own property. So to speak, they didn’t have many human rights or much freedom. The buildings in Chinatown showed us how they managed to squeeze into such tiny spaces. They rebuilt everything after the great earthquake and great fires of 1908. Life was tough but they stayed. Looking at the buildings, I tried to imaging myself in that time, but I couldn’t, I could not image how they left mother China, stayed in America, worked in America and lived in America. But look nowadays, they finally got paid back. The first Chinese immigrants to American took China with them and kept it the way it was, so no matter how many years after, their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren all know where they came from.

One of the many gorgeous murals around Chinatown.
One of the many gorgeous murals around Chinatown.

What do the Chinese like the most? Food , money and gambling. You can really see that in Chinatown. There was an open area where many people just sat together and gambled. People in Chinatown also kept some Chinese traditions that we don’t follow in mainland China. As a young person, I don’t have much experience with traditional China. The most traditional Chinese thing we do is Chinese New Year, but the most memorable thing about Chinese New Year for kids in the lucky money they get in their hongbao. It’s just a big break from work for many people, and the tradition part is gone.

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Zoe Gong was born in rural Hunan in 1995 and is fluent in English. She has worked in English training centers and at expat restaurants since she was 16. She is currently a tourism management major at Changsha University in Hunan.

Guest Post by Merry Gu – Student Voices

Guest Post by Merry Gu – Student Voices

merry guOne of the hardest things about my job is editing the “opinion” page of the paper. We have a lot of freedom on that page and can pretty much publish anything we want, but the same two old Chinese men write almost every week. There is the “China is great at all the things” guy and “America sucks except when Japan sucks more” guy. It has been my personal mission to increase diversity on the opinion page by seeking out more diverse writers and more diverse topics, but it has been an uphill battle.

One of our teen writers, a Chinese-American teenager living near Philly, just wrote one of the best opinion pieces I have seen in months about how the voices of young people are making a difference in protests in America and online. I tried to get it boosted to the opinion page on Monday, but I lost because then there would have been a hole in the teen page. Oh well. Merry was kind enough to let me repost her piece here because I think it just needs way more attention than it would normally get hidden on the teen pages. Enjoy!

Student Voices – Speaking Up

In the undeniably tempestuous world that we live in today, it’s not surprising that certain groups of people are in a state of protest or disapproval of policies, standards, and situations. Historically, in the United States, two significant examples of this are the civil rights movements for women’s suffrage and racial equality. Whether protected legally by the government or not, citizens of many nations have been fighting for causes in which they believe for decades. Relatively recently, however, came the advent of the student protest: that is, young people, particularly those on high school and college campuses, assembling or speaking out on issues that they are passionate about.

Over the past few months, such cases of protest and raising awareness have been especially prevalent with the situations in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, regarding the deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.

Among the thousands of people who have spoken up in the name of freedom and equality, many of them have been young people, concerned about their own future and future generations to come. In response to the recent cases in America, many protestors have stepped into the streets armed with posters and their unwavering beliefs. Braving the cold, the wet and the many potential dangers of rioters, these citizens, many of them young black men and women, have raised their voices and subsequently increased awareness about their cause. Even just outside Philadelphia, not 45 minutes away from where I live, major roadways have been closed up as protestors flooded the streets. Without a doubt, the effects of certain political situations — and the nation’s ensuing anger and disappointment — can be felt everywhere around America.

Protesting in streets and neighborhoods is not the only way younger citizens are becoming more involved in social and political issues nowadays. Many have taken to the Internet as a means of reaching out and informing others. Even emerging stories and important correlations and findings that are given very little media attention spread like wildfire throughout Internet communities, a community comprised mainly of young adults.

Tumblr users have continually posted photos, videos, and text regarding assembly, protest, and rioting, even including advice on treating victims of tear gas and providing backstories about viral pictures. Others have shared posters that can be printed out and posted around communities. Countless celebrities, too, have made their opinions clear regarding certain issues via social networks such as Twitter and Instagram.

It has been said that the freedoms of speech and assembly are keys to a smoothly operating government. Whether or not this is true, the method of unconventional political participation has undoubtedly drawn attention to the issues they are concerned with. Citizens across the globe have participated in discussing and protesting issues plaguing the country. These topics rarely go unacknowledged in social studies classes. Most of all, the young people who care about problems in their countries will not let them go unnoticed. Clearly, the adolescent community is a force to be reckoned with in the face of apparent injustices and political unrest.

5 Things to Remember when Sending Gifts to China

5 Things to Remember when Sending Gifts to China

While it’s easy to find articles about “gifts to bring with you to China” or “gift giving in China,” I’ve never seen anyone talk about what to do if you want to send a gift to someone in China from America or Europe. In today’s guest post, Betsy McLeod talks about this interesting situation.

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ThumbnailWhether it’s Christmas, Chinese New Year, an anniversary, or just because, the digital age has made it easier than ever to send gifts to China. Gift-giving plays an integral part of Chinese culture, signifying well-wishing, respect and sincerity. Remember these tips the next time you send gifts to China to make sure yours is received with a smile.

  1. Lǐ Shàng Wǎng Lái (礼尚往来)

While in America gift-giving is much more laid back, the notion hasn’t quite spread across the Pacific. In China, the concept “courtesy demands reciprocity” or Lǐ Shàng Wǎng Lái (礼尚往来) is the predominant attitude toward gift-giving, and maintains the peace and harmony of a relationship. Chinese keep a sort of tally system in their heads, and when one person does something nice, like giving a gift or paying for dinner, the act must be reciprocated to achieve balance. So don’t be surprised if your generosity is always returned, frequently in the form of a less-expensive gift.

  1. Corporate gifts aren’t only a good idea, they’re expected

Business relationships in China are extremely formal, and gift-giving is expected. Gifts are often exchanged before a first meeting, and make regular appearances to signify sincerity and investment on a personal level. Ideal corporate gifts include chocolates, wines, liquors, desk accessories, pens, or specialized products from your home country. Make sure the value of your gift correlates to the length of the relationship and seniority of the person. While a high-end electronic may be good for a senior associate you have been dealing with for six months, if presented too soon it will be awkwardly declined.

  1. Punctuality is Key

It’s always wise to send or bring a thank-you gift as a follow-up to a meeting or event. Sending gifts overseas to China yourself can take from 3-12 weeks to arrive, and then still has to go through customs. Frequently, your recipient has to trek to the Customs Office to fill out paperwork, ruining the surprise and enjoyment of what you sent.  Avoid this by using an international gifting service like Gift Baskets Overseas to send gifts to China. It usually costs about the same as sending it with international shipping, and your package is guaranteed to arrive within 3-5 days. Also, because these services use trusted partners in-country, you can send beautiful flower arrangements or fresh fruits.

  1. Be aware of cultural traditions and taboos

There are a few cultural taboos you should be aware of. While the color red is considered extremely lucky and pink and yellow represent happiness, white, black and blue represent death and other negative associations. Clocks are unacceptable as they signify time running out, but watches are okay. Avoid anything sharp, like a knife set, as sharp items represent severing the relationship. And never gift anything that displays the numbers four or nine, as they are considered extremely unlucky.

  1. Do your research on holidays

Some holidays require gift-giving, and others are more about food and celebration. Avoid embarrassment by doing your research on each holiday and what the traditional gift is for each. For example, money in a red envelope, known as Hongbao, is a traditional gift during the Chinese Lunar New Year but is seen as a bribe in political and corporate environments.  For weddings, money in a red envelope is acceptable, and should be enough to cover the expense of the person attending the wedding.  For birthdays, a small gift wrapped in red is usually brought.

Giving gifts in China is a wonderful way to show sincerity and respect, and as long as you follow these guidelines, your gift should be well-received. Don’t forget to do your research, and your gift-giving skills for any event will speak volumes about your character and trustworthiness.

~ Betsy McLeod

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If you would like to do a guest post for Two American in China, please send an email request to admin@twoamericansinchina.com.

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