Second, there were two writing posts I could not cross post from China:
Guest Blog by David B. Coe, Fantasy writer extraordinaire
One of the funniest books I have ever read is Mark Twain’s Tramp Abroad, detailing his travels through Europe. I was reminded of that book when I was in China, dealing with the many things that were different: shops that sold dried sea horse and live scorpions, shopkeepers who were so very nice and so astonishingly pushy at the same time, people who came up and wanted to rub John’s belly (It’s lucky to rub Buddha’s big belly) or have their picture taken with the huge hairy American, or even the old lady who stopped and laughed out loud, pointing and guffawing, at John when he had to stop and rest on his way up the Great Wall (probably because she was old and tiny and he was this big strong guy.) Travel, I think, is innately funny.
(Another really funny book is Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell, detailing his travels and experiences living on a shoestring in both cities – Down and Out in Paris and London may be the absolutely funniest book I have ever read. Don’t know for sure. Read it in Paris in 1985. I remember laughing until I was in tears.)
But it’s actually quite fun to travel as awriter because people like writers. They think writers are neat.
Our guide in Beijing—an adorable, charming slip of a girl—thought John was a lawyer, because she had his bio info. We explained he was a writer. She had not reaction. But she began to notice that he asked questions no one else had ever asked her. Finally, when he went off to investigate a structure in the Forbidden City that no one else had cared to look at, she asked me what kind of writing he did. She was very impressed that he wrote fiction books, like Harry Potter. Turns out she had read the Twilight series to work on her English.
In Guangzhou, these wonderful shopkeepers who plied us with really good Chinese tea and talked us into buying Chinese shirts (cool looking, we’ll wear ‘em to a signing or something,) wanted to know more about us being writers. I was able to hop on their Free Internet, which they kept to lure in customers, and show them John and my books. (I could also pull up my Smugmug account and show them my kids. The Internet is amazing.) That was great fun. They were so interesting and nice, it was wonderful to be able to return the favor by showing them what we did.
It was hard to explain why the books were not in Chinese, though…that we had no control over which countries wished to translate and import them.
One of my concerns, though, when showing people the books was that books looked different in China. They all seemed to be soft bound and had simpler covers for the most part. So, I wasn’t sure if they would be able to tell that these were legitimate books.
Wish we had take a book or two with us.
But sharing what we do was not the best part about being a writer abroad. The best part was that everything mattered. I wondered, as I stared in amazement at the Forbidden City, or the Great Wall, or the apothecary market, what people who are not writers do when they travel.
My next book in the children’s series I’m working on takes place in a Chinese-like city. So everything was grist for the mill. Everything was something I could use, something I could transform into magic, an experience or a fact that could make a scene come alive. I rushed back after our whirlwind tour of Beijing (Tianamen Square—all decked out from China’s 60th birthday party eight days before, the Forbidden City, the Jade Factory (how they made jade), the Great Wall, the Silk Factory (how they made silk), the Tea House (four wonderful Chinese teas served in their tea ceremony, which is very simple compared to the Japanese one, but still fun) and wrote copious notes on possible story ideas and cool things I would like to include in a story.
Every moment and fact seemed valuable.
And then there was just the experience—the smells and sights and sounds—of a distant place.
No wonder Mark Twain and George Orwell wrote some of their best stuff about their travel experiences. Very few things beat seeing the world!
(One of them is having a new daughter. ;-)