Alec Ash

Alec Ash is a writer in Beijing, and founding editor of the Anthill. His book Wish Lanterns (Picador, 2016) is available at the Beijing Bookworm

Posts by Alec Ash

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The Red Guard and the Landlady

From cultural revolution to rent collection – by Alec Ash

 

It's always a pleasant surprise when my landlady drops by unannounced at eight in the morning. I'm familiar with the early bird rap tap on my door by now, and the first thing I do before opening the door is put on the kettle. Sometimes she's there to collect the rent. Sometimes it's to check the heating came on, or to write down the electricity meter digits, or to switch off the water supply to the roof so it doesn't freeze in the pipes during winter, twiddling with hidden knobs under the kitchen sink.

This time, rap tap tap, it was just to have a chat.

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Expats behaving badly

Just because you know it, doesn't mean you can say it

 

You’ve likely read about this scooter mook, who earlier in the month cut across two lanes of traffic and slammed into a middle aged lady. He got into an argument with her and used some horrific Chinese – in both senses of the phrase – including “f* your mother” and shabi, which I translate below the break. She, in turn, ripped his coat and clung to his scooter somewhat hysterically, obviously angling after compensation. Neither came across particularly well, but it was the foreigner who lost all my sympathy when he opened his gob. (Although it’s a tough break to be deported for it.)

Here’s a personal vignette that illustrates what I think about this. It doesn’t reflect well on me. It’s about when I called a taxi driver a shabi.

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Putting your feet up

The colonialists endure – by Alec Ash

 

Four years ago, Alec, a 23 year old student of Chinese at IUP in Tsinghua University, put his feet up on the train seat in front of him. The carriage was pretty empty, and he was dead beat. So he peeled back a corner of the smelly blue seat covering across from him, and plopped a worn pair of Merrells on the wood underneath. This redistributed the weight from his bony arse across his legs and back. It felt great.

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Winter branches

Speed dating games on singles’ day – Alec Ash

 

Just as the cold winds sweep the last leaves off Beijing’s trees, Monday was “bare branch” day in China – 11/11 being an appropriate date to be dateless. Singles’ day (guanggunjie) is mostly about online shopping now, but retains the more traditional function of making all the single twigs feel inadequate. When I texted “What are you doing this guanggunjie?” to a handful of partnerless Chinese friends, I got back the same curt reply from three: “Sleeping.” I’ll know better than to ask next year.

There also was a spattering of singles’ events in Beijing last night. I went to one such meet-up, all in the name of youth culture research of course. In lieu of the regular Chinese Tuesdays post (Sunday’s FAQ on learning Mandarin hit that spot), and in addition to my post on this wider topic for Analects, I thought I’d write the night up.

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Foreign elements

The unbearable lightness of being an expat in China – a Q&A with Tom Carter

 

Over at the LA Review of Books China blog, I interview Tom Carter in the wake of the collection of true stories from expat China he edited, called Unsavory Elements. Tom is originally from San Francisco and has been living in China for a decade. He also did a book of photography based on trekking 35,000 miles through 33 provinces for two years. I asked him about expat identity issues, to try and get under the skin of those “masochistic” enough, in his words, to call China home.

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