China is a rising world power, increasingly challenging the USA in terms of global influence and technological development, especially around artificial intelligence and biotechnology. It’s also an ancient culture with fascinating places to visit, and in this interview, thriller author L.H.Draken shares her thoughts on traveling to Beijing.
LH Draken is the author of The Year of the Rabid Dragon, a medical thriller set in Beijing, China. Lawrence is American but worked as a physicist and engineer in Beijing before moving to Germany.
- Ancient historical sites in and around Beijing
- Cultural and technological differences between America and China
- Recommended hiking guides in China
- What travel means to LH Draken’s writing and the concept of home
You can find LH Draken at LHDraken.com and on Twitter @lhdraken.
Transcript of the interview
Joanna: LH Draken is the author of The Year of the Rabid Dragon, a medical thriller set in Beijing, China. Lauren is American but worked as a physicist and engineer in Beijing before moving to Germany. Welcome, Lauren.
LH Draken: Thank you so much. It’s a real pleasure.
Joanna: I’m so happy to have you here.
You have such a fascinating background. Tell us a bit more about how you ended up in Beijing in the first place.
LH Draken: I grew up having a little bit of a peripatetic lifestyle. My dad was going to school and we were in different places for his work so I had this bug set in me rather young. But then when I was in university and studying I got onto a project with a collaboration in China, in Beijing. It was an electron-positron collider and we were doing high energy physics and getting that started and stuff with the collaboration so it was an exciting new thing to be working with a group in China.
Before that, I didn’t really have much interaction of course. And then during one summer, I went and for a few weeks worked with them and that was how I first got there. But then while I was there on the last weekend before I was due to fly home and continue the project I went hiking on the Great Wall of China on this really fantastic, unrestored natural wild part. And with us there was a group of international expats and I bumped into this handsome young German and we started talking and we talked the whole day and after that day I realized I have to come back to China!
And I did. We ended up getting married and we had our first son in Beijing. And so that’s how it got started. And then I started working and writing.
Joanna: You and your husband have such a lovely story. Me and my husband, we met on the Internet. It’s just not as romantic as hiking the Great Wall.
LH Draken: Yes, it’s very romantic.
Joanna: It is lovely.
What year did you first get to Beijing and how did it change in the time that you were there?
LH Draken: When I was doing the research I was there in 2010 and then I moved there on January 1st, 2011. So it’s a very easy date. So 2011 until mid-end of 2016. So almost five years.
The thing about Beijing, it changes so quickly. The culture changes, the technology changes, how they do stuff, like how they deliver food, or how you deal with your landlord or what buildings are available or what restaurants you can eat in or what places you can visit and what places. It’s just phenomenal the amount of change that happens.
When I wrote the book, it was set in 2012, and I feel like it’s this snapshot of Beijing in 2012 but there are some things where you want to talk about what do you recommend in Beijing right now. Well, I mean it just changes so rapidly, I feel like some of the details, I don’t know anymore.
If I went there now I would have to completely start over and treat it as a brand new city because I’ve been in Germany for four years now. It’s a completely different city than when I was living there and with the politics and with the presidents that changed, so the policies changed, some of the availability of international staff changes and so it’s really phenomenal what’s different.
Joanna: I guess that might be true of a lot of cities, but the pace of change in China does seem to be incredibly fast now. But of course, there are some things that stay the same. For example, the more ancient sites.
What are some of the places in Beijing that wouldn’t have changed, for people who are interested in the historical sites?
LH Draken: You definitely have to go to Tiananmen Square. It’s a historical site and it’s also just a phenomenally important part. It’s the center of Beijing geographically.
So you go to Tiananmen Square and I would recommend you go there and you enter the Forbidden City and you walk through the Forbidden City and then go up the Coal Hill park behind the city and have this gorgeous view down over the Forbidden City and the city beyond.
And I really hope whoever travels there gets there on a clear day, because it is possible that the pollution blocks it out.
But the other thing is if you go there, I really highly recommend that you get a guide. There are a couple of places that do phenomenal historical guides and stuff and tours of the cities. Try Lars at Beijing Postcards and he’s just a history buff of all things China and Beijing, and they do tours walking tourists through the Forbidden City and everything.
The history is so important to understand what you’re looking at and what you’re dealing with. And unlike some places where you could kind of just show up and walk in and read the placards on the sides of the wall or in front of buildings, the descriptions are not so clear, and sometimes it’s not always clear in English and sometimes there is no cultural context.
So I highly recommend you get someone from Beijing Postcards or Hutong or China Culture Club and get a tour where someone can tell you the history and explain what’s going on and some of the culture stuff, that’s just phenomenal.
And then after you’ve done that one huge day of major historical sites, take a tour of the Hutongs. The Hutong is the traditional courtyard house, the old-style living quarters. But those changed a lot. And so the thing is Beijing Postcards, for instance, has a tour of the hutongs, which I cannot recommend enough because it’s just phenomenal to talk about how the city has changed and he does an amazing job with the history and how the city changes, where you can go to see some of this ancient stuff that’s still there, and what it means now. And some of the details that you won’t notice as an outsider as a foreigner and that’s just amazing.
But then if you have a free day, you really need to go to one of the parks like Ritan Park or Temple of Heaven, and just look at what the people are doing. Old people dancing in the squares to Gangnam style, or playing chess, or carrying out their birds. Old men airing out their birds in their cages in the trees.
Go to a park and walk around and watch what the people are doing. Especially if you’re a writer or you’re interested in culture or people-watching, just look at the people. It’s just phenomenal what happens in these different in these parks. It’s just so much fun to sit there and I can’t recommend that enough.
Joanna: It’s really interesting you mentioned parks because I still remember as a 15-year-old going to Germany, where you are living now, for the first time and going to a park in the summer. And there were people who were topless and for a British person that was quite a shocking thing to do in a park in the middle of Berlin. So it’s interesting what you say about parks.
What are some of the cultural differences, particularly as an American going to China, that you really noticed and any tips for that?
LH Draken: I think the thing about visiting China and this is hard if you’re just going for a few days. I really highly recommend that people live there for a year if you can. And of course, not everyone has the option to do that and can do that. But it’s so different. And it’s really hard to go there and say this is better. This is worse. It’s really hard not to make the judgment calls about something that’s so different because you don’t even realize what we assume as a culture until you go to a place like China or the East where it’s just the assumptions are completely different.
It’s really hard to walk into a restaurant and say it’s so loud in here. Why is it so loud? Why can’t they talk quieter? It’s just how it is. They have a different decibel level of speaking. They have a different physical space, they have different topics that they think are public and private.
It’s completely normal for a man or a woman to walk up and ask your age. They probably won’t do it if you’re a tourist just passing through, but I had people ask me how much I made. How much do you pay for your apartment? Questions that as a Westerner you say that’s kind of private.
But they have a very different mentality and you need to walk into Beijing or China completely with the mentality that this is different. And until I understand it much better, it’s just different.
And so whether it’s people spitting on the sidewalk or how loud they speak or what their personal space is or how crowded the subway is, you just have to start. It’s different. And I’m just observing and that’s almost impossible as a human to do. But it’s so important to understand the point of view.
And the thing about going to China, you don’t understand the point of view change and how that applies to the structure of their life and how they deal with politics and how they deal with history until you’ve really observed it in person.
And that’s what’s the trick because you can’t underestimate how important China is and how that’s going to be in the next few decades. But it’s really hard to understand what that means unless you’ve experienced that to some point. And I mean of course not everyone can live in China and I know that if you’re a plumber in Michigan, it’s really hard to just up and go to Beijing for a year.
But I think we need to try harder to understand the point of view.
I’m trying to think of more specific things that you shouldn’t do. I think people are fairly forgiving as long as you are forgiving of them.
The thing about China, which is really interesting, which you don’t get when you’re traveling through Europe, is that everybody knows you’re a foreigner. You might be a Chinese American and then you don’t look like a foreigner. But I found it incredibly liberating to walk down the street and I look like a foreigner. Everyone knows I don’t fit in. No one expects anything from you. And so they give you the space, if you’re doing something stupid, it doesn’t matter. We know you’re not local.
Whereas in Germany, if I walk down the street I look like a German. I have a basic conversation and then people expect you to fit in and to do things correctly. And in China, I felt like there was a larger leeway for foreigners to interact as long as we are as forgiving of them as you hope they’re forgiving of you.
Joanna: I think that’s a really good tip. It’s nice to hear that people are more forgiving.
I haven’t been to China. It is kind of one of those places that feels so big. I don’t just want to go to Beijing for a week. And also there seem so many different cities now. So I wanted to particularly ask about the modern side.
You’ve mentioned some of the ancient things, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, but yet there’s also a start-up culture in the same way as Silicon Valley. I’ve heard about Beijing’s start-up area and then the cities like Shenzhen, which is all futurist and A.I. and tech.
And mobile payments, that was what I particularly wanted to ask about. That might have changed since you left.
It feels like in many ways China is much more technologically advanced than the many Western cities.
LH Draken: I think that the trick about mobile payments. I don’t think people pay in cash very much anymore. I think everyone pays for everything with their phone and with their WeChat account.
The trick if you’re just traveling through you have to have a Chinese I.D. to get a WeChat account and to use that technology, so it’s not like something that you can just walk into for a week as a traveler.
But at the same time, I have a friend who’s still living there and she was talking about how the piano teacher for her children recommended that she hire a virtual piano teacher to observe and supervise the practice time.
And it’s just the amount of things that you can get done online. Delivery. You never leave to leave your house and you can have this amazing full life of virtual existence where people are bringing you food and bringing you whatever you could possibly need.
You can do everything virtually and there are all kinds of virtual assistants. That was getting off the ground when I left and now, it’s completely different. I have no idea how it would be a completely different city if I went there right now too. I’d have to learn all of that. But I like that.
But the thing that China is developing on its own. We may speak different languages in Germany or Spain or the US but everyone’s using Facebook. Everyone’s using Amazon. Everyone’s using similar platforms. So you can go to any other country in Europe or the West and it’s all Google Maps and it’s all Amazon and I can use the basic same platforms even when speaking different languages.
China is developing so fast and they have their own ecosystem. Completely different e-commerce sites. Completely different transportation sites like Uber. It’s completely different payment sites. It’s moving really fast but it doesn’t interact with the rest of the world.
I’m not sure how that works to have 1.4 billion people in their own world bubble. I’m curious how many of the things that they develop will come into the West when they don’t interact at all as it is.
For instance, the Twitter experience. In China, they don’t have Twitter of course but their social media stuff, like the language that they use, is so specific to social media. It would be hard even if you speak fluent Chinese. Interacting on social media is a completely different language because of the synonyms and wordplay that they use. And it’s so complex.
Joanna: It’s very interesting. You’re right about traveling in Europe. I travel in Europe a lot and in the UK and then, of course, my husband’s family’s in New Zealand so I go to New Zealand and Australia and the US. And you’re right. It’s not the same ‘same’ but you can feel pretty happy and comfortable in the environment.
You know the system and you can get roaming on your phone and you can use Maps and you can use your Starbucks card in all these countries, or you can use Uber and all of this. So in this way, it feels almost more foreign to me even though it’s actually more technological.
I also wanted to ask you, because of course your book is set in against the backdrop of the biotech industry.
Tell us a bit more about that and that very modern side. How do you do that with a book set in such an ancient place?
LH Draken: The reason that I really wanted to write the book in the first place instead of just writing a blog with a bunch of posts about cultural differences.
It’s so important you understand the mentality of the Chinese and the politics and where they come from historically. Especially since Mao and the Cultural Revolution and the history that they have in the last 50, 60 years and how that affects how they interact with things like biotech and CRISPR and genetic engineering and the science of what’s happening right now.
To me, it’s really important because take CRISPR for instance and genetic engineering: Americans and Europe are really concerned about the ethical implications of changing some of these genes and how do you deal with this morally and what is our role as humans on the line of evolution.
Whereas the Chinese have a very different perspective about that. And to me, it’s really important because if we don’t understand how they’re moving, how they’re making decisions, we can’t interact with them.
The Chinese are a culture based on the group whereas the West is mainly a culture based on the rights and liberties and responsibility of the individual, which means that we have things like human rights and the inalienable freedoms of responsibilities of the individual.
Whereas China feels like the group is the most important unit and an individual brings their rights based on their ability to interact and forward the needs of the group. And so if you take something like CRISPR or genetic engineering and you say we can take a risk of the individual because what they can offer to the group even if that individual has some weird genetic mutation.
And not to go all science fiction, but if things went poorly with a CRISPR experiment on a human, well, that’s unfortunate for the individual but it’s much more important for the group that we understand how to engineer cancer-saving drugs. They have a very different perspective on how to make decisions. And I think it’s important to understand that because that’s going to affect dramatically how they do research and how we do research and how we interact with them. And I think that’s going to be really tricky in the next couple of decades as they run forward on experiments and developments and we’re doing it in a very different way.
So to me, that’s something that we really need to be thinking about and really considering as we make decisions about technology on our side as well.
Joanna: I think you’ve really hit on it there. I’ve watched some of the Chinese blockbuster movies and there’s one — The Great Wall — Matt Damon as the token American. It was so interesting watching that movie because it was exactly what you’re saying. It’s all about the group, how the group together is stronger and the individual must sacrifice for the group.
For a lot of people listening, the main thing they will have heard about China is the lack of privacy rights. Maybe Social Credit, which is being talked about a lot at the moment.
But if you look at it from the perspective of the group being more important than the individual then why do you need privacy when you’re behaving well in a group sense?
LH Draken: Exactly. I think that the other thing is if you have a country of 1.4 billion people, can you risk democracy?
And of course, I’m speaking as a Westerner and I love democracy and I love our system of government but you have to understand that it’s a different system and I’m not going to say whether it’s better or worse but it’s a different system based on different needs.
Even if you wanted to go back to Tiananmen Square in 1989 and say this is a demonstration, people want more liberty with their political voice. People want more options and freedom of speech. And when those questions are being asked you can understand why the leadership of the moment said that there’s too large of a risk. We have a billion people. Can we risk the destabilization of making some of these major changes?
You can understand how even if you want to criticize or have opinions about what should be or what shouldn’t be, China is operating on a completely different scale than any other country, except for India which has a similar population. But they’re dealing with a huge scale.
Whereas you can’t compare that to the US. You can’t compare that to Germany or Norway or the U.K. or New Zealand. Whether or not you agree with the history of what happened with Mao or anything that’s come since, you also have to be very pragmatic and say if you want to make a change, if you want to develop a whole country that is that large, how do you move everyone forward? How do you prevent another revolution?
Even a Westerner, no one wants a revolution in China that’s going to destabilize the world and the way that we interact is so interlinked with China. You want them to be stable, you want them to prosper, you want all of them to prosper.
You want all of us to be able to interact harmoniously and so that we’re keeping the public harmony or disrupting the public harmony, which is a key phrase in China, when they (what we would call) infringe on personal rights of an individual. You can understand why they’re sensitive to opinions that would disrupt the harmony of such a large country.
Joanna: This discussion is interesting because I think it has to be true when you’re traveling anywhere that is different to your own country. I felt the same in India in many ways in that when you travel you need to be respectful of the place you’re going to.
For example, when I traveled in the Middle East as a woman on my own, I’ve worn very modest clothing. I’ve covered my head. I wore a wedding ring before I was married. Not as a judgment. It’s more about respect for a culture where things are different and thus trying to just make life easier.
In saying that, a practical tip I’ve heard for traveling to China is to use a VPN service. Put a VPN service on your phone and if you take your laptop, use a VPN and you can still access things.
Is it practical to use a VPN to access sites?
LH Draken: I think in theory it’s a great idea. In practice, Xi Jinping and the current government have really cracked down on VPNs. My husband travels back there about once or so a year with for his work still and when he talks to expats there he says it’s almost impossible to use any VPNs anymore. They’ve really cracked down on that.
I would say don’t expect to be able to access any sort of social media at all, even if you have a VPN and it probably won’t work. When I was living there the government changed from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping. I was there when things were starting to change and I mean even under Hu Jintao some VPNs would work and then they would stop working and then you’d find another one and then it would stop and you’d find another one. And now it sounds like you can’t even do that.
So I think if you go to China just accept that you’re not going to have access to any social media and maybe not even your mail service because I had a hard time getting Google mail sometimes.
Joanna: Google just pulled out.
LH Draken: Exactly. So just don’t expect to have access to any of your normal anything that you do on the Internet is probably not there anymore.
Wikipedia is come and go. I honestly don’t know that there is a solution. I don’t know how expats live there being completely isolated from FaceTime and Skype and these things.
Joanna: Your experience was one person’s experience, so to the listeners if there’s anyone else who has books set in China who are living there let me know because this is an area I’m really interested in.
I want to travel there, but I don’t want to travel there until I am much more aware of things like this type of thing because I live my life on the Internet! I really feel like I want to be sharing stuff.
Back on sharing stuff, you mentioned at the beginning the story with your husband and hiking the Great Wall.
I love hiking so I wondered is there a company you’d recommend for hiking the Great Wall?
LH Draken: Yes, absolutely. You really need to look at Beijing Hikers and Hayden who runs the company. He organizes hikes all around northern Beijing. He also does like expeditions around different parts of China.
If you’re there for a longer period you can go on the trips with them, which is really amazing because China is one of those places – it’s someplace that you can’t just get on a plane and go. So if you want to go to Tibet, you have to go on a guided tour. You’re not allowed to just walk in. Same thing with Sichuan province in the West. You have to have permission and you have to have a tour guide all the time.
If you want to do some of those ‘off the beaten path’ places, there are a lot of beautiful places you cannot get to unless you have someone to show you where it is. There are some signs that have the Roman letters but it’s really hard to navigate unless you speak Chinese or understand the locals and there is not very much English so it’s not a straightforward thing.
But Beijing Hikers does beautiful hikes around the non-restored parts of the wall and around northern Beijing into some of the more wild places and some of the local villages, which you just can’t possibly get to unless you have someone to help you out. I really can’t recommend highly enough.
Joanna: Anywhere else that you visited while you lived there and you just thought this is this was amazing?
LH Draken: Around China or around Beijing?
Joanna: Either. Anything that stands out in your mind.
LH Draken: This is the thing; I’m not sure honestly if it’s as available for people to go but I thought Xinjiang province in the West is absolutely beautiful and it’s a completely different experience.
But then also go down to Guilin and the rice paddies and this is just beautiful. The really interesting thing about China is so much of it is just along the eastern coast that it’s not as spread out as say like the United States is where everything is everywhere. China really has mostly everything on the eastern coast and places like Xi’an which we would say is in the middle of the country is considered deep West.
And so you can stay on the eastern seaboard and then all the way down to Guilin and some other minority places. But again you can go to places like China Culture Club or Beijing Hikers or a couple of these guided tour places, which are really good at bringing you to places that you can’t possibly plan by yourself.
Joanna: Apart from your own book The Year of the Rabid Dragon, which is highly recommended.
Could you also recommend three to five books set in China or even Beijing specifically that people might be interested in reading?
LH Draken: I don’t mean to say that I’m the only person doing this, because I know I’m not, but I don’t feel there are so many fictional books set in current Beijing or current China doing thrillers/mystery.
There is a guy his name is Peter May and he did a couple of thrillers but they are set in 1990s Beijing which is a phenomenally different time period.
I was reading some of his books and it’s shocking what a different city he experienced when he was writing the books.
On the non-fiction side, one book I cannot recommend highly enough is The Party by Richard McGregor and the concept is along the lines of how does the government work in China. But because the government is such an underlying part of Chinese culture and how society functions there is a lot of history and understanding with how the people act and how they think and where they’re coming from and why they do the things that they do.
He does so many anecdotes about his experiences and the people he’s talked to as well as like how does it function as a system.
But then, I feel there’s an interesting phenomenon going on right now where people have come out of a time that was really unstable and now they’re economically prospering and they have stability and they’re really moving forward financially.
But people are starting to ask harder questions like, What is the meaning of life and why are we here and what are we doing? Why are we doing what we’re doing? And those questions are starting, I think to begin a period where people are moving outside of the Communist Party and looking at other countries, looking at other nations, looking at other religions, looking at other means of acting.
There’s a book by Ian Johnston called The Souls of China and it’s a discussion about how people are answering these questions and it’s coming at a more slightly more religious perspective of different kinds of religion, how that’s coming back into China, because with Mao all religion, all traditional practice, all traditional morality was completely wiped out. And I think they’ve lost all of that. So as they explore what is the meaning of life they’re starting an interesting new period.
If you want to do a true crime sort of story there’s a book called Midnight in Peking and it’s based in, I think, 1910. It’s before the fall of the emperors I believe but before that, before Mao and it’s a story about this murder that happened in Beijing. You follow Paul French’s research and the story around the murder and the culture and the people and the Beijing of that period. It’s really a fun read if you like history or historical crime and stuff.
So those are three books that are really fun but there’s also Amy Tan and Lisa See and some of these people that are doing more traditional, older fiction or mysteries but really beautiful books about China. There are also always those kinds of writers.
[From Joanna: I’d also add AI SuperPowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee, and The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan as books that address the technological revolution and the Belt and Road Initiative.]
Joanna: That’s fantastic. I want to ask you a couple of broader questions because you’re American and you’re living in Germany. You lived in China. Your child was born in China. You’ve all these different parts to your life.
What are your thoughts on home?
What is home for you and your husband and your son? They could all be different things. What does it mean when you live the way you do?
LH Draken: It’s interesting because when we first started the interview I mentioned that my dad had been moving around a little bit for his education and for his work. And so growing up, I got uprooted a few times and had a few really critical moments. When you’re 13, that’s when you really set down your roots or you rip them out and you don’t have them anymore.
We did a couple of those moves where it was like ‘I don’t know that I’m going to fit in anywhere anymore and I need to stop trying.’ One of the really amazing things about being in Beijing, particularly about this concept of home, it was the first place that I felt really at home since I had left upstate New York back in 1998 or something. I’m not sure what year it was but it was the first place that I really felt at home.
It was such an amazing bizarre experience where there are few places where you feel more of an outsider than someplace like China or Beijing. And yet at the same time, it was so liberating in a way to feel I’m an outsider and no one expects anything from me. And they all know that I’m an outsider and I’m around a lot of other expats that are also outsiders and we’re just all figuring this out together and we’re all have our weird cultures from wherever we’ve come from.
It was such an amazing community where I felt so relaxed, more relaxed than I’d felt in a long time. And I think that’s something, the world is getting flatter and people are moving around more and I speak to more people that have a similar moving around lifestyle. This is becoming more common. But I think we realize that we’re able to sort ourselves into a way where we can choose to live someplace or we can choose to be around people that think like us.
I don’t want people to think that some people should go to this place and all the other ones go there. I don’t mean that at all, but you can choose to live someplace where you understand the people or where you fit in better or where you can be an outsider as a choice.
And I think that’s really a phenomenal idea. I have two sons: one was born in Beijing, one was born in Munich and I have no idea how I feel about home as they continue to live on this peripatetic existence with me and my husband.
But I think that’s going to be something that a lot of people are going to be dealing with and figuring out as we become more interconnected in the world and move back and forth.
Joanna: I agree with you. I feel much more multicultural. My family is very multicultural and I love that.
If you don’t know where home is and it moves around, then what does travel mean and what does travel mean to you and to your writing?
LH Draken: This is something that I spend a lot of time thinking about and I feel like travel is something that in the last couple of decades, maybe even the last two decades only, the price of travel has dropped phenomenally.
The barriers to travel, like the time that you need to get someplace, has almost disappeared. You can be anywhere in the world in a few hours and you can pay with your credit card. A lot of places you never even have to convert any currency because it’s just so credit-based. There is a lingua franca almost everywhere where you can kind of get by with just speaking a few words of English.
And so the barriers to travel have not completely but largely disappeared whereas it used to be that you had to spend weeks and months and years going on a trip. If you wanted to go from the U.S. to Switzerland you had to really fight and interact and understand and solve problems and you don’t have to do that anymore.
And this is why I feel like if it’s possible for some people to take the time to live for a couple of years someplace else. Obviously, not everyone has that capacity. There are all kinds of limitations about profession or family and stuff. But if it’s possible, I really think you don’t understand a place until you’ve lived there for a couple of years. You don’t understand the culture.
Even coming to Germany, you don’t have to speak German to live in Germany, but if you have to solve the problems of day-to-day life, if you have to figure out how to get the hardware for your curtains, you have to solve that problem. You have to figure out how to register with the government. It’s all these things, it’s the problems you used to have to solve when you were traveling but now you don’t have to because you can kind of just float along and get by. And there’s a tour guide and there’s a credit card and you can get anywhere and there’s no risk. There’s very little risk.
I think for me the important thing for my writing is spending the time in a different culture where you can understand it and you can solve problems and speak to people over a period of time where you start to understand what their point of view is.
Joanna: I think that’s great. I lived in New Zealand for seven years, again not that different, and Australia for five years, but then you actually learn what is different to your original culture.
I moved back to England after 11 years away and I just don’t take things for granted. Whereas I think when you just stay in one country for a long time you take it for granted. You just start expecting things that in other countries are a miracle.
LH Draken: You can’t even understand what the axioms of your society are unless you go someplace where the axioms are completely different. You can’t understand what is common knowledge for Americans or Europeans unless you go someplace where that is not common knowledge and that is not the common axiom of processing information until you go someplace that’s really different and then you can come back.
I can go back to the US and be like, wow, I understand why people do some things a certain way even though they assume that everybody does it that way. And when I talk to people sometimes I say you assume that there is a certain common knowledge but it is not common.
You have different ways of solving problems, you have different ways of interacting with your boss or your employees. You have different ways of driving a car, which you would assume most of that’s pretty straightforward and given and it is not and you don’t realize that until you’re someplace where the act seems completely different.
Joanna: Does that mean your next thriller is going to be set in Germany?
LH Draken: I’m well into over halfway into the sequel which is actually set in Geneva.
I studied outside of Geneva for a year. I have a degree in French as well so the protagonist of the Rabid Dragon goes to Geneva. And he has solved a couple of problems there and then he’s actually going back to China afterward. I have a couple of things planned for him.
Joanna: That’s great. Where can people find you and everything you do online?
LH Draken: I’m wide so you can find my books anywhere you can find most books online but I also have a web site LHDraken.com where you can do a fun little quiz about all the weird common sense knowledge that you don’t realize.
Joanna: I did that. It was fun and I got half of it wrong!
LH Draken: I’m so pleased. I also have social media so @LHDraken on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook.
Joanna: Well thanks so much for your time Lawrence. That was great.
LH Draken: That was so much fun, Joanna, thank you so much.