In which I eat fried dough and talk to men in tweed

I guess I get more motivated to blog in a country where Facebook is blocked. FB is good for many things, but certainly not for things like blogging, at least not for me. Here's hoping it'll get me into a habit of updating this more regularly, now that I have actual readers and stuff. I'm fortunate to have a guide in Beijing, which means I get to see the less touristy stuff. Esther, a lovely New Yorker who speaks both Mandarin and English, navigated me through the older parts of town yesterday. I got to try some very interesting street food (it seems to be all about the fried dough and stuff dipped in sugar. I have yet to try the red bean drink, but I suspect it'd make me fart like a bear), visit some well-hidden markets (Chinese cheesecake photos from the 60's!) and find out more about local history. Tagging along with someone who knows the place makes all the difference - there's so much I'd miss without access to the language.

Wednesday evening I was in an informal conversation (can't say panel, there was no table and no actual debate) with Slovenian author Andrej Blatnik and Polish author and translator Jacek Dehnel, which was a lot of fun: talking about the art of short stories. Blatnik writes really REALLY short stories, which is fascinating. For his most recent project, his word limit was what would fit on his screen, I think it was 2200 characters or somesuch. Danel (who is also the most stylish guest of the entire festival in tweed, hat and cane) seems to be insanely productive, with novels, short story cycles and translations - will have to check his stuff out.

Looking forward to tomorrow and a talk with Chinese SF author Fei Dao. It'll be interesting to hear how he navigates the minefield of governmental censorship; as I understand it, fantastic fiction isn't very popular with the powers that be.

That last part is of course a huge point of interest, and part of why I'm here - to meet people who live under these conditions and find out what it's like. The art of writing and publishing seems like a very careful dance between what the author needs to say and what the author is allowed to say. Different publishers have different standards; what one publisher will refuse to print, another publisher will happily allow. Things are apparently getting better, according to people I've talked to, but it's a very complicated process. And for me, it's a much-needed reminder to be grateful I live in a country with free speech.