non-fiction

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The Mountain Spirits are Laughing

On the trail in Yunnan – a travel diary by Jeremiah Jenne

 

 

Day one

I am barely surviving Shangri La. I’m standing on an observation platform 15,000 feet above sea level, on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Yunnan province. Known to the local Naxi people as Satseto, the mountain rises to over 18,000 feet and has only been summited once. I am in no shape to climb anything today and instead ride the gondola up. Just two days before I was in Beijing, and I am adjusting poorly to exertion at altitude. It takes a very specific act of concentration to not lavishly soil myself with every step.

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Great Expectations

The literary dream of Beijing – by Lu-Hai Liang

 

When you're young and ambitious, keen on literary adventure, the idea of moving to a new country and becoming a writer is hugely romantic. You may not be the next Hemingway or Graham Greene, but the ghosts of those greats – men who drank, chased women and saw their art as their masculine fixation – leave long seductive shadows.

Beijing is not London or Tokyo, Tangier or Rome. It doesn't have the transparent allure of LA or the colourful chaos of Mexico City. And it sure as hell ain't Paris. It doesn't look beautiful in the rain and the architecture lacks all grace and subtlety. Beijing is unrelenting in its grayness, and filled with poor decisions about infrastructure and basic city planning. It’s a city so mired in reality that any charm pours straight into its drains, which are too few and badly designed. Yet journalists and writers have flocked here. Why?

I was born in the southern city of Guilin in 1989. Before I was born, but after I was conceived, my father swam from China to Hong Kong. Well, almost swam there. He didn't quite make it. He was picked up by Hong Kong water police after nine hours in the water, trying to reach the fabled British colony. If you want to read more about this family history, you can find it here. Suffice to say politics was involved in his decision to escape China. I moved to England, and met my father for the first time when I was five. At the age of twenty three, I reversed his journey and moved from Britain back to China.

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Ikea Love Song

Build your own utopia – by Alex Taggart

 

Ikea. A winning combination of minimalist Swedish design and affordable bourgeois domesticity, all folded up into a flatpack box of soft power and served with a side of meatballs. Anywhere in the world where people want something sustainable to sit on, the frictionless Ikea experience can be perfectly replicated – although never imitated – with no risk of compromising the company’s squeaky-clean Scando-socialist ideals. Or so I thought, until my first trip to the Beijing flagship store, one of the largest in the world.

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Ayi and I

Striking friendship in the Daqing oil fields – by Sam Duncan

 

I arrived in Daqing, a city in far northeast China famous for its oil fields, at the beginning of September, and the nights were already approaching freezing point. Employed by an “educational consultancy” firm to work as a foreign teacher (basically a money-making scam) in a local combined primary and middle school, I was met by Mike, a Chinese guy who had lived in Ireland for almost a decade and now spoke English as fluently as a leprechaun.

On the cab ride from the bus station to the school, oil pumps sped past, while the sun set behind them in a sky full of billowing clouds. After three years in China I was excited to start a new job in a new city. “It’s absolutely fabulous,” Mike told me about my apartment in his thick accent. “Massive, two bedrooms, the TV is a little old but it’s a Sony and must have cost the owners more than 10,000 yuan. Grand it is.”

When we arrived at the aging six-storey walk-up, I discovered it was the worst place I would ever spend a night in, let alone live in for a year.

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The House by the River

My grandfather and his generation – nonfiction by Karoline Kan

 

My grandfather was already an old man when I came into the world, in a small county town near Tianjin. He was bald; he had to hold the radio very close to his ears when he listened to Peking Opera; he wore a pair of glasses when he read the newspaper and often stopped after reading a few lines, complaining that “the simplified characters lose both the meaning and the beauty of the language.”

The only property my grandpa owned was a countryside house near a river. In the summer, soft wind blew into the house and the ladybugs lay on the brown wooden windowsill. Through the window you could see trees with blossoming flowers, dragon flies resting on wide grass leaves, and across a river the rice field was a waving green sea. Grandpa would narrow his eyes, point his fingers to the field and say to me, “look, that land used to be ours. A long time ago, before your mother was born, even before the PLA liberated this place.”

“You’re lying,” I told him, standing on a chair to catch the ladybugs so I could put them on grandpa’s white beard. “Then why aren’t you rich anymore?”

Grandpa laughed. “Sometimes being poor is luckier than being rich. You’re too young to understand.”

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