The Anthony Horowitz row – Why cultural appropriation isn’t straightforward

Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz. Photograph: Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Part 1 of a 3-part post on cultural appropriation in literature.


What’s it all about?

If you haven’t heard, Anthony Horowitz, writer of the Alex Rider series and the latest James Bond novel, recently claimed that he was ‘warned off’ creating a black protagonist  because he is a white writer. Allegedly, an editor said that it would be inappropriate, ‘artificial and possibly patronising’, to do so.

This has reignited the old debate about cultural appropriation in literature, with several writers putting forward their points of view.

Ben Aaronovich, writer of the ‘Rivers of London’ series, tweeted of Horowitz: “If you don’t feel confident or just don’t want to write black characters, just say so. Don’t pretend it’s political correctness gone mad.”

What is Aaronovich actually claiming – that Horowitz made it up? I don’t believe that to be true, especially since no-one’s previously come out to say, “Oi, Horowitz, where are all your black characters?” Hororwitz wasn’t responding to an allegation. Therefore Aaronovich can go away if he’s not going to add anything constructive to the argument.

More helpful is the view of Patrice Lawrence, author of the best-selling ‘Orangeboy’ (2016, Hachette), who said that “[t]he whole issue of equality and diversity has been hijacked by white writers.” It seems that we have appropriated appropriation. The  Guardian article goes on to say to how some people claim that working class white people don’t have equality either, so perhaps this is what Lawrence means. Anyone who thinks that manual labourers in Sheffield’s Manor Top have it as bad as, say, African slaves worked to death in the bellies of British galleons, could do with a wake-up call.


Coldplay

From Coldplay’s “Hymn for the Weekend” music video, set in India. Photograph: PR company handout

Can “appropriation” be done right?

An aggressive article by the Guardian’s Rashmee Kumar last year referred to the “colonial representation” of India by “ignorant white people everywhere”, in response to a Coldplay music video:

Director Ben Mor sprayed the “essence of incredible India” onto his video, a diluted perfume invented by white, western creatives whenever they want some Indian inspiration. Under the western gaze, India is a lush, exotic land filled with dingy slums inhabited by pious, levitating holy men and lanky brown-skinned children who are always throwing colored powders at each other. This idealized India obscures the realities of a complex nation in favor of reductive tropes originally intended to preserve western hegemony.

Forget the nonsensical implication that a 3-minute music video could ever capture the entirety of a country’s complex culture; Kumar seems to believe that all Western interpretations of India are as “myopic” as Mor’s video and that no-one but an Indian could possibly get it right. The article suggests that it’s wrong to portray only the exotic and positive elements of a culture (but strangely tosses slums into this category), calling it “reductive”.

In all art forms an interpretation is reductive, simply because it’s not possible to describe the whole of a culture’s history in one painting of a ship, or relevant to write out the whole of a culture’s economical situation in a film that is meant to be a romantic comedy. As always, an artist will take the elements that are relevant to the story being told. Later, Kumar suggests that the mere act of “invoking” India is something offensive. The message: stay away unless you’re Indian, or at least know what you’re talking about. The latter I agree with whole-heartedly; the former is offensive and divisive.

There are many excellent points in Kumar’s article, especially about representation, and it’s well worth reading in full.

The “fine if it’s done right” perspective doesn’t always apply. J. K. Rowling took heat for writing a fictional account of wizards in historical America, which linked her stories to true beliefs held by some Native Americans. The result was an accusation of cultural appropriation:

“You can’t just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalised people,” said campaigner Dr Adrienne Keene on Twitter. “That’s straight up colonialism/appropriation.”

Was Rowling “claiming” Native American spiritual beliefs? I don’t believe so, any more than I’m “claiming” the beliefs of Catholics when I write about 16th Century Britain, the people of which are just as much “other” to me as a Native American. Referring to something is not the same as claiming it, and forbidding a writer to write about something other than which they are personally ethnically connected is firmly against what art is about: creating in order to bring people together. Saying “keep away from our stuff” does not help anyone to build a true understanding of another’s culture.

Some complaints were along the lines of “my beliefs are not fantasy”, despite the consensus of almost the entire planet believing that they are (every believer in any god but yours thinks you’re wrong). This complaint is not the same as “you didn’t write about it respectfully”, which should be the point. Others quite rightly took umbrage at Rowling referring to a “Native American community”, when actually “Native peoples and communities and cultures are diverse, complex, and vastly different from one another”.

Rowling was quiet after the accusations, despite receiving thousands of comments. I don’t blame her: even talking about the issue is an invitation to be pulled apart (I expect I shall be saved by lack of readership). In the second part of this series of posts I will talk about some of my own experiences and take a look at what could be the root of the problem. In the meantime, I sincerely invite comments and discussion.

— db

 

Why I’m boycotting Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’

Doctor Strnage Tibet.jpeg

The Internet has been over this before. In April, Marvel released the trailer for its next blockbuster superhero film, ‘Doctor Strange’, a story about an arrogant surgeon who, after his hands being irreperably damaged in an accident, learns the error of his ways and becomes a powerful scorcerer. Stephen Strange finds his spiritual awakening in Tibet, with the help of a Tibetal mystic known as the Ancient One, and thereafter protects the world from all forms of mystic badness as the Sorcerer Supreme.

Marvel’s first trailer brought accusations of white-washing after it appeared to show that the huge studio, now owned by Disney, has scrubbed all mention of Tibet from the story. In the film, Tibet has become Nepal and the Ancient One is now a white person. The reason seems obvious: to appease the government of the People’s Republic of China, a country that represents a huge cinemagoing audience and has the world’s most notorious wall of censorship, forbidding any mention of politically-sensitive situations like Tibet.

I won’t re-tread old ground too much, but link to some articles here:

(Lionsroar.com) The Strange Case of Doctor Strange’s Tibet

(The Guardian) Tilda Swinton cast as Tibetan to placate China, says Doctor Strange writer

‘Doctor Strange’ Writer Says China-Tibet Remarks Don’t Represent Marvel

(Screenrant.com) Doctor Strange’s Erasure Of Tibet Is A Political Statement

(The Guardian) George Takei on Doctor Strange controversy: ‘Marvel must think we’re all idiots’

If you didn’t know, Tibet is technically part of China – ever since China invaded and stomped all over Tibet in the 1950s, and has been crushing it underfoot ever since. Before I get accused of exaggeration, let the world be reminded of an independant ICJ  Human Rights Report into the brutalities of the 1950-51 invasion of Tibet, which led to the exile of the Tibetan government, its spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and over 100,000 desperate citizens. The illegal and well-guarded path over the freezing Himalayas has killed many fleeing Tibetans. They were and purportedly are still escaping beatings, brainwashing (thabzing), wrongful arrests and killings, torture,  mutilation, dismemberment, disembowelling, vivisection and crucifixion (yes, you read that correctly). Following the 1959 uprising, those shouting “Long live the Dalai Lama” were reported to have their tongues torn out with meathooks.

Children have been spirited away from villages to be indoctrinated at Chinese schools. Han Chinese have been urged/bribed to move into the “Tibet Autonomous Region”, displacing the native Tibetans an attempt at cultural erasure. Thousands of Buddhist monasteries were looted and destroyed (purportedly 8 of 6,000 remaining, as Potemkin tourist attractions), and celibate Buddhist monks were forced to have sex and marry one another. Nomads with generations of nomadic existence in their blood were told to stay put. Communism brought famine to the near-barren lanscape of the Tibetan plateau.

In Tibet, people are punished just for keeping in touch with their exiled relatives, even though this is now official legal. Self immolators who protest the enslavement of Tibet are thrown, still burning, into trucks and disappear, and may take a day to die. During the 2008 Tibetan uprising, which failed, bodies of protestors were piled high in the courtyards of monasteries. 1.5 million Tibetans have died in defence of their human rights. I’d heard stories, but the facts I found this year when researching my latest novel about Buddhism and Tibet made me sick to my stomach.

But Marvel wants to make money off its latest film, so it continues to pander to the Chinese film requirements. Censors in China only approve 34 foreign films per year, and some censorship requires that a film contains a scene set in China, has the casting of Chinese actors, has Chinese investors, or shows “positive Chinese messages”. Marvel already got into bed with Chinese film studios for ‘Iron Man 3’ to avoid those requirements (and, incidentally, adding additional scenes in which genius Chinese surgeons fix a superhero’s heart problems, adding Chinese product placement, and changing the Chinese villain The Mandarin to a British actor ‘playing’ a villain with a false American accent). You might have noticed a rash of films the last few years with scenes set in China or in which China saves the day, such as Looper (2012), Red Dawn (2012), Gravity (2013), Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), and The Martian (2015). Why? Because this doubles box office profits from China, as well as allows the film to be shown in the first place. Forget politics, there’s dough to be made.

Weirdly, in the latest comic book issue of Doctor Strange, Marvel has confirmed the Tibetan origin:

untitled

Doctor Strange #011 (Sept 2016)

What’s going on there? Appeasement to fans? A small sacrifice, considering the films are making far, far more money than any comic book run ever could. Not good enough, Marvel.

I don’t know about you guys, but kowtowing to a tyrannical government for profit in light of genocide and cultural suppression sounds pretty uncool to me. If you’ve read my previous travel posts you’ll know that I have a lot of love for historical and present day China, but I despise its government. I have a great love of Marvel, whose comics and characters have brought me some of my greatest joys in life, but I can’t in good conscience see a film I’ve always hoped to be made, with actors I adore. I was hoping that the newly-released second trailer might correct some assumptions – but sadly not. And already people seem to have forgotten about the controversy and are all set to pre-order their tickets. I don’t blame them – but I would blame myself.

—db

What is the REAL future of the ESL CLASSROOM? — from AIYSHAH’S ENGLISH PAGE

(Photo credit: http://bit.ly/29LnaH1) One of the greatest phrases I have heard in recent times is, ‘If a computer can take over your job – it should’. Makes you think doesn’t it? For some people it is worrying because they are not entirely sure that they are good at what they do, but they are sure […]

via What is the REAL future of the ESL CLASSROOM? — AIYSHAH’S ENGLISH PAGE

New Release: ‘Cycles of Udaipur’ – coming soon!

I’m extremely happy to announce that my latest novel, ‘Cycles of Udaipur’, is almost ready for publication via Amazon and Smashwords!

Set in colourful Rajasthan, India, ‘Cycles of Udaipur’ has been described as a coming-of-age story for a whole country, as India rapidly modernises in the wake of Partition and globalisation.

More details to follow! Thanks to everyone whose love and support helped bring about this novel after four years of hard work.

199 Pichola Lake

Pichola Lake, Udaipur – 2012. (C) David Brookes

—db

Holy cows and swastikas – “Cycles of Udaipur”

199 Pichola Lake


In 2012-13 I was lucky enough to take some time to travel the world. My first stop was India, a country so crazy I don’t have the space to describe it properly here. India is a bizarro-England, in some familiar and in some the complete opposite. It is frantic, deliriously colourful, filthy yet pure, spiritual yet seemingly gods-forsaken. I loved it.

Despite the great times I had in subsequent countries – including the currently blighted Nepal (donate here) – I decided that my next novel would be set in India, which is in many ways unexplored by modern literature.

Contemporary novels set in India (at least, those written in English), are enamoured with the history and spirituality of the country, at the expense of reality. They acknowledge the issue of poverty and patriarchal social structure, but shirk its rapidly-growing modernity for a daydreamy post-Raj interpretation. They fail entirely to deal with the disillusionment of its modern youth, the outpacing of technology and wealth compared to the cultural maturity of its emerging middle class, and the much-underpublicised rise in sophisticated gang crime.


Cycles of Udaipur


I adored many of the cities I visited during my time in India, but my favourite was almost certainly Udaipur: beautiful, serene, artistic Udaipur, in deep Rajasthan.  There are two cities in the world that I felt a strong immediate bond with upon visiting (the second is Kathmandu, specifically Boudhanath). I set my novel, “Cycles of Udaipur”, in Rajasthan and set out to explore the new tribulations of India’s youth as described above.

The finished result is “Cycles of Udaipur”, which has been much changed and edited since I finished its first draft a long time ago. I’m now very excited to approach my first literary agency, which the is the first step on the long, steep, painful road towards traditional publication.

I’ll keep you posted – in the mean time, wish me luck!

—db

Gong Xi Fa Cai – Happy Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year 2010, Manchester, England

Chinese New Year 2010, Manchester, England

As countries across Asia kick off celebrations for the new lunar year, I want to extend my heartfelt best wishes to all the people I’ve met across Asia the last three years.

Since I visited China in late 2012, then Hong Kong and Vietnam, where I celebrated Christmas and New Year, I met a lot of great people who are too numerous to name here.  The same goes for those I encountered when revisiting China last year.

I’d like to wish a very happy New Year to everyone out there, and hope the next twelve months are prosperous and happy ones!

Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Kung Hay Fai Choy!

It’s very strange to think that, had things been only a little bit different, I could now be spending my fourth month in Xi’an as an ex-patriot. I’d like to thank everybody I met during my time in Xi’an and wish you all the best!  You were a great support and source of much happiness at that stressful time.

Sheffield, where I was born and raised, also has a large Chinese community of its own, especially students who came from across China and Hong Kong to study in one of our two universities.  Hopefully the city will be celebrating too, and I’m looking forward to heading out and taking part.  If you see my chomping dumplings off Fargate, say hi!

As part of my own celebrations, I recently released a rather popular collection of short stories set in China, “Love is an Eye That Doesn’t See“, which also includes a narrative article “Chasing the Dragon” in honour of the holiday.  Check it out!

Happy New Year!

Now where’s my red envelope??

—db

Departure

It wasn’t an easy decision to abandon the job in Xi’an and return to the UK.  I had already invested a lot in the venture and knew that I wouldn’t likely return any time soon.  It seemed that a mixture of issues left me little choice, but in the end I was not disappointed to leave, but drawn home and grateful for the excuse.

There were significant issues with the job posting (see last post) as well as peripheral hardships that were expected, but difficult to deal with nonetheless.  I considered staying on in China to find another post, though it had taken me months of hard work to sift through the obviously bad options to find this one, apparently-promising, opportunity.  I didn’t have the patients, money or will to hang around in Xi’an for another shot.  In truth, I just wanted to go home.  A year ago this seemed like one of my last few options, but certain changes in my personal life had happened and my ambitions hadn’t caught up.

Eager to get going, I moved out of my crummy apartment in the Yangjiacun district and into the old city, which is surrounded by four ancient walls.  I took up for two nights in the Han Tang Inn hostel.  I realised upon arriving that I had stayed there before, a few years ago when I last visited China.  It was a perfect haven after the difficult and emotional week I’d had.  I checked into my six bed dorm and marveled at the relative luxury compared to what would have been my home in Yangjiacun.  It felt clean, safe and comfortable.


Han Tang Inn Hostel

Han Tang Inn Hostel


 

I ordered some comforting grub and a cup of tea and mapped out my next day and a half.  It says something about my experience that I’d felt extremely nervous about lugging my baggage out into the street to hail the taxi that would bring me here, and that I was reluctant to go outside.  I wanted to stay where I was protected.  This was a far cry from my attitude in 2012, when I flew out with my then-girlfriend to explore India and Southeast Asia and bounced from plane to taxi to train without batting an eyelid.  That trip was a breeze with barely a worry in the world, and no compunction about hailing a taxi, or trying to buy fruit from people who we couldn’t communicate with except for the odd word and lots of gesticulating.

So that these new anxieties didn’t get the better of me, I forced myself out into the daylight.  The hostel is centrally located so I was right in the middle of the old city.  The area inside of the city walls is barely touched by the area’s notorious smog – most of the traffic and ever-present dusty construction is without – and sunlight shone down as I reacquainted myself with the ancient capital.

It took no time at all for me to remember why I’d chosen Xi’an to be my new home.  The city, like any in China, is horrendously crowded, but provided one isn’t in a hurry there is little to get wound up about.  The crowds stroll along and the traveler strolls with it, up to the lynchpin of the city, the old Bell Tower, and beyond to its partner the Drum Tower, on through the Muslim Quarter to barter for trinkets, out towards the Temple of the City Gods.  I was out until dark and then headed back.  But even the trip out into the clean, well-maintained centre of Shaanxi culture didn’t make me regret my decision to buy that flight home, though it served to balance some of the disappointment of my experiences.


 

The Bell Tower

The Bell Tower


Temple of the City Gods

Temple of the City Gods


 

That night I suffered the bane of the backpacker: sharing a dorm room with a snorer.  And snore he did, that friendly bearded Swede, from 05:00 for over an hour.  I hadn’t been able to get to sleep, but just as I was drifting off I was treated to that pre-dawn sonorous honk.  After a failed attempt to sleep in the common room, I dug deeper into my overdraft for a private room.

Blessed peace!

I took a similar wander the next day (the inner temple was closed the day before).  I met a few interesting locals, watched arguments over a game of Chinese chess, and was asked to have a photo taken with a group of local students.

Soon it was time to head to the airport.  This time the route was via Hong Kong, and I would get a train from London via the Tube rather than fly to Manchester.  It was 30+ hours of sleepless travel, but I was immensely grateful to be back home amongst the loved ones I’d missed so dearly, even after only a week.

Returning so soon is disappointing and embarrassing, but these are short-lived emotions.  The sensation of peace upon finally climbing into bed in the house I grew up in clarified a lot of thoughts and feelings for me.  For now I’m very happy to be home!

— db

 

Arrival

[Continued from previous post…]

The fun didn’t end there.  That was your basic, everyday long-distance-travel hell.

I met my guide in Xi’an and we took a taxi to the apartment.  Bleary eyed, I followed her across the road, around the corner, up to the building.  In China and Hong Kong, apartment buildings are called ‘mansions’.  The mansion looked okay from outside, even though we’d passed through what looked like a red light district (most Chinese cities look like red light districts at night – because of all the red lights, natch).  So far this part of the city, which I’d been warned was a little shady, seemed quite hostile.  I put it down to the lack of sleep and onset of culture shock.  The apartment building lobby echoed with coughing and footsteps on the hard floors.  We waited for lift from the centre of a crowd of other tenants who were decidedly scruffy looking.  What kind of a den was I walking into?  I was reminded of Chungking Mansion, the notorious Kowloon “melting pot” which has been compared to the smugglers’ cantina in Star Wars…


 

hem-dazon-at-mos-eisley-cantina


On the 24th floor was my apartment.  The door failed to open on the first few tries, but admitted us begrudgingly.  Spacious but spartan, the one-room place did not fill me with a warm homely feeling.  There was a metal rack against one wall, supposedly for hanging clothes but would have been better placed in a warehouse.  A bed with a broken headboard jutted out from the cold tiled walls.  Plastic lawn furniture comprised my dining area, with a small gas stove and fridge filling one corner opposite a top-loading washing machine.  A filthy wetroom toilet with a shower head gave out a pungent aroma that presumably originated in the waste pipes of the 100 other apartments in the building, or else the sewer itself.

To many people in China this might be a half-decent place to live.  To my pampered Western eye it looked like a bed in the middle of a kitchen.  It had a drain in the middle of the floor, just in case I wanted to commit a bloody murder or slaughter a pig.  There was a distressing amount of anti-rodent and -bug artillery around the place, kindly abandoned by the previous teacher.

The previous teacher.  I still haven’t gotten his full story.  He exists as a legend spoken of only in whispers.  Some say he was Russian.  Some say he took a Chinese wife.  Papers found in a plastic wallet on the metal racking suggested he was an artist and perhaps a student of biology.  He worked at the university for three years.  He worked at the university for three months.  He retired because he wanted to start a family.  He was fired because he was emotionally unstable and immune to reason.  The truth eludes me still.  If he is still alive, I wish him well.

I had little time to admire the place that would be my home for the next year.  The bed had no bedding, and so my guide offered to take me to the supermarket to pick up sheets and supplies.

We ventured out into the manic night-scene of the street.  Side-stepped traffic and smokey roadside vendors.  Crossed the road when a green light appeared, but dodged speeding cars and scooters that ignored the signals. “I don’t get how the crossings work,” my guide admitted.  It’s because people cross even if the light isn’t green; it’s because traffic mows through pedestrians even if the light is red.

We caught a bus.  The buses are crowded and have two doors.  Get on by the driver, get off further down via the second door.  Don’t expect passengers to make way for you as you try to get to that exit.  Just shove, there’s no other way.  The crazy people won’t mind.

The supermarket was in the basement of a shopping centre.  Likewise hectic.  My guide asked where she could find bedding; a kettle; bottled water.  The shopping assistants were appalled that she should ask questions.  They wished not to be disturbed.  All the duvets were in different styles.  Each style came in one colour only.  One may have the style one prefers, or else the colour one prefers.  I picked a duvet of adequate thickness (incidentally, pink).  I found sheets and covers, and a pillow, and the other stuff.  This came to RMB 400, about £40.  We paid, carried everything by hand because bags are not provided.

Back on the bus.  I sweated inside my coat.  The water bottles were slipping from under my arm.  The duvet, in a box with a wire handle, was weighing down and the handle cut into my fingers.  My guide shoved to the exit door.  I stood where I was.  Every jolt of the bus made me half-fall.  I dropped the bottles, picked them up.  I had to relinquish my hold on the duvet box for a minute.  I must have looked like a humour, hairy, toppling clown.  I gathered everything as we approached my apartment.  I had a giant box and other things and people would not move.  I lifted them above my head and shoved.  My guide alighted; the doors closed in front of me.  My guide shrieked to the driver.  Eventually the doors opened.

I got back to the apartment.  We ran over basics, like paying for utilities (there is a small office in the lobby downstairs).  Then she leaves, saying she will see me at 1pm tomorrow to show me the university.  I am relieved to be alone.  It’s 9pm and I haven’t slept for about 30 hours.

My new duvet covers are not a set.  They are a single sheet.  I put it on the bed.  The pillow and duvet go uncovered for the night.  I have a quick shower in the disgusting wetroom.  I send a few quick messages to loved ones and then try to sleep.

Sleep does not come for four hours.

I wake up to banging.  Someone is banging on my door.  I check my phone – 13:20.  I set three consecutive alarms and slept through them all.  My guide is at the door, I apologise, she leaves as I quickly shower and dress.  There is a meeting at 2pm with the assistant director.  We catch the bus again.  Things are a little easier in the daylight, after twelve hours of sleep.  But the university campus is shabby, run into the ground.  Most of the buildings seem empty and decrepit.  My guide points to a clock tower. ‘Look, London!  Not really…’

No, not really.

Is this really a university?  The 13th rated university in all of China?  Where are all the people?

We pass a few studenty-looking types.  It’s several street-lengths to the building where I will teach.  I’ve passed onto the AD, who smiles warmly and takes me somewhere else.  The sports field.  This is a sports meeting.  What have I got to do with sports?  I’m an English teacher.

No-one is there.  The AD is perplexed.  She goes to find someone and returns five minutes later with 20 kids and some local teachers.  The other foreign teacher is not here, though he should be.  I’m introduced to the students, who jokingly present me with a shuttlecock as a gift.  I crack my first smile since arriving, but it’s short-lived.  The AD take some photos of the students and I.  I wonder if they’re going to be used as promotional material – Look, we have a white face!  Aren’t we prestigious?  I’m told it happens a lot.  One teacher asks, in broken English, whether I’m the new computer teacher?  My guide shushes him quiet.

They let me go home to sleep.  I go back to the supermarket to get some supplies.  There is a McDonalds here, which I take refuge in.  Lovely, lovely familiarity.  I haven’t stopped sweating, either because of the humidity or a stress response.  Eventually, with enough iced Coke, I cool.  I go to the bathroom.  The cubicle seems locked, but the lock is green.  Maybe it’s stuck?  I push, breaking the lock, revealing a man squatting over the hole smoking a sneaky cigarette.  He slams the door shut, I apologise, there is a tirade in Mandarin or Shaanxi dialect.  I go to pee at home.

I know that I have to be up at 6:30am to go for a medical that the university has arranged, a necessity for my medical insurance.  I put my head down at 8pm, but again sleep does not come.  A lot of things don’t add up.  The state of the university.  My brief, truncated conversation with the local teacher.  The apartment and living area are problems, but maybe fixable problems.  I’m getting paid enough, maybe I can afford to rent somewhere and still make a living?  Maybe the university will pay up for a living allowance instead of providing the abattoir apartment?

I decide that I’ll spend a few nights at a hostel for some comfort and company, and wait for my meeting tomorrow with the AD to talk about exactly what they want from me.  If things don’t work out, I can always consider staying long enough to recoup my financial losses and then leave.  Six weeks, maybe ten.  Thinking of the situation as temporary, I realise a lot of things and feel much better.

Sleep does not come until 3:30pm.

[To be continued…]

—db

Journey

It took me a few days to get a stable internet connection and access my illegal blog site, now that I’m here in China.  Behind the Great Firewall is a different world.  I’ve spoken to a few locals about what they think of the censorship, and answers are evasive.  People here don’t seem to mind it much, apparently under the impression that things are being kept from them for a good reason.

Well, they couldn’t keep me out!  Take that, Asia.  After waiting so long for my contract and visa to come through, I could finally set off for my new life in China.

It would be a long journey – over 24 hours – and was beset by problems from the beginning.  The train ride to Manchester Airport was cut short due to some problem down the line, so I was forced to disembark at Piccadilly.  An uninformative and unhelpful person at the Information Helpdesk couldn’t be sure another train would accept my ticket.  I decided to risk it anyway and made it to the Airport, delayed.  There were the usual long queues at Manchester, and off I flew to Heathrow, where – unbeknownst to me at that time – my check-in baggage was quietly and mischievously slipping into a black hole.

I don’t know what cosmic, transformative adventures were had by that slightly overweight maroon suitcase.  All I know is that it tumbled through dark dimensions untold, and was clawed at by space-goblins before re-emerging into our plane of existence somewhere in the vicinity of Beijing three days later.

The suitcase doesn’t talk about the experience, and I don’t ask.

I met a peculiar man dressed a little like a classic Dr Who who was off to Shanghai to judge a bonsai tree contest.  He was apparently well regarded for his knowledge of stunted trees.  Despite this he proved a little too clingy and wanted the ticket lady to seat us together, so I ditched him on the pretense of taking a pee-pee.  He might have pruned me in my sleep.

As it happened, the 10 hour flight from Heathrow to Beijing was probably the best time I’ve had this last week.  I was placed next to a thoroughly pleasant gentleman from Japan named Ishiro, who was a stage actor and director donchuknow, and we chatted about our home countries and theatre and anime for a while until he got to sleep and I didn’t.  It wasn’t even spoiled by the in-flight film, which was Johnny Depp’s “Transcendence” and should be avoided if at all possible.  Just … awful.  I can’t even.  Don’t watch it.  I watched it twice and it actually got worse.

Then the adventure really started.  I landed in Beijing and wandered about for a bit, wired from total lack of sleep.  A lady insisted that I didn’t need to collect my baggage and that it would be transferred to the domestic connection to Xi’an, even though another person at Heathrow told me that I would have to.

When I discovered three hours later that my luggage had been lost, I blamed that young lady for its disappearance.  This was wrong of me.  The black hole had opened up in London, not Beijing, and although neither Young Lady or I knew it at that point, the fate of the suitcase had already been decided by the fickle gods of international travel. If I ever see Saint Christopher here in China I will sock him in the jaw.

[To be continued…]

—db

Soon to fly

It’s been a long few months of training and preparing, but things are finally ready for my journey to China.

Whilst I was on the CELTA training course I was put in touch with a University in Xian who was looking for a teacher.  After long talks, giving a demo class via Skype, and contract negotiations, I was offered a great-sounding job with them to start November 1st.

There are some horror stories out there about TEFL teaching in Southeast Asia, especially China, as unsavory types catch on to the idea that “rich” foreigners (many irresponsible uni-dropouts and hapless travel bums included) can be duped into taking poorly paid jobs in terrible conditions with only a few well-worded lies.  Thankfully after being very careful, exceedingly dubious and with a bit of experience in that corner of the world, I landed a well-paid job with a reputable language school.

It’s taken a while to organise my work visa, as these require official documents inviting me to China that are approved by the Chinese government.  The papers came via international mail early this week, and I was able to apply for my visa at the consulate in Manchester.


China Town, Manchester

China Town, Manchester


It was great to visit Manchester again.  I was there in 2011 for Chinese New Year and had a great time wandering around China Town and enjoying the festivities.  Walking through China Town this time, I reminisced and wondered what the year ahead will be like.

Although it’s been a busy, anxious week – hoping the visa gets approved, catching up with as many people as possible, and packing my few surviving possessions – I’m trying to look ahead positively.  I set off on a 24-hour journey this Monday, flying via London and Beijing, and arrive in Xi’an on Tuesday with just a few days to settle in before I start work the following week.

Thanks to all my loved ones for their kindness and support!

—db