Monday, 18 April 2011

Dignity in Dying

It had taken almost a year. He had crossed a continent, passing over mountains and braving wild forests. He had made his way across seas, both calm and stormy. He had wandered the desert and sweated under the suns unrelenting heat, but finally, he had arrived. He stared up at the ancient pyramids, the wonders he had travelled so far to see, and felt... nothing. He knew then for certain, what until now he had only suspected: It was time to end it all.

He had never suffered much in his life. Never had he been a slave, nor had his family died in some tragedy. He had never been part of a great, intolerable war. But he wondered now if any of these things would have been worse than the life he had ended up with. At least those people knew the bleeding colours of life and death, rather than the monotonous grey that seemed to make up his existence. It sounded selfish, yet part of him knew it was true.

He knew the problem was his lonesomeness. All he had fared on his travels, all that he had seen was meaningless without companionship. But it was already too late for that. He knew the solitary life changed people in irreversible ways and knew that it had made him cold, made him insulated, made him see the world as abstract. No, it was time to end it.

He would wander back into the desert, the land that mirrored his present life more than any other place. There he would end it all with a quiet, drama-less dignity. There was nothing else left for him in the world.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Cigarettes and Politics

The BBC and other news agencies often make it seem like the people in China are on the edge of revolution, just waiting for their chance to rise up. It's far from the images I've seen, most people seem content with the party and their leadership, but something happened the other day that made me think otherwise.

Recently the Chinese government said they were going to introduce a smoking ban in public places, bring them into line with many other countries in the world. A move which seemed like a good idea to me, as most young people I've met don't like being around people that smoke.

It was when I went to bathroom during a break in class that I found half a dozen male students of mind all crowded round the window smoking. I asked them what they would do when the ban came into effect.
“What they going to do about?” said the most confident one, “They can't make people.” Clearly the others agreed.
Statements like this a pretty rare from students, who are normally quite nationalistic and it did make me wonder if times were changing.

On reflection, it's probably part of this unspoken agreement that seems to exist between the Chinese people and communist party:
“You get to run the country as long as things keep getting better, but don't interfere in our day to day lives.”

Like fake DVD's (including all the “banned” films), free music downloads, local gambling and other things that are supposed to be illegal in China, smoking is public places is almost certainly here to stay. For the government, to try and really enforce the ban would be to break that unspoken agreement and is something they're not going to risk their leadership over.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

A Confession

  We recently had a few days holiday and I decided to go on a little cycle trip. I picked a point on the map, a lake in the west, and started heading towards it – I didn't get far.
About sixtey kilometers from the city I live in, as I was leaving another city called DengZhou, I met a guy called Shao Shan (Little mountain), who was ridding his scooter back home. We travelled together for a while and seemed to get on well. For a start he spoke “proper” chinese, rather than the local language that I still struggle to understand. I think as well the fact that he had spent so much time away from his home gave us some things in common to talk about.

  He invited me back to stay with his family for the night and I got to take a trip out in to the Chinese countryside. It was a nice experience, as not only did I get to see a part of Chinese life that few make contact with, but also I had someone who could explain it to me as well.

  Now at that time it was the grave sweeping festival and I went with Shao Shan to see his grandmother's grave: a large mound, about a meter or so high in the middle of a maize field. He tapped some money on to large blocks of paper, which he then set light to (the paper not the money), before kowtowing to the mound serval times. The cermony was finshed after he set off a line of firecrackers. Shao Shan told me much about his grandmother, the woman who had raised him for the most part and I couldn't help but be reminded of my own Nana.

  My Nana, as we called her, was not really our relation. She was an odler woman who had been a close friend of my mothers for a long time. I think they may even have been novice nuns at the same time, though I can't be sure. Nana looked after us a lot, we went to her house every day after school for dinner and she looked after us in exactly the same way a grandmother would.

  I'm not sure why, perhaps because we were older, perhaps she just missed her home, but at some point Nana returned her real family in Shropshire, somewhere on the border with Wales. Despite all she had done for me, I didn't keep in touch anywhere near as much as should have done, just a phone call now and again, and I'm embarrssed to think how much I took her for granted.

  It was maybe about a year after I learned to drive that I decided I should try to go down and visit Nana. I called her up and made some vague plans to go and see her after my exams – it never happened. I can't remember why exactly, it was just one of those things that I kept putting off and putting off, maybe there was a good excuse - probably there wasn't.

  I eventualy made it down to Nana's home in time for the funeral and, even today, I still feel shame for never having repaid the kindness that she showed to me and my family. But my vist to Shao Shan's grandmother's grave made me realise that I never learned my lesson from Nana's death. I am still as selfish and still forget to show thanks to those in my life who have always been there for me.

Why show respect for the dead, when we don't show respect for the living?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


Recently got a short story published with Abandoned Towers Magazine. You can see it for free on their website: