Two years ago, I ended up signing a paid freelance contract with a Chinese newspaper. I didn’t speak Chinese, I couldn’t write Chinese, but none of that mattered, they still wanted my stories. I’m going to tell you how I did this because I hope and I believe that anyone can do the same anywhere in the world.
It was my third time through China and I was couch surfing in the southern megacity of Guangzhou. I asked my host if he knew any newspapers or magazines that might be interested in a Chinese travel story, or more likely, a story about me couch surfing in China. If you don’t know what couch surfing is, it is an international community where travelers host other travelers, it’s free and amazing. My host didn’t know anyone, so he broadcasted the idea over WeChat, (something like China’s Facebook). An hour later, and a friend of a friend called his phone.
Snow came over with a pad, a pin, and a cameraman. She wanted a newspaper article and a story for the local TV station. She interviewed him about why he chose to offer me a free place to stay, and then interviewed me about why I would stay with a stranger I had never met in a country I knew little of. A week later and the piece was on local TV and in News Express, one of the top Chinese newspapers.
The story spread over Chinese social media and Snow came back to interview me again. Her hand whipped through the notebook as I detailed a few Chinese Adventures: how Villagers had invited me to stay with them, how a TV company had found me on the street and offered me a role in a commercial, and how police had stopped cars and ask if I could hitchhike with the driver. She gave me a full faced smile, the newspaper would love these. Then I made my offer. I asked if she would like to cooperate long term, I could write the stories myself, and she could translate and publish them. Her eyes studied the ceiling as she thought it over, she liked the idea, but she would have to speak with her editor.
I met her editor, Michael, in the dark corner of a well-lit café. He gave me a stiff smile and said that he had enjoyed Snow’s translations, but he was concerned with the idea of me writing long them for his paper, “Will your articles contain any politics?” He asked.
“Yes,” I said, and his smile faltered. I continued, “But only in an indirect way when I show people of different cultures getting along when I show myself in need and strangers offering me help.”
He nodded, then handed then offered me a contract. 300 China Yuan ($50) a story, for one story a week, indefinitely. However, if any were too political, he would scrap them. “Hiring a foreigner is dangerous,” he said, “you cannot ever be critical of the government. If you do, the party will tell me, and I’ll have to fire you.”
Since then, on almost every Wednesday, you can find my stories in New Express. They are about traveling China, cultural conflicts, and how the Chinese people can benefit from current international happenings. Sometimes Snow does a terrible job translating, I redden but I shrug it off, money is still money. Snow translated but couldn’t publish five of the pieces, evidently, they were too political. Last February, while I relaxed on the beach in the Philippines, Snow sent me congratulations, the newspaper has sold one of my stories to China’s biggest online media outlets and that story had pulled in 11 million readers. This breakthrough has led to more success, now I have an agent trying to syndicate my articles across China, and in a few weeks, a Panda preserve is taking me to track wild Pandas so that I can write about it.