non-fiction

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Joyriding the Taklamakan

You’re never alone in the desert – by Nikolai Blackie

 

A few years ago, I found myself in far western Xinjiang province, a small town called Sanchakouzhen, 150 miles east of Kashgar on the old northern Silk Road. It was less a town and more a pit-stop for trucks carrying minerals from the mines in China’s west to the refineries out east.

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Stinky Tofu

That first taste you never forget – by Brent Crane

 

What first struck me in Hangzhou were the trees. Along South Mountain road, a trendy corridor of cafés, modern art galleries and Western eateries that runs along the eastern shoulder of the lake, there is a line of strong, tall sycamore trees. It’s rare to find an old tree in a Chinese city, where the old tends to give way to the new and young.

Hangzhou is famous in China for its sprawling tea fields and the mythical West Lake, the waters of which have enraptured poets, painters and imperial royalty for centuries. Now they attract an endless stream of camera-toting tourists, with robotic tour guides and knick-knack hawkers.

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Dude, where are my socks?

The anatomy of a door-to-door Taobao delivery – by Alec Ash

 

If you live in China and are anything like me, you order a lot from Taobao. The last dozen items I purchased from the online shopping site are: foam ear plugs, a wooden moxibustion set, USB speakers shaped like a panda head, a hemp cushion with a union jack design (vote no, Scots!), a laptop stand, a wireless keyboard and mouse, a piano stand clip-on light, a fridge magnet that you can snap open bottle caps against, a bottle of Bruichladdich whisky, a portable iPhone battery charger, and a tai chi sword. I have just revealed too much about myself.

If you have lived outside of China and are anything like me, you are in awe of Taobao. First, there's the old saw that Taobao has everything.

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Ramadan in Kashgar

Searching for a morsel in Xinjiang – by Brent Crane

 

Unless you are in Kashgar during Ramadan, as a foreigner you will never go hungry in China. Eating is a national obsession, and takes on an almost sacred air. Cheap restaurants are everywhere, people are constantly talking about food, and Chinese hosts will bend over backwards to make sure you’ve eaten enough. Often I'm confronted by a fierce jabbing of chopsticks in the direction of a half-finished communal dish and the barking command “eat!”.

So I was surprised to find myself roaming the twisting streets of Kashgar’s atmospheric old town, with a rumbling stomach and diminishing chances of finding an open restaurant.

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Love, or Nearest Offer

Finding a catch in the marriage market – by Alec Ash

 

Chinese Valentine's day, Qixijie, came and went. Roses were sold, promises told, single beds felt extra cold.

On the day, there were blind dating events for singles across the city. Some ladies who were more self-affirming about their singlehood performed in the Leftover Monologues. And the Global Times dusted off the old saw about materialism and romance in China (even quoting yours truly, to my embarrassment).

But for those who didn't find their soulmate by the end of the Saturday night, there was always a backup option the next morning – marriage market.

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