Six (Serious) Mistakes
Original short fiction by Erin McGrath (scroll for interview)
Posted Oct 30, 2015.
The general was about to eat a pear. The general was about to go to Nanking.
The general was about to lie with Annelies, who, in the way she pinched the shell of brown paper from his hand, said all there was to say about his leaving.
He sat beside her cot wearing the stiff robe he kept in her room, with Annelies on the floor and a box of paper-wrapped pears on a table beside him.
To Chinese radio broadcasts which were noise to both of them, she wiped his feet with a rag. He smelled the pear in his hand. The water in the metal basin where his feet rested became cloudy.
He was an old man, tubercular, and she was gentle with him. He had been visiting her for six months. So chilling were the sounds of the place, thumps and screams and sighs, that sometimes he thought about burning the temple down. But he was concerned for the girls—where would they go? And the innocent of Shanghai—what would be asked of them, if his men weren’t allowed to relax into the soft body of a woman now and then?
Annelies was different, which had earned her private and livable quarters, and, sometimes, meat. She was a volunteer. Vriwilliger, in her language.
“Get up,” he said, still unable to pronounce her name.
“Eat the fruit; I’ll wait,” she said, quickly up and naked, her robe laid out on the cot, all of it smelling of the cheap rose-scented powder they rationed to the girls for their linens.
“But only one,” she said. She was talking about the pear. “And soon. I must go to the church today. It is my son’s birthday.”
She laid out on the cot. Her body was white and still plump, but her hair, the color of egg custard, was thinner lately. In Siberia, he had seen girls like her, blonde and tall, and he’d thought them snow-creatures.
Some men remembered only that which hardened them, but from the frozen memory of his youth he kept everything: the times he might have died; the white knife of wind in his lungs; the boy who’d saved him from freezing to death by offering him shelter and then, in the middle of the night, woken the general--who wasn’t a general then--and pressed the general’s knife to his--the boy’s--throat, saying hoarse words that could only have been a plea for death, and why? The general had refused and the boy had beaten him impotently until he ran out of strength. The grasslands of Northern China in the summertime burst out in rude jade. In Manchuria, there was a mute man because of him. And so on. At sixty, he had seen all colors and knew that their differences were minute.
“Perhaps this is not the one, then,” he said, slyly, putting it back in the box, playing the game to prolong their last meeting. “Let me choose another, sweeter one.” The six pears were round and each rested in its nest of yellow silk. Where she had gotten the box, he couldn’t guess. Maybe from Sumatra, where they had found her mourning the rest of her Christian colonist family.
When he had told the Imperial General Headquarters that they must attack the capital, he made the announcement with all humility and reluctance, as must a lonely man who would undertake violence only if it were the only way.
But as soon as he left the podium from which he’d made his announcement, a message arrived that the Prince would assume leadership of the troops. It was this he feared--that fierceness was all they wanted and at any cost.
He picked up a pear from the corner and tossed it to test its weight. It seemed too light, empty inside. Emptiness was central to his belief system. Annelies was religious as well, but in a way that valued attachment and sacrifice. He had read the Christian texts, wanting to recognize the Western set of superstitions, and understood that volunteering had been a good choice for her.
“That one is good,” said Annelies softly. “Eat it.”
She had learned Japanese for them, though she still spoke in a muddled and slow fashion. Her ability to forget had impressed him. Even if she had not volunteered, he would have suggested the soldiers take her in, as they had probably killed her husband. Son too, he guessed. Barbarians on the frontier, those soldiers. Never kill a white foreigner, of all things. They would probably have raped her; it was a thing that was done, sadly, a woman’s price for war. But her volunteering was clever: she had given up her body like the savior in her religion, of her own free will. It was a time of sacrifice for everyone.
Emptiness may have been at the core of everything, but he could not eat an empty thing. The next pear he lifted from the box was of a molten core. He spun it on the table and watched it wobble. This pear must be filled with the same fluid that constantly refilled his lungs and made him weak; the color he did not know but imagined to be pus-green, viscous enough to cling to the skin, to resist certain motions and then give, rushing out with a sudden exuberance, a foul ejaculation.
He picked another fruit, and Annelies looked at him crossly, saying, “This one you must eat, General, if you wish to get anything else done.”
He smiled at her innocence and lifted another pear from the box, held one in each hand. Both responded eagerly to gravity.
“Just these two for me?” He asked, and imagined that he would eat them and she would watch him, hungry, and then take his juice-sticky hands and pull them to her belly.
“Those two,” she said, “you may have, if you promise to eat them both.”
“What are they?”
“I will tell you, if you promise.”
“I will eat them.”
“That one,” she said, pointing to his left hand, “is filled with worms. Maggots, I mean. They eat corpses, and these have eaten from the bodies of all the girls who died in the last week. Soon they will become flies, and then this pear will become light and fly away. Only it won’t, because you will eat it.”
“Okay,” he said. “What about this one?”
“That pear is a pear on the outside, but inside it carries something very special. Do you know that I also carry something special?”
He looked at the pear, at her, but could discern nothing.
“I see,” he said. It didn’t matter whose fault it was, and they would never know. The girls could not get pregnant. “I’ll send for the doctor straightaway.”
“No need,” she said, “I’ll do it myself. All the doctor does, after he rapes you, is shove a stick up there and poke around.”
“You’ll get an infection.”
“That will happen anyway. Then they take out my insides. Better to do it myself at least.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It is unfortunate that he does such things under the aegis of healing, and that he is necessary.” He doubted she understood. “I will give you the money. You can go away too.”
Her sea-blue eyes narrowed. “What?”
“I must go to Nanking tomorrow. Tonight is our last night.”
Was it fear or sickness that made her face so white?
“I can’t protect you anymore,” he said.
“You protected me?” She rolled away and looked out the window, where there was nothing to see, just blackness falling on heaps of wooden beams and scrap metal. Her thighs and buttocks, pale and dimpled, shifted downward toward the thin silk.
“That pear, that other one you must eat, is filled up with my blood. It’s clotted and sour, but you have to eat it all.”
“I will,” he said, and lifted it to take a bite. The flesh inside was white and crisp. It tasted as sweetly bland as the melted snow that flowed down the mountains in early spring.
Fiction writer and recently retired Beijing expat.
You've recently left China. Three words to capture that feeling?
Two souls now.
In The Gateless Gate, Mumon writes of Seijo, the Chinese girl, who had two souls, “The moon above the clouds is the same moon, The mountains and rivers below are different.”
Most memorable moment from your first year in China?
Maybe the weeklong rollercoaster that began with the frustration of getting my purse stolen at erstwhile Sanlitun mega-dive Tun, likely a consequence of its 50 RMB open bar, losing only 400 RMB cash, my 300 RMB phone, and my innocence; followed by the triumph of negotiating a new phone purchase at a cheaper price and getting a SIM card without the required documents, in Mandarin, for the first time.
Moment you realized China was an important part of your life?
Probably not until my planned “gap year” was over and I couldn’t bear to leave. It took me three and a half more to escape Beijing’s gravitational pull.
Moment you realized writing was an important part of your life?
I’m going to be a cliché and say pretty much as soon as I was physically able, which is about as far back as my consciousness goes. I wrote “books” and put them together with with duct-taped spines. I was mostly into ghost stories. I was also working on a “novel” about Atlantis around age 11. I made it maybe 15 pages in, which seemed pretty good at the time.
Your writing history/notable writing projects:
After writing short fiction for years, at Grub Street and related groups when I lived in Boston, and in the writing group in Beijing, I’m now working on a novel partly set in China. It’s about feminism and science mishaps and the banality of manifested fantasy.
Favorite word to use in writing:
“Susurrus.” It came to me in a dream. I used it only once, but the joy experienced was more than the joy of 10,000 “whisper”s. Though both are pretty onomatopoeic.
A metaphor to describe what writing is?
Dream kinematics. Sometimes you're running, which in a dream is always impossible; you’re never getting anywhere, moving as if through viscous liquid. But sometimes you’re soaring, transcending waking life.
Anything else you wish to say?
For those of you in Beijing, eating cheap and delicious food 2-3 times a day, hanging out in hutongs and drinking $1 jumbo yanjings or anise-scented IPA, hearing messy rock bands at venues so small you feel you’re on stage, arguing with elderly neighbors in pajamas….enjoy every moment. Wear a face mask. And if you still haven’t, please learn Chinese.
A raw preview of what's to come for the Indulgence Essay Contest, by Nick Papa. Posted Oct 21, 2015.
Charlie was a grey-haired, big-nosed, cantankerous old fuck from Melbourne. According to no particular lore than his own, he spent a quarter century rusticated deep within the bowels of The Great White Dongbei erecting industrial grain silos somewhere along the outer rim of Harbin. A child of China past, Charlie smoked fast, drank hard, died young and was reincarnated as a Beijing bar owner in 2010.
We’d go to Charlie’s every now and then to have a beer and watch football. He always had the Premiership live on the weekends, and his pizza was the tits. Then came the dusty, carcinogenic Spring of 2012. Under the duress of a virulent strain of heartbreak and acute soulless boredom more indigenous in Beijing than a pack of Caiba’s, I transitioned into a Charlie’s regular.
We didn’t go drinking at Charlie’s. We went to drink liquor at Charlie’s. There’s a difference. Sipping beers, wine, cocktails, and all those in-betweeny fluffy cups of shit served up by the horde of preened and gelled ologists in vests and bowties the dickheads at Flamme enable…that’s drinking. Zizzed neon giraffes in six-inch heels and three inch skirts stumbling around the empty recesses of 3.3 at 2 a.m. whooping in autotune Mandarin of their Tuesday night exploits…those fools, they go drinking.
Drinking liquor is less than a hard science yet more than a simple practice. It is a highly concentrated nightly effort involving large payloads of ice and contaminant. Some say the orbit of hardcore drinking revolves tightly around the burning sun of alcoholism and the cool moon of ambition. Between lies the poison, and to truly drink liquor one’s poison must be strong.
Mine was a double-double shot of Jameson with soda in a Duvel glass. Four shots of heady Protestant whiskey, a half can of cutter, over ice in a tulip glass to really kickstart the contamination process. I called them Lao Yangzi, the same-old same-old. I’d order them by name every night, and drink them through straws at a rate of about two per hour. That meant that if the spigot began pumping at 6pm I’d have a bit north of 20 shots of liquor in circulation by 9pm.
It also meant that Charlie was able to pay his rent on my tab alone. With food calculated in, consuming Lao Yangzis was running me the upwards of about 9,000 kuai a month. One particularly devoted November I managed to surpass 13,000. I had Charlie on a monthly pay schedule; the bills were about two feet long and read Jameson Jameson Jameson Jameson Soda Chicken Roll Jameson Jameson Jameson Jameson Soda.
After six Lao Yangzis I’d either retire upstairs to my apartment cradling a newborn four liter jug of nongfu, or go mess with my unfailing little bastard feral of a rental cat called Katzenhammer. He lived outside and probably still does to this day. There wasn’t much else to do; a feeling which brings in to focus the origin of my indulgence. Pure boredom, and medicating whatever way felt best.
Unlike Beijing’s neon giraffe, fu er dai, nouveau riche, old money, or typified foreigner populace, my indulgence wasn’t born from the excitement of breaking in Beijing’s stacks of fancy sounding restaurants, be-dickfaced cocktail lounges, happy ending dispensaries, clubs, and whatever lies between…(not much). Rather it was how I dealt with being wholly exhausted with the Beijing status quo. It wasn’t my response to something. It was my sheer exasperation with nothing.
Nick studied in Nanjing, messed around in Shanghai, and eventually took up the mantle of Regional Sales Director for Duvel-Moortgat in Beijing. After several exciting (and often times very uncivilized) years in the industry, Nick retired to Israel as a marketing director for a friend's company.
You've recently left China. Three words to capture that feeling?
Best decision ever.
Most memorable moment from my first year in China? December 2006, playing this game we invented at CET language campus called Digital Vats of Urine. We'd scatter our friend Alex's belongings around the dorm and throw darts at them.
Moment I realized China was an important part of my life: When I got a job with a future in Shanghai in 2010.
My writing history: Sometimes I do it when there's a reason, but it's been a while
Favorite word to use in writing: Fuck or fucking
One word to describe the process of writing: Annoyance
"Chinese theater is on the brink of a Golden Age."
Posted Oct 13, 2015
Hometown: Duren, Germany
Before Beijing: Directed his first pieces at a cultural factory in Duren, then became Assistant Director at a state theater in Cologne, Germany. Moved to Vienna, Austria to study theater, film, and media. Did most of his writing over four years in Vienna, and came to Beijing on a year-long exchange which immediately altered his life plans.
Beijing Story: Studied in Germany before enrolling at the Central Academy of Drama's Master's program of theatre directing in Chinese as a student of Liu Wei in Beijing. Began studies in September 2014, and hit the ground sprinting.
"Chinese theater is very open and very exciting right now. I studied drama history, and a common trend is to go from an experimental phase to self-reflective phase to perfectionist to deconstructive. China is in the experimental stage right now, but I can see them moving into being more self-reflective. It's on the brink of a Golden Age."
"In Germany, old people and drama critics go to shows. In China, it's young people. They think it's fun and exploratory, and they expect it to bring something new to their lives. They are familiar with traditional Chinese opera, but the Western form of spoken theater they look at like consumer goods from other countries -- diverse and exciting. It's a common belief among these drama-goers that modern China does not have its own theater form or style, and that it can't, because spoken drama is this kind of Western import, like a BMW. But I don't see it like that. I see them forming their own themes, making narratives about their own lives. It's already here."
"People don't have hangups about working with a foreign director. Our group has someone from Syria, someone from Chile, someone from Japan, me from Germany, and of course several Chinese people. We perform in our own languages, for the most part, and the audience reads the Chinese subtitles on the screen. I've found that Chinese audiences are totally fine with watching a subtitled, foreign play. They expect dramas to be foreign. They expect it to be challenging."
"Chinese actors are so used to failure that they don't fear it. For instance, we've applied to Chinese festivals that we are very qualified for, but been rejected for mysterious reasons. Nothing you can do about it. Chinese expect this, and are mentally tough about it."
"So many differences. In Germany, theater is seen as something elite, that you wear a suit to go to. It was founded in the monarchy era, so the behaviors of that era are still holding over to today. Germany sponsors its theaters, which means they have huge budgets but little freedom. It is hard to break into as an aspiring actor or director, but once you're in you're all set. The problem then is pressure for perfectionism. German directors are creating for the critics, not for the general populace. They focus on being absolute perfectionists. In China, there is so much freedom to be creative in theater. First, most people involved are freelancing. You don't need to apply to a theater company to hire actors, like in Germany. You find who you would like to work with and set it up on your own. Of course this means you have to have strong networks. It's very Chinese."
"In Germany, actors are actors and directors are directors. You are expected to perfect your one craft. In China, people are more free to jump from one position to the other. Many directing majors become actors for their first jobs, to build up experience and networks before directing. I'm always getting asked if I'm going to direct a movie. In Germany, you'd never move from spoken drama to movie production."
"...that's what's good about Chinese actors -- they expect things to go wrong. And when things go wrong, you have to get creative. Chinese actors have to be creative and flexible."
"We had a well-known German troupe come here to perform. On the day of the show, it was discovered that the projector was broken, so they had to do it without this essential piece of equipment. They went crazy! In Germany it's just unthinkable that a piece of equipment would not be perfectly prepared for a show. But that's what's good about Chinese actors -- they expect things to go wrong. And when things go wrong, you have to get creative. Chinese actors have to be creative and flexible."
Raimund wrote and directed The Metamorphosis: A Matter of Duty in a Chinese context. He got the idea after meeting Ahmad Roumani, a talented puppeteer and stage designer on Beijing Drama Academy's campus. Recognizing that Chinese audiences relish innovative theater experiences, Raimund conceived of the play using both actors and puppets.
"I've gotten two types of responses in the media. One was very flattering -- he understood all my thoughts, such as why I chose certain colors, what the story was trying to say, and the subtler roles of the other characters. Then there was a Taiwanese critic who demanded to know why I was showing a Chinese audience about Chinese people. He said, 'We already know about us -- show us something we don't know!' And that's just the fashion these days: people want something new. But honestly, if I had to put on a German show, I wouldn't know what to do. Folklore? Modern society? I'm not really sure what German theater means, or how I would show it to a Chinese audience. Most of our group is Chinese, and those who aren't are long-term Beijingers. We draw our inspiration from China. We can't ignore that."
Raimund and his group are going to put on The Old Go Bad at the Wuzhen International Theater Festival from October 15-19. The Metamorphosis in Beijing later on this Fall. To follow them for updates and announcements, scan their WeChat QR code.
Short fiction by Max Berwald (scroll down for interview)
Posted October 6, 2015
She left the office just after 8:30 PM but didn’t make it to Jianguomen Station. An email had come in from the consultancy in Sydney, and Jie was the only one around who could read English well enough to judge its urgency.
“Sorry to make you come all the way back.” Xinxin sat on top of her desk, swinging her feet.
“It’s not important.” Jie scanned the email. “They want scores for the peaches.” Since finishing school Jie had been working for a startup that sold and delivered novelty produce.
Jie pointed to a package that she knew to contain eight, one-kilogram peaches. Outside, thunder.
“Well. Sorry again. I’ll buy you a drink.”
“Just lend me your umbrella.”
Jie ripped open the package, put two of the freakish peaches in her tote and crammed the rest in the minifridge.
“Going anywhere special?”
The rain came harder and the Uber was slow. On the way to the theater the driver kept looking at her in the rearview. On the radio a man with a Wuhan accent was saying that there had been an explosion in America, in a place called Hillsboro, Texas. No one knew what had caused the explosion but it seemed to be some kind of industrial accident. Fifteen people were dead and more were missing.
A blonde named Rachel took her name and told her to go backstage and wait. Onstage a girl Jie’s age was kneeling before a bed holding another actor’s hand. Jie couldn’t see the other actor’s face. Backstage there was only one other girl. I’ve missed all the other auditions, thought Jie. And I’ve missed my own appointment, probably. She checked her phone and found she had. The other girl was sitting deep in the back amid the flies, covertly smoking a Hongmei.
Jie tried to make out what the girl onstage was saying, but she seemed to be whispering. Project, thought Jie. They have to hear you. Don’t you know that? But maybe it was an acoustical trick of the theater. Maybe everyone else could hear the girl just fine.
Looking around, Jie wondered if it would be her next or the smoking girl. She inadvertently locked eyes with her competition: older. Maybe thirty. Faint bags were visible under her eyes and the burning coal of the Hongmei vibrated in the dark. Her hair had been cut into a bob and dyed, but the color had faded. Onstage, the whispering stopped. The other girl’s eyes widened and her lips parted and a sound came into her throat.
From the front, Rachel called out, “Zhou Jie?” Then again, louder. “Zhou Jie?”
Jie walked out between the curtains and onto the stage. Her footsteps were too loud. She couldn’t see Rachel or her collaborators, only white light. Rachel gave brief instructions. A Chinese man corrected her, first in English and then in Chinese. No one asked for the monologue she had prepared, or for the scene that the casting director had asked her to memorize. The only other person onstage was prone in the metal cot, tucked away on stage left.
The white lights relented. Someone coughed. It was time.
She turned and regarded the bed. From her position at center stage, it was not possible for Jie to see the actor’s face. A hand was dangling from the bed, nearly touching the stage.
She pretended she could not hear the hum of the lights. Pretended that she was someplace else, alone with this other human. A real actor would not need to forget the lights. The lights would already be forgotten. But when she returned from self-sabotage, she found herself already approaching the bed.
In the bed there was a boy about her age. He had the smell of the sick, and there was thick green snot leading from his right nostril to his upper lip, which was gray and lifeless. With every breath, the snot quivered. His entire face was pale and his eyes were crusty at the edges, infected. He was watching her. Once, this boy had probably been very muscular. She could see that he was naturally broad shouldered. Now he was thin, shirtless but with the blankets pulled up around his chest. Kneeling beside him, Jie tried to remember the other scene, the scene they had asked her to memorize. Was this part of the same play? She couldn’t remember. She picked up the hand and turned it over in her own: sticky. “Is this… bed comfortable?
He looked at her but said nothing.
“You need to eat something.” Then she remembered she ought to be acting. “You need to eat something, right away.” She tried to think of something that she would say in this situation if she were somewhere else. Like the home of a friend. I’m in his home. “Are they feeding you in this place?” Now you’re in a hospital? Get it straight. She looked around, as if to call for a nurse, but saw no one. She shouted, “Xinxin!” which was the first name that came to mind. “Xinxin!” Her name made no echo, as if the theater were absorbing every possible sound. The boy went on watching her through his crusty, bloodshot eyes.
“I don’t suppose you can sleep,” she said. “But I know a good trick to falling asleep. Would you like to hear it?”
Why are you speaking to him like a child? He’s obviously your age.
“You have to disappear. Most people think that’s impossible, but actually disappearing isn’t very difficult. It starts by convincing yourself that you’re invisible, since that’s the only way the human mind can conceive of disappearing. You imagine yourself lying where you are, and then little by little you imagine yourself fading, so that the bed becomes visible through you. If you concentrate on becoming invisible long enough, you really will disappear. It’s actually easier if you…” Her voice trailed off abruptly. Her mind went completely white – as if she had run out of ink. She blinked.
On the street it had stopped raining, but she found it hard to walk. I need food, and then I need to sleep. She entered the first restaurant she saw, a KFC. The bad fluorescent lights and humming machines were soothing after the stage. She sat eating a chicken sandwich and drinking a Coke. For a moment her eyes closed. Then she heard a shuffle. A hand squeezed her arm tenderly. She opened her eyes and the girl from backstage was sitting across from her, panting. “Why’d you leave me back there?”
Jie stared dumbly.
“Besides we can’t smoke in here.” A tattoo of a bluebird flashed on her wrist. Plastic bangles. The girl looked around. “You still smoke these?”
Jie shook her head, swallowed liquefied chicken. “Gave me headaches.” All the components of the chicken sandwich were roughly the same color.
“Listen, I can’t believe you’re still doing stuff like this. Bao said you made it.”
“You were in America? After Changsha.”
She shook her head.
“Bao said that when you left Changsha, you were auditioning for commercials in Shanghai for less than a month before some Australian talent agency poached you. You were going to do some sort of indie feature thing in Sydney but then they lost funding. But thankfully– I don’t know if you were really seeing him– one of the guys at the Australian agency knew an American girl, and she got you started over there doing commercials. But I even saw you in that one movie, about the blind guy who pretends to be blind to be with the blind girl?”
She was resisting the whiteness. The same blankness that had followed her improvised monologue had returned, threatening to blot out everything.
“You look exactly the same,” she said, smiling warmly. Then she put out a hand.
Jie surprised herself by picking up the girl’s hand, running a finger over the veins there. The whiteness receded slightly as she squished the veins down and watched them rise again. The chicken sandwich sat steaming and half-eaten on the plastic tray. “I also want to say that I’m sorry, on behalf of the explosion. I always told Bao that I would tell you that if I ran into you somewhere. That I was sorry, not for, but on behalf of the explosion. And he always told me that was disgusting. That you’d feel repulsed. Do you feel repulsed by me?”
“In Hillsboro, Texas.”
She nodded. “You two were like two halves of each other. I wish you two could have died together. Not with fertilizer, but fifty years from now in a super modern apartment in Shanghai, really posh and with crystal pitchers.”
“Did he recognize me?”
The girl looked at her, uncomprehendingly.
“The boy in the bed.”
“I don’t know. He’s very sick now obviously.”
Jie put down the hand. “But is he who you mean? Is he Bao?”
“Don’t be an idiot.” The girl looked at her phone, apparently checking the time. “Where do you live anyway? Can I come home with you?”
Jie shook her head.
“Right. I guess you don’t care much what happens to me.”
“I don’t know you.”
The girl laughed. “Yeah, I know what you mean.” She picked up a secondhand clutch. “Damn. It’s wet.” The rain had started again.
Jie blinked. The whiteness had gone but she still felt dizzy. “Is someone taking care of him?”
“Sure, sure.” She took out a Hongmei and looked into the rain. “I’d worry more about yourself.”
“You don’t look how you used to– your complexion is all wrong. No wonder you’re skulking around shitty theaters like this now. You’ve fallen far.”
“I’ve never been in any movies.”
“Look, you shouldn’t be eating that crap.” She pointed to the cooling remains of the monochrome chicken sandwich. The warming Coca-Cola. “You should eat some vegetables. Fruit is very important. What really does it for me is stuff like mango, papaya, dragon fruit– fruit from warm places.”
“I have two giant peaches in my bag.”
“What?” The girl shook her head. “No, no, no. Peaches come from China.” She tucked the cigarette behind her ear. “They’re grown way out west, on the plains, where it’s practically freezing.” Peaches come from China? thought Jie. “You should learn something about fruit.” The girl checked her phone. “Hey, I gotta go. Good to see you again.” She dashed out into the street. “Bye.” Jie thought she could see an Uber waiting across the way.
Before going upstairs to her apartment, Jie bought a Hongmei soft pack and a plastic lighter from Q Mart. Then she stood outside and smoked two one right after the other, trying to think of where Texas was on the map. Sure enough, she got a headache.
Inside she checked her work email. There were several messages from Xinxin. The consultancy in Sydney had emailed again. Jie was sure they were just badgering the company for tasting results, and those results didn’t exist yet because no one had tasted the peaches. Probably not even the farmers who grew them. She looked into her tote and saw them sitting there in the dark like two heads.
...It feels like cheating that I can just step in and listen to a bunch of live poetry whenever I want, share some with other people, etc. So shout out to all the rad poets in Beijing.
You're new to China. Three words to capture the feeling? Ocean. Noodles. Shave. ‘Ocean’ because I’m reading one of Rachel Carson’s books about the ocean right now and thinking about it a lot. She says the moon is made of material from the earth’s crust that used to be where the Pacific is. Basically that the Pacific is the crater where the moon used to be. I mean Jesus Christ. I don’t think that’s widely accepted though. ‘Noodles’ because earlier today I went to a noodle place I haven’t been to in a while and the guys who work there were really sweet to me, so I want to remember to go back soon. ‘Shave’ because I want to remember to shave later.
Most memorable moment from my first year in China? A couple of weeks ago the sun was out and some friends took me out on Beihai in one of those little boats ... We talked about possible methods for assessing whether or not one is a robot, other attendant concerns. Then my friend made us shrimp, pork belly, greens. Really good. Wouldn’t change a thing. My friends are a lot cooler than I am. Another time I was in a bar here and a foreigner told me that he didn’t believe in self-determination.
Moment I realized China was an important part of my life: Haven’t had any of these. Does this happen eventually? I like this city. There are people I’d miss a lot if I went away. I’d also miss this luzhu spot I like.
My writing history: I studied screenwriting and playwriting. I write a lot of screenplays but I never spend too long away from fiction. I’m writing a pulp right now and having a ball, so stay tuned. Also Beijing seems to have a poetry scene– with a bunch of people who write, read and care about poetry– which is in no way a given. I don’t know the history yet, but in my experience it’s not easy to build up a scene like that, and it feels like cheating that I can just step in and listen to a bunch of live poetry whenever I want, share some with other people, etc. So shout out to all the rad poets in Beijing. Back to me, you can read some of my nonfiction in et al. magazine, or over at Aweh.tv, Be Young & Shut Up and Mondo Exploito.
Favorite word to use in writing: said.
One word to describe the process of writing: dumb.