Probably the best way to experience what it's like to live in China (without actually going there) is to live vicariously through someone else.
And comic book artist Guy Delisle allows you to do just that. How? He created a visual travelogue/graphic novel packed full of his up close and personal insights, real-life experiences and encounters in Shenzhen, China.
In this interview, Guy shares with you his approach to starting a travelogue, hints at his future projects, and most graciously of all...he reveals for you one of the biggest surprises contained in the book...
...the most shocking thing he encountered in China.
Guy, what do you miss most about your time in China?
What do I miss most about China?
If I go back to Shenzhen, I would like to eat at the good Dim Sum restaurant that I found while I was there.
What “coping strategies” do you have for a newbie who is about to travel alone to China for a work assignment?
Nothing in particular. I went to China in 1997 and everything changes so fast in that country. It must be completely different from what I experienced. In any event, I always recommend carrying a small English-Chinese dictionary.
If you were going back to China, what would you do differently next time?
I went to China twice, once in Nanjing and later in Shenzhen. It turns out that my stay in Shenzhen was far more difficult than that of Nanjing. I do not think I could be prepared differently for China next time. Luck made my travels happen the way they happened. I could go back to the same city today and experience something totally different.
What's your process to create visual travelogues?
I always work in the same way. I take notes on site. Then when I come home, after waiting a few months, I re-read all the notes. If there is enough material to make an interesting travelogue, then I create all the drawings.
Once I returned from a long stay and after reading all my notes, I found nothing remarkable. So I decided not to make a travelogue.
What new projects are you working on? What can your fans expect to see from you next?
I just returned from spending a year in Israel. We left Jerusalem due to the same reasons as we left Burma. [Note: To make a long story short, Guy and his wife left Burma because Médecins Sans Frontières decided to withdraw their services. You can find all the details in Burma Chronicles.]
So it is possible that I will make a travelogue on Israel. I'm going to reread my notes and I will decide soon whether or not to.
One of the most delightful surprises on your website is the collection of Chinese cultural themed artwork. [note: If you visit this link, be sure to look through the various pages...]
What more can you tell us about your unpublished Chinese story?
Do you think there is any chance it will see the light of day - especially now that China is becoming more and more prominent?
At that time I did animation for a living, and I did comics just for fun. I sent many projects to publishers. I found that small independent publishers liked my work. That's how I started to be published.
Now, I no longer work in animation. I prefer to dedicate myself to my comic book projects. My style has changed a lot. When I look at the projects of that era, I like them...but I'm more interested in all my new ideas that I'd like to achieve.
But who knows, maybe one day the nostalgia will win me over and I'll bring back one or two old projects lying around in my desk drawers.
And Guy, what was the biggest surprise, something you were absolutely NOT expecting to find, that you encountered during your stay in Shenzhen, China?
Snake bladder to drink...
This is just a small taste of what's in store for you when you visit China. It's also just a sample of the fun, entertaining and personal view of life in China that you'll discover in Guy's book “Shenzhen”.
If you lived in China before, the stories, quirks and cultural differences will resonate with you. Most of the visitors I share this book with devour it in one sitting. It's especially captivating for someone who worked in China for a Chinese company. And most people are amazed at how “spot on” Guy captures the unique aspects of Chinese culture.
Sure, Shenzhen changed a lot since the book first came out. But so many of the attitudes, the experiences and the feelings are still relevant now as they were then.
If you're looking for an amusing, entertaining and very personal spin on Chinese culture - take a look at the city of Shenzhen through the eyes of Guy Delisle. Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China
Want more? You can flip through the French version of “Shenzhen” on Guy's website.