Tales of a Travel Writer in China

Do you have the stomach to become a travel writer?

Dinner time on the Chinese island of Hainan Dao, but I don’t feel hungry. When presented with what resembles the diseased body parts of Things From Outer Space, your appetite tends to vanish.

Abandoning chopsticks, I try using a spoon to break off a wartless section of this seafood delicacy. (Cast-iron guts or not, even I cannot chew on warts.) This proves very frustrating. The quivering sliver scoots off the spoon, jives across the table, and escapes onto the floor. I spot a passing waiter giggling.

Although I decided against the curiously translated “fungal infection of the hand of a goose,” don’t accuse me of being cowardly. Not after ordering sea cucumbers (not to be mistaken for crunchy green vegetables). They’re slug-like creatures that inhabit ocean beds. Undoubtedly because of their phallic shape, they allegedly possess aphrodisiac qualities.

Enthusing about local food is sometimes impossible. I’d be lying if I said these ocean-going cucumbers are sensationally delicious. I’d advise sticking with tomato omelets…sweet and sour pork…

Hainan Dao (Dao means island) covers over 13,000 square miles. It’s a sub-tropical island of palm trees, banana plantations, forests, mountains, and golden beaches to the south.

Before visiting those beaches, don’t miss Haikou, Hainan’s capital. One part of the city is palm-lined boulevards and new concrete high-rises; the other features crumbling colonial architecture and narrow laneways with rickshaw drivers, tea houses, barefoot kids and outdoor food markets.

The best old-quarter market runs between the streets of Xinhua Lu and Bo’ai Beilu. Piglets get roasted on the sidewalk. Dried snakes are hung up like walking sticks. You’ll see women fattening up dove-like birds with a baby’s bottle complete with rubber teat. There are live tortoises in plastic bowls…all kinds of fresh and dried seafood including sharks fins and seahorses…skinned gray creatures that look suspiciously like dogs.

All of these things are for sale, and for a travel writer with a sadistic editor, all for eating.

But it’s a good thing I have IL as an outlet. Most U.S. publications tend to want less wacky experiences.

Travel writing can be a great way to defray your vacation costs and—when you have a handful of published stories to your name—can even get you invited on paid-for “press trips.”

Here’s a tip for would-be writers: When you’re starting out, it’s easier to get published in smaller publications rather than the big travel glossies. OK, smaller magazines don’t generally pay upward of $1 per word, but it’s a great way to build up your credentials.

When I was starting, I had travel articles published in everything from magazines for horse enthusiasts to magazines for military families. Just think how many stories you could come back with from China. It’s simply a case of finding the right place for your stories.

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to learn more about flexible, work-anywhere ways you can pay for your life overseas, sign up for Fund Your Life Overseas, a free e-letter from International Living. Sign up here and we’ll send you a free report: Fund Your New Life Overseas With These 4 Portable Careers.

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