Experience with the local press helped US writer find her voice

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2009, 12:00am

American academic Jessica Bellas had been in Hong Kong just 29 days when her mongrel dog ('She's a mutt called Jade') slipped down a retaining wall on a rainy day in Mid-Levels. She was too far down for an increasingly panicked Bellas to retrieve her. So she rang the police, who brought the fire brigade.

Within minutes three Chinese-language papers and their reporters had turned up. 'I couldn't believe it. This would never happen where I come from in Pittsburgh, or anywhere in America. This much media attention for a dog?' said a surprised Bellas.

She uttered her thoughts to a policeman, and it went out on his radio pinned to his chest. So within minutes Cable Television were also there to witness and film the big rescue. 'It became quite a media circus.'

Bellas, whose work over the past three years has taken her all over China, began writing weekly e-mails to friends and relatives on her experiences of life in Hong Kong and on the mainland. Her misadventures gradually became a collection of 40 vignettes that show her own growing understanding of where she is living, and her love of the city.

'I'd like to think that I'm a good observer with a sense of humour,' says Bellas, and that the value of the book is that the observations have stayed fresh from when she wrote them from her first week onwards. 'I was learning on the job, and it's culturally sensitive.'

Mao Tai, Mooncakes and Monks: Misadventures in Hong Kong and China, will be published on May 4, and will be available at www.tamcopublishing.com. You can also send an e-mail to: info@tamcoholdings.com.

Bellas, 38, the former chairwoman of Hong Kong's Democrats Abroad group, received advice from local writer Nuri Vittachi, who also wrote the foreword. 'I wrote a little bit every day and there was a weekly deadline for each story that I e-mailed, so the bulk of my material was written over a long period,' she said.

While Bellas has some ideas for a second book, she's taking a break first and some healthy walks with a mutt called Jade. But just on the flat.