Category Archives: History

Where the ‘M’ Comes From

I’ve been doing this for a while now, and you may have noticed I use different names for different kinds of writing. For academic writing and more formal or serious stuff, I use my full given name. It looks more official. For sport, lifestyle and comedy writing, I use the slightly snappier moniker Chris Saunders. And for fiction, I usually use the name C.M. Saunders . There are practical reasons for doing this. I like to keep different facets of my writing career separate because it’s easier to get my head around. Besides that, the people who read my horror fiction would probably be deeply disappointed if they accidentally picked up one of my travel books, or the one I wrote about Cardiff City FC, and vice versa.

Over the years, a lot of people have asked me why I use C.M. Saunders, especially since I don’t actually have a middle name, and so no middle initial. It’s kind of a happy coincidence that my boyhood nickname was Moony. Because I have a round face, apparently. I guess it could have been a lot worse. There was a boy in my street called Dickhead. Anyway, no. That’s not where the M comes from. It’s not as straightforward as that. But there is a very good reason for it and for the first time in public, I’m going to reveal what that reason is.

It’s for my grandfather on my mother’s side. Firstly, he’s probably part of the reason I grew up to be so into the whole horror thing. He was a big reader, and would go to the local library a couple of times a week. This was back when libraries had books. Whenever I went to visit him and my grandmother in his bungalow at the top of the village when I was a kid, he would always have the latest horror novels lying on the table next to his reading chair. I was too young to read them, or even remember much, I just loved looking at those covers. Stephen King, James Herbert, Graham Masterton.

A little word about my granddad, or Pop as we called him. His name was Stanley Martin. I couldn’t get my hands on a photo of him, but here’s where he lived, New Tredegar, south Wales. This place…

New Tredegar, South Wales

Like my other granddad on my father’s side, he was a coal miner almost all his life. Proper old school Welsh. This is Elliot’s Town colliery, where he used to work.

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Being a miner was a hard life. He would delight in telling me, my sister, and cousins horror stories. Some were things that really happened to him or his friends, some were local myths or legends, and he probably made the rest up just to entertain us. The man was covered in little blue scars where coal dust had got into his cuts when he was underground, and he was still coughing up black shit twenty years after he was pensioned off. He met and married a woman called Lillian and they had three daughters, including my mother. All three daughters grew up and got married. As per tradition, when they got married they took the names of their husbands so pretty soon, the Martin name vanished. I always thought that was a bit sad, and when I started taking fiction a bit more seriously and was looking around for a pseudonym to distinguish it from my journalism, I thought using the ‘M’ initial might be a cool way to keep the name ‘Martin’ alive. He died a long time ago, and when he did his surname died with him. Now, every time I have something published under the name C.M. Saunders, it’s a silent nod to the man who introduced me to horror.

If there’s a heaven, I know he’s up there looking down with pride in his eyes.

 

 

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No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches – Extract

Just over a hundred years ago, fighting in the Great War came to an end following the signing of an armistice between the Allies and Germany.

What better time than to share an extract from my novella No Man’s Land?

No man’s land was deathly still and quiet. Nothing stirred.

As he and Sergeant Lewis made their way through almost complete darkness exasperated by a swirling ground mist, Harry’s heart hammered so hard in his chest he could almost feel it in his throat. Either as a result of nerves, anxiety, or the bone-numbing cold, he was trembling so much that several times his finger slipped onto the trigger of his Enfield. Despite having the safety switch being on, each time it happened he mentally checked himself, afraid he would loose off a shot by mistake and shoot the Sarge up the arse. That wouldn’t look good in the report.

The pot-holed, water-logged ground was soft and boggy underfoot. So much so that in some places, his feet sank past the ankles. Each time he pulled out his boot it made a disgusting wet squelching sound as the ground tried to suck him back in, possibly in an attempt to swallow him whole. Occasionally he would tread down on something hard and unforgiving, some foreign object trapped beneath the surface which felt almost brittle underfoot. He daren’t look down to see what it was, even if visibility allowed such a luxury.

It was far too risky to use lamps to light their way, which in Harry’s opinion made reconnaissance missions worthless. If they didn’t know what they were looking for, and it was too dark to see anything anyway, what was the bloody point?

But he wasn’t in charge. He had been a soldier long enough to know that very often, there were ulterior motives for being asked to do things. Sometimes the real reasons were hidden behind veils, and subordinates like him were rarely afforded a glimpse of the bigger picture.

He kept losing sight of Sarge, even though he maintained a distance of no more than three or four yards behind him. Each time he did so, he felt a small knot of panic begin to bubble up inside him and quickened his pace slightly to catch up. Then, the rugged outline of his NCO would drift back into view and the panic would be replaced by a surge of relief. If he could choose anyone he had ever met, or anyone from history for that matter, to be out here with him tonight, he would choose Sergeant Lewis. Or maybe Ghengis Khan.

The darkness and the unfamiliar terrain were disorienting. Even though Harry was sure they were heading diagonally away from the allied trenches, with no markers or even stars to light the way, there was no real way to be sure. For all he knew, they could be walking a path straight into enemy lines.

Don’t get lost, don’t get lost, don’t get lost, he repeated to himself. Keep calm, stay alert, follow the Sarge, and above all…

DON’T GET LOST!

If Sarge was suffering from nerves, it didn’t show. Instead, he just carried on moving silently across the ravaged landscape, crouching slightly to make himself a smaller target, and turning his head slowly from side to side as he went, constantly scanning their surroundings. He had substituted his standard-issue Enfield for a Vickers machine-gun. The Vickers was a fearsome weapon, and quite new to the battlefield. Harry had never even fired one, but he knew all about the reputation they had. Capable of firing up to five hundred .303 rounds a minute to a distance of over four thousand yards, they could literally rip men to pieces.

The Sarge’s choice of weapon sent mixed signals to Harry. Due to its sheer size and weight, the Vickers gun was usually manned by a crew of two; a gunner and someone to feed belts of ammo through it. The fact that Sarge carried the thirty-five pound weapon, plus ammo, as if it were a toy, suggested he was as strong as an ox. It also suggested he expected a fire fight.

As Harry pondered this Sarge suddenly stopped walking, holding his machine-gun steady with his right hand while signalling with his left.

Harry hurried to catch up, clutching his webbing tight to his body to stop it jangling. He had decided to leave most of his kit back in the trench, the whole idea of this mission was to be in and out quickly, then back inside an hour. Even so, there was a combat knife strapped to his leg, several ammo pouches scattered about his person, a number five grenade, and a water bottle clinging to his belt. He also found room for a mini-first aid kit, a box of matches, and some meagre rations. Without wanting to overload himself, he felt he should be prepared for anything.

Dropping to the ground and sinking into the mud next to Sarge, Harry squinted in the general direction that had caught his Sarge’s attention. The NCO made another hand signal and pointed a single, thick, callused finger. From his position, at first Harry could see nothing but swirling clouds of smoke mixed with ground mist. Then, to his horror, his eyes began to distinguish movement.

Something was out there.

There were figures approaching. Two, three, maybe more, moving swiftly and silently across the terrain like ghosts. They too moved without lights.

A German patrol.

Harry’s mouth suddenly lost all its moisture, and he felt his bowels shift uncomfortably. He had never been this close to a German before, having only spied them briefly across the length of the killing fields. The patrol undoubtedly consisted of Sturmmann. Stormtroopers. Specially-trained soldiers known to operate in no man’s land as merciless execution squads. Their mission was simple. To seek and destroy, and they took no prisoners.

Death was practically within touching distance.

Luckily, the patrol was approaching from an angle. Harry and Sarge were not in their eye line, but to risk running for cover now would be suicide. The troopers would certainly be on the lookout for transgressors. Why else would they be prowling around out here in the middle of the night?

Slowly, Harry raised his Enfield, aimed it at the German patrol, and looked down his sights. He could take one out before they even realized that they were under attack, he was sure of it. He and Sarge had the element of surprise on their side.

But Sarge hissed at him through clenched teeth, and shot him a sideways look that didn’t need words to convey its meaning.

Don’t shoot!

No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches is out now via Deviant Dolls Publications.

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RetView #15 – The Fly (1958)

Title: The Fly

Year of Release: 1958

Director: Kurt Neumann

Length: 93 mins

Starring: Al Hedison, Vincent Price, Patricia Owens

“The more I know, the more sure I am I know so little. The eternal paradox.”

Andre Delambre

The fly 1958

Before the famed David Cronenberg effort in 1986, came the 1958 original. I’d never seven seen it until relatively recently. I was thinking about covering the remake for this series, but I have a feeling there might be enough 80’s flicks here as it is, and the series might benefit from an entry dating from the late-fifties. You know, for context and stuff. So, here we are.

The premise: Canadian scientist Andre Delambre (Hedison) is found dead with his head and arm crushed in a hydraulic press. His brother (Price) comes on the scene to try to make sense of what has happened. Was a freak accident? Suicide? Gulp. Murder? The scientist’s wife (Owens) readily accepts liability, but says she’d rather not say why she did such a terrible thing. Which is not only unhelpful, but pretty odd. She then takes to her bed, and starts acting weirdly. It’s especially disconcerting when the housekeeper swats an insect and she freaks the fuck out. Apparently, she is becoming obsessed with a particular white-headed fly which buzzes around the house. From that point, the film shifts from a murder mystery to flat-out sci-fi horror.

Through a series of flashbacks it is revealed that her dead husband was engaged in a ground-breaking series of experiments concerning the transportation of organic matter in an invention called the disintegrator/integrator. The basic idea is to eventually be able to send things through time and space instantaneously, thereby doing away with costly and time-consuming modes of conventional travel. He has great fun successfully transporting inanimate objects like ashtrays, then progresses to Dandelo the family cat. That doesn’t go quite so well, as Dandelo fails to reappear but can nevertheless be heard meowing somewhere in the ether. Oops. Despite the missing moggie, curiosity soon gets the better of Delambre. He constructs a pair of man-sized teleportation chambers and proceeds to try to transport himself. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, when he tries the experiment he is sharing the chamber with a house fly which has snuck in, resulting in their atoms becoming merged. Yes, Delambre is now part fly, and the fly is now part Delambre. Hence the scientist with the missing head and arm, and the fly with the white head. Geddit?

Ignoring the obvious plot hole, whereby Delambre somehow ended up with the head of a fly but with his old brain in it, and the flipside of that eventuality where the fly ended up with Delambre’s head, but with a fly’s brain, yet could still scream “Help me!” when threatened by a spider, something picked up on by critic Carlos Clarens (who noted that the film, “Collapses under the weight of many questions”) The Fly can still be considered a landmark in cinema. Of particular interest is the sub-text, which warns against the march of progress and the often terrible price of success. Remember, this was the late 50’s, and the decade had already brought television, transistor radios and passenger jets. UFO flaps were common. It was a time of such technological and scientific innovation, all heavily influenced by fractious Cold War politics and the continuous threat of nuclear war, that anything must have seemed possible. All this would have made The Fly terrifyingly plausible. Furthermore, it might be camp and funny now, but by 1950’s standards, the famous “Help me!” scene near the end must have been utterly horrifying. And speaking of campy goodness, do yourself a favour and check out the original trailer.

Producer/drector Kurt Neumann, who also worked on Kronos and She Devil (both 1957) died of ‘natural causes’ at the age of 50, shortly after attending the premier of The Fly, not knowing he’d just made the biggest hit of his career. Without him, film went on to become one of the Box Office successes of the year, raking in $3 million from a budget variously quoted as being $325,000 – $495,000. Much of this expense was due to it being produced in colour, another innovation which was just coming into its own. The film went on to spawn two sequels, Return of the Fly (1959) and Curse of the Fly (1966). Sadly, neither were able to replicate either the success or the cultural impact of the original and sank without trace.

Trivia Corner

The Fly was based on a short story by French/British writer George Langelaan, an interesting character who had been a spy in World War II and was allegedly a close friend of ‘The Great Beast’ Aleister Crowley. The original version of the short story appeared in the June 1957 edition of Playboy.

Go here for the previous entry in the RetView series.


Twenty Years!?

I saw a Facebook post recently which reminded me of something. Well, not so much ‘reminded me’ of something, more like hit me over the head with something. It’s been twenty years since I had my first story published. Twenty fucking years. I was going to say it’s been twenty years since I started writing, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. I’ve been writing since I was a kid. My first published story was called Monkey Man, and it came out in a Welsh literature magazine called Cambrensis some time in 1997. It was a different landscape back then. In the late-nineties there was a thriving small press consisting of various genre mags as opposed to a glut of websites. I also had some early success in Raw Nerve, the Asphalt Jungle, Roadworks, Tales of the Grotesque & Arabesque and several others. The thing was, even back then I was very conscious of getting paid for my efforts, and the vast majority of these titles didn’t offer anything except ‘exposure.’ In fact, when you consider materials, printing and postage expenses, in the pre-digital age it actually cost money to submit to publications. It was a two-way street. Being physical entities, it meant these magazines cost money to put together and distribute.

Having flunked all my exams (even English) I was working in a factory at the time for minimum wage. Mostly, I put things in boxes. Soap, shampoo, pills. You name it, I’d put it in a box. I wanted to find some way of generating extra income, so I started submitting feature ideas to newsstand magazines. This was when shows like the X Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were at their peak, and this was manifested in the popularity of paranormal-themed publications like Fortean Times, Enigma and Beyond. I soon found my little niche, and what was more, they paid! They paid pretty well, actually. Sometimes, I would get as much money for one 2000-word feature as I would for an entire week slaving in the factory. My magazine work and general fascination with the weird and fucked-up led to me researching and writing my first book, Into the Dragon’s Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales, which was eventually published by a mid-size Welsh publisher called Gwasg Carreg Gwalch in 2003. Into the Dragon’s Lair set my life on a different path. It was targeted mainly at the tourist trade, and generated a lot of media interest. Several national newspapers did stories about it, and I was a guest on a live Radio Wales programme. It all resulted in a division of the Welsh government giving me a grant to go to university as a mature student.

51bpjWruJKL

I had a choice of two; Carlisle and Southampton. I chose the latter because growing up I was a big Matt Le Tissier fan, who played for Southampton FC. It was that simple. Two weeks later, I was enrolled on a journalism degree and working part time as a barman at the football stadium. I’d hardly left Wales before. In my spare time, I decided to knuckle down and write ‘The Great Welsh Novel,’ a partly autobiographical tale called Rainbow’s End. It took a couple of years, but as soon as it was finished it was snapped up by a new start-up publisher called Flarefont, who promptly went bankrupt. During this time, I also started working on a book about Cardiff City FC, which eventually came out in 2014, again on Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, after another publisher strung me along for about three years until eventually pulling the plug.

From the Ashes F

During university, one of the most beneficial things I did, was go on work experience placements at every magazine that would take me (Front, Ice, Maxim, FHM). I learned more during those two-week placements than I did in three years of university, and I managed to form relationships that would serve me well later in my career. After I graduated from university, I freelanced for a year, writing features for Nuts, Record Collector, Rock Sounds, Urban Ink, Chat… It’s Fate, and anyone else who would pay me, before bunking off to China to teach English. I mainly worked at universities, which meant I had a lot of free time during which I continued to freelance, adding China to my list of specialist topics. One freezing Spring Festival in Tianjin, through sheer boredom, I started writing fiction again, a full nine years after my last published effort. Perhaps this explains why some people assume I am relatively ‘new’ to the scene. Nah, mate. Been here a while. Just had a rest. Over the next couple of years I wrote Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story and Dead of Night (both published by Damnation Books), and Devil’s Island (Rainstorm Press), as well as a clutch of short stories, which would appear in Screams of Terror, Gore, Siren’s Call, the Literary Hatchet, Trigger Warning, Deadman’s Tome, and a few anthologies.

Then, in 2012, I had another huge stroke of luck. A Staff Writer job came up at Nuts magazine and I was given a shot at it mainly because the deputy editor had somehow noticed some of my funny quips on social media. I flew back from China and was suddenly zipping around London fraternizing with models and film stars. But times were already hard in the ‘lad mag’ market, and getting progressively harder. I was soon got laid off as the sector went through its death throes. I reinvented myself as a sports journalist, and landed a job on the new-fangled Sports Direct magazine. That, too, went belly-up for entirely different reasons, and was re-launched as Forever Sports (later FS). After a couple of years as Senior Writer I was offered a promotion and a pay rise, and asked to move to another new launch at a different publishing company. It didn’t work out. I butted heads with my new editor for a while, then left to go back to freelance, and the new launch sank like the Titanic. By this time I was beginning to realize that the magazine industry was a ruthless arena with very little in the way of job security.

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Parallel to my magazine career, I took advantage of the rise in self-publishing and put out a steady stream of material. To help keep a degree of separation from my day job(s) I modified by name for fiction. There were some things I wrote while I was in China (including Sker House, and No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches) which just needed tweaking, and I also started gathering my previously-published short stories into a series of collections. I’ve lost a lot of faith in publishing companies, so I much prefer to put these things out myself. That way I can maintain complete control over every aspect of the process from the cover art to the contents and pricing. These days, I make a living by maintaining several revenue streams, fiction and magazine work being just two components. It isn’t easy, but it’s the life I chose. The past two decades have been a hell of a ride. I’ve done things I never thought I would do, and seen things I never thought I would see. I’ve met some amazing people, more than a few cunts, and lived in 12 different places, in eight different towns and cities, in three different countries. I’ve come to realize that moving around is a big part of my identity. I get restless if I stay in one place for too long. I need the constant sense of ‘newness.’ It keeps me focused. All things considered, I’ve far exceeded my own expectations, and anything beats working in that factory.

I can’t wait to see what the next twenty brings.

 


RetView #2 – Shock Waves

Title: Shock Waves

Year of Release: 1977

Director: Ken Wiederhorn

Length: 90 mins

Starring: Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams, John Carradine

Welcome to the second installment of my #RetView series, following last month’s Lost Boys feature, where I re-watch and review ‘forgotten’ horror classics. I love old horror movies, and it’s always fun to revisit them. Or in this case, belatedly discover them. I recently saw Outpost, and Outpost: Black Sun (aka Outpost II) on the Horror Channel, and decided I kinda like Nazi zombies. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the whole idea of twin evil. Total nastiness.

On watching the Outpost double-header, I realized that the whole Nazi zombie thing is an actual sub genre. Admittedly, this mini-revelation making me feel only marginally less of a freak. In recent years we’ve had the Dead Snow films, Blood Creek and several other notables that I can’t remember off the top of my head. This all reminded me of a film I saw when I was a kid which frightened the absolute shit out of me called Zombie Lake. The original plan had been to track it down and watch it again to see if it was still scary, or if the intervening three decades or so had lessened its impact.

Whilst searching for it online, I kept seeing references to this other film, which is credited with kick-starting the whole Nazi zombie craze long before Zombie Lake. When I saw that it starred Peter Cushing, I was sold. Come to think of it, unkillable Germans have been a ‘thing’ of mine for quite a while.

Carrying the impressively corny tag-line, ‘The deep end of horror,’ Shock Waves was directed by Ken Wiederhorn (best known for Return of the Living Dead Part II and Eyes of a Stranger) and unleashed on an unsuspecting public in the summer of ’77. For context, it came out just when serial killer Son of Sam (David Berkowitz) was at his peak, if that’s the right way to say it.

MPW-50662

The film opens with Rose (played by Brooke Adams, who is perhaps best known in horror circles as being Christopher Walken’s love interest in the Dead Zone) being rescued from a little boat in the sea. Slowly, she remembers how she got there. She’d been traversing some islands on ‘one of those small dive boats’ when the engine seized, stranding her with a bunch of other people including the captain (John Carradine) and his mate, Keith, who is afflicted with tragic hippy hair and a 70’s porno ‘tache. As the boat flounders in the water that night, it is stuck by a ‘ghost ship’ which isn’t really a ghost ship, not the supernatural kind anyway. It’s something much worse.

In the morning the captain inexplicably turns up drowned, which understandably sends the rest of them into a mild panic, and after finding the boat is taking on water decide to decamp to a nearby island which, conveniently, comes equipped with an abandoned hotel. Now you’re talking. When abandoned hotels are involved, you just know it’s gonna be zombie time soon. Except this one isn’t really abandoned, Peter Cushing lives there. Now the alarm bells would really be ringing, because murder, monsters and mayhem followed that guy around like herpes.

In Shock Waves Cushing plays the role of an eccentric recluse, who later reveals himself as a former SS commander who, during the war, was in charge of a fearsome bunch of misfit soldiers he moulded into an unkillable aquatic fighting unit. When they proved too difficult to control, he sank their ship. Or, he thought he did. Yep, it was THAT ship!

It all goes a bit south when zombies start coming out of the sea. Do you hear me? They come out of the sea! Eventually. I’m not sure why all needed diving goggles, but they otherwise seemed in extraordinarily good nick considering they’re supposed to have been literally dead in the water for thirty-odd years.

I was a bit disappointed to find that these aren’t the flesh eating kind of zombie. They’re more the throttling kind with a penchant for drowning people. In the sea, ponds, swimming pools, even, on one memorable occasion, a fish tank. Basically, if it has water, the fockers (sic) will find some way to drown you in it. This obviously limits their creativity somewhat. But still, I suppose any Nazi zombie is better than no Nazi zombie.

Things go down a predictable enough path from then on. The zombies slink about looking menacing, not saying much, and taking out the tourists one-by-one. They reserve an especially nasty demise for their old commander, who they presumably haven’t forgiven for trying to annihilate them. The film plays for atmosphere than shocks, which are few and far between, but one thing that really creeped me out is the musical score. For the most part, especially when the zombies are in attack mode, it’s a long, unbroken high-pitched whine, which is both annoying and unsettling. In the end, we come full circle to find Rose, rather the worse for wear, being rescued from the boat. The sole survivor. About those diving goggles, it’s revealed toward the end that if you remove them, the zombie dies. It’s never explained how or why this works, but fuck it, small details.

Shock Waves didn’t do much at the box office, and only really started receiving attention when it was released on VHS during the video nasty heyday of the 1980’s. Though it has attained cult status amongst horror movie aficionados, especially since being released on DVD in 2003, it has generally failed to impress in wider circles. Patrick Bromley of DVD Verdict summed things up nicely when he wrote, “More concerned with atmosphere than with shocks, it avoids a number of what would become the cliches of the genre; the flip side of that coin is that it delivers little of what we want from a zombie film.”

Trivia Corner:

Alternative titles used in various overseas territories included Almost Human and Death Corps, both of which are probably better than Shock Waves.

Come back next month for more #RetViews!


No Man’s Land Review

Mallory Heart kindly reviewed my recent novella No Man’s Land: Horror in the Trenches in The Haunted Reading Room.

Review copied below.

No Man's Land
Review: NO MAN’S LAND: HORROR IN THE TRENCHES by C. M. Saunders

Told as a series of continuing vignettes, NO MAN’S LAND relates the experience of Harry Doyle, a young Welsh soldier in the First World War. As terrifying as are the usual horrors of any war, Harry and his cohorts face additional horrors of an implacable nature. Harry is a wonderful protagonist, because he’s not a one-dimensional fearless hero, but rather he is a true human, fearing, loyal, emotional, introspective. NO MAN’S LAND is a literate and vivid narrative of an ugly war, a war which for Harry Doyle and his fellow soldiers extends beyond the boundaries of consensus reality.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Little Virgin Boy Pee Eggs

Today is Chinese New Year! That means it’s time for another China story from the vault. I’ve posted quite a lot here about China, like the time I ate brains and the time I got to be Bad Santa. There was also the snake shop, and when I got pulled in Shanghai airport and some beefy security guards tried to take my cheese off me. No way, mister! Even the most mundane things, like getting a haircut, take on a whole new meaning in the Middle Kingdom.

In 2009-2010 I lived in an extremely inhospitable northern industrial city called Tianjin. Think of it as a bit like a Chinese Middlesbrough. I only went there to be closer to a girl I was dating, who then promptly dumped me for another dude leaving me alone, miserable and stuck in a job I hated. Said job was teaching English in a primary school. It wasn’t the teaching I disliked. it was the kids. There, I said it. It’s probably hard enough trying to educate children that young when you speak the same language, but at least then you can reason with them. If you don’t speak the same language, forget it. It’s like fighting a war with no weapons. Every class was anarchy.

Eventually I hit on the bright idea of rewarding the good kids with lollipops, hoping the naughty ones would see what they were missing and fall in line. It didn’t quite work out like that. Instead, every kid who didn’t get a lollipop wanted a fucking lollipop and threw an epic temper tantrum until they got one. Mostly products of the one-child policy, they were a mass of Little Emperors. They broke me. Regularly. I would cave in and give them all lollipops just to shut them up, costing myself a small fortune in sugary bribes.

One of the few things I liked about this school was the little breakfast stall stationed outside, selling a selection of traditional local food, along with some more normal fare like boiled eggs and corn on the cob. I stopped by there most mornings. It was cheap, and saved me time.

virgin-boy-eggs

There was a lot I didn’t like about the school. But the worst thing were the toilets. Toilets in China are gruesome places at the best of times. But in this school there were no locks on the doors, apparently because the little shits would shut themselves in. That meant whenever I used it, I had a swarm of kids around me pointing and laughing at my penis. It was enough to give anyone a complex.

I noticed the boys all peed in buckets, which struck me as a bit weird. But lots of things struck me as a bit weird in China, and the buckets of piss just blended in with all the other weirdness. People would come in sporadically, carry the full buckets out, and come back with empty ones. I assumed they were emptying them down a drain somewhere. I didn’t know for certain, and frankly, I didn’t care. I didn’t think much about it. Until one day, when I was talking to my teaching assistant and he told me something that first confused me, then repulsed me, then horrified me to the core.

The school was selling the pee. Those people who came in to take out the buckets of piss were actually paying the school for the privilege.

“What? Who would buy buckets of pee?”

“People.”

“What people?”

“The people at the breakfast stall where you go in the mornings.”

“Why?”

“Tong zi dan.”

“What’s that in English?”

“Not sure. Little virgin boy pee egg or something.”

“Excuse me? Little virgin boy what?”

He explained that in some regions of China, Tianjin included, urine from young boys, preferably under the age of ten, is harvested. It’s boiled, and eggs are soaked in it for a few hours. Then the shells are cracked, presumably to let more of the pissy goodness inside, and it is boiled some more. The practice has been going on for centuries, and is tied to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Eating little virgin boy piss eggs is said to reduce high blood pressure, stop you catching a cold, and relieve joint pain. I’d been unwittingly eating them for months.

I’ve never been able to look at a boiled egg in quite the same way since.


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