Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Expat Author Interview with Hannah Thompson-Yates

Hannah Thompson-Yates
Hannah Thompson-Yates, a travel writer and English teacher from Birmingham in England, currently lives in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. In 2012, Thompson-Yates was one of the first-place winners in the I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest. 

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IMBO: Hannah, welcome to I Must Be Off! and congratulations again on your winning entry in the I Must Be Off! Travel Essay Contest! Tell us a bit more about where you live now.

Thompson-Yates: CWB is the busiest part of Hong Kong Island so it's pretty manic. There is a 24-hour Chinese restaurant on the ground floor of my building, a Cantonese theater just opposite and a 5 star hotel just around the corner with an incredible rooftop bar- my flat is never ever quiet and never ever dark!

IMBO: Wow, I hope you're not a light sleeper. I would go crazy there. But maybe you get a lot of writing done in the wee hours? When did you start writing?

Thompson-Yates: I have always loved writing but it is since I started traveling that it has become such a regular and important part of what I do. There are just so, so many things to say about Asia and I love the idea of people reading about places and maybe wanting to see for themselves. Teaching in Hong Kong is an experience in itself, and the gateway to the rest of East Asia.

IMBO: You write for iGap Travel Guide. What is that?

Thompson-Yates: The iGap Travel Guide is a great resource for so many different travel needs.The magazine brings to life destinations you may never even have heard of and really goes to town with reviews, recommendations and advice. They feature different countries, but also different ideas so it's a good place to start if you've got that travel itch but aren't too sure how to scratch it yet. I write for their Asia editions.

IMBO: What brought you to Hong Kong?

Thompson-Yates: The funny thing is I never really decided on Hong Kong. It just sort of happened. I wanted to teach English and I knew I wasn't done with Asia after my backpacking stint. I applied to lots of different schools and one in HK was just right. It turned out to be a much bigger move than I ever imagined! Learning Cantonese is very, very difficult! HK is such an incredibly international city that you can survive just fine without it...which makes us foreigners very lazy. I traveled around mainland China for 6 weeks last summer and that was a completely different story. Knowing some Mandarin was essential, especially in the more rural parts of the country. The best way to learn was to try and chat to local people -- great for 24-hour train journeys!

IMBO: Any funny stories from that time?

Thompson-Yates: I have so many funny stories from backpacking around China. Every single day was an adventure and even doing the simplest of things, like trying to buy a bus ticket or use the internet, turned out to be mammoth tasks in an already hilarious day. You could spend the day just people-watching, without actually even doing anything, and be completely baffled and amazed. Beijing and Xian were great for the sights- The Great Wall, Forbidden City and the Terracotta Warriors are incredible, but my favourite memories are of getting up at 6am and queuing up with market vendors, street-cleaners, taxi-drivers and school kids to buy the most amazing bread in the hutong, buying gigantic ice-creams from the backalleys of The Muslim Quarter and playing Chinese Chess with 80 year old men in Chengdu parks. We were once followed all the way down the street by some college students who were trying to pluck up the courage to use their English and invite us to a BBQ. We had just finished eating a huge dinner, but couldn't say no. We spent the night barbecuing every kind of food imaginable on a tiny side street, drinking beers and being interrogated by our new friends. Every time we told them something tasted good, a boy would whizz away on his motorbike and then come back armed with hundreds more of that particular vegetable. I have never been so full.

Half way through our trip, we had to renew our tourist visas. After spending the best part of an hour wandering around Leshan in scorching July temperatures, only to stroll past the exact same noodle shop about three times, we asked a local policeman if he could point us in the direction of the Visa Office. Everyone else we'd asked had giggled and taken photos of our sweaty and exasperated faces, unable to understand what on earth we were saying, but the policeman called for back up and soon we were being frog-marched to their van by a group of uniformed men. They pulled up outside the pretty scary looking government buildings, used a mega-phone to announce that we had arrived and waited until the staff came running down the stone steps to help. We had our visas the very next day. 

Yunnan Province, in the south, is breath-taking. Celebrating the end of the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike, wrapped in blankets and overlooking the mountains in Walnut Garden village, was so surreal. I saw a side of China that I had no idea existed.

IMBO: Oh my Lord. The megaphones. Priceless. These are the sorts of travel memories one dreams of! And what's it like to live there now? What's teaching English in China like?

Thompson-Yates: I love teaching. My students provide me with endless amounts of entertainment and I learn so much from them every day. Students here work incredibly, incredibly hard and are under a huge amount of pressure to do well academically. This year I am teaching mainly teenagers and adults, whereas last year I had students as young as three years old....and all of them study far more than I ever did! The model of education is very different to western methods and it has been interesting learning so much about it through my work. Many of my students are hoping to study at universities in the UK, which is always exciting! I can't wait to hear what they think of English fish and chips!

IMBO: I'm sure they'll love it. Before we go, Hannah, I always ask the author for an expat author recommendation. Is there another travel writer--an expat--whom you'd recommend to my readers?

Thompson-Yates: Shannon Young, an American writer living in Hong Kong, recently published The Olympics Beat: A Spectator's Memoir of Beijing and is editing a collection of non-fiction and memoir by expatriate women living in Asia. Her blog, A Kindle in Hong Kong, always makes me smile. I also love Paullina Simons- The Bronze Horseman trilogy is an all time favourite.

IMBO: Thank you, Hannah! And thank you for taking time out to chat.

Thompson-Yates: No problem at all! It was great chatting to you and I look forward to reading more on IMBO! Thanks!

Read Hannah Thompson-Yates winning essay HERE.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Indiana Review, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

What's a Waalweg?

Along the Meraner Waalweg
As you probably know, I like a nice steep mountain. I don't hike with ropes, hooks and harnesses, but if it got any steeper I'd need them. That said, there are occasions when a gently sloping path is called for: the day after a hike when I pulled a muscle, the day after a hike when I had too much of the reward waiting at the top of the mountain, the day after a hike when I got lost and ended up hiking eight hours. You get the picture: the Waalweg is for the day after. 

We were in South Tyrol at the weekend. We go there to hike--Egbert the Staplegun Repairer and I--four or five times a year because we live in Munich, just a three-hour drive away. While you probably know where Munich is, you might not know where South Tyrol is. Although it sounds "south," it's actually Northern Italy. It's South Tyrol because it used to belong to Austria, and it's the south part of Tyrol--which is still part of Austria. And it all once belonged to Bavaria. Needless to say, we all understand one another quite well. They speak German in South Tyrol.

So back to the gently sloping paths of South Tyrol: the Waalwege. Before the modern wars in Europe, the common method of irrigating the orchards and the vineyards that grace the lower parts of these beautiful mountains was a system of canals called Waalwege. These manmade streams curl down the mountains at a relaxing--sometimes babbling, sometimes creeping--pace.

The paths once served only for maintenance of the system, but now--or at least following WWII and the advent of more modern irrigation methods--they have become a popular place to take a Sunday stroll. And that's exactly what we did last Sunday, along with hundreds of other "hikers". This is not really hiking.

HIKING to me is grunting and sweating for at least four hours and feeling that your behind is a bit shapelier afterward. Yep, that's my definition of hiking. Please quote me.

I would call walking on a Waalweg a stroll or an amble or possibly a jaunt. Since I enjoy a good sweat on my "hike," I had to pick up the pace considerably, elbowing strollers out of my way coming and going. Think Porsche going 220 kmh on the Authobahn passing old VWs going 100 kmh. Think juggernaut, roller derby and banshi rolled into one. Kidding! I didn't hurt anyone, sweet people. Walkers on these paths are usually quite perceptive of faster walkers behind them. They move aside, which is good for them. I wouldn't have wanted to hurt anyone.

Here are a few more impressions of our Sunday stroll, near Merano, South Tyrol (Italy):






The other aspect of the Waalweg that sets it apart from a "hike" is the little restaurants along the way. There are mountain huts on longer, steeper hikes, but it's unlikely that you would stop there to have a beer or food on your way up a steep mountain. If you stop at one of these huts and eat, you'll probably end your hike there. We never stop until we reach the top, where we have our "reward". Yes, this does sound like candy for a child when he goes in the potty instead of in the middle of the living room.

On Sunday, we stopped at a Busch'nschank, which is actually an Austrian term for a business, usually a farm, that sells its own products (ham, cheese, wine, vegetables, etc.) on its premises. After strolling for five km, we stopped and had cheese and wine. This was not a reward, since we hadn't really done anything. We were just hungry. Still, these simple outdoor restaurants--for lack of a better term--are perfect for a Sunday outing.

You'll be tempted to pick an apple if you're "hiking" a Waalweg in early autumn. I don't think anyone would stop you, but the ones along the paths aren't very good. I think they're used for juicing. There are kiosks along the way where you can buy four good ones for one euro. There are also kiosks selling apple juice and Most, the very young precursor of wine.   

Have you been to South Tyrol? Did you know that the Dolomite mountains are only a few hours' drive from Venice or Milan? Have you read my article about this at Bootsnall Travel?

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Dark Tale Continues

Earlier this year I began writing a dark tale about an awful, dying man. I write everything that occurs to me, whether it be dark humor, surreal prose, travel humor or inspirational creative non-fiction. I will never limit myself, and I'm very happy when a publisher likes what I do. Recently, a young writer used my Chicken Soup for the Soul publications as a joke to ridicule me. I'd pissed him off. The misunderstanding was my fault, which I apologized for, but he still thought he needed to find something to hurt me. I wish him all the best. He's a good poet for his age, probably not a very good person yet.

As a writer, I acknowledge every part of me; I explore every part of me--the bright and the dark parts, the humorous and the serious bits. I embrace the lyrical and the scary. I hope I never tire of plumbing my depths. And, yes, creative non-fiction is part of that. I have found that I'm basically 84%  humor. Ah, and that brings me back to the reason I'm posting now. I hope you'll follow my darkly humorous tale at Pure Slush where I'm the featured author this month. The story is not appropriate for children.

Here's the link to the first two parts, the second part after the first part's comments (three more parts to follow):

At the Deathbed of William Fear

Comments appreciated. 

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Home is where you . . .

I've just returned from the US. Well, I haven't actually just returned, but I am just now able to think. Jetlag turns me into a walking, blathering carrot. An adorable one, but still a carrot. A blathering one. And by the way this blog post has begun, I guess I'm still a bit jetlagged.

So I was "home" for two weeks. Do you have a strong sense of home, or is home wherever you have the best mattress? My home has been in Germany for the last 18 years, but I have only recently bought a great mattress. Before that, I slept on a cheap bed from the Otto catalog, a borrowed aging sofabed that folded up like an accordion, and a terrifically expensive futon. These places all pretty much felt like home to me. So it's not about the mattress. No, I've come to realize that home is where I don't keep my toiletries in an airplane-approved zip-lock baggie. Home is where I have to mow the lawn. Home is where I clean.

Don't get me wrong. I love the feeling of being on vacation. I often joke that I've been on vacation since 1995. I love the adventure of being somewhere besides home. Home is routine and knuckle-down time. Home is cleaning the kitchen floor at 3:00 a.m. because I can't sleep. And last night I couldn't. On vacation I might risk a walk on the beach or sit on my balcony and wait for the sun to rise. My kitchen floor looked awful this morning at three, so I cleaned. You don't do that anywhere else but home unless you're a bit OCD.

Home in the US
So I cleaned floors at my parents' house while I was there. They're right at the end of a major build-on project, and I just happened to be in the right dusty place at the right dusty time. I actually enjoyed it. It reminded me of when we gutted the house here. Dust everywhere. If you've ever lived in a house under construction, you know the feeling. You get a floor relatively clean, and a worker comes in and tracks dirt all over it again. All this to say, I did feel at home when I was in the States.

While I was there, I had the opportunity to clean out my parents' attic, where I discovered my files from graduate school and an enigmatic certificate that seemed to suggest I was once a member of a mathematics club in junior high. Me: the guy who's often unsure which comes first, 7 or 8. I've long since given up on the times tables. And never ask me to convert miles to kilometers or ask me how many quarts are in a pint, or buckets in a centileter. I will always say "seven". When my students ask me these questions, I stare at the wall and let my eyes roll back in my head as if I'm having a stroke.

In the attic I came across my teacher evaluation forms from some of my first-year composition students when I taught at Middle Tennessee State University, so I'm going to gloat just a bit. If you don't enjoy a bit of gloating, just skip to the next paragraph where the tone is more self-deprecating. They loved me. Apparently, I was motivating and interesting and caring--and I believe one person even said adorable.

I didn't feel very adorable in the attic as I was reading the evaluations, though. Sweat was dripping off my nose, and the attic's insulation was quickly stopping up my lungs. There were boxes and boxes of books, literary journals from 1994, books on grammar and style--all desolate and dusty. But then I finally found a poem that I'd written in 1992. A friend had had it framed and illustrated by a well-known local artist, who was also a friend of mine. It has always been a special gift, which I hadn't seen since 1994 when I moved to Germany. It's home with me now.

Do you live in a place far far away from your childhood home? What's it like going back?

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day. 



Monday, September 2, 2013

Featured Author at Pure Slush

You may know me only as the delightfully mysterious man behind the gas mask, but there is more to me. I have a mouth, for example. I also write short stories, and this month Pure Slush is featuring my story "At the Deathbed of William Fear: the Wife, the Priest, the Lover and a Dog" in five parts. A big thanks to Matt Potter! Today, the first and second installments live now. If you are so inclined, please stop by and give this darkly humorous tale a read.

Also from Pure Slush: the collection of bar stories called Barcode, in which my story "The Man Who Can't Be Moved" appears along with lots of other stories by some pretty incredible writers. For a taste of Barcode go HERE.

And also also, my book Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire) turned one year old this week. You can help me celebrate by, well, buying the book. Or a car. Oh! Or a castle!

I'm traveling back to Germany tomorrow morning after having spent almost two weeks in the States. Wish me safe travels please.

I must be off,
Christopher

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Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.