Important: New web address for STP Editing

Moving to

Moving to “STPediting.wordpress.com”

Hello everybody!

I will now be posting on a new website that, in most respects, is identical to this one. All that’s changed is the web address (URL).

https://mrbrookesabroad.wordpress.com has now moved to http://STPediting.wordpress.com.

You’ll find all the old posts and information there on the new website. The reason for the change is to focus more on the professional/writing side of  things instead of the personal, which was what Mr Brookes Abroad was intended to be.

Please do visit the new site and be sure to click the Follow button to make sure you’re subscribed. All new posts will be on the new site, STP Editing, from now on.

All contact details remain the same and this won’t affect any ongoing projects.

I look forward to seeing you all on the new site!

—David Brookes

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Holy cows and swastikas – “Cycles of Udaipur”

199 Pichola Lake


In 2012-13 I was lucky enough to take some time to travel the world. My first stop was India, a country so crazy I don’t have the space to describe it properly here. India is a bizarro-England, in some familiar and in some the complete opposite. It is frantic, deliriously colourful, filthy yet pure, spiritual yet seemingly gods-forsaken. I loved it.

Despite the great times I had in subsequent countries – including the currently blighted Nepal (donate here) – I decided that my next novel would be set in India, which is in many ways unexplored by modern literature.

Contemporary novels set in India (at least, those written in English), are enamoured with the history and spirituality of the country, at the expense of reality. They acknowledge the issue of poverty and patriarchal social structure, but shirk its rapidly-growing modernity for a daydreamy post-Raj interpretation. They fail entirely to deal with the disillusionment of its modern youth, the outpacing of technology and wealth compared to the cultural maturity of its emerging middle class, and the much-underpublicised rise in sophisticated gang crime.


Cycles of Udaipur


I adored many of the cities I visited during my time in India, but my favourite was almost certainly Udaipur: beautiful, serene, artistic Udaipur, in deep Rajasthan.  There are two cities in the world that I felt a strong immediate bond with upon visiting (the second is Kathmandu, specifically Boudhanath). I set my novel, “Cycles of Udaipur”, in Rajasthan and set out to explore the new tribulations of India’s youth as described above.

The finished result is “Cycles of Udaipur”, which has been much changed and edited since I finished its first draft a long time ago. I’m now very excited to approach my first literary agency, which the is the first step on the long, steep, painful road towards traditional publication.

I’ll keep you posted – in the mean time, wish me luck!

—db

Gong Xi Fa Cai – Happy Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year 2010, Manchester, England

Chinese New Year 2010, Manchester, England

As countries across Asia kick off celebrations for the new lunar year, I want to extend my heartfelt best wishes to all the people I’ve met across Asia the last three years.

Since I visited China in late 2012, then Hong Kong and Vietnam, where I celebrated Christmas and New Year, I met a lot of great people who are too numerous to name here.  The same goes for those I encountered when revisiting China last year.

I’d like to wish a very happy New Year to everyone out there, and hope the next twelve months are prosperous and happy ones!

Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Kung Hay Fai Choy!

It’s very strange to think that, had things been only a little bit different, I could now be spending my fourth month in Xi’an as an ex-patriot. I’d like to thank everybody I met during my time in Xi’an and wish you all the best!  You were a great support and source of much happiness at that stressful time.

Sheffield, where I was born and raised, also has a large Chinese community of its own, especially students who came from across China and Hong Kong to study in one of our two universities.  Hopefully the city will be celebrating too, and I’m looking forward to heading out and taking part.  If you see my chomping dumplings off Fargate, say hi!

As part of my own celebrations, I recently released a rather popular collection of short stories set in China, “Love is an Eye That Doesn’t See“, which also includes a narrative article “Chasing the Dragon” in honour of the holiday.  Check it out!

Happy New Year!

Now where’s my red envelope??

—db

Photo Gallery: Xi’an Temple of the City Gods

Xi’an’s Temple of the City Gods is my new favourite place in the city.  Even though I only had a day and a half to explore the city, I came back to the temple a second time to explore the inner courtyards.

Xi’an is one of China’s ancient capital cities.  Its City God temple is known as one of the “big three” temples of its kind, the others being in Beijing and Nanjing, and is held in very high regard across China.  Officially the temple is about 600 years old, though it was largely destroyed by a fire in the early 1700s and rebuilt.

The inner courtyards have sheltered rooms on either side, housing minor gods and local heroes.  I think I read somewhere that a closed room in the centre of the courtyard holds a Buddha relic.  The main temple at the back of the inner courtyard holds a giant statue of the City God, who sits serenely with his eyes closed, protected by four mighty generals.  These statues are impressively carved, painted, and must be twenty feet high.

There are dozens of minor gods depicted in the temple.  One room has tiered shelves with a statue depicting each one.  Each are designated years of the Christian calender and are especially worshiped on the appropriate year.  Some are warrior types, others are scholars, doctors or spiritual role models.

I spent a few hours on the temple grounds, mainly looking inside the temples rather than entering them, and not taking photos as this was requested.  I watched a gangly, smiling monk fellow in black robes and traditional curly-toed shoes wander from statue to statue, offering prayers and stroking his beard.  He was from out of town and apparently delighted to be there.

Considering that just outside the walls of the compound is the bustling city centre, the grounds were a very quiet and peaceful place for me to meditate on the troubling events of the past week and try to come to terms with a disappointing venture.


2014.10.31 - Temple of the City Gods 042014.10.31 - Temple of the City Gods 112014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 022014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 042014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 052014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 102014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 202014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 14


The following photos weren’t taken by me, but pilfered off the internet.


City God Photos (not mine) 03City God Photos (not mine) 02City God Photos (not mine) 01— db

Departure

It wasn’t an easy decision to abandon the job in Xi’an and return to the UK.  I had already invested a lot in the venture and knew that I wouldn’t likely return any time soon.  It seemed that a mixture of issues left me little choice, but in the end I was not disappointed to leave, but drawn home and grateful for the excuse.

There were significant issues with the job posting (see last post) as well as peripheral hardships that were expected, but difficult to deal with nonetheless.  I considered staying on in China to find another post, though it had taken me months of hard work to sift through the obviously bad options to find this one, apparently-promising, opportunity.  I didn’t have the patients, money or will to hang around in Xi’an for another shot.  In truth, I just wanted to go home.  A year ago this seemed like one of my last few options, but certain changes in my personal life had happened and my ambitions hadn’t caught up.

Eager to get going, I moved out of my crummy apartment in the Yangjiacun district and into the old city, which is surrounded by four ancient walls.  I took up for two nights in the Han Tang Inn hostel.  I realised upon arriving that I had stayed there before, a few years ago when I last visited China.  It was a perfect haven after the difficult and emotional week I’d had.  I checked into my six bed dorm and marveled at the relative luxury compared to what would have been my home in Yangjiacun.  It felt clean, safe and comfortable.


Han Tang Inn Hostel

Han Tang Inn Hostel


 

I ordered some comforting grub and a cup of tea and mapped out my next day and a half.  It says something about my experience that I’d felt extremely nervous about lugging my baggage out into the street to hail the taxi that would bring me here, and that I was reluctant to go outside.  I wanted to stay where I was protected.  This was a far cry from my attitude in 2012, when I flew out with my then-girlfriend to explore India and Southeast Asia and bounced from plane to taxi to train without batting an eyelid.  That trip was a breeze with barely a worry in the world, and no compunction about hailing a taxi, or trying to buy fruit from people who we couldn’t communicate with except for the odd word and lots of gesticulating.

So that these new anxieties didn’t get the better of me, I forced myself out into the daylight.  The hostel is centrally located so I was right in the middle of the old city.  The area inside of the city walls is barely touched by the area’s notorious smog – most of the traffic and ever-present dusty construction is without – and sunlight shone down as I reacquainted myself with the ancient capital.

It took no time at all for me to remember why I’d chosen Xi’an to be my new home.  The city, like any in China, is horrendously crowded, but provided one isn’t in a hurry there is little to get wound up about.  The crowds stroll along and the traveler strolls with it, up to the lynchpin of the city, the old Bell Tower, and beyond to its partner the Drum Tower, on through the Muslim Quarter to barter for trinkets, out towards the Temple of the City Gods.  I was out until dark and then headed back.  But even the trip out into the clean, well-maintained centre of Shaanxi culture didn’t make me regret my decision to buy that flight home, though it served to balance some of the disappointment of my experiences.


 

The Bell Tower

The Bell Tower


Temple of the City Gods

Temple of the City Gods


 

That night I suffered the bane of the backpacker: sharing a dorm room with a snorer.  And snore he did, that friendly bearded Swede, from 05:00 for over an hour.  I hadn’t been able to get to sleep, but just as I was drifting off I was treated to that pre-dawn sonorous honk.  After a failed attempt to sleep in the common room, I dug deeper into my overdraft for a private room.

Blessed peace!

I took a similar wander the next day (the inner temple was closed the day before).  I met a few interesting locals, watched arguments over a game of Chinese chess, and was asked to have a photo taken with a group of local students.

Soon it was time to head to the airport.  This time the route was via Hong Kong, and I would get a train from London via the Tube rather than fly to Manchester.  It was 30+ hours of sleepless travel, but I was immensely grateful to be back home amongst the loved ones I’d missed so dearly, even after only a week.

Returning so soon is disappointing and embarrassing, but these are short-lived emotions.  The sensation of peace upon finally climbing into bed in the house I grew up in clarified a lot of thoughts and feelings for me.  For now I’m very happy to be home!

— db

 

Arrival

[Continued from previous post…]

The fun didn’t end there.  That was your basic, everyday long-distance-travel hell.

I met my guide in Xi’an and we took a taxi to the apartment.  Bleary eyed, I followed her across the road, around the corner, up to the building.  In China and Hong Kong, apartment buildings are called ‘mansions’.  The mansion looked okay from outside, even though we’d passed through what looked like a red light district (most Chinese cities look like red light districts at night – because of all the red lights, natch).  So far this part of the city, which I’d been warned was a little shady, seemed quite hostile.  I put it down to the lack of sleep and onset of culture shock.  The apartment building lobby echoed with coughing and footsteps on the hard floors.  We waited for lift from the centre of a crowd of other tenants who were decidedly scruffy looking.  What kind of a den was I walking into?  I was reminded of Chungking Mansion, the notorious Kowloon “melting pot” which has been compared to the smugglers’ cantina in Star Wars…


 

hem-dazon-at-mos-eisley-cantina


On the 24th floor was my apartment.  The door failed to open on the first few tries, but admitted us begrudgingly.  Spacious but spartan, the one-room place did not fill me with a warm homely feeling.  There was a metal rack against one wall, supposedly for hanging clothes but would have been better placed in a warehouse.  A bed with a broken headboard jutted out from the cold tiled walls.  Plastic lawn furniture comprised my dining area, with a small gas stove and fridge filling one corner opposite a top-loading washing machine.  A filthy wetroom toilet with a shower head gave out a pungent aroma that presumably originated in the waste pipes of the 100 other apartments in the building, or else the sewer itself.

To many people in China this might be a half-decent place to live.  To my pampered Western eye it looked like a bed in the middle of a kitchen.  It had a drain in the middle of the floor, just in case I wanted to commit a bloody murder or slaughter a pig.  There was a distressing amount of anti-rodent and -bug artillery around the place, kindly abandoned by the previous teacher.

The previous teacher.  I still haven’t gotten his full story.  He exists as a legend spoken of only in whispers.  Some say he was Russian.  Some say he took a Chinese wife.  Papers found in a plastic wallet on the metal racking suggested he was an artist and perhaps a student of biology.  He worked at the university for three years.  He worked at the university for three months.  He retired because he wanted to start a family.  He was fired because he was emotionally unstable and immune to reason.  The truth eludes me still.  If he is still alive, I wish him well.

I had little time to admire the place that would be my home for the next year.  The bed had no bedding, and so my guide offered to take me to the supermarket to pick up sheets and supplies.

We ventured out into the manic night-scene of the street.  Side-stepped traffic and smokey roadside vendors.  Crossed the road when a green light appeared, but dodged speeding cars and scooters that ignored the signals. “I don’t get how the crossings work,” my guide admitted.  It’s because people cross even if the light isn’t green; it’s because traffic mows through pedestrians even if the light is red.

We caught a bus.  The buses are crowded and have two doors.  Get on by the driver, get off further down via the second door.  Don’t expect passengers to make way for you as you try to get to that exit.  Just shove, there’s no other way.  The crazy people won’t mind.

The supermarket was in the basement of a shopping centre.  Likewise hectic.  My guide asked where she could find bedding; a kettle; bottled water.  The shopping assistants were appalled that she should ask questions.  They wished not to be disturbed.  All the duvets were in different styles.  Each style came in one colour only.  One may have the style one prefers, or else the colour one prefers.  I picked a duvet of adequate thickness (incidentally, pink).  I found sheets and covers, and a pillow, and the other stuff.  This came to RMB 400, about £40.  We paid, carried everything by hand because bags are not provided.

Back on the bus.  I sweated inside my coat.  The water bottles were slipping from under my arm.  The duvet, in a box with a wire handle, was weighing down and the handle cut into my fingers.  My guide shoved to the exit door.  I stood where I was.  Every jolt of the bus made me half-fall.  I dropped the bottles, picked them up.  I had to relinquish my hold on the duvet box for a minute.  I must have looked like a humour, hairy, toppling clown.  I gathered everything as we approached my apartment.  I had a giant box and other things and people would not move.  I lifted them above my head and shoved.  My guide alighted; the doors closed in front of me.  My guide shrieked to the driver.  Eventually the doors opened.

I got back to the apartment.  We ran over basics, like paying for utilities (there is a small office in the lobby downstairs).  Then she leaves, saying she will see me at 1pm tomorrow to show me the university.  I am relieved to be alone.  It’s 9pm and I haven’t slept for about 30 hours.

My new duvet covers are not a set.  They are a single sheet.  I put it on the bed.  The pillow and duvet go uncovered for the night.  I have a quick shower in the disgusting wetroom.  I send a few quick messages to loved ones and then try to sleep.

Sleep does not come for four hours.

I wake up to banging.  Someone is banging on my door.  I check my phone – 13:20.  I set three consecutive alarms and slept through them all.  My guide is at the door, I apologise, she leaves as I quickly shower and dress.  There is a meeting at 2pm with the assistant director.  We catch the bus again.  Things are a little easier in the daylight, after twelve hours of sleep.  But the university campus is shabby, run into the ground.  Most of the buildings seem empty and decrepit.  My guide points to a clock tower. ‘Look, London!  Not really…’

No, not really.

Is this really a university?  The 13th rated university in all of China?  Where are all the people?

We pass a few studenty-looking types.  It’s several street-lengths to the building where I will teach.  I’ve passed onto the AD, who smiles warmly and takes me somewhere else.  The sports field.  This is a sports meeting.  What have I got to do with sports?  I’m an English teacher.

No-one is there.  The AD is perplexed.  She goes to find someone and returns five minutes later with 20 kids and some local teachers.  The other foreign teacher is not here, though he should be.  I’m introduced to the students, who jokingly present me with a shuttlecock as a gift.  I crack my first smile since arriving, but it’s short-lived.  The AD take some photos of the students and I.  I wonder if they’re going to be used as promotional material – Look, we have a white face!  Aren’t we prestigious?  I’m told it happens a lot.  One teacher asks, in broken English, whether I’m the new computer teacher?  My guide shushes him quiet.

They let me go home to sleep.  I go back to the supermarket to get some supplies.  There is a McDonalds here, which I take refuge in.  Lovely, lovely familiarity.  I haven’t stopped sweating, either because of the humidity or a stress response.  Eventually, with enough iced Coke, I cool.  I go to the bathroom.  The cubicle seems locked, but the lock is green.  Maybe it’s stuck?  I push, breaking the lock, revealing a man squatting over the hole smoking a sneaky cigarette.  He slams the door shut, I apologise, there is a tirade in Mandarin or Shaanxi dialect.  I go to pee at home.

I know that I have to be up at 6:30am to go for a medical that the university has arranged, a necessity for my medical insurance.  I put my head down at 8pm, but again sleep does not come.  A lot of things don’t add up.  The state of the university.  My brief, truncated conversation with the local teacher.  The apartment and living area are problems, but maybe fixable problems.  I’m getting paid enough, maybe I can afford to rent somewhere and still make a living?  Maybe the university will pay up for a living allowance instead of providing the abattoir apartment?

I decide that I’ll spend a few nights at a hostel for some comfort and company, and wait for my meeting tomorrow with the AD to talk about exactly what they want from me.  If things don’t work out, I can always consider staying long enough to recoup my financial losses and then leave.  Six weeks, maybe ten.  Thinking of the situation as temporary, I realise a lot of things and feel much better.

Sleep does not come until 3:30pm.

[To be continued…]

—db

Journey

It took me a few days to get a stable internet connection and access my illegal blog site, now that I’m here in China.  Behind the Great Firewall is a different world.  I’ve spoken to a few locals about what they think of the censorship, and answers are evasive.  People here don’t seem to mind it much, apparently under the impression that things are being kept from them for a good reason.

Well, they couldn’t keep me out!  Take that, Asia.  After waiting so long for my contract and visa to come through, I could finally set off for my new life in China.

It would be a long journey – over 24 hours – and was beset by problems from the beginning.  The train ride to Manchester Airport was cut short due to some problem down the line, so I was forced to disembark at Piccadilly.  An uninformative and unhelpful person at the Information Helpdesk couldn’t be sure another train would accept my ticket.  I decided to risk it anyway and made it to the Airport, delayed.  There were the usual long queues at Manchester, and off I flew to Heathrow, where – unbeknownst to me at that time – my check-in baggage was quietly and mischievously slipping into a black hole.

I don’t know what cosmic, transformative adventures were had by that slightly overweight maroon suitcase.  All I know is that it tumbled through dark dimensions untold, and was clawed at by space-goblins before re-emerging into our plane of existence somewhere in the vicinity of Beijing three days later.

The suitcase doesn’t talk about the experience, and I don’t ask.

I met a peculiar man dressed a little like a classic Dr Who who was off to Shanghai to judge a bonsai tree contest.  He was apparently well regarded for his knowledge of stunted trees.  Despite this he proved a little too clingy and wanted the ticket lady to seat us together, so I ditched him on the pretense of taking a pee-pee.  He might have pruned me in my sleep.

As it happened, the 10 hour flight from Heathrow to Beijing was probably the best time I’ve had this last week.  I was placed next to a thoroughly pleasant gentleman from Japan named Ishiro, who was a stage actor and director donchuknow, and we chatted about our home countries and theatre and anime for a while until he got to sleep and I didn’t.  It wasn’t even spoiled by the in-flight film, which was Johnny Depp’s “Transcendence” and should be avoided if at all possible.  Just … awful.  I can’t even.  Don’t watch it.  I watched it twice and it actually got worse.

Then the adventure really started.  I landed in Beijing and wandered about for a bit, wired from total lack of sleep.  A lady insisted that I didn’t need to collect my baggage and that it would be transferred to the domestic connection to Xi’an, even though another person at Heathrow told me that I would have to.

When I discovered three hours later that my luggage had been lost, I blamed that young lady for its disappearance.  This was wrong of me.  The black hole had opened up in London, not Beijing, and although neither Young Lady or I knew it at that point, the fate of the suitcase had already been decided by the fickle gods of international travel. If I ever see Saint Christopher here in China I will sock him in the jaw.

[To be continued…]

—db

Soon to fly

It’s been a long few months of training and preparing, but things are finally ready for my journey to China.

Whilst I was on the CELTA training course I was put in touch with a University in Xian who was looking for a teacher.  After long talks, giving a demo class via Skype, and contract negotiations, I was offered a great-sounding job with them to start November 1st.

There are some horror stories out there about TEFL teaching in Southeast Asia, especially China, as unsavory types catch on to the idea that “rich” foreigners (many irresponsible uni-dropouts and hapless travel bums included) can be duped into taking poorly paid jobs in terrible conditions with only a few well-worded lies.  Thankfully after being very careful, exceedingly dubious and with a bit of experience in that corner of the world, I landed a well-paid job with a reputable language school.

It’s taken a while to organise my work visa, as these require official documents inviting me to China that are approved by the Chinese government.  The papers came via international mail early this week, and I was able to apply for my visa at the consulate in Manchester.


China Town, Manchester

China Town, Manchester


It was great to visit Manchester again.  I was there in 2011 for Chinese New Year and had a great time wandering around China Town and enjoying the festivities.  Walking through China Town this time, I reminisced and wondered what the year ahead will be like.

Although it’s been a busy, anxious week – hoping the visa gets approved, catching up with as many people as possible, and packing my few surviving possessions – I’m trying to look ahead positively.  I set off on a 24-hour journey this Monday, flying via London and Beijing, and arrive in Xi’an on Tuesday with just a few days to settle in before I start work the following week.

Thanks to all my loved ones for their kindness and support!

—db