non-fiction

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Carrying the Torch

Clashing horns at a grasslands festival – by Edward Columbia

 

I didn't see the bull at first.

We had come four hours on gut-scrambling roads to this grassland site, above a Yi minority village in Sichuan province. Ordinarily, this was a quiet place of rolling meadows, but today was the first day of the annual Yi Torch Festival, and the grasslands had been transformed into a lively fairground for the holiday revelries.

Hundreds of local Yi people, along with the occasional Han photographer from out of town, squatted on the scrub-pocked hillside. The flatland was a smoky campground of parked vehicles, where vendors sold toys out of their trunks and women in colorful headscarves pulled skewers of hotdog meat and sliced potatoes from vats of oil.

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Gorge Life

Unexpected encounters at the top of Taiwan – by Brent Crane

 

 

My bus to Taroko, a natural reserve on Taiwan’s east coast, was as slow-going as its passengers. A big tour liner, it stopped frequently and each pause brought in another sluggish senior – the island oozed with them – wearing a bucket hat with thin straps that dangled below their chins like soba noodles. They congregated in groups at the front of the bus, looking like middle school field trippers in their silly hats, chatty and spry. I sat alone in the back by a window, pleasantly anxious in my hiking shoes, spying from my seat the sceneries of Hualien, a quiet littoral town with an alpine tinge. The island was kind to a slow-going solo traveler like me, showing itself off in hidden valleys, milky coastlines and green mountains that looked like English hills.

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Northern Lights

A plunge into sub-zero at China's northerly tip – by Branson Quenzer

 

In northern China the cold can make a man stir crazy. Winter dreams visit you in minus forty-degree celsius temperatures. The aurora borealis, nature’s own 70s psychedelic montage, is said to make appearances in Heilongjiang province’s northernmost village of Beijitun. Modern technology now tracks the northern lights, and on a good night the aurora fairies might just dance. Away from the ice lights of Harbin, we were off to find the earth’s own nightlight.

I was joined by a friend from down under – removing himself far from the summer beaches of Bayern Bay – along with his girlfriend, a Heilongjiang local. The train to Mohe, the end of the line and launching point for the far north, was not an eight hour trip but 18 hours, made easier with big green bottles of Harbin’s finest Hapi beer. We met a pair of travelers from southern China on the train, and in Mohe the five of us piled in a microvan heading to the ‘northern lights village’.

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House of Cards

Spring Festival with the losers of China’s development – by Frank Muruca

 

“I apologize. My uncle lives in a shanty house.”

On the second day of the Chinese New Year, in the town of Jintan, Jiangsu Province, a teacher colleague named Wei invited me to spend the day with him. All morning, we had been driving around town on a kind of sober bar crawl – dropping into relatives’ homes for not more than 15 minutes, eating dates and nuts, and bestowing hongbao to the children. By lunchtime, my coat pockets were filled with lone cigarettes and candy. At one stop, an aunt had put a halfdozen cherries into my pocket “for the road”.

“After lunch, we like to play cards,” Wei told me. “Well, really it’s to gamble. We will go to my uncle’s house. It’s his turn to host the family. Next week, it will be my turn.”

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Mixed Blood

On being biracial in Beijing – by Amy Hawkins

 

“Mixed blood” is not a term I thought I’d ever take too kindly to, resonant as it is of eugenics, segregation and Harry Potter’s “mudbloods”. But just as the past is a foreign country, so too are, well, foreign countries.

Tourists in China often return home with tales of being asked to take hundreds of photographs with locals, who marvel at their white or black or brown skin, their height, and their willingness to walk through the dusty streets without wearing a mask. Living in Beijing, an international city like Shanghai, I have mostly avoided becoming such a curiosity. Reveal that I am half Chinese, however, and the questions come flooding in.

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