Song of the Travelling Penguin
mixtape

so over at my personal blog, i posted a mixtape of my 2012, so it’s mostly a mixtape of living in china, coping with china, and leaving china to come home again. it’s got links and videos and talks about emotions and things. 

a penguin went to china: a mixtape

the packing list

somebody i love is moving from australia to japan, packing their life into 30kgs, and i realised i never posted my packing list for when i moved from australia to china. 

5 business shirts

2 pyjamas

1 leggings

1 fancy shirt

1 summer/autumn dress

1 penguin blanket

1 winter jacket

1 summer formal dress

2 summer work shirt

1 casual skirt

1 vest

2 business pants

4 tshirts

trackies

undies, socks

2 scarves

DL SKYPE

OH MY GOD BUY PRESENTS

the pillow book of sei shonagon

misc ayad stuff

cross-stitch for d

carbon accounting notes

notes from chinese enviro class

james ng print

chargers + electronics (laptop, phone)

external drive

diary

sally and manchot

mustachioed heart

australian sunscreen

sunglasses

english breakfast tea

vegan chocolate

The Fat Years (盛世:中国,2013年) by Chan Koonchung (陳冠中)

The Fat Years, you may have heard, is banned in China. This is sort of true. In fact it is the original Chinese edition, 盛世:中国,2013, that is banned on the mainland. I saw its English language translation, The Fat Years, for sale in many a bookshop (but only in English, not in Chinese). 

This situation actually tells you a lot about the Fat Years, and the themes found therein.

Published originally in 2009 and translated to English in 2011, The Fat Years explores “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” (中国特色社会主义), the potential ascendency of fascist elements within the CCP, and the erasure and unspokenness of certain events in China’s recent history, primarily the Tiananmen Incident. 

A month has gone missing from China’s memory; there is no official record of this month, and few people remember it. The people themselves are happy and content; China is prosperous and there is “no country in the world as good as China.” 

Lao Chen is an author of thrillers who hasn’t written any thrillers recently, but that’s okay because he’s so content and happy - until he is crossed in love by an old flame who talks about the missing month before disappearing. He’s unconvinced that such a month ever existed, but suddenly unhappy, and almost by accident he sets out to find out what happened to the month and to the people. 

Part satire, part dystopian imaging, part road trip, part political thriller, The Fat Years seeks to establish reasons for erasure, and reasons for acceptance, and whilst it explores these issues it never places the blame in any one area, and never really comes to any conclusion. The government does things; the people do things; the government accepts some actions; the people accept some actions. The structure of the novel means there is a direct opportunity for the government to defend its actions, and defend it it does, in a way that makes such cold (but boring) sense in a Chinese context. It also includes warnings about the path China is taking, at the same time as providing support. It’s a clear indictment of the government system, at the same time as accepting what was done as needful. 

The novel offers an explanation for the happiness that had me laughing, and offers an explanation for the memory loss that had me contemplating throwing the book across the room. But it really spoke to me as a really accurate imaging of what it means to be in China today, and what it means to be following China’s path, and at what price comes Chinese (and the world’s) stability. 

I disliked the structure, made up of two one hundred page chapters followed by a one hundred page epilogue of plodding exposition - I had to make an effort to finish the book, where I had eagerly read the first two sections. The Fat Years uses a lot of Chinese literary conceits, even in English, which can make it a slightly confusing read for those not used to it. I felt like nothing really was answered, though it has created a lot of questions for me on China’s current situation. I really liked this book, though, and the questions it raised within me, and I wonder how much of that is because it speaks to how I feel about China now, having lived there for almost a year, basically in the space in which the novel was set. In this interview with Danwei (in English), Chan Koonchung suggests it’s in a way aimed at people who are not familiar with the situation domestically in China, and though I feel my understanding of the book is different having read it after living in Beijing, I would be interested to chat with others who have read this and are not based in/familiar with the domestic situation. I think if I’d read it before living in Beijing I wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much.

I’d also like to read this not in translation, which I suspect will require tapping someone from HK. I’ve heard the Chinese version is more punchy than this one, and the telling is less lecturing and more compelling. 

I wish there had been more ladies, and less massive man pain, and that we’d been able to learn more about the people who remembered the missing month. 

seven out of ten jiaozi. 

Further reading: Great review at China Heritage Quarterly

things i didn’t do this time around (a list)
  • visit tiantan
  • night time at beihai
  • pangjiayuan
  • buy a new mahjong set
  • learn how to make jianbing or something
  • eat enough hotpot
  • museums: watermelon; national; art; eunuch
  • out of town excursions: beidaihe; datong; pingyao

but there’s always next time. 

My bike and I parted ways late on Tuesday night, after nine months of rain, snow, and sun. On Friday morning I woke to an email letting me know it had already been stolen from its new owner. Goodbye, bike. You were great. I hope your thief doesn’t notice the bit where I broke your frame until its really inconvenient.

My bike and I parted ways late on Tuesday night, after nine months of rain, snow, and sun. On Friday morning I woke to an email letting me know it had already been stolen from its new owner. Goodbye, bike. You were great. I hope your thief doesn’t notice the bit where I broke your frame until its really inconvenient.

I went to Beihai on my last morning as a person living in Beijing. I had never been before, and it was beautiful and lovely and I wish I had gone before. There were groups of people doing taichi, people doing water calligraphy, people singing, bands with speakers and microphones, dancers every fifty metres, fan dancers and ribbon dancers and people doing weird exercises I’ve never before seen. Little kids playing games. Old people walking with speakers tucked into their beltloops. Beautiful trees, people out on the lake. The air was a bit foggy but it was bright and perfectly Beijing, and a lovely way to spend my last morning in Beijing.
Click through for a few more photos. 

I went to Beihai on my last morning as a person living in Beijing. I had never been before, and it was beautiful and lovely and I wish I had gone before. There were groups of people doing taichi, people doing water calligraphy, people singing, bands with speakers and microphones, dancers every fifty metres, fan dancers and ribbon dancers and people doing weird exercises I’ve never before seen. Little kids playing games. Old people walking with speakers tucked into their beltloops. Beautiful trees, people out on the lake. The air was a bit foggy but it was bright and perfectly Beijing, and a lovely way to spend my last morning in Beijing.

Click through for a few more photos. 

Last day as a resident in Beijing, basically down to the minute in so far as my visa is concerned. Even though I’m off home, don’t part ways from my tumblr just yet - I’ve posted every day for 291 days, sometimes twice a day, and I still have stuff to say, photos to share, experiences to process. 

Today I visited Beihai before work, and I can’t believe I didn’t go before. I loved it. I love this about Beijing, early morning visits to parks, and I wish I’d tried harder to take advantage of that. 

Beijing I love you, thanks for having me. 后会有期!

Last day as a resident in Beijing, basically down to the minute in so far as my visa is concerned. Even though I’m off home, don’t part ways from my tumblr just yet - I’ve posted every day for 291 days, sometimes twice a day, and I still have stuff to say, photos to share, experiences to process.

Today I visited Beihai before work, and I can’t believe I didn’t go before. I loved it. I love this about Beijing, early morning visits to parks, and I wish I’d tried harder to take advantage of that.

Beijing I love you, thanks for having me. 后会有期!

one last night in beijing

with a suitcase that’s totally heavier than my weight limit. 

and also i have no idea where my paperwork for my flight is. i think it may be in the suitcase that i’m not gonna open again cause it was a pain to seal shut. 

memorial
北河沿大街

memorial

北河沿大街

I love buses in Beijing because you just turn up and wait for one; because they take the weirdest, most roundabout routes, which ultimately means there’s probably a bus that goes directly between your points A and B; because they cost between 4 mao and 1 rmb.

But I really miss tram tracker.

I love buses in Beijing because you just turn up and wait for one; because they take the weirdest, most roundabout routes, which ultimately means there’s probably a bus that goes directly between your points A and B; because they cost between 4 mao and 1 rmb.

But I really miss tram tracker.