Posted by Alice Xin Liu on Friday, March 27, 2009 at 4:40 PM
Mexico participated in the International Bookworm Literary Festival, which has just ended here in the cities of Beijing, Suzhou, Shanghai and Chengdu.
From the preface of Mexico's China Underground (Soft Skull Press):
Scott Sykes interviewed Mexico about the book for his blog 36PR:
So Mexico wrote his own book. Whilst not claiming that it's anything new, it did mean that Mexico could stop waiting for what he really wanted to read. Here's a taster:
Chaper I: The Peasant Who Likes to Take Pictures; excerptby Zachary Mexico
After just a few weeks of study and meditation at the monastery, Maohair shaved his head and dressed in monk’s robes. He had made his decision: he was going to pursue a monastic life. First, though, he had to travel back to his village to get the blessing of his parents.
Back home, his father was irate. Buddhism was okay, it was sanctioned by the Communist Party and everything, but a monk was even lower in social status than a peasant! Monks made even less money than peasants! They had to beg for their food! No way are you becoming a monk, said his father, and Maohair reluctantly listened.
Maohair wanted to become a monk to seek intellectual and spiritual fulﬁllment. But now that he had reluctantly agreed not to return to the monastery, he couldn’t stay in his village: there was nothing to do there except get pressured by his parents. He decided to travel south to Beijing, China’s political and cultural capital, and expand his mind in a different way.
He had no friends in Beijing, and he rode the train still wearing monk’s robes, carrying only a small bag containing his camera and a few books. When he got to the city, it blew
During his ﬁrst few days in Beijing, Maohair wandered around the city, sleeping in empty stairwells at night. He couldn’t believe how big the place was, and how expensive; he had a few hundred yuan in his pocket left over from his wedding photographer days, and his father had slipped him some money before he left, but he needed to ﬁnd some work and a place to live.
He exchanged his monk’s outﬁt for a T-shirt and jeans he bought at a secondhand market and found a hostel where a dormitory bed was only 8 yuan ($1) a night. “It was at that hostel,” Maohair remembers, “where I truly began to learn new things. The place was full of rock musicians, wandering artists, and wandering writers. Guys who played guitar in the subway to make money. That is where I learned about life.”
At night, these bohemians would sit in the courtyard out- side the hostel, eating peanuts and drinking Beijing’s infamous and dirt-cheap erguotou rice wine from a communal bowl.
They would stay outside, drinking and swapping stories, until the sun was about to come up and then they’d all go inside to the huge dormitory and try to fall asleep amid the cacophony of their roommates’ drunken snoring.
Maohair enrolled at a cheap private arts school taught by moonlighting teachers from the famous Qinghua University Institute of Media Studies, near Beijing’s China World Trade
He didn’t have enough money to go to the actual Qinghua but, he reasoned, the teachers were the same, and that was good enough for him. He would sneak into Qinghua University lectures, and students soon began to recognize him and even make small talk after class; they thought he was a classmate of theirs even though he hadn’t paid Qinghua a cent. “I studied at Qinghua University,” remembers Maohair with a grin, “but I was never a student there.”
In order to make money to pay for the tuition at the private school, Maohair worked a variety of odd jobs. First, he handed out cards advertising travel agencies on the street for
One day when he went to work as an extra, Maohair brought his camera along. He took pictures of the other extras, dressed up in their costumes, smoking cigarettes, talking on their cell phones, and adjusting their makeup.
He posted the photographs on the Internet, and soon enough they were picked up by a number of magazines and newspapers. Maohair realized that it might be possible for
He adds, pointedly, “Maybe it was because I didn’t go to college that they were better!”
Maohair decided that he was going to become a photojournalist. He said goodbye to his friends at the hostel and took the train north, returning home to Liaoning for a visit with his parents. After a few days at home, he walked into the ofﬁces of The Morning News in Shenyang and demanded a job. The boss looked at his portfolio and hired him on the spot at a princely salary of 3,000 yuan a month, twice as much as his parents made in a year.
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