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Goodbye Joe

A backpacker's last night in China – fiction by Aaron Fox-Lerner

 

Ed: This was the final story read out at the Anthill Scotch & Stories night at the Beijing Bookworm on May 27th, accompanied by a peaty Laphroaig 10. Thanks again to all the readers and drinkers who made it such a special evening

 

The guy I went out drinking with was a hostel buddy, one of those strangers temporarily united with you only in the shared purpose of wanting to party and maybe even get laid if it’s a good night. It wasn’t a good night.

The guy was an American like me, but he spoke Chinese and had been living for five years in Zhengzhou, which is a city in China that must be the real deal, because I’ve never heard of it. I felt like he looked down on me slightly for being just a tourist in Beijing, but we were both there in the common area and I had extra beers and we got along alright. I'd only been in China six days, I hadn't planned on staying long since all I'd heard about China was how fucked up it was, but I figured I should hit up the nightlife on my last day in Beijing before traveling on to Korea.

After knocking back a few beers with him, we go to some bar district and I pull him into the first dive I see.

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Those Crazy Shanghai Nights

Flash fiction by Josh Stenberg

 

Peng was at the door. The famous dumplings were in Shanghai, somewhere, and they weren’t going to eat themselves. The rest of the troops, already assembled, were milling and photographing each other with wall posters of tourist meccas far away, with clocks in the lobby.

I took it as a special favour when Mona Kwan wanted to have her picture taken with me. This was the girl I was trying to sleep with at the time – there was always one back then. Back then? I like to pretend now my life has become more complex. I remember I had an elaborate plan to hive her off from the group, look at that building or mmm, doesn’t that barbeque smell good. We would get lost by accident on purpose. It was nice that our Hong Kong cell phones were out of service here. We could disappear, properly, the way people used to. For once, the theoretical romance of travel might spill over into real life.

As a consequence of this obsession I have no recollection of the famous dumplings. I remember only that Mona would not play footsie with me at the table. Another girl squealed and eyed me incorrectly, and by noon the prospect of me-and-Mona seemed antique.

After lunch we went through the tourist brimstone of Nanjing Road and down to the Bund.

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The House by the River

My grandfather and his generation – nonfiction by Karoline Kan

 

My grandfather was already an old man when I came into the world, in a small county town near Tianjin. He was bald; he had to hold the radio very close to his ears when he listened to Peking Opera; he wore a pair of glasses when he read the newspaper and often stopped after reading a few lines, complaining that “the simplified characters lose both the meaning and the beauty of the language.”

The only property my grandpa owned was a countryside house near a river. In the summer, soft wind blew into the house and the ladybugs lay on the brown wooden windowsill. Through the window you could see trees with blossoming flowers, dragon flies resting on wide grass leaves, and across a river the rice field was a waving green sea. Grandpa would narrow his eyes, point his fingers to the field and say to me, “look, that land used to be ours. A long time ago, before your mother was born, even before the PLA liberated this place.”

“You’re lying,” I told him, standing on a chair to catch the ladybugs so I could put them on grandpa’s white beard. “Then why aren’t you rich anymore?”

Grandpa laughed. “Sometimes being poor is luckier than being rich. You’re too young to understand.”

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Red memories

Touring a Chinese Cultural Revolution museum – by Jesse Field

 

Lack of planning, pure and simple, left me with a day-long layover in Shantou, a city in northeastern Guangdong province which is home to China’s only museum devoted to the Cultural Revolution.

There’s something creepy about setting out in pursuit of trauma tourism. Tripadvisor’s top picks for attractions in Shantou include parks, a Teochew mansion, and a ferry ride out to Nan’ao Island for beach vistas and seafood. Why should a newcomer in town for only one day skip these fine locales to see old pictures of Chinese society tearing itself apart? Chinese nationals are justifiably frustrated when foreigners take a one-sided interest in China’s mistakes. The truth about the history of nations and peoples requires multiple contexts.

The trip to the museum is awkward and somewhat difficult, even if you speak Chinese.

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The Hornèd Hand

Men of metal – short fiction by Kaiser Kuo

 

Ed: This story was read out at the Anthill Scotch & Stories night, accompanied by the Ardbeg 10

The place: Beijing’s notorious Get Lively club, where it’s Metal Moshpit Monday and the heads, they are a-banging. The band: Daomuren Gonghui, the locally-legendary Grave Robbers Guild, voted Beijing’s Most Morose Band by SinoMetal magazine three years running. They’re harder, louder, faster and far scarier than any band should reasonably be – even one that plays “Dess Maitou,” as they call their genre.

They stalk the stage, menacing and murderous, each clad in a black tee emblazoned with the undecipherable thorn-font logo of another Dess Maitou or Hei Maitou band. They’re painted up to look like they’ve just been exhumed from month-old mass graves, as though what flesh remains on their gaunt faces and gangly arms might slough right off. Fortunately, it doesn’t.

The relentless blast-beats the drummer kicks out slam into you like a jackhammer shoved up against your sternum.

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