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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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Escape

Trailing visions – a short story by Dipika Mukherjee

 

The smell of the manuscripts hits her nose like a memory. Like the scent of mashed wet earth on a child’s palm after a spell of rain.

Tess shivers slightly. It is cold inside, although she can see the harsh glare of the July sun through the cracks in the old wooden door. The books lie in neatly labeled rows, the tiny words sheeted in white paper under glass cases, as structured as a cemetery. The ones 400 years or older are under special lights.

In this room there is nothing but books and old furniture. Yet Tess feels, more than sees, green. Grass under gently falling rain, and a jade bangle glistening on the slender arm outstretched to catch a drop. She has to close her eyes until the vision disappears. When she forces herself to reopen her eyes, she sees rosewood chairs inlaid with marble and heavy low tables. She glances up at the heavy wooden beams on the ceiling, her eyes drop to cement floors. She breathes her relief.

Life in China, as a trailing spouse, is driving Tess mad.

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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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School's In

A photo essay by Joseph Johnson

 

English teachers have a certain reputation among China expats. Whether or not that is warranted is another question entirely. But I found that teaching in China gave me the opportunity to explore a new country, develop my photography skills, and interact with hundreds of local people in my students. I taught English and Art at a bilingual school in Shanghai from 2013 to 2014. During the academic year, I took a number of informal portraits of students in the classroom, at break time and on school trips. This are a selection of the photographs from that series, ”Students”.

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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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