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.
You can learn more about Ray and Pearl River Drama: Dating in China at his website.
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.
Thanks so much to Ray Hecht for this interview! To learn more about Pearl River Drama: Dating in China and other writings by Ray, visit his website today.
22 Replies to “Interview with Ray Hecht on “Pearl River Drama: Dating in China””
Great interview! The books sounds really interesting.
I also struggle a lot with deciding how much of my personal stuff I want to share on my blog. On one hand sharing is great and that is the whole point of having a blog/ writing a book of memoirs, on the other hand it makes me feel so exposed and I also worry about my boyfriend’s privacy..
It is really hard to find a balance between too cold and too personal.
Any blogger found the magical solution for this internal struggle? I’d love to hear opinions on this topic.
Marghini, this is why I don’t use my real name. Although I have been found out by a few family members, and I suspect future blackmail payments are imminent.
So that’s maybe not a great solution either.
Autumn I swear I love your humour like crazy. If we didn’t live an ocean apart I would totally invite you out for coffee.
PS: Autumn is one of my favorite names in the world and I will possibly pick it for a future daughter. Just saying, again.
Make mine a cappuccino! In the AFTERNOON. I know how you love that.
But thanks very much for the compliment on my chosen name and my humor. I am fortified against angry responses to my comment on Jocelyn’s previous post!
Cappuccino in the afternoon? Over my dead body.
Hey marghini, great question!
First of all, I should say that even though my blog is pretty personal, there is a LOT of drama going on in my life that I cannot blog about. It’s totally off-limits. And I’m really careful about how I blog about my husband. So those of us who do blog in a personal way have boundaries for sure.
It’s probably not surprising that a lot of personal bloggers choose to make fun of themselves or appear self-deprecating in their writing. You don’t need anyone’s permission and it’s usually quite entertaining! Ray himself comes across this way in his writing for sure (as well as this interview). Autumn is also terrific at turning her own missteps into fantastic blog posts. So often that’s a way to make your blog more personal — find the things about yourself that are funny, silly or ridiculous and write about them.
Intriguing interview. Will have to check out the book. I suppose it’s a good sign that none of the exes have threatened legal action.
LOL! Good point! 😉
You’re killing me with all these great book recommendations. I still haven’t gotten around to reading “The Reluctant Brides” (though I did download it). I still want to read Grace’s second comic book. Right now I’m in the middle of “Factory Girls” which isn’t exactly as I expected it to be, but is pretty interesting. I also want to read “Fresh Off the Boat.” Has anyone here read that? I started watching the TV series and I like it.
Ha ha, maybe I shouldn’t tell you that I’m working on two more interviews as I write this and expect to feature three new books in June! 😉
I did pick up Fresh Off the Boat a while back; I had a hard time getting into it (though that may not mean much, since I was facing a lot of challenges in my life at the time). I know people who have loved it, and I think I should give it another go sometime.
Oh my. I feel so shy now.
Thanks very much, Jocelyn!
Loved the book. I read it as soon as Ray mentioned it on his blog, needless to say I followed each blog post about this topic.
I dont know if I be able to write about such very private things. I surely do post a lot about my creepy family and with it also about things in my life but there is still much I do keep away from the public…
What a great interview! I read Ray’s book and loved it, too. I found it to be very refreshing. It might be good to know that in my experience and from what I’ve heard from other authors, people are usually most upset when they are excluded from a memoir, not the other way around.
First, I love Autumn’s blog. She has a sharp tongue with great humor.
It is so hard to compare the attitudes toward dating and life between US and China. We might all want the same things, but the path moving toward such goals are so different.
In particular, this idea of defining your own happiness is a hard sell in China. I can see why some people can simply jump into defense because they can’t seem to do the same. It has something to do with the conditions that you live in and the very different mindset instilled by the society.
Now I’m shyer than Ray!
Thanks very much for the compliment, Dan. Between you and Marghini, I am set for a week.
Your comment reminds my of a post Jocelyn made a while ago: https://www.speakingofchina.com/china-articles/chinese-inlaws-not-so-free-marriage/
In it, her father-in-law tells Jocelyn about marrying out of filial duty, just because it’s expected. Is that the sort of mindset you’re talking about? It’s hard for a western woman like myself to wrap her head around making the biggest decision of your life just because your parents tell you to — yet my Chinese-American significant other has parent who find it unfathomable that their son wouldn’t do exactly what they tell him to do!
I started reading Ray’s book last night and I thought I’d make a quick comment.
Ray, I really admire how honest you are. You’ve put yourself out there in a way most people don’t and that allows others to see things in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. I know there is a “sexy” side to China and an underworld with drugs. But being a woman, I have a totally different experience here. And it’s not just being a woman, it’s also where I live. Being in a small city in the north, things are still very closed-off. People are conservative when it comes to drugs and sex and pretty much everything. I really enjoy learning about another, perhaps darker (and certainly more interesting), side of things.
Destiny or free will? I guess Americans are taught to believe we hold our own choices. Traditional Chinese thinking would want their kids to benefits from their experiences by teaching the kids how to live. Probably Americans believe future is unknown, and Chinese think the future is a repeat of the past.Why not just replicate the success of what has been working? I can’t tell which way is always better. There are certainly good things from listening to your parents.However, American parents tend to let the kids go and not to fuss about smaller mistakes in particular. I feel American parents sometimes push their kids to be independent too early. A balanced approach would be wiser.
Keep in mind you are given many second chances in America. Those options are often not available in many other countries. It is harder to change the mindset for your Chinese American husband’s parents even after they have lived in US for so long. You can’t take the man out of China – they will always be Chinese in some ways. I like how you can handle it with some humor while blowing off the steams.
It is better to learn to accept the differences and hope they will accept yours in return. I think the differences will always be there. It can’t be all bad. Didn’t you just wrote about getting a fat check to pay for wedding?
I am a Chinese American. I’ve learned after lots of struggle.
Yes, I think it would have been smarter for me to try and simply accept Andy’s parents. I always thought that Andy didn’t try hard enough to explain his own viewpoint to his parents. It took me a long time to figure out what he knew all along — there was just no point. But that’s another blog post. Someday.
And yes, the check was big, but certainly not big enough to cover even half of the wedding. 😉
Congrats on being brave enough to share such personal stories in a memoir.
I don’t think I would be brave enough to reveal such intimate details on my life. I am still in the writing process of my memoir and there are a few details which I am at odds about sharing.
I read this book and found it immensely honest and well, interesting. Loved the interview 🙂