Blind Dating in Bishkek

September 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

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The autumn issue of The Dublin Review has a long tale of the joys and sorrows (more of those) of trying to do internet dating in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. Suffice to say, no weddings are currently planned.

It begins thus:

September is the perfect month for dating in Bishkek. The intense heat of the Kyrgyz summer has passed, but the days are still bright and warm. In the evening you can eat outside, then stroll through the park, without feeling the slightest chill.

Before I travelled to Bishkek, I’d been living in London for six months, and despite the many possibilities of the place I was in a dating rut. We went to the British Film Institute or the Hackney Picturehouse. We spoke sometimes of Mad Men, sometimes of Breaking Bad, always of Game of Thrones. We were witty and cutting and sometimes we kissed but even after three drinks, with our eyes shut, our tongues entwined, we remained urbane. We were youngish, smart professionals. We were polished stones.

My initial reasons for visiting Kyrgyzstan’s capital had nothing to do with dating. I wanted to do a report on a clinic that treated drug addiction by putting its patients into comas. I had nothing else planned, and knew no one in Bishkek. Three days before I was due to leave, I was checking OkCupid – not with any real conviction, more out of pathetic habit – and saw I had a message from a fifty-six-year-old woman in Uzbekistan. ‘Good face!’ she wrote, which was nice of her, but alas I had no plans to visit Tashkent. It did, however, make me wonder if OkCupid had any English-speaking women in Bishkek on its site.

 

The Age of Ambition

August 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

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The August issue of Literary Review has my piece on Evan Osnos’ impressive book on the last decade in China (and scorn for another book). Print only! Well, and on some tablets too…

external exile

July 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Story of the Production and Construction Corps

July 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Originally posted on the art of life in chinese central asia:

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A rifle and sword tied together with a red flag over a meter of Gobi sand welcomes visitors to the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Museum in the city of Shihezi – 136 kilometers northwest of Ürümchi.  This museum, filled with patched and dented artifacts and hundreds of large scale historical photos, is the premiere monument to the Han experience of the recent past in Xinjiang. It shows us the narrative of experience necessary to understand the history of the people who self-identify as “constructors” (jianshezhe) of Xinjiang.

The Bingtuan, as the Corps is referred to by locals, is a state-sponsored farm system that is spread across the territory of Xinjiang – an area as large as California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico combined. Hundreds of regiments are still in operation 60 years after their founding. Out of this population of around 3 million military farmers…

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Twenty-Five Years Ago

June 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

Image by Stuart Franklin (Magnum)

Image by Stuart Franklin (Magnum)

My piece on the Tiananmen Square 25th anniversary is the top story on Vice News today.

How to fix China’s gridlock problem

May 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

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When I was in Guangzhou recently I had an interesting conversation with Walter Hook, CEO of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, who try to promote green transport solutions for cities. He had a lot of useful things to say about how China’s fast expanding cities might reduce car use so as to make decent urban spaces. For more, see my piece at china dialogue.

New story in The Southern Review

April 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

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‘Octet’ is the title of my new story in the spring issue of The Southern Review. It’s an odd one, for sure. I don’t have much memory of writing it. I know I was listening to a track from ‘The Tree of Life’ soundtrack on repeat when I was working on it. I also remember walking up and down Montgomery Street, in Edinburgh, Scotland, when I saw something that made me briefly question the physical laws of our universe. But only for a moment, of course.

It starts like this:

The procedure is always the same. He fills in forms. He waits. After twenty or thirty minutes the first of the books arrives. Usually singly, sometimes on a trolley, until they form a tower. All morning his eyes pull in their words like a stove feeding itself. At one o’clock he goes to the canteen; by quarter past he’s back. He remains in his chair until he hears the voice of a man who is never tired, does not age, who may already be dead. It is a voice he hates. The library will be closing in fifteen minutes, says the man. Please return your books to the desk. With this the tower is destroyed. He must return to the present.

He leaves the library and walks down the hill until he reaches his street. At home he eats then tries to read but usually his eyes hurt. All he can do is walk the several blocks of the street, slowly back and forth. He goes over the day’s reading. He waits for the Thought.

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