Notes from the Middle Kingdom: Three Men Make a Tiger


James Kramer continues his monthly correspondence between Nottingham and Beijing, this time advocating castle burnings and the benefits to reclaiming northern English black lung.

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Leftlion’s Notes from the Middle Kingdom: Three Men Make a Tiger

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James Kramer’s Notes from the Middle Kingdom: Just Add Oil

James Kramer continues his work as Beijing correspondent for Nottingham’s own Leftlion magazine, this time looking at keeping fit and chasing away unwanted pigeons (to be fair, when is a pigeon ever wanted?)


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Notes from the Middle Kingdom: Just Add Oil

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Notes from the Middle Kingdom: Homeless, Housing & Hutongs


James Kramer, straight from his construction site squat, brings in the newest NFTMK to discuss accommodation in Nottingham and Beijing, and all the awkwardness in-between.

Notes from the Middle Kingdom: Housing & Hutongs

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To the dogs

When the people fell, they looked to her like little specks of dirt upon a monitor. They looked small and round and very dark. Charlotte thought of words like moss, and bracken and heather.

The sky was a pale blue green. It looked, Adam thought, like the bottom of a pond. Not a lake, but a pond. He drank coffee by the window. He stood over the radiator, the hot air blowing up his shirt, and he thought about Marilyn Monroe. Charlotte slept in the next room. She kicked in her sleep and turned violently around. She was unhappy when sleeping and often broke out into fits of crying. She referred to these, as her troubles. Adam worried about her, and held her even tighter when she felt lost.

When he got dressed in the morning darkness, the flashlight on his phone fading, the cold would keep him moving. Adam felt as if he was cold all the time, right from the moment he woke up. Shivers ran through his body and anxiety gripped him that it was symptomatic of something else, bigger and more deadly. He drank his coffee by the window and tried to feel less cold and less tired and less anxious about the part of the world in which he and Charlotte still lived. Then, he dressed in many layers of clothing and walked off to work.

Charlotte often dreamt about couples that formed suicide packs. They jumped off of rocky cliffs together. Sometimes it had been agreed upon beforehand. Other times, one jumped and the other, not knowing what to do, followed them. Nobody ever screamed in these dreams, and Charlotte didn’t know if it was because they were calm, or because she was always watching from very far away. When the people fell, they looked to her like little specks of dirt upon a monitor. They looked small and round and very dark. The landscape in the dreams was always barren and windswept. Charlotte thought of words like moss, and bracken and heather. Had she liked reading English Victorian novels, she might have thought that she had stolen a lot from them. But instead she preferred films based upon English Victorian novels and so still felt ashamed and embarrassed that so much of her dreamscapes scenery was plagiarised from movies that she’d watched knowing that they were shitty.

She read advertisements about when to plant tulips, and how to save 35% off dinners for two. Then she heard a person screaming outside and so lay under the sofa and cried.

There had been an increasing number of feral dogs, roaming the streets in packs. The dogs looked menacing and starved. They had ribs, heavy tongues and wide, searching eyes. The fur on the dogs was long and mangy. To Adam, they no longer resembled dogs, but now looked like wolves again. When they first became to accumulate, commuters fed the dogs. They thought they might be hungry, and so bought an additional croissant from the Tesco Express in the morning and broke the pastry into buttery pieces on the floor. Then the dogs started to attack people, and now nobody fed them. Nobody tried fighting off the dogs. Adam had watched once as a man dressed in a long winter jacket jabbed at them with the end of a golf umbrella, but the dogs slowly surrounded him and so the man gave up and lay down and was soon gone. Instead, people walked to work and hoped that today wasn’t going to be the day that the dogs attacked them. And when it wasn’t, they were momentarily glad.

When Adam left for work, Charlotte got up and bolted the locks on the doors. The locks were cheap and fairly useless, but she felt better knowing that they were on. She re-plastered the windows with newspaper that had fallen off during the night. She read from the paper as she stuck it back on the glass. She read advertisements about when to plant tulips, and how to save 35% off dinners for two. Then she heard a person screaming outside and so lay under the sofa and cried. She lifted her clothes up to her nose. Everything smelt of dust, and made her feel old.

At his desk, Adam forwarded emails that badgered people for financial records, and monthly predictions. He asked them to anticipate, to predict growth. He used expressions like “best practice” and “going forward.” He splayed his hands across the keyboard and made large exaggerating typing sounds. He wrote rows of nonsensical gibberish, then looked up and shooed a raven off his desk. Even with diligently keeping all of the windows closed and guarding the door, the birds managed somehow to get in and so people had come to largely ignore them. They speculated that as all of the leaves outside had disappeared, and the trees seemed unable to grow any more, the birds had seen the plastic plants inside buildings and decided they wanted to live inside instead. But there was no food for them and one by one most of the birds died. Trying to use the photocopier, people nudged them out of their way on the floor. The bird’s bodies lay there, bloated and fat. Their feathers stuck out like Mohawks. Sometimes, if a co-worker was having a bad day, they would kick one of the dead birds like a football, and it would explode and leave a terrible smell. But nobody cared about the smell. They focused instead on quarterly reports.

The smoke from the fire made his lungs hurt, and sometimes he would find himself laying on the floor, having slept, or fallen unconscious.

Charlotte boiled water, making it safe to drink. She pulled large sections of the plaster wall away with her hands. The plaster was rotten and came away like wet paper. She broke through the wall and climbed next door, where her neighbour was curled up on the sofa.

“I like to sleep there too,” Charlotte said.

“Shouldn’t you be somewhere else?” her neighbour asked.

“Do you have any food?”

“I don’t think Henry’s coming back. Henry used to be my husband. Are you married?”

“You’re sweet,” Charlotte said, “I don’t really care.”

She held the neighbour woman like a baby across her chest, and dug her fingers roughly in between her ribs.

“shhh” Charlotte said.

“You’re hurting me,”

“No I’m not.”

Charlotte cradled the woman, and rocked her slowly back and forth. She listened outside to what sounded like a building burning down, and wondered why it was that she couldn’t see billowing smoke. After an hour had passed, the woman lay cold in her arms. Charlotte stood up, and buried her neighbour under the sofa cushions, leaving one of her arms exposed.lewis_manchu_03

Adam came home and the two of them prepared dinner together. They selected a ready meal for two, . They waited for the oven to heat up the room, and then ate sitting together.

“It’s still getting colder,” Charlotte said.

“Does it matter?”

“Not really.”

Adam dug out a small piece of what felt like lamb and fed it to Charlotte from the end of his fork.

“I think it’s really endearing that we’re both still here,” he said, “I know that you want to, but lets not die together. I want one of us to burry the other. I don’t want us both to go to the dogs.”

“But they’ll get the second one,” she said.

Adam smiled, then leaned over the table and kissed her.

“I’ll let you go first,” he said.

“I love you” Charlotte replied.

Charlotte cleared the table, while Adam searched online to see which websites had been updated. They watched a video diary from Quebec. The videos ran from August until March and then stopped. After that there were no more.

“Maybe she got bored,” Charlotte said.

“It must be cold in Quebec, colder” Adam replied.

In bed, the two of them wrapped tightly around one another. Gradually, they lost the feeling in their arms, but felt better being pressed together. When the sounds of large animals passed by the window, Adam held his breath and tired to silence the sounds Charlotte made when she was sleeping. When she started to cry, Adam knew that her dream was over and another Victorian couple had thrown themselves from off a cliff onto the rocks.

When there was no electricity for the radiator anymore, Adam burnt small piles of newspaper in the morning. The smoke from the fire made his lungs hurt, and sometimes he would find himself laying on the floor, having slept, or fallen unconscious. He left Charlotte sleeping in the morning and walked to work. In the supermarket the shelves were mostly empty, expect for spaces cleared out by the mothers who tried to hide their children there, thinking it was safer from the dogs. Adam found a tin of sugar at work in the staff canteen and licked his fingers. He rolled them around in the communal sugar and sucked them. He poured streams of the white sugar into his pocket, and then hid in the corner when he heard two of his co-workers fighting. When he left the canteen to return to his desk, he stepped over the co-worker that had been left on the floor with the birds. He wrote a memo about overall corporate productivity, and then decided to go home, where he found Charlotte still sleeping.

The ground had been hard and frozen and impossible to break open. Behind their home, was a large, unlocked dumpster that was mostly unused. Across the street there had been a park named after the actor Hugo Weaving. The park had been turned into a campsite, where a makeshift wall had been erected, and for a week people sang campfire songs and seemed genuinely happy. Then people grew tired and lazy with keeping watch and soon the walls fell down and they left. Adam walked to work through the campsite and thought about the last time when he had last warm. “Hugo Weaving was sort of an interesting person,” the publicly paid for Hugo Weaving Memorial Park sign had read, “Why not build a park in his honour?” Someone had scratched something underneath. When Adam leaned in to try and read it, he realised that they hadn’t been trying to spell anything out, just hold onto something. Then, it grew dark and he realised that he hadn’t made it to work, but had been lying on the grass for the whole day.

At night, he couldn’t finish the made-for-two ready meal all by himself, and the cold, pre-cooked rice tasted hard and waxy. Adam left the box on the floor and rubbed out the last of the burning newspaper with his foot. The ink from the paper turned his toes blue. He climbed into bed and held himself closely, wrapped under the covers. Outside he heard the sounds of large and dangerous animals. Adam inhaled, feeling almost ready to shout. He sensed all around him, a world that was cold and incredibly dark.

Photo art by: Vincent Delbrouck & Lewis Manchu


Notes from the Middle Kingdom: Trotters of Love and Respect

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James Kramer continues to feature as Leftlion’s China correspondent, this time turning his attention to the celebration of Women’s Day and all things slightly questionable.

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Notes From the Middle Kingdom: In this Our Year of Dog

James Kramer is back in Nottingham’s LeftLion, this time discussing the Chinese Year of the Dog, and slathering underwear with Paprika.

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Notes From The Middle Kingdom: In This, Our Year Of Dog

Three Friday evenings simultaneously



In his ears, William had begun to experience a constant, distant ringing. Because it was so low in volume, he could ignore it most of the time and live a life not dissimilar to the one that he had before. It had not made his life any worse. It was also a quality that made him no more interesting or novel to talk to.

He drowned out the ringing by listening to podcasts via headphones whenever he was awake. He only downloaded podcasts that required minimal effort to listen to and didn’t particularly pay attention to what it was they were talking about. When that didn’t work he listened to experimental rap music. Then he listened to pure white noise.

William was struck by the underwhelming realisation that he would have to grow comfortable being alone forever, though he felt glad that this was a decision he no longer had to resign himself to thinking about.

William had a job in telemarketing like almost everyone else that he knew. He decided one day that it would make no real substantial difference to his performance at work whether he answered the incoming calls sitting upright or curled up in a ball underneath his desk and so he crawled under and continued to perform above the company standard.

He had since accepted that this would not be a job for life and secretly suspected that no such thing existed anymore. He had however realised that this job, should it be replaced, would be so with one almost exactly the same except for very small differences such as the brand of coffee that the office provided or the direction that he would be expected to face. Yet these very small and fractional changes worried William the most, for while he felt almost entirely disconnected with his co-workers and the company vision, he liked the assured nature of these minute consistencies of his day.

“Lets go hunt for a job for life” he once said to one of his co-workers, “perhaps shoot it in the face. If we can’t find one then we can declare them extinct and stop always having to worry about their existence.”

After listening very carefully to the sounds of the computers around him, William decided that the ringing in his ears was caused by being in close proximity to people, not machines. He started to mentally record the different frequencies that people gave off and noticed that there were several influencing factors. If the person was sleeping or resting, then the note was pitched lower, whereas if they were talking it was extremely high. It was the worst when other people were eating next to him. Then, it would become irritating and no amount of white noise would drown it out. But William liked to eat lunch alone in the stairwell where nobody could see him needing food, so this didn’t particularly bother him.

William became increasingly invested in the idea of buying a fish that could live and thrive in a very small tank in his kitchen next to the microwave. After work on Friday, he immediately found a pet store that was still open and purchased a fish. The fish was small but looked resilient as if made of out tiny slivers of titanium. He took the fish home and filled a glass bowl with water, then watched it for an unbeknownst length of time.

When eating his dinner, William realised that the fish was omitting itself a very tiny yet noticeable ringing, similar to all the rest of the people that day. It made him for a moment tremendously sad to think that the fish had chosen to be just like everybody else, and so he took it outside in its bowl, but remembering the promise that he had made to the girl at the pet store, he left change for the fish for the no.17 bus and walked back inside.

William was struck by the underwhelming realisation that he would have to grow comfortable being alone forever, though he felt glad that this was a decision he no longer had to resign himself to thinking about. He cleaned away the scraps of food from his plate and thought about falling asleep in front of his computer.

Xiao Jo.

Xiao Jo worked in her father’s Aquarium and Specialist Lizard Store each day after school, while she did her homework and let various animals out of their tanks. The store had originally only sold fish. Then her father ordered lizards that he kept in the unused fish tanks and added the words Lizard and Specialist to the sign on the front of the building. He bought snakes that only Xiao Jo liked. Then he bought six tarantulas that nobody wanted to buy so he drove them out to the countryside and released them. He thought they might be happy there, except for the one that he accidentally ran over while backing out from the field. He scraped up the flattened tarantula and not wanting to litter brought it home and left it in the kitchen under the sink where Xiao Jo found it and screamed.

When she was seven Xiao Jo had been allowed to choose her own English name and liked the way the sounds felt in her throat when she said the name Joe. Joe was both a boys and a girls name she had told her mother, who insisted she spell it Jo. Her father had been the first to start calling her Xiao Jo, or little Jo, which was fine because she was in reality very small.

Her father was never around when she looked after the shop in the evenings, so she liked to let several lizards out of their fish tanks to run across the ceiling. She would take out one of the two small turtles that never got sold and let it crawl across the counter. She would use the turtle to time how long it took her to solve the homework problem that she was trying to complete. This was how she measured time. She used one turtle for maths and the other for languages. She preferred the languages turtle because he was older and would often get tired and take breaks, and Xiao Jo hated all languages.

Once the show is over it won’t compare it’s own life to the lives of the fish on TV and feel disingenuous to its potential as a fish. It won’t in anyway thank you or be relieved.

When the man came in and asked to buy a fish, Xiao Jo asked him what kind of fish he wanted and the man said something about telemarketing and how essentially it was all just voices. She suggested that he buy a Gourami fish. Her father had bought too many of them and they were dying very rapidly in the tank. Every evening Xiao Jo had to scoop out the dead Gourami fish. She didn’t know where to put them, so she just threw them into the bushes outside. Instead of looking at the fish, the man stared at the reptiles and asked if people needed a licence to own one. Xiao Jo didn’t know the answer and so whenever she didn’t know the answer to a question she would give the same response.

“What do you think?”

“Why do people want to buy lizards?”

“To feed them mice. A lot of people hate mice. Mice are small and fragile and make terrible sounds if you hold them by their tails.”

“Are they dangerous?”

“No. But if your father catches you keeping a nest of mice in your drawer, then he will take them out and stamp on them and make you clean the dead bodies away.”



Xiao Jo had asked her father if she could be allowed not to sell fish or lizards or any other creatures to people that she instinctively distrusted on sight.

“I’d just like the fish,” he said and held out a note. Xiao Jo wanted to say that his eyes looked cold, but not cold like a fish eyes are cold. His eyes seemed to be screaming.

“Ok, but please don’t kill it,” she said. “It’s just a fish. It doesn’t get sad after watching TV shows about the lives of other fish. Once the show is over it won’t compare it’s own life to the lives of the fish on TV and feel disingenuous to its potential as a fish. It won’t in anyway thank you or be relieved if you kill it the way a terribly sad person might. It’s just a fish. Fish want to live and eat, but mostly live.”

“I won’t kill it.” The man said, and so Xiao Jo let him buy it. He took the fish away in a small bowl of water, because Xiao Jo’s father distrusted clear plastic bags.


Gourami was a Gourami fish, and hadn’t considered having a different name to the other Gourami fish that he lived with because they didn’t talk much and even then never used personal terms.

That it was a Friday afternoon didn’t concern or interest the Gourami fish. Its tank had been transparent and made luminous via glow lights underneath. Had the tank been larger, the Gourami fish might have liked living in it. Because it was however very small and confined, the Gourami fish too felt confined and didn’t particularly like where it was living, but didn’t have the incentive or the internet to brose popular room share websites.

That the Gourami fish had no real concept of its mother and father to speak of meant that it also carried with it no filial anxieties or loosely Freudian desire to blame its current unhappiness on its upbringing or how its parents have chosen to raise it. The Gourami fish also did not suffer from issues of sibling rivalry. While it made many brothers and sisters, it didn’t identify with them any more than all of the other stranger fish that just might happen to be living in the same tank. The Gourami fish was very capable of not thinking about all the other fish in its life from the moment that they were no longer in it and because it this, the Gourami fish lived a mostly emotionally peaceful life with very little competitive distress.

When placed in a larger bowl in the kitchen, the fish noticed a man staring into the bowl with very wide, dark eyes. The man’s eyes grew and shifted, dome and plate-like but they always remained lifelessly cold. The Gourami fish did not know what the man was looking for in the bowl and so could not help him to find it. When the man was gone, the Gourami fish looked for food, and when the man came back the Gourami fish ate food and was glad.

When the Gourami fish was taken outside to a colder place, the new glass bowl set down near the road, it became aware of the temperature outside of the water and was less happy. Though he had been given the correct change for the No.17 bus, the Gourami fish had no particular place to go, nor friends to see. It wasn’t lonely; it just hadn’t made time to develop friendships in this area. The Gourami fish didn’t particularly want to catch the No.17 bus, but had the exact change to do so, and wasn’t sure what else it should do with the money. It had wanted to discuss the possibilities with other Gourami fish, but was alone in the bowl and so decided to do nothing. It waited for the bus, trying to remember anything particularly memorable about where it had been before, but it could not.



Featured artist  Daniel Seagrove