Reinventing yourself abroad is practically an expat tradition. Whenever I sit down with foreigners here in China, more often than not they have a story about how the Middle Kingdom unexpectedly transformed their lives, forging them into the fascinating person they are today.
Writer Ray Hecht, who hails from my home state of Ohio (he’s from Cincinnati and I’m from Cleveland), is no exception. But he has a different kind of story to share. After all, how many have you met who took the “go to China” plunge in a psychedelic haze in the Nevada desert (Burning Man)? Ray does have an easier time meeting Chinese and foreign women for dates, but he never turns into another “charisma man” (or worse, Chinabounder) because of it.
Even better, you can read all about his experiences in an honest and compelling new memoir titled Pearl River Drama: Dating in China.
From the girls he could have loved forever to the “just sex” moments to the one who stalked him (yikes!), Ray doesn’t shy away from letting you into his utterly imperfect love life. He’s refreshingly self-deprecating about it all and ultimately comes across as a genuinely nice foreign guy just looking for love in China. (Note that, besides graphic descriptions of sex, this story does include a lot of recreational drug use, so reader discretion is advised.)
Pearl River Drama: Dating in China is a fast and entertaining read (I devoured it on the bullet train from Beijing to Hangzhou). I’m honored to introduce you to Ray Hecht and his new memoir through this interview.
Here’s Ray’s bio from Goodreads:
Ray Hecht was raised in America, from the Midwest to the West Coast, on a starchy diet of movies and comics and science fiction paperbacks. Mostly writing about such states as California and Ohio, and such provinces as Guangdong. Lived in Shenzhen, China since 2008, that Special Economic Zone & Hong Kong-bordering chaotic city of the future, occasionally partaking in freelance journalism for various local publications.
I asked Ray about what it felt to have such personal stories out there for people to read, how he ended up with such a fascinating mix of women, what regrets he has (if any) and much more:
What inspired you to write this memoir?
I went through a lot of drama back in 2013. While my writing career was going up, my love life suddenly exploded. I briefly thought I met a perfect girl abroad, one Chinese woman I dated basically turned out to be a stalker and caused me incredible stress, and then it culminated in having my heart broken.
I often write private journals. It helps me process.
This time, I thought it would help if I put it all out there as a blog. It may have been a rash decision. But it did give me some inspiration to further write, and a lot of the conversation it ensued really helped me think about things. I found a lot of supportive people in the WordPress blog scene, and I’m glad I did it.
I finished the blog at a certain point, because I didn’t want people who personally knew me in Shenzhen to know all of my business. I share a lot, but I do have limits. However, at least making it an eBook seemed the thing to do, and for that project it wouldn’t be freely on my blog. It would cost just a few dollars, and I could share even more…
I don’t know if this is was a bad idea or not, perhaps putting these revelations out there will come back to haunt me one day, but too late now.
Your stories get incredibly personal and intimate at times, sharing details that would make many of us blush! How does it feel to have these stories out there for anyone to read (including your former girlfriends/lovers)?
As said, the blog was less blush-worthy than the finished product memoir. I’m fine with acquaintances and stranger readers out in the world reading about my personal life. I’m much more hesitant about people I personally know well — especially if they were there in some of those experiences!
Surprisingly, I haven’t had any negative feedback from ex-girlfriends. A few said they liked reading. I even pointed it out, in the name of honesty. There’s really just the one girl I hope doesn’t read it…
You described yourself as “a nerdy American boy from Ohio” who wasn’t “particularly good with girls” and yet your dating life was transformed in China, where you ended up dating many women and found your stride. Still, you write that “I was lucky to date anyone who would have me.” How were you able to keep such a humble perspective about it all?
I don’t know if humble is the word. Self-loathing at times? Realistic?
I try my best not to be one of those obnoxious expats who think they god’s gift to (Chinese) women. And I have been rejected so many times. I have to have a real perspective. It’s not like I’m the one-night stand kind of guy, but I was persistent for a while there and I kept trying no matter how many bad relationships I was in. More than half were due to online dating, I admit, which is easier than the confidence it takes to pick up women in bars and that sort of thing I’ve never been good at.
Mainly, racking up all these stories shows there’s something wrong with me in that my long-term relationships were so seldom.
Over the course of the book, you write about being with a variety of women — from those you could imagine spending the rest of your life with to someone who actually stalked you for months. I was so surprised by the wide range of personalities and the drama of course! Why do you think you ended up with such a diverse (and fascinating) bunch of women?
Hey, diversity is the spice of life. I’ve always been open to having friends from different backgrounds, why not give anyone a chance no matter where they’re from? That’s one of the opportunities that comes from the expat lifestyle, I suppose. Ultimately I learned through trial and error that Chinese women may not be my type. No offense meant to any great Chinese people out there!
It has been just my luck that I got to meet so many fascinating people in the world.
Looking back on your dating experiences in China, do you have any regrets? Anything you would have done differently?
I have so many regrets. I don’t want to get too specific, sorry. I guess I basically wished I knew what I was doing. I could have been more honest about the relationships that were to be short-term. I could have treated women a lot better when I wanted something deeper but couldn’t get that to happen.
But it’s not good to have too many regrets. Life is a series of harshly learned lessons, and I hope to move forward.
Social skills take a while to learn for someone like me.
What do you hope people come away with after reading your memoir?
I don’t know what people should think when they read my work. Feel some empathy with me? Simply be entertained by the more wild parts? It’s hard to say. I emphatically do not want to be giving out any pickup advice. I do hope that people who might like Chinese/Asian girls can read it and see that women are individuals and cannot be stereotyped. If anyone is an expat, I hope they can relate. If anyone is interested in becoming an expat, especially in first-tier cities in China, I hope they can see what they would be getting into with the social scenes.
Mostly, it but is what it is and if you like reading that kind of thing then more power to you.