Thursday, October 19, 2017

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I was in a car accident last month. It was pretty bad, but I got the lucky end of the stick. The passenger in the car I was driving broke bones in her leg and both arms. The driver of the truck that hit us broke his hand. The driver of the scooter I hit died. It was pretty horrifying to watch, but at least he went quickly.

My doctors tell me everything is progressing as it should. I'm sure they're right. My biggest complaint right now is that I can't sit in front of the computer for more than a few minutes. I'll probably write more about the accident later. I want to, while it's still fresh in my mind. But it will have to be in short bursts or after I can last longer.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 9/12/17

While working on the second chapter, I decided to combine it with the first. Chapter 2 was always pretty short, and it felt similar to chapter 1. I always knew there was a very real possibility that they would become one chapter. That could easily happen to a few other chapters as well. We'll have to wait and see.

Chapters are funny things. When you read a finished book, it's obvious where the chapters begin and end. Sometimes there's a big shift in time and place or the point of view changes. Sometimes it's just a natural division in the story. The chapters have to change where they do.

But during the first draft, it's not always so obvious. Sometimes I'll write a sentence that just screams out to be the end of a chapter. So I'll move on to what I assume is going to be the next chapter, until I realize that I'm still working on the previous chapter.

Sometimes I know where all the chapters will be before I start to write. Hailey's Bali Diary was always going to have 8 chapters. I could have made each chapter longer or shorter, but it was always going to be divided into 8. That's just the way it had to be. Shooting For Paris, on the other hand, just kept going and going. I had no idea how long that was going to turn out. The first draft had 50 chapters, each between 6,000-10,000 words. Chapter 47 clocked in at 12,000 words. It was out of control. To put it in perspective, Harry Potter books usually have 4,000-5,000 word chapters.

Of course, there are no rules. Anyone who follows arbitrary rules is following a formula. Formula books are the worst. Mark Twain has a novel with the shortest chapters I've ever seen. Stephen King has a novel that is all one chapter. Mark Twain and Stephen King might not sound like similar writers, but, like them or not, they both knew what they were doing.

My own point of view is that a chapter should be whatever it is. You don't try to cram your dog into the sweater you have. You buy him the sweater that fits. But publishers want shorter chapters. That's what sells. They, generally, believe that readers have short attention spans. People with short attention spans can read a few thousand words in one sitting. 12,000 words is unacceptable.

Someone once said, “Write your story the way it wants to be written. As soon as you look over your own shoulder and second guess yourself, you're doomed.” I'd attribute the quote, but I don't remember who said it, and Google isn't helping.

A Horse's Tale
Mark Twain

Stephen King

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 9/10/17

For the second draft, I'm just going through it chapter by chapter and fixing whatever needs to be fixed. Once finished, I'll read it cover to cover again and think about the third draft. The more I change along the way, the more I'll do everything over and over again. The editing stage is more important than writing the first draft, but it's far less interesting to talk about. So, like it nor not, I'll be droning on about it a lot less.

I've already fixed a few issues with the first chapter. It's always easier to write the first chapter after I've written the rest of the book. I've thought about not even writing the first chapter until everything else is finished, but that wouldn't feel right. Some people write the ending first. That's a good idea if you do mysteries, but I don't. I generally begin at the beginning and go back and fix whatever needs to be fixed as it evolves.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 9/7/17

After finishing the first draft, I went back and read the book from cover to cover. That's not the most exciting stage, and there's really nothing worth talking about, but it's one of the most important stages. While writing, I'll go back and read whatever I just wrote, but that's usually a few sentences or paragraphs at a time, not necessarily in context and sometimes out of order. It's very important to read the whole thing as quickly as possible.

No book is ever written in one sitting. Over a period of months, your ideas and state of mind can change. Your attitude while writing chapter 20 might be completely different than it was during chapter 2. I can't read the entire book in one sitting, but I can try to read as much as I can in the fewest days. Someone once told me that short stories are actually harder to write than full length novels, but reading a short story cover to cover is a lot easier.

I like to think that I catch most typos while I'm reading over whatever I've just written. But that's never true. I find 90% of the typos while reading the entire first draft. Even then, there will always be something that slips through. Those little devils are sneaky.

The point of reading the first draft cover to cover isn't to catch typos. It's to see if whatever you transferred from your head to the page makes any sense. Does the story work? Are the characters honest? Does A lead to B and C? Inevitably, something will be off. That's why they invented second drafts.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Rainy Season

Summer is indisputably the rainy season in Hong Kong. We get more rain between June and August than in every month of winter, fall and spring combined. Between May and September, it will rain at least half the month. Guaranteed.

Summer is also typhoon season. But it's not that all the rain comes from typhoons. Summer will be rainy whether any typhoons come close or not. Typhoons form over the ocean every year, but they don't always hit us. Most will hit the Philippines, some will hit Japan or Taiwan, and pretty much every typhoon that's headed west will hit somewhere in China. But it's pretty hard to hit Hong Kong.

Whoever decided to build this city was pretty smart. You've got the natural harbor and mountains that make it interesting, and all of the economic advantages of international trade and opium wars, but two of Hong Kong's major advantages are the Philippines and Taiwan. Without them, we would be hit by multiple typhoons every year. I doubt Hong Kong would be the city it is today without that protection.

As it is, typhoons have to squeeze through a tiny passage to get to us. Almost every typhoon that collapses near here has already made landfall somewhere else. That makes them much weaker.

This typhoon season has been a little different. We've already had two tropical storms that slammed directly into us (Merbok and Roke) and one that landed close enough (Pakhar). That happens from time to time. Tropical Storm Roke slipped through our Philippines/Taiwan blockade. Pakhar slammed into the Philippines and slowed down before hitting us. Merbok was a little sneaky and formed west of the Philippines. It headed north, so there was nothing to protect Hong Kong.

But those were tropical storms. They bring a lot of rain, but it's the rainy season anyway. Hong Kong doesn't flood the way the Philippines and low lying parts of Mainland China do. Tropical storm winds are 75 mph or less. In a typhoon, it's the wind that really causes the most damage. We get tropical storms every year. Something we don't always get are typhoons.

On August 23, Typhoon Hato crashed right over Hong Kong and Macau before landing in Jinwan. It was the first time Hong Kong issued its highest warning system since Typhoon Vicente. That one caused a lot of damage. The streets looked exactly as you would expect streets to look after a super typhoon. Somehow, no one died.

Typhoon Hato was a little smaller, and not nearly as dramatic. At least in Hong Kong. I'd like to say that the government learned a lot from Vicente and made improvements to protect us, but we probably just got lucky.

Macau and Guangdong were not as lucky. Hato was Macau's strongest storm in 50 years. The army had to clean up debris. Government officials resigned. Ten people died. In the rest of China, a few hundred thousand people were left homeless and 19 people died. The damages were about US$3 billion.

You didn't hear about Typhoon Hato on CNN because at the same time, Hurricane Harvey was hitting Texas. CNN is an American company, so obviously anything happening in the United States will always take precedence over anything anywhere else, and Harvey is definitely a newsworthy event. But it would be nice if CNN finally recognized that more than one news story can take place at the same time. They spent 4 straight days talking about nothing but Harvey. There was some information in there that most of us would have never known otherwise, but one of CNN's biggest problems is talking about the same thing over and over, even when there is nothing new to report. They'll repeat everything they said five minutes earlier. In between updates, they could acknowledge that there are other countries besides the United States.

Typhoon Hato 2017

Typhoon Vicente 2012

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Taipei On the River

What really attracted me to the hotel and neighborhood where we stayed was the river. The Keelung River cuts through the city while the Danshui River runs along the western border. For reasons I'll never understand, Chinese people don't particularly like waterfront property. Beaches and rivers in China and Taiwan are often treated like toilets. The Keelung River is famous for being a public sewer.

Part of Zhongshan's renovation was the construction of several riverside parks. There were long stretches of empty land near the river, since no one likes living on the water, so someone eventually decided to turn a few swamps and patches of nothing into recreation areas. The parks are mostly long stretches of green with walking, jogging and bicycle paths. There are a few sporting fields here and there and, ironically, a park for dogs to run around without their leashes. It's ironic because, like China, dogs in Taiwan run around without leashes anyway. Stray dogs and pets are everywhere. I've rarely seen any on a leash. Strays kill more than a few children every year in China. I don't know what the statistics are in Taiwan.

Close to one of the park entrances, and throughout the city, are Youbike stations – a public bicycle sharing system that's much easier to use than I expected. Lily and I have MRT Easycards, which are just like MTR Octopus cards. If you have an Easycard, you scan it on the Youbike kiosk and enter your phone number. Within seconds, they sent a message with a number code that we entered into the kiosk. That activated our Easycards. You can also activate them online, but doing it at the machine was very easy. Once your card has been activated, you can scan it at whichever bicycle you want. When you return it to any station, you scan your card again and it deducts whatever the fee is – depending on how long you had the bike. The prices are very low. It starts out at something like NT$5 (HK$1.50, 10 cents US) for the first half hour, NT$10 (HK$2.50, 25 cents US) for each half hour under 4 hours, NT$20 (HK$5.50, 50 cents US) for each half hour between 4-8 hours, NT$40 (HK$10.50, US$1.25) for each half hour after 8 hours.

I don't know what they would do if we stole the bikes. Easycards are anonymous. We bought them at vending machines with cash. There is no way for any government agency to identify who owns a card. People without Easycards can rent the bikes with credit cards. They can be charged for stolen bikes. We returned ours, of course, but what would they have done if we had not?

The bikes were nothing special. They were typical city bikes with adequate brakes and adjustable seats. That's really all you need. The park where we rode those bikes was exceptional. There were separate roads for cars, bicycles and joggers. In a Chinese city, that's very important. The only reason I don't own a bicycle is because I live in Hong Kong. Riding a bike in the city is suicidal. There are plenty of mountain trails in the New Territories and some of the islands, but mountains are too advanced for me. The safest trails and bike paths require an MTR ride, so it's easier to rent a bike when you get there than to bring your own. I'd love to be able to ride a bike from my apartment to wherever I'm going, but that would require some very busy and dangerous streets.

Yingfeng Riverside Park in Taipei required almost no riding on city streets, except for half a block from the bike station to the park. The park is flat, so if you're looking for an extreme challenge, it's not for you. But it's the best place for a calm, relaxing and safe bike ride that I've ever seen in East Asia. The most dangerous aspect of our bicycle time was the blaring sun, but we are both used to that. Hats and sunscreen usually do the trick. That's probably also why the park was always empty. I'm sure it gets crowded on cloudy weekends, and more people mean more accidents.

Between sweating in the park, riding trains in the rain and swimming at the hotel, it was a pretty wet trip.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Taipei On a Train

Not that long ago, getting from the airport into the city required either several connections or one long bus or taxi ride. Like a lot of large Asian cities, the airport is nowhere near the city.

Taoyuan International Airport recently underwent some major renovations. Most of it looks cosmetic, as far as I can tell, but one big difference is that now you can take a train directly from the airport into the city. When they built the high speed train line, it never touched the airport, for some reason. To get from one to the other, you had to take a slow and not especially clean shuttle bus. They filled up pretty fast, and waiting for the second or third bus in the rain was never pleasant. There was always the regular bus that went from the airport into the city, but that was always slow and not especially clean.

Some time between my last trip and this one, they connected the airport to the high speed train. That means you can take a single train, with no shuttles, into the city. Since the high speed train system is only about ten years old, I don't see why they didn't do this right from the beginning. There's probably a convoluted political answer.

Ironically, there was a smaller airport right across the river from our hotel. Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from Hong Kong.

Once you're in the city, Taipei's MRT system is pretty much like Hong Kong's MTR or Tokyo Metro. Taipei has fewer lines in a smaller space, making it pretty simple to navigate. Hong Kong and Tokyo always made it easy to get into the city from the airport.

Something I've always wanted to do is take a train across the United States. Right now, I don't have the time, and I don't live conveniently close. I'd also like to take a bullet train across Japan. That takes less time. Those trains are fast, and Japan is considerably smaller. As it turns out, a Japanese company made the high speed trains that run the length of Taiwan. Taiwan was also nice enough to make itself much smaller than Japan or the United States. It's about the size of Maryland. You can take the high speed train from one end of the country to the other in less than two hours.

From Taipei, the other end is Kaohsiung. I don't know anything about Kaohsiung, but a few people have told me I should go there. It has the largest natural harbor in the country, apparently. And lots of shopping. When you live in Hong Kong, people always tell you about other cities with shopping. I don't get it.

Lily and I took the high speed train from Taipei to Kaohsiung. Not to go to Kaohsiung, and certainly not to go shopping. We wanted to ride the train. The cars have wide windows, so you get a good view of the scenery. Unfortunately, we didn't get much scenery. Taipei had blaring sunlight. Taichung, in the middle of the country, was cloudy and had obviously rained before we got there. South of Taichung, we sped headlong into a storm. The scenery for half the trip was dark and wet.

The end of the line was Kaohsiung, which has its own MRT system to get from the station to more interesting parts of the city. But it was raining heavily and we knew nothing about Kaohsiung. I'm all for exploring new places, but we could do that in Taipei without a cloud in the sky. After lunch at the shopping mall connected to the station, we went back. This time, we left the gloom and rode into the light.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Taipei On a Break

Lily and I went to Taipei for a little weekend getaway. It wasn't technically the weekend, but it was a short trip for no real reason. We picked Taipei because it's a quick flight, a relatively inexpensive city, we don't need visas and I wanted to ride a bicycle.

Someone told me that August is the worst time to go to Taipei. That's when it's the hottest, most humid and it's right in the middle of typhoon season. I'm sure that's all true. But we came from Hong Kong. There were no typhoons while we were there, but it felt slightly less humid. The temperature was probably pretty much the same.

This was my fourth trip to Taipei and Lily's second. We've both stayed at a business hotel in Zhongzheng, which is essentially the capital and a major shopping area. I've also stayed in Xinyi, which is downtown and a major shopping area, and Zhongxiao Fuxing, which is a major shopping area in the Da'an District. It's not that we like shopping. There is more than enough of that in Hong Kong. It's that most of the hotels seem to be in the middle of shopping. That's pretty common in East Asia.

This time, we stayed at the Marriott in Zhongshan. There's a lot I don't know about the history of Taipei, but apparently, Zhongshan used to be the main financial district. Then everything moved away to Xinyi and Songshan, and Zhongshan became a bit of a dump. Recently, they've been doing a lot of renovating. It looks like they're trying to bring back international business with new office buildings and, of course, a large shopping mall. There's even a new Marriott Hotel.

I've stayed in a lot of business hotels, and they all seem pretty much the same to me. This one was no exception. It had everything you'd expect from a business hotel. That must be what business people want. There are always a lot of amenities I don't care about. Usually when I go to a business hotel, it's either conveniently located/priced or I'm in a place where I don't want to take a risk on the local hotels. I'll always choose a small boutique hotel over a Marriott or Hilton, but you have to do more research with the boutique hotels. You never really know what you're going to get until you check in. With a business hotel, you know what you're getting.

Taipei probably has some great boutique hotels, but I didn't feel like looking around too much for this trip. The first time I went to Taipei, I stayed at the Home Hotel. That was a quiet boutique hotel in a loud neighborhood, and the best hotel I've been to in Taipei. So far.

One of the Marriott's amenities that I did care about was the swimming pool. My apartment building has a pool, but it's been under renovation for a while, and public swimming pools are not an option around here. There are plenty of them, but once you've seen people use them as toilets, they're far less attractive. The Marriott's lap pool wasn't big, but it was good for swimming laps. I don't know if people are less likely to soil a swimming pool in a hotel because you get a better class of people in a place where you have to pay more or if it's simply more fashionable to shit in public pools. Either way, the Marriott's pool was clean. It was on the roof, but always protected by shade whenever we went. That's important in a city like Taipei.