First Language(s): Polish, Russian
Second Language(s): English, Chinese, French
Karolina Pawlik was born in 1984 in Moscow. She grew up in Poland and China. She is an anthropologist and scholar on design and visual culture in China, and has been based in Shanghai as a researcher and academic teacher since 2012. She currently lives in Suzhou and works at Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University.
What was your favorite book as a child?
I never had a single "favorite book." From a young age I began reading and listening to different authors in various languages, and I enjoyed each in multiple ways… I distinctly adored books by Scandinavian and Canadian writers. If I had to pick just one book, it could be Życie dzieci w dawnych wiekach, which compiled Polish translations of books in the Growing Up In series by multiple authors, including Rosalie David, Dominic Tweedle and Ken Teague, each of which introduced life in a different culture. I had to borrow money to buy it, because I fell in love with it at the bookstore but didn’t have enough pocket money saved up.
I actually think I was slightly obsessed with books combining stories from different places and contexts. Sometimes before falling asleep I’d make a wish to see in my dream how people lived in a French medieval castle or somewhere like that… I didn’t understand how dreaming worked, and because I didn’t have sources to learn about such experiences in satisfying detail, I hoped I could do so throughpurposeful dreaming. I loved reading about water birds too; it fascinated me that they could belong at once to the land, water and air.
What was the original reason or motivation why you started writing creatively?
It wasn’t really a choice per se, but somehow it was always a part of my life. I started writing my first book almost as soon as I learned to write. I had to use the lined handwriting paper we used in the first years of school for my manuscript. From what I recall it was called Przygody Misia Puszka (Adventures of the Teddy Bear Fluff) and it was an illustrated story. But when I moved to Shanghai in 2012, I actually made a very conscious choice to write creatively and regularly about my daily life and encounters, because it helped me to process much of my experience, self-growth and the identity shift I was going through. I love Shanghai more than any other city in the world, and I quickly realized that I was witnessing a profound transitional moment in its history, so I made a serious commitment to record as many stories and changes as I possibly could. Now, I actually tend to prioritize creative non-fiction over academic writing. It takes me much further and deeper in my understanding of China, and it helps me to foster meaningful personal connections with the people around me.
What was the most adventurous or thrilling thing you ever did/experienced?
I am actually quite an adventurous person, and that makes it really hard to rank my adventures! The most thrilling thing may be easier to identify… Once, on a solitary walk along a seashore in Phuket, on a dark and windy night, a firefly suddenly landed on my bag and kept me company. I thought this must be the most wonderful way of sharing one’s quiet, peaceful solitude that anyone can possibly experience. Another equally thrilling moment was in the Philippines several years ago. I was snorkeling when I noticed on the sea bottom a flotilla of sea turtles feasting on seagrass. I floated for a long time, watching them leisurely from above, with no clear purpose or expectation. One of them began to come up for air, and soon I saw its head emerge from the water not far from me. I could see the opening mouth taking a breath. Scuba diving as a whole has allowed me to understand the power of breathing, and forever changed my perception of my body in space by letting me navigate space through changing breathing patterns. And to see that turtle open its mouth to take a breath against the blue sea and horizon might have been the most beautiful insight into breath as a life force I was ever granted.
Do you listen to music while reading or writing?
I do when I write. I sometimes think that subconsciously I must associate typing on the keyboard with playing an instrument. Gentle background music helps me to focus, calm and hear my inner voice more clearly. A bit like an acoustic resonator or a metronome, it also helps me to pace the text evenly against it. Towards the end of writing, I always try reading my text out loud to make sure it flows harmoniously. It’s hard for me to listen to music when I read someone else’s writing though… I used to be able to do that and even enjoy it, but now I prefer to read in deep concentration, in silence broken only by the scratch of a pencil leaving marks in the margins.
Issue Spring '23