fiction

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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.

***

“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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Dumplings

Short fiction by Michael Salmon

 

Another meal together. They couldn’t simply spend the evenings ignoring each other. Gary still wanted to complain a little.

“Why don’t we find a new place, outside the complex? I’m starting to feel like I’m living in a fortress. Let’s go somewhere out on the streets, you know?”

“Fine,” his cousin replied. “I know a good place.”

They walked to the back of Charlie’s apartment block, around the high metal fence you couldn’t see through. The buildings dropped in height and grew darker, and the streetlights changed colour, orange instead of white.

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Blackout

Lessons in the dark – fiction by Daniel Tam-Claiborne

AN EXCERPT FROM WHAT NEVER LEAVES

In non-coastal cities in America, area blackouts are about as common as getting struck by lightning or becoming infected by West Nile Virus. They’re so rare even that the simple mention of a date and place can often conjure up memories of an exact moment in a person’s life.

In Taigu, Shanxi province, where I was teaching English for two years, area blackouts occurred about as frequently as trips to the dry cleaners. Rare was it that a few weeks passed without our breakers going haywire and the school losing power to one half of campus or the other.

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