non-fiction

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Get Enlightened Quick

Beijing's worst Buddhist retreat – by Nona Tepper

 

After one prostration too many, the weak among us fled the Buddha Room in order to catch some sleep, steal breakfast from the Snack Room, and walk from Longquan Monastery to the foot of Phoenix Mountain, where they shivered in the February darkness to wait for the earliest bus.

It was 4:30am on the final morning of a three day Six Steps Buddhist Retreat, a free workshop near Beijing’s summer palace established to spread knowledge of Buddhism. Twelve of us had signed up for the retreat, having been promised that we would “feel less tired,” “be sick less often” and live “without any stress”. Instead, for the last 48 hours we had listened to lectures on the “Holocaust, dharma-ending time” (how and why the world is ending), kitchen advice on how to please your Buddhist man – and had performed endless prostrations, the spiritual answer to burpees.

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The Road to Tibet

Climbing the highest plateau on earth – by Jeff J Brown

 

Leaving pullulating, steamy Chengdu and heading up to the Land of Snow is a great way to start the day. Up to over 3 km above sea level, up to the remoteness, isolation and naked beauty of the Tibetan plateau, where the air is pure and evanescent, and the sky as translucent as crystal. Up to an emptiness which defies the statistics that so many people live in China.

But you don’t just get on an escalator and saunter effortlessly to the Roof of the World. You have to fight your way up, and my samurai warrior today is an engaging and friendly man named Peng. His sword is a loosey-goosey steering wheel; his war saddle a well-worn driver’s seat; his stirrups an aged clutch, bad brakes and a sticky accelerator pedal; his reigns a cranky, grinding stick shift; and his mighty steed is a fully depreciated rust bucket of a bus that holds about twenty restless souls.

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It was 1989

The Tank Man in Beijing’s Military History Museum – by David Moser

 

I was in Beijing, and it was 1989. This fact did not seem at all remarkable to me at the time, of course. It was January, I was on the campus of Peking University, and there were no telltale signs that the coming spring would be such a momentous one, though in retrospect numerology provided an omen with the confluence of all those auspicious nines – 1919 for the May Fourth movement, 1949 for Liberation, even 1789 for the French Revolution.

There was, to be sure, something in the air – a feeling of seismic shift. Deng Xiaoping’s decade had unleashed a torrent of creative chaos, and students felt a growing sense of impatience and empowerment.

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Graffiti Capital

Check yourself before you WEK yourself – by Cutler Dozier

 

A skinny 21 year old Beijinger with shoulder length hair, wearing baggy jeans and a worn tshirt, stares through his paint-speckled glasses, transfixed by the stack of multi-coloured graffiti cans arranged in front of him. He goes by the name WEK, and is deciding what colours he will use to paint his name on various walls and shop fronts around the city. He is part of a booming graffiti scene in Beijing and is possibly the most prolific graffiti writer in mainland China today.

Graffiti writing was first introduced to China by Zhang Dali, the so-called “godfather” of Chinese graffiti. In the early 90s, he spray-painted outlines of giant heads on partially demolished buildings to mark a rapidly changing city landscape.

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Baijiu, Baby

Drinking in a yurt isn’t child’s play – by Nick Compton

 

Ed: This is one of the stories read out at Writers & Rum night on Wednesday. More to follow next week ...

Some people say that every type of alcohol, in proportional quantity, results in the same drunk. I’m not sure. Baijiu, or Mongolian baijiu at least, doesn’t give you the same heady buzz as a few beers, a glass of wine, or a snort of whisky. With baijiu, inebriation comes on like a freight train, hard and hollering. Your throat and belly are warmed and your mind becomes at once both lucid and completely fucked. As I polished off the first bottle, I knew I would soon be ripped.

The Han Chinese paid to dress as Mongolians and dance around our tables continued to clap and chant, but I could sense that dinner was winding down. Now warm and imminently drunk, I didn’t want it to stop.