Mosaic of China Season 03 Episode 02 — The Comics Custodian (Ashley HUANG, Comic Book Ren)

Oscar Fuchs
Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I’m your host, Oscar Fuchs.
Oscar Fuchs

To find out why comics have a galactic-superhero-sized impact on the Zeitgeist, we spoke with Ashley Huang who runs the only shop in China totally dedicated to American-style comic books.

Original Date of Release: September 6, 2022.

Mosaic of China Season 03 Episode 02 — The Comics Custodian (Ashley HUANG, Comic Book Ren)


AH: The youngest customer we had was in her mom's belly.


OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I’m your host, Oscar Fuchs.

So you probably know by now that all the guests in one season of this podcast are nominated by the guests in the previous season. So for example in last week’s episode, the technologist Eric Liu in Season 03 was nominated by the fashion journalist Casey Hall from Season 02. That’s the concept of the ‘Mosaic’, one tile links to the next, and that’s how this grows into a Mosaic of China. But sometimes, the link is broken, and the person who was nominated has either left China or is otherwise no longer in a position to participate. I remember how disappointed I felt when this happened the first time. But these days, I’ve taken inspiration from the Japanese art of 金継ぎ [kintsugi], where broken pottery is put back together, and in the cracks that bind the broken pieces are these beautiful seams of gold, which arguably make the product more interesting than in its original form.

Today’s episode is one of those beautiful seams of gold. A broken connection from Season 02 has given me a chance to invite a new guest to fill the gap, and at the same time help me to build out the Mosaic broader and brighter. And there is still a loose connection to Season 02, because I originally met today’s guest Ashley Huang through DJ BO from last season, which I forgot to mention in the recording. So a big thank you to him, and let’s jump into today’s show.

[Part 1]

OF: Ashley, great to see you.

AH: Oscar, great to see you too.

OF: I say that because we’ve known each other over the phone. But we’ve never met in person until today.

AH: Yep, it's true. I feel we have been talking for months. I’m in 成都 [Chéngdū], you're in Shanghai.

OF: Yes. So I'm here in 成都 [Chéngdū], I've travelled all the way.

AH: Oh, it's so nice to finally meet you, and to be talking to you.

OF: Me too. And great to be in 成都 [Chéngdū]. It's something that has come up in this podcast. Whenever we discuss things that are cool in China, at some point 成都 [Chéngdū] gets mentioned. Because a lot of cool is in 成都 [Chéngdū].

AH: 成都 [Chéngdū] is a very amazing place.

OF: But before we go into that, why don't we start with the question that I ask everyone…


OF: … Which is, what is the object that you have brought, which in some way describes your life in China?

AH: OK, I brought two actually, because I couldn't just choose one. This one is a toy, I should say. It's from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. His name is Wicket, and he's an Ewok. It’s still not opened, it’s still in original mint condition. I really like him. He's my favourite Star Wars character. Like, it's a minority character, so small. But when I watched this movie, that's the one thing I remembered about it. Everything else, I forgot. And my husband Matt, he found that this for me.

OF: For some crazy collectors, this would be a massive prize to have in their possession.

AH: Yes, some people take it very seriously.

OF: I appreciate it myself. Do you know how much it's worth?

AH: I really don't know. Maybe like USD100, or a few hundred dollars.

OF: Really?

AH: Something like that.

OF: You never asked Matt how much he paid.

AH: I didn't ask.

OF: OK, that's a bit of a clue in terms of what you do here, right?

AH: Yes, yes.

OF: So maybe now is a good chance just to ask you, what do you do in China?

AH: I opened an American comic book store here. Like for original comics: Marvel, DC, superheroes, Star Wars, Star Trek…

OF: Got it. So something which is a very unique subculture.

AH: Yes.

OF: The comic book people.

AH: Yeah.

OF: Who do exist here in China?

AH: Yeah. There are actually much more than I thought. I thought that maybe there weren’t that many. But actually, there are more and more people.

OF: Well, let me carefully hand this back to you, before I open it and it loses its value completely.

AH: Ooh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

OF: But you said that there were two objects?

AH: Yeah, there's another one.

OF: Oh, I can hear it before I see it. Oh my goodness. OK

AH: I come from the 土家 [Tǔjiā] minority. This is a 土家 [Tǔjiā] minority hat. This is actually from my wedding. My wedding hat.

OF: Really?

AH: Yeah. And it has lots of silver… I don't even know how to say this…

OF: “Hanging things?”

AH: Hanging things. They can be musical. Like, every step - every move I make with my head - they will jangle.

OF: Wait, so how long did you wear this on your wedding day?

AH: A few hours.

OF: Wow.

AH: Yeah.

OF: Well, I’m gonna ask you to put this down.


OF: Otherwise the listeners will have a headache.

AH: Yes.

OF: But already, there are two unique things about you.

AH: Yeah.

OF: You said you were the 土家 [Tǔjiā] minority, did you say?

AH: Yeah. 土家族 [Tǔjiāzú].

OF: 土家族 [Tǔjiāzú]. Your object is the Star Wars creature, and you mentioned that you first fell in love with the Ewoks when you first saw the movie. So was it that movie that first got you into comics?

AH: No, not that movie. The first one that got me into comics was Iron Man in 2008.

OF: Iron Man, right?

AH: Back then there was only that one movie, and that's it. And then I wanted to know more. Where did this character come from? And what more did he do? And as you go internet searching, more and more comes out. And then it was like “Oh, it actually comes from comics?” It was because of Iron Man that I found out there are comics, and also a much much much bigger universe - multiple universes - in the comics.

OF: So what was it about the comics, in particular, that hooked you?

AH: For the Marvel superhero universe, my favourite character is not Iron Man. It's Scarlet Witch.

OF: Scarlet Witch.

AH: Yeah. She uses magic, she’s very powerful. In the movie, she wasn't the main character. But in comics, I like her a whole lot.

OF: Oh so there's a whole line of comics just for her, are there?

AH: Oh, yeah.


AH: She has her own title. Oh, last year we had a TV show called WandaVision.

OF: WandaVision, yes I heard about that.

AH: Yeah, it started to tell how strong her magic is. Somehow the magic gets to me. Because for Marvel, I like Scarlett Witch; for DC Comics I like Zatanna. They both use magic. So yeah, maybe I have a thing about magic.

OF: There are Chinese mythical stories, is it the same kind of magic?

AH: I would say they all have their own unique way. I am from the 土家 [Tǔjiā] minority, we have our own… I don't even know what's the English name. It’s not a real doctor, but he can do doctor-y stuff.

OF: Right. Like a traditional healer?

AH: Kind of like that, yeah. My dad had told me, back then when he was young - that's like the 70s or 60s - sometimes he gave you herbs or whatever. But sometimes he did crazy stuff. Like, he would have a bowl of water. And then there's chopsticks, a pair of chopsticks. He would use a knife to to chop them. And then he would use some spell “Bala-ballaa”. And then he asked my dad to drink it, with the chopsticks. And he actually did it. And he was magically healed, like there was nothing wrong at all.

OF: By drinking chopsticks…

AH: Yeah. Don't do that. But that's his real personal story. I was like “Wow”. Sometimes I feel like “Really? That's true?” He said “Yeah”.

OF: Interesting.

AH: Yeah.

OF: Well, I'm fascinated by your story coming from the minority village.

AH: Yeah

OF: This is one of the things that I really want to include more of, in the Mosaic of China.


OF: I'm guessing things are a lot more modernised now.

AH: Oh yeah.

OF: But tell me about some of the traditions that you still have. And where is the area that the 土家 [Tǔjiā] are located?

AH: Oh, yeah. I come from 湖北恩施 [Húběi Ēnshī]. 湖北恩施 [Húběi Ēnshī] is a 苗 [Miáo] and 土家 [Tǔjiā] minority region. And I come from a very small vintage in 恩施 [Ēnshī]. Our village is so tiny, it has like 1,000 people.

OF: Seriously?

AH: Yeah, for China it’s so tiny. We have our own festivals. For example, the most famous one is 女儿节 [Nǚ’érjié], ‘Daughters Day’, if that makes any sense?

OF: Yes.

AH: It’s called Daughters Day, but actually it's like a dating day thing.


AH: Yeah, girls bring their own handmade things.

OF: Oh, like needlework.

AH: Yeah, yeah. Things like that. It's like they put it out for sale. And then the guys would come. If a guy is interested in this girl, he would come and ask her “How much is your thing?” And the girl will check out this guy. If she's interested in him, they will start bargaining, and the price will go down. If she's not, then the price will start going up. And then the guy knows that he has to, you know, just go.

OF: Oh that is clever. That would make life a lot more simple. We should all do that. “I like your needlework, if you know what I mean?” I can see why that is a fun tradition. So did you do that when you were a girl?

AH: Oh, I didn’t. Because I went to school. During that festival, I wasn’t home.

OF: Really?

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: That's because your school was not in the village.

AH: Yeah, no.

OF: Oh no. So is the tradition slowly dying out now?

AH: Nowadays, they're actually trying to pick it up. So it's a big festival for us now. If you go to the more deeper countryside area, it's actually doing better.

OF: Got it. And is there a 土家 [Tǔjiā] dialect? Is there a language?

AH: Yeah, yeah, we have our own language. But no writing, so only an oral language. I personally can't speak it. I feel bad.

OF: Do you know any phrases?

AH: 哈格咂 [Hāgézā]! We use that a lot. It's like “Oh my god!”

OF: 哈格咂 [Hāgézā]!

AH: Yeah.

OF: It sounds like that.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: Interesting. So is there any way to protect it? Like, do you know what's happening there?

AH: I don't know about this area yet. I'm trying. I may go find that out later.

OF: Yeah. This happens quite often. When you grew up in a certain culture. And you take it for granted.

AH: Yeah.

OF: And it’s kind of not cool, really.

AH: Yeah.

OF: You kind of want to just conform with the rest. Then when you reach a certain age…

AH: You come back.

OF: You come back to it, right? And you start to want to understand your identity.

AH: Yes.

OF: I’m not surprised that you're interested in it now.

AH: Yeah. Maybe I have to go to 恩施 [Ēnshī] (the big city) Library to see if I can find books about the 土家 [Tǔjiā] minority thing.

OF: Yeah.

AH: I’m pretty sure they have some.

OF: Right. There must be some, right? OK, well good luck. I'm looking at your object, that must have been very special when you wore the whole 土家 [Tǔjiā] minority dress for your wedding.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: Do you feel pressure from your parents to - at some point - go back to the village? Or do you think you'll stay in 成都 [Chéngdū]?

AH: Oh, they tried.

OF: Oh, they did?

AH: Yeah, yeah. They always want their daughter to come home, you know.

OF: Yeah.

AH: And they tried a lot. I think they are giving up. Because they are telling me to buy a house here.

OF: Oh, really?

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: Well let's talk about your life here, then. I mean, how did someone from the 土家族 [Tǔjiāzú] minority - from that village - become the owner of a comic book store in 成都 [Chéngdū]? What was the story there?

AH: It’s a small story, my university was in 成都 [Chéngdū]. I really like 成都 [Chéngdū], oh my god I love it here. The food, the people, the environment, everything I love here. It was 2015. I broke up with my ex, I didn’t have a job. So I didn't have a reason to stay here. And my mom was like “Come home, we have this and that…”

OF: Oh, that was the time she could have got you, right?

AH: Yeah, yeah. Then I was like “Oh my god, I’ve got to do something. I've got to keep myself here”. And then me and my friend, we were sitting and having a brainstorm and it was like “Oh, 成都 [Chéngdū] doesn’t have a comic book store. We can do that. We should do that.” And then we started.

OF: Wow, so it was really out of necessity to stay in 成都 [Chéngdū].

AH: Kinda, yeah.

OF: You said you and your friend, who was that?

AH: My husband Matt. We did this together. I handle the Chinese part, he handles the American part. He knows comics.

OF: Wait, there wasn't a comic store in 成都 [Chéngdū]. I mean, was there a comic store anywhere in China?

AH: Mainland, no.

OF: Really? Yeah. As far as I know. Maybe they have a way to buy stuff online. But a real store? I think we are the first one on the mainland.

OF: Wow. So what do Chinese people find interesting about these particular comics.

AH: Nowadays, since Marvel and DC all have their own movies and TV shows, I think that's the best way - or fastest way - Chinese people get to know the comic universe. Like, there's a Venom movie out, and then our Venom are all gone. Similar story as me, actually.

OF: Yes, yes.

AH: They saw the movie, and then they started going down this rabbit hole.

OF: Yes. Because it's such a big rabbit hole, right?

AH: Oh my god, yeah.

OF: When you think about how many comics you have now in stock…

AH: Oh, so many. I’ve never counted. I would think more than 10,000 comics. Because there are boxes and boxes of comics there.

OF: That's probably a fire hazard, I think.

AH: Oh **** no, no.

OF: Let’s not even talk about

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: So how the hell do you organise that?

AH: We tried so many different ways, but now it’s by the character's name, alphabetised. Like Aquaman, Avengers, Batman, Black Panther, Black Widow, Captain America…

OF: And then what else do you have?

AH: What else? We have signed comics, we have really old comics, CGC… CGC is like a comic that you graded.

OF: You do what?

AH: I can grade its condition, and the put it in a special box that you cannot open, and make it only for collecting. If you CGC grade it, the price goes much higher.

OF: I see.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: This makes me ask the question, how do you price each of these comics individually? Like, you have to come up with a price yourself, right? There's no market value. You are creating the market, pretty much.

AH: Yeah. How we price our comics is based on the quantity we have. Like, if it's one issue and we have 100 of them, then the price will go down.

OF: Oh, right.

AH: Yeah. But if we only have one copy, of course that's not enough markup, right? So it totally depends, there are so many variables. But we always try to make it fair.

OF: Well, that’s making me think that you are selling to customers, this is a business, but it's a community as well.

AH: Yeah, yeah. It's a very nice community. We are not like some other types of business, where there’s bargaining, like “Oh, he's so into this comic, I'm gonna raise the price.”

OF: Yeah.

AH: “We don't do that.”

OF: No. Yeah, I'm terrible at bargaining. So I love a fixed price.

AH: Yeah.

OF: I mean, who are these people then? Because when I think about people who are into comics in the U.S., it's usually people who are a certain demographic. Male, for sure.

AH: Yeah.

OF: Teenagers, or maybe people who are older still trying to relive their teenage years. All of this is insulting, so I apologise. Tell me about the equivalent here in China. Are they the same kind of people?

AH: At our store, females are more than males.

OF: Really?

AH: Yeah, for our customers actually, yeah. Lots of actually quite pretty girls. Sometimes when we have foreign customer there - guys - they would be so surprised. And they come to me saying “What's going on here?” I’m like “What?” And he would go “Why are there so many pretty girls here?” I was like “Oh, yeah, it’s like this.” He said in his country it’s only - sorry, again - big, nerdy, male customers.

OF: Right. That's the image, right?

AH: Yeah, yeah. I think part of it is to do with the 成都 [Chéngdū] environment. 成都 [Chéngdū] is a very open city, open minded. And our customers - the girls into comics - a lot of them know more than me.

OF: Yeah.

AH: They’re telling me stuff. This and that. And I’m like “Oh wow.”

OF: That's so interesting.

AH: Yeah. And with age group, I would say there are more young people, of course. The youngest customer we had was in her mom's belly. Because the dad is into comics. So while the mom was still pregnant, they would come to our store once a month, or something like that. And then after she was born, she would come to the store. I took photos, it s super cute. She would have grabbed a… how to say, like a profile book thing?

OF: Like a catalogue?

AH: Yeah, yeah. Something like that. And I think she's the youngest customer we have. Very cute. And the oldest one would it be like grandpa age. He is an artist. I don't know how he knew about us,. But he was there, and we talked about his art and what type of art he likes, and enjoys. But mostly it’s still the young generation, school kids or people in their 20s, 30s or even 40s.

OF: You're painting quite a nice picture. It feels like not only are you passionate about this, but you get to meet with people who are also passionate.

AH: Yeah, yeah, you can meet a lot of interesting people.

OF: This is where we can romanticise the life of someone who does this kind of thing, right? But have there been moments where you're like “Oh god, why did we do this? Now we have this comic store and…” What is it now? Five, six years later?

AH: Yeah, yeah. Six.

OF: Six.

AH: More than six now.

OF: Have there been some hard times?

AH: Oh, yeah, of course there have. We had financial problems. Like I told you, we have so many comics there. That means money stuck there.

OF: In the inventory.

AH: Yeah, it’s in the inventory. Your cashflow is going to be tricky. But eventually we found a way to solve it, thanks to the internet. Nowadays modern times are making that easier. We're also having logistical problems.

OF: Yeah.

AH: The international shipping is not easy. Matt was joking, saying that if I don't have the store, for my next job I could be a professional logistics person.

OF: Yeah.

AH: Because I know exactly what they should do. I figured out everything step by step.

OF: Oh, how to get it released from customs?

AH: Yeah, yeah. I have all the right papers, everything. And I had to tell them “You just need to do this. You do that,” And then…

OF: So you're telling them what to do.

AH: Yeah.

OF: Oh man. Yeah, I wouldn't imagine it was so difficult. But there you go, everything is complicated.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: And is it just you and Matt? Or do you have other employees?

AH: Oh, we do. We have part-time employees, because sometimes we both have other things we need to take care of, and they will be there watching the store. 80 or 90% of them are our old customers, who then become employees.

OF: I don't know if you're ever going to make it into their mainstream. I guess you don't want it to be mainstream, do you?

AH: Yeah, I kind of enjoy this…

OF: Subculture.

AH: Yeah, yeah. It's true. Like, you’ve got to explore and discover it. That's part of the fun, I feel.

OF: Yeah, if you have the curiosity, and then you want to learn more, that's the kind of person who will become a comics fan.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: I'm saying it as though I am one. But I don't think I've ever opened a comic book.

AH: Really? Oh, you can start. We have a lot of options.

OF: Yeah. We haven't said even the name of your store.

AH: Oh!

OF: So this is how bad you are at marketing yourself.

AH: I am. Oh my god, what am I doing?

OF: So what is it in Chinese? What is it in English?

AH: We call our store 漫画人 [Mànhuà Rén]. The English name would be ‘Comic Book Ren.’

OF: 漫画人 [Mànhuà Rén], right.

AH: Because comics is 漫画 [mànhuà].

OF: Which is 漫画 [manga] in Japanese, right?

AH: Really?

OF: Well, that's what manga is!

AH: Oh! Wow!

OF: What did you think? Hey guys, I just taught the comics person about comics.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: Maybe somebody who would like Japanese manga, because surely…

AH: We do. Yeah, we do have that type of customer.

OF: They're surprised, like “Wait, where's the manga?”

AH: We actually have - not many, just one box of manga - but it's also printed in English. So maybe not the type of thing they are looking for. But we have some, a little.

OF: Is there any kind of Chinese equivalent?

AH: No

OF: There’s a niche. You should somehow create a new Marvel-style comic line, in Chinese, for the Chinese market.

AH: Oh.

OF: Because all of your stuff is in English, right?

AH: Yeah.

OF: That’s gonna limit your market, right?

AH: That’s fair.

OF: Why doesn't it exist?

AH: They have Chinese comics, but they are all translated from English comics. You know, the same comic just translated into Chinese. That's it. But there hasn’t actually been anything like what you said.

OF: OK, that's gonna be your new business line. You’re going to be commissioning new comics in Chinese for the Chinese market.

AH: And I have to publish here? It’s a little tricky in China.

OF: Ah. Does that affect you at all? Like, do you have any issue with these comics coming in from the States?

AH: Yes. Gotta be careful. Don't get into anything political, or you know, nudity or anything.

OF: Yes.

AH: That’s not good.

OF: Yes. Well, good luck.

AH: Thank you.

OF: I hope that this podcast reaches the ears of people who are interested in comic books in China, because I want to support you in whatever way I can.

AH: Wow, you're so sweet.

OF: Well, I've shown you how ignorant I am about comics. So this is the least I can do, for your time.

AH: Thank you.

OF: Thanks again, and let's move on to Part 2.

AH: Okey dokey.

[Part 2]

OF: OK, the 10 questions

AH: Bring it!

OF: Now you're starting to sound like a superhero.

AH: Yeah.

OF: Question 01, which actually comes from Shanghai Daily: What is your favourite China-related fact?

AH: 四川 [Sìchuān] Province gets through 300 million rabbit heads per year.

OF: Yes. OK, so this is a 四川 [Sìchuān] dish, right? Rabbit head.

AH: Yeah. Rabbit head, yeah.

OF: I heard about this from Jamie BARYS, who was our street food expert last season.


OF: I had completely forgotten about it until you just said this. So I guess you eat it too, do you?

AH: Yeah, I like it. I love it. You should try it later.

OF: I'm actually thinking, after this we should go out and eat some rabbit head together.

AH: Yeah, yeah. Let's do it, let’s do it. I really I like it.

OF: 300 million

AH: Yes. That's a lot, right?

OF: Where are all these rabbits?

AH: I don’t know, from some farm? In 成都 [Chéngdū] we have really good rabbit head, or rabbit neck, or rabbit hotpot. Have you ever had rabbit?

OF: I've eaten rabbit. And my memory of it was that it was kind of bony. But it was like… Oh god, it’s been a long time though.

AH: The hotpot I had, it’s all meat. Not bony, very ginger-y. They use a lot of ginger inside. So good.


AH: You should stay longer and we can eat all of them.

OF: Well, I'm happy to try. Let's see.


OF: Next question, which comes from Rosetta Stone: Do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?

AH: Yes, I do. 塞翁失马,焉知非福 [Sàiwēng shīmǎ, yānzhī fēifú].

OF: OK, I got something about a horse.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: I got something about ‘not’, it's the ‘not’

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: I’m nowhere near. Got on, what does it mean?

AH: It means ‘misfortune might be a blessing in disguise’.

OF: Oh.

AH: There is a story about it. There is a guy, he lost a horse. So that's kind of a bad thing, he was sad. And then a few months later, the horse came back with a female horse and a baby horse. So that's a good thing, right? But then his grandson was playing with the baby horse, and fell down and broke his leg. Another bad thing. But then the government - the Emperor - wanted a soldier. And this guy - because his leg is broken - he can’t go to the army.

OF: So he’s saved

AH: Yeah, so he saved his life. That's why they say everything is the best arrangement.

OF: Yes. So this is it, right? Bad is good; good becomes bad; bad becomes good again.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: Don’t worry about it.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: Yeah, I've heard that story before. But I obviously have not learned the Chinese. So say it one more time.

AH: 塞翁失马 [Sàiwēng shīmǎ].

OF: What’s the 翁 [wēng]?

AH: 翁 [Wēng] in Chinese means an older guy.

OF: Oh, I've never used that before. OK.

AH: It’s traditional Chinese.

OF: It’s not modern Chinese, right? OK, so what you're saying is ‘The old man lost the horse, but it all ended up OK’.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: I love it. Next question, which comes from naked Retreats: What's your favourite destination within China?

AH: The Tibet area. Doesn't matter if it’s 四川 [Sìchuān] Tibet or 甘肃 [Gānsù] or 青海 [Qīnghǎi].

OF: Right.

AH: Maybe because I am a minority, I love minority people or things.

OF: Yeah right.

AH: I also love 云南 [Yúnnán].

OF: Yeah.

AH: 云南 [Yúnnán], almost the whole province, I like. Because 云南 [Yúnnán] has the most minorities in China too.

OF: Yeah, absolutely. Do you sense any particular connections between, let's say, the 土家 [Tǔjiā] minority and the Tibetan minority?

AH: I wouldn't say so. I like Tibetan people because they are so nice. They are direct. Like if they like you, you would know; if they hate you, you would know. A lot of people say they have a short temper, but actually they are just being them.

OF: They’re just being authentic.

AH: Yeah, yeah. Other people hide their feelings, or whatever. I have been a lot of times to Tibetan areas, or Tibet. I have always enjoyed it, every time.

OF: Yeah. Next question, if you left China, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least?

AH: 土家 [Tǔjiā] food.

OF: Which is what?

AH: Some examples? We call it 榨广椒 [zhàguǎngjiāo]. It's like a powdered thing made from corn. It has corn and pepper in it. You can steam it with the beef, pork, any type of meat. Or you can just fry it with rice.

OF: And mix it together.

AH: Yeah, yeah, they mix together. I think I would miss that.

OF: And what about the thing you'd miss the least?

AH: Hmmm.

OF: This is tricky because 成都 [Chéngdū] is such a liveable city.

AH: I know, right? It’s… the water, the sink water.

OF: Oh.

AH: Because I like a tea. And you need better water quality. Because when I had a cake of pu'er tea, I was just using the tap water to boil it and make the tea. I was like “Oh, this tea is trash”. And when I went back into my hometown, I was like “Oh, this tea is good.” And then I started to think, it turns out it was the water. Because in my hometown the water is like spring water.

OF: Yeah.

AH: It’s very good. It's sweet, actually. But here? I think I won’t miss that.

OF: Yeah, that's interesting. Well, you found it. You found the one thing about 成都 [Chéngdū] that isn't as good as other places.

AH: Yep.

OF: Next question, is that anything that still surprises you about life in China?

AH: How fast they can do the COVID test.

OF: Oh.

AH: Like last time when 成都 [Chéngdū] had an outbreak, in the middle of the night ‘knock knock’, everybody had to go take a test. Because I think someone was positive near us. And it was super fast.

OF: Thousands of people.

AH: No, it's actually millions.

OF: Millions.

AH: Yeah, yeah. I was so amazed at how fast they got it done.

OF:Yeah. When they put their mind to it, they can do things very quickly here.

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: That's a great example, thank you. Next question, which comes from SmartShanghai (but actually we're not in Shanghai we're in 成都 [Chéngdū]): What is your favourite place to go out, to eat or drink or just hang out?

AH: The name is 转转会 [Zhuǎnzhuǎnhuì]. They have very very good 四川 [Sìchuān] dishes. It's very relaxing, very pretty, and the food is very good.

OF: Nice. Next, what is the best or worst purchase you made in China?

AH: Oh, it's the best. It's a Roomba.

OF: Like the American-style Roomba, or is it a local 小米 [Xiǎomǐ] Roomba?

AH: A local one. We actually named it after Star Wars, like a droid: V4CM. So it's like ‘Vacuum'.

OF: Oh dear dear.

AH: So nerdy.

OF: You are a nerd, absolutely.

AH: I really like it. It's making life so easy.

OF: Very cute. You're not the first person to say that. There was Sebastien DENES from Season 01, it was his favourite. But it was the worst purchase of Eric OLANDER, who is a journalist from the U.S.

AH: Oh.

OF: So this is the third time that this answer has come up, but the second time that it's been the best.

AH: Oh.

OF: I'm also a nerd! Next question, what is your favourite WeChat sticker? I can see it. Oh I remember this.

AH: Yeah?

OF: OK, you describe it.

AH: It's my favourite episode from Friends, yeah. And it's the Thanksgiving episode where Monica wore a turkey as a hat. That one always makes me enough. Always, every time.

OF: When do you use this?

AH: On Thanksgiving Day.

OF: There you go. This is because you're married to an American, right?

AH: It's just so funny.

OF: Thank you.

AH: You are welcome.

OF: Next, what is your go-to song to sing at KTV?

AH: ‘戀愛ing [Liàn’ài-ing],’ from the band 五月天 [Wǔyuètiān]. They are kind of like a new rock and roll type band.

OF: I've never heard it. Thank you. And finally, and this comes from JustPod, which is the studio that I usually use in Shanghai. We are not there today, of course. But what or who is your biggest source of inspiration in China?

AH: Traditional Chinese instrumental music.

OF: Oh, right.

AH: Yeah. 古筝 [Gǔzhēng] or 古琴 [gǔqín]. I enjoy them a lot.

OF: Your job and your life is about this western style of art. But when you relax, is it? You listen to this kind of music?

AH: Yeah, yeah.

OF: And how does it inspire you?

AH: Let’s say I have to translate a project, oftentimes I just can’t sit down quietly and do it. I feel my mind is everywhere, I can’t concentrate. But if I listen to traditional Chinese music, it’s just so comfortable for me. And I can just quieten down and then focus on what to do.

OF: Yeah.

AH: It relaxes me a lot.

OF: I love it. Well Ashley, thank you so much.

AH: You’re welcome.

OF: I really enjoyed that. I will not look at a comic book store without thinking of you.

AH: Oh.

OF: You’ve changed me. The last thing I would say to you is, out of everyone you know in China, who should I interview for the next season of Mosaic of China?

AH: I would recommend Shirley.


AH: She is so cool. She opened up the first hostel in 沙溪 [Shāxī], which is an amazing place.

OF: 沙溪 [Shāxī] in 云南 [Yúnnán]?

AH: Yeah, 沙溪 [Shāxī] in 云南 [Yúnnán].

OF: Yes.

AH: You have to go.

OF: I've been. Only for a few hours, because it's in between 大理 [Dàlǐ] and 丽江 [Lìjiāng], right?

AH: Yeah, yeah. Right in the middle.

OF: Yes.

AH: It's so nice.

OF: And she had a…

AH: Hostel.

OF: Right.

AH: She opened the up first one, back then. Nowadays there are more. She also teaches disabled kids, like in handmade projects. She just does all kinds of stuff, she does lots of cool things. Like, last time I saw her, she built a house - her own place - from the ground up. And then remodelled it using 沙溪 [Shāxī] materials, and only using local workers, people who are working with wood. And she designed the whole house herself.

OF: Amazing. Well, I can't wait to meet Shirley. And I can't wait to go back to 沙溪 [Shāxī].

AH: Oh, yeah, yeah. Go. Oh, my god. I want to go there every day.

OF: Ah. If you could ask Shirley one thing, what one question would you ask her?

AH: Ooh, ask her?

OF: That’s a surprise question.

AH: Last time she was telling me she is going to tell one guy that she has a big crush on him. I wonder if she did that or not.

OF: Oh, my God.

AH: I was, like, encouraging her to do it. Like, “Go go, go do it!”

OF: All right. Well Shirley, if you're listening, if you haven't done it yet, you’d better do it by the time that I come and interview you.

AH: Uh-huh.

OF: Thanks again, Ashley.

AH: You’re welcome.


OF: So I lied when I said I’d never opened a comic in my life, I actually bought a comic called The Beano every week when I was a child. It was nothing like the flash comics of Marvel and DC, so I must have filed it away under a completely different category in my mind. Maybe there are British people of a certain age who can relate to what I’m saying right now, but this probably means nothing to the rest of you. Anyway, an important correction there. If you are a fan of American-style comics, then Ashley is offering a 20% discount off your first order placed with her in 2022. Just quote the code ‘mosaic,’ and the discount will apply.

Another thing I noticed when editing this episode is that Ashley didn’t mention the name of her hometown. So I asked her, and it’s called 楂树坪 [Zhāshùpíng]. I’ve included on social media some photos taken by her there. And you’ll also want to check out the photos from the comic store, some others from her 土家 [Tǔjiā] wedding with Matt, her favourite WeChat sticker, and loads more besides. And speaking of all things 土家 [Tǔjiā], Ashley also pointed me towards a song called '哈格咂 [Hāgézā]’, which was that one phrase in the 土家 [Tǔjiā] language which we discussed. And, well, it’s a doozy, so here’s a little 20-second clip. I’ve put the lyrics in today’s transcript, so I want you all to follow along and shout ‘哈格咂 [Hāgézā]!’ in all the right places, wherever you are right now.

[Start of Audio Clip]

哈格咂 [Hāgézā]! 哈格咂 [Hāgézā]! 哈格咂 [Hāgézā]!

好一座雄起的山 [Hǎo yīzuò xióngqǐ de shān],

哈格咂 [Hāgézā]!

好一个闹热的湾 [Hǎo yīgè nàorè de wān]。

哈格咂 [Hāgézā]!

好一股清甜的泉 [Hǎo yīgǔ qīngtián de quán],

哈格咂 [Hāgézā]!

好一坡五彩的伞 [Hǎo yīpō wǔcǎi de sǎn]。

哈格咂 [Hāgézā]!

[End of Audio Clip]

I should at this point mention that I recorded the episode with Ashley in 成都 [Chéngdū] back in March. I then flew back to Shanghai and went into months of lockdown. I only say that because the timing of the release of this episode is a little ironic, since 成都 [Chéngdū] has just gone into a city-wide lockdown as we speak. So I want to send my support to Ashley, Matt and all my friends in 成都 [Chéngdū], I hope this lockdown only lasts a matter of days rather than months. To hopefully give you - and everyone else - a bit of a laugh, I have a second little surprise, and that is a separate recording made by Matt from when Ashley followed up with her promise to take me out to dinner, to eat rabbit head together. If you’re watching the video version of this on YouTube, then you’ll see the whole 1-minute video now. For everyone else, I’ll just include an excerpt, and you can find the full video on social media. Just do a search either for mosaicofchina or oscology, and you should find it.

[Start of Audio Clip]

AH: Open this.

OF: Alright. No! No, no!

[End of Audio Clip]

I think you get the idea. I uploaded the video onto Patreon for all the PREMIUM subscribers there, and they also get the full extended version of the interview with Ashley, as of course do the subscribers on Apple Podcasts Subscriptions and 爱发电 [Àifādiàn]. Here are some clips from that version.

[Clip 1]

AH: I have never been outside of China.

OF: How is this possible?

[Clip 2]

OF: You hitchhiked to Tibet?

AH: Yeah. To Mount Everest.

[Clip 3]

OF: You ended up becoming a girlfriend of the second teacher.

AH: Yeah.

[Clip 4]

AH: From the 1950s is like the golden age of comics.

OF: Interesting.

AH: Yeah.

[Clip 5]

AH: We didn't know, we made it 20块 [kuài] and he found it, he was so happy about it.

OF: Oh no.

AH: Yeah!

[Clip 6]

AH: Their service is terrible, terrible. They forgot our entire order.

[Clip 7]

AH: ‘New Superman.’ He is a Chinese, and he's from Shanghai.

OF: Oh wow.

[Clip 8]

AH: That would be his story. I think you could interview him.

OF: It's a good point, why am I asking you?

[Clip 9]

AH: In our funerals we sing; at weddings we cry.

[Clip 10]

AH: When you are young, don't come to 四川 [Sìchuān].

OF: But you did come here when you were young.

AH: Yes!

[End of Audio Clips]

And finally, there are a few connections to other tiles in the Mosaic to point out. Of course a big one is with Vladimir Djurovic from Season 02 Episode 13. Part of Vladimir’s job is to consult with foreign brands on what to name their brands in Chinese, and he was the one who came up with 漫威 [Mànwēi] for Marvel. Another connection is with Philippe Gas, the Shanghai Disney CEO from Season 01 Episode 01, not because of the Disney connection to Marvel, but actually because we learnt in his episode that if you’re importing something unusual to China, its just easiest for the people in customs to simply say “No”. In Philippe’s case it was birds’ feathers that they were importing for the Lion King show; for Ashley it’s American comics. And the final connection is with Katherine Wong, the Peruvian healer from Season 02 Episode 04. If you liked the story from Ashley about the 土家 [Tǔjiā] witch doctor in her hometown, then there’s a whole episode on that topic for you to enjoy.

Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. Stick around for a catch-up conversation with Yael Farjun from Season 01 Episode 12, and see you again next week.

[Catch-Up Interview]

YF: Hi! Good to see you.

OF: Hi. Good to see you too. It looks very sunny where you are. Maybe we should start by explaining where it is that I find you today.

YF: Well, just like in 2020, I'm stuck in Israel once again. So you find me in sunny תֵּל־אָבִיב [Tel Aviv], in the centre of Israel.

OF: Oh you’re in תֵּל־אָבִיב [Tel Aviv]? Because I thought that your family was down in אֵילַת [Eilat].

YF: Yes they are. But work is here, and it's much easier to meet people when you're here. So yeah.

OF: Very good. Well, in case people didn't hear our last catch up which was in Season 02, at that point it was actually quite an emotional conversation, because you had just made the decision to close down your tourism company that you had been building over the previous 10 years. So that was a huge change for you. But that was such a good decision. Because of course, inbound tourism has never recovered in China.

YF: That is true. It was the right decision to make. It was the right moment, I should have even done it before. I was just stalling with it, kind of hoping. And releasing that helped me change my focus and energy, and put them in another place. Which turned out to be good. So all in all, things turned out to be OK.

OF: Well then, how have you redefined yourself? What are you doing these days?

YF: So I'm working as a China manager of marketing and business development for a company - PTL Group - that does outsourcing services for international companies entering the Chinese market, or working in the Chinese market. It's interesting. My career, let’s say, took a different path. But it's good.

OF: Yes. Well, I would hope that anyone who hasn't heard your original episode could go back to Season 01 and listen to the things that you do in your spare time, amongst which was of course researching the history of the Jewish Diaspora in Shanghai since the war times. What else have you been up to in your spare time? Have you managed to find time for other hobbies, or has it been too busy with your new work?

YF: Well it’s always too busy. You know how it is. There is that saying, right: ‘If you want something done, give it to the busiest person in the room,’ because they would make the time, right? So I think that's my motto in life. I keep busy, and somehow I get everything I want done. Or at least most of it. So I started studying. I applied for an MBA, an online programme. It's been three months I think now, maybe already four.

OF: Right.

YF: So I added that too, into my schedule. Yeah. But I'm really really enjoying it. So yeah, that's an extra hobby, I would say. And going back to the research of Jewish China, Jewish people, and their history in China, in Shanghai… I recorded another podcast yesterday, raising awareness of the story. Even in Israel, where a lot of people are not familiar with it. And so I'm happy to be able to do that too.

OF: Yeah.

YF: Yeah.

OF: Well absolutely. I mean, I remember you saying that you were in Israel, you were studying Chinese, and even you didn't know about that connection.

YF: Yeah.

OF: So what is the name of that podcast for any Hebrew speakers listening?

YF: ‘להבין את סין’: ‘Understanding China’.

OF: There you go. And it just goes to show that there are increasingly more and more podcasts available for people who are curious to find out about China, from all kinds of different angles.

YF: Yeah.

OF: Although of course, you know, which one is your favourite.

YF: Yeah. I do, I do. I am loyal to it, too.

OF: All right. Well, this is only a short catch-up this time. I know that I will see you again in person soon. So take care.

YF: Thank you.

OF: And I'm so glad that we could have this catch-up, and let's continue to keep in touch.

YF: Thank you, Oscar. And yes, me too. Looking forward to seeing you soon.

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