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  #1  
Old 10-11-2018, 11:15 AM
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Early Sunday evening, Jamal was watching the horizon from his hotel room in Colombo. They were building a new ‘city’ with Chinese money, it was spread in front of him, a long tongue of reclaimed land. Dredgers that pumped sand in the day were in deep slumber. Motionless cranes, thin slanting fingers pointing at the sky, loitered there, a silent army to be summoned when the occasion arose. And the sand; golden that afternoon, now black.

Meanwhile, the shopfronts of an island off the West African coast displayed Chinese characters. And boisterous Chinese dealt with white tourists. Sometime back, the island had highways built with generous Chinese loans. Highways that cut through swathes of land and vegetation, going nowhere. This was where Ana, Jamal’s one-time acquaintance, used to vacation with her family. Along the beachfront, black shopkeepers (and shop owners) were no more.

A month ago, at the same hotel, Jamal was in the lounge with a plate of scones and clotted cream. On the TV, a reporter from CNN said the new Winnie the Pooh film was banned in China. The rotund bear bore too strong a resemblance to the president.

Back home in Male, President Y unveiled the new bridge with a multimillion-rufiyaa fireworks display. The bridge was partly financed by China, whose flags studded the length of the structure. The China Maldives Everlasting Friendship Bridge connected two island ‘cities’, one tiny and thick with people, the other younger, man-made. At the Male entrance, a grotesque mosque-like gate greeted travellers.

On the man-made island, one Friday, Jamal sat near the beach at True Beijing Café, eating Peking noodles and black fungus.

Picking up a flimsy bit of fungus with his ebony chopsticks, Jamal imagined someone crossing the bridge dressed as Winnie the Pooh.

“You like?” asked the Chinese woman, who seemed to be in charge, jostling Jamal from his thoughts.

“Good,” said Jamal. “Very good.”

She laughed, crinkling up her ageless face, and disappeared, leaving Jamal alone with the bill. He owed 20 dollars, a day’s work. His country’s debt to China was an estimated one-and-a-half billion dollars. Almost half its GDP.

A fat crow appeared, leaping from table to table just as Jamal stood up to leave and pecked at the remnants of the fungus.

"Shoo!" said the Chinese woman who'd come out again to collect the money. The crow took wing languidly, fungus in its beak.

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  #2  
Old 10-11-2018, 06:05 PM
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Very excellent social commentary, your way of seeing through the veneer. I’m always impressed by the scene you set. So many writers are angling for the perceived target, but you seem to paint and accurate picture without showing us all of your cards. I will continue to be a little excited when you post something new.
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Old 10-12-2018, 05:58 AM
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This piece is evocative and topical as well. You've said a lot while being concise, as a good short story aught to. The bit about Winnie the Pooh was amusing yet disturbing at the same time. Keep it up.
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Old 10-12-2018, 12:19 PM
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It is surprising to see such subtlety in a short piece. i was expecting a club, and got a velvet glove. Nicely judged.
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Old 10-13-2018, 09:18 PM
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I thought this was pretty heavy handed and that most of what you forefronted would be more suitable in the background. That doesnt mean that obviousness is bad necessarily but that here this intrusion of Chinese culture and the displacement of the native is worse than blunt its acute and reveals too much of the author. Its telling as opposed to a meta-showing that allows the reader to scrape out a meaning. Were it me I would create a story that takes place within these changing times. The displacement in some places obvious in others subtle and implied.

I read an essay by Rick Wallach some while back and I think you would get a lot out of it.

https://htronline.weebly.com/2014.html

You Have Your Fear: Radiophobia, Myth and Cultural Trauma in Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla (1954)
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Old 10-14-2018, 03:01 AM
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Its not easy to stay calm and balanced when you feel strongly about an issue. Some will tell you to do your best to stay cool despite everything, while others will urge you to go for the jugular. Some issues are far from obvious; domestic violence is, by its very nature, hidden from most people outside the family, while others like a vast area of pollution near a city are far more obvious.

Perhaps the Chinese developers in this story are being heavy-handed in their approach to the local cities and economies. If their real-life counterparts are acting the same way, maybe this is the right approach.
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Old 10-14-2018, 08:37 PM
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@IanG true but keeping calm and balanced is a necessary discipline in any trade whether it be engineering or marksmanship or marketing.

This might be my own approach but Ive always preferred the dispassionate narrators because they give the clearest picture. Same in film. Its why Im an enormous fan of Kubrick. But even with those who arent dispassionate and who are rooted in the subjects there are still excellent narrators and Melville's Moby-Dick is the book that first comes to mind in that it attacks and loves and examines and is so totally enswathed in its subject but there that lens, Ishmael, through which it is all filtered and its his passion that for me at least draws me in.

This reads more of a description than a story with all the accompanying charm.
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Old 10-14-2018, 08:41 PM
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Or Steinbeck, the ultimate dispassionate author and the most heart breaking novels. Why are we annoyed?
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Old 10-14-2018, 08:53 PM
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No I dont think thats true. Most of his work had a tinge of sentimentality. Not to say I dont love his work. But East of Eden cast a gentle eye so to speak on Adam Trask, even if it spared him nothing. The same could be said of Doc and Mac in Cannery Row.
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Old 10-14-2018, 10:09 PM
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But more to the point and the question raised by the title. Is whats depicted progress? Considering the tone of the short it seems that infrastructural advance needs to be performed by internal organizations as opposed to those from without. So the title really shouldnt be Progress? but Identity?
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Old 10-15-2018, 12:36 AM
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thanks for the comments guys. as bluewpc has observed, i do feel very strongly about the issue of piling chinese debt, debt to a country that is unabashedly autocratic, one silences dissent by any means necessary. china has been investing in central asia, africa and of course south asia, where my home is. our president (who was defeated in the september election) took a different course, distancing ourselves from our traditional partners: india, europe, and got cosy with saudi and china. china, to whom we owe 80% of our external debt, offered soft loans for massive infrastructure projects, including the bridge. our president has several allegations of corruption against him, including money laundering, but he has evaded inquiry and persecution as he controls pretty much all state bodies, and quashed dissent up until the election. at this very moment he is contesting the result at our pro-government supreme court on grounds of the election being rigged by the use of 'vanishing ink' and 'ticks that slide over to his opponent's box', among others. he lost by a 38k vote margin, significant for a population of 400k.

i don't know what will become of the case, it is possible that the elections will be annulled.

i think a better title may have been 'at what cost'. this isn't about identity. it's about the fear (which i feel is very real) of a small nation being indebted to and 'colonised' by a great and terrible power because of the rapacious greed of this man.

apologies.
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Old 10-15-2018, 01:04 AM
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and i think bluewpc has been fair in his assessment. all that stuff above is an attempt to put my feelings while writing the piece in context.
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