January 31, 2008

The Horny Toad in the Bar

Filed under: asia,culture,east-west,Thailand — Kim @ 3:25 pm

The following is about a book I read a while ago. Not sure why but it “set me off on one” and prompted an old-style book review-ish type of musing.

Dean Barrett is an “Old Asia Hand” and a serious writer of accomplished prose and thoroughly researched historical fiction. His Hangman’s Point, for example, has been much lauded for the way it brings old Hong Kong to life and has been optioned for film 4 times. He has also had plays on Broadway, and has written several well-praised thrillers set in Thailand such as The Kingdom of Make Believe and Sky Train to Murder. He also likes to occasionally indulge in the knockabout prose of the “hard-boiled” detective genre and anecdotal accounts of his time in Thailand, and so we have his latest book Murder at the Horny Toad bar & other OUTRAGEOUS tales of Thailand.

Outside the office, he is that old guy who you can see hanging around the bars in South-East Asia with a beer in one hand, a bargirl in the other, and a big shit-eating grin on his face. He’s the kind who has an attitude about his lifestyle and will hold forth at length about his right to do what he wants, live how he likes, and his inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. And he is a hard sonufabitch to gainsay because he sure isn’t stupid and he has a voice that rings with conviction. But does he have a point? Well, assuming you’ve never hung around to listen much to that kind of guy, why not spend some time with Murder at the Horny Toad and see what you think?

Murder is a collection of fiction and non-fiction. It contains 3 “Harry Broditsky” detective stories, 4 Thai-themed short stories, 3 longish accounts of travels around Thailand and 28 vignettes that make up a separate section entitled Memoirs of an oversexed Farang. The title story is a detective story starring “Harry Boroditsky”. Boroditsky (“Sure, I know, the name sucks…friends just call me Boro. Enemies call me Ditsky. But not for long. If you get my drift”) is a classic of his type. A stereotype, that is, of the hard-boiled detective. Harry is a bit of a ladies man who will shoot men dead without hesitation or regret and who has a nose for a case and sex on the brain. “Condom-grey clouds scudded across a Viagra-blue sky”, being one of the most memorable images.

And when there is a murder at the Horny Toad go-go bar, the mama san knows just who she’s gonna call. But as to why Harry is given the title of the book, I must say I find it a mystery. Why draw attention to this story? I found the characterization to be flimsy, the humour strained, the imagery and atmosphere unappealing, the plot unconvincing, and the punchline lame beyond belief. I did not like this short story! But my expectations were high because I’ve read some of his other novels and because before reading the title piece I had (as I suspect many readers will) gone straight to Memoirs of an Oversexed Farang and had been treated to some laughs, sly wit, and classy prose.

The confessions/memoirs section is by and large a well-executed blend of self-exposure, self-mockery, and fond erotic memories. Actually, the collection kicks off with the 4 accomplished and interesting Thai-themed short stories, and in the first of these, The Death of Ron Adams, we can immediately detect the obsessions of Mr. Barrett’s book. Sentence 3 mentions a go-go bar and sentence 8 talks of how irresistible Thai women are. The other obsession comes on the third page when we are told that the go-go bar the eponymous Ron Adams decides to buy is called “The Feminist Nightmare”. A charitable critic might call this a sly dig, whereas a feminist would probably call it a cheap shot. In any case these are the two obsessions that run through the book, the Thai hooker and the Western female/feminist. Mr. Barrett’s binary for the significant other. He is obsessed with women.

This is the kind of thing that drives the Thai Tourist board and the good burghers of Bangkok up the wall because of its reinforcing of the negative image of Thai females. It’s also a convenient dichotomy I suppose, a muse you can love and a muse you can love to hate, but in any case, if not done deftly then this well-worn topic can quickly go back over ground well-trodden by the tedious, repetitive chunterings of the chauvinist bar-room bore. I found there is a definite difference in the quality of writing involving the not-so-witty point scoring against western women, who seem to very much get his goat, and the passionate portrayal of eastern women he obviously cares very much for, and/or is erotically bewitched by. Why could he not write about the latter without bringing up the former? An old flame? A guilt trip? A misjudgment of taste? As the Thais often say, “Up to Yoooo!”.

In any case, for this reader it is an important point in his favour that Barrett’s work evinces so much affectionate eroticism. The image of the Thai woman is often not such a positive one in texts by western men and this kind of writing stands out from the slew of bragging, condescending, body-obsessed, and affectionless pornography that all-too-often gets put on the internet.

Barrett is maybe at his most eloquent when waxing lyrical on the beauty of Thai women, particularly their skin and hair. This is not surprising perhaps as he is after all the proud author of two photobooks on Thai women, The Girls of Thailand, and Thailand: Land of Beautiful Women. If you ever forget or doubt what he is talking about you can simply take a glance at the front cover of Murder at the Horny Toad, which is graced by the kind of smoldering exotic Thai beauty to make an abbot kick a hole in a Watt window. Or if you live in Thailand you could just leave your house and head in any direction.

Yes, you can judge this book by its cover because this book is all about Eve. There is hardly a mention of Thai men (some taxi drivers and a DJ) and there’s not much Thai culture either. Both the fiction and the non-fiction sections contain very few of the sights, sounds, smells, or tastes of Thailand, other than those referring to the female form of course! Barrett can evoke Thailand and has shown how well he can in, for example, The Kingdom of Make Believe, but, in any case, the focus on the female is probably representative of his own preoccupations in Thailand. He is not alone in this…Thai women are the reason why thousands of foreign men come to Thailand. The beauty and attraction of Thai women (all women, all humans) is not easy to capture without sounding banal, but Barrett does a pretty good job.

He can be rhapsodic in his descriptions of Thai feminine features and can explicate and play up his helpless fascination with Thai girls tellingly and amusingly. Not only is he a helpless “ladies man,” but some of his most endearing and witty prose comes when he is sending up the “man’s man”, such as in the following where he writes of his bafflement as to why it should be that in Bangkok sports bars

despite the presence of gorgeous (and available) women, all of the men around me were watching and sometimes cheering hideously overpaid, half-men, half-boy jocks running madly about destroying a good lawn…and of course, once a ball was actually kicked into a net, the men watching the game acted as if they’d had their first orgasm in five years.

Now, that (and available) in brackets is worth a second look, because “available” is a word that is stressed throughout the book. He is at least honest and true to the mark in his analysis of why a certain type of western man, of which he is a representative, is so obsessed with Thai women. There is, of course, the outstanding beauty of Thai women…but it is the availability of these beautiful women that really gets them going. And here is the rub. Barrett’s appreciation of the beauty of the female form is affectionately and caringly crafted, and there is surely nothing wrong with that, but some readers may find a problem with his ready and even gleeful admittance that he sleeps with prostitutes. A lot. Almost exclusively it would seem.

For some people this kind of behaviour is to be condemned out of hand, and Barrett of course realises this. There may be a certain frisson of “épater les bourgeois” to his unabashed tone (I mean what would mummy think of it all?) and in some ways I want to congratulate him for his honesty and for his comedy on this touchy topic. Importantly, he sends himself up nicely and is capable of cutely exploiting the absurdities and double-edged exploitation of the economic transactions of paying for sex. An unusual and striking example is when he is called in to act in a film which is depicting the bar scene in Bangkok, and he hits on one of the actresses.

She gave me a friendly, don’t-be-silly, smile, an affectionate pat on the arm, and said in English: “Grandfather!” Oh. Ok, I see how the game is played. These actresses pretending to be bargirls are Bangkok girls from financially stable families as opposed to real bargirls from northeast Thailand from impoverished families. In other words, actresses posing as bargirls wouldn’t have quite the same alacrity to jump into bed with me. OK. I didn’t just fall of the durian cart yesterday. But I could handle the situation: Bangkok girls would simply be more of a challenge, that’s all.

But, revealingly, he didn’t get his girl, or at least I’m pretty sure he didn’t or he would have bragged of it! Now, Mr. Barrett can speak Thai and is a clever attractive guy, I’m sure….but outside of the bar scene he loses some of his lustre it would appear. Back inside the bar scene, however, all is well and good and Mr Barrett can indulge himself to his cock’s content. It does not make it any “better” but he is neither proud nor ashamed to be a whoremonger. He is simply delighted that there are so many beautiful women available to him…for a fee. This may or may not be a problem for his intended audience, but it is of course a problem for the other obsession of his book, the western feminist…and he is less than affectionate with women who do not see things his way and who attack him for his whoring. His “playful” term for them is the flippant and offensively stupid coinage “feminazi”.

Could this be a generational thing? Is it an American thing? Is it easier for us these days now that “western women” are more comfortable with “Men Behaving Badly” and are themselves better off and more powerful? I do not know.

In one of his pieces from the Memoirs there is a wish fulfillment fantasy in which Barrett is in a go-go bar surrounded by gorgeous Thai women and has a feminazi grovel for apology in front of him and admit that she only attacks him because she is jealous. Erm, like, what’s that all about? Hold on though because it gets all subtled up when his dream turns into a nightmare and he realizes that… I had been set up! This whole dream had been a feminazi trap of some kind. Somehow they had managed to penetrate my subconscious! And after being thrown out of the bar he ends up complaining that “I had just been thrown out of a bar in my own damn dream; a dream which showed me that feminazis were attacking me even in my sleep.

The lady-killer doth protest too much, methinks. He obviously feels stung or at least bothered by what they say. Is he scared of them? Is it because they are his superego? Because they make him realize that he is not having any kind of intelligent conversation with women? Why does he expend so much ink on them? Why are they his muse? Ok, enough of the ham-fisted psychoanalysis…yes, he is worried that they have a point. They disturb his dreams and he is honest enough to admit this, but not honest enough to dig down as to why they worry him so much. Would he mind, I wonder, if I had a stab at this for him?

No money, no honey. That hoary whorey cliché. Mr Barrett has money, so he can have sex with wonderful looking women. If Mr Barrett has no money, he cannot have sex with these wonderful women. If Mr Barrett were really to be “thrown out of the bar” he would have to start treating women seriously in order to get sex from them. He does not want to do this and is perhaps even embarrassed by his sexual urges. He is afraid that if he had to face women as equals then they would throw the horny toad out of the bar and leave him to slobber in his own juices in the gutter outside. They would mock his animal urges and leave him a lesser man. But he has money, so he can pay to avoid this fate. His dreams will tell him this, in “Freudian code”, but his waking mind does not want to decode the message into such straightforward unflattering terms.

Or so it could be put. I leave it to you to decide how unfair an interpretation this is. It is certainly an unflattering and over-dramatized one. However, as an intelligent man, Mr. Barrett of course knows full well that the kind of Thai woman he so adores would not be with him were it not for his money, and he demonstrates this amusingly in one of his vignettes called A Test of True Love. But as an intelligent man he must also know that his dichotomizing of women as either educated and aggressive and western, and therefore unsexy, or as eastern and uneducated and as erotic as hell, is a false and crude distinction. For Mr Barrett is an intelligent man.

Just to illustrate the kind of mismatch between him and his hookers, what about this dialogue from one of his vignettes in which Mr DB is having an inter-coital chat with one of his Thai take aways…

“What you do?”
“A ballad. I’m writing a ballad.”
I knew she didn’t know what that was but I also knew it would buy me a bit of time to write.
“What ballad mean?”
“A kind of poem.” I knew she didn’t know what that was either but I thought she might go back to watching the ghost story soap opera in the other room.

And soon, predictably perhaps, he stops writing and they start fucking. Well, I presume that he would prefer a soul-mate to a shag-bag, or at least a shag-bag he could talk to perhaps? But the kind of educated woman who could hold their own with Barrett and with whom he could really talk about his interests in literature, history, politics, philosophy etc, would most likely not be too taken with his bragging about whoring. And so he would have to reject a whole side of himself, which is not the kind of thing a man like him is likely to do in a hurry.

And although he says that he is happy with his Thai women, whether they love him or not and whether he can talk to them or not, he remains angry and dissatisfied about something, and he seems to be taking it out on western women.

Hold on a moment though before we finish off. Let’s not get too somber and po-faced here. Cold beer, flirty small talk, and great sex is enough sometimes, of course. And it is great fun. And many many men come to Bangkok for a sexual holiday, right? Old Dean is just having a bit of fun, right? He doesn’t want us to take him too seriously, right? Wrong. Mr. Barrett wants his world-view to be taken seriously. He thinks it is an excusable way to live, certainly an exciting and rewarding way to live, and he dedicates the book

to all farangs (foreigners) who washed up on Thailand’s shores and at some point came to realize that they are far beyond hope of redemption. And especially to those who have yet to realize it.

Having read the book, this dedication seems to me to be really more like an invitation to a male audience to join him in the cosy camaraderie of a whoremonger’s club, and I would like to refuse the invitation. I am glad I bought this book, it made me laugh, and smile, and it made me think. I would gladly read more of Barrett’s work, but to accept his invitation to lose “hope of redemption” seems to me to be a glib refusal of emotional maturity. There are some men who have washed up on Thailand’s shores who think that the relationships brought about solely by the financial disparity between east and west are usually unsatisfying delusions. The economically impoverished women of Thailand would by and large be better off spared the horny toads’ immaturities, inadequacies, and sexual cravings. I am not sure I would go so far as to deprive Mr Barrett of money by not buying his books, but it would probably be a good thing if the horny toads were to be thrown out of the bar a bit more often. It might be good for them too: some of them might sober up and turn into handsome princes.

January 26, 2008

China Bashing

Filed under: blogs,China,culture,east-west,teaching — Kim @ 7:07 pm

Next semester at my university I’m going to be offering an optional course for 3rd and 4th year English language majors on “China through Western Eyes.” It will feature old chestnuts from culture studies like Edward Said and Stuart Hall, as well as well-established old China hands like Matteo Ricci, Pearl Buck, and the wonderful Peter Hessler.

But for the bulk of the course I intend to use stuff from the English-language Chinese blogosphere, so I’d appreciate any tips on what you think would be the the most meaty posts for my students to sink their teeth into. There’s a “list challenge” there…what would be your top-ten of recent posts you think would be most edifying/interesting for Chinese readers?

And I must confess to a bit of a worry. Namely that some students are going to get upset and possibly confrontational when faced with what they perceive as “China bashing.”

I’m really hoping to be proved wrong on this, but it seems to me very likely that an awful lot of Chinese would consider an awful lot of what is written about their country in the English-language China blogosphere to be “China bashing.” But then I would immediately follow that by saying that I think they are wrong. Most of it is not China bashing, it is simply criticism of China. There’s certainly no shortage of griping and venting, but so what? That’s life, and that’s certainly the blogosphere, and most of it is not meant to be offensive, I think. Though some of it clearly is, of which more later.

Most of the blogs I read, and certainly all the ones I respect, are critical of China because they like it here and they want to see things improve. And just to make it clear, we don’t just like it here…we like Chinese! (I can never say that without thinking of the Monty Python song.)

And it should also be said that most of the time the criticism is aimed at the party (the old and venerable “I hate/blame the bloody government” syndrome) and in my book to criticize any government of any nation is completely justified and in fact should be a mandatory duty for all good citizens. So any Chinese who gets upset at criticism of the CCP can go get a life.

A definition might be helpful here then. By China bashing I mean racist, mean-spirited, unconstructive criticism of Chinese.

Incidentally, I wouldn’t include misanthropic, grumpy, or satirical stuff in the above, although there is certainly a fine line sometimes. Where to place some of the old “Yellow Wings” posts? How to explain to an angry student that I find the definition “Han-dicapped (Adj): An inability to complete tasks and function properly because one is born Han Chinese” to be pretty funny? Surely they couldn’t deny that it’s witty!

One of the things I hope to do in my course is to problematise the concept of patriotism. As Samuel Johnson so splendidly put it, patriotism is often “the last refuge of the scoundrel” and another quote I’ll definitely be using is from Bo Yang’s “The Ugly Chinaman And The Crisis Of Chinese Culture.” (Thanks to the Stranded Mariner for this one.)

“Chinese people go overboard with their patriotism, to the point where even the most trivial act is a matter of patriotism. As a result of ‘loving their country’ so much, they have literally loved China to death. They ought to stop loving China so much. China doesn’t need that much love. Or if Chinese have some energy left over, they ought to spend it loving themselves, making themselves better people. True patriotism begins with loving and respecting yourself.”

There is certainly some stuff out there to make a “false” patriot’s blood boil, and a lot of it is racist.

One of my favourite bloggers over in Bejing, Mr Chris Waugh of bezdomny ex patria recently noted that

I thought Sinocidal had stopped posting…I thought wrong. They have continued the inevitable slide from “occasionally funny venting session” to “rarely funny and almost never useful vent if you’re a cynical expat unhappily stuck in China” to “stupid, boring and pathetic racist drivel”. Not that that slide takes particularly long… Anyways, such sites can kinda serve their purpose and are actually kinda useful in their early, frustrated and venting expat stages, but it really doesn’t take too long before they sink into the “I’m a superior Westerner stuck in inferior China” bullshit. I’m sitting here wishing I’d never clicked on that link I should’ve (and very early on intended to) delete from my bookmarks.

Well, yes…basically true…though I thought that enough of Sinocidal was witty and entertaining enough to merit checking it out from time to time.

But what to make of recent offerings like the following from MyLaowai?

Now, you may be of the opinion that I hold most Han Chinese in fairly low esteem. If so, you would be correct. Few groups of people in this world can collectively hold a torch to the Han, when the subjects are Greed, Spite, Sloth, Dishonesty, Cowardice, Arrogance, or any one of a hundred other sins.

One thing you can say is that he doesn’t mince his words. But when I read the following “Comic Poem“, I kind of wished I hadn’t…

I’ve been here more than fifteen years, it’s too late to go home –
I think the cancer’s got me in the stomach, lungs and bones,
And me nerves are all a shattered mess, and I’ve lost the will to live.
But with me final dyin’ breath this warning I will give:

Don’t come to Red China:
Land of sawn-off savage cunts.
The Women are cold-blooded monsters,
The Men retarded runts.
They always blame us foreigners
For all their stupid stunts.
So don’t come to Red China:
Land of sawn-off savage cunts.

Mr “MyLaowai” must be tall I guess, and it sounds like he’s proud of it. Still, as the psychiatrist once said of Basil Fawlty: “there’s enough for a whole conference here”, and I think he should be whisked away homeward by the men in white coats pronto. And the poem itself is about as funny as cancer.

But, nonetheless, I would still contend that if a Chinese person reads the poem and gets enraged by it, then that is an immature reaction. If somebody spouts shite about your race or your country on the internet then is it really such a big deal? There are times when you have to argue back and there are times even when you have to fight back, but rage at criticism all too often demeans the one being criticised and also gives the criticiser exactly the reaction they are looking for…something on their level.

I do think that an unfortunate character trait in some Chinese (some humans!) is a kind of prickly defensiveness about almost everything in their culture and an unwillingness to speak out anything that could possibly be construed as anti-Chinese when in front of a foreigner. So it’ll be interesting to see the reaction to some of my offerings in the course next semester.

And one more time as a gentle reminder and plea for help, please don’t forget my “list challenge”…what would be your top-ten (top 5? top 3 even!) of recent posts you think would be most edifying/interesting for Chinese readers.

Thanks muchly.


January 23, 2008

All the news that’s fit to print

Filed under: China,culture,politics — Kim @ 6:45 pm

When studying literary criticism (litcrit) back in Uni. in the eighties, I can remember how some of our seminars would introduce sexy Frenchmen such as Derrida and Foucault into our analysis of the canon.

It was pretty exciting stuff at the time, I remember, because these guys were “philosophers” and their concepts such as “deconstructionism” and “episteme” sounded chic and sophisticated and radical.

And one of the tools of Derrida’s deconstruction that we were introduced to was the “lacuna” which (if I understood correctly and I probably didn’t) basically means a revealing little hole in a text that gives you a peek into the constructions of an ideological edifice that is trying to appear solid, coherent, and all-explaining. Or, as one of my lecturers explained, it is like a loose thread in the discourse that you can pull at until the whole garment unravels…and reveals the naked body of ideology beneath. Yes, you have to mention “ideology” all the time if you’re doing French-tinged litcrit.

Well, these little buggers are everywhere – if you know how/where to look – but the trick is to find funny ones and show them to your friends with a knowing look so you can feel all superior and clued up.

So, that said, here is a nice example from a New York Times article about the recent brutal beating to death of Wei Wenhua by so called “parapolice” or “chengguan” (aka thugs/goons). The article notes that many bloggers and local citizens were outraged and disgusted enough by this murder to kick up a big fuss and embarrass the local government who hires these bully boys. But, fret not, the government has got it covered, and here’s the quote that made me remember what a lacuna is…

“We’ve already solved the problem,” the director of publicity in Tianmen said Thursday by telephone. “You can read Xinhua’s articles. There’s no more news about it.”

Did that dude really say that with a straight face? Can you pull at that thread until you get some bare-faced Zhongnanhai?

January 18, 2008

Back to Blighty

Filed under: culture,east-west,food — Kim @ 5:17 pm

After slightly more than a year in Dalian, I’m off back “home” to England for a couple of weeks. My university gives me a return flight at the end of every year (when they give you a single it’s time to look for another job) and so on Feb 8th I’ll be jetting off and leaving my poor wife and baby daughter to fend for themselves in the bleak North-East midwinter.

What am I looking forward to? What do I miss about dear old Blighty? Other than family and friends obviously.

Well, I want some good steak and proper bacon. In fact, when I wake up in England I want to have my proper bacon with some free range eggs. Then for my next breakfast I want to have some non-sweet sausages, maybe with some Worcester sauce or some Colman’s mustard. Then some black pudding.

And I want bread and cheese. I want Vintage Cheddar and Cheshire, and some Stilton and Stinking Bishop. With crusty sugar-free bread.

Too much sugar in the wrong places in Chinese cuisine!

And I want some more bread, with hummus and big green olives. And then I want some pasta and pesto with generous sprinklings of Parmesan, washed down with good red wine. And then I want some Tiramisu.

I want, I want!

I want to sit in the pub and drink real ale by the barrelful. London Pride and London Porter, Old Speckled Hen and Old Peculiar, and Bishop’s Finger and Hobgoblin. But, actually, since most good ale comes at almost 3 pounds a pint and since you can get a banquet for that in China, I will limit my pub crawls to a couple of sessions.

The other thing is that you don’t get a wide range of international food in Dalian, so I’ll go to a Thai restaurant to eat some Som Tam with sticky rice and Singha. Then maybe go Greek for some rich lamb stew with Retsina. Then it’ll be time for a Balti and some Kingfisher.

And I don’t want any fish ‘n’ chips. They’re shite.

As you can no doubt deduce, I am an enthusiastic trencherman/complete greedyguts.

Actually, I’ve lost 8 kilos in China over the last 12 months. I mean, I love the wonderful Chinese, Korean and Japanese food here in Dalian, but it’s just not fattening enough. Plus I can afford to play squash regularly here, and go to a very good and nearby gym.

But what else to do in Merry Old England other than to scoff and quaff?

I’ll go to the British museum for a day…the best museum in the world and it’s free! And, if it’s not raining, I’ll make sure to make time for a Sunday morning at the always entertaining and occasionally enlightening Hyde Park speaker’s corner: an unthinkable place in China.

Then I’ll go to some non-censored second-hand bookshops. And I’ll see if there’s any decent bands or poetry readings or political debates, or other such cultural events that don’t exist in Dalian.

Then I’ll do some shopping for jackets and jumpers at Marks and Sparks and get some shaving cream and deodorant at the Body Shop. Fascinating stuff, eh?

My big regret is that I won’t be able to fit in a game of cricket. Now that’s what I miss the most perhaps. Ah yes, I miss the cricket.

And that’s about it really. I don’t miss the telly and I can get the radio and the papers online.

I’m looking forward to it. I like England, although I don’t want to live there any more. Why not is a topic for another post of course.

January 16, 2008

Notorious “Teddy Teacher” to come to China

Filed under: China,culture,teaching — Kim @ 5:49 am

A couple of months ago I briefly blogged about Gillian Gibbons, the English woman teaching in Sudan who got imprisoned and had to face protests and death threats for allowing her charges to name their school teddy “Muhammad”.

My point was that although things can be unfair and occasionally infuriating here in China, it is really not that bad compared to some other places. I guess I was also having a dig at religious extremism…and I have written elsewhere of how comfortable I feel with China’s overwhelmingly agnostic culture.

Admittedly, this kind of argument is always flawed, though always tempting: just because elsewhere is worse, doesn’t mean you should gloss over local problems. And China’s nationalism strikes me as being occasionally just as dogmatic and blinkered as “bad religion” can be.

But in any case, the big news is that the arch-blasphemer is coming to ply her pedagogic trade in China! Perhaps she read my blog?

In an interview with “Hello!” magazine (she’d better get used to that word) she said:

“I’ve been to China on holiday before and loved it…Besides which, I know I’m the most notorious teacher in the world at the moment, but I’m hoping that perhaps no one has heard of me there. I’m driven to follow my dream of teaching abroad again.”

Apparently, she still has the equally infamous teddy with her, although she’s renamed it “Barnaby”. And, yes, she’s going to be bringing Barnaby (alias Shaytan) with her to China!

Well, welcome to China Gillian, and for Allah’s sake don’t let your cute little Chinese kids prank you into letting them change Barny’s name to “Mao”.

Or on the other hand, if life seems a bit placid here after Sudan and you fancy stirring things up a bit then try rechristening Barny as “Maohammad the Mad Mass Murderer” and see how long you last.

Jung Chang will give you a home to go to.