Terracotta Typewriter A Literary Journal with Chinese Characteristics
Unsolicited manuscripts are welcomed throughout the year. Terracotta Typewriter seeks submissions of literary works with a connection to China. The definition of “connection to China” can be stretched as much as an author sees fit. For example, expatriate writers living in China or who have lived in China, Chinese writers writing in English, translators of Chinese writing, works that are set in China, manuscripts covered in Chinese food (General Tso’s chicken doesn’t count), or anything else a creative mind can imagine as a connection to China. © 2011 by Terracotta Typewriter. All rights reserved. Cover art by Matthew Lubin © 2011 Visit our Web site at http://www.tctype.com. This literary journal is free for distribution. NOT FOR RESALE.
Terracotta Typewriter A Cultural Revolution of Literature
In This Issue From the Editor
Music as an alternative 3 to a forgotten narrative Verse (u) s 5
Just a Formality
On the Train to Chengdu
Meditation in Yellow Dust
Cripple Gangâ€™s Terracotta Army
After Su Tung Pâ€™o
Minimal Offense Intended 39 Contributor Notes
From the Editor Dear Readers and Writers, Welcome to the eighth issue of Terracotta Typewriter. I know many contributors have patiently waited for its publication and I appreciate their patience. Running a literary journal alone can be time consuming, especially when free time is difficult to come by. No matter how little time I have, I will continue to publish this journal for the worldâ€™s enjoyment. Our contributors love to write and deserve the recognition for their efforts to create great works of literature. Feel free to drop us a line every now and then. We want to hear from our readers. Thank you for your continued support.
Matthew Lubin Editor & Publisher firstname.lastname@example.org
Music as an alternative to the forgotten narrative I remember my friend from a 1978 Hong Kong winter tried expelled released and lost, relearning the pavements of his native as the wind does at the waterfalls as I do it with you our separation from the real as thin as the sheath of a contraceptive, but absolute until nightly everyone returns to everyone shedding the cities the jarring doors of government offices and the smoky exteriors of occluded factories when at the isolated depths of a closet, he confronts music â€“ well-built and insensitive contrary to popular beliefs â€“ who picks him up like a bow 3
and plays a note of perfect fifths on the violin a melancholy constructed on imaginary bricks like an ancient highway to forgetfulness that even an earthquake may fail to crush
Verse (u) s Poetry separates us two halves of the same warring face, often warring cities pretending to be allies the Venn Diagram of our intersections – boring null sets Each word is a door between us You keep opening it to distance yourself from a distaste and I an escape route from your cartography to a city of bruises, residues, collapsing and resurfacing structures – Hong Kong, a cloudy and confounded philosopher who thinks without language
Just a Formality
everal semesters ago, during my literature final exam at the Chinese college where I teach, I caught a student cheating. Not surreptitiously, but boldly, openly. I had clearly explained the rules by projecting them on the computer screen and discussing them one by oneâ€”even listing what the students should and should not have on their desks during the exam. Yet, when I walked up the aisle near this young woman, I saw what looked like extra papers before her. At the end of the aisle, I turned and walked back down, slowly, stopping a little behind her to stare. There sat the notes I had given the students to study from, right next to her exam questions, as she copied answers from them. She made no attempt to hide them, but surely she had seen me walking by. After teaching in China for five years, I am all too aware of how widespread cheating is, yet this shocked me for its brazenness. When I spoke to her out in the hall afterward, she made no excuses, her only explanation being that she was afraid of doing poorly. Various instances of cheating in China were in the news last year. In October, The New York Times published an article under the headline "Rampant Fraud Threat to China's Brisk Ascent" that gave several examples of cheating in both society and academia. We've all heard of the melamine scandal, but what of academic dishonesty? One such case happened not far from me, in the city of Hangzhou. Zhejiang University, the highest ranked university in the province, conducted an investigation in which it submitted a number of its scien-
tific journals to a computer program that identifies plagiarized passages. According to the Times, about one-third of the articles submitted for publication had at least some sections likely to have been copied. In another example, cheating shut down the MBA program that New Jersey's Centenary College had run in Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei since 2004. That one shocked me. I once worked at a university in Xiamen that partnered with a Canadian college to offer a business degree program, so I've seen that dynamic firsthand. Western universities are so starved for cash at the moment that they jump at an opportunity to expand into China. Based on what I saw and heard, I would guess that many such schools are willing to accommodate lower standardsâ€” even to the point of ignoring problems of academic integrityâ€”in exchange for the influx of cash. So for Centenary to completely close its program, it had to have been quite bad. USA Today also reported on this last summer when it happened. All of the college's 400 students in China, the newspaper noted, had their diplomas withheld and were given the choice of a tuition refund or the chance to gain their MBA by taking another exam. Only two chose to retest. Cheating comes in many forms, and new technology, such as cell phones, only adds to the myriad methods students can choose from. One decidedly low-tech approach that's always intrigued me for its being so unlikely to succeed is when one student simply substitutes for another to take a test. Called qiang shou, this kind of cheating is fairly common in China, where so much of the assessment is done by examination, and exams invariably include large numbers of students. The two Chinese characters literally mean "gun hand," and are sometimes translated as "gunman," though a more 7
accurate English term would be "hired gun." A former student once served as a qiang shou, and told me about it shortly afterwards. A petite young woman bursting with intellect and energy, Ann was among the best students in the three classes I taught at her grade level. Based on her work in class, her involvement with the campus English club, and our discussions during my office hours, I knew her to be an honest, thoughtful, and ethical young woman. Yet a year later, when she was a senior, she took someone else's English exam for him. I was taken aback when she told me, and at the same time curious about why she had decided to do it. Ann had been sick and was in bed with a fever when her classmate Mary called to ask if Ann would do this to help out a friend. Despite being a little nervous at the idea, Ann allowed Mary to give the friend her phone number because she wanted to be kind and do her a favor. Mary only told her that it was a person "in society"—a person in the working world—taking adult classes that the university held during the summer and winter breaks. Ann expected a call a couple of days later, but instead received one the very next day: "It's time for [the] examination this morning," the caller told her. They arranged to meet near the library at 8:50 A.M., and a car picked her up. The driver was the man for whom Ann would be taking the exam; he gave her instructions as they drove to the building where it was held. This man was supposed to be in a classroom taking an exam at that moment, yet here he was driving her in his car. And she did not go into the classroom for him? No, because the teacher giving the exam was her own class supervisor and head of the English Department, Ms. Zhang. Instead, the man brought the exam papers out to Ann in the car. He 8
turned out to the be the chief of police in the nearby city. Taking course work in law—toward a master's degree, Ann guessed—he needed to pass an English exam like every university student in China. Ann explained that teachers in these courses were fairly lenient, that they "will not purposely fail [the students] because they are all adults and they have—maybe some of them have 'backgrounds.'" In Chinese, this means they have both money and power. So for these kinds of exams, in Ann's words, "they hand in the money to the college, to the universities, and they just pass the examinations." The police chief had two friends also taking the exam, one from a bank and another who worked at the local court. Ann began working hunched in the front seat at about 9:30, and an hour later the two others were copying the answers from her completed paper. The exam was supposed to end at 11:00, but the students in the classroom had all finished early and by about 10:40, Ms. Zhang came out and walked very near the car. Ann crouched down as far as she could. I was astounded that Ms. Zhang was not upset to find three of her students with their exam papers outside the classroom, but apparently she wasn't fazed. "It's very common," Ann assured me. "It's not very strict, that kind of examination. It's only—you know, in China we call it only a 'process.' No. I cannot find the exact word." I asked her to say it in Chinese so I could look it up. Xing shi. Formality. The exam was only a formality. However farcical the logistics of this operation were, I was most intrigued by Ann's involvement. What had motivated her to cheat like this? It wasn't money: the police chief had wanted to pay her and she refused. She had mentioned 9
wanting to help out her friend who had initiated the meeting. But cheating is just inherently wrong, and the Ann I knew was honest and virtuous to the point that she would be considered a little naive in the U.S. At the very least, wouldn't she fear the repercussions of being caughtâ€”by her own class supervisor, no less? Hadn't she anything to lose? Not much. She explained that these classes were not as important as her own (those for full-time university students). Of all the possible punishments I put forward, she only agreed that Ms. Zhang would have been upset with her and given her a talking to. "But even Ms. Zhang found a gunman for other persons in our class," she added, laughing. "Secret!" And, I wanted to know, what would have happened to the police chief had they been caught? She had already explained that he had a "background" so I knew the answer even before she confirmed it. "Of course nothing," Ann said. I asked her if she would do it again if she had a chance to go back and make that decision. "Maybe I want to experience this kind of thing," she answered. Why? "I don't know. I've never been a gunman before!" She continued: Maybe I think I don't have that kind of courage to doâ€”you know, I know this cannot be called courage, but you know, all the time I'm just like a tortoise, a little. [laughs] When the danger come, I just put my head in the shell. So I want to experience different things. And in my hometown, in my home, in my house, my mother and my parents just protect me all the time, so I never know what the society really is. And what to make of that society? In a chicken-or-egg sce10
nario, one wonders whether cheating by students continues into society at large or, conversely, the open secret of corruption among business persons and government officials signals to students an acceptance of academic dishonesty. It's not merely a hypothetical query, but one with significant ramifications. For example, when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Washington in January, one of the continuing issues addressed in the U.S.-China Joint Statement was intellectual property rightsâ€”specifically, China's promise to strengthen their protection. I wanted to know Ann's thoughts regarding this larger system of corruption that encompassed cheating. Could it be changed? She seemed resigned to the realities of it and how pervasive it was in practice. Her own parents, she said, had to flatter their leaders, as well as give them presents (read bribes). "They cannot pass the situation or pass the difficulties if they don't do that." In the end, she weighed the matter the best any thoughtful college senior might be expected to when she said that she really believed "honesty is the best policy" but that it was hard to change things so deep-rooted. Deep-rooted indeed. Once I visited a museum in Nanjing that had reconstructed an ancient exam center, with lifesize displays depicting how students once sat for government exams, or keju. The participants were locked in their cubicles night and day for several days to prevent cheating (they slept on boards that doubled as desks). One cubicle, however, showed an enterprising young test taker holding a creative solution: a carrier pigeon.
On the Train to Chengdu (i) early morning a thousand miles away fast train runs all night through dry flat countryside yellow fields, tall millet stalks wave in neat fields, red brick farmhouses maybe one light on quiet scenes we rush past no stops, land changes while we sleep, at first light we are all different, air cool and still on the way to Sichuan. (ii) the water is left behind finally all the canals, rivers, channels garden ponds, pools, long-leaf green tea, tall white farm houses with upturned roofs, the bustle of progress, industry, friends who laugh and cry, hands that warm, seek, comfort, air that feels of the sea, cities too big to hold— for the dry west, another city of tea houses and mahjong, bicycles, farmers at work by 6 AM in fields 12
lined with tall trees, distant outline of blue mountains in morning haze telling the rising plateau, the coming massif of Central Asia while peasants gather sheaves of grain, white goats feed, lotus appears in brown mud the land speaks its own tongue. (iii) round grave mounds cluster like hillocks in grassy plots surrounded by gold fields, each one crowned with a large stone marker chiseled with calligraphy, subtle art, ignored mostly until the time comes funeral procession walks slowly white robed figures behind saffron monks chanting, old women weep young men solemn for once carry wreaths of paper flowers on wire stands, the fresh grave soon circled with color in the drab field of chaff.
Meditation in Yellow Dust (From a Window in Seoul) 11:30 am and it’s dark. The yellow dust has come from China and its scouring my lungs. The norae bong didn’t help – screaming Roy Orbison songs and drinking soju straight until I can’t talk, only growl – and I look out my window and it’s dark. A city of 13 million and no one’s on this block. No one’s out and my leg hurts. 14
The seaweed trucks with their megaphones shouting out deals like propaganda aren’t here. The cold wind blows the yellow dust from China. My lungs hurt, my throat hurts and it’s dark. A man walks by. It’s not raining but he carries an umbrella. The neon light behind me shines bright.
Cripple Gang’s Terracotta Army
hat morning, Cripple Gang woke weeping at the mouth of Horsehair Alley around the corner from the new East Asia Bank on Xi Street. The air was thick with the scents of soot, cooking food and the dense, dirt-clod odor of calligraphy supplies laid out for sale on folding tables. He had dreamed and in those dreams he walked. Walked not rolled. Not pushed. Walked over fields of soft grass lavender-colored in the moonlight and wet with fresh rain. Walked on two whole feet and two strong legs through wet grass. He could have run if he wanted, for healthy lungs moved his breath. Clean and fresh and cool and light throughout that chamber within which beat his tired and undersized heart. A stream brimmed with reflected stars and, there!, a vast water-colored moon rippled at his feet. He felt himself an emperor, glorious and bright and caped in velvet. And when Cripple Gang woke to the prodding of King Li’s shoe against his ass, his eyes were still wet. “What? You’re not in your little house?” King Li jerked his chin toward the after-hours ATM atrium in front of the bank. Wiping his face with the back of his wrist, Cripple Gang leaned, spat a sooty overnight accumulation of filth and shrugged. “Got in too late last night,” he said. “Somebody beat me to it.” “I looked,” said King Li. “It’s that fucker Zhang Yung-fa. Hey, are you crying?” With a snort of effort, Cripple Gang pushed himself up. 16
He blinked to take in the grey morning—the stained sidewalk, the soot-smeared buildings, the smog and the mist and the breath of the gathering crowd churning through wan beams of daylight dribbling through the clouds—and rubbed his face with a soft moan. He pushed his cricket-leg about until it was comfortable and began patting down his pockets. “He must’ve finally made a big enough deposit for a cashcard,” he mused. “Fuck.” King Li crossed his arms and shook his head. “You know what’ll happen now?” he asked. Cripple Gang continued turning out his pockets—moving from his shirt to his pants then picking up his shoe to inspect. “What’ll happen now,” said King Li, “is that people who want to use the ATM after hours—real people—will get a whiff of his peasant stink and complain. And the bank’ll raise what you need in your account for a card and you and him and all the other peasants will have to find somewhere else to spend your nights. That’s what’ll happen.” “You think?” asked Cripple Gang. King Li nodded sagely. Cripple Gang sighed. He moved his search from his shoe to the worn messenger bag beside his wheelboard then squinted up at King Li. “I’m no peasant, by the way.” “You’re no peasant?” “No.” King Li lip-farted and took a long drag on his cigarette. With his over-sized glasses, pox scars and the thin slant of the cigarette from his froggish mouth, his face was vaguely reminiscent of the character for disappointment. “Well, Zhang Yung-fa certainly is. You’ve smelled him?” “I have. Why do you think I slept out here?” Giving up 17
on the bag, Cripple Gang squinted toward Xi Street. Trucks and cabs and passenger cars rolled through curls of steam. Pedicabs clattered past all overloaded with crates of vegetables and fruit, with the butcher’s work and the artisan’s, while translucent blue pyramids of empty water jugs rose from the fenders of rickety bicycles and weaved amidst the traffic. Sidewalks accreted pedestrians and funneled them workward. King Li pinched his half-smoked cigarette from his lips, flicked it against the wall then hawked up a thick, yellowy ball of phlegm. Cripple Gang, with a soft exclamation of delight, plucked up the still-smoldering butt with the fine, strong fingers of his good left hand. King Li stood watching him smoke a moment before sliding over the gym bag he’d brought with him. “What is it?” asked Cripple Gang, blowing satisfied smoke. “Ten warriors, four archers . . .” “No one wants archers,” said Cripple Gang. “Archers are boring. They don’t sell. And four? That’s unlucky. Also, archers aren’t . . .iconographic of the Terracotta Army experience.” King Li looked at him. “Iconographic of the Terracotta Army experience?” Cripple Gang waggled his eyebrows. King Li shook his head. “And fourteen Western-style Mao Books.” “Agh!” cried Cripple Gang, clutching the top of his head. “Fourteen? Fourteen is unlucky! I have no interest in dying today.” “With the warriors and archers, that’s fourteen twice, 18
you know.” Cripple Gang blinked up at him. “What can I do?” he moaned. “I’m ruined.” “You can sell anything. Isn’t that right?” Cripple Gang shrugged. He drew the dregs of the smoke into him and tossed the butt out onto the sidewalk which was thick with suited office workers, day laborers smelling of charcoal, hay and yesterday’s sweat, street sweepers, bicyclists, smoking loafers and elderly walkers out taking Xian’s October air. King Li shrugged. “But, if you don’t want to even try...” He made a show of looking around. “Maybe Zhang Yungfa . . .” “Oh, King Li,” sighed Cripple Gang with faint theatricality. “It’s no wonder you’re the king of all souvenir salesmen. You leave me no choice.” “Fine, fine,” said King Li with a broad grin. He took a deep breath and hitched up his pants. “I’ll meet you in a couple days at your little house over there,” he said, fishing a little calculator from his pocket. “I figure there’s about twenty-eight hundred yuan of merchandise here,” he finally said. “So you’ll keep, say, anything over two thousand. Good?” Cripple Gang’s face crumpled around the figures and he rubbed his eyes. “So, to see any profit, I need to sell these for, at least, ten Euros or fourteen dollars American. Each.” King Li frowned. “So?” “Fourteen! Again!” “Huh. Hey, how did you figure that out so fast? Are you sure?” “I’m sure I’m ruined,” sighed Cripple Gang. “But I’ll try, 19
King Li. I will try.” He squinted up, and wet his lips. “But you know,” he went on, “if I could move these fine pieces fast, you could supply me with more and we’d both profit.” King Li looked down at him and shrugged. “Simple economics,” he said. “There’s nothing simple about economics. And you grasped it so quickly. You’re truly as wise as Deng Xiaoping.” “‘It doesn’t matter the color of the cat, as long as he’s a good cat,’” laughed King Li. He puffed out his chest and tilted his head. “Fine. You sell this lot by the end of the day and I’ll see you get more tomorrow.” Cripple Gang hung his head. “I won’t even have time to eat,” he moaned. “Not my problem.” “But my selling prowess will surely wane with hunger,” argued Cripple Gang. “It would ease my mind and simultaneously bolster my efforts to know that I might, perhaps, keep anything over, say, fifteen hundred. Then I could eat a good dinner and work all the harder tomorrow.” King Li blinked quickly. “All right then,” he said with an enormous sigh. Cripple Gang goggled at King Li’s generosity then said quickly, “But to manage this prodigious feat I will need onehundred-fifty yuan right now.” “What? Why?” “To properly sell these fine pieces,” said Cripple Gang, raising three fingers like a Qin minister, “I will need to display them in such a way that the consumer will want to invest in the China Experience.” “The China Experience . . .” Cripple Gang nodded. “And to do that, I require a 20
square of fine, red felt upon which to display my troops.” “A square of felt.” “Red felt. Think of it as the field upon which my army will proudly march.” King Li held up a hand. “So one-fifty then?” “Two hundred would be better.” King Li sighed, peeled a selection of worn bills from a roll and Cripple Gang held each up to the light to find its watermark then carefully scratched the Chairman’s hair with his thumbnail to feel for its texture. Satisfied, he nodded solemnly then maneuvered himself onto his wheelboard. When he had his balance, he nodded to the gym bag. “Just set it on my cricket-leg here,” he said. “Cricket-leg?” King Li started as though he believed parts of Cripple Gang’s malformed body were actually made of cricket parts. Cripple Gang smiled as King Li set the bag down in the crook of his left leg. “My good leg,” he said, patting his thigh. “My strong leg. If that truck hadn’t smashed my foot,” he lifted his chin to indicate a sock-wrapped protrusion,” then this leg would be strong enough to carry me without this board. Like a cricket jumping in Summer.” He settled his right leg over his left so the bag was caught between his knees as King Li bent to inspect his mangled foot. The older man drew quickly back again. “Looks like its bound,” he said with a moue of distaste. “It was a Sinotruk,” said Cripple Gang. “Ran right over it and never stopped. Didn’t even slow down.” King Li shook out another cigarette. “Cripple Gang,” he said, lighting up and blowing smoke from both nostrils. “Why don’t you kill yourself?” 21
Cripple Gang squinted up at him. “But why?” King Li shrugged and cupped his elbow with his palm, holding the cigarette near his ear. “For your next life,” he said. “It’s got to be better than this.” Cripple Gang waved his good, strong left hand. “Sitting or standing,” he said, “I’m as tall as anyone else. Besides, it’s not all bad.” Then he pushed himself off toward Xi Street, his wheelboard rattling and squealing. * * * He took King Li’s two hundred yuan to the little snack shop outside the Meihua Hotel lobby and bought four packs of cigarettes, a black plastic lighter, two hot meat buns and one plain, two bottles of drinking water, a short can of Pringles and a little glass jar of onion paste. The woman working the counter came out from behind it to hand him his goods in a paper sack. She was middle-aged, worn thin and her shiny forehead creased with alarm to see him. For his part, Cripple Gang checked each bill he received back, put the sack in his messenger bag and pushed off again. He used a brick-size chunk of wood set with eye-bolts and a rope handle to push himself along while the board itself was fixed with three skateboard trucks with chewed, pink polyurethane wheels. It was slow going, in and out amidst the crowds, but by-andby he reached the mouth of the alley at the edge of the Muslim bazaar near the Bell Tower. Waste-water spread flat and stale in dark, thin peninsulas about the cracked paving, where in times gone by bannermen had assembled, concubines strolled, emperors passed. The hot, coppery stink of fresh butchery rose from the foremost stall where a glass case gone yellow with old grease displayed kebabs of lamb, boiled ram’s hooves and sweetbreads 22
in stained paper cartons. The vegetable-seller stood outside his stall to spray beneath wooden troughs overfilled with persimmon, dark bundles of spinach and pale, trembling spears of snow cabbage while nearby a washerwoman squatted over a kettle brimming with soapy water, kink-veined fists fast about the handle of a paddle from which dripped a bluish soapscum. A clerk at the calligraphy shop was setting out trays of brushes all finely-balanced and tightly-ferruled and dark, heavy inkstones smelling electrically of rock and time and grace. Cripple Gang trundled past. The old man was asleep at the back of his stall. The yellow air within close and frowsy. Narrow, waist-high tables ran along either side all ajumble with antique square-holed coinage faded and patina’d and near worthless. Tables littered with old time-pieces inscribed to workers and lovers and sons long-dead. A mare’s nest of clutter heaped in Western-style cigar boxes and converted cigarette cartons. Gilded Mao busts stood here and there about the bric-a-brac while the Chairman’s grinning countenance along with various Terracotta Warriors were emblazoned upon t-shirts, backpacks, scarves and posters hanging listlessly in the logy air. Cripple Gang touched the old man’s ankle and he came awake with quick, silent urgency. As though he expected to wake in some awful place. His eyes were milky, the skin around them fractured and crazed as though the useless orbs had been hammered carelessly into his face. The old man said his name and Cripple Gang pressed a meat bun to his rootskinned palm and took the other for himself. They ate in silence and in silence passed the water bottle back and forth and in all that time the old man did not have even the rumor of a customer. After a while, he asked about her and listened 23
carefully to Cripple Gang’s silence. Finally, the old man told him to take a shirt from his selection, something clean in which to wrap himself, but Cripple Gang told him no and thank you and gave over one of the packs of cigarettes and the lighter. The old man tapped the pack three times against his palm, split the cellophane with his fingernail and thumbed the foil off. He tapped a cigarette against the back of his hand and twisted the resulting nub about the end and tore away the filter and lit it. He smoked a while then passed it to Cripple Gang who drew from it and passed it back. The old man dozed. His long, wispy chinhairs fell in an airy spray across the front of his coat. Tired old man, he slept easily but lightly these days. He’d been struggled against when he was young and now Cripple Gang sat watching him sleep; sat watching the play of shadows in the little craters bitten from his cheeks and in the hollows where his ruined eyes nested. Midmorning now and the breeze fell off. The air muddied. Cripple Gang floated down a river of mercury into a wide space the shape of the ocean and knew he was dreaming. His twin’s womb-warm palms upon his shoulders where she held him safe from harm. An intimacy few recover from. And then he was enveloped in brilliant light where he found himself un-sistered and alone. When he woke, Cripple Gang set the plain bun and two more packs of cigarettes on the counter near the old man’s elbow along with the last of King Li’s two hundred yuan. Placing the gym bag back between his knees, he pushed off into the alley but the old man called him back. “Xiao Gang.” 24
He turned. Blind old man on a stool at the back of a junk stall. “What?” “I know she’s gone. I know that.” “Last I heard she was fine. Her health. It was fine. And she had plenty to eat.” The old man nodded and waved. Age and injury had robbed him of his power to weep but Cripple Gang could hear the catch of his breath just the same. And though the old man could not see it, he waved back just the same. * * * In the warm afternoon, near the bus depot in the shadow of the Drum Tower, Cripple Gang watched lazily as Vivaldi and Jack Bauer argued over dead mantises. They’d placed the insects in a frayed wicker basket to fight them and now both were dead and there was no clear champion. For his part, Cripple Gang smoked his last cigarette and eyed the crowds surging around the base of the tower and off toward the Century Ginwa Plaza where the Starbucks and the higher -end shops stood. Both insects were small; Vivaldi’s leaf-brown but only as long as the distance from the tip of his little finger to the center of his palm while Jack Bauer’s measured from the end of his thumb to the center of his wrist and was green as a grass stem. Neither, at first, seemed inclined to fight, but merely sat in the basket as listless and lazy as their owners in the heat. To agitate them, Jack Bauer pursed his lips and whistled while Vivaldi parted his lips and hissed. This was, apparently, enough as both mantises began to sway like pampas grass before shooting forward, razorous forelegs raised. Now both lay dead at the bottom of the basket—one headless and the other merely still—and Vivaldi and Jack 25
Bauer turned to Cripple Gang. “What do you think?” asked Vivaldi. “You mean who won the match?” “Of course,” said Jack Bauer. “What else?” Cripple Gang studied them a moment. A pathetic tableau as old as the stones they squatted upon. Mornings and afternoons, the pair ran groups of Western tourists through the bazaar and the Great Mosque. Guo took Vivaldi as his Western name because it made the Europeans smile while Ang named himself Jack Bauer because it made the Americans laugh. And, because of their good English and Western names, they were in high demand and got very good tips. “Well, I watched quite carefully,” said Cripple Gang. “And both combatants fought fiercely . . .” Vivaldi waved an impatient hand. “We wagered. We need a decision.” Cripple Gang pursed his lips. “I see. Well, the winner is clear.” They looked at him. “Well?” Jack Bauer finally prompted. Cripple Gang held three fingers aloft and said solemnly, “Our Great Chairman Mao quotes Lenin as saying ‘Concrete analysis of concrete conditions is the most essential thing.’ Truth, therefore, as Mao himself said, comes from facts. Given that, you must see how clear things become.” They gaped. “No?” asked Cripple Gang with careful surprise. “Well, I can, of course, settle the matter but, like all worthy endeavors, there must be recompense.” He raised his three fingers higher. “Deng Xiaoping has said, ‘To uphold Socialism, we must eliminate poverty’ and, my comrades, I am poor.” 26
“I see where this is going,” sighed Vivaldi. “Where?” asked Jack Bauer. “How much was your wager?” asked Cripple Gang. “Five hundred,” they said in unison. Cripple Gang nodded soberly. “Well,” he finally said, “I would be happy to instruct you as to the obvious truth of the matter for one-hundred-fifty.” Vivaldi rolled his eyes. Jack Bauer slapped the ground and said, “Done.” “Each,” added Cripple Gang. They sighed and rubbed their faces, flattened the hair atop their heads with cupped and pensive palms before finally waving in tacit agreement. So, after they had paid him and after he had held each bill skyward and scratched the Chairman’s hair, Cripple Gang began a long oration. He began by listing the admirable physical qualities of each mantis—its hue, size and demeanor—and then elaborated with an exposition regarding their martial virtues, their apparent styles of combat and their bravery. He compared the mantises to the famous oath-brothers, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu, and compared Vivaldi and Jack Bauer themselves to the equally famous Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang. Cripple Gang then described in detail the Great Insect Battle as he observed it, extending his Three Kingdoms metaphor by comparing it, improbably, to the Battle at Red Cliffs. He waved his hand about. His lips grew wet, his cheeks flushed. His hair trembled. Passers-by stopped to listen while Vivaldi and Jack Bauer leaned close, their eyes wide and mouths open. Finally, after nearly a quarter-of-an-hour, Cripple Gang wiped his face and gestured toward the basket. “And so,” he 27
said, “we have before us now the sad, tragic results of this terrible clash. Both heroes lie dead. Two oath-brothers have fallen. Those are their concrete conditions, yes? Those are the facts upon which we must base judgment, which is both obvious and clear, that neither mantis bested the other.” He paused and looked at them, one and then the other, gauging their reactions as the little crowd began murmuring and laughing. Cell phone cameras clicked and small coinage was tossed into his open messenger bag. For their part, Vivaldi and Jack Bauer sat blinking at him and at each other. Cripple Gang looked at them from under his eyebrows and then down the length of his nose. Finally, he shrugged and gathered his things, saying, “And I leave you now to ponder the truth of this lesson and take to heart the wise philosophies of our Great Chairman.” Cripple Gang pushed himself off on his wheelboard, leaving the pair to gawp silently after him until he was lost between the clicking legs and strobic shadows of the gathering afternoon tourist crowd. * * * Cripple Gang spread out upon the sidewalk the fine red square of felt he’d found at the back of the old man’s stall two days ago. He fussed with it, getting it to lay just so and smoothed out the wrinkles with the side of his truncated foot. Satisfied, he laid the fourteen Mao Books on one side like a mahjong meld of his own invention. Nodding to himself, he turned his attention to the Terracotta Warriors. Their fidelity was good enough, which meant the sculptor had a Government contract and some sort of template to work from, but the clay was chalky and unsmooth; it failed to capture the riveted intricacies of the armor let alone the com28
plex folds of the scarves. His little army of fourteen was also completely hollow which made them feel cheaper than those cast and fired with stones embedded in their headspaces to give them heft. Nevertheless, the faces were good with none were twinned in this batch so he shrugged and set them in martial rows upon the left side of the felt, archers to the front. As the first few buses of foreign tourists pulled up before the Drum Tower, Cripple Gang fished the onion paste from his bag, unscrewed the little blue cap and spread a thin layer along the back of his forefinger. Resealing the jar, he tossed it into the bag, plucked up a Mao Book and opened it randomly, careful not to get any of the paste on the vinyl cover or the rice paper pages. As the first group approached—six men, all Americans—he affected an air of studied indifference, moving his lips silently as though deep in study. The first of them paused and Cripple Gang heard the light insuck of his breath as though he’d steel himself for some unpleasant task before speaking. After a moment’s confusion, he understood the American to ask if these were real Little Red Books and Cripple Gang fixed him with his best revolutionary expression and assured him that they were. He went on to explain how they were known as Red Treasure Books by their owners because they were, indeed, the most treasured of possessions. Cripple Gang said, in his passable English, that each of these particular Mao Books had been carried in the pocket of one worthy or another in their struggle against the Four Olds and in the cleansing of the class ranks in the mighty days gone by. Setting down his book, he raised three fingers and explained how the Red Treasure Books contained more than just the thoughts and teachings of a great man but, indeed, the very soul of the Chi29
nese people. He went on to tell the Americans how fortunate it was to have even a few of these books to sell, so precious were they. In the end, all six bought Mao Books for seventy-five yuan each. All complimented Cripple Gang on his English and after the last of them had passed over the requisite currency (and after he’d checked each bill in turn) one of them squatted and carefully asked what had happened to him. Cripple Gang hung his head and wiped beneath his eyes with the curl of his forefinger. When he raised his head again, his red eyes shed tears. He said his situation was unimportant, that his only goal was to see that his mother never had to skip another meal. With a shake of the head, Cripple Gang explained that even though this was a country of famine and of woe, it was also a land of great beauty, peopled by a folk prided on filial devotion. Cripple Gang fell silent and the Americans stared and shuffled about, little red books in over-large hands. They held a little congress in the middle of the bazaar and finally and silently handed Cripple Gang six one-hundred yuan notes. He held each to the sky, squinted at it, scratched Mao’s hair six times, and thanked them profusely on behalf of all mothers, everywhere. Cripple Gang’s mat was one among dozens. Souvenir hawkers had set up along the sidewalk to either side of him and stretched back along the curved stone wall of the Drum Tower. They sold little toy monkeys that danced on strings, flutes carved from calabashes, painted paper fans, green porcelain and little jade figurines. Terracotta Army banners and figurines were everywhere and local guidebooks proliferated, as did postcard sets of the First Emperor’s clay legions 30
in their silent, earthen majesty. Silk scarves of every color and design fluttered in the warm breeze. There were lacquered chopsticks for sale in lacquered boxes on the lacquered tops of folding tables set out before tea shops, spice shops and pearl sellers. Everything polished, everything bright. Travelling tinsmiths sold dragon sculptures of castoff aluminum while shifty, desperate men pedaled knockoff Rolexes, Gucci bags and Mont Blanc pens with aggressive urgency. Paper cutters roamed the crowds snipping shoppers’ silhouettes into matchbook covers and greybeard craftsmen sold combs and toy swords and little soldiers carved from peach wood. Confectioners offered blown sugar shaped like animals for children’s delight. Persimmons by the thousands were set out in plastic baskets and food stalls sold saffron and cinnamon from open hemp sacks and pickled pigs’ snouts, skinned geese and sugared twists of duck and lamb dripping with fat and skewered on kebabs with wedges of tomato, pepper and onion. The thick, brown scents of grease and cooking meat mixed with the pungent, earthy stink of mounded spice, the sweat of the crowd and the wet-dog odor of loose teas. Beggars wandered with trembling palms and all was accompanied by the bazaar’s soundtrack: the insistent horns of pedicabs, the hectic, unmusical jangle of dense commerce, of the high bright tones of flutes and bicycle bells and of a dozen different tongues and the laughter and the moans and the shouts and the cries that coalesced into a mercurial pool of humanity. By the time the next American tour group arrived, Cripple Gang had sold four more Mao books to some German students and a little squad of seven soldiers, including one archer to a French family. He’d also gathered a collection of 31
butts over the course of the day and now sat at the head of his mat, smoking pensively as he waited. He ate the Pringles then reapplied the onion paste and, as the first few cautiously approached, rubbed his eyes and hung his head. The woman who stopped before him wore Nikes and cargo pants and stood with her weight gathered in her heels. The pants were wrinkled, dusty and sooty, which was typical for travelers to his dusty, sooty country and the laces of her shoes were knotted with expansive little bows that flared to either side of her instep. When he looked up at her, his eyes red and damp, she clasped her hands together and widened her eyes. Oh, she said. Oh. Oh my God you poor man look at you. Were you in the earthquake? My God how terrible. She turned away then turned quickly back, knelt to select a Mao Book and an archer, held out four hundred-yuan notes and asked was that enough. She held the bills as though she were holding a spider by the legs and Cripple Gang blinked rapidly at her—partly in surprise and party because his eyes stung so badly—dipped his head in silent assent and murmured his thanks. When he reached for the yuan, she released the bills before he could touch them and they fluttered down to land behind his remaining ranks of soldiery and he checked each one then tucked them away. Cripple Gang surveyed his forces: four warriors, two archers and three Mao Books remained and he had already cleared King Li’s fifteen-hundred. His cricket-leg ached and he rubbed at it while watching for passers-by to drop cigarettes. By habit, he’d set his cap down on one corner of the felt and an expert glance told him he had collected something like another two hundred yuan in coin without even having 32
to beg. He was in the process of transferring the coins into the empty Pringles can when another American woman stopped before his mat. He glanced at her shoes. Nikes again. Her bare right leg was smooth and tan while her left was a shining metal rod socketed into a plastic ankle riding in the throat of her shoe. Cripple Gang blinked. He followed the line of her metal leg to an intricate knee joint and a metal upper leg that disappeared into a pair of baggy shorts. She carried neither crutches nor cane and her hair was Chinese-black. When she removed her sunglasses and squatted, the knee of her prostheses hissed pneumatically. She opened her mouth and closed it again. Searched his eyes as though she’d ask a question. Sunlight through the coal smog set her knee joint glittering. A man stood beside her with his palm lightly on her shoulder as the woman searched for the words to say the thing she wanted. Cripple Gang shifted about. The remains of his army stood ranked before him. When the woman apologized and reached to carefully touch his withered right leg, something shifted within him. He felt it in his throat and in his bowels and he felt it in his heart. Some change he could not recognize but might in days yet to come. He opened and closed his mouth and raised three fingers but had nothing to say so lowered them once more. “I’m sorry,” the woman whispered. “I’m so sorry.” Cripple Gang’s eyes were red and damp. He could not speak but shook his head as though he’d force the words he wanted to tell the things he needed. Of his father and his mother, of his sister and all the ways he was ever hurt by his own country. But he remained silent, shaking his head from 33
side to side. The woman balanced herself on the balls of her feet with her forearms resting on the points of her knees, both the natural and the artificial. She looked at the man and he shrugged and nodded and she stood. Another hiss from her knee. She fished about in her hip bag then knelt again to press a wad of bills into Cripple Gang’s palm, apologized once more and turned away. Cripple Gang glanced at the yuan. He reckoned it more than two-thousand. He held it in his hand. The bills were so light. As ephemeral as watery moonlight reflected in a stream and as ineradicable as an emperor’s delight for pools of mercury shaped like the sea. Sighing, he opened his mouth to call her back but she had disappeared into the crowd, leaving him behind, alone, his eyes red and wet. * * * That evening, Cripple Gang went back out to Xi Street and bought two lamb kebabs and an orange soda. He wheeled across Century Ginwa and ate beneath the giant video screens above the plaza where models cavorted in the latest fashions from Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong. Upscale shoppers hurried back and forth across the neonwashed square, heels clicking on geometric designs worked into the dark concrete. He sipped his soda. It was warm and flat. No one paid him any mind. He finished the first kebab while listening to an old man play the zither for loose coin, then ate the center from the second, set the stick between his teeth and pushed off across the plaza. By the time he reached the East Asia Bank his left arm was very tired. He stopped beside the atrium, cupped his hand against the smoky glass and peered inside. Zhang 34
Yung-fa was curled up on the floor. Cripple Gang sighed. He had to cajole a passing news seller from his bicycle to slide his card through the reader as it was set well above his reach. The door opened with a low hiss and he rocked himself up the steps by rotating his hips about and pushing with his left arm. Dragging the wheelboard up after himself, he had a moment of clumsy trouble when the wheels caught in the door as it closed and when he was finally in, he leaned back against the smoky glass to catch his breath. Across the tiny space, Zhang Yung-fa huddled under a thin blanket, stinking like a dead pig. “Fuck,” muttered Cripple Gang. “King Li’s right.” He coughed and softly groaned. After a few moments, he reached out with his left heel to nudge the other man. “Didn’t Confucius teach that the superior man develops a cleanliness of heart and mind?” asked Cripple Gang. “You might consider starting with a cleanliness of body and see where that leads.” Zhang Yung-fa did not move but his voice slipped out from beneath the blanket. “Fuck Confucius,” he said. “And get out of my room.” Cripple Gang could see the lines and planes of his body beneath the blanket. So thin. “I brought you a kebab,” he finally said. Zhang Yung-fa roused himself. He looked at the kebab then looked at Cripple Gang. He panted and the whites of his eyes, even in the dim glow shed from the ATM screen, were yellow. His knuckles were huge and red, his lips cracked and his faced dusted with patchy stubble. After a moment, he reached out a trembling hand. 35
Cripple Gang watched him eat. He cleared his throat. “Zhang Yung-fa, where are your pants?” “Traded them yesterday,” he said around mouthfuls. “You traded your pants?” “For a persimmon,” Zhang Yung-fa nodded, swallowing with great, jerking shudders as the food went into him. “But it was soft. I think it made me sick” Cripple Gang sighed, stripped the shirt from his back and handed it over. “Tie it by the sleeves around your waist,” he said, reaching into his messenger bag to remove the square of red felt. With his fingers and teeth, he opened a tear in its center and slipped it over his head to wear like a cape. He raised three fingers and his chin. “Now I am garbed like an emperor,” he proclaimed. Zhang Yung-fa looked at him, shrugged and finished the last of the kebab, licking the juice from the stick and using its pointed end to clean his teeth. When he’d finished, he subsided beneath the blanket once more, using the shirt as a pillow. Cripple Gang watched him settle. He took the twothousand yuan from his pocket and sat holding it in his hand, in the dark of the atrium. “I wish I could die,” murmured Zhang Yung-fa from the edge of sleep. Cripple Gang pursed his lips and sat silently a long time as Zhang Yung-fa fell back into an uneasy sleep. Then he took a great deep breath and rolled up the bills he’d accumulated throughout the day and tucked them into one of Zhang Yung-fa’s shoes. He moved to the door. It slid open and the wheelboard slipped from his grasp, went clattering down the steps and out into the wide sidewalk. “Fuck,” muttered Cripple Gang as he prepared for the 36
long, grinding trip down the stairs and over to the board.
After Su Tung P’o Today my daughter wanted to hear stories from my youth Tonight I sit outside in the October chill Reading old poems of mine under the porch light. There is no moon A neighbor stops by and tells me much of his life story And his plans for the future I think of my friend Theo, old, alone, losing his sight And I wonder about my own old age The zen master said Wood does not become ash In other words each moment is absolute One moment does not become the next The boy doesn’t become the man doesn’t become the old man Doesn’t become the corpse There is much in this, I know, for my deep reflection Instead I grow sad at one more autumn and the music of crickets
Minimal Offense Intended I’m not going to hang out the living room window and yell at the mail lady. I’m not going to throw lit cigarettes at tanks with sirens that don’t even have time for the memory of strong eyeglasses or churches that tell stories on milk bottles and priceless works of art. Don’t worry about me when the weather gets warm, and I want to consider grocery shopping in Hong Kong or just the black market in Queens. There’s a lot of new music on my self-made radio station. My hands still love to run through her hair. The neighborhood kids aren’t trying to leave rattlesnakes in my mailbox. I can hold on, hold on with both hands, see that point where the high and low roads are at constant odds and still find time to smile like a idiot. I’ve been learning how to stand on the air between the passenger seat of my old friend’s Cadillac and that place in the kingdom of Heaven where they expect you to get through the paperwork with a pen.
I’m going to be just fine, and I’ve only got a few people to thank for that. A lot of brilliant students and competent writers gave up on me around the time I started picking fights with chess players in the park. Just enough people hung around. Their patience, most of all her kind words made me look like I could outrun two packs a day and all those books I needed to read. I’m grateful to the lot of them, even when I was pretty sure that some were just humoring the change jar and sleeping through my favorite highways. That’s probably just sentimental paranoia talking. Watch the way I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to tell half-strangers that I’ll call them later, only to do nothing of the sort. I’m paying for breakfast with perfect change every single time, and that’s not an accident by any means. It’s a few points higher than dumb luck, and I’m not revealing anything further.
Contributor Notes Gabriel Ricard is a writer, actor, stand-up comedian and producer. He has written short fiction, poetry, film/stage scripts, book/film/music reviews, novels, creative non-fiction and interviews. He has also been a featured contributor with such publications as Unlikely Stories and The Modest Proposal. As an actor he has appeared in several successful stage plays and short films. Born in Canmore, Alberta, Canada, he lives in Waverly, Virginia. Brian Kuhl, originally from the United States, now lives and teaches in Zhejiang Province. Kevin Sexton was born in Montreal, Canada and received a degree in creative writing from Concordia University. His poetry has been published in Dawson College's Creations Magazine and Concordia's Soliloquies, as well as the WithWords chapbook, "Crystal Balls and Birth Canals." He currently lives in South Korea as a kindergarten teacher. Aditya Shankar writes in English and Malayalam, and publishes poetry and articles in leading journals across the globe, including Asia Writes, Meadowland Review, The Little Magazine, The Word Plus, Indian Literature, The Literary X Magazine, Munyori, The Pyramid, Poetry Chain, Mastodon Dentist, The Wild Goose Poetry Review, Bayou Review, Meadowland Review, Words -Myth, Chandrabhaga, Miller’s pond, Message in a bottle, Aireings, Hudson View, Snakeskin, The Legendary, Literary Bohemian, The Caledonia Review, The Other Herald among others. He lives and works in Bangalore.
Emily Strauss lived in China from 1999-2008, with a one year break, both on the mainland and in Macao. She taught EFL and was a teacher trainer in Chengdu, Suzhou, and Zhuhai, and traveled extensively, including three months in Urumqi, and at least 17 provinces. Lance Weller has published short fiction in several literary journals. “The Breathable Air” won Glimmer Train’s ShortStory Award for New Writers in 1997 and “The Seven League Boots,” published in New Millennium Writings, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2000. He is also published in The American Literary Review. His most recent work has been published in the online journal White Whale Review and The Broadkill Review. An excerpt from his unpublished novel, Wilderness was published in the Fall/Winter 2008-09 Lincoln issue of Quiddity. Buff Whitman-Bradley is the author of two books of poetry, b. eagle, poet, and The Honey Philosophies. His poetry has appeared in many print and online journals. In addition to writing, he produces documentary videos and audios. His interviews with U.S. soldiers who have refused to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan can be heard at www.couragetoresist.org. He lives in Marin County, California, with his wife Cynthia.