Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tales of expat manufactured in China

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In 2007, a year before the Beijing Olympics, a young Canadian journalist, Mitch Moxley, accepted a job with China Daily and moved to Beijing. His China adventures lasted six years and resulted in this comic memoir.

If you are expecting insights into the life of the Chinese you will be disappointed in Apologies to My Censor, but it does provide, as advertised, honest, amusing accounts of coping with censorship at China Daily and living the high life as an expat in Beijing.

Moxley worked for China's foremost English-language propaganda press for a year. He moved on to the CBC during the Olympics and then to recording English lessons for a princely sum of $50 an hour.

He admits early on that he really had no interest in working for China Daily. He knew the paper's reputation as the government propaganda rag before he arrived. He simply used his editing and reporting work there as a meal ticket. His real interests were the Olympics, freelancing and having a boozy good time.

His freelancing began with serious topics such as the plight of African traders in China and sex-trafficking from Mongolia. (Someone had advised him that sex sells but they were wrong.) He soon realized he couldn't make a living freelancing investigative pieces and needed other part-time jobs.

It was one of these jobs that finally gave him a breakthrough into the freelance market. Moxley and five other foreigners were hired by a California-based company that was opening a branch in China.

For $1,000 a week they donned suits and posed as quality-control experts at a new factory site. In fact, all they did was attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony and sit in bleak offices doing nothing.

As Moxley's language tutor explained, "Having foreigners in nice suits give the companies face," and face or image is key to interactions in China.

The article Moxley wrote about his experience was picked up by The Atlantic in the U.S. and published under the provocative title "Rent a White Guy." It got him so much attention that he revised his freelance agenda and sought out bizarre personal experiences he could spin into print.

He went on a dating show, made a music video, got an agent and played bit parts in films. Along the way he met "Daniel from Winnipeg" who was also acting as a side gig.

Moxley had discovered that what the reading public wants is a personal narrative. For this book he has integrated accounts of his freelance adventures with his personal life as an expat in Beijing.

If you have ever been an expat, you will recognize the highs and lows here: the seductive novelty of being treated as someone special in an exotic place, of meeting new people all the time, of living like the rich, which you could never do at home.

Then there's the downside: the loneliness, the love affairs going nowhere because everyone will go home eventually, the questions of when to leave and what to do next.

Sometimes Moxley's angst about whether to leave or stay becomes repetitious, but at least he's not a complainer. He's fully aware that despite air pollution, blocked drains, excessive heat in summer and cold in winter, his life in Beijing is easy compared to the lives of most people around him.

In fact, with pub quizzes, daily trips to the gym, and afternoons writing at Starbucks, Moxley could have been living in any modern metropolis.

Some readers may wish he'd been a little more curious about the lives of the average person, but Moxley may be saving those observations for his next book.

Winnipeg writer Faith Johnston has been an expat in India, France and Honduras. Her latest book, a novel, The Only Man in the World, was published last fall by Turnstone Press.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 A1

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