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First-time lucky for global nomad

[ 2010-04-02 11:00]     字号 [] [] []  
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When asked why he left his job as a software developer in New York, moved to Dalian to be an English teacher, and wrote his debut novel about contemporary China, global nomad Mo Zhi Hong answered simply: "Because I'm Chinese".

The Commonwealth Writers Prize-winner talked with readers at the Shanghai International Literary Festival (SILF) last month, discussing with moderator Stephen McCarty his debut novel The Year of the Shanghai Shark, which won Best First Book in the South East Asia and the South Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize.

The book is a loosely structured account of a teenage boy in Dalian, Liaoning province, about the people and life changes around him. Living with his professional pickpocket uncle, Hai Long roams the city observing people and learns about their disillusion, anxiety and aspirations. "It is written from the point of view of a youngster, because that is a period when one's ideas, personality and values are formed," Mo says. "I wanted to show how external forces shape Chinese kids today."

Born in Singapore to a three-quarter Chinese family (his father is half Vietnamese), Mo has spent the past 34 years in Singapore, New Zealand, the United States, the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. During the 1990s dotcom boom, he worked as a software developer in New York, but got bored and decided to return to China. He found a job in Dalian, teaching English to students of all ages in a language school. During his stay in China, he experienced the SARS epidemic, witnessed the social changes that occurred as the economy developed, and observed the lives of many Chinese people.

While most expatriates in China are satisfied with the white-collar high-life, Mo dug deep into the underbelly of Chinese urban life, learning about the life of professional gamblers, pickpockets, beggars and men who make a living by weighing people on the streets.

Mo says he wanted to re-experience the more unique aspects of the country, rather than those aspects that are, increasingly, of a generic Western nature.

"China is changing. Urban white-collar life is certainly one aspect of that change, and certainly worth examining. It is, however, far from the whole story - not that I claim that my book is either, of course."

Fluent in Chinese and English, Mo chose to write the novel in English because he thought the world would be interested in reading about contemporary China.

The Commonwealth prize judges' comment read: "This superbly realized world brings us a gallery of eccentric and unforgettable characters ... the beguiling voice of the narrator draws us into the shifting world of petty crooks, first-world businessmen, tourists, the NBA and McDonald's."


(中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑)

First-time lucky for global nomad

About the broadcaster:

First-time lucky for global nomad

Nelly Min is an editor at China Daily with more than 10 years of experience as a newspaper editor and photographer. She has worked at major newspapers in the U.S., including the Los Angeles Times and the Detroit Free Press. She is fluent in Korean and has a 2-year-old son.