The Girl on the Dock

Tragedy on the Yangtze – a reporter’s vignette by Mia Li


I first saw the woman on the dock by the muddy banks of the Yangtze, while droves of soldiers in camo ran to and fro from the supply barge. I was in a huddle of reporters and TV crews, covering the capsized cruise ship along with the rest of China’s media, foreign and domestic. She stood to one side, out of everyone’s way. She was tall, wearing dark blue rain boots, denim shorts, a black t-shirt and small cross-body bag, her long black hair blowing in the wind. Her hands clutched the handle of a purple umbrella. At first I thought she was a fellow reporter, until I noticed how still she was standing, like a wooden stick planted in the dirt. Her gaze was fixed far away on the foggy river, oblivious to all the soldiers, journalists and government officials shuffling around her. My heart sank as I realised why she must be there.

Soon after, everyone was herded behind a high wire fence three metres back from the river bank. She stood so close to the fence her face was pressed against it. Her eyes were red, and she held a ball of wet paper tissue in one hand. She looked very young. 22? Maybe 19?


Hutong life

Two views of a Beijing alley – by Christina Larson



“Two dogs?”

A girl came up behind me wearing the bright blue and red track-suit school uniform of Beijing Number 5 high school, on the same alley I live on in central Beijing. She admired my larger dog, who came up to sniff her hand. In any country, walking dogs is a good way to meet strangers.

We heard a horn behind us, and moved out of the centre of the narrow alley to the steps in front a small grocery, busy restocking.

“People are so aggressive these days!”


Lonely Souls

A vignette from the dregs of the expat bottle – by Paul Haire


I watched the rugby on Saturday night, Scotland vs Ireland, and I drank too much as usual. I had to nip out of my 9 o'clock class the next day a few times to vomit in the bathroom. But what do you expect when you have class at 9 o'clock on a Sunday morning.

We watched the game in The Den bar, Sanlitun, which is full of foreigners and hookers who charge 1000 kuai a night. I was with my friends – an Englishman, a Canadian and another Scot. We settled into our usual place at the corner of the bar. It’s a rubbish place to watch the games from, because you can't see the screens properly, but it's always empty and it's sort of our home now. The waitress remembered us from last time.


What They Call Insomnia

Finding stillness in a restless capital – by R.S.

For three months during my first spring in Beijing, I couldn’t sleep longer than three hours a night.

It was mostly restlessness. Everything I was doing to relax was only heightening my senses, keeping me further and further from sleep. I tried a litany of rituals – meditation, breathing exercises, reading the dictionary, listening to crosstalk comic dialogues on the radio, soaking my hands in warm water. If by chance something finally allowed me to sleep, I would repeat it the next night. It never worked twice.

I guess you could call it insomnia, or what Murakami called “the same as what people refer to as insomnia.” But I never used the term; I just called it having trouble sleeping.


Bike Beijing

A love song to Beijing from the bicycle lane – by Paul Haire


Beijing is just about the perfect cycling city. It’s flat as a pancake, with huge empty cycle lanes and hutongs crying out to be explored, whether in shorts and tshirt on a warm autumn evening or wrapped up to the nines on a freezing winter's day. Hidden gems are behind every corner – from chuanr kebab joints to craft brew pubs.

This is a collection of snapshots from bike rides I made from Fuchengmen, in the west half of central Beijing, to a teahouse near Yonghegong Lama Temple. It was a journey I made many times, and a route that combined the best of Beijing. This was in 2007, when China was new and shiny to me, everything seemed possible, and PM 2.5 hadn’t been invented yet.