fiction

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Classifieds

An unexpected friendship – fiction by Daniel Tam-Claiborne

 

He met her over the classifieds; that was how it started. He was living in Beijing for a couple of years then, teaching, and porting in and out of Mongolia on a tourist visa. Truth be told, though, even the teaching was a stretch. He rented a small room in an apartment with a couple of other foreigners and was going out nearly every night. By the time Thursday arrived, he could practically count the stiches at the bottom of his wallet.

The woman in the ad wanted English lessons. It all sounded pretty standard: reading, listening, conversation practice. That is, except for the asking price. It was over twice what he had seen anywhere else, so naturally he contacted her immediately. He figured he would have to fight off scores of would-be English tutors, but she wrote back within the hour and agreed to start right away.

Class was Saturday mornings. Friday nights were always the worst, but he told himself that he’d just ease up gradually and it wouldn’t be so bad. There he was, drinking a glass of scotch, watching the traffic swirl outside his twelfth-story balcony, and before he knew it, he was waking up in a bed he didn’t recognize, pulling all his strength together just to get across town.

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Tiger Suit

An ostrich on the loose in Shijiazhuang – fiction by Tom Pellman

 

Ed: This story was read out at Scotch & Stories night at the Beijing Bookworm, accompanied by a tasty Glenfiddich 12. We'll be drip feeding the stories onto the site over the coming weeks

The tiger suit stinks. It smells like dried sweat and grass clippings. They make me wear it when we practice catching escaped animals at the Shijiazhuang zoo. The last time, two weeks ago, they chased me for almost twenty minutes straight, waving their snares, until I fell into some bushes. I tore a small hole in the leg and now I have to remember to stay on Director Wang’s right side so he doesn’t see it. He says rules are rules. If the suit gets ruined when I’m wearing it, I have to pay for it. That’s a rule. Another one is: last person who joined the team wears the suit.

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Destiny

A prophesy comes true in Shanghai – fiction by Tom Mangione

 

When I first came to Shanghai, I was a young man with a full head of hair and a bare chin. I could grow a beard, but I always thought it a bit gauche. Back home, everyone was growing beards, but the trend was lost on me. Clean-shaven felt classic, and I was a classic kind of guy. Maybe I was more classic than I knew.

I spent my first weekend in town at some local bars that I'd heard were cool. Everything about me gave away the fact that I was new to Shanghai, new to China, new to all of it. I fumbled with the novel currency, studying Mao’s smirk each time I pulled out my wallet. I tried out my nascent Chinese – wo yao yi ge pijiu – only to have the bartenders answer in calm, steady English. I was the proverbial deer in the headlights, and Shanghai was the Mack truck ready to splatter my assumptions all over the pavement. 

At the bar, I took up conversation with a middle-aged, white American guy, sitting sad and alone. He was bald, bearded and quite skinny. He looked like he had no one to talk to, and I felt sorry for him. I don't remember anything we talked about except for one thing. He said that every white man who stays in China long enough becomes bearded, bald or both. Usually both. When he said this I assumed that this was just his way of coddling his fragile middle-aged ego. He was, well, bald and bearded himself. It wasn’t until later that I realized I was wrong. Deer-in-the-headlights-meets-Mack-truck wrong. A chin full of prickly pear stubble is fate. A shiny bowling ball of a pate is destiny.

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Down and Out in Wuhan

Sex, lies and English teachers – by Travis Lee

 

I was a foreign teacher in Wuhan, on the Yangtze river, for seven years. It takes a special kind of person to stay in Wuhan for seven years. But I differ from the other teachers in two key ways. For starters, I left. They don't, won't, and most of all can't. They've spent years working themselves into a nook of drinking, fucking, smoking, bullshitting, rambling and drinking. Trading all that away for the destitute lives they left behind is not an option.

Second, I admitted who I was and why I was there. They don't. Listening to some of these guys talk makes you wonder why they ever left home in the first place. I've worked with former CEOs, engineers, bodyguards, even one guy who told me he used to be a hitman. Men who were living gods back home, men who drove BMWs, slept with only the most beautiful women, owned three-story homes and just one day had an epiphany and swapped all of that for a few hundred bucks a month and a cramped apartment.

The truth is, most foreign teachers in China are total basket cases at best.

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Saving Princess Pingyang

New fiction by Sze-Leng Tan

 

The sky at almost dusk is bright and promising, as it was half a lifetime ago on the day I saved her. The plump clouds floating above the Shanghai skyline are innocent, so no one would expect a stirring in their tranquillity. Yes, the sky is still the same as it was that day.

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“Keep going … push harder! Go on! Yes, that’s right.”

The blood.

“Congratulations. Finally, it’s here ... it’s …”

Silence fell as I heaved my chest and head, releasing the deepest breath I had ever drawn, along with the weight I had been carrying. I exhaled.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” Its destiny, and mine, depended on the answer.

Another silence followed my question, the longest, quietest silence. I waited – it had already been nine months, after all.

Guang came in and broke the tension. Hastily, my husband asked, “With or without the chiguding?” The beak-like tip on an arrowhead tuber, the chiguding resembles a baby boy’s genitals.

“It’s …” said Gerna in a trembling voice, “… a nü’er.” 

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