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Upset About My Work In China

I could have done more.

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There was just so much that I didn’t do. I knew the story, I knew what was happening, but I didn’t get it all.

I got enough to make something of my time there — enough to launch a career — but I left a lot on the table.

I was in China during the golden era of the country’s modern rise: 2005-2007 and 2012-2015. This was a time when not many people outside of China — or inside it for that matter — really knew much of what was going on. The traveling writer, the itinerant videographer was needed. For the first time I found what I was doing to be needed.

I’m a chronicler. I document the human experience vs. time. I focus on contrasts and transitions — my sweet spot is in the places where the ancient and modern fit together within a single frame.

China was my Shangri-la — and I’m not talking about Zhongdian. To find what I was looking for all I had to do was go outside.

I documented a decent swath of these transitions but not nearly enough. I’d like to go back and continue my work but I know that it wouldn’t be possible. You can do now what I did then. My methods were those of a traveler — I was raw and brash. If I wanted to find out about something I walked into the middle of it and said, “Yo, what’s up.” I’m not sure if I could do that in the current context of the country and my current position as a contributor to big international media.

I’m not sure if they would even let me back in.


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Filed under: China, Journalism, Uncategorized

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

1 comment… add one

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  • Friend September 30, 2018, 3:41 pm

    The time is always now my friend.

    I felt this way when my grandparents’ health declined, when they were homebound. That it was too late to capture their stories and work with them to document it because they were too busy recovering, or being sick, or life/whatever. And i was too busy and with a full time job. Little did I know how far their health and abilities would decline through frailty even just breathing became difficult for my grandmother and my grandfather’s dementia. He can not even track a sentence now for cognition. I look back on it now and see it actually would have helped them to connect to the world to discuss their life and stories, made them happy. that that’s really all they had anyway. There is someone right now, two generations from now, that wishes you captured the stories of their people and culture for them to experience (reading, video, voice, whatever)…. don’t underestimate your gift, and the ways in which your experiences writing, interviewing, even thinking about this subject and people, has prepared you for wherever you are now…. to be the perfect person for a task.

    Maybe you have just been preparing anyway for now.
    Life is amazing
    And always now.

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