一九八四 : A Chinese Dystopia

1984
Xi Dada is watching you.

It was a crisp, pollution-free, April morning and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Xiao Wang walked huddled down Sino-Japanese Friendship Road, above him on a huge billboard the words “Big Brother doesn’t care what you do, relax man” were emblazoned over a drawing of children from every nation holding hands. As he crossed the road, a man handing out flyers for the up-coming free elections approached, but Xiao Wang managed to escape his bourgeoise clutches. Today had been a hard day. Xiao Wang worked at the Ministry of Free Speech, and every soul-sapping day involved Xiao Wang going through dozens of newspaper articles, ensuring that every piece was fair and objective. A little piece of him died each day. Catching sight of a store filled with Japanese products and globally competitively priced goods, he was forced to control the sickly feeling of distaste before entering his three-bedroomed luxury apartment.

Where was the censorship? Where was the nationalism? Had things really sunk so low that a decent man couldn’t force his feelings of xenophobia and paranoia on his fellow citizen under the guise of “Chinese characteristics”? No. Most people were so lost in enjoying themselves and doing what they wanted that they had forgotten about those 5000 glorious years of tradition. Xiao Wang blamed it on the daily Two Minutes Free Thought.
He turned on the TV and shuddered to see well thought out opinions on the country’s economy. Pulling out a notebook he wrote ten times: “REPRESS IT ALL!”, secretly wishing all the time that someone would report him. To Xiao Wang, it was just another day in Hell…

NEXT WEEK ON CHINESE ORWELL:

Animal Farm: A group of animals collectivise to form a Socialist paradise, only to have it destroyed when a group of Mainland tourists pay a visit.

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If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.

Trolling the Global Times

You can always rely on the Global Times to publish the biggest load of shit imaginable.

Recently we have had a whole saga featuring some clickbait “journalist” and her experiences with the Global Times. YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT! NUMBER THREE WILL SHOCK YOU! However, that is a story for another day. Today we are focusing on the latest xenophobic drivel to be smeared across the pages of the Global Times like rat poison is smeared over the windows of a registered sex offender.

This week in the murky world of Communist mouthpieces, some brainless fucking moron has written a frothing anti-foreigner piece about – surprise, surprise – foreign men preying on defenceless Chinese women. Her name is Wang Han and if you really want to throw a click her way (she’s probably paid 50 cents for each one) you can read the original article here. However, I’d recommend not polluting your eyes by looking at the Global Times website and looking instead at the article which I have copied and pasted below. Looking at the Global Times is seriously bad for your health. It’s like looking at the sun, but instead of a giant ball of flame, it is a giant ball of dogshit. And we all know that playing with dogshit leads to blindness. You’d be safer drinking cold water.

Here we go:

 

An expat-made video audaciously titled “Are Chinese girls easy?” was recently unearthed and analyzed by Guancha.cn, reigniting the passe debate about predatory foreigners in China.

In the video, South African-born Winston Sterzel, 35, who claims to be “China’s original vlogger,” says that many Chinese women see Western males as wealthier than their Chinese counterparts, which makes it easy for foreigners to get these girls into bed.

“Are Chinese girls easy? Yes, they are,” the dapper Sterzel authoritatively states right at the start. “But it depends on the kind of foreigner you are. If you’re black, Indian, any kind of dark-skinned race, forget about it.”

The borderline-racist video’s reemergence follows a spate of seemingly anti-foreign-predator sentiment, including a “Dangerous Love” comic warning Chinese women about handsome foreign men being spies.

By comparison, beer-swilling Serpentza’s (Sterzel’s avatar as a Shenzhen-based expat) rant seems more like a bitter foreigner who just got dumped by his Chinese girlfriend. But the points which he ticks off throughout his 2011-filmed video – that most Chinese girls come from poor villages and that we start talking about marriage within the first month of dating – are severely outdated.

As a single, post-90s generation Chinese female, I laugh at Sterzel’s supercilious assumption that we are all just a bunch of peasants who arrive in urban cities like Shanghai en masse to seek out wealthy-husbands. On the contrary, China’s leftover women – older, career-minded females who don’t mind putting off marriage in order to pursue their profession – have become such a phenomenon that books have been written about it. I guess Sterzel doesn’t read much.

Sterzel really flatters himself by believing that we are all so desperate for money or overseas green cards to escape China that we’d hop in bed with the first Caucasian who crosses our paths. In fact, while I was studying for my Master’s of English Literature in the UK a couple of years ago, I had no desire to date local men. The fact that I was already studying abroad rendered moot any yearning for a green card.

Even though I was surrounded by obviously well-off Western students, never did I once deign to hook up with one. Our cultural differences were simply too vast for us to have any kind of deep relationship. The fact that I knew I’d be returning to China to pursue my journalism career meant that, even if I did go on dates, I wouldn’t have been optimistic about our future. Why, then, would I want to spend my weekends fending off the advances of white guys?

Most of my Chinese classmates in the UK – I’d say 90 percent of them – felt the same as I did. If we were in the mood for male companionship, we went out with a Chinese guy. Conversing in our mother tongue with someone from a similar cultural background made dating so much simpler.

One of my pretty Chinese gal pals in the UK, Crystal, dared to date a British. He relentlessly invited her to take afternoon tea, and they eventually started seeing each other exclusively, but not once in their four-month relationship did she sleep with him. She eventually returned to China with her virtue still intact.

Another of Sterzel’s ludicrous points is that Chinese men are incapable of being monogamous, which, he says, drives Chinese women into the arms of Westerners, but which also makes us all “clingy, jealous and mistrusting.” On the contrary, I’d say that Chinese girls generally prefer to date men from China because they take marriage more seriously. Comparing the divorce rates of China and the West, the proof is in the statistics that China has less instances of infidelity.

Part of the reason why expats in China such as Sterzel may perceive local girls to be easy is that most of them spend their free time in bars and nightclubs which, by nature, host singles seeking casual encounters. But If foreigners are truly seeking a chaste Chinese girl to date and possibly marry, then maybe they should try getting out and about in real China rather than hanging out in clubs or sitting in front of computers making silly videos.

I don’t know about you but such nonsense is actually painful for me to read. If I was to be given the choice between reading this article again or inserting a golf umbrella into my urethra – I wouldn’t even ask if the golf umbrella was opened or closed. I’d say “Stick that fucking umbrella down my fucking Jap’s eye right now.” That’s how bad this article is.

Where to even start with this turd of an article? I’m personally from the Islamic Republic of Great Britain and I can’t even imagine where this girl managed to find the last remaining Victorian gentleman in Britain. Oh! The horror of constant invites to an afternoon tea! The people in England I know wouldn’t have invited her out for tea: they’d have got her drunk on industrial-strength cider and fingered her behind the rubbish bins of a burnt-out McDonalds. If you wanted further proof that this article is ludicrous, just look at this sentence:

“On the contrary, I’d say that Chinese girls generally prefer to date men from China because they take marriage more seriously. Comparing the divorce rates of China and the West, the proof is in the statistics that China has less instances of infidelity.”

Men from China take marriage more seriously? Is that how Wang Han describes it when her boyfriend only gets a handjob and not full sex from a KTV xiaojie? I took my marriage to a six year old girl pretending to be the Virgin Mary more seriously when I was in my primary school Nativity play.

Anyway, just for shits and giggles I found out the email address of this typist journalist. Promptly I sent her the following email:

Subject: DO YOU DARE TO DATE A BRITISH?

Good day Rainy!
As an Englishman I was interested to read your recent article in the Global Times because it is an English language newspaper and English is the only language I understand.
I was happy to see that your journalism career has got off to a flying start writing articles in the well-respected and totally not-shit Global Times about why western men are bad. However, I was sad to hear that you won’t date one of The Descendants of The Bulldog as I’ve seen your photo on your Linkedin profile and you’re at least a 6 out of 10, maybe even a 7 if you have the latest version of Photoshop.
I can understand your reasons. Chinese men do take marriage more seriously: I was told just the same by my good friend Yang Wei while he was in KTV last night hanging out the back of a girl from Hunan. Yet despite our vast cultural differences, is there any chance I can persuade you to dare date a British? I promise that I won’t pester you to drink tea and I will make sure your virtue remains intact. Let’s just go to a coffee shop and hold hands.
Awaiting your reply,
A BRITISH MAN
Let’s see the Global Times defend its self-proclaimed reputation as being a beacon of investigative journalism. Hopefully our friend will get in touch. If she does, I’ll publish the updates here.

Book Review: Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside

(DISCLAIMER: Book reviews are the only posts I write that are not written sarcastically or with a humourous angle. So if I say within the review that I hate or love the book, for once I genuinely mean it.)

I thought about writing a book about foreigners living in China once. The idea I had was a Catch-22 style book that featured a huge cast of characters with each chapter focusing in on a particular laowai. The book would spin backwards and forwards in time (just like Catch-22) and would only make sense at the end. All of the thirty or forty characters would have some form of interaction with one another, and all of them would come from different walks of life. They were teachers, students, expat wives, businessmen, drug dealers and convicts, but they all shared the fact that they were all living in the fictional city of Huaishi and they were all utterly utterly miserable. I even thought of a great title for the book – China Has Many Hells.

Of course, the fact that I’m writing this obscure blog and not being interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey show tells you how far I got with this idea.

I did however write the first page of China Has Many Hells. It featured the two main characters of the book – Mark and Jack – two teachers in China at different stages of life. One was still young and had some idealism remaining in him; the other one older and already sunken into bitter pessimism. Here it is:

“China has many hells. This is just one of them.”

The older man put down his drink and picked up the half-lit cigarette that smouldered and gave forth thick black smoke from the grimy ashtray soaked in water and swirling tar. With a brief pause to contemplate the poisonous cheap coffin nail he was about to sully his lips with, he took a deep breath on the yellow filter and blew out the acridity with a long swollen sigh.

“Of course,” he continued, staring at the burning paper, “the fact that the Chinese have so many hells compared to our meagre Western one speaks volumes for their unending inventiveness in creating new ways of misery and torture.”

The man, though embittered and more than a few years past the brightest flame of his brief youth, did have a point. Mark looked around at the nicotine stained walls of the bar, the empty tables dimly lit by lonely candles floating in bulbs, and the fat lonely men who either gazed forlornly into space or into the bored eyes of deadened Asian girls. This was a place of broken dreams. A place where compromises were yet to be made. The dead end for those who had somehow failed along the way.

Mark was not yet one of these things, though the thought of its inevitability strangled him with dread. In the bloodshot eyes and alcoholic faces of the middle-aged around him, he shivered as he dimly perceived his own future. At least Jack was intelligent and insightful: a man who not only had achieved the impossible feat of realising what he was, but who stoically accepted his fate and to Mark seemingly offered a way out. It was evenings like these when he hoped to hear a piercing insight or stumble across a clue to his own salvation.

Jack knocked back another shot of the imitation whisky and slammed the chipped glass back down upon the table. From the faraway look in his eyes which always signified an oncoming barrage of perception, Mark knew he should pay attention.

“The only question is… whose hell is this one?” continued Jack, finally directing his gaze upon Mark. “Is it our hell? Stuck here in a cultural wasteland where the locals spit and shout at us hoping to someday catch a hold of all that success and money we read about in the newspapers which supposedly is happening all around us? Congregating together in bars we would avoid back home in order to bitch and gripe about the chinks whilst hoping someone will magically offer us a ticket one day to that exciting job with all the riches that come with it? Is this hell?”

A momentary pause as the waitress slouched over the table to replace the filthy ashtray with a slightly less filthy ashtray she had just cleaned with a greasy rag.

“Or is it their hell? Their heads so full of xenophobic propaganda and hatred for anything that’s different but still forced to live beside us and flirt with us so that they can steal a few extra dollars just to survive? The deluded fucking the intruded. I don’t know whose got it worse.”

As if to demonstrate his point, a loud American man in his late forties noisily settled his bill from the table opposite. An empty bottle of Chivas Regal, an untouched dish of peanuts, and the smoking remnants of a whole packet of Marlboros were the external remains of a man who had been trying to give the impression of a foreign businessman to his bored female acquaintance. Mark had seen him around the area a few times and knew him to be one of the new English teachers over at the No. 15 Middle School and that the Chivas Regal had probably cost him the best part of a week’s wages. The clue, anyway, was in the choice of boasting. The whisky, the peanuts and the cigarettes were the outward displays of a moderately successful local bureaucrat, and the English teacher was just aping what he saw around him in order to impress a naïve student who was probably more calculating then he could possibly realise. With loud cries and insincere high fives to Chinese waiters addressed by inconceivable English names like Alex and Justin, the American left the bar with his girl in tow while the once smiling waiters reverted quickly to their sullen frowns as soon as his back was turned.

The waitress sidled up to Mark, noticed his empty glass, and asked in heavily accented English: “One more?” A feeling of emptiness suddenly washed over him and Mark shook his head and asked for the bill in Chinese. Feigning confusion, the waitress asked in a desultory tone “You want pay?” to which Mark nodded with a heavy sigh.

“Whose hell are you living in, Mark?” asked Jack with a knowing, amused glint in his eye. Looking at the older man sat opposite him with the thinning hair and the growing paunch, Mark reached over and took one of the cigarettes which beckoned from the wrinkled dirty packet like a witch’s finger.

“Yours.”

Thick black smoke blew into the air and continued to stain the peeling wallpaper with a deep yellow.

China Has Many Hells never made it past that first page. My tale of two expats at opposite ends of the spectrum will never come to pass. Therefore it was with some curiousity when I discovered that another writer had managed to do something with the same idea.

Quincy
This is Quincy Carroll. His hobbies include standing behind windows and staring out of them.

Quincy Carroll is an American who taught English in China and who recently published his first novel: Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside (which for the rest of this book review I am going to refer to simply as “Mountains“). The title refers to a type of punishment during the Cultural Revolution when bourgeois urban youth were sent away from their comfortable city homes and forced to live amongst the peasants out in the countryside. China, indeed, has many hells. However in Mountains, it isn’t Chinese youth who are being sent to faraway villages, it’s two American teachers.

Here’s the marketing blurb for the book:

Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside tells the story of two Americans living and teaching in rural China. The first, Thomas, is an entitled deadbeat, content to pass the rest of his days in Asia skating by on the fact that he’s white, while the second, a recent college graduate named Daniel, is an idealist at heart. Over the course of the novel, these two characters fight to establish primacy in Ningyuan, a remote town in the south of Hunan, with one of their more overzealous students, Bella, caught in between. Quincy Carroll’s cleverly written debut novel examines what we bring from one country to another.

As the blurb says, the book focuses in on the yin and the yang of Thomas and Daniel. Thomas is an aging and cynical teacher who doesn’t have much good to say about anybody. Daniel is an earnest young chap with dyed red hair and a passion for integrating himself with the locals. The plot of the book is very much centred around a clash of personalities between the two English teachers. An overenthusiastic student named Bella presents most of the opportunity for conflict between the two. Apart from the three main characters, there are also a few other members of the cast including a foreign teacher couple, a washed-up divorced Chinese teacher who lives in the library and a hustling wannabe entrepeuneur.

I’m pleased to be able to say that Mountains is actually rather good. I don’t give ratings on these book reviews but if I did then it would happily get a nice 4 out of 5. I have mentioned previously that I have a guilty secret of enjoying badly written books by foreigners about their time in China. There are many many of these memoirs doing the rounds, not only in China, but across all of Asia. I enjoy reading them because there is a certain sense of schadenfreude that somebody out there is having it worse than you and/or is writing about it in a way that oneself could do better. Carroll still focuses on the empty floating lives that many foreigners in China experience, yet he has managed to avoid most of the pitfalls that expat writers tend to fall into. For starters, the book isn’t just a chronicle of a series of drunken exploits (that in itself wouldn’t be too bad, but nobody so far has ever done a good job of doing so). By injecting autobiographical elements into a fictional story spread across two antagonists, Carroll is able to explore a multi-faceted view of the expat experience that wouldn’t be possible when just discussing himself.

That’s not to say the book is perfect: it isn’t. In fact, there are a couple of parts that are downright annoying. However, these are stylistic problems rather than thematic. The author is obviously a big fan of Cormac McCarthy and it shows a little too much. Out of Cormac McCarthy’s bibliography I’ve only personally read The Road; and while I can fully appreciate imitating the prose style of a book about a post-apocalyptic poisoned wasteland when writing about China, at times it is taken too far. The non-usage of quotation marks during conversations seems unnecessary and is often confusing. Likewise, the author (especially at the beginning of the novel) occasionally uses needlessly obscure words that I had never even heard of (and I’ve read every single one of HP Lovecraft’s short stories) thus forgetting George Orwell’s maxim “Never use a long word where a short word will do.” The usage of these strange words like “muntin” and “clerestory” seem to add touches of local flavour that would seem more suited to a novel set in New England rather than rural China.

However, these are minor flaws. Where Mountains succeeds it succeeds well. The best and most accurately described character in the whole book is not one of the teachers or their students, but the city of Ningyuan itself.This gloriously filthy backwater comes alive in Carroll’s descriptions of dingy back alleys and bland concrete buildings. The writer also is obviously a keen reader and student of fiction as he weaves in detailed metaphors and allusions throughout the book – I particularly enjoyed the constant comparisons between dogs on the street and the two foreign teachers. When Carroll describes the “mindless Pomeranians panting in the gutter, dressed in clothes” I immediately knew what he what he was alluding to. The final chapter is also delightfully ambiguous.

My only wish for this book is that Carroll had expanded more on the “bad” foreigner Thomas. It’s clear that neither Daniel or Thomas are really as black and white as they initially appear, but I felt that the author was at times unnecessarily biased against the older, more cynical teacher. This isn’t to say that there isn’t balance. Far from it, Carroll goes to great pains to illustrate the dark side of the younger Daniel (sleeping with prostitutes, his self-delusion, his attention seeking, etc). When Daniel announces with a great pride that he tattooed the words of the Chinese city he lives in on his arm and is building an aeolian harp on the school roof so that the students can remember him forever, I laughed out loud and shouted “What a cock!” Unfortunately this balance is not extended to Daniel’s antagonist Thomas nearly as much as it should be. We are told that he is “arrogant, lewd, and racist” but we are not shown much evidence to support this. There is hardly any backstory to Thomas at all. Mountains is a short and breezy read, so it’s a shame that a few extra pages on how Thomas became so cynical were not added.

The moral of the story is that neither an overly-idealistic approach or an overly-cynical approach to living in a foreign country is the key to happiness. One way will lead to continuous attention-seeking and naivety, the other will close you off to anything positive before it even happens. I was happy to see that Carroll briefly mentions a third teacher – Christopher – who appears to have the balance right: working and playing alongside the Chinese but not trying to make himself a clown in order to gain attention.

Most foreigners in China claim after their TEFL stints have concluded that they could write a book about their experiences. Here, Carroll actually does so and with great success. Despite the huge numbers of foreigners who come to teach in China every year, there are still very few good novels describing the experience. Finally we have a decent book that digs deep into the life of the TEFL teacher, and unlike Peter Hessler’s sterile River Town, actually isn’t afraid to reveal some of the dark side too.

upmountain
A path to nowhere.

You can buy Mountains on Amazon (paperback) or Inkshares (digital).

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If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.

Dumplings: A Short Story

(As mentioned in my previous post, this is a short story that was originally entitled Fun with Skin and lay on my USB stick for years. I’ve edited it and deleted some of the more puerile parts. If you like it, or indeed if you hate it, do drop me a comment)

Dumplings: A short story.

Nobody really knew the origins of the middle-aged couple who owned the shop. What was known, a fact gathered from their accents and their obvious lack of fluency in the local dialect, was that they were not originally from the third-tier city of Huaishi, or even from the province. Their voices sounded well educated, so they certainly did not come from the same sources as the regular migrant workers who flocked to work in Huaishi’s factories. Yet where that where was, nobody could say with confidence. They were certainly not from Beijing; their Putonghua was standard but lacked the definitive twang of the average capital native. Some guessed that they were perhaps from Shanghai or Jiangsu province; occasionally some customer with knowledge of those outside dialects would throw a remark at the couple in Shanghainese, but they would only receive a bemused look in reply. Either they truly didn’t understand or they were very good at concealing their understanding. Several customers had even tried directly asking the couple about the whereabouts of their hometown, though it had so far generated little success. The strange man and the strange woman who managed the shop would always evade the question and smilingly beckon the next customer to place their order.

Despite the mystery surrounding the couple, there was no mystery regarding their success. Even their competitors, especially when drunk on cheap baijiu and given to bitter complaints about lost profits, were forced to agree that the Golden Crane Dumpling Shop sold the best dumplings in the whole of Huaishi and perhaps the entire province. It had certainly become something of a local landmark. Previously, the small drab city of Huaishi and its three million smog-choked inhabitants had had very little to boast about. A local state-owned tourist board claimed the city was famous for a certain kind of braised chicken, though six neighbouring towns also wrote the same dubious claim on their poorly-written and never-read tourist literature. The success of the Golden Crane Dumpling Shop had changed all that. Now, tourists from across the province came on one-day package tours with the express purpose of sampling the Golden Crane’s famous dumplings. The lines of tour coaches and crowds of senior citizens scrambling to get the freshest dumplings had become a familiar though unwelcome sight on the streets surrounding the little shop.

All agreed that it was the skin of the dumplings that made them so uniquely different. The shop sold many types of filling: pork, chicken, chives, cabbage, egg… but the one thing each variety had in common was the delicious delicate baopi that wrapped each one. The baopi – the dumpling wrapper – was of a quality never seen before by most customers; certainly not by those long-term residents of Huaishi whose average diet consisted of cheap formaldehyde-filled beer and bowls of noodle soup processed from gutter oil. Each dumpling was lovingly enveloped in a thin, translucent wrapper that was almost transparent. It felt lighter than air – a feat not difficult in the pollution-heavy environment of the city – and would melt on the tongue leaving only a lingering sensation of refreshing effervescence.

Tourists would often ask Mr. Lin how his wife managed to create a dumpling wrapper with such fineness, hoping that they could take the recipe and the method back to their hometowns. Typically, Mr. Lin would stand in the shop’s small dining area by the cash counter. Behind a small door his wife remained in the concealed kitchen supervising the two young women who carried out most of the cooking and cleaning duties. Customers were always politely refused with a warm smile. “Trade secrets,” Mr. Lin would say with an enigmatic wink.

After about two years of successful business, news concerning the fame of the Golden Crane Dumpling Shop finally reached the ears of those senior Party officials who governed the city from mysterious offices high up on the eighth floor of the Ministry building that stood perpendicular to People’s Square. Their dining experiences confined mainly to the banquet rooms of the city’s finest hotels and restaurants, the senior Party members rarely ventured out to the small back-alley food stalls and shops where some of Huaishi’s tastiest snacks were concocted. At first their interest was merely culinary; lackeys were dispatched from the Ministry building to bring back for their bosses some of the dumplings that had gained such an enviable reputation. Satisfied with their findings and pleased with the delectable skin of the dumplings’ wrappers, the rulers of the city then placed special and frequent orders with the Golden Crane Dumpling Shop to ensure their dumplings became a regular fixture of the extravagant lunches that were held within the Ministry almost every day. However, as with every other financially successful business in the city, interest in the dumpling shop soon moved from the gastronomic to the economic. Greedy eyes began to envy the success of Mr. and Mrs. Lin.

When plotting to steal the success of a company, there are two approaches. The first is to just snatch the business away; normally this would involve bringing up real or imaginary charges against the owners and taking over once they were serving five years or more in a high-security detention facility. The second method is to discover the secrets of the company’s success then to emulate it completely but at a lower cost. Considering the fact that the Golden Crane was already a famous local landmark well known amongst tourists who brought in plenty of revenue, it was decided to keep the business running as smoothly as possible but to copy its model in other parts of the city to further increase the inflow of money into the city’s treasury. Though entirely unaware of the decisions being made about them, the Lins were spared considerable grief by the preference to keep their business open.

The senior public servants who desired their own dumpling empires at first tried the more pleasant forms of corporate espionage: namely, visiting the shop in person, loudly proclaiming who they were, and demanding free dumplings. It appeared that Mr. Lin was wise to the ways of official extortion as he was never unsettled by the fake smiles and half-threats of the men from the government who “just wanted to help”. They received their free dumplings, but never learnt a thing about the secret of Mrs. Lin’s baopi.

A handful of trusted minions were tasked to research the background of the Lins in order to find a weakness that could be leveraged upon. It was finally discovered that both Mr. and Mrs. Lin had enjoyed well-respected and highly successful careers across a number of high-profile appointments in hospitals frequented by members of the Politburo. At some point they had tired of the medical profession, accumulated their considerable savings, and moved to Huaishi (the hometown of Mrs. Lin’s late parents) to follow their lifelong dream of opening a dumpling shop. By all accounts their records were impeccable making blackmail difficult.

Over the next few months, the usual tactics were deployed. The Golden Crane became subject to many irregular health and safety checks. Either the Lins’ money had garnered them their own spies within the government’s network or they truly operated the cleanest dumpling shop in all of China, but every time the health inspectors burst their way into the small kitchen where the dumplings were prepared, all they ever saw was a spotless work surface and Mrs. Lin smilingly supervising the two women as they thumbed meat into the dumpling wrappers. As for Mr. Lin, he never seemed to drink, gamble or frequent any of Huaishi’s many pink-lit massage parlours. His only pleasure was a monthly trip to Beijing from which he would return with several boxes of expensive Oolong tea. Tea was his only apparent vice.

Although Huaishi was a relatively backwards city that had been mostly left behind by the country’s economic boom, the men who composed its leadership were not totally isolated from events that happened outside of their territory. A memo had come down from the central government in Beijing notifying all local leaders to be vigilant for a wave of stolen tobacco that had been misappropriated from several large cigarette factories in the capital, cigarette factories that by chance happened to have the same owners as some of Beijing’s most esteemed private hospitals. Providing items that could both improve and damage health was simply seen as good business sense by the shadowy owners of the two industries. Hearing the news, one of the party officials wondered if the secret ingredient in the Golden Crane’s dumplings was in fact nicotine. It would explain their addictive quality. A quick scientific test proved that the dumplings of the Golden Crane were absolutely covered in nicotine. Congratulating themselves, the officials waited for an opportunity to apprehend Mr. Lin and investigate the contents of his tea boxes. Unfortunately, they waited for a long time, as the ultra-cautious Mr. Lin was by all accounts a model citizen and gave his unelected representatives no excuse to prove their theory.

This state of waiting continued for some time until, as often happens, the stalemate between the Lins and the rapacious government officials was broken by an unrelated coincidence. Returning from Beijing with his boxes of Oolong during the chaotic National Day holiday, Mr. Lin had been unable to hail a taxi from the train station as per his usual habit. The hordes of Huaishi citizens also returning from excursions to the coast or a nearby mountain made the stretched traffic situation in the city even more shambolic than usual. Unwilling to board a bus due to his heavy boxes of tea, Mr. Lin had decided to take a ride with one of the many “black taxis” whose shady-looking drivers were a constant feature of the train station where they shouted at passers-by. After much negotiation, Mr. Lin had paid only three times the normal amount to reach his little dumpling shop, but to his exasperation the taxi had driven away before he was able to remove his boxes of tea from the back of the car.

The Chief of Police knew Mr. Lin from his many visits to the Golden Crane and from the constant pressure that his superiors in the Ministry exerted on him to hassle the Lins at every available opportunity. The Police Chief – not a bad man at heart but a man who just sought the easiest path to a quiet life – promised the frantic Mr. Lin that he would do everything in his power to locate the car and return Mr. Lin’s property as soon as possible. After telephoning his contacts in the local government, the most thorough manhunt in Huaishi’s history was approved. Almost every police officer in the city – both public and secret – was tasked with finding the driver who had sped away with Mr. Lin’s belongings.

The driver was eventually found in a dodgy part of town that was infamous for being a place where absolutely anything could be bought or sold. He had been attempting to sell the strange items that he had found hidden inside Mr. Lin’s boxes of tea. As well as finding the driver, the Party officials also found out the secret of the Golden Crane’s delicious dumpling wrappers.

If the fine representatives of the city of Huaishi had done their research more thoroughly, they may have discovered the key to the Lins’ success much sooner. For Mr. and Mrs. Lin were not just doctors; they were formally two of the most knowledgeable physicians within the field of paediatric care. Mr. Lin in particular had personally attended to the newborn sons of prominent political families. It was this knowledge of infant male anatomy – and the network of contacts that they had built after many years within the medical profession – that had undoubtedly led to the discovery, and continued supply, of the dumplings’ secret ingredient.

For when the Chief of Police showed his superiors the contents of the tea boxes, they were not filled with the finest leaves of Oolong tea, or with illicit nicotine. To everyone’s astonishment, deep within the boxes were stuffed hundreds and hundreds of freshly circumcised foreskins.

Not just foreskins. Where supply allowed there were also the testicular sacs, normally dissected from stillborn infants or late-stage abortions, which were reserved for those customers of the Golden Crane who could afford the shop’s “premium” selection. The taste of the sacs was not too different from the foreskins, but they were thinner and possessed a more translucent quality about them. They also were easier to fill with the meat stuffing, while the foreskins had to be rolled by hand before they were ready for the steamer. As for the nicotine theory, everybody laughed when they realized their mistake. Of course the dumplings were covered in nicotine: the scientists who had done the laboratory research on the dumplings had been smoking during the tests. While staring in shock at the small plastic bags of foreskins displayed in from of them, one of the wittier government officials stated that at least the Lins could not be accused of misleading their customers. The baopi really was baopi.

Despite a grudging respect for the commercial savviness and culinary ingenuity of the Lins, confronted with such a shocking revelation, the officials of Huaishi had no choice but to detain the couple on charges of gross criminal corruption. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Lin tried to deny the charges against them; in many ways they seemed relieved that the pressure of protecting their business secrets from the local government was finally at an end. The former dumpling entrepreneurs were sentenced to five years each at a provincial level detention facility. It would have been a much longer sentence, but Mr. Lin was able to negotiate a lighter punishment by sharing certain contacts with the obliging officials who earnestly wished to do their upmost to reach a harmonious solution for all parties involved.

The Golden Crane Dumpling Shop is still operating in the city of Huaishi and by all accounts has been hailed as one of the city’s greatest stories of local success. It was never publicly announced why the previous owners had been jailed after establishing the business, though rumours abound that the Lins had been involved in a severe case of tax evasion. Despite the change in management, the new owners – a conglomerate of civic-minded businessmen who wished to protect the heritage of a local institution – have succeeded in maintaining the quality of food that the Golden Crane is rightly famous for. The dumplings are better than ever, and the wrappers as crisp and light as they have always been. Several new branches of Golden Crane have now opened across the city and even one in the provincial capital. It is hoped that the fame of Golden Crane’s dumplings will attract attention from Beijing and revitalize tourism and investment in the province. Perhaps even a few prominent national leaders can be tempted to pay a visit to sample the world-famous baopi. After all, Xi Jinping is well known for his love of dumplings.

 

Note for non-Chinese speakers: Baopi – 包皮 – can mean the wrapper of a baozi (包子) or dumpling. It also means foreskin.

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If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.

Fun with skin

One for my old followers here…

When I used to blog on my old Yellow Wings site back in the carefree days of the mid-2000s, one of my running jokes was that I was always threatening to publish a post entitled “Fun with skin”. It was always hinted that “Fun with skin” would be an extremely dark post. I never did post “Fun with skin”, but it genuinely existed, and lay in draft form on a memory stick for years.

I believe the world is perhaps ready for it now.

I’ve changed it considerably as the original was pretty brutal to be honest. Think of a Chinese version of Chuck Palahniuk’s Guts and you won’t be far from the truth (don’t read the story on that link unless you’ve got a very strong stomach). This new version is more family friendly and is now entitled “Dumplings”. Stay tuned for the next blog post where you’ll finally get a chance to read it.

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If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.

Yang Wei #11: Colour

As an aspiring writer, it’s disturbing to see that the recent trend in books is to discard all those boring novels with words and revert back to infantile colouring books. Adult colouring books are currently huge bestsellers in Europe and the US. Smart investors are piling their money into felt tip pens.

So rather than crafting witty and humourous articles on China that generate zero comments anyway (not that I’m bitter), I’m jumping on the bandwagon and presenting Meursault’s very first blog post that you can colour in. Grab your crayons and draw your attention to this image of Yang Wei and his son berating a beggar during a recent trip to Tiananmen Square.

However, to keep it realistic to a true image of modern China, I have provided a “Paint by Numbers” guide to help the reader in depicting an accurate representation of Beijing. Simply follow the guide and very soon you will have a multi-coloured dreamscape of one of the world’s truly great cities to cherish and keep.

 

Have fun and happy colouring!

A Trip to Renegade Province

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Spotted outside Taipei rail station: an Ironman Chicken with the magic power of Judaism.

I have had the pleasure to see many different places in China.

I have seen the neon and glitz of the Hong Kong skyline, the dour sobriety of Beijing, the mutated fungus of a Qingdao seascape.

I have experienced an old Buddhist monk take a shit next to me during a Tibetan mountain trek, I have experienced a small child take a shit above me from a Chengdu overpass, I have experienced a Fujianese hooker take a shit whilst giving me a handjob.

*Joke*

I have had diarrhoea in at least ten different Chinese provinces.

*Not joke*

Yet until now I have never had the pleasure of visiting (or indeed watching somebody there take a shit) the Treasure Island, the Renegade Province, the Free China… Taiwan.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be “What I did on my holidays by Arthur Meursault aged 33 and 3/4”. I am not going to bore you with photos of every single dinner or lunch that I had over the 10 days I spent in Taiwan. There are plenty of young female Asian bloggers already who can provide you with endless photographs of themselves eating noodles. All I am going to do is provide a few observations on a couple of quirky differences between the two sides of the Taiwan strait.

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I lied: here’s one food photo. These are pepper buns and were the best thing I discovered in Taiwan. Simply delicious.

Romanisation

As commentator FOARP pointed out, unlike the Mainland, there are at least four competing systems of Romanisation in use: Pinyin, Wade-Giles, Tongyong and utter nonsense. The Mainland is behind Renegade Province in many areas (hygiene, public manners, sanity – take your pick) but it definitely has its act together with its sensible and solid use of pinyin. You read Beijing, you get Beijing. In Taiwan though, you’re probably better off learning actual Chinese characters themselves rather than the mess of competing romanisation systems that seem to exist everywhere.

Here’s an example. There is a city in southern Taipei called 高雄. Here is how it can be romanised:

Pinyin: Gaoxiong
Wade-Giles: Kaohsiung
Tongyong: Gaosyong
Nonsense: CooowsxiungbananaFUCKYOU

I strongly urge Taiwan to implement 100% pinyin romanisation immediately so that it no longer suffers the embarrassment of having road signs that look they were typed out by a spasticated monkey on amphetamines.

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You see? Under the Tongyong system this simple sentence was romanised as a row of multicoloured cocks.

The Kaohsiung MRT

I would like to give a special mention to my favourite attraction of my entire trip to Renegade Province: the Kaohsiung MRT. It’s a great train system, runs really smoothly, and never seems to be crowded. It has a beautiful glass ceiling at its main interchange station and the loudspeakers play delightful little tunes every time a train arrives or departs.

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Kaoshiung MRT’s glass ceiling. Notice there are no women above it.

All of these things are great, but my absolute favourite thing about the Kaohsiung MRT system was its liberal use of mildly erotic anime cartoons. Every station is covered in dangerously young looking wide-eyed sluts who titillate the commuter into standing on the correct side of the escalator or not leaning against the doors. Just take a look at these little minxes. I’m surprised the floor of the Kaoshiung train stations wasn’t knee-deep in semen.

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Mind the gap.
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Picture three with the pregnant lady is… interesting.

Taipei, on the other hand, has a perfectly functional train system but not a whiff of eroticism. At times it can even be quite scary:

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Sounds like Beijing is in charge already.

Strange calendar system

Upon arrival in Renegade Province, I was bewildered to see these lines painted everywhere upon the floor:

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What were these strange lines? What did the 104 mean? Were they messages to visiting Mainland tourists that they could only spit 104 times during one visit? Later, when attempting to visit a cafe in Taipei’s Zhongshan Hall, there was a strange sign pinned to the door stating that the cafe had closed down in the Year of our Lord 104. 104? I knew already that the worthless Lonely Planet Guide to Taiwan was shockingly out-of-date on many things, but even they couldn’t have listed a cafe that closed down during the Han Dynasty, could they?

It was only when a nice young man on Twitter corrected me did I finally realise the meaning of the strange 104. Like their imperial predecessors, the Republic of China have a separate calendar system that runs alongside the Western one that begins at the formation of the Republic of China in 1911. So the cafe had actually closed in 2015 and the mysterious markings on the floor weren’t coded messages from extraterrestrial lifeforms, they were merely painted last year. Kim Jong-un would wholeheartedly approve.

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Kim Jong-un would also approve of these cotton wool representations of the bombing of the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. By Taiwanese accounts this happened in the year 34.

Upside down maps

This caught me out several times. Maps in Taiwan don’t necessarily point north. In fact, they seem to point in any direction EXCEPT north. When looking at signs outside train or bus stations, you’ll see maps that are placed with south at the top of the map, or even oriented towards east or west. I found one map in Tainan that was oriented towards the fourth dimension of time and only showed the nearest restroom as it appeared in 1867. I was lost several times due to these strange map systems, which is why when my wife came to meet me in Taipei she found me in a massage parlour with a fifteen year old prostitute sucking me off rather than at the dumpling restaurant we had originally agreed to meet in. Bloody maps.

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The world according to Taiwan.

Conclusion

Regular readers of this blog will know that you won’t find any serious comment here, but I will say that Taiwan was a fairly pleasant place to visit and well worth anybody’s time. The people are a lot nicer than their cousins across the Strait; everyone seemed genuinely friendly and didn’t give me the hassle that I’m so used to in China. The only “China moment” I had was in a Taipei bar called Cafe Bastille. The slightly “special” waiter had refused to sell me a Taiwan Beer because he had no cold ones left. I told him that he could just serve me the beer with ice instead (a Singapore trick). Thirty minutes later when I inquired where my beer had disappeared to, the waiter showed me: he had placed the beer in a bucket of ice out in the back yard and was waiting for it to cool down before serving me. Special.

My only issue with Taiwan is that anywhere even vaguely touristy is crawling with loud obnoxious tour groups from the Motherland. Every time I heard a “Lai, lai, lai” or the clearing of a throat, I was immediately transported back to some tier-z city slapbang in the middle of the armpit of China. I was like a mentally-scarred Vietnam war veteran who upon hearing his kettle boil or a car reverse thinks that the Vietcong are about to get him and so kills his next door neighbour in a blind panic. There should be a word for this phenomenon: PCSD (Post China Stress Disorder). Look out for an upcoming blog post about PCSD and how to watch out for the warning signs that you are a potential sufferer.

“Toto, we’re not in the Mainland anymore…”

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If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.

I love Japan!

Ignore everything I said in the previous blog entry, I love DVDs again now. And it’s all thanks to the best country in East Asia: Japan!

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Last night, instead of pretending to be friendly to people I can’t stand really, I stayed in and sat down with my big box of Japanese cartoons. Yeah, this meant that I only had the few remaining scraps of food in my fridge to eat for dinner (a slice of salami covered in brown sauce), but the two lovely films I saw more than made up for it. The first was probably the sweetest film I’ve ever seen, whilst the second was probably the sickest. Only a country as great as Japan could produce these two fine films from both sides of the extremity rainbow.

Film One: Panda! Go Panda!

Panda go panda

Awwww, even the name is adorable. When the film starts you are treated to a host of jumping pandas and the words “Panda, go panda!” repeated again and again. It melted my cynical little heart. It’s all about a little orphan girl called Mimi who lives by herself, until one day a baby and a daddy panda turn up. They all live together as one big happy family, and the Daddy Panda even smokes a pipe. Smoking animals are definitely A GOOD THING. There’s no bad guys or scary parts, just a film about the simple love which can exist between two members of a near-extinct, bamboo eating species, and a young girl. I’m not gay, but I guarantee as soon as you hear the little girl sing “Panda! Go panda!” you’ll get all dewy-eyed too.

Film Two: Nurse Me: Putting the X in X-Ray!

Nurse me

Dear sweet Jesus. The only thing this film has in common with Panda! Go Panda are the facts that both are cartoons and both come from Japan. All similarities stop there. Nurse Me is one of those Hentai films, which means lots of cute cartoon girls being fucked up the arse. This film in particular is about a doctor who specialises in making his female patients feel better by raping them, and a nurse who tries to stop people dieing by sucking their cocks. The grand finale is when the doctor makes a housecall to one family, and proceeds to rape the mother and her kid daughter at the same time; all the time being watched by the husband who has been tied up in the corner but is still ejaculating into his pants. A little Japanese poem pops up at the end which says basically: “Only with a long and hard and dark penis, can a family be truly happy.” Those Japs are definitely messed up in the head… but in such an entertaining way that I love them all the more for it.

So there you have it.

In conclusion:

Pandas = GOOD.
Smoking = GOOD.
Cartoon rape = MIXED FEELINGS.
Japan = Tippety-toppity good good good.
DVD commentaries = Still crap.

You know, what with all this Japan-loving, I suspect I might even get a comment on this site soon (God knows it’s about time). Perhaps I should link it to the China Daily forum…

Japan 3

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If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.