14.4.15

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Richmond, British Columbia
April, 2014



1.4.15

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Edmonton, Alberta
December, 2014





26.3.15

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Guangzhou, Guangdong
April, 2013




After a while, they left and she told me seriously to walk Menghui home and we walked from the Westin to Gangding and the computer superstore towers and the men waiting on the sidewalk with bundles of electronics, loading them into the trunks of grey Kias, and north past the last part of real Tianhe and the yellow and green tiled sidewalks and past the schoolyards and dormitories and east down Hanjing Lu with the Guangyuan Expressway thundering thirty feet overhead. There was a beer garden that was closed and there were plastic pools inside with fish splashing in them. There were small fields below the street and irrigation ponds. There was the sound of frogs croaking. We went up the stairs that were lit by the cellphones and cigarettes of girls in pyjamas. We went into her room and the door scraped across the floor and the room was empty, a bed and a mosquito net and a plastic and polyester dresser for her clothes. She brought me an empty jar to use as an ashtray and I lit a cigarette. She made me leave the room and she changed her clothes and put on a T-shirt and shorts. I flicked the cigarette down the hallway. I could see her nipples through her T-shirt and the hair under her arms and the poke of her hipbones and the V of ribcage below her flat chest.

She was from Maoming but spoke Mandarin with no accent. She did the morning announcements when she was in school and she was studying broadcasting but wanted to major in Chinese. She understood Hunan accents because most of the girls she lived with were from Hunan. Fifi moved to Guangzhou at the same time as her and worked as a receptionist at a factory and then at a clothing wholesaler near the train station and then at an English school, even though she spoke no English.

We sat on her bed and she asked, Aren't you more interested in Fifi? I think she's more your type. We kissed and I pulled on her pubic hair through her shorts. The next day she came with Fifi to my apartment, which was cold and humid and smelled like airconditioned cigarette smoke. Fifi left and Menghui stayed. We sat on the polished plastic granite windowsill, below the airconditioner. I asked about her boyfriend. She told me that what we were doing was normal. She said that Fifi came to Guangzhou her boyfriend was working in Changchun and she met a man here that ran a factory and he rented an apartment for her and gave her a job as a receptionist.

I worked at night and usually walked to see her in the early afternoon. The last time I went to see her, I called and she didn't answer but I walked north from Shipaiqiao anyways. I reached the apartment block and walked through the dusty courtyard and then left and walked back under the Guangyuan Expressway. There were taxis parked along Hanjing. The Expressway blocked out the sun and the road was trafficless. At the university, I took the Metro north instead of south, got off at the bus terminal and, lost, walked north instead of south. I knew I was lost but I had nowhere to go and only stopped and turned south when I was in the green hilly suburbs and stretches of reclaimed village turned into government bureau land. Nobody noticed me. I walked south with the glass towers of Tianhe as my guide, past the Guangzhou Christian Cemetery, and picked up my regular route back, up Tianhe Lu and the underground trace of Line 3 from the university station to Gangding to Shipaiqiao to Tiyu Xi Lu. A tricycle loaded with pineapple preskinned and carved, apples wrapped in styrofoam nets. A busker standing on his head, playing guitar. I bought a pack of Salem Menthol and a Diet Coke with Lemon at the Circle K, a pork cutlet sandwich at Queen's Bakery and walked through the dark ravine between the two towers of the Yangcheng Center, where men were hosing down the tiles. I heard my phone dinging a Weixin message from Fifi. I sat on a cement bench and took my phone out. I told Fifi I'd wait for her. I watched the trash sorters on Huayang working along the leafy walls and iron fences and ate my lunch.

When Fifi got off work, she came downstairs and I met her in front of the glass doors leading to the Ping An ATMs at the bottom of the building. I gave her half of my sandwich and she ate it and showed me a picture of herself on her phone. She was standing topless in her messy apartment bathroom. I saw the tiny washing machine standing in the corner, below the water heater, a row of shampoos and lotions, an empty and open Yonex bag, Her left arm was across her ribs, holding up her breasts. Her right leg was crossed over her left leg. The steam on the camera lens made her skin look like buttercream icing. We walked toward the Metro station. A man in a sweated out shirt was handing out fliers for Wall Street English at the Metro entrance.

I remembered the smell of the city after I left and that smell was the strongest on that corner: humid exhaust, sticky sweet garbage cans and airconditioned snackstalls, bodies huddled on the street corner waiting for the light to turn, cigarette smoke.

I shook a cigarette out of the pack and lit it. Fifi made a face and stepped a few steps to the left. I told her, Go down and I'll be right there. I waited until she disappeared into the Metro entrance and walked past the entrance, crossed at the intersection and kept walking. My phone dinged. I walked south along Xiancun Road, treeshaded sidewalks and a wide roads, a neighborhood of luxury condos and hotels, the Ritz and W, science-fiction architecture and the peeling facades of 1990s boom. My phone vibrated in my pockets. I caught the Metro a few blocks down, transferred to Line 3 and rode to Panyu.

I took a mototaxi from Xiajiao, weaving the speed bumps on the wide roads around the wholesale markets. VIP Hotelex Wholesale Market had a red banner welcoming buyers to the Canton Fair. On the way home, I made eye contact with a girl riding another mototaxi. She was wearing a dress that looked like Wedgewood. She looked at me for a long time and my mototaxi driver sped up to run alongside her mototaxi. He shouted something at her in Cantonese that sounded like a joke. She smiled and tilted her head. When I got home, I climbed slowly to the sixth floor, stopping on every landing, wrung out from the heat. From the unglassed landing window, I could see the green fields along the river. Each flight of stairs, gave me a better view, until I could see over the fields and over the river to the opposite shore and I could read the six story high signs stuck to the sides of the towers still under construction. I climbed the final flight, unlocked the door, went into my bedroom and felt the sweat chilling on my ribs. I sat on the cold windowsill and looked across the way at the wideopen windows of the building across the way. An old man was sitting in a recliner, watching TV. A woman in pyjamas was hanging clothes to dry on a balcony. I lit a cigarette and ashed it on the floor and checked my phone. I swiped away the messages from Fifi. I sent a message to Menghui. She sent me a message that said, I'm in Maoming.

19.3.15

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Edmonton, Alberta
March, 2015

On the way home, I stopped at a supermarket on 97th Street. I lingered at the butcher counter and listened to the butcher's conversations with his customers. A man asked the butcher where he was from. He said, Fujian. The customer repeated, Fujian. An old woman asked to see a section of a side of pork. The butcher held it over the counter for her to see the fat and bones in it. She reached out to touch it and he pulled it away. He said, You can't touch it until you buy it. I bought half a chicken and asked the butcher to cut it up for me. I bought mushrooms and green onions. The cashier was beautiful: puffy upper lip painted red, tanned cheekbones, big lazy long eyes. She was wearing a badge that read: I speak Mandarin. I drove home. The snow had melted. The city was brown. The wind was strong. The sand that had been spread on the streets all winter was blowing. I cut down Hermitage and saw the upgrader plants' steamstacks' clouds blown into mist over the northside. I drove home home and fried the chicken in butter with onions and made a milky stew with pearls of chicken fat and butter floating on top. I soaked dried shiitake and added the dusty juice to the stew. I boiled the stew until the chicken skin melted into the soup. I cut the muddy bottoms off shimeji and oyster mushrooms and set them on top. I chopped up a bundle of green onions and set them on top. Haru and I ate dinner on the floor of our bedroom. We spooned rich yellow soup over bowls of noodles. Out the window, the dust turned the sunset to a heat lamp red haze.

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When the fire alarm went off, we got dressed and went down to the parking lot. The lights were flashing in the windows in a steady rhythm. Flash, flash, flash flash flash, flash, flash across each floor. A man in barefeet walked carefully across the parking lot toward us. His feet were coated in gravel and sand. He said, They're saying someone pulled the alarm. Haru and I stood beside my car and the sun had gone down but it was still bright, no redness in the sky, somewhere between sunset and night. Over the apartment block that had been built last year, blocking the view of the North Saskatchewan River, there was a curtain of maybe steam. I looked at it more closely. It was green. I told Haru that it was the northern lights. We heard the sirens of the firetrucks coming up the hill. We drove to Mac's and bought a pack of cigarettes. We drove home.

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I always wanted to show Haru the northern lights. We'd driven north of Jasper once on a dirt road and had almost seen them but decided we were just seeing clouds. We'd driven east of Edmonton once, toward Elk Island on the Yellowhead. The sky was overcast. The sky was clear now, though, and when the night was full, we got in the car and drove east of the city again. The last strip malls and power centers and truckstops faded behind us. The edge of the city was under construction. There were no lanes on the highway. There were halfbuilt flyovers and railbridges. We turned north onto Highway 830. The road was dark. There were trees up to the ditches. I had driven down here in daylight before. I knew there were big houses along here--stucco mansions with stables attached, manmade lakes stocked with trout--but it felt wild and abandoned in the darkness. We passed through a village called Josephburg. Before Highway 15, we pulled onto a dirt road and drove toward Elk Island. We stopped when the road met a high fence. We got out of the car and I lit a cigarette and we stood in the darkness. The city was still on the horizon, a long yellow blaze. But the darkness was almost complete. The moon was dark. The sky was dark and deep. We were too late to see the northern lights. We leaned against the dusty trunk of the car and stared up. We picked out constellations.

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I sat on the bathroom floor and read disconnected sentences from Nafai Kafu's "A Strange Tale from East of the River." When I went back into the bedroom to sleep beside Haru, when I laid down and closed my eyes, I saw the stars behind my eyelids. Haru murmured to herself, I'm cold, and wrapped her legs around mine,

18.2.15

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Edmonton, Alberta
February, 2015


The temperature dropped twenty degrees in a day. The ice fog from the river met the steam from the upgraders beside the Henday. North Edmonton landscape of gravel lots and apartment complexes in brown and tan or grey and a flyover view of a parking lot and Cineplex, Lowe's, Cabela's, a girl in a McDonald's uniform under flapping open parka crossing at the bottom pulling her cap off and stuffing it into her purse, and the few remnants of what used to be here, a smokestack tower from one of the packing plants beside Belvedere, and the Transit, and the Drake, the cenotaph on 118th hidden in twiggy bushes and snow. Called Samir from the Wal-Mart parking lot, looking out over 118th Avenue, and tried to explain again why I went the other direction, why I flew to Vancouver instead of Hong Kong and took the Greyhound to Edmonton instead of walking across the border to Guangzhou and taking the train to Xi'an with him. I remembered sitting on a detention center floor with him, army surplus parkas on the tiles, spread in the dustfree island we scraped away with hot, dirty rags. He told me about getting paid by men who picked him up in Lexus trucks to fuck him in hotel rooms, smoking meth, how he had both situations under control. I thought about the conversation we had on the ripped up vinyl couch in our empty apartment about: self-control. On Fridays, he would pray and then remain silent on the taxiride to the mosque and I would pace outside and listen to the ahong's calls for balancing Islamic education with the demands of the secular world and everything in this world would return to dust-- and a cloud of dust from the demolition of the old city was picked up by the wind and there was the sound of stones tinking against the windows of the mosque-- and the exclamations of duositimen! at sentence beginning and end, frantic pigeons rustling up into the eaves, kids walking down the back alley, tourists with yellow umbrellas gabbling, gathering at the gates to watch. I asked him if he went to Friday prayers and he said he didn't. He asked if I'd written anything and I told him that I couldn't because, I don't know, the entire city is empty and I'm not, whatever, thinking about anything. I spit into a Diet Coke with Lime can. I drove out of the parking lot and picked up Haru at the train station and we ate halfprice wings at Boston Pizza and snuck out the side door to smoke from her rarely touched pack of Accord Menthols. We parked beside the edge of the river valley and watched the river steaming hundred feet up to the Beverly Bridge, wrapping a freight train in smoke as it hit the mound on the west shore, as it hit the wooden bridge over Victoria Trail and entered the city.

12.2.15

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Edmonton, Alberta
February, 2015

I took pictures of the stained glass windows at Belvedere Station. In the landing at the bottom of the stairwell, a man slept on a bench. The cold air kept the smell of urine and smoke fresh and crisp. On the platform, two transit cops hassled a kid with dyed black hair and a denim bathrobe and a pentagram medallion. He tried walking past them and they stepped in front of him again. After a while, he pulled out a nylon wallet and ripped it open and showed them his transit pass. The kid with the pentagram tried to push past the transit cops again. They moved to block his way. Three girls stood at the bottom of the escalator, watching the encounter. The girls were wearing black parkas and black leggings and black boots. One of the girls said: They can't find any natives to fuck with. One of them stood close enough to the automatic doors to slide them open and filmed the backs of the transit cops with her phone. One of the transit cops heard the door slide open and began walking toward the landing. The girl filmed the transit cop coming toward her. He stood in the doorway and the automatic doors clicked rhythmically half open shut half open shut half open shut. The girl stepped back and continued filming him with her phone. She looked at me and said: You should take a picture of that, and pointed at him. She had a wide, calm face, with plucked surprised eyebrows and grease around her orange lipsticked lips. I put my camera up to my eyebrow and took a picture without focusing. A northbound train pulled into the station and the platform filled. The transit cop and the kid with the pentagram led the crowd. Both transit cops and the kid with the pentagram walked onto the escalator. The crowd followed them, riding the escalator under the stained glass. I walked out and stood under one of the heaters hanging from a rail above the platform. At the end of the platform, Century Casino rose over the low homes of the north side. Another southbound train came into the station. The doors clacked open. Haru had a pink scarf on. She was wearing her red vinyl skirt. We rode the escalator up to the pedway bridge and rode the escalator down to the parking lot.

On 50th Street, I was mesmerized by the hatched grey snow strip down the center of the lane lit by snow sky, the lights of the city reflecting back down in incandescent bulb yellow. Below the underpass, there was no snow. I listened to the traffic report.

5.2.15

4.2.15

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Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
April, 2013

This is a story I wrote for or about a friend. He lived in Moose Jaw and lived in Shenyang before that. He worked at a slaughterhouse, where I also worked, very briefly, following the first time I left university. He hated working there. His hands were destroyed by his work. His back was ruined. He was in constant pain. On weekends, Xinran and I would eat dinner at his home. He lived with his wife. They lived above the National Cafe for a while. The building was close to a hundred years old. He used to be a chef in Shenyang and sometimes worked outside of the city. The National Cafe was run by the same Chinese clan that owned several restaurants and businesses in town. They had been in the city since the late-1800s. They were all from Kaiping. My friend had no connection to them and thought they were arrogant. He could not speak English. He got into an argument at the slaughterhouse and stabbed one of his co-workers. He stabbed him because he ran out of things to say. The charges were dropped. The man he stabbed was an immigrant from West Africa. The slaughterhouse was eventually shut down. The company locked the union out and then went bankrupt. He got a job at a pork packing plant. It was cold inside. His body broke down.

We moved to Regina and then we moved to Vancouver and then I moved to Dalian and Xinran went to Guizhou. When we saw him again, he had stopped speaking to his wife. He had bought a house with his wife. He lived in the living room. He went to the casino every night. I went with him a few times and he would forget I was there and I would walk home down Athabasca. He would realize I was gone when his money was gone.

I wrote this story in one of the study carrels at the Moose Jaw Public Library. I submitted it somewhere and got a letter asking me to rework some part of it but I'd lost interest and never bothered. I lost the story and rewrote it in a notebook and lost the notebook when I stepped out for a cigarette on the station platform in Zhangjiakou on my way to Datong and rewrote it again. The first time I wrote it was the best.

This is the story:

That afternoon, he had gotten off early and driven home and began working in the kitchen. Yu Wen would not be home for a few hours. 

He rolled a pork shoulder from its pink Styrofoam tray, unstuck the blood pad from the meat, twisted up the wet plastic wrap and laid it on top of the vegetable trimmings in the garbage can. He thawed mackerel in the sink in a metal tray, letting lukewarm water trickle over the fish. He took a pork stomach out of the fridge. It was in a metal bowl. It was almost thawed and there were ice crystals inside of it. He spread salt over it and washed it with the same trickle of lukewarm water. He turned on the front left burner of the stove. The burner made a clicking sound as it heated under the weight of a pot. He blanched the pork stomach. He turned on another burner and set a tall stainless steamer on it. He put the pork shoulder into it and put the lid on it. He moved restlessly around the house. He turned down the heat on the steamer and locked the door and went out. 

He walked to the liquor board store at the end of Main Street. He bought a six-pack of Kokanee and walked home. He took a detour up Main Street. He stopped in front of a window of a storefront rented by an evangelical church. The church had created a display of large photographs of aborted fetuses. When he arrived on his block, he stopped in front of his home. The house was grey. He went inside and drank a beer. 

He put another pan on the stove and poured canola oil into it from a jug. He fried ginger and cloves of garlic and added peppercorn and cassia and anise. He dried the mackerel on a yellow disch cloth and laid it into the pan and shook a spray of sweet soy sauce over it. He sliced the pork stomach into shreds and put it back into the metal bowl. He poured sesame oil and chili oil and mustard oil and black vinegar over it. He added dark soy sauce to the pan of mackerel and put the a lid on the pan. The lid was too big and steam collected against its ceiling and dropped down onto the electric burner with white noise hisses. He chopped cilantro and added it to the bowl of pork stomach with a sprinkle of sugar and a sprinkle of white pepper. He went to his front step and sat on the cold concrete and smoked a menthol Accord and finished another can of beer. He went back into the house, through the living room with its pitted and worn hardwood floor. He lifted the lid on the pan of mackerel. He turned off the heat and lifted the mackerel out with the fingers of his left hand and the chopsticks in his right hand. He put the mackerel on a dish. He picked the points of anise and the sticks of cassia out of the dark soy sauce and poured the sauce over the fish. The mackerel was delicate and the dark soy pouring over it peeled away black skin and revealed white flesh. He went back outside and sat on the concrete step and smoked another cigarette. He drank another beer. He watched the men at the garage across the street loading an old truck onto a flatbed trailer. He went back into the kitchen and lifted the lid from the steamer and let the steam hit his face. He inhaled. He lifted the pork out of the steamer and laid it down into the broth that had steamed and dripped and steamed and dripped over the pork. He added a splash of soy sauce. He put the pork shoulder into a white casserole dish and poured the soup over it. Clouds of fat and gelatin floated in the broth. He set two metal bowls on the table. He laid chopsticks across -- 

-- the parking lot, a dusty wind blew up from the railyards. It was late summer. It was a cold morning. The letters on the aluminum sign over the door--HOCHELEGA PACKERS--had starbursts of frost on them. In the plywood gazebo beside the door to the line, a few men spit between their teeth into Styrofoam cups; a few men stood around an oil drum ashtray, smoking and shivering in white hard hats, ear plugs draped over their shoulders. 

He looked for Guo Sun. He cleaned his boots in the tray of disinfectant and went in. He took his long white jacket from his locker. He put on his boots. He walked toward the stairs down to the line and he saw her in the locker room doorway. She was pulling on her boots. She had a slit up the back of her rubber boots and two callused spots on their sides where her fingers had pinched and pulled them up over her calves. Her forearms were strong from folding sides of ribs and holding onto a knife handle through two layers of rubber and cotton gloves. He stood behind Guo Sun until she turned around. She smiled at him. Her lips were sticked pale pink. Her eyes were single pulls of a brushstroke. As she looked away, he smelled her scent for a moment over the background smells of disinfectant and boots and blood; she smelled like milk candy in a warm mouth. She walked downstairs without waiting for him. He watched -- 

-- the race between distance and the setting sun to rub out the last pearls of shorelight. He leaned on the railing and felt the diesel engine stutter as the ferry passed between two towers of grey stone. Grey gulls tipped from their path above the ship and flew toward the islands. He lost sight of them in the dusk.

He shook a cigarette out of a pack of Hongtashan. He cupped his hand against the wind and lit it. He reached back to tug his jacket collar over the back of his neck. Across the water, the bobbing lights of a container ship shone flat against the horizon. He walked down the side of the ship, his feet echoing rubbery and cold on the deck, past the open door of the first class kitchen. He stood for a moment in the heat and light of the doorway. A young man was working in the kitchen, brushing a steel pan with a brush. He watched the man's back. A push of breeze knocked a paper cup off the counter behind him and the man turned and saw him. He nodded at the man. He turned and walked back to the main observation deck, weaving among the people filing down to the cabins below. He stood for a moment at the railing and then joined procession down the steel stairs to the third class seating. He heard the messy sound of the space belowdecks and he felt the heat --

-- in the kitchen and the sweat trickling down the sides of his ribcage. He did not know where she was. He stood in front of the kitchen table. He picked a piece of mackerel skin off the fish and ate it. He sat on the couch in the living room. There was a picture on the wall across from the couch. It had been taken in Shenyang, at Beiling Park. The picture was taken after they were married. They were posed in front of a bed of marigolds. He was leaning against Yu Wen and she was leaning into him. Her shoulders were under his arm. Her face was round and she was smiling with her mouth slightly open. Her hair was styled plainly, straight on the sides, with bangs curled over her forehead. Her face was thickly powdered and she had two circles of red over her cheekbones. Her eyebrows were plucked and she had two greenish-purple brows tattooed over her eyes. After the picture was taken, their two families ate a meal together in a restaurant downtown and they spent the night at a hotel. A year later, his parents bought him an apartment in Shenyang. A year after that, Yu Wen got pregnant and had a miscarriage. A year after that, he went to work with a classmate in Xuzhou at the Haofulou Hotel. A year after that, he went back to Shenyang. A year after that, Yu Wen's friend Sha Sha moved to Canada and Yu Wen asked if they could go, too. A year after that, they boarded the plane and landed in Vancouver and then Regina and then took a Greyhound down the Trans-Canada. Sha Sha worked at a restaurant and they worked there, too. He worked in the kitchen and Yu Wen worked in the dining room. After a year, he went to the pork plant and Yu Wen had the money to go to the Beauty College. He looked at the couple in the picture. He looked at the marigolds. He stood and walked --   

-- down the rows of plastic seats, breathed in and breathed out blue cigarette mist. He bought a pack of Zhongnanhai and a paper box of rice and beef. He had a ticket with his seat number stamped on it but, when he went to the seat, he found it occupied by a man sleeping under a blanket of newspaper. The seats beside his were taken by a woman and her children. The woman looked up at him. Her face was tanned dark. Her shirt was rolled up over her flat breasts. She was feeding a toddler. The child had raw bald patches on his head. In the seat beside her, another boy cradled a dead sparrow in his hands. The sparrow was tied to his wrist with a string. On the floor in front of the sleeping man, a piece of newspaper had fallen to the floor. He took the paper and laid it on the floor in a corner. He sat on it and rested his head against the wall. The vibration of the diesel engines rumbled through him. Two men came and laid newspaper on the floor. He passed them cigarettes. They were brothers. They were headed home to Dandong for the winter. They had spent the summer and the fall digging irrigation ditches in towns and villages outside of Nanjing. Their hair was cut short and their scalps shone through it. They told him that it took them a week to walk from Nanjing to Yantai. They slipped their feet out of green khaki shoes and curled their toes on the newspaper. He ate his rice and they watched him. They traded stories about working in the city. He showed them his hands, which were permanently tanned from the flames of hotel kitchen stoves, speckled with shiny oil burns. He looked back down -- 

-- the edge-of-city stretch of Athabasca Street, where the city stripped down to stucco blocks and concrete lots. He pulled into the parking lot of a car wash. On the hill across the street, there was a cemetary and a trailer park. There was a puddle of brown water in the bowed curve of the car wash roof. The bays of the car wash were open and empty and someone had dragged a card table and a couple of chairs into one of them. He parked his van beside Guo Sun's yellow Sunfire. She opened her door and got out and they walked into the back room of the car wash through a door mounted with a sign painted on a hubcap that read Larry's Lunch. 

He poured two cups of a coffee from a carafe near the flat top grill. They sat at a booth beside a window. He sat across from her. She reached across the table and touched his arm.

He said: Who else am I going to talk to? She always says that if we were still in Shenyang, she'd leave me. He looked down at Guo Sun's neck while he spoke. He said: She told me that the last time she went home, her mother told her that there were plenty of men asking about her. He leaned across the table. I try talking to her but she won't talk about anything. She doesn't want to talk about anything. I've tried talking to her. She won't talk. I just can't take it. She won't talk to me. Guo Sun lit a cigarette and he pushed the ashtray toward her. He said: I don't even care if she wants to say the worst things about me that she can think to say. But to not even talk to me?

He looked out the window. The parking lot was mud. He heard the trains running down the valley, the squeal of wheels on track and the diesel drone --

-- kept him awake while the two brothers fell asleep curled together on the floor, heads pillowed on arms. He rested his head against the wall and stretched out on the floor. He tried to make his thoughts as clean as the diesel rumble and as steady as the push and pull of the brothers' breathing. He opened his eyes and saw the boy with the sparrow tied around his wrist. He was walking down the aisles of plastic seats. The sparrow trailed behind him. The sparrow's wings opened as it was dragged. The sparrow's wings swept across the dusty floor.

He put his jacket on and climbed the steel stairs back up to the main deck. The air was cold. He laid on a plastic bench, where the diesel exhaust from the stacks fell and warmed him. He took his pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket, shook one out --

-- and lit it and walked through the house. He went into his bedroom and ran his hand through the sheets on his bed, looking for the cordless phone. His bedroom was on the frontier of the living room, divided from it with a wall of Plywood and an ironing board hung with towels and rags. His bed was a mattress on the floor. He went to Yu Wen's bedroom. It smelled like lotion and shampoo. He found the cordless phone on her bed. He dialed Yu Wen's phone. He listened to it ring. She didn't answer.   

He sat on her bed and thought about the last time he slept there. He thought about the way his hands looked when he placed them against her pale inner thigh, how his fingers looked when he brushed back her pubic hair. His hands were disgusting to him. They were cracked and peeling from holding a wet knife handle, scarred by oil burns and slips of his knife. His knuckles under the brown skin of his fingers were pearls of bone set in twisted tendon. His fingernails were broken and yellow. The last time they had slept in the same bed, he smelled his own smell of sweat and refrigeration and disinfectant as it was smeared across her body, ruining her soft odors of hairspray and talcum and instant coffee.

He took off his clothes and left them on the floor of her bedroom. He got into the shower. He ran his hands down his stomach. He picked a piece of fat out of his hair. The fat had turned translucent in the hot water. He threw it into the drain. He pulled his penis by the head and then pulled down on it, trying to coax an erection out of it. He gave up and turned off the water. He went to his bedroom with a towel wrapped around his waist and felt the muscles in his back tingle and uncoil as he lay down. He pulled the final can of Kokanee out of its ring, cracked it, and lit a cigarette. He took a long pull on his beer and burped a squiggle of smoke.

When he got dressed, Huang Ge was already waiting outside in his Robitussin red Regal. He locked the door behind him and went out and got in. He sank into the dusty velour and reached over to pull out the ashtray. Huang Ge asked him about Yu Wen. The last time Huang Ge came to their house, he had brought her a dried fish and she had smiled and asked him how to cook it. When he left, she fell into bitter silence. She tossed the fish onto the counter. She told him that Huang Ge was laughing at her, insulting her by bringing her a dried fish. He hadn't told Huang Ge about this. He leaned back and stretched out his legs --

 -- on the bench and turned his head, so that the exhaust from the stacks above him fell on his cheek. A man and a woman were standing beside the railing on the deck. The woman was wearing a red dress. She wore the man's jacket over her shoulders. She was younger than the man and taller but her legs were short and thick. He danced with her and pushed her up against the railing. He tapped his pointed leather shoes around her red slippers. The man put his hands under the skirt of her dress and reached up inside of it. The dress made a flapping sound in the wind.

He rolled to his shoulder to watch them and and two coins fell from his pocket and slapped down onto the plastic bench. The man and the woman looked over. The man led the woman away. He heard a steel door slam. He watched the stars through diesel exhaust. He peeled the coins off the steel bench with his fingernails. He put the coins in his pocket and took out the card from the bus company.

He lit a cigarette. He thought about going back to sleep beside the two brothers. He wanted to wake them up and buy them a paper box of noodles and drop cigarettes between their fingers. The brothers had walked across the burnt down fields of Jiangsu, along the coast and through the last fishing villages. He had taken a bus. He had left that morning. The night before, he had packed his bag and then gone for a final walk through the city. He had walked along the canal and among the backpacked and uniformed primary schoolers and the old men carrying birdcages. He went to a familiar alley near the train station. He had to say goodbye to Lao Wu, had to repay kindness and--

-- his patience had failed and the night had begun. He dialed Guo Sun's number and when she answered, he imagined her sitting in her room over the National Cafe. She would meet him there. She would be waiting when he arrived --

-- he knocked on Lao Wu's door. He waited. He looked up and down the wet alley and smelled the dark green smell of sewage. Lao Wu's daughter answered the door. He told her he was leaving and wanted her father to have some of his things. She asked where he was going and he pressed his bundle of knives toward her. He walked to the bus station and sat in the muddy parking lot until the sun rose. When the ticket window opened, he bought a ticket for Yantai. He sat on the bus and watched the fields burning. He watched the concrete villages and the flatlands of Shandong. 

When he got off the bus, he walked past the grimy buses choking into gravel lots and the masked women touting for hotels. He walked past the the taximen leaning against black Jettas. He lit a cigarette and lost himself in the crooked streets of container terminals. There were whorehouses among the grey buildings of the docks. They were single door, single window buildings, each home to a girl with hair dyed yellow or orange or red. There was graffiti on the walls. The local government planned to tear down the old red light district. He went into a bar called The Ocean Heart. He sat in a private room and ordered a bottle of brandy. The brandy was made in Yantai. On the label, it had a picture of maybe a Russian man, with a black beard. There were girls walking among the tables with numbers tagged to their hips. He wanted a girl --

-- and a boy pushed out of hedges along the edge of Crescent Park as Huang Ge pulled into a parking spot on Fairford Street. The Regal creaked as he stepped out. He leaned against a parking meter and lit a cigarette. He watched the young couple disappear in the dusk. The nights were getting cold. Huang Ge walked toward the casino and he followed him. They went through the black glass doors and the greeter, a tall man in a dark suit, nodded to them. They sat in the lounge and ordered glasses of beer.

Huang Ge went to play the machines and he sat alone. Guo Sun stepped around the polished brass bars and entered the lounge as he was ordering a beer. He ordered two. He passed her a cigarette and lit it for her. She touched his arm. She laughed and leaned against him. The smoke hanging against the ceiling was lit red and green. 

He noticed for the first time a tattoo of a heart on her breast. It was a green smudge with a red arrow through it. He thought about what it would be like to have her, have all of her weight pushing on his lap, running his hands over her. He ordered another beer for himself and one for her. He tried to examine her face --

-- in the darkness. The number on her hip was 476. The girl was from Sichuan. She told him she came here because the air was clean. She studied massage in Chengdu. He tried imagining how she saw him, what he looked like to her. She put his hand on her thigh and pushed up her skirt. She looked into his eyes and he looked at her cheek. After a while, he got up to leave. She put her hand on his arm. It's a slow night, though. I'm just going to be here. He asked how much it would be to take her away for the night. She left him alone in the private room. She came back in a pale yellow Adidas tracksuit. They walked away from the docks and the whorehouses. They walked along the alleys of Old Chefoo, where the brick embassies of European powers were now occupied by messy households and doorway seafood restaurants.

They walked and didn't speak. They walked to a hotel near the ferry terminal. He gave her his T-shirt to use as a towel and she went down the hallway to the bathroom and came back with wet hair. She took off her tracksuit. He lifted the blanket off the bed and spread it out again and laid on top of it. She pulled him close to him and leaned in to kiss him. He turned away, stiffly, and then turned back to her. He tried to kiss her but she put her hand against his mouth. In the morning, he left and walked to the ferry. He put her name in his phone with no number. He knew he would never see her again and he knew --

-- the screen door would be unlocked. He opened it slowly and closed it slowly. He opened the door and walked into the living room. The food was covered with plastic wrap. The bowls and the chopsticks were gone. She had eaten. He went to the doorway of her bedroom. He knew she was asleep by her soft snore. He went to the side of her bed. On her bedside table, there was a hairdresser's mannequin, a female bust with hair dyed dark purple. The cheekbones and the nose reminded him of Guo Sun. He put his hand on the mannequin's hair and trailed his fingers along the bottom of its bangs. He reached down and put his hand on Yu Wen's hand. She did not wake up but pulled away from him. He went to his bed and laid down and fell asleep thinking about Guo Sun's smudged heart and in the morning --

-- his face was sticky with ocean dew dried by sweet diesel. He heard seagulls. The shore was there, spread out grey under the yellow sky. He reached back into his pocket and felt the frayed edge of the ferry ticket. He knew that she wouldn't meet him in Dalian. She wouldn't be waiting even after he arrived at the train station square on the creaking bus. She wouldn't meet him at the train station in Shenyang. When he walked Changjiang Lu and rapped down the highway to Baodao Village on the back of a mototaxi, she would not be waiting. Yu Wen. Yu Wen. He traced her name in the condensation on the plastic bench. 

16.1.15

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Panyu, Guangzhou, Guangdong
January, 2014




7.1.15

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Edmonton, Alberta
January, 2015

The days are short enough-- sun rising flat yellow against flat white, rolling along the horizon-- and the night is long enough-- the city lights reflected up against the steamclouds that collect above the upgrader stacks and sweep across the city.

The sidewalks are cut in smooth snow, light grey under streetlights like Indiana limestone. I walk down Whyte, up 109th Street. Now I'm walking the opposite way, toward the High Level Bridge. Across the North Saskatchewan River-- I only know where it is because of the lights on the bridge, which are flashing red to blue to green to red tonight-- the city is hazy towers of yellow light.

I carried Haru on my back down this street yesterday, her broken boot toe full of snow. We stopped at a Vietnamese place and ate sticky dumplings and bun bo Hue and went to the bathroom together, flushed the toilet and kissed. We spent all day on buses. She lost her job and she had no money. We spent all day arguing on buses and she kept asking me if I really love her and I said, Why do we have to do this every day? In five, six, whatever hours, you'll kiss me goodnight and tell me you love me and you'll wake up and forget all about it and call me at seven in the morning to ask me if I love you. I took the LRT to Clareview with her. I stood with her until #185 sidled up to the station. I kissed her and I told her I love her and knew I'd need to convince her again tomorrow.

And tonight, I picked her up from her job waitressing at a Japanese restaurant. We drove across the Walterdale Bridge and up the hill, past the Hotel Macdonald. She told me to park along the edge of the river valley. We got out of the car and looked at the lights down below until we decided they were the pyramids of the Muttart lit in aurora blues and greens. We said we'd drive into the country and look at the northern lights before the winter was over. We drove home along 118th Avenue and the tires of my car creaked around every corner and she shivered in her seat and said, Please be careful. I dropped her off and watched her until she opened the door at the bottom of my mother's condo block.

On the drive home, around the northern loop of Anthony Henday Drive. The unfinished ramps and unopened interchanges and muddy dozer roads through the snow were covered with snow. There was no other traffic. The expressway was empty. It felt like the edge of the world, as if nothing was alive-- as if nothing was reachable beyond the yellow smog and the reflected glare of city lights. The city was abandoned and spring would never come and the ground would stay frozen and nobody would come back and the lights would dim and the fog would roll down over the city. There was nothing out there.

Turning off, at 82nd Avenue, below the first overpass, a deer was lying in the center of the right lane. The deer was dead. It was lying on its side. Its face was looking back up the road. The blood on the snow was frozen to red sand but there was steam rising from the carcass. I slowed and drove around it. The headlights caught the green glow in its eyes.  

25.12.14

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Edmonton, Calgary, Banff, Jasper, Edson, Alberta
September, 2014

She stood in the kitchen, wearing a red rubber skirt from Forever 21. I told her that I didn’t know what a pachinko parlor looked like, but I was imagining that and a poster of a Mitsubishi sportscar on a wall and a girl posed on the hood and lightning in the background and she looked like that girl. I told her I wanted to take a picture of her skirt. I kneeled on the kitchen floor and took a picture of her skirt from the front, from the back. & She had hair that was red when the sun shone through it. Her hair was long and straight. She had long, fake eyelashes. She had just turned twenty four when I met her. Her birthday was on June 15th. & We drove to the parking lot of a school. She put on menthol lip balm and we kissed. & Her mother and father met as part of a dating service. They hated each other. She had a younger sister that lived in Germany. Her brother worked at a factory. She told me about working as a callgirl in Osaka. She told me about her friends in Sapporo. I tried to tell her things about me but she didn’t seem interested. & We drove to Calgary in an angry, defeated haze. & At the top of the Calgary Tower, two girls in short skirts spoke in Russian and struck poses on the glass floor. We looked down at Chinatown. & We spent the night in Banff and a deep high altitude sleep. & The morning was cool. & We paid for a sticker and drove onto the Icefields Parkway. & We walked down to a waterfall that cut suddenly into a canyon and walked from the falls up the fizzy rapids and took pictures of rocks that looked like umeboshi. we hiked to a lake the colour of Gatorade. We walked back along the highway. Tourbuses slowed as they passed us. & There were clouds hanging below the ridgeline, curtaining down through the valley. I turned the key in the ignition and scared myself with the sudden heavying of the wheel as the power steering died. There was thick forest on both sides. & The hot springs closed in October and stayed closed until May because the road couldn’t be kept clear. From a sign at a rest stop, we learned that people used to be carried to the springs on carts pulled behind horses. & There was a puffy wind blowing down from the ridge and through the parking lot. It was cold above the water. There was a black tourbus parked down the cement steps. We watched the tourbus slowly empty, elderly Europeans in crisp plastic jackets and wool scarves and hiking boots, carrying canes and cameras. We watched them walk up the cement steps and into the building. We watched them walk out of the shower rooms and down the ramp into the hot pool. The faces of the men were rough. The faces of the women were smooth. The men wore long swim trunks that they pulled up high over their pale white bellies. The women wore black or dark blue one-piece bathing suits. The men swam around the pool, pulling with their arms, their feet still stepping across the bottom. The women stayed in the shallow half of the pool. Their hair was white and grey and carefully pinned up. A sheep walked through the parking lot and disappeared between two tourbuses. A woman with a polka dot bikini was pulling her young son through the water. She reached down to pull up the top of her bikini and I saw puffy red scars along the bottoms of her breasts. The water smelled like sulphur. There were three concrete swimming pools. Haru and I sat in the warmest pool. The leaves in the forest were turning yellow. Haru taught me the Japanese name for the leaves changing colour. She was wearing a black Vero Moda bikini that she bought the night before in Jasper. & We drove east and saw deer crossing the highway and we came out of the mountain passes and valleys and the land sloped down and turned dark and grassy. We stopped in Edson. We stopped at a Shoppers Drugmart and bought three rolls of Easypix 400. & I drove her to the airport and she flew to Sapporo and we talked on Line and I heard crows and cars in the background. I talked to her standing in the window well of a building site off 127 Street. The plywood floor of the unfinished house was at eye level. I took a picture of it for her. I took a picture of my thumb, which had been burned with eight identical puffy grooves by a piece of rebar heated by the blade of a circular saw. & When I fell asleep, I kicked my legs over to her empty side of the bed. I heard the clink of rebar on rebar.

1.12.14

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Edmonton, Alberta
September, 2014



24.11.14

11.11.14

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Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong
January, 2014

6.11.14

25.10.14

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"Skoal vs. Copenhagen," Prairie Fire, Vol. 34 No. 3.

This was written...-- it would have been two summers ago. I was living in Moose Jaw with Xinran, at my father's house. I was working at a hotel on the highway, mostly overnight shifts, eleven at night until seven in the morning. I would sit in the back room and listen to CBC Radio Overnight and suck on Copenhagen Wintergreen and write. On my days off, I'd write in the study carrels at the Moose Jaw Public Library. I did a lot of writing that summer. This story was written in fifteen minutes, edited a bit, sent to a friend that tore apart the grammatical errors, edited further, and submitted to Grain's short fiction contest. I submitted two stories to the contest and one of them won ("The 33 Transformation Bodies of the Bodhisattva Guanyin")-- it was formally weird and carefully constructed and steamy, mystical and set in suburban Vancouver and I thought it had no chance-- but I was more emotionally connected to this story. I went to Guangzhou in the autumn and when I came back to Canada, there was a letter from an editor at Prairie Fire. I didn't remember submitting it to them. Reading it now, the emotional connection is gone and I think some of the language I used sounds strange and inaccurate but I respect that it's short (two thousand and a few words, I think) and gets something done in three brief pages.

19.10.14

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Various, Alberta
September 27-28, 2014

...across a bridge with wide gaps between the slats of wood, and signs advising that the bridge and the trail are not maintained after some date in October, and below it a waterfall cutting suddenly down fifty, sixty feet into a canyon, and we and walked from the falls up the fizzy rapids and took pictures of rocks that looked like umeboshi and collected green stones in our pocket and they looked like jade. We hiked to a lake the color of Gatorade. We walked back along the highway. We walked into the forest and took pictures of each other holding giant mushrooms.

...she used her hand like a spatula to scrape the soap fluff off her belly and legs and rubbed it over me. We watched TV.

18.4.14

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"Skoal vs. Copenhagen," Prairie Fire, late 2014 (?).