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February 3, 1944

While the war had just settled, the scars still remained. Sitting on a stool in a far back corner of the small single-room noodle cafe in the city of Guangzhou. Outside rain pattered against the windows as tired men with drooping soldiers strolled inside. The air smelled of wet straw and the smell of noodles cooking over a large fire next to the small boy.

He sat with an arm curled up against his chest, and a foot twisted on the narrow edge he left to it on his stool. The youth, not much older than ten had much the same scars of war as the men filing into this room. The hand tucked into his chest was mangled, missing several fingers from a bomb. His foot had twisted and never healed right when he had ran into and fell into a crater made from a mortar shell hidden in high weeds in the hills. The site of the young boy was grave. As he sat the old woman cooking the noddles occasionally passed a small cube of grilled chicken to him, which he took in greedy hands and stuffed into his mouth, afraid as if any of the guests stepping in would catch him and become jealous.

He was a wild haired child. He had the figure of a child who was once wild, but the grave depth and shadows under his eyes had long dampened his youthful energy. He had been suffering nightmare for the passed several months and had not slept. Even as the men spoke of peace as the Party of Hou took control of China a squirming part of his soul had not heard the news and each time there was a loud noise turned and twisted, making the child jump whenever a door slammed too loud, or the thunder cracked over head. He twisted about to run even whenever the floor boards cracked, or there was the sound of foot falls in cobbled alley ways, when a twig snapped or the wind howled through the cracks just right and imitated the sound of a passing shell.

Had he been older, he mad have been able to come to understand and articulate that it was only after the war these feeling emerged. When the chaos that had been his normal subsided and the first routines of permanent peace took hold. He was not used to living in comfort. He had only lived in terror and fear. And mundane events as happening before his eyes represented an alienating disconnect between the then and the now. The adults, and the older men and women could grasp the difference, they had not been on the front lines between China and Japan their whole lives as he, their entire consciousness was not melded in the three-way contest between Communist, Nationalist, and Japanese.

As the last of the locals packed into the small cafe a tall lanky man in a black double breasted shirt and red trousers went to the door, and pulling a heavy beam across the door locked it. The room was full of quiet, patient murmurings as things organized themselves. Volunteers produced themselves from the crowd and went up to the old woman. The youth watched them warily out of the corner of his eyes as they took as many bowls as they could hold and each filled with noodles. They rotated through the crowd passing out bowls of hot dinner.

When the men and women of the meeting were settled with their bowls an orange robbed figure rose from their midst. He would have been otherwise hard to miss among the crowd of muted and dirty colors, the saffron orange of his monk vestments burned like the light of the sun among the depressed pallet of the urban workers assembled. But among the regulars, including that of the youth his presence was so innocuous that the monk among them was almost invisible. He was treated without ritual, as he would have preferred.

With a long white beard in contradiction to his bowling ball bald head he was quickly become an ancient man in association from many of the others here. His back was bent, and even at a distance the deep lines in his face were plainly visible in his dark splotchy face. He was small, but even so he commanded the presence of a man many times his height and his simply standing up commanded the silence of all those in the room. Soon the muffled chatter of the tavern fell silent with only the faint subdued eating of noodles.

Reaching into his robes, the old monk produced a large poster he had rolled up. The torn edges suggested he had liberated it straight from a telephone pole in the city center. Its white trim around stark blood-red field indicated its author, the Communists. Its size spoke of its purpose, a proclamation. And its plain language spoke to its purpose.

“By Order of the Standing Transitional Committee of China, the Party of New China is proud to declare the end of fighting and issues the following standing orders across the nation!” the monk read in an unexpectedly loud tone. He brought total silence to the room, it felt as if time had frozen completely and only he was the only thing that moved at its center.

“Matter 1: For compliance with the transitional authority, all local municipalities not presently governed by the Chinese Revolutionary Army dissolve their present governments for assumption of selected authorities to oversee the process of New Nationalism.” the monk read, “Matter 2: That civilian organizations not already registered to the Party Office of External Affairs register themselves with the State, or disband. Matter 3: That private companies in operation in the claimed Chinese territories disband private ownership for transition to State operation. Matter 4: The private individuals and communities submit to a region wide census of material and people in compliance to a State Inventory of industrial, agricultural, and other material assets in interest of and welfare of The State. Matter 5: Foreign churches operating within China are to disband, its foreign missionaries to return to their home. Compliance will be ensured.

“These Five Matters are issued thus.”

The room rang with excited chatter. The sudden chaos of the noise caused the youth to recoil reflexively, throwing up his hands to guard his face. The old woman next to him was the only one to take notice of his discomfort and laid a gentle hand on his shoulders and gave him a comforting squeeze. His breathing shuddered, and the torrent of noise faded away, the Buddhist Monk regaining control.

“I know this isn't good.” he said, “But that's why we're here. That's why we're always here.” he reminded him, “Does anyone want to take up the floor?”

There were soft murmurings from among the attendees. Then one stood up. The young man lowered his arms and slowly lifted his face to continue following the proceedings. “This ban on civilians meetings and organizations, it's basically a ban on meetings is it?” he asked.

“I'm not sure but it sounds like it.” the monk said.

“This isn't much better than under the Guomintang.” the other man spat. He carried a weight of betrayal on his shoulders. His heart had been stabbed and he declared it boldly on his voice.

“Then what do you expect to do?” someone in the crowd asked, “Go and fight? Chun Lo we have been doing that now for nearly twenty year! How much longer can we go on.”

“And what am I supposed to do? I have my pride, I have my principles. I wished to see a freer world, and this is what we get today? Something no better than what we had under the Generalissimo?” he was referring to Chiang Kai Shek. His name still sent ripples of fear and paranoia among them. Though he was rumored to have been killed in the course of battle, invoking his name was like invoking the state police and inviting them to come down on them. While they were never very effective, fighting the Communists and Japanese both equally hard took away many resources from suppressing the numerous far-left groups in southern China.

“You will have to let it go. If you are to fight, then please give yourself some rest.” a woman pleaded, “I have lost too many sons, too many brothers to this fighting. We have our peace now. Can we get at least a year of no more war?”

There were murmurs of silent approval. The general opinion of his peers though did not set well with the man so eager to fight. “Wai Ling Ho, open the door. I want to leave!” the man said, clearly enraged beyond tolerance.

“As you will.” a soft voice said, resigned. The board shutting the noddle house's door was lifted, unlocking the door and the man stormed out into the gray rain.

As the door was shut behind him a pervasive and sad silence hung over everyone's heads. “I will miss him.” someone said, resigned, “Before he does anything rash, before it is too late for him I hope he will come to his senses.”

Everyone nodded. Some whispered in agreement.

“If we are not to fight, then are we surrendering?”

“No!” someone declared, “If we do surrender, then the dream for freedom will be for naught. If I may suggest: we resist. But in our own ways. We have through the entire war survived and resisted Nanjing and Tokyo with our own networks, we never had to rely on them for our needs, our wants. We should maintain them, surrender nothing to Beijing. But, we will not fight them with gun or sword.”

“I agree, brother. But for how long?” a young woman asked, tense and fearful.

“How ever long it will take to have liberty. One month, a year, a hundred. Until the sun sets on the dynasty of Hou. However long it will need to be until the authority of the state is diminished and the people inoculated. All is for all, let us know no negative freedom.”

There were resounding calls of agreement, and people began to rise in their chairs. As the fervor rose they all began to sing. They began to sing songs the Americans taught them. What the men who called themselves the Wobblies taught them.

“In the gloom of mighty cities
mid the roar of whirling wheels
we are toiling on like chattel slaves of old,
and our masters hope to keep us
ever thus beneath their heels
and to coining our very life blood into gold.”

Hong Kong

May 25nd, 1960

It was three in the afternoon and Lo Bai Shun sat at his drawing desk, a lamp directed down on the starchy white paper he was working with and a jar full of pencils, pens, and markers off to the side. A few pensive lines had been put to paper, but nothing much had been done. Interest had been lost in the project, and had been lost for the passed forty-five minutes. Caught in the terrifying clutch of his imagination Lo Bai shuddered as it gently stirred the silt and clouded the waters of his imaginations with bitter tasting memories.

He starred out the window a foot from his desk, it was opened wide letting in the warm spring air as it swept off the ocean that shimmered just beyond the law-ground flats at the base of the mountain. At the top floor of a three-story apartment block in the hills in the mountains of Hong Kong. The fresh spring air was doing little to calm him, and despite it being in the mid 20's Celsius he was sweating as if it were two times hotter. He brushed his brow with his war mangled hand and pushed back from the drawing desk.

His apartment was small and sparsely furnished. A studio apartment. Apart from the writing desk he used for drawing he had a dresser with six changes of clothes, a bed barely big enough for one and a half persons, and a sink and toilet that would be out in the open if it were not for the curtain the surrounded both. He had another sink and a small counter-top, ostensibly for cooking but he had no appliances or means to cook let alone store anything apart from a bowl of fruit or a bread-stocked bread box. Every surface available was covered with books and sheets of paper, organized into folders and numbered in a sequence. He had portfolios dating back to 1951 when he had begun doodling simple comic strips in charcoal; much of them had rubbed thin but he had managed to find a few unworn and getting the remaining charcoal bonded to the paper managed to save his early works, these he kept in a folder under his clothes in the small dresser. He also had a notebook, several actually containing a script written by he and two other friends, and notes from a much broader network of friends in the region; it was being passed around but he had not yet gotten to making his reviews of changes and passing them around.

He had two windows, at one he kept two banzai plants on the windowsill and grew a small potted pepper plant which sat on the floor nearest.

There was not much space for a single person to move around well in Lo Bai's apartment, and pacing it on a gimped leg was an act of avoiding cracking an elbow or a knee on the corner of the chair, dresser, or something else in the way. He stopped his pacing when he heard a phone ring. His phone. He stopped mid stride and looked over to the counter, where the ringing was coming out from within a stack of books. He made the few steps over, and moving aside the art books answered. “Lo Bai.” he answered.

“Lo Bai, hey this is Hui Feng.” the voice on the other end said, high pitched and excitable.

“Oh, hey Feng.” Lo Bai grumbled. Rubbing his forehead with the ball of his palm. He did not feel happy, nor did he sound happy speaking. His voice, naturally deep and rumbling was even harder and tense.

“Are you OK? You don't sound so good.” Feng asked him, concerned.

“It's nothing.” Lo Bai grunted.

“You should go see Master Fu, it might not hurt to make a trip out to Guangzhou again.”

Lo Bai grumbled something unintelligible in response. The Old Network was alive and well. And while Lo Bai could not ever say he was depressed as a part of the War experience, meeting up with fragments of the Network helped to calm the anxiety. He didn't need to be told that. “Anyways, I was calling to ask if you had the camera.” Feng added.

Lo Bai turned towards the door where on a coat rack a decade-old black and white hand held camera hung by a cracking leather strap from a coat hook, alongside a surplus army raincoat and over a pair of boots and shoes. Tapped to the wall above, a black piece of cloth embroidered with a white skull and crossbones hung to the wall, the Old Network. “Yeah, I have it.” he said.

“Are you using it?” Feng asked.

“Not right now, bu-” Lo Bai began. Feng however cut in quick.

“Listen, I need it for a day or two. Maybe three. My sister is getting married up in Shanghai and I thought I'd do her a favor and try to get some pictures of the ceremony while I was up. Can I take it?”

Lo Bai knew is the camera was passed along to him and if anyone else found out they'd be going to Feng to ask to borrow it. It was no single person's tool and it was passed around through a small insulated community, the Network. But he had asked, and it would be impolite to turn him down. So Lo Bai had to acquiesce.

“Excellent.” Feng said.

“I still got film on it I need to develop.” Lo Bai said.

“Don't worry about that. You can stop by the studio and develop your pictures. I'll take it from there.”


“How's the project going, by the way?” Feng asked. That was a tough question to answer. Lo Bai turned to the drawing desk and the sheets of paper scattered over it. On them various character drawings stood, sat, or walks across a white landscape of negative space in various reference positions.

“Where it was last week.” he said. While there had been progress it wasn't anything that seriously moved it ahead. When the work was done it had to be passed around. It had to be animated, assembled. It was a cartoon after all. Feng understood.

“You can drop the camera off at my place. I'll see about getting some tea.”

“Thanks, I'll be on my way.” Lo Bai said, and Feng hung up. So did he. Rubbing his head he felt the claustrophobic apartment becoming even more so and he counted his graces that he had reason to go out. Not like he would have anyways. He took the camera, and slipping on his shoes headed out the door.

Hong Kong's mountain fringes were a whole other world to the city itself. And while no designation was dropped between what was considered Hong Kong and not in the re-integration of the city at the end of the Revolution to be anywhere north of Kowloon or on the outlying islands was cause to wonder if one were really in a city. Apart from a few squat brick apartments barely higher than the maples and the mangroves. Sparse paved roads wound across the rolling hills and into the tiny village communities nestled at the bottom of lows in the soil and clay where farmers lived butted up to their rice patties. The city had been spreading itself out very slowly, and year by year people like Lo Bai wanting to leave the claustrophobia of inner Hong Kong could get a lottery ticket out into the New Territories, freeing up space in the old port-side neighborhoods in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. One by one the districts of the New Territories and Lantau island were dotted with small, almost cute small apartment blocks.

The revolution had nearly shut down the city. The isolation and autarky of the Hou administration closing down the ports and now only internal traffic came in and out of ports. If it had not been for post-revolution decisions of resettlement and reconstruction the total collapse of industry would have seen the thousands who had migrated into Hong Kong from the country outside the former British colony going back. But things were captured and held into a stasis, Lo Bai recalled some politicians said there was growth in Hong Kong, growth in the community. But the effects must only be what could be seen on paper, Lo Bai couldn't find it.

But he had sought out and took the chance to head out of the tightly packed, vertical community of Hong Kong and its densely packed seven, fourteen story apartments. Even if his apartment was not much bigger than what he once had he relished the freedom from the sounds of street hawks. He reveled in the absence of the clicking, squealing, and bells of the trolley system. No more had he chicken cages pressed against his windows, or pigeons on every edge. And every smell of man and machine was gone, replaced with its distant phantom blowing over from just over the Kowloon district line.

The walk to the nearest trolley station though was a brisk hike of almost twenty minutes along a narrow road that was variable paved or unpaved. Occasionally winding passed a bombed-out house left behind from when northern Hong Kong was a battlefield between Japanese and Republican forces, or the no man's land where Communist mountain guerrillas and Republicans battled. There were fences of wood and stone hidden behind clumps of wild tea trees and young pines, looking into the wild and gnarled branches hiding weather-worn fence posts Lo Bai could imagine a still undiscovered corpse hiding among the thickets.

The country road passed fenced in grazing fields where small herds of cows mulled across the pasture. Passed orchards, passed fields. By a semi-wild groves of trees and over-grown under brush until finally it let out on a paved main road. Through the middle tracks had been laid down in the asphalt. This was the trolley line.

Lo Bai lived in Sha Tin district, north-eastern of Hong Kong and. Mostly pasture land, still mostly farmed it was its own world. Hui Feng lived in Kowloon City..

Passing by some bushes, and a chest-high red postal box Lo Bai came on the street car terminal, a small wooden canopy with low benches. He looked at the clock hung up on one of its posts, it was 3:24 in the afternoon. In a few minutes the street car would be arriving and he could be on his way to the city center. He sat down and was soon joined a few minutes later by an elderly couple who took their seats on the far end of the bench. At 3:02 the trolley street car arrived, its contact sparking on the over-head wire as it came to a stop in front of them. They got on.

Seating himself in a distant section of the trolley Lo Bai leaned his head against the window and watched with detached interest the world and city passing by him. Wilderness and farm fields passed slowly by in rhythmic click-clacks and into small development. Tall trees shading the sides of brick buildings. A few wayward cattle standing atop a road side hill, or laying in a sandy hole cut into the side of a steep hill. Their relaxed expressions only half following the trolley. A few small beaten cars, a couple trucks passed the trolley on its whole journey, but much of the other traffic was men and women with rickshaws, ox drawn carts, or bicycles; some pulling small wagons laden with produce and goods throughout the city in a loose thin river.

At points the trolley stopped and a bell rang as a door opened, letting on more riders in the mid-afternoon or letting them off. Lo Bai did not pretend to notice them as they went through, little more than ghosts and detached souls to him as he laid his head against the window. He daydreamed as he went, slowly collecting himself to a less anxious state. The slow rocking movement of the trolley allowed that much, and the short sudden jolts it made as it popped over a small bump between the track rails kept the ride from being so regular he could lull himself to sleep.

He sat with his head against the window thinking about the world he and his companions were making. He had suggested the world, and passed it along to his closest friends over a year ago and they all made changes and adjustments to it, fleshing it out and adding dialog until it had turned into a script much longer than the ten to fifteen minute odd jobs they've done for the local theaters and cinemas in Hong Kong. For him to be honest, he felt that much of what they made in way of cartoons could not possibly reach a national stage, could not pass through the censors and approval board of some of the last openly operating organs of Beijing's total control. Still, he did not mind things being kept in the underground, informal circles; there was plenty of that in Hong Kong, Macau, and Guangzhou alone.

But how did he get into animation? That puzzled Lo Bai plenty, he knew how he did as if it was recalling a road taken to get from A to B. Sometime during the Revolution, radical expatriates from America made their way into Asia. Forced out of their homeland by the end of their civil war they brought their passion for new ideas, their own guns, books, images, movies, and music and settled down in Hong Kong. Or rather: not immediately. The conditions of China at the time meant they had to head west first and to do so under otherwise illegal pretenses – to the KMT – to fall in with the Communists or other groups as international battalions. The movement of Communism in China was the only safe place they had to be in those times, and when the fighting was over they settled down on Hong Kong island as a Little America alongside various Little Britain's, Australia's, and New Zealands housing expatriate communities who found themselves trapped, unwilling to leave, or who came to China on the purpose to fight for its revolution and to live within its spirit. Among them they brought their western animation, and showed it in cobbled together basement cinemas as the world was torn apart above.

He had been inspired then, and fascinating. He started drawing, and when things cooled down and peace restored had been making gains in advancing his skill and scope. He had worked on a few state projects during art-school post-war in the late forties and early fifties. Found friends who worked in animation as well, within the Network and without. They made up an informal studio of sorts, mailing progress or visiting each others homes and doing work there. It was a disorganized sort of work, and chaotic but very human. Yet, he wondered how he got there, what force had driven Americans to China, to deliver black and white cartoon animation to inspire him as a shell shocked kid? If there was a God, he believed it may have been his intervention.

Which lead into what he was working on, what he and his friends had written and were producing. He had proposed the concept as being that, suggesting an outside force was the director of world events; no one was really free in this world. But that had changed, it turned from a god to aliens, and then from aliens to an alien machine that could manifest wishes or fears. Then it was asked: was it on our world, or in space? The answer came to space, and the heroes were now of a future millennium who traveled to seek this distant Wish Maker on its strange planet. And then they began to ask: what is a wish? What is the nature of a wish? How could it be articulated? Should it be?

The trolley car stopped. Shaken away from the doldrums of his own imagination Lo Bai saw he was in Kowloon now. He shifted in his seat and rose up. The trolley car was full now, and people were standing in the aisle. An old woman had taken a seat next to him and stood up to let him out. He went out the open back door and headed to the sidewalk and the pedestrian lot.

Standing at the door of Feng's apartment now, Lo Bai looked up. There wasn't any side-walk here, the road and the foundation of the building ahead of him seemingly phasing well into one another in the brick work. Looking up he counted the rising awnings and porches of each ascending level, 1, 2, 3... 6. Six floors above, and all around in the middle of Kowloon there he could hear and smell all the sensations he had moved to avoid. The faint cackling of hens, the passing of cars and trolley cars. Nearby a street vendor called out for customers, hawking noodles, buns, and eggs. Somewhere off in a distant alley there was a barking dog and higher up the building a window was open and a radio on and the sounds of a radio soap opera drifted down onto the street with the fluttering of pigeons wings to mix with the chorus and rise up again.

Stepping inside the afternoon light dimmed to a soft incandescent glow. Old men say in whicker chairs along the side of the hall with knees connected and a game of checkers unfolded across their shared laps. Lo Bai knew the way up, and he ascended each flight of stairs on automatic programming. Still though, to be among this concentration of people, in such a tight space his old anxieties bubbled and he knew he had to step out quick, or at least get out onto the balcony. He controlled his breathing, in and out slowly; keep from hyperventilating. He was among people now, not the makeshift hospitals all over again.

He stopped at a room numbed 417, it was a simple green door in a white hall; the numbers a faded bronze. He knocked, and inside the muffled sounds of movement could be heard. The door creaked open and a face peered through the narrow crack, and then opened all the way. “Hey!” Feng called, a tall lanky man with a broad bullish face and shallow, dark brown eyes, “I was wondering if you were coming.” he laughed, stepping back into his apartment.

Feng was stout and short, shorter than most. He cut his hair short along the edges, and kept the rest combed back across his head. Despite his heavy muscular build he moved with surprising grace around his small apartment, packed with a vast collection and furniture, he even had time and space to put a small family alter by the window looking out over the street.

Lo Bai passed a small mirror hanging on the wall and turned to look at himself in the reflection. A gaunt narrow face, and hair that was long; passed the ears. His gaze was light, but detached and distant. He scratched at some thin stubble along the side of his face and limped into the apartment. “Yeah, well I made it.” he said.

“I can see.” Feng laughed, he moved energetically about and Lo Bai gave up watching him quick. He scanned the room without taking in any details as his friend sailed between three small rooms, “My wife stepped out to get tonight's dinner. You want to stay?” he asked.

“I don't know.” Lo Bai answered.

“You don't know?” Feng answered, “Why not?”

Lo Bai shrugged, “Work, I suppose.”

“Well you're doing a good job at avoiding that.” Feng laughed from another room, “But while you're out why don't you stay a while. How are you feeling?”

“The same.”

“So moody and acting like shit smells, the usual?” Feng answered, reappearing in the living room as Lo Bai took a seat in a lime-green recliner. It smelled like rice wine. He didn't have anything to answer him with, and long having failed watching him dash about turned his head to the window and looked out into the city. There was not much to see, a slightly shorter building stood opposite, with the typical Victorian roof styling with added Chinese dragons for local flavor.

“When's the wedding?” Lo Bai asked out of politeness.

“I leave tomorrow.” Feng answered.

“You have a lot to get ready?” Lo Bai asked.

“Oh yeah, I haven't stopped moving since I woke up. You remember my old suit? I had to go get that fixed. I had to run several blocks to the tailor to pick it up today. I also forgot to check in on the train for tomorrow, and I had to run to do that. I don't need to be caught off guard.”

“Mhm.” Lo Bai nodded detached.

“So, you got your film out?” Feng asked.

Lo Bai remembered, he had the camera to hand over. Turning it over in his lap he flipped the door on the compartment holding the role of film and pulled the canister out. He passed the empty camera to Feng.

“What'd you get?” Feng asked.

“Alleys, oceans, background. Nothing spectacular.” he said, then thought to ask: “While you're up in Shanghai, you think you can get some pictures too?”

“Like what?” asked Feng

“I don't know, factory shots: you know. Pipes, vents, dumps. Anything... 'alien' I guess.”

Feng thought about the request for a moment, then shrugged assuredly. “Sure, why not. I'll see what I can do. You need the keys to the lab?”

“I do.”
In What is... 9 days ago Forum: Spam Forum
What's Spam's end-game? How will spam end history?
I was expecting it to just be "Fuck" or something vulgar repeated some 50,000 times but "Word" is good enough.
<Snipped quote by Pepperm1nts>

Just write some more playful posts, get a feel for what you want to do. Stuff that is small potatoes enough that it doesn't need research. Maybe translate some gopnik stereotypes into the PoW world.

Grand Prince Gergori the Gopnik
<Snipped quote by Dinh AaronMk>

So, I presume that they take roundabout routes to come back to Guangxi; all right, I can accept that. Sorry for jumping the gun.

They're also Secret Police. It's not like anyone is supposed to be able to identifying them when whacking a patrol, even when they're seen.
<Snipped quote by Dinh AaronMk>

Aren't there already Prisoner Raids coming from the general direction of China?

Nothing that no one would be able to connect.

It's not like the Bureau flies in with flags all over and smashes a few homes and drags people off shouting about China.
@Letter Bee

No outward or public moves have been made by China against Philippine interests in Vietnam. To act as if they know, when no organized effort by the Bureau has yet been made by any single faction in the Vietnamese is meta-gaming.

Don't be silly.


Unmarked location

The room was filled with smoke. So much so the light from the table lamp cut a clear cone through the thick air. There was no other light, and in the haze two dark figures could be seen. One stood over a table, it had no finish except for blood that had by then been beaten into the wood. The other figure sat in a chair, his arms restrained behind his back and tied to the backrest. He was also strapped forward over the table and he fought to crane his head up to see the standing figure.

The cause of the smoke wasn't easily missed. A bowl has been placed on the table, and all matters of things that burned were smoldering under a layer of wet leaves. It prevented the entire orchestration from going up in flames, but it aided in making the burn ever smokier. Cigarettes, dog shit, a few old mice found dead in the closet somewhere, leaves, sticks. Adding to it, the pack of cheap cigarettes the standing figure had been smoking through during the entire interrogation process added to the choking gloom, though he did not look to care much. The ember on the cigarette glowed a devilish orange every time he took a draw and it was the only sign that the man there was alive.

“Who's supplying you.” the standing man asked in a rough cracking voice.

The sitting man coughed and wheezed against the smoke, but held his tongue.

“Tell me who's sending you arms and providing you with support; I'll remove the bowl.” the man offered, taking a draw from the cigarette.

The sitting man coughed, it sounded painful in his chest. Pneumonia? No, it was too far south and warm for pneumonia to grip a man. He thought it had to be asthma of some sort. The cough from the captive was deep and old. It had to be a long standing respiratory issue. At this point any doubling down would kill him.

“You're a fool. A brave fool. But still a fool.” the man said to the other, leaning over the table. He was speaking in Vietnamese, the entire conversation had been in Vietnamese, flirting between that and French. “But realize if we wanted you dead you would have died before crossing over the border. I have the full power to give you Hell on earth. By the time we finally kill you, not even Nitou and Mamien will know what to do with your soul.” he promised, referring to the mythical keepers of Diyu, Hell. “Speaking up though will still save enough for them to have something to do with you, and you could be saved.”

“Pagan.” sneered the man.

In another room, two men watched the proceedings from behind a pane of one way glass. There world was much better lit, and they strained to not only look passed their reflections but into the swirling smoke inside the room.

“We're going to need to throw the switch and air out the room.” said one of the two, a taller man from up north. His round face had the deep winter tan of having been born on the steppe or the fringes of the Mongolian steppe. He dabbed at his forehead with a white napkin, checking and dabbing at a unchecked injury on his forehead.

“He's going to kill both of them at this rate.” the other agreed, he was a much softer looking man, his clean hair combed back across his head. A delicate mustache on his upper lip. “But at this stage if he hasn't talked yet then he won't.”

“We got much better results from the refugees.” the taller man said, turning from the interrogation room's viewing window.”

Both of the men wore black coats and uniforms. Red trimmed the collars and sleeves as it did the bottom folds of their great coats that fell to about shin length. “Out of curiosity, have you heard anything on this Trung name?” the taller of the two asked.

The other shook his head, “Not at all.” he said, “It's another name.” Ngo Dinh Diem and Bao Dai were the two biggest names that the QJ had been tracking. The newest player to the Vietnamese theater spectacle had come from the blue, and no one knew who was behind the name. It had thrown the southern Bureau into a state of panic and the southern commander had ordered fresh waves of cross-border prisoner captures to find anyone who might know.

“The northern refugees have perhaps been our best source of information.” the shorter of the two continued as they walked to another side room. Here a much more open window looked out into a side-room where a handful of bedraggled looking farming sorts sat in chairs with their eyes half closed. No agents harassed them, they had already taken their brief interviews and given what little they knew. Unless anyone had any more information for the Chinese intelligence network they had a line held out for them to pull if they felt like talking. But a night on the run had rendered them tired and most of them now just looked like they wanted to sleep. “Ngo Dinh Diem has usurped Bao Dai's power in central Vietnam, the Catholic Ngo Dinh is persecuting the Buddhists, sending them fleeing. The north is an adroit mixture between Ngo Dinh and this Trung and Bao Dai has mostly fallen back into the south. French forces seem to be either based in Saigon with their puppet emperor or off in the jungle, no one can tell us which or where. With a ceasefire between the French and the other parties against this new player I get the feeling we'll have more refugees simply trying to get away, it's going to get a lot worse.”

“We shouldn't have overlooked Vietnam.” the taller of them complained.

“We picked Mongolia instead.” the other reminded.

“We should have after Mongolia.”

“We tried, but Congress had other plans.”

“Do you think they forgot?”

“It's likely.” the shorter of the two lamented. He was thinking of a memo that was more than a few years old that had passed through the Bureau and its agents a few years after the undercutting of Mongolia and its drift back into China. Back then the situation in Vietnam was straight forward as a French anti-revolutionary government came to rest in Saigon and continued its support for then Emperor of Annam, Bao Dai the puppet. The only contention had come with Ngo Dinh who opposed French rule. Initially then the thought was to support Ngo Dinh in raising a Republic of Vietnam free of European intervention and leave it as is. Then the conversation drifted into forming a third party to seize Vietnam for themselves. But that had shifted too long, and now their third position was taken by a monarchist.

There was a long stretch of silence. Until finally, “There's going to be another cross-border raid, perhaps we can pick up some of Trung's men and drag them into China.” the taller said.

“You going again?”

“No, I hit my head one too many times on trees and I'm not looking forward to it. And I still haven't slept.”

“Out of curiosity,” the shorter of the two asked, as he headed down the hall to the door, “what would you say Nguyễn Sinh Cung is?”

“Are you planning something? You should pass it up through Bureau command first.”

“I'm not, I'm just curious on his position.” he replied.


Whampoa Island

Zhang Shu wasn't one to let particulars get in his way. And more important to him was he set a timer for himself, one that he didn't know would end but knew he could rest on it. After meeting with Deng he had issued a request to meet with the premier commander of the armed forces, commander Lou Shan Yuang. He had given him a few days to respond to his request. Whether or not the reply had been a yes or no, he took that his secretary's mention he would be performing inspections at Whampoa as being reason enough to meet him there.

It didn't matter if the situation was formal or not. Shu's wheels were in motion and he wouldn't let himself get stop, despite the awkward unimpressive demeanor of the man. This would come to explain how the congressman was riding in the back seat of his car as he passed platoons of jogging academy cadets along the forested road side to the academy proper.

With gravel popping under the wheels of the car it passed through the stone gates of the Whampoa Academy and down the stone drive to a large round about at the entrance to the deceptively small, single-story entry building. Cadets on guard duty snapped to attention as Zhang Shu stepped out. He exchanged mild-mannered salutes to the youths and excused them, “Where is the commander?” he asked in a well to do voice.

“He is in the commander center.” a young officer answered, resting his hands at his waist.

“Thank you, could you take me to him.”

“Certainly.” he said with a bow, and turning on his heels walked to the doors with Shu following close. A pair of cadets opened the doors to the two and let them pass, before letting the heavy wooden doors slowly shut behind them.

They crossed through the outer administrative offices and entered into the inner sanctum of the academy complex. Here, on paved squares ranks of students performed martial arts training and the air was heavy with the cries and chants of training young men. Further students under the watchful gaze of instructors performed martial arts in the grassy parks between the brick paths that crossed through the inner yard. But eventually, all paths terminated at the nerve center of the academy, a massive traditional structure of wood and stone and porch walkways up the three levels of the academy's command center.

Inside the halls smelled of wood and metal polish. There was a hushed tone that only magnified the self-aware presence of the congressman and his guide. Every so often they would pass a class room or some other congress room where the muffled lectures or meetings could be heard out into the hall way. But in all the impression that Shu had was that they were very alone.

The cadet led him up a stair well to the top floor where he stopped alongside a door. “The academy premier's.” he declared, bowing low as Shu entered into the office.

At the sound of the door opening a secretary looked up from his desk and rose to stand. “Excuse me comrade, but the premier is in a meeting.” he said.

“I know, with his commander. I'm here to see him too.” said Shu, “Will you let me in?”

The secretary shook his head, “I'm sorry, I can not do tha-”

“My name is Zhang Shu of the national Congress. I have matters to discuss with one of the men inside that room.”

“I honestly can not let you i-”

Again the secretary was interrupted, but not by Shu. It was by the office door. Standing in the door way were two men on their way out. They had noticed Shu, and Shu had noticed them. “Commander Shan Yuang.” Shu bowed, “Zhang Shu.”

The taller of the two officers sized Shu up and down with an unhappy expression. He was a broad shouldered man, with a weathered harsh face. Turning to his companion he said with a patient voice, “Excuse me.” before stepping away towards Shu.

“I don't think I said you could meet with me, congressman.” Lou Shan Yuang remarked in a low unhappy voice.

“Well I don't wait, not for any one. I have work to do, so I will do it.”

“And there's a time and place for certain sorts.” Shan Yuang told him, “I am here on strict military business, if I wanted to speak to Congress I would have made an appointment with you. I have an inspection to do.”

“And I have an inspection of my own.” Shu shot back.

Lou Shan Yuang glowered, then groaning, “Very well. You can talk, but it'll be on the move.”

“Thank you.” Shu bowed.

Shan Yuang turned back to the academy's premier and waved him to move on with a gesture of his hand. He joined in behind him and turned to Shu as they walked, “So Russia.” he said.

“That's the subject I wanted to talk about.”

“I think it's a mess, a good mess. It neutralizes any military challenges to the north. Getting involved in it would be complicated and I would personally advise heading in on those grounds.”

“But should the Russian state reform under a single government again, that threat of northern competition would resurface. Commander, you and I know the Japanese have an established beach head in Russia and they're poised to reboot their imperial ambitions in the Russian north. Czar or not, the vacuum in power posed by its current state leaves China at risk in geopolitics. So complications or not I'm of the firm opinion we need to be involved.

“Truth of the matter is commander, we shouldn't be letting the revolution become surrounded.”

Commander Shan Yuang gave him a heavy look. “So you've done your strategic thinking.” he conceded as they stepped out onto a back veranda. A towering plinth loomed high over a raised parade ground not too distant. Raised stadium seats stood between them and the plinth. The plinth itself stood empty, though the name written on it in large bronze characters read Sun-Yat Sen, the statue that had once been there had been long removed during the course of the war with Japanese, removed by a tank shell during fighting, it had not been reinstated.

“What would be your recommendations then, what does the army need, what will it need to do.”

“First and foremost it will need intelligence.” Shan Yuang said as they walked along, “Who's there, how many men do they have, what are their conditions to fight. What's the landscape like, where are the strategic locations. I can't make any concise decisions without that information. This can be three months worth of preparations, assuming strategic planning time we would be ready to go to war by this winter.”

“Well I want to give you one month.”

“Are you insane?” Lou Shan Yuang nearly yelled.

“No, I am not.” Shu said casually dismissive, “We have in the country now a group of Russian men, some or many of whom may be Siberian locals. If you get in contact with them they can provide you with what information you might possibly need. For now I'm immediately concerned for Siberia. If it helps the military's case at all we will handle Russia in stages. The nature of the country leaves no government to declare war on, so proper proceedings in that regard do not need to be made.”

“China can't go to war without a deceleration of war comrade,” Lou Shan Yuang reminded him, “How can you expect this to be legal?”

“Because the government was built to handle unforeseen circumstances. We'll write the play book now in Congress.”

“You're all a club of fools.” the commander chided as they climbed up some stone stairs to the parade ground.

“Yet someone has to do it. Commander, all I ultimately ask is you get with my man and come up with something. I will work on getting the two of you a chance to appear before Congress to make statements for the plan moving ahead. I'm the one greasing wheels in the end. But for the sake of international security for China I advise you consider this being taken seriously. If China is to go to war with Japan a third time it will not be over Chinese land.”
In recent developments in Chinese society, there has been recent doubts as to the viability and historical credit of a Chinese nation. These charges stem from foreign ideology and interests. The Chinese situation as a nation is viable, through its history and into its future. It is only the dark present that casts doubt. The failures of the Xinhai Revolution to create a stable European styled Republic do not defeat its purpose. The loss of the Chinese provinces of Mongolia and Tibet do not discredit the idea.

With the imposition of European thought on the global mind-set the institution of the Nation should be seen as a recent development in the world. The same is true for the ethnic family. Both were developed within the last two-hundred years after revolutions, in the British Colonies that became America, and in France. That by the end of the 18th century the political paradigm shifted from a nation whose government was dictated by the whims of a royal family who, sequestered away from the general populace, were all together irrelevant to the greater communal-familial relations that actively determined the look, sound, and type the population assumed as part of an ethnic or race family. And it is true that for the most part, this came to exist in Europe during the evening hours of the 18th century, when liberal nationalist philosophy imparted upon the peoples of Europe a unity of being, and the eventual enforcement of a single image, a single ethos, a singly mythology, and a single common government. This was the presumption of and execution of the bourgeoisie class.

As Europe spread itself out over the world, it came into contact with other peoples, and Europe saw and interpreted the civic relationships of the peoples in these new countries as being barbarian and without nation, not following what was the conventional rules of the European nation-state and that thus these people must be primitive. These people must lack a nation, and lacking the idea of nation they could have the European ideology imposed upon them. From Africa to Asia they imposed their political life upon the others, suppressing the existing political and civic relations of the people there with their own European political and civic values. If taken as truth, that China has not really existed as an entity until perhaps the Xinhai Revolution, or that it has never existed except as myth. But no, China has existed outside of this identity, that it was without the national family. And so, being a collage of different peoples under a single authority, that it was very much like that of the old European feudal state still; which while it was a feudal state, was very much not as Europe saw in it.

But this assumption is incorrect, and dangerously wrong. For the intellectuals of our days to believe it, and for our people to fall into the same trap, does the Chinese family a disservice by allowing ourselves to become puzzled by the enforcement of this doctrine seemingly imposed upon us. The concept, the idea of the national family, is very much a facet of the Chinese political life. That We do not need to, as a family of families, to go out and redefine our people as a single species as the peoples of Europe did in the 18th century. We have had their institution in China since time immemorial.

Expansion on this idea is required, to formalize the existing institution as such and to support that which has been said by Sun-Yat Sen on this matter. Before either are delved into however, it is important clarity is given to some terminology.

The ethnic or the race family is used to define a broad community of people whose language and customs differ from that of those nearest to them. Or in the most striking circumstances their physical appearance is at contrast with those of others. The Europeans have a distinct difference between the peoples of Africa and of Asia, and thus by physical difference we are members of three different families. But within each there are the particular differences that cut clearer differences between one or the other; as the French to the German or the Englishman. As such within that of Asia is the differences between the Han and the Cantonese to the Hmong. By applying European rules of the nation, it is the difference between being a Frenchman and a German that dictates that either should have a state for reasons as simple as language or of difference of religious practice; there is no clear cut instance in China where this has been true in the past few centuries.

To speak of Political and Civic life is to draw from Marxist critique. Political life and institution is that devoted to the operation of the state and one's interaction there-in. To speak of Civic life or Civic institution is to speak of the life of an individual as an individual; as he is a Buddhist or a Taoist, whether he speaks Mandarin or Cantonese. The demands of the political institutions of Europe deem it fit that the European state subsumes the dependence of the Civic Life into the political institution, making it a requirement to have privileges within the family that the individual assume the identity of the subsumed Civic Life as part of the Political Life and institution. There is only one other state where this is not the case, and it is the United States.

We now move on. In doing so I recommend that, as the conditions of China evolve, that attempts to impress upon it a singular ethnic or racial family be wholly drowned like the workman extinguishing his flame. Any attempt to raise one people over another must be extinguished in its primitive existence as a young ideology before it takes to a great flame and ignites the countryside, and burning the foundation of what has been the historical China. The idea of Civil-subsuming political state of the European ethno-family state must be held at arm's length from China. If it were introduced, it is to be made a sacrifice to security and destroyed.

And this shall be done with the re-proposal of what has been called the Zhonghua Minzu (Chinese State), the ideal of the National Family (Guojiaa Minzu). At odds with the Ethnic or the Race Family, the National Family is a broad idea, uniting all within itself. The National Family decrees that those peoples who preside in the area belonging to the state are members of its family no matter who they may be. The persons living in its territory shall have in their entitlement the full benefits of its family without differentiation between what family they may belong. The state shall show no preference to one ethnicity or another, and as in any liberated society their Civil Life shall be independent of the state, and that the state shall dissolve from itself the means by which is makes distinctions, to be blind to it so that it may treat all its families as one of the same.

For in any ideal political environment, the political institutions will not go to the field of civil life and rip up the budding flowers of different colors to repaint it anew with one wide brush, turning one field of a multitude of color into that of a single homogeneous color. This destroys harmony, and weakens only the health of the community.

We see this field of a thousand colors and a thousand flowers and we call it China.

What is the basis on which this exists? Is it something to be enforced by force of arms as the French to their brethren in the construction of the French state? Hardly, for we already own such an idea. We have already Zhonghua Minzu.

Zhonghua Minzu flows as water from a spring in China's history. Where much of the world was competing primitive estates China drew up into itself a strong and concise state identity so powerful it has come to define itself yet today in these troubled times. It is a mode sought to be emulated and reformed for a modern times; but not so distant from the present as many others have sought basis in their own past. From the past we adopted the name of our nation from the Dynasty of Qin, construction the national feudal framework of China and the Han who constructed its popular identity. From either they inspired the disparate communities of China to think of themselves first as Chinese, and lastly by their county or tribe. They became simply inspired by the force and will of the political center to become members of the Chinese Family, or later of the Han family.

It is from this ideological framework the idea of China has persisted on, interrupted sparingly and briefly before being assumed again. It was from this that the Manchurians of the Qing court integrated themselves into the Chinese family. And it can be said from this that they sought to be as China's equals as a family that is a member to the greater family; as much as they were its rulers all the same. Our definition of being a people as a people is such that no single element needs to be imposed or for a forced superiority made over the other, for it is recognized in the historical spirit of the nation that we are all members of the nation, of its state.

Unity can not be had in forcing upon our brothers what they are not, but to advance forward as a united whole under the same banner. To move ahead not under five races as supposed by the Qing court, but as the multitudinous thousands, to meet the demands of Sun-Yat Sen to unite all the peoples of China, for that is our state.

On Minzu
Hou Tsai Tang, 1941



May 15th, 1960

The waves sounded against the shore. Crested, white egrets roamed along the white sandy beaches probing their long beaks into the wet sand on their search for crabs. It was early in the morning still and a faint orange glow shone from the dark ocean waters as Hou walked out onto the wooden deck off the side of his house. Distant fishing boats could be seen prowling the waters beyond the clear range of view, but their sails were clear against the misty cloudy easterly sky. A few among them from their silhouettes looked to be motorized. They were headed far out to sea, that much Hou could see as he walked to the railing with a cup of tea held in one hand, and a kettle in another. The boats weren't yet plying the waves parallel to the shore, so they were still fanning out to seek their spots.

Hou took a deep breath of the cool morning air, smelling the salt and the strong aroma of the tea as he rose it to his lips and took a delicate sip. It was still hot as it hit his lips and he lowered the small china cup at the first drop.

He turned on his heels, and placed the kettle on a small end table a few steps away between two wicker chairs. With the kettle down he eased into a chair and sat waiting in the still morning air, listening to the heart beat of the sea. After a moment's silence, the door to the house opened, Hou turned to watch Hou Ju step out into the cold sea air, holding a robe closed over her day time dress. She smiled as their eyes met and with the warm confidence of having partook in this ritual many times took her seat, leaning to the side as she folded her legs the other, a cup of tea held gently in her own hands.

The two say in an ancient meditative silence as they watched the egrets down below probe the sand for treasures. Every so many minutes, one would force one up from its burrow and toss it up into the air, devouring the struggling and fighting crustacean in one throw. In time the gulls and other sea birds joined them and after some jostling the competing birds managed to sort out the dispute for beach front ground. The harmony of the scene was broken only by a distant ship's horns as the morning drew on later. A guard had stepped out, setting down next to the tea a small wooden basket of dimsum dumplings before disappearing.

The men who kept guard over Hou and his home had become almost invisible to the leader. Their presence interwoven with the garden scenery and as long-staying guests at times when in the home. Hou Tsai Tang's home itself wasn't particularly large, not a mansion as the past emperors, presidents, or warlords had called home. He had little purpose of a home early on his life, being a migratory laborer in his youths after leaving home and his father's fishing practice; both to avoid war and take advantage of work opportunity made by it. But that too had been traded for an apartment in Hong Kong, then the tents and caves of military service.

When he had finally ascended to command of the ship of state of China he had foregone any options in larger homes in pristine mountain or forest environments, many of which were quickly moth balled or abandoned by his decree. He had instead chose to in essence return home, to the outskirts of Tianjin. And in no mansion, but a country home which he had built on and expanded over the years. Attempts against his life had only called for further growth with the addition of accommodation for security and the home began to threaten to turn into a compound before he stopped and set to living quietly enough for him to blow under radar. Many large parts of the year turned into him hiding out at his very residence as empty motorcades and trains traveled China ostensibly ferrying him, but being dead empty.

The couple nibbled on the dumplings in comfortable silence until it was empty. “What is the plan for the day?” Ju asked, the basket empty.

“No one has told me I need to be anywhere for anything.” Hou said, “Unless they call. The garden may need work.”

“Should I help?” asked Ju.

“You don't need my permission.” Hou turned, with a small smile, “Come if you want.”

“It looks like it might be a warm afternoon, I may bring the canaries' cage out so they can get fresh air.” he added.

“They would like that very much.” Ju said with a relaxed smile. “I should step in and warm up last night's rice, have an actual breakfast today.”

“That would be nice.” Hou approved with a relaxed nod.

Smiling, Ju rose to her feat and headed back in, leaving Hou alone on the deck.

The cold did not bother him much. Though he had known people who went out of their way to keep their world a passionate tempest of furnace heat after the Revolution, Hou's approach to the chill air was to become more comfortable with it. On the cool wet mornings of the coast he reminded himself that in his years in leadership and as a commander he had chattered his teeth in worse weather. That he had known winters that froze the fingers off men's hands. Today he had his comforts, consistently warm tea, a home, and the option to heat it.

He took a sip of the tea, and lingered on the deck some more watching the birds.

The canaries murmured and chirped contently as they were hung up on the branch of a flowering plum tree in the middle of the garden. Three in all inhabited a relatively large cage. As the cage settled on the branch the initial start given to the birds of their home in motion subsided to a comfortable ease as they took in the spring under the plum blossoms.

Hou's garden was an off-center space, built off the side of the old house he had taken as his own. Added as one of those projects through the years it had grown into a modest space with the plum tree at its center. Encircled by a covered walk way along opposite sides, a covered porch closest to the house, and a simple fence and moon gate opposite it was near to the size of his living room and the branches of the flowering fruit tree had grown since before Hou's residence to nearly encompass the majority of the garden space helping to shade the space with its reaching branches.

A gravel pathway encircled the tree, and without any clear sort of pattern meandered into broken winding spokes away. Stands of bamboo and numerous islands of peonies, orchids, and Chrysanthemums dotted the scene among islands of rocks that had been allowed to be covered with moss. Even some spaces were let to wildly grow grass which grew long.

Throwing an old rug onto the ground Hou dropped to his knees and deftly his hands began the work of pulling out the small weeds from between the stones around an island of China Roses. Early season bees were hovering near the open blooms of the all-seasons flowering shrubs and their low and soft humming set itself against the not-to-distant sounds of the ocean's rhythm.

Gardening was not something he always had done. While he had memories of sometimes helping his mother in her's, it had not been a habit he picked up until later in his life. The joy of gardening had come with learning its meditative practice. While he leaned over, pulling up weeds or wandering the flowers he could detach himself from the world for a moment and to recenter. Or, if need be: to mull over decisions that needed to be made.

“Comrade.” a hesitant voice said nearby.

Hou looked up to see the guard standing in the shade of the covered walkway. He held under his arms a small piece of paper. “A message came in just now, from Beijing.” the soldier said, holding out the piece of paper.

Hou reached out with a dirty hand and took the paper, scanning the typed print he sighed and folded up the message. Xiogang Wen had caught wind of developments towards intervention in Russia. “Tell comrade Wen I'll have it in the schedule next available Politburo meeting. Tell him it's not important right now. Tell him I'm waiting for developments.”

The soldier bowed and turning on his heels walked away. His heels clicking on the concrete on the walk itself. Hou sat up and rubbed his hands off against the breast of his shirt. With a resigned sigh he stood up from his spot and walked to his canaries, and stood watching them.

North-western Xinjiang


The motorbike rumbled into town. It was an old job, from the revolution. It was painted a flat field green, though it may have once been that. Over time the paint had chipped and worn away from the fuel tank and seat and what wasn't painted had begun to ruse over. To compensate its owner had painted over the holes and even the rust with Rorschach blobs of an olive green. As a result the whole vehicle parades around a rough and unintentional camouflage pattern under a layer of fine brown an d white dust.

To the sleepy border town of Qoqek the sound of the motor engine cut the stillness of the later afternoon air with the same smoothness of a hot knife in butter. There were no other engine sounds to compete with it and even the isolated military vehicles parked along the road-side of the main street were eerily quiet in this corner of China.

A rain had just recently fell over the sea, and the packed earthen road was dark with freshly fallen rain. The buildings still dripped with rain water and even the civilians strolling the street looked to have been freshly whetted. The distant mountains far beyond the city's northern and southern horizon themselves appeared to be wet and darkened with rapidly moving spring rain clouds sprinkling the cold northern steppe.

Chao and Guo came into the town, and pulled off to the side by a tea house. Looking around neither were impressed with the condition of Qoqek. Yet so close to the border it looked to not have the bustle of a border community. And to taunt them more were the presence of the military. The brooding uniformed presence of bored soldiers with their black fur caps, leaning on railings or against walls watching them with arms crossed. Both young men could feel the heavy gazes of a few dozen soldiers on them the moment they came into the city. They knew they couldn't have looked normal on the old motorbike and the heavy saddle bags that were slung off the back of the bike and on its dented side car.

Feel perturbed at the suspicion they believed they attracted they exchanged quick glances. A sudden flash of doubt for their plan blossomed between them. They were forced to swallow the guilt of doing something so daring. But the two had reached a point of silent commitment. Between the two of them they knew without words that they would turn back only if they were arrested. Then they knew they could not do it.

They went inside the tea house to consider their next move.

The lighting inside the restaurant was dim and the floor dusty. But care had been taken to give it a homey air despite the lack of chairs. The two visitors glided between chest-high tables with a feeling they did not belong. A radio somewhere off in the corner played music on the radio, music that was being performed in Uyghur. Neither of the young men could understand it, and the sudden confrontation with songs in a foreign language reinforced the expression of being in a totally alien land.

The two picked a table. “What do you say?” Guo asked, leaning onto his cross forearms as he looked around the tea house.

A few locals had already been at tables when they arrived. They stood over plates of small simple cakes and kettles of tea but mostly kept to themselves. Some wore Muslim skull caps and thin wispy beards, others were clean shaven. They regarded the two new visitors with passive disinterest before returning to their tea and cakes.

“We got this far.” Guo said restlessly.

“How far is the border from here?” Chao asked.

Guo rummaged in the chest pocket of his jacket and pulled out a folded map. He unfolded it on the table and laid it out for his friend to see. In the dim moody lamp light of the house he ran his finger along the western Chinese border from Russia south until he came to the name of the town scribbled in small lettering far off on the border itself. “What do you know.” he said with a sarcastic smile, “We're right on top of it. I sure do wish we got a larger map of China!” he added in exasperation.

Chao grumbled. Of course they couldn't have known they would have decided to leave the country. And not only that for him to set the challenge they push themselves all the way to Africa. At this distance, at the very edge of China he was beginning to wonder if they should just turn back. They were at the edge of the lake now, and the cool dark waters of the world was at their toes. Should he declare he was out? Guo would follow if he did, doubtlessly; he had less reason to go to Africa than he.

“Well it hadn't occurred to me at the time.” he hissed. Guo rolled his eyes and folded the map up.

At that moment a waitress approached their table. She was an old woman with bags under her eyes and an uneven hobble.

“Tea?” she asked expectantly.

Chao nodded with a heavy sigh, “Yes, please.” Guo said he would like some tea too and the old woman hobbled off.

“So what's the plan to cross?” Guo asked.

“The army's here in force, obviously.” Chao moaned, “We can't just drive through I imagine. Not without some pass or permit.”

“We could go around them. What's the chances they have the entire border watched?”

“That might be our ticket. Might not hurt to stick around for a bit just to look around. We passed farm fields, vineyards on the way. Maybe we can get some work in before heading off. It'll give us time to look around, make the army less suspicious.”

“Not like it hasn't been how we've worked before.” Guo groaned, “Alright.”

The old lady returned to them with a tray holding an old tin tea pot and a few small chipped cups. She laid them on the table and asked the two of them, “Would there be anything else?”

“Yes, do you know if anyone needs an extra hand?” Chao asked.

The old lady raised an elbow and said mater-of-factly, “Oh, we might need some help.” she said in a surprised voice.

The Dragon Diaries

Li Chao

May 18th, 1960. Tuesday. Year of the Metal Rat

We left Yusup Bahtar's and headed north-west to a town called Qoqek. The road is has it has been throughout this province. Drylands and spring grasslands in the high steppe. We see mountains in the distance. We intended to leave earlier that morning, and despite our lack of drinking to pass the evening the two of us slept in later than intended. We ended up leaving just before high-noon and came into the town later that afternoon. It rained briefly on our way in. But before we could pull over to throw on some rain cover it has passed and we were soon back on our way, drying as we went.

The town as I can gather was once some kind of trading town back before the revolution. There's a wide sprawl to it but most of it feels empty and displaced. Perhaps like Yusup's son most of the sons went east or elsewhere to find work to do now that trade into and out of Russia ceased. There is in their place plenty soldiers.

We stopped at a tea house in the middle of town and got our bearings set straight. Apart from trade the city is one of those few oasis settlements in Xinjiang that can farm, not from the benefit of any mountain springs but because it rains often here. The planting season is beginning and being short of hands the farmer coops need assistance. The farms here are mostly all owned through the city and they grow barley, wheat, and grapes which they use to make raisins. On this lead we contacted the cooperative and set us up with some employment. We intend to use the time to scout the border and not just find exactly where it is but how we might avoid the army.
To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Communism. The humor is extremely subtle, and without a solid grasp of Social Theory most of the jokes will go over a typical Proletarian's head. There’s also Marx’s conflict outlook, which is deftly woven into his characterization- his personal philosophy draws heavily from Narodnaya Volya literature, for instance. The Communists understand this stuff; they have the intellectual capacity to truly appreciate the depths of these jokes, to realize that they’re not just funny- they say something deep about LIFE. As a consequence people who dislike Communism truly ARE idiots- of course they wouldn’t appreciate, for instance, the humour in Marx’s existential catchphrase “Size the means of Production,” which itself is a cryptic reference to Turgenev’s Russian epic Fathers and Sons. I’m smirking right now just imagining one of those addlepated simpletons scratching their heads in confusion as Engels’s genius wit unfolds itself on their Society. What fools.. how I pity them. 😂

And yes, by the way, i DO have a Communism tattoo. And no, you cannot see it. It’s for the ladies’ eyes only- and even then they have to demonstrate that they’re within 5 IQ points of my own (preferably lower) beforehand. Nothin personnel kid 😎

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