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Archive for November, 2016

Meet The Author: Rob Schmitz

street rob We are honored to have Rob Schmitz, NPR Correspondent for Shanghai, come to speak at The Bookworm on December 7th. Get a preview of the talk by reading an interview with Rob, conducted by our bookshop manager Olivia, and buy your copy of his book Street of Eternal Happiness at our bookshop today!

BW: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What first brought you to China, and how long have you been here?

RS: I first came to China as a 23-year-old Peace Corps Volunteer in 1996. I had just graduated from college with a Spanish degree and I had asked to be sent to South America. The Peace Corps ignored my request and offered me Vladivostok, Uzbekistan, or China. For me, the choice was obvious. Back then, the Peace Corps program in China was small, and it operated under the radar. My sitemates and I were assigned to a town, Zigong, that not only had never had volunteers before, but had not had foreign residents since before the Communists took control of China in 1949.This was before the Internet was available in China and phone calls were prohibitively expensive, keeping us isolated from the outside world. Living in Zigong felt like being sent to a faraway planet. Each day brought dozens of new and unpredictable experiences that online casino in canada would bewilder, amuse, and inspire us. After coming home, I quickly returned to China. I lived in Chengdu and I wrote for one of the first English-language websites in China, chinanow.com. I returned home to attend Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and nearly every year after that, I kept returning to China for work. Finally, in 2010, the public radio program Marketplace hired me as their Shanghai-based China Correspondent, and I’ve lived best canadian casino in Shanghai ever since. I now work as NPR’s Shanghai Correspondent.

BW: We often see headlines about China in the international media, usually accompanied by various facts and figures. What made you decide to delve beneath all this and look at more personal stories?

RS: This stems from a radio series that I did for Marketplace back in 2012-2013. For every month of the year, I did a single story about somebody who lived or worked on a single street in Shanghai.There’s really so much news coming out of China — because of its size and its importance and what’s happening with its economy — you can begin to lose sight of what’s happening on the ground.I wanted to break away from that news cycle, control the pace a little and intensify my focus on everyday people — their hopes and dreams and setbacks, how they navigated the pace of change all around them and how they navigated the Chinese system.I thought I would make it as simple as possible — the street that I lived on. And I think what I learned is that all the stories you could hope to entice readers with, they’re all there.

BW: We know that Chinese people alive today have witnessed extraordinary change in their lifetimes. Did the experiences of any of your interviewees truly surprise you?

RS: There were many things that surprised me about each character over the course of reporting this book. A good example is the story I tell about a box of letters friends lent to me, written between a man imprisoned for being a capitalist in a labor camp on the edge of Tibet and his wife, who took care of their seven children in a lane home along my street. The letters span 40 years from the 1950s to the 1990s. After reading so many historical accounts of the Mao years, it was fascinating to have in my hands specimens of raw history from the era. They told a heartbreaking story through the worst of the Mao years, and, most surprisingly, they led me to their only son.He ended upwinning the United States green card lottery and moved to New York City, where he is remaking his life, earning his U.S. high school equivalency diploma at 58 years old, with a dream to attend an American university and start a family.

BW: What is the concept of the “Chinese dream” that you refer to? How does it relate to ordinary Chinese people such as those you spoke to?

RS: The Chinese Dream is, of course, the guiding principle of Chinese president Xi Jinping, who dreams of a “great rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation. It’s Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan applied to China, and when President Xi defined the term, he called on all Chinese people to dream collectively of a better China. What I find interesting is that this comes during a time when many Chinese are pursuing individual dreams for the first time in decades. From the Reform and Opening period of the 1980s until the first decade of the 21st century, most Chinese were, in fact, collectively pursuing the same dream: making money. The country’s dream during those decades was to improve its GDP, and individuals were hard at work to improve their own personal GDP. Everyone in China was on the same page. Now, in 2016, half the population of China lives in urban areas, they’ve made it to the consumer class, they’ve achieved the dream of attaining a degree of material wealth, and their dreams are moving on. But they’re moving on to separate and more individualistic dreams; dreams like spirituality, travel, justice, or maybe an education abroad for their children. These dreams are spreading like wildfire, and a slogan like the Chinese Dream, an attempt to corral individual dreams into one dream for the betterment of the nation, is going to be a challenge for the government. It’s the era of big dreams in China. This fascinates me, and it’s one of the central themes of this book.

BW: Did you sense a generation gap in terms of outlook and attitude? Were there any notable differences between the younger and older people you spoke to?

RS: Yes. I wanted to focus on characters from distinctive generations in order to give readers a sense of how different their worldviews are from each other. One of my main characters, Auntie Fu, was born around the time of the Communist revolution and grows up with Mao’s political campaigns. She meets her husband, Uncle Feng, after being sent to one of the many 兵团established in the Xinjiang region in the 1960s, and then the two return to Shanghai in the 1990s after a lifetime of relying on the state for all their career decisions. The result is tragic, but predictable for many in Auntie Fu’s generation: she’s suddenly surrounded by skyscrapers and an abundance of wealth in the big city, and she wonders why, as a good communist soldier, she isn’t rich, too. She throws herself into several get-rich-quick schemes and loses much of her pension in the process. Contrast this with the youngest character in my book, CK, who, in his 20s, has figured out that hard work, specialized skills (in his case, the ability to build and deconstruct an accordion from scratch), and embracing risk are the keys to success in the no-holds-barred capitalism of 21st century China. While many Chinese in their 60s who belong to Auntie Fu’s generation seem lost in this new China, Millennials like CK seem to seizing the reins of their lives.

BW: Has writing the book changed your view about the direction in which China is headed? Are you optimistic about the future for ordinary Chinese people?

RS: Writing this book has made me more optimistic about China’s future. If you focus on the often-sensationalist headlines in the Western media about China, you’ll notice that much of it focuses on the Party and how it’s clamping down on rights and managing (or mismanaging) a slower-growth economy. But when I spend time with my Chinese neighbors along my street and witness how hard they’re working and how much they push their children to excel at their studies and their work, I believe that no matter what happens to China on the macro level, the true strength of this country is found in the micro – it’s found among the 老百姓, the everyday people of this country who work hard and have a deep hunger for self-improvement. This gives me much optimism.

Meet The Author: Nancy Pellegrini

nanciBW: For those of us who will be meeting you for the first time at this book talk, could you briefly introduce yourself? What first brought you to China and what do you do here?

NP: My name is Nancy Pellegrini; I came to China from New York in 2000. I had done some cultural writing on Korea when I lived there, and I had hoped to do the same in China, to stay four years or so, and then to go somewhere else. But I found China so rich and so complex – in a good way – that I didn’t want to leave. Then in 2005, I became stage editor of Time Out Beijing magazine. Five years later, Time Out Shanghai opened, and I took the same position there, covering theatre, dance, classical music and opera events in both cities. I had been involved the arts my entire life, and now I was getting paid to write about them – I couldn’t believe my luck. The job also gives me a lot of freedom to do other writing and editing work, as well as to travel and to run a classical music salon, so it’s a good setup for me.

BW: The link between Shakespeare and China may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer. Where did the inspiration for your book come from? 

NP: I’ve seen Shakespeare plays here over the years, and I had already written an article on the translator Zhu Shenghao, whose depth of sacrifice is still staggering to me – and to everyone else. It was always at the back of my mind, but really, it was simple curiosity at first; the topic sounded interesting. But when I started researching, and I realised how much effort so many Chinese put into learning, performing or understanding Shakespeare, it was humbling. We always hear that Shakespeare is universal, but I didn’t truly understand that until I learned about Shakespeare in China.

BW: The prospect of gathering information on a writer as prolific as Shakespeare, and his impact on a country as large and diverse as China, seems like a daunting task. How did you go about gathering your research for this book? 

NP: Well, while there are millions of books written on Shakespeare, the field of Shakespeare in China is much narrower, and that’s where my focus lay. I started by reading academic-style books on Shakespeare in Chinaand taking detailed notes, to set up a structure. Then I started doing interviews with professors and theatre practitioners, both foreign and Chinese, so I could build on what I wrote, and so I could use their voices (more interesting than mine) to make the story come alive. I only had about four months to research and write, so it was a lot of work, but fortunately for me, Penguin Specials can’t be more than 25,000 words, so at least I had an achievable goal.

BW: Shakespeare’s works can be hard to understand even for native English speakers! What were some of the biggest challenges facing Chinese translators of his works?

 NP: Translation is incredibly difficult. For starters, the language is completely different;iambic pentameter doesn’t work in Chinese, although some translators tried to recreate the pattern using groups of syllables (yinzu) and pauses (dun), or to work in verse rather than prose. Then there are the cultural references to the Bible and Greek mythology, which are hard to explain, and the fact that even things like the sun and the moon symbolise different things in the East and West. For example, Shakespeare always felt the sun was about strength and consistency, but the changing moon is less dependable – Juliet calls it “the inconstant moon.” Furthermore, scholars here will say that reference materials are not always available, and directors and actors will say that even translations that work on the page don’t always work on the stage – that they’re beautiful to read but difficult to say.

BW: How is the story of Shakespeare in China different from that of other non-English-speaking countries? What makes this relationship particularly interesting?

NP: In terms of Shakespeare interpretations, they vary widely. For example, I heard about an anthropologist in Africa who told the story of Hamlet to some tribal leaders. They were confused – why did Gertrude wait so long to marry her husband’s brother? Why was Hamlet so angry, after his uncle was so kind to him? Another example I read was about Romeo and Juliet in Japan – we see their deaths as the definition of wasted lives and youthful tragedy, but the Japanese felt that ritual suicide was the only option they had. But in terms of a relationship, one reason that Shakespeare spread so far was because of British colonialism(in India and other former British territories), or by love of literature and drama (in Germany and particularly Russia). What I found interesting about Shakespeare in China is that his popularity peaks coincided with drastic political change, particularly in the 1900s to 1920s (the transition from feudalism to modern society), the 1950s (the advent of New China) and the 1980s (reform and opening up). Now, there may be a revival, as China becomes a superpower, and there are serious efforts to link Shakespeare with Tang Xianzu, the Chinese playwright who died the same year. That might give new life to both of them.

BW: You released this book to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. What impact does the Bard continue to have on China today?

NP: I mentioned the linkage with Tang Xianzu already; also, there is also a massive collaborative translation project underway between the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, which will hopefully create more actor-friendly scripts, and in turn increase the number of productions. But what’s really surprising is the depth of feeling. For example, students start drama clubs in universities where they perform Shakespeare for fun – and some don’t even perform, they just sit around on weekends and read the plays together. And at my last book talk in Chengdu, there were fourteen-year-olds in the audience, without parents, without a class assignment, just because they loved Shakespeare. I can’t imagine that happening in the West.And hopefully the combination of more foreign groups bringing Shakespeare in, and new translations leading to more local plays, even at a university level, the Bard will be even bigger.

Meet the Author: Zhang Mei

zhangmeiBW: You’ve had a very varied career so far. What made you decide that it was time to write a book? What was your inspiration?

ZM: The truth is, I have always wanted to write a book, particularly about Yunnan, a region that I am lucky to have known most of my life.  Started in 2005, I was living in the United States then, but wanted to recreate the food I grew up with. So, I went back to Yunnan to learn cooking and record cook books. Those draft recipes got put aside when work with WildChina, the travel business, became more intense when I moved back to China. But, the idea of a book combining culture, people stories, food, and good photography never left me.

This specific book idea came up when we were celebrating WildChina’s 15thbirthday. I didn’t want to have a book showing all the major milestones/achievements of a company. So boring, who’d read it?  Instead, I thought, what if I take people on a journey that I often undertake myself to develop a trip. We are lucky to be able to travel and see beautiful things and people all the time, but not everyone could do it, given possible barriers of language, time, or money. Maybe I could do a book documenting that.

BW: I think everyone can see the attraction of travelling through Dali, but I have to ask – why the leg of ham?

ZM: Ham for me represents a very happy home – good food with family and friends. That’s what I think about when I think about Dali, my childhood home, despite the fact that my childhood was impoverished and never had the chance to have a full leg of ham. But in memory, even hardship has a special attraction to it.
Also to me, Yunnan is not just one of China’s top tourist destinations, the beauty goes deep, in the age-old traditions, in the hardworking spirit of the locals, in the normal pains and troubles of family life. So, I’ve chosen ham as a way to showcase the local life, and hope to show the beauty of Yunnan with the taste, sounds and images of Yunnan.

BW: Yunnan is your home, but you have lived in other places, including overseas, for some time. Did you notice new sides to your hometown when you returned with an “outsider” perspective? How did this influence the book?

ZM: In Chinese, there is a phrase that says “ Traveling 10,000 lis is equivalent to reading 10000 books”, and I think of traveling as a way to broaden one’s perspective. For me, living overseas gave me fresher perspective to appreciate the beauty of what an old home has to offer.
Marcel Proust, a French author, said it best. “the voyage of discovery lies not in seeing new sights, but in looking with new eyes.” I completely agree. That’s what I hope the book does, to look at Dali with new eyes.

BW: You are involved in sustainable tourism through your organisation “WildChina”. Where did your interest in this field come from? How does this all tie in with your book?

ZM: I have never been a fan of travel industry, honestly. I think to be an industry, you need scale, and by scale, the industry means big tour buses and millions of tourists.  Then naturally, scaled travel industry somehow takes away the beauty of discovery.  When I started WildChina, I wanted to simply assist travellers to get a richer experience of China, closer to the Chinese people, away from tour buses and cruise ships and tourist trinket shops. I did and am still doing that WildChina, in fact, with the extension of taking Chinese travellers overseas as well.

The success recipe for WildChina, is that travel extends beyond tourist sites, to the simple encounters with local farmers, artisans. This books tries to explore the stories of all these wonderful local individuals, without pigeon-holing them as a tourist experience provider, but simply as a local person comfortable in his/her own elements. They are proud to be photographed, their stories to be heard. To me, that’s the ultimate authentic and sustainable travel experience one could ask for.

BW: China is undergoing huge transformation at an unbelievable pace. In your experience, what are some of the biggest challenges facing provinces like Yunnan? What suggestions would you make for how best to move forward?

The biggest challenge is that tourism development has been extremely mono-colored.  By this, I mean, there seems to be a common playbook that the travel industry follows, developing cable cars, ethnic shows, large hotels. There is a lack of creative development of travel experiences. The cheap tourist souvenir you find in Yellow Mountain is very similar to the ones you find in Lijiang. Because of a low quality low cost travel product, you attract large amounts of low paying customer. Then the travel industry faces the same dilemma that Chinese manufacturing faces, how to upgrade and innovate for a better product. I think the only way out is to courage creative entrepreneurs/artists to create more sophisticated travel products to meet the market demand. Travellers don’t need another tourist site, but they need another WOW experience.

BW: What advice would you give to anyone who is inspired to visit Dali, or Yunnan Province, after reading your book?

ZM: Dali has so much more to offer beyond the Cangshan Mountain and Erhailake. Give it a week, comb through the small villages one at a time, and simply find opportunities to hang out with locals like the ones featured in the book. That’s when you touch the earthiness of the destination.

By the way, most of the experiences from the book are now featured on a chinese website: www.newugo.com. You can connect with the characters there to book their time to cook a meal with you, or show you how to make a leg of ham.

Schedule for Mini North Korean Film Festival

mini-north-korean-festivalThe Bookworm and Koryo Tours present a mini North Korean Film Festival. Over two weeks, five movies featuring elements of travel, DPRK propaganda as well as a story with Dennis Rodman will be shown at The Bookworm. After the movies we will have Q-and-A sessions with a representative from Koryo Tours to discuss the subject covered in each film. The Koryo tours just came back from the Pyongyang International Film Festival so they have a lot of knowledge and experiences to share! Check what they do here: http://koryogroup.com/

November 30th at 7:30pm: A State of Mind (2004) (93 min)

A State of Mind is a 2004 documentary film directed by Daniel Gordon and produced by Nicholas Bonner, the founder of Koryo Tours. The film follows two North Korean child gymnasts and their families for over eight months during training for the 2003 Pyongyang mass games. The film won two awards at the North Korean Pyongyang International Film Festival in 2004 and was shown at 11 other film festivals worldwide before being released in a theatrical run in 2005. Buy your tickets online here

December 2nd at 7:30pm:  Friends of Kim (2006) (71min)

A Dutch film crew follows a group of Westerners on a 12-day tour of North Korea organized by the western-based Korean Friendship Association. The documentary shows various staged events, partly in honor of the group and partly where the tour participants are being exploited for propaganda purposes. The film features commentary by the group members throughout. It also documents an incident whereby ABC News journalist Andrew Morse has his hotel room broken into and his videotapes stolen by the leader of the KFA, Spanish citizen Alejandro Cao de Benos de Les y Pérez. Buy your tickets online here

December 5th at 7:30pm: Aim High in Creation (2013) (1hour 20min)

Determined to stop a gas mine being built near her inner-city Sydney home, Anna Broinowski, in a world first, goes to North Korea to meet the masters of propaganda film-making, who teach her how to make a revolutionary drama in which “heroic workers” overthrow the “evil gas miners” – all executed in the Dear Leader’s proudly melodramatic style. Back in Sydney, Anna’s brave western cast follow the North Koreans’ instructions, culminating in an uplifting, anti-capitalist drama. Buy your tickets online here

December 9th at 7:30pm: Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang (2015)

Dennis Rodman is on a mission. After forging an unlikely friendship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, he wants to improve relations between North Korea and the US by staging a historic basketball game between the two countries. But the North Korean team isn’t the only opposition he’ll face… Condemned by the NBA and The Whitehouse, and hounded every step of the way by the press, can Dennis keep it together and make the game happen? Or will it go up in a mushroom cloud of smoke? For the first time, discover the true story of what happened when Dennis Rodman took a team of former-NBA players to North Korea and staged the most controversial game of basketball the world has never seen.

December 14th at 7:30pm: Departures (2009) 

Departures (also promoted as departures.) is a travel adventure television series. Featuring Nick Bonner going to North Korea.
Ticket for 5 movies: 200RMB (Includes 5 free drinks)
Buy your ticket for 5 movies here

Tickets also can be ordered via order@beijingbookworm.com

Paul Beatty wins 2016 Man Booker Prize

The Sellout is a satire on race, set in contemporary America. The protagonist, Bonbon, is an African-American from Dickens, a town that has been removed from the map to save California from embarrassment. Bonbon is being tried in the Supreme Court for attempting to reinstate slavery and segregation in the local high school as means of bringing civic order. It is also filled with satirical characters that represent current racial stereotypes.

 

The Sellout is a life-changing piece of literature, aimed at challenging America’s sacred tenets, as well as drawing our attention to urban life, the civil rights movement and most importantly, racial equality. Amanda Foreman, one of 2016 Chair of Judges, has called the book “A tirelessly inventive modern satire, its humor disguises a radical seriousness. Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.”

 

Paul Beatty is the first American author to win a Man Booker Prize in its 48-year history. Upon winning a Man Booker Prize, Beatty can expect international recognition and an increase in book sales. In addition to his £50,000 prize and trophy, Beatty also receives a designer bound edition of his book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.

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