A Wizard in Guangzhou…

 

 

 

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So today marks 7 months since I took that fateful journey up to Heathrow, listening to Alexei Sale’s Imaginary Sandwich bar on Radio 4 in-order to chase away the quiet fact that I’d be trading in my whole life to work abroad in Guangzhou, China.

The night before, we’d gone for a farewell blowout of Fish and Chips, a beer: washed down with the last sights of the sea. It felt like it had been months of awkward goodbyes.  I had spent weekends in Bristol and London, just getting as much culture as possible: Seeing theatre shows, dining out and generally trying to get a feel for the cities of Britain that had always seemed underappretiated.

Since then, I’ve grown as a person dramatically in that I’ve been able to learn how to communicate with children and hopefully teach them in a fun and engaging way.  Living in a metropolis, I’ve been trying to pick up the language, try the local food (Still not keen on Congee) and develop a sense of home.

I’ve visited Beijing to dine on Catfish and roamed the gothic streets of Nanluoguxiang. Those streets were full of secret nooks and crannies, though I doubt that I could live with the ever present ‘fog’ that greeted me every morning…

Guangzhou is far more traditional than Beijing, though the smog is lighter and I’ve found local places that many a food critic would covet: Toriken: a wonderful oak paneled Japanese restaurant, a world renowned hotel chain which I haunt like Jack Torrance and even a place to buy Tomato Juice. 

It’s no surprise that in 2018: Michelin are coming to review Guangzhou. Back home, I’ve gotten gigs reviewing restaurants, guided by my departed hero AA Gill. Something I’d love to continue in Guangzhou.

Christmas was a mild affair: two beers and Harry Potter: all the while pondering on various aspects of the Wizarding World. It’s sometimes the hardest part of expat life: On Christmas day; you trade in a celebratory meal: with everyone at their most hedonistic for a typical Sunday night.

Next on the agenda is a Chinese New Year trip to Thailand, not only to sample the delights of Raan Jay Fai.  But to connect with a deeply religious and spiritual culture that probably has me at my most soppy and believe it or not: my most pretentious…Not only is the cuisine of Thailand one of the greatest in the world; but it should also be included as one of the greatest countries for people watching, and generally being a flâneur.

I’ve now spent more time in China than I’ve spent in Nigeria working with Voluntary Service Overseas. Where I often find myself nodding in  the direction of many an expat who has visited a bathroom and found they feel a lot dirtier coming out of it. 

Being an expat is just as challenging sometimes as being a teacher: but let’s make 2018 a feast of experiences just like the Great Hall dinner featured in Harry…oh you’ve got me back on about the Wizards…Well anyway; Happy New Year from a Wizard abroad…I’ll be likely blogging about Thailand frantically; trying to capture my time off; See you soon…Muggles!

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Diary of a Beijing Vampire Hunter

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I was hungry and had decided to venture down to Nanluoguxiang, I live in one of the suburbs of Beijing and it’s very impossible for me to get away from my mother; always; the questions came croaking out of the woman’s mouth: Why aren’t you married? Why are you get fat on only soup dumpling; but that night; I knew that I’d show her that I really had true purpose: I was a vampire hunter first and foremost: Part of an order that had all but disappeared in China apart from in my apartment.

The night I first saw him; I knew I’d found what I was looking for: he looked like a little fresh meat; or Karry Wang, yet there was something a little disconcerting; a little off about him from the moment we casually passed in a bar; he regarded me with distain at first; like I was a bad meal at a fancy restaurant.

I later forgot about the incident and found that; after a couple of drinks; just to get away from my mother; it was time to split; the street hawkers were out in full force; the first time I saw him the flash of silver was hard to detect; but then; the sight of young college geek; pushed to the ground and ripped to shreds by my target; his cloak; the whole get-up was like Dracula cosplay; something I hadn’t expected from the young, much more handsome young man: a man I will now formally refer to as ‘The Count’

He spotted me and if he hadn’t been full, I doubt I’d have survived to commit this to record;  he’d have eaten me up like a pack of Lays chips; but somehow; he was put off eating me; I hadn’t washed that morning: there were toothpaste stains all over my band t-shirt; he was just repulsed and disappeared into the nearest Hutong and was done with me; taking the young, bled out geek he’d snacked on with him as a take-away; the blood stains themselves; seemed to evaporate;

I’d recorded this in my vampire tracking diary as a process known as; ‘Batmobiling’ where a vampire can seemingly summon the powers of an āyí in less time than it takes to boil instant noodles, ridding the scene of the crime; the mess was gone and I was left; standing alone; craving one last beer to get over the shock on the man’s face as the beast drained him of his powers;

This innocent looking fellow looked like he played World of Warcraft; had experience with a virtual axe and maybe even a steady relationship; all taken away by this thing; this fragile entity that looked like he advertised KFC or a cellphone; while probably sucking the blood of young virgins.

Luckily; while I was a virgin; I was not young: I was possibly greying at 27 and my commitment to vampire hunting meant that a relationship could be dangerous; one day; you could be taking selfies on a day out with a girl; then she could end up in a bowl of pho noodles; a Hanbaobao’; or even worse turned into some kind of Cheese tea by the creatures of the night; their appetite was insatiable; which led me to my next calling point in-order to track the count the very-well documented fact; They love KTV.

I had done KTV of course; many nights spent drinking whiskey and eating Watermelon; at first with a ragtag group of friends I’d met online; followed by various cousins and aunts that had taken pity on me as the years went by: but it was that fact that had trained me in my particular keen sense of smell; the ability to seek out vampires; Their specific choice of songs helps; vampires tend to prefer the moody sounds and rock anthems that are not on the list of every Chinese teenybopper; 

They tend to bring their own candles and beer is not on the menu; but sticky bloody Baijiu is bound to make an appearance: just as crucial as hot water is in Chinese culture; Vampires must feed on blood in very much the same way; that night; I had seen vampires feasting on the delights on Karaoke; they don’t get drunk in the same way that we do; they just get more energy…they then go out and pick little girls off the street like little pieces of dim sum and it’s just too much to bear and sometimes even I think about hanging up my steak and giving up the noble…ancient…art of…uh…

Sorry, maybe I lost my train of thought there: it’s hard to keep track of my diary at times; but one thing is crucial to note; Vampires are a real and ancient threat, especially to the hutong people and young people visiting Beijing for an insight into our rich and prosperous city:

I worry for my mother; returning home with Jianbing; what could possibly happen to her one day; returning back from 7/11 to find her with the unmistakeable marks of a Chinese vampire; the little chopstick size holes in her flesh; my mother reduced to street food: so just recording this to remind you all to be vigilant on the streets of Beijing; lest our values be reduced by these creatures of the night. I’m online at all hours, tracking the threat of Cyber Vamps and their whereabouts if anyone needs any help.

Christmas at Kang Wang by Rachel

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Christmas at Kang Wang is a full sized party set in a regular sized frosty the snow globe; all the dress, decor, dancing and fun of a party, set in the smallest of spaces.

It’s just one step past too tight of a holly jolly hug, but just tight enough to feel the love.

Our eight hundred or so kids love the cup of cheer, and their laughter sparks ours! Right?

Just a short sleigh ride past the two front doors, or two front teeth, of Kang Wang, the weather outside is frightful, but it certainly makes up for Guangzhou’s lack of festive decor, which is less than delightful.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, yet still only looks just a little bit like Christmas. Most holiday music playing in public places is in English, which is nice to hear, but other than jingle bells rockin’, what do the non-English speakers hear?

For me, Christmas time in the city is a theme, it’s a season, it’s a whole month of good vibes and all things peppermint. For guangzhou, it seems to be just a fa la la la la fad, but I’m more than happy it has caught on. Even an ocean away from home, this true fad gave to me, my Starbucks red cup, an excuse for an obnoxious manicure, and twelve or so other  reasons to smile, and aside from you, that’s all I wanted for Christmas, so for these few seasonal treasures, I am grateful.

 

Three Birthday Poems.

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I’ve had nothing to do with these; It’s my birthday today; So I’ll leave them here; it’s not a warm day; the world is waking up; I’m going out for cake and to peeve on rumors of an art gallery: I still have no idea whether to go to the wanky restaurant:  Anyway, I was going to post a longer more meandering article, possibly written after two gins in the sun yesterday afternoon.

1. Simple Pleasures

I love crunching toast

it should be available on NHS

I love the lovely mess

the world is

after gin fizz.

I love the chewy sweets and restaurant seats.

people watching and poching 

poncing about 

twist and shout

in and out.

cups of tea

mumbles sea

nasal gazing

the word 'amazing'

passports 

airports and long walks

saying hello

write and send:

happy birthday 

from an old friend.
2. Edibles:

I want to eat the beach

I want to quench my thirst on a memory

chew on rain clouds 

nibble on your thoughts

Pick at a particular flavor of sky

get drunk on walking across the sand

as an aperitif, I want to feel your hand

reaching that particular sweet spot

savor your dance 

gnaw at my thoughts

and get fat on your smile. 

open wide: 

and take a great big gob of the day

as a side dish

there's your laugh 

and then 

it's just salt and pepper

to hear the birds sing and remember

the thoughts you had on the first of December.

you know that feeling when 

you just open a shopping bag and eat as you walk down the road?

and you get to the end and you've eaten

like the end of a baguette 

or a box of chocolate?

and then you feel a bit guilty

when someone spots you

and you know it's time to go home?!

that's what life's like
3. First Poem in China

I was gonna go to the poetry night,

but I got stuck on line 10

so close to a Chinese man

I thought I was having sex with him

I wander around shopping malls 

staring in at the karaoke booths

looking for some great truths

in a love song I don't understand 

All I can ever say is ‘Wo Ai Ni’

as a couple walks past dressed the same

and I've lost face

But still I walk around 

passing five hundred menus 

trying to forget the letter

feeding my Instagram

Cause you can't live on dumplings

I've seen the consequences 

I've seen the double chins

so easy to spend your nights 

munching rice

so I wander 

putting toes through hell

the first time I tried hotpot

it's something I'll never forget the smell of:

still I wander a new Chinese bigfoot or monument

and I'm just an empty shell of...

influenced by 

a collection of people

I've never met or heard of

with a passport.

 

The long overdue post about China and Food!

China, one of the most food obsessed nations in the entire world; a place where the congee itself has had to have been floating wild and free before it’s devoured before a hard day of work: So what has stopped me writing about it? I’ve choked down breakfast dumplings filled with red bean, dined like a gentlemen on Beijing duck. I’ve even been unfortunate enough to try Yunnan food on occasion.

I’ll never forget my first exposure to stinky tofu, even the locals laughed at me; I love stinky  cheese, but stinky tofu reminded me in both texture and taste of eating excramant; nevertheless; stirred on by the memories of Gong Bao Chicken, Pork Slice and Dumplings; I soldiered my palate forwards to Guangzhou: If that seems a little pretentious and frankly a bit ham tongued; It’s cause I’ve got my mouth full;

So today; snacking on Dim Sum and enjoying a pijiu: I realized it was now time to reflect upon the nations culinary obsessions and my own judgements upon such a foreign landscape as Guangzhou;

  1. Dim Sum? I’d love some!

Dim Sum is the first archetype of Chinese cuisine; hyped up for its aesthetic quality and it’s ability to make you feel classy, while eating what can sometimes seem like a chopped up Greggs Sausage roll: Nevertheless: Dim sum is what Guangzhou is known for; It even saved me in deepest Kowloon in Hong Kong; when all the restaurants seemed like congee flophouses; Most noticeable are the shrimp dumplings: beautiful to look at and a proof of the Asian cultures fascination with not only taste, but with texture.

 

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2. 7/11 Store Snacks

Okay, lets admit it; sometimes; you come home and a bag of crisps followed by an equally  crisp Asahi is heaven…I’d probably be dead in work without occasionally shoving dubious shit into my facehole…In 7/11 in China; you can basically get a full meal; plus I’m sure their vaguely stale KInder Buenos once saved me from a dreadful hangover.  Top tip: Don’t eat the M&M’s…They suck here.

 

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3. Toast and other normal stuff.

Admittedly, it’s taken me a while to learn to truly enjoy myself here; Okay I went out and tried a lot of weird shit: but did I have toast?  No! I hadn’t had toast in months; Is there anything more humble than…TOAST! Is there anything that seems to represent daily British life than tea and toast? I doubt it…Also; Smelly cheese…Come at me…

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4, The fruit of the gods

Jackfruit

You crafty bulbous bastard;

How you look like Durian

But taste so much better;

I devour your expense arse;

In seconds flat;

Like a fruit bat;

Enough poetry:

You just grow on a tree

and that’s enough for me…

5. Okay…Noodles or rice?

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Noodles or Rice? That’s what they’ll ask you at the pearly gates…For me, I’m a man of wealth and taste who prefers boiled rice over fried and thinks noodles these days may as well be bootlaces; Another interesting thing about China is the obsession with noodle houses; I love me some Wonton and believe me, I’ve tried them all: but those stringy things floating in my admittedly poor soup? Stop shoving them in everything; They don’t really taste of anything. At least spaghetti has the kind of decency to mix all it’s flavorings in-between what would otherwise be bland.

6. EEEEEEL

Some of the best 4am conversations I’ve ever had…(I blame the beer)

I’m only sleeping.

‘I don’t know where the weird ends and I begin’

The phrase kept flipping over in his mind like a pancake, as he went through the typical bar talk, he couldn’t think of a single thing to say that wouldn’t alter his reputation in a negative way; he was starting afresh, though it was already after a few months beginning to turn stale; he originally wanted to just leave his home, tired of the same four walls, the same four friends; trudging the beach and using alcohol as a general anesthetic ; but in typical fashion, the grass now seemed greener in neighboring isles;

The great divided Hong Kong; with the toy town streets of Central, the smell of sea and the dreaded Kowloon, where fishballs were the order of the day; he had literally sailed and began to snack upon the culture; though the taste was good; it was rich, besides; there was no market there for his profession; a uniquely trivial position; he had began researching Taiwan; a sort of crossover between Chinese and Hong Kong culture; where he could be prosperous or at least give it a shot.

He was an intensely trivial man really, the hair was sometimes unkempt, but he always made an effort to dress and eat only what was fashionable in a new city, he’d had his fair share of people; he’d found a way to connect with the world; sometimes the line was bad; sometimes; he found that with uptight people; they may as well be sending coded messages sewn on the inside of his underpants; wasn’t it strange to get on with completely strangers; meet people in bus stops and change direction; like a spinning top.

What did he miss about Wales? Nothing intensely pressing beyond the sea and libations; the great amalgamation of British life; run down measly pubs and big chains; talkative shopkeepers; London and the hipster crowd; puffing on an electric cigarette for no real reason; being incarcerated into No Sign Wine Bar as everywhere else had closed down.

Now he’d emigrated, there was a certain poetic element to everything remotely British or local; even a pork pie would be a welcome sight; This is probably the curse of traveling; you are giving up security, people that have known you and yet even things you didn’t particularly find memorable or cherished at the time have grown in their meaning and resonance; while in the last months, the trip had dangled like a sword of damocles, like the sunny morning after a few flutes of champagne in the previous evening.

Maybe things had cracked slightly and his brain had considered and touched every seam; from the sleepy dumpling sellers; the drunken belt man in the neighborhood; the late night fruit sellers; it was an interesting journey; full to the brim of culture really: all mostly an iceberg yes, submerged; but at the same time, he’d also laid incense with the local people; but the pang of faces he knew, visiting then leaving was a stronger feeling; he’d considered religion; hokey relaxation techniques and what he was going to put on his toast in this strange region.

——

The turnstiles still turn, the trains always run and the people always rush; they’re crazy: but that very morning after considering his entire future: with shadows on the walls; he couldn’t really analyze in-depth; so he listened to his Beatles and proceeded to eat an entire small islands worth of fruit; these were his hobbies now;

He wanted to pick all the fruits in all the gardens of the world as Wilde wrote; but he needed to work out what routine to fit this ambition into; maybe he just really wanted a cup of tea and a lie down sometimes; he didn’t really know; isn’t the whole world all really about consuming things anyway? or is there really some type of consciousness that is only touched upon through some magic trick, some man in the sky; something to put some faith into?

When you envision a perfect day; What do you see? Do you wake up after sleeping well? Immediately consume a Bloody Mary, scratch your privates and have your favorite breakfast? Does it start like this and end up with friends in the pub by around midday?  Every perfect day has a little bit of blue cheese in it somewhere; and a decent wash; every perfect day has sand and sea in it also, but not at the same moment as the blue cheese: sandy blue cheese is associated with the worst day in the world.

When you envision your worst day; What do you see? Is your hair greasy? Did you break a tooth? Are they coming to arrest you? Did you get a bad sandwich on the way to Hong Kong? Is the world shitting on you on an hourly basis?

What is the history behind these loosely connected, possibly irrational and ill-informed meanderings framed vaguely around some kind of narrative? Is writing for the sake of writing important; or a reckless waste of time; Just know I’m a Sagittarius… I apologize for posting this; Most of the notes were found rung together inside a garbage can.

The Happy Valley Chronicles: First Glimpse

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Figure 1: Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark…

He’d developed a keen ear for the supermarket jingle; he could distinguish each piano key and would likely have been able to reproduce it, had he had the money to keep such an elegant object as a piano in his shoebox of an apartment.

The truth was that the only instrument Sam could now play was a checkout counter; gazing up at the shelves; full of sleeping products; waiting for the oncoming hoard; full of slumber himself; Sam couldn’t recall how he had reached a point where he’d been promoted, falling deep into the life of a duty night manager at Happy Valley.

It was this day he was greeted for the first time in a year; by something unexpected; hurtling towards him was a shopping cart; as black and shimmering as oil…it moved almost organically: First it started shoving into him and then Sam saw something which made him regret every minute spent listening to the dreaded jingle…then the jingle stopped and it was all over.

01: The beginning…

Pickles, he’d flunked out of school to dole out pickles: if life has circles of hell, Tom thought to himself; checking-in each morning to hand out samples at Happy Valley had to be one of them; probably a step above dressing as a giant hotdog and a few steps below cleaning the elderly; As he took each little cocktail stick, skewering each green and slippery piece; it felt as painful as picking oakum in a Victorian workhouse.

Tom hadn’t had to take a history major to work out that maybe it wasn’t all that bad working here; but his junior manager, a history major with hair on his knuckles at 25, had began to compare each daily task Tom undertook at the store with some historic event.

It wasn’t enough to allow Tom to simply load up a supply of cinnamon whirls; it had to be equated with the precision in-which the pyramids were built; Dealing with a customer, who had insisted that his bill was wrong had been turned into a melodrama comparable to the Watergate scandal; When the Self-Service checkout’s came into force; lectures on Mao’s Great Leap Forward soon followed.

Increasingly; this junior manager was just one of the pieces in the vast gallery of the store’s staff; that began to irk Tom; he was increasingly aware that his ‘Happy Valley Family’ were each a brutal reminder, that not everyone can achieve their dreams; just each with their own particular flavour of disappointment and regret;

During a team building; in-which Tom found himself passing a balloon through the thighs of  ‘Fat Ali’ as she was sometimes referred to; Tom swore that he would not be condemned to such a life; acting as a warning to Happy Valley customers, until he dropped dead in the Dairy section…But there he was; still handing out pickles; until one day; for no good reason he was promoted to night duty manager. An offer he couldn’t refuse, but hardly up there with The Godfather in-terms of a proposition.

02:  Happy Valley Nightfall.

So disappeared the pickles and Tom as night manager was allowed to grow his beard back; given that he was now dealing with graveyard customers and only had to answer to the unseen figure of Mr.Waters; high emperor of Happy Valley, who didn’t seem to sleep or eat anything; just gaze blissfully at the shelves below, as if he was seeing something powerful behind each of the packaged item. 

A small ceremony, where Tom cut a sickly looking frosted chocolate cake and a pimped out name tag and he was back on the beat; disturbing the frozen fish; keeping busy in the cracker section; Nightshifts meant weirder customers; college kids and smack heads mostly; or at least people who seemed to be on something; but tonight it was strange; one old lady; who seemed to vanish as she left the baked beans aisle then no customers for over one hour.

That’s when the jingle began to malfunction; something must have been up with the loop; it didn’t happen all at once; but gradually; the tune slowed down enough as to stop a staff member picking at his zits; as duty manager; this presented Tom with his first challenge, but each time he reset it; it unglued almost immediately; like a whining child determined to get their own way.

Eventually; they had to replace it with a 90’s pop soundtrack; a few generic Britney Spears tracks that Fat Ali had saved to her iPod; Mr.Waters profile hung like a dark shadow above the office; a warning sign that these kind of decisions should likely have been ran past him; but before Tom was able to inform the old fucker; a tall and strange man in a suit appeared…

What was strange about him?  Maybe if it had been 9am, he wouldn’t have sent a chill through Tom, but at 5am,this man, idly inspecting lamb chops, this man, who didn’t appear to be remotely inebriated somehow disturbed Tom;

– ‘You know, the way to tell if lamb is fresh is to look for traces of blood; if there’s blood it means it’s fresh..Do you have anything else out back?‘ the stranger purred with a hint of Southern drawl;

So this was weirdo hour once again, thought Tom but most of the cases that turned up usually bought hardcore porno or party hats; sometimes both.  It’s hard to feel menace when ‘Hit me baby one more time’ is softly taking over the loudspeaker, but today, Tom felt it in droves;

– ‘You know; it’s a strange time to be thinking of cooking…What’s the occasion?’

‘Just a little party we might be having in the valley…do you know I used to work here for a time… pride and joy was keeping that jingle ticking along nicely; I see you’ve been having trouble…but with god we should fix it for ya’

With that, the jingle sprang back to life; but turning around to see if anyone had entered the control room; Tom found the door remained closed; as he turned around the man was gone; but a strange pool had begun to form on the office window of Mr.Waters…