Meet the contributors to Chinese Characters: Alec Ash
Tell me about the first time you went to China.
It was the summer after I graduated from university. This was 2007 and I was 21. I was one of a group of six, sent to teach English in a Tibetan village in Western China, which I write about in my chapter, “Out of Tibet.”
We took the scenic route there, through Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sichuan, Xian and Lhasa – during which time I got bitten by an allegedly rabid bat, my bus crashed into a mountain, and I got called a “colonialist” on a train. Somewhere in between, I decided that I would like to live in China.
What was the most interesting thing you learned from working on your chapter for Chinese Characters?
Following the story of one 20-something Tibetan, Tashi, over three years, gives some insight into the dilemma that he and his peers face within China – the trade-off between identity and opportunity. It also reminded me that the broader situation in Tibet is not black and white, but indeed as multi-coloured as a Tibetan prayer flag.
I also learned to carry two memory cards for my camera when travelling.
Where are you right now and what are you working on?
In London, running literary interviews. But China is a drug, and it seems I can’t keep clean of it for long. I will be moving back to Beijing this autumn, to write with a particular focus on Chinese youth.
Alec Ash runs the FiveBooks interview feature at the literary website The Browser, and edits The Anthill, a “writers’ colony” of new narrative, vignettes, opinion and fiction. This photo was taken in January 2009 on a frozen river in Qinghai province, where Alec drank a can of fruit beer with a Tibetan friend. Find out more about Alec’s work at alecash.net.