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Alum Writes of Maotai, Mooncakes & Monks

Alum Writes of Maotai, Mooncakes & Monks

Article Body     Pittsburgh native and University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Alumna Jessica Bellas has published a memoir entitled, Maotai, Mooncakes & Monks: Misadventures in Hong Kong & China (Tamco Publishing).  The memoir, which the publisher describes as a “culture shock guide, travelogue, political, commentary and adventure rolled into one,” chronicles Ms. Bellas’ experiences after moving to Hong Kong in 2006.

     Her stories, which began as weekly e-mails to friends and family in the U.S., were an instant sensation and her e-mail list grew to several hundred names.  Ms. Bellas, whose antics resulted in more than one newspaper story in Hong Kong detailing humorously the “culture clashes with her colleagues and neighbors, dodging confetti cannons, surviving The Great Wall Half Marathon, and meeting various celebrities visiting Hong Kong,” was encouraged to compile her essays into a book.

     Ms. Bellas, who admits to being a loud, wide-eyed American “with the personality of a junkyard dog,” describes how writing about her experiences in Hong Kong forced her to be an active observer of her new environment.  “In retrospect, I am glad that I wrote a vignette every week during my first 30 months in Hong Kong,” said Ms. Bellas.  “I was able to encapsulate my entire expatriate journey—from the culture shock experienced in the early weeks to gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Chinese culture.”

     While in China, Ms. Bellas enrolled in Asia Literary Review Founding Editor Nury Vittachi’s professional writers’ masterclass.  Mr. Vittachi agreed to serve as a mentor during the book’s development and wrote the book’s forward.  He described the book as “the thoughts of a cheerfully open-minded visitor who arrives knowing almost nothing about the place and learns to adjust to life in Hong Kong ‘on the job.’  The result is a fresh, candid view of a community that turns out to be a more refreshing read than the views of the usual over-learned insiders.”

     As a student at Pitt-Johnstown Ms. Bellas was a member of Phi Sigma Sigma.  She credits her time at Pitt-Johnstown, and the mentorship of one of her professors in particular, with helping to inspire her. “Attending Pitt-Johnstown gave me an opportunity to learn and develop in a close-knit community,” she commented.  “I am particularly grateful to Beverly Withiam, who was the only female engineering professor when I enrolled in the civil engineering technology program, because she served as a great role model to the female engineering students."  Ms. Bellas earned her degree in civil engineering technology from Pitt-Johnstown in 1993.

     Ms. Bellas is a professionally licensed civil/environmental engineer and PMI-certified project manager with broad experience in the U.S. and China, and currently works at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  There, she has helped to establish two research centers in Hangzhou and Ningbo, China.  She has facilitated climate change workshops at the Clinton Global Initiative in Asia, and has developed tools for Chinese electronic manufacturers to achieve environmental compliance with three European Union directives. 

     She has traveled extensively to mainland China for her job in academia.  During her time in Hong Kong, she completed her master’s degree in international and public affairs at the University of Hong Kong and was the Chairwoman of Democrats Abroad Hong Kong.  She recently published in Imprint 2009, an anthology of Hong Kong women writers.

     Ms. Bellas can be contacted via e-mail at, and her book can be purchased online at

     Founded in 1927, Pitt-Johnstown is the first and largest regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh.  A vital knowledge center and a foremost contributor to the area’s educational, social, cultural, and economic environment, Pitt-Johnstown offers a high quality educational experience that is purposefully designed to prepare students for the real world of the 21st century.

Posted by Knipple, Robert on 7/27/2009 3:20:00 PM