All’s fair in love and mahjong – by Amy Daml


It’s summer in Beijing. The city’s street corners are dotted with knee-high folding tables, each one magnetised to attract all men in the neighbourhood. The magnetic field grows in strength with every addition to the huddle until no male passerby can repel it. The inseparable gentlemen roll their sweaty shirts up over their bellies, puff their cigarettes and collectively exhale a heavy, smoky breath that saturates the air.

At the center of one such force field, a friendly mahjong game is interrupted when Peng’s petulant opponent smashes a Tsingdao bottle over his head.


Amy Daml, Thu 24 April 2014 - 08:19

Let's Drink! (poem)

Channeling the spirit of Li Bai – by Stephen Nashef


– A translation (loosely speaking) of Li Bai's 将近酒 (Jiāngjìn Jǐu) written with the intention of being read loudly, with slurred consonants, at a room full of people with bellies full of rum. [part of Writers & Rum night]

The Yellow River crashes down from the sky;

watch it heave toward the sea never to return,

and that beautiful face of yours,

which might yet engage a few

beautiful people into beautiful encounters;

watch it wither in front of your eyes

in the flawed glass of some decorated mirror.

Watch your brilliant hair disappear into scalp.

And watch the yellow river crash forever into the sea.

If you've got a heart, by God be happy!

and never let that moon look down upon

an empty glass in your hand.


Stephen Nashef, Mon 21 April 2014 - 02:41

Baijiu, Baby

Drinking in a yurt isn’t child’s play – by Nick Compton


Ed: This is one of the stories read out at Writers & Rum night on Wednesday. More to follow next week ...

Some people say that every type of alcohol, in proportional quantity, results in the same drunk. I’m not sure. Baijiu, or Mongolian baijiu at least, doesn’t give you the same heady buzz as a few beers, a glass of wine, or a snort of whisky. With baijiu, inebriation comes on like a freight train, hard and hollering. Your throat and belly are warmed and your mind becomes at once both lucid and completely fucked. As I polished off the first bottle, I knew I would soon be ripped.

The Han Chinese paid to dress as Mongolians and dance around our tables continued to clap and chant, but I could sense that dinner was winding down. Now warm and imminently drunk, I didn’t want it to stop.


Nick Compton, Fri 18 April 2014 - 03:35

Writers, Rum and Antics


A few quick Anthill (蚂蚁山 mǎyǐshān) notices in lieu of Chinese Tuesdays today:

  • The Anthill Writers and Rum storytelling night, tomorrow at Cuju bar in Beijing, is sold out of rum tickets, but we hope to record the event and post the audio after a couple of weeks. The next handful of posts on the Anthill will also be stories from the night, so our faithful readers won't miss out on the fun.
  • Never miss a story: we've launched a weekly email newsletter, "From the Colony" – it's a digest of the last week's new posts, as well as picture corner, link of the week and quote of the week. Just one email over the weekend, and it looks pretty. Sign up with that link above, or in the left hand column.
  • As some of you already know, or will have seen in your calendar, April is International Tell a Friend About the Anthill Month. No, really. It's also a good opportunity for outliers to follow us on Twitter or Facebook.


Alec Ash, Tue 15 April 2014 - 05:01

In Search of Peach Blossom Spring

Arcadia with an entrance ticket – by Dean Barrett


The drive is not particularly picturesque, and some of the risks the driver takes seem almost suicidal, but no more so than the other drivers who barrel straight for us around dangerous curves. I lean forward to suggest to the driver’s wife that just possibly they might want to actually use their seatbelts. The suggestion is greeted with a smile of incomprehension.

I am reaching what could be the end of my journey in search of Peach Blossom Spring, China's mythical arcadian paradise, the ultimate unspoiled community, possibly the product of a poet’s imagination – or possibly real.


Dean Barrett, Thu 10 April 2014 - 03:55

Peach Blossom Spring (translation)


"Peach Blossom Spring" (桃花源 táohuāyuán) is a famous passage – in fact the preface to a longer poem – by Tao Yuanming, from the Six Dynasties period at the turn of the 4th century AD. The story has almost mythical status in China. Here's the original text, along with a rather lovely reading of it with an erhu playing the background. And below is a translation, courtesy of Dean Barrett, a writer based in Bangkok.


"At the close of the fourth century AD, during the Taiyuan era of the Jin dynasty, a certain fisherman lived in the village of Wuling. One day, so engrossed in exploring the stream of a river, he failed to notice how far he had travelled.


Dean Barrett, Tue 8 April 2014 - 03:11