This May, That’s PRD held its first writing contest in years, welcoming participants of all ages, ethnicities and occupations living in the Pearl River Delta to submit written works of any genre. The response was incredible – we received dozens of quality submissions, allowing us to connect with readers on a more personal level.
Earlier this week, we published the winners from our That’s PRD live reading event, selected by a panel of three prominent Guangzhou journalists. Now it’s our turn, the editorial staff of That’s PRD, to share a few of our top choices from the dozens of amazing stories and poems we received.
Thank you again to everyone who submitted work. We hope you enjoy the following stories!
Editor’s choice winner
Brownie townie catch up drowning
China’s masses head to town in
Droves of people, clouds of smoke
And Buddha grins at Heaven’s joke
A city sinks
An ocean rises
Malthus’ burdened boat capsizes
Selfish shellfish fight for scraps
That rain like blood when heaven claps
A harlot swimming through the surf
Hides treasure underneath her skirt
But no one noticed, no one paid her
Homely lonely no one laid her
With no one left
The cause absolved
The last tree falls and no one hears it
Rocket launches, no one fears it
Flags upon the lunar surface
Rue mankind his final forfeits
Laws are followed or ignored
But either way the only Lord
Looks bored and tired, nothing on.
The show is off, the actors gone.
He sighs. He scratches, almost coughs
And finally turns the TV off
A bit of time was spent and wasted
Life was seen but wasn’t tasted
So it passes, so it turns
The clock keeps ticking, candle burns
And finally when the boredom stifles
So His spirit spirals, rifles
Once again His essence moves
Across the surface and approves
The quick division
Dark from Light
Sky from Ocean
Day from Night
So it starts, the watch in motion
Builds momentum, locomotion.
Back He sits to watch another
Then quietly, a little bored:
I think I’ve seen this one before.
Mint and Sawdust
Editor’s choice winner
As she stepped into the medina on that scorching hot day, she was greeted by a never-ending cloud of sawdust. She coughed and spluttered, and reluctantly ventured forth behind her driver as he roared with laughter.
There were eyes watching her every step, and she quickened her pace to keep up whilst trying to avoid the divots and excrement that coated the winding streets.
She stopped sporadically to allow donkeys or men with fruit carts to pass, and each time fell further and further behind her driver, who was carelessly swinging her bag to and fro and whistling a tune she did not recognize.
Tiny shops lined the narrow alley ways, barely large enough for three people yet filled to the brim with strips of leather, wood chips or colorful silk bags and scarves. Their work spilled out onto the street, with women donning headscarves selling hair accessories or jewelry, and men in robes selling dried fruits and nuts.
A symphony of smells enveloped her nostrils with each turn – smells of mint, of fresh fruit, of excrement and sawdust. Smells of herbs and spices, then leather tanneries and sweat; smells she had never experienced all at once.
She was stopped suddenly as a man emerged from a side alley with his donkey carrying a load of wood. He looked her up and down, licked his lips and muttered something under his breath. She pulled her scarf tighter around her shoulders, and told him to carry on.
It was cool in the medina – they were sheltered from the sun by tarp that had been tied from shop front to shop front, or wooden beams that had been scantily erected. Her driver’s whistling was becoming harder and harder to hear, as music blared from each shop front.
Suddenly a loud voice filled the entire city – a voice singing a strange tune, almost like a prayer. It was so loud that Athena had to hold her hands over her ears. She noticed the busy alleys had suddenly gone quiet so that there were only a few people left out on the road. People had pulled out small carpets or rugs, and were bowing up and down, and going from a standing position to kneeling and then back up again. She watched with curiosity, until she felt a hand seize her arm and pull her along the road. “It’s the call to prayer,” said the driver and he rushed her along the now quiet road.
They turned down a lane even narrower than she thought possible, and she tread carefully behind the driver to avoid the urine and excrement that the donkeys had generously left in their wake. Her feet would catch the uneven paving now and then, and with each stumble she came closer and closer to falling in something sinister.
Finally, they came to a halt in front of a large mahogany door with stained glass down the middle, which looked very out of place down the dark and dirty lane. A young girl with wide, round eyes swung open the door and beckoned them inside. They climbed up four flights of a narrow staircase and emerged into the bright daylight of the rooftop.
“This is where you will live, Miss Athena,” said the girl brightly. “Welcome to Morocco”.
She took a deep breath in and scanned the colorful, broken rooftops of Fes. She had never seen a sky so blue. This was home, at last.
Editor’s choice winner
Balanced stately on the thread-worn polyester armchair, provincial drug star Nazi was massaging the lump of squidgy black hash into the shape of a fuselage. It was a delicate, meditative task. His focus was now and then broken by the grammar school boys who shuffled in politely through the doorless frame (tenderly brushing aside the hanging Shiva throw that Evil Dave had taped there after his month-long tour of Goa’s psytrance scene) and awkwardly greeted him as ‘Nartzi.’
He would break off part of the nose or swept wing, baggy up, take their twenty-pound notes and then begin repairs. The squat was quiet, the other residents lost to the autumn night (Cherry had spiked Acid Bob for his birthday and he’d last been seen filling empty Red Stripe tins with canal water), and Nazi was able to shape his aircraft in peace.
It was a Hawker Hunter T7. He’d first seen one fly at the airshow in Farnborough that his grandfather had taken him to. Grandad, one of those working class heroes of the Battle of Britain so willfully misrepresented by cinema, had hoisted him up onto his shoulders as the jet swooped low and buzzed the heads of the awestruck crowd and little Nazi.
The Hunters were all grounded now after one had smashed into the A27 and taken 11 souls with it, but the elegant spirit was alive in the warmth of Nazi’s hands as he molded the yielding black clay into a sleek tailfin.
Two classics students, Graham and Piers, perched on the chaise longue and nervously sifted through their pocket money while Nazi prepared their order. Piers stared at the wall behind him and absently wondered what the ‘Operation Pigeonfuck’ graffiti was in reference to. In truth, it was Nazi and Bob’s own effort towards the anarchist revolution, the Midlands’ answer to Project Mayhem. Bob’s interest seemed to have petered out since Cherry had moved in, but Nazi still carried the torch. Every night, before bedding down in his military sleeping bag, he would spray himself in the face with the CS gas he had bought from Amazon; his end goal was to one day be able to ‘spit it back at the cops.’ He would squint into the mirror, and a wheezing, mucous Che would stare back.
A marker pen pigeon, complete with breasts, a spliff and clipped wings, surveyed the ruined living room from high on the wallpaper. Piers studied it as he smoked a tribute joint with his dealer, concluding that through the haze of blue smoke, it looked a little like the goddess Nike. Her chariot soared through his mind. Nazi looked down at his plane, remembered his grandfather, and imagined how he must have felt on VE Day. There was a quiet, English sense of triumph in the squat that remained long after the boys returned to their family homes, a spell of satisfaction only broken by the return of Acid Bob, pupils dilated wildly, swigging from a tin of Red Stripe.
Dinner with the King
Editor’s choice winner
Everyone has experienced it. Adrenalin hits your system like dynamite, shattering your perception of time. As I watched the king cobra sprawl 10 feet in the air, time seemed to stop altogether. A mere second stretched into a frenzied inner dialogue. Where do I run? Do they have a venom kit? Am I going to die? Coiling in slow motion, the cobra made its gradual decent towards me.
Like every other backpacker in Vietnam, I flew half the world away to escape the mundane – to dance with danger and hurl myself into the unknown. Bypassing the hordes of organized tours, I arrived in Vietnam with dreams of snake blood and severed hearts. I had heard whispers of drinking snake blood through the traveler’s grapevine and today was my day.
There is a small, little-known village outside Hanoi that has an eatery serving only snake. The establishment is a handful of open bungalows, which hover over a marshy bayou. Each bungalow hosts a different gruesome dinner party. It's the perfect mixture of creepy and charming.
I suspected this was just another tourist trap. However, all suspicions drained away as I realized the only others around us were local men from the village. All of them highly intoxicated on snake wine, which is more like whiskey, and taking turns shooting blood. Their cozy bungalow was a wash of smoke and laughter billowing out onto the bayou. It was strangely comforting.
When you arrive, you choose a snake. They ranged everywhere from common grass snake to the ‘King.’ Now, the king cobra is a little pricey, but hey, you're half a world away looking to experience something different. Are you really going to gear down and choose the grass snake?
We chose the baddest cobra we could find, which brings us back to our airborne serpent.
Our ‘snake handler,’ who, in reality, was a somewhat deranged country boy, helped us choose our snake. He took one from its enclosure and motioned me to grab it by the tail end. Now I'm no expert, but I’m savvy enough to know if you hold a 5-foot snake by its tail, you're bound to get some fang. I figured it must have been safe though, why would our handler deliberately put me in danger? After a moment’s hesitation, I grabbed the snake by the tail end. That's when our snake handler, i.e. Satan’s Disciple, decided to harass it with a stick. Hissing, the snake lifted its head inches from my face and fanned out its hood. It. Was. A. Cobra.
Panicked, I flung the hissing mess 10 feet into the air, contemplating imminent death. Meanwhile, by some miracle, Satan's Disciple caught the cobra with ease, secured its jaws and was walking to our table before I could even think to move. He was bellowing with laughter and I wasn't even mad. It was my own fault for trusting an overzealous bayou boy.
When I reached our bungalow, Satan's Disciple was hard at work gutting my cobra and emptying blood into our shot glasses. He then severed the cobra’s heart and put it on an elegant plate in the middle of our table. It looked sickly ironic, beating away on such elaborate dinnerware.
Time passed and the heart was still stubbornly beating away as if unaware it had been detached. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I swallowed it whole.
What an incredible rush.
Satan's Disciple then whisked our cobra away to be cooked into a plethora of exotic dishes. All of it was delicious, and before you ask, yes – it tasted just like chicken.
hissing, the snake lifted its head inches from my face and fanned out its hood