Writer and Renaissance man James Taris is a world traveler (all without money), publisher, inspirational speaker, playwright, actor, cartoonist and businessman. He tells Jenny Hammond how he does it.
For many expats, the most interesting thing about living in Shanghai is meeting so many different people. Everyone does something different, has different goals and different ideas on how to achieve them.
So it is particularly interesting to meet an expat who has experienced enough for many people to fill a lifetime, and moved to Shanghai to pursue another passion: capturing his dreams on paper.
James Taris has been a jack of all trades and master of quite a few - author, inspirational speaker, photographer, graphic designer, actor, film maker and businessman - in his abundant life.
In his 52 years, the Greek-born Australian has done just about everything, from being a flight steward to a cartoonist. He has been living in the city for more than three years, working as a sales agent for a Chinese manufacturing company and a sourcing agent for foreign companies. But that's his day job.
As a child, Taris was always a high achiever with wide interests, a thirst for knowledge, compelling curiosity and a drive to try things for himself. He was the top student in his primary school in Australia and went on from there.
"One of the teachers told me it (high achieving) was because I had so much knowledge and skills in so many different areas. My habit of being interested in everything and doing everything myself has stayed with me ever since," he says.
Now, in Shanghai, Taris splits his time among many interests.
He is the author and publisher of numerous books. "Travel Without Money" and "Aussie Guest in China" are among his titles.
He has written travel diaries, books on poetry, public speaking, a play ("The Glory of Athens" staged in the city by East-West Theater), children's books, which he also illustrates, and a book on LETS, or local exchange trading systems.
LETS are local nonprofit exchange networks in which goods and services can be traded without the need of money. There are LETS worldwide.
His children's books, "The Magical Tooth Fairy" in particular (everything you ever wanted to know about the Tooth Fairy), are quite popular around the world, he says. Most of his writing is about travel. Since 2001, he has visited 18 countries and regions on five continents. Excluding the airfare, "all was done without money," says Taris. Basically, it's about networking through the LETS system.
This travel led to his writing career. In 2004, at the end of a 400-day world public speaking tour, his ability to travel without money caught the attention of a major Australian publisher who offered me an advance to write "Travel Without Money."
He never completed the book: His contract talks broke down when he realized he would be unable to write or publishing anything for at least two years after that book.
It was this realization that led to the formation of his own publishing company, Honey-Bee Books, which also publishes the works of other international authors.
Taris first visited Shanghai as a traveler in 2002, then again during a global public speaking tour.
During the five weeks he spent in Shanghai, he wrote the play, "The Glory of Athens," and that creative experience was crucial to his decision to move to the city in 2004.
"I was looking for somewhere peaceful to write and publish my books," he says, but didn't expect to say for more than a year. "When a work opportunity, which was too good to refuse, came my way, I took it up and have enjoyed the benefits of a comfortable lifestyle ever since."
Indeed three years on and working in Shanghai has proved to be everything he hoped for and more.
"Shanghai must be one of the most exciting cities in the world to work in. The pay is good, and the lifestyle's great because you get such good value for your money," Taris says. "I can't think of anything you can't have, or find, in Shanghai that would be available in any other city in the world, except, of course, for casinos and that's a reassuring relief."
So drawing on his own experience, Taris advises aspiring writers: "If you want to write a book, write it. Don't ask anyone for permission.
"If you're good enough as a writer or if your book is good enough, it will eventually make itself known. But if you listen to the nay-sayers telling you why you can't write, or shouldn't, then you'll be forever stuck in the crowd when you really want to be apart from the crowd, making your own mark in this world.
"Writing a book could change your life, regardless of what you write about," he concludes.
(Shanghai Daily September 25, 2007)