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A Writer’s Life — is it worth it? August 8, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, On Writing.
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It’s been a while since my last post (by my standards).  And no, it’s not because I’ve been sitting around thinking about just how awesome Rise of the Planet of the Apes was (and it was).

Apart from the usual and the unusual errands and chores and busted tyres and rodent extermination, I’ve been busy planning a few things.  With my masters degree in writing almost in hand and another country move in the works (to Asia this time), it’s time to start thinking about the next phase of my working life.  CVs, scans of published works, contacting contacts to make more contacts — I’m doing it all.

Naturally, if I wanted a life of material comfort (though it wouldn’t be much of a ‘life’), I could easily return to the law, but doing so would be against everything I’ve promised myself over the last few years, and to be frank, it makes my bladder shudder just thinking about it.  I had a nightmare the other night where I was back at the old firm and if I hadn’t woken up from the fright I might have embarrassed myself in bed.  Living in a constant state of stress and terror doing something that I can barely tolerate can’t be the answer for the next 30+ years of my life.

No, any career from here must be a career in writing.  I don’t know if it will last or how it will turn out, but if I don’t at least give it a shot I’m going to regret it forever.

The first thing most people say when they hear about someone (such as myself) wanting to write, is that it’s really really hard.  Really hard.  Don’t quit your say job.  Hardships are ahead — financially, socially, emotionally.  Success stories are one in a million (well, I guess it depends on your definition of ‘success’ — is it JK Rowling or a relatively comfortable living?).

But surely it can’t be that bad, or else there won’t be that many writers out there.  My advantage (or at least what I consider to be an advantage) is that I’m not fussy about the kind of work I do, as long as it involves writing (for the smart-arses out there, that excludes contracts and legal advices) and, as the great George W Bush once said, puts food on the family.

I’m quite flexible with the field or the area or the type of writing.  I can write formal, technical, colloquial, serious, comical, satirical or just plain old conversational.  Just looking around online in Sydney, there appear to be quite a few relatively well-paid jobs for someone in my position.  Legal publishing is a pretty decent route to go, or at least as a stepping stone.  Traditional publishing and media jobs are available — not quite as well paid but not as bad as I had expected.

But this time I’m heading to Asia and from what I’ve heard, writers get paid peanuts (sometimes literally).  There are plenty of jobs that require English writing, so the concern is not to find a job, it’s finding the right job.

There are options.  I can try educational publishing and write books which help local children learn English.  I can go into media and work at a newspaper or magazine that publishes in English.  I can try academic writing/editing, helping out local professors polish up their works in English.  I can try technical writing for a company.  I can even try something in government.  None of these pay well by Western standards but at least I have absolutely no problem seeing myself in one of these roles.  And all of them will provide me with much needed experience.

Perhaps supplementing a day job with freelance writing or editing might be feasible (I’m reading up on that), but it’s not easy for newbies without the experience or portfolio to back them up.  I was just looking around online randomly for freelancing opportunities and saw that quite a few people offer $1 for every 500 words!  Can you believe that?  A dollar!

That said, a lot of freelancers I’ve come across love what they do and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.  I’d like to be able to say that one day.

I think I am prepared mentally for what lies ahead.  I’m confident in my abilities but I know hard work and luck are imperative — though I believe former swimmer Grant Hackett said it best when he said that the harder he worked, the luckier he got.

If any writers out there are reading, please share your story and how you got to where you are today.  Was it worth it?  And any tips, pointers or pearls of wisdom you might be able to bequeath?

Farewell, China! July 31, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in China, Travel.
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Four months after visiting the place, my posts on China are finally at an end.  As with my other travel writings, I have set up a page with all my China posts, which can be found by hovering the cursor over the ‘travel hq’ tab in the header.

I’ll leave you with some photos of the iconic Shanghai Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Shanghai skyline from the area known as the Bund.

The haziness is apparently permanent in Shanghai…

Observations on ‘New China’: Part IV – Top 3 April 28, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in China, Travel.
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The Shanghai Skyline

It’s been over a month since my visit to China, and my observations are starting to slip from my memory.  So before I forget everything, here are the top 3 from my short visit.

Counting down in reverse order…

3. Oncoming traffic

Child urination is no big deal really, but when I was in Hangzhou, I saw something that impressed me so much that I forgot to take my camera out.

We were driving along in a taxi around West Lake, and there was this kid, probably around six or seven, with his pants around his ankles and shooting a powerful stream of urine.  The thing is, this kid was not facing the rows of trees or the brick wall behind him — he was standing on the side of the curb and pissing towards the main road at the oncoming traffic.

A woman on a scooter had to swerve to avoid getting hit head on.

2. Avoiding the rain

Another incident I forgot to document with my camera because I was too stunned.  We were walking near the Four Seasons Hotel to check out some well-preserved traditional Shanghainese streets when it started raining.

As I was grabbing my umbrella out of my bag, I saw a couple of middle aged women also take something out to shield them from the rain.  First I thought they were plastic bags, but upon closer inspection I realised they were shower caps.  That’s right, they wore shower caps in the rain.

1. Both ends

And the number one observation of ‘New China’…was actually something I didn’t personally observe.  We went into this five star hotel in Shanghai with a travel agent annexed to the lobby to buy some train tickets for Hangzhou (actually a bad idea — just get them at the station, cheaper and more flexible).

My wife went to the ladies and came out with a stunned expression.  A woman was in the cubicle, sitting on the toilet with the door wide open (quite normal)…and she was eating a bento box.  Amazingly, she was consuming and depositing at the same time.  When she was done, she washed the utensils in the basin.  Talk about efficiency.

Oakwood Residence and an Introduction to Hangzhou! April 8, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in China, Travel.
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During our trip to Shanghai we made a small side trip to Hangzhou, home of the beautiful West Lake, the famous Longjing tea, and one of the most highly rated tourist destinations in China (voted the Best Tourism City of China in 2007 by China National Tourism Association).

It was really easy, actually — just a short 40 minute bullet train ride from Shanghai.

There are plenty of hotel options in Hangzhou, but truth be told, most of them are quite old.  Personally, I’m a fan of new hotels, so we went for a lesser known but very new hotel called Oakwood Residence.

Oakwood Residence is really like a serviced apartment — spacious and with kitchen facilities, but with the luxury feel of a five-star hotel.  Wired internet access in the room costs money, but you can use wireless internet for free in the lobby or in the business services center.

One thing I discovered about hotels in China is that they never give you a good room on the first try.  This might be the same all across the world, actually, but you really have to work for it in China.

The Oakwood has two towers.  Both are relatively new but one of the towers was only completed in 2010.  That was the one we had asked for but they had automatically put us in the older tower (I think furbished in 2007).  So we had to ask for the new tower, and we asked for a good room on one of the higher levels.  But expectedly, they gave us an average room on a mid-level floor, one that faced a property undergoing construction and had lots of noise early in the morning.  So we had to keep asking and  keep changing rooms (this happened two or three times — one of the rooms was in a horrible location and another was completely overwhelmed by the smell of cigarettes).

Eventually, we got it right, and we had a terrific time. The rooms we stayed in were so new and clean, had huge bathrooms, a nice kitchen area with a microwave, toaster and stove, and even a coffee machine.  The television was also unexpectedly large and had free video on demand.

Those are the pros.  The thing most people might consider a major con is the location, which is about a 10 minute drive (in usual traffic conditions) from West Lake.  It might look close on the map but it’s farther it looks.  That said, because West Lake is so enormous, you’d probably need a taxi anyway to see the various attractions, so it doesn’t make much of a difference (especially considering how cheap the taxis are).  Another con is that the reception is not the greatest — they are very willing to help, but during the times we required assistance they were usually understaffed and their English wasn’t the greatest.

One thing to remember with the new tower is that it’s a short walk to the tower with the spa, gym and the business services center, and in March (when we went), it was awfully cold and hence too much trouble.

On the whole, Oakwood is definitely a place I would recommend.  It’s at least just as well-equipped as the other five star hotels in Hangzhou but is significantly newer, and most importantly, a lot cheaper (if you get it on special, which they seem to be on all the time).  We got rooms for a little over $100US a night.

More Hanghzou posts coming soon.

Oakwood Residence Details:
Address — No 28 Jiaogong Road, Hangzhou, China.
Phone — (86-571) 8899 3131
Website — http://www.oakwood.com/serviced-apartments/furnished/CN/Hangzhou/prop7290.html

Tianzifang Outlet in Shanghai rocks! March 28, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in China, Travel.
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One of the wider alleyways of Tianzifang

Shanghai is a city where it feels like there are an unlimited number of places to go, sites to see, stores to shop, restaurants to eat.  So if you’re short on time, one place I would definitely recommend is Tianzifang outlet.

Sure, it’s kind of a touristy place, but it has all the things you would want — culture, quality restaurants and unique shops.  You can easily spend a lazy morning or afternoon there, wandering the pedestrian-only narrow alleys that remind me of those old Chinese streets you see in movies.  The place is set up like a little maze of these alleyways, each lined with shops and tasty restaurants with a variety of cuisines on both sides.

The Chinese characters say 'Tianzifang'

Some of these tiny shops sell interesting things, stuff you wouldn’t usually find elsewhere.  Intricately made wallets and bags, hilarious Chinese communist propaganda goods, schmick household items and everything in between.  Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s cool just to take a look around.

But I did buy something.  A samurai sword umbrella.  Check it out.  Pretty cool, huh?  It was a bitch to bring it back though — had people asking to check it every couple of steps!

I also had lunch there at a nice Thai joint.  Post coming shortly.

By the way, I bumped into a friend and former work colleague while I was there.  We used to work in the same team, and he sat in the office next to mine before he moved to Hong Kong for the big bucks.  We caught up when we were both in Taiwan on holidays at the same time and also when I went to HK last year (after India).  But this meeting was completely coincidental.  He was there sightseeing for the weekend  Talk about a small world, huh?

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