Time to tie up a couple of loose ends from the past week, starting with a mini-review of The Badlands: more stories from Midnight in Peking by Paul French.
This short and depressing book features a series of eight brief but moving accounts of the lives of eight inhabitants of the demi-monde of the notorious Badlands District in 1930s Beijing, including a dancer, a pimp, two prostitutes, and assorted drug dealers, gangsters, and con artists. Only one of these stories results in anything like a happy ending. The rest of them feature unremittingly grim portraits human weakness, folly, and cruelty that make you despair for humanity!
In the book, French paints a vivid picture of what life was like for foreigners who lived outside the highly-privileged expatriate diplomatic and business community. The most pitiful were the stateless White Russians who fled to China after the Russian revolution and had no way of leaving the country due to their lack of passports and other travel documents. The story of Marie and Peggy, two Russian girls who ended their days as drug-addled prostitutes is particularly heart-breaking.
I’ve started French’s latest book, City of Devils, which covers life in the Badlands of Shanghai during the same period. Like The Badlands, it’s very well written – but not for the faint-hearted.
When I checked in for my flight back to Taipei, the Eva attendant surprised me by offering a choice of the Air China Business Lounge where gold card members are usually sent to or the BGS Lounge, which I had never heard of.
I’m glad that I decided to try out the latter, because it turned out to be much less crowded than the former usually is. It doesn’t offer the same variety of food as the Air China lounge and has only a limited number of power sockets, but that is more than made up for by the peace and quiet it provides. Not to mention plenty of seats to choose from!