non-fiction

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Out of Tibet

One Tibetan's story inside China – by Alec Ash

 

Ed: As the last post on the Anthill before we close our gates and fold into the new LARB China Channel on Monday, I'm indulging nostalgia and posting a story I wrote back in 2012 (the first longform piece I wrote), which was published in the anthology Chinese Characters five years ago, just before this website launched. It was previously up on Danwei, which is no longer accessible, so I'm archiving it here for posterity instead. It's the story of a Tibetan friend I made ten years ago in Qinghai, where I taught English in the summer of 2007 before moving to China the following year. Tashi was caught between his heritage and identity as a Tibetan, and the practical realities of his material prospects in China. It's a common story, and a complicated one, which is why it is best told simply. I'm delighted to have the chance to share it again, with some of my pictures from the time, and to remember my friend. - Alec

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Grindstone Mountain

Money to burn but no tomb to sweep – by Mark Treacher

 

Flames lap around the banknotes as they shrivel inside a rusty old oilcan, wisps of black smoke spiralling up into the overcast sky. Squatting down on his haunches, Lee peels off a few more 10,000 yuan bills from a fat bundle and offers them to the fire. His teenage son, father and stepmother Auntie Zhang follow suit, holding out the money until it catches alight. Lee’s downcast face is compelling: his mother died in 1985, of heatstroke on a broken-down train near Wuhan. Lee had just graduated; he was very close to his mother.

Suddenly the fire spits, leaping the gap to Lee’s fingertips, making him yelp and drop the money to the ground.  “Nide mama chu lai le!” hisses Auntie Zhang – “Your mum is here!”

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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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