Tag Archives: Hong kong

Bookworm Literary Festival 2016 Review

Anyone who has spent a longer time in Beijing will probably have heard of the Bookworm Literary Festival. It has been running now for over a decade, providing insightful talks by authors and free thinkers in the English language. Thumbs up to the administration for allowing that such a talk take place especially considering the often sensitive issues that were touched upon spanning everything from Hong Kong to the One-Child Policy to LGBT rights. There was no shying away here as the panelists freely shared views both positive and negative of current Chinese and global issues. 

Now that the festival is over I would like to spend the next couple of days taking stock. I did go to eight events in total; big thanks at this point to Mr Li for one of my top two Valentine’s gifts ever! (It’s a tie between this and last year’s trip to Yangzhou).

It was a lot of talking on some very serious and important topics. Of course any review would be incomplete without a review system and so I have decided to give out aubergines instead of stars, simply because I can. And also because not having an Aubergine Award is a massive oversight of humanity. Each talk can get a maximum of five aubergines – that’s a lot of 地三鲜 (I’ll let you figure this one out for yourself).

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The Future of Hong Kong

I adore Hong Kong. My first trip took me to the glimmering, multi-cultural metropolis in 2010 and I have been back many times since. Even with my parents; and just like me, they thought it is one of the most stunning cities they have ever seen. That being said, the problems that are bubbling less and less under the surface and more and more like a volcano about to explode into angry fountains of lava are no secret.

Since the British handed the country to China almost 20 years ago, the situation has been progressively deteriorating as Cantonese-speaking locals feel their cultural identity and liberties are being threatened and curtailed. Countless incidents of people being identified as mainlanders behaving in a crude manner in public, often related to public urinating and defecating, have gone viral online as a method for some Hong Kongers to demonstrate how “uncivilized the mainlanders” are. The rift is only getting worse when mainland media have a field day with the bad, bad Hong Kongers who protest against and look down upon their “brothers and sisters” from across the border.

The situation is so bad, I literally had to drag Mr. Li to Hong Kong the first time around since he was convinced an army of angry Hong Kongers was going to lynch him and his mother and hang them out to roast like a Yong Kee goose. To his surprise and my utter relief, the trip was entirely uneventful and when I took him back to Hong Kong the second time round (for my long-awaited Disney trip), he had calmed down considerably.

That being said, recent events such as the Umbrella protests and the disappearing booksellers plus the revelation that the ¨free elections¨ promised to residents by 2017 are in fact not free at all give cause for worry. The talk on the future of HK, one of the first events during the Bookworm Literary Festival, did little to dispel those worries. It was however an absolutely fascinating talk.

I won´t quote the guest speakers, since it was made abundantly clear that they considered this a private event, but the overall atmosphere was rather of a doomsday nature, leaving one to conclude that the Matrix is a holiday at the beach compared to the possible future of the area. Especially the shock and realisation in light of the booksellers’ removal to the mainland (though there have been reports some of them have since returned home) that certain freedoms promised in the treaty of 97 were not being respected was a chilling wind amongst democratic thinkers in the city.

One interesting issue pointed out by an audience member was the increasing ¨politisation¨ of the academic environment. According to what they saw upon returning to Hg, the entire academia of the island has been swallowed up in the debate. They didn´t necessarily think this was a good thing but were shot down by the panelist at whom the question was directed. What I do find interesting though is the underlying question: if someone did not want to be involved in all these politics, they might find the academic environment taken over by political discourse to be a frustrating thing. Much like I remember a few acquaintances actually complaining about the Umbrella Movement on social media, deploring Joshua Wang to just stop bringing unrest to their society. It is a valid point I think in that the society has been divided – into those who fear the loss of human rights and democracy, those who support the Chinese government and those who just want to get the frick on with their lives and not be caught up in ¨politics¨. If you want no part of any anti-mainland movement, what do you do, if its everywhere you go? Especially when, if you ever dare voice any disagreement, you are so utterly shot down by both sides of the conflict.


I award this talk five out of five Aubergines.

Read for this event: Umbrellas in Bloom by Jasong Ng

Knocked-Up Abroad

The ¨Knocked-Up Abroad” talk was held as part of the Bookworm Literary Festival 2016 and came with an array of four fascinating panelists; three of which where married to locals just like myself. I actually dragged Mr. Li to the talk, making him one of a very few guys along a sea of women interesting in the experiences of reproducing and going through the Chinese medical system.

The women shared fascinating tales of cultural differences; the multi-talented author Ember Swift sharing excerpts from a new book to which she contributed and which was the namesake of the event, plus three more bloggers who have all been through bringing children into this world either in China or in their home countries.

There were at times entertaining, at times harrowing tales of cultural differences, of MILs tweaking nipples, of Chinese medical staff finding it difficult to deal with sorrow and, naturally, of split pants.

For me personally it was very inspiring to hear these women talk, a majority of which have similar cross-cultural relationships, in a way that it can prepare you – or maybe also scare you off entirely – for what it means to bring a child into a Chinese family.

I absolutely admire these women, even more so because two of them actually live in very remote Chinese locations, compared to which Hohhot would seem the height of internationalisation. I was saved from a grilling by Mr Li about why they can live in those places but I won’t agree to spend my life in glamorous Hohhot by the admission of one panelist that living in such a removed area did caused her to go into depression. That’s why, Mr. Li.

The final panelist presented a shocking story, which by now should have been posted online, about how she had to give birth to her dead twins in a Chinese hospital and the traumatic experience this was for her not only due to the tragic event but also due to the way medical professionals dealt with the situation.

I received some feedback from another audience member who was incidentally pregnant that she would have liked to be made aware of this content, as rather unsurprisingly, these are not the kind of stories an expecting mother really wants to hear, even less so if it is just sprung on her without prior warning. So, I guess a little feedback there for the Bookworm organizers to maybe check and make available any content that could be emotionally disturbing to listeners.

Overall though it was a very powerful event, that did exactly what it should in that it helped people gain an understanding of this most important of issues, carrying a child in a country that is not your own and how this affects the experience.


Knocked-Up Abroad gets 4 out of 5 Aubergines.

Read for this event: Knocked Up Abroad: Stories of Pregnancy, Birth, and Raising a Family in a Foreign Country


The Dates (Part 2) – The Registry Date

So, when we set out on this adventure almost six months ago (oh my, has it been that long?!), we were looking at having to choose three different dates in relation to our wedding:
The registry date
The Chinese wedding celebration
The German celebration

After quite a bit of kerfuffle around when we cannot set any of these dates due to Chinese superstition, we have now finally decided upon as many of the dates as is realistically possible.

Hong Kong island
But let’s start with the one date that is still eluding me; ironically the closest date of them all – the registry date in Inner Mongolia. As I explained previously the legal side of getting married and the party/show are two separate things, with the registering usually happening about half a year prior to the party. I had originally intended for us to get married just before Chinese New Year, so mid-February, mainly out of practicality, since I was expecting to spend the holiday back in Hohhot anyway, as is tradition. However, because my future mother-in-law is a seriously cool person/passionate world-explorer, she decided that we should go traveling after all and to a warmer climate at that.

This was rather a funny story in itself. About four months ago I started bugging Mr. Li that I wanted to go travel during CNY because you don’t often get off an entire week in China and I wanted to escape the cold (also, during the other big week off – national holiday, we only stayed in Beijing for the entire week for due to exhaustion from being such busy people but more importantly since the entire country goes traveling around this time. 1.5 billion people (currently still 1.49, but expected to hit the big 5 sometime this year) traveling through the country at the same time; well you can imagine how inviting that thought is.

Since Mr.Li wanted to spend the holiday with his family (or rather most importantly his mother), when she agreed to go travel initially I couldn’t believe it – this was actually happening. I might get to spend my holiday at a warm beach in the South rather than freezing my backside off at -20 degrees in Inner Mongolia (I ask myself to this day why I didn’t pick a Southerner, the climate is so much better down there…JK, or am I?).

Then, as is so often the case in China, the plan changed. For reasons I can only speculate about due to the Chinese habit of never telling you exactly what is going on in their heads, my future MIL decided she was going to stay at home in Inner Mongolia. But she wanted us to go out on our own anyway.

Based on the original wedding plan, I suggested to Mr. Li that we spend about 6 days in Inner Mongolia including the first two, and hence most important, days of CNY and then go traveling for another 5, to which he initially agreed. Until about a month ago when he told me that he would rather spend the entire time in Hohhot, because for CNY he felt it was weird to go out traveling. With a bit of begging, eye-batting and promises of skiing, skating on lakes and swimming he finally had me convinced to spend the holiday in Hohhot.

However, he had not reckoned with his mother! Because she is going to be rather busy at work in the coming year, this is the last opportunity for her to travel with us in a while, and so she decided that she did not want to pass up this opportunity after all. And so I spent two days speed-planning a trip to Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macao – since any other flights at this time of year are ludicrously overpriced. After all, these three places put together have everything the two of us could want – heat and beaches for me, shopping for her.

But Mr. Li was not giving up that easily. He tried pleading with her as he had with me.

“Mum, I don’t want to spend the holiday traveling. Why can’t we just stay at home?”

Yet, as I said, he had not reckoned with his mother.

“You can stay at home doing nothing, my son, that’s no problem. But me and Laura are going out to explore the world!”

Cool mother-in-law.

What I forgot at the time was that as mainland residents, they both need visa-like permits to go to Hong Kong due to its history as a British colony and the lasting after-effects of this. Even less so did I realise that it is not possible for a Chinese person from Hohhot to apply for this visa in Beijing due to the insufferable Hukou system, and so Mr. Li had to fly back home to Inner Mongolia for an extended weekend to apply for his permit, bless the poor guy. I did end up feeling a bit sorry for him at this point. Though not enough to forget about the trip. I’ll make such a good wife.

So, long story short, the plans of getting married pre-New Year were off. However, I have to say that this was not really down to our frivolous desires of traveling but more owed to the fact that the only thing more insufferable than the Chinese Hukou is the bureaucracy involved in a German-Chinese marriage. We have been trying for half a year to get the documents sorted with countless setbacks and at this point our decision with regards to the date is: if we ever manage to get the bloody documents together, we will take the next flight out to Hohhot and get this over with. Romantic, I know.