A Hedonist’s Guide to … Beijing, written by JMSC Master of Journalism student, Kristina Perez, will hit the book stores next month.
Perez was working as a freelance journalist in Beijing when she was approached by the publishers of the Hedonist’s Guides who wanted to expand their travel books from Europe and the United States into Asia.
“The series has been running for over a decade in Europe and it originated after an unsatisfied trip to Prague where the founding director just couldn’t find the recommendations he wanted from the various guide books he had brought,” says Perez.
“The idea behind the series is that it should be a guide to the good things in life — eating, drinking, indulging. You don’t have to indulge in total bacchanalia every night to be a hedonist, you just have to enjoy enjoying life, in my opinion.
The idea is that if your coolest friend was taking you around any given city, the entries in the guidebook would be the places they would take you.
That can mean upscale and luxurious as well as trendy and bohemian. You can’t really define hip or cool but you know it when you see it. Or feel it.”
When asked to write the book she was glad that she hordes ideas and articles: “I started by going back through all of the articles I hadn’t written about Beijing over the last few years and also all my notes and clippings. Being an academic by training I am a fairly obsessive archivist with bookshelves full of folders of ideas and research.”
Perez had already spent a lot of time in Beijing trawling the bars and clubs for her freelance articles so she was a well known face among the bouncers and knew where to go. She also interviewed experts to check that any trend-related entries were up-to-date. “This was hard in a fast moving city like Beijing. I think Beijingers may be even more fickle than New Yorkers!”
Kristina was born and raised in Manhattan. Following a gap year living in France, Ireland and Italy, she studied History of Art at Cambridge University in the UK.
After completing her undergraduate degree, she went to Paris to do an MA in French Cultural Studies and remained there afterwards as a women’s rights lobbyist.
Perez returned to Cambridge to do a PhD in Medieval Literature before moving “on a whim” to Beijing in 2007. In Beijing, she realised the demand for good English language journalism about China and set herself up as a freelance writer. She decided to take a Masters at the JMSC at HKU “mostly for the technical courses – website building, slideshows, final cut etc. – because I think digital media is the future of journalism.”
Perez has continued freelancing full time and continues to write for the likes of Conde Nast Traveller, Wall Street Journal Asia, CNNGo.com, the SCMP, L’Officiel India and more. Her next project is A Hedonist’s Guide to……Hong Kong.
Perez proffers some advice to students wanting to follow in her footsteps:
1. “My first advice is to walk before you run. Make sure you get lots of clips in the area you might want to write a book. For me it was luxury travel but maybe someone else wants to do the 10 Best Historic Hikes in Asia, or something like that. I don’t camp unless there’s room service! The key is to find your niche and become known for it. That goes for all freelancing, not just writing a full-length book. Most guidebooks have multiple authors so it will probably be easiest to break in doing a chapter rather than a whole book.”
2. “The best advice I ever got when I was first starting out was to pick my five to 10 favourite magazines that I would like to work for. Study their sections intensively for a few issues and write notes on what appears in those sections and what I could do that fit. Then figure out the editor’s email from the masthead or the LinkedIn and just go for it. If you have a well crafted pitch and a good clip to show them you would be surprised how well that can work. So if you want to write a travel guide, spend several afternoons browsing in the bookshops or library and decided which brand appeals to you, your personality type, your writing style. Then figure out where it’s published, who the commissioning editor is and show them why they want you. Fortune favours the bold in this industry.”
Top tips for Beijing?
1. “If you only have an afternoon and you want to see real hutongs not Disney-fied versions then start at the Lama Temple, go through Wudaoying Hutong to Guozijian Jie and onto Gulou Dongdajie, Nanluoguxiang and the plaza between the Drum and Bell tower. You’ll feel so hipster chic it might just hurt.”
2. “There have been a slew of awesome, international quality cocktail bars opening up in the last year or so in the back streets of Sanlitun. Try Apothecary, D Lounge and Glen Boutique Bar.”
3. “If you’re stuck in the slightly soulless CBD, admire the charred out TVCC tower and get a well-deserved cappuccino at Bento & Berries or a mid-afternoon pick-me-up at Centro (both in the Beijing Kerry Center)”
4. “NEVER take black taxis, always haggle and never pay more than RMB 100 for a cab to the airport!”