Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Real Deal

Exploring China on the back of a placement teaching english is growing ever more popular. But once you actually set foot in the Middle Kingdom, what is it actually like? Well, typical wages vary from around $6000 to $10000. Whilst this may seem stingy at best, it is definitely a sufficient income in the PRC. Bare in mind that the country is littered with bare-bones markets where farmers, butchers, so on and so forth sell their products. That being said, many "luxury" goods that one might take for granted in the West suddenly become very expensive in China. For example, yogurt in the UK costs about $2, but at your local Suguo or whatever in China, a 1 litre carton will set you back 11 kwai, or about a dollar and a half. Whilst that may not be problematic for your run-of-the-mill expat, it will burn a whole in the pocket of an english teacher. But hey, its not all bad news. Some of the more elite institutions provide accommodation for their staff. In Nanjing, the Grand Canadian Academy, amalgamated with the Nanjing Foreign Languages School, offers its teachers on-campus apartments. Universities also offer good places to base yourself. Cheap accom is available in the foreign student dorms, not just for the learning, but also the learned.
So provided you manage your funds, you could have a ball of a time in China. Travel within the PRC is relatively cheap. Even the most luxuriant of goods aren't disproportionately expensive. It is very much do-able, and very much worth doing. My final tip: eat Chinese food.

For more info, see:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Firing Line Part 4

Khalid's office overlooked the Tigris. Midway up the building, looted for all its worth, it was the snipers dream. It was perhaps five hundred metres from the main avenue in Mosul, Shalia al Hussein – not so far that accuracy was diminished, yet not so close that the coalition troops could pick them up. Khalid turned Reilly. “I take it you know what happened where we stand, John?” Reilly hesitated. “You mean the Ba'ath Party thing...oh wait, no. I know what you mean. I was down there when it happened,” said Reilly, gesturing towards the far side of the river. “ Colonel Schaefer went down like a sack of potatoes. So this is where it happened?” Reluctantly, Khalid began to explain. “Ahmed – my brother – killed him. I was coming up the stairs when I heard this great crack, like a whip on the rump of a horse, so I ran towards the sound. I saw Ahmed throw the gun into the river, but you could smell the gunpowder. He's a big man, and he threw me aside and ran. Ran to Abu Mahmoud. Satan himself pales in comparison to the bastard. I can't even begin to thank you for what you did earlier.” Khalid cast his gaze at the floor. “So what's our next move?” asked Reilly. “Knowing Ahmed and those MM crazies, they'll just try and go for us again. We'd better get going. But first...follow me.” Reilly followed Khalid through a series of linoleum-floored corridors. Despite the aura of an hospital, Reilly had to remind himself of the terrible things that had gone on in this very building. Khalid drew to a halt outside what looked like an ordinary, non-descript cupboard. Checking for bypassers, he opened the cupboard. Reilly looked inside. Black polished metal lined the space. Black polished metal with wooden handles. “Wha..?” Khalid cut him off. “In today's Iraq, it is unwise to be unprepared. Here,” he said, grabbing a rifle and a few clips of ammunition. “Catch.” Khalid proceeded to pick up his instrument of choice – an Uzi sub machine gun. Just as the door swung shut, a shot zipped past. “Looks they've brought the war to us,” Reilly muttered. One of their assailants from the hotel stepped out from the corridor, dressed in a kafiyeh, the traditional headdress of the Middle East. The Mujahideen were determined to succeed now.

Ahmed has been tipped off as to the journalist's presence at the Ba'ath building just after Abu Mahmoud had dealt with him. Little did he know his brother in cahoots with the journalist. He had rounded up the the other mujahideen and sped through the back alleys of Mosul. The Americans wouldn't find them. They had pulled up at the building gate half an hour previously, but had slowly filtered in to avoid attracting unwanted attention. Five men scampered up each stairwell, before pouring down the sixth floor corridor, pulling to stop out of site of the American. Ahmed was the first to step out and shoot towards the bastard.

Reilly jammed the button on his Thuraya sattelite phone that brought the US Army running. “Shouldn't be long now,” said Reilly to a crouched Khalid. The informant fired a covering burst as. the pair ducked into an open doorway. A scream rang out. Reilly leant out of the doorway and fired a further salvo in the direction of the scream. More bodies could be heard thudding to the floor, but the danger had by no means passed. As if to prove a point, a bullet scythed through Reilly's trouser leg, just grazing the flesh. Reilly, shaken, dove into the empty room. A tremendous thud shook the building, followed immediately by a flash of light. Then the chatter of machine gun fire ebbed back into the minds of dazed Reilly and Khalid, sprawled on the cool floor. After a couple minutes of furious gunfire, the jarring crack of bullets rescinded and was replaced by the patter of boots.

Reilly managed to crawl out of the room he had sheltered in with Khalid. It was not a pretty site that met his eyes. Abu Mahmoud lay prone on the floor, identifiable only by his bandaged foot. His minions had suffered a similar fate. A stream of blood flowed down the corridor. They had been brutally, mercilessly outclassed. They had paid the ultimate price. The Army Troopers rushed towards him. “Wait there,” one of them barked. They filed into the room the pair had hidden in. A shot rang out.

Reilly leapt to his feet, adrenalin surging through his body. He ran towards the room. Khalid lay dead, a bullet wound between his eyes. Reilly rounded on the soldiers, struggling to control his hatred. “That man saved my life. You stupid, cold-hearted, blood-thirsty bastards. That is how you choose to repay him? By killing him? This will come full circle, just you wait.”

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Here we go again...

In a move reeking of Dubya, Gordon Brown confirms that he believes the Iraq war is necessary and that he won't sent a date for withdrawal. Not another fresh-faced idiot making an absolute mess of well...a slight mess?

according to BBC 24 anyways...

will get a link later

The Firing Line Part 3

As the mujahideen reeled in shock, Reilly and Khalid ducked past a set of double doors and scampered out the loading bay next to the kitchen. But they weren't out of the woods yet. The infamous Abu Mahmoud lay between the pair and relative safety. Rifle slung at his waist, the imam had the same air of overconfidence as the swashbuckling marines that went into Fallujah and well...didn't come out again. He brought his rifle up to his shoulder. It never made it. He lay on the floor, writhing in agony, blood pooling around his left foot. “Thank you, Mr. Reilly,” said Khalid. “Gut reaction,” came the response, brushing aside the compliment. “Where now?” “My office. Nobody knows where it is. Couple clicks over, on Tigris Shalia.”

Running out of steam, the pair pulled into the gate of the derelict Ba'ath party headquarters. A Humveee rolled slowly past. Reilly waved his press credentials at the fresh-faced soldiers. “You work here?” enquired Reilly. “Not so much work as hide out, but yeah,” came the response. “C'mon.”

In the Imam's quarters, Abu Mahmoud was in a furious temper, and Ahmed was bearing the brunt of it. “You fool! You yellow-bellied idiot! You see one of us go down and you freeze? Yes, that's what you do!” said the stricken cleric, in a voice laden with sarcasm. “I had a good mind to turn my Kalashnikov on you, and I will if you let him slip through your greasy fingers again. Do you hear me?” demanded Abu Mahmoud. “Yes, master,” replied a submissive Ahmed.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Firing Line Part 2

Back on the base, Reilly lay in his bunk, trying to visualise his life back in New York. He could almost see the Hudson River sweeping past his office on West 43rd Street, near the UN Building. How he longed for a cappucino. His cellphone removed him from his daydream. “Hello?” It was Khalid, one of his few trustworthy contacts in Iraq. Far more honest, than that Paul Bremer, Reilly thought. “John, another Humvee has been blown up. I've got a car outside the southern entrance. It'll take you to the El Arab Hotel. Meet me at the usual spot,” instructed Khalid. “Will do,”replied Reilly, stuffing a notepad and camera into his backpack.

The sentries were but Midwestern farm-boys, so Reilly had little trouble making his way past the perimeter fence. He always felt a rush getting into real Iraq, even considering the dangers he faced. Driving at full speed, the driver got him to the El Arab Hotel within ten minutes. As he made his way through the abandoned hotel, he could almost see the battle that had unfolded here between the Americans and Abu Mahmoud's gang. Both sides considered it a victory but were reluctant to really establish control. Who ever ventured might not make it out.

Reilly turned out of the staircase and saw a tall, well built man crouching next to the wall. “Khalid!” he whispered. “Where is it?” The man got up. Carefully, he gestured towards over the wall. “My brother did it.” Reilly peered over the edge. The vehicle could barely be identified as such, more mangled metal than mean machine. He looked back at Khalid. “Please don't tell them!” begged Khalid. “I'll have to tell them sometime, but I'll wait until your brother is gone. Now, I need to get some photos of the Hummer.”

Meanwhile, Ahmed and the other Mosul Muhajadeen got ready for their latest mission. Abu Mahmoud had told them that Reilly would give them away to the Americans and so had to be taken care of. They didn't need telling twice. As they finished asking Allah for courage, they burst out of the derelict barber's shop and ripped a salvo of iron towards the El Arab Hotel. Advancing rapidly, they couldn't see any threat to their livelihoods. But they also couldn't see Reilly and his informant.

Reilly and Khalid had just reached the burnt-out, bullet ridden lobby when the Mosul Muhajadeen has begun strafing the hotel. They had been able to duck behind the counter, but they knew they would die if they lingered. Carefully, they tried to dodge past the flurries of aimless bullets. However, their progress was slow and it took them five minutes to get to the kitchens, a mere fifty metres away. Reilly ripped his army-issue Beretta out of his shoulder holster. The intensity of fire was growing, a sure sign that their assailants were closing in. Suddenly, out of the corner of his, Reilly spotted one of the muhajadeen rushing towards him and Khalid. Without thinking, he spun around and shot their pursuer. The disillusioned warrior lay dead on the marble floor.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Firing Line Part 1

The dust rose up from the sun-beaten streets of Mosul. The ground was vibrating. From the roof, one could see for miles around. One could see the Humvee speeding across town. Up here, you could see without being seen. It was the insurgent's dream, a way to get back at the pig-headed Americans. A place where one could, you might say, express oneself. And that is exactly what someone did. The Humvee appeared to leap up into the air, split into halves and come crashing back down again. Such was the force of the impact that pavements all around buckled. The killer fled, leaving the bastards screaming in agony in their burnt-out car. Good riddance he thought.

John Reilly was nearing the end of 2nd stint in Iraq, assigned this time to the city of Mosul. The going had been tough, and he was looking forward to going home. He had seen more than one might wish for. He had stood by and watched as Iraqis were slowly killed in their own homes by blood-thirsty soldiers. Recently things had gone really bad. Just hours previously, Reilly had been interviewing the local Minister of Agriculture when a Humvee laden with troops was decimated in yet another insurgent attack. Reilly knew who did it, but didn't dare tell anyone.

Khalid stood on the roof of the El Arab Hotel in central Mosul. Up here, he felt light-headed, looking down on the sadly mundane carnage below. He wondered whether Reilly would even bother coming down and picking apart what happened. Out of the side of eye, Khalid glimpsed a plume of smoke. Turning around, the source was found. A rocket launcher lay beside the wall. No-one was supposed to be up here, and the reason why lay below. He had been seen, and bullets from the angry Americans down below whizzed past. Ducking past the hail of metal, Khalid darted back home. There, his wife and son sat eating the ever- present stale bread. In the corner lurked a guilty soul.

Infuriated, Khalid set upon the man. “Why? Now you are better than them. You have sunk to American levels. Ever since you started going to that fool, Abu Mahmoud's mosque, you lurched precariously on the line! Now I see you are but a petty killer!” Khalid berated his brother, Ahmed for the attack on the Americans. “If I was our father, you would be banished to the countryside.” “Be that as it may,” countered Ahmed, “you can't say that the Americans have improved life here. If anything, the streets have become more dangerous. How can you stand for that, how can you live with the fact that your wife, your son, might not come home one day?” A silence followed. Sullenly, Khalid ushered his brother out the door. “That bastard Abu Mahmoud really got to you, I guess. Whatever it is, go away and sort out your head. Come back when you do, my dear brother. Inshallah.” Ahmed moped away, across the Tigris, heading for his master.

The Firing Line.

Over the next few weeks, I will be serialising my new short story, the Firing Line, set in present day Mosul.