February 2, 2020
Travel in the time of SARS
In early 2003, I spend some time in China travelling by trains in Guangdong and Hunan provinces. Trains were where you met interesting people - students, business folks, retired people with interesting stories from the 1960s and 70s, bored train security officers. Almost everyone was learning English, and they were keen to talk to me. Often people alighting at a station before mine would leave their fruits and snacks for me as a farewell gift.
In Changsha, I visited the school where Mao studied. The students, mostly teacher trainees, showed me around the campus. Almost every corner had a commemorative plaque that celebrated Mao. One talked about how Mao organised discussions on current affairs. Another one, near a well, praised the stoicism of Mao by informing us how he took cold water baths. The students were proud that they studied in such a prestigious school. I asked them “I am sure Chairman Mao was a naughty kid. Is there a notice somewhere here that says - Chairman Mao was punished here?”. The students replied in unison “Chairman Mao was a good boy”.
I only realised something was wrong in China when I flew from Guangzhou back to Bangkok. Our plane was made to wait for a long time before connecting to the embarkation gate. Once we alighted, they started checking everyone’s temperature. In Thailand, the papers were talking about SARS. Slowly news started trickling out of China. One of the students I met in the train messaged me that her roommates had thrown her out as she was from a town that had a high number of infections. There were a few months of chaos. But by the time I went to China in September that year, everything had turned normal. It was back to happy people waiting for me to share their stories.
February 1, 2020
Something I learnt early on in my life was never to trust people who promise to do good to “our” people” by doing bad to “them people.”
January 18, 2020
A nest of spies and such
The Rex was where the journalists, spies and such people used to meet during the war years. Now lovers find happiness outside.
Another new place that brings nostalgia is the new premises of Brodard bakery.
January 2, 2020
A return to Shanghai
I am back in Shanghai after 16 years. And back in Mainland China after 10 years.
I didn’t get a chance to spend a lot of time out and about, but I managed to go to a bookshop to see what people are reading. I felt that the selection was tamer compared to what I used to see in bookstores about a decade back. The only trouble with coming back to China is that now I realise how much I missed China after defecting to Taiwan. Suddenly, I am borrowing library books on China, I am subscribing to China-related podcasts. I want to go back to the West (Sichuan) and the North East.
The bug these days is that the visa is around 100 USD and it is an only single entry. They are also far stricter about where you stay overnight - no more adventures.
I sometimes think that places have a certain time where they kind of exist in a twilight zone - you can steal a little bit of chaos and there is some optimism that the things will keep tending towards less rigidity. I think in China that time was the late 1990s and 2000s. Surely, China is more affluent now and I have no doubt, most people have a higher quality of life. It is just that the selfish me wishes for China from that time. It was my China.
December 24, 2019
Post mid-night Hanoi
The Lotte logo illuminates the heavy air. One joy of being a vampire is the sight that you can only see late at night.
December 14, 2019
Bangladesh in Hanoi
Walking along a narrow alley in Hanoi’s Japanese town, I spotted this art featuring the map of Bangladesh. Turns out a new curry place has opened up.
No Japanese area is complete without a curry house.