Looking Back

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“It was a very peaceful place… and up ahead, we hear this blood curdling scream”. When he met a traveller on the way to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), Tom accidentally got more than he bargained for.

In this video, Tom thinks back on an old story from his early days in China as he packs up to leave after living in China for eleven years.

Read on:

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Narrate China is a video project by China Narrative Collective, an international collective founded in 2016, with a focus on life in China. Our videos aim to vividly share stories of real life experiences in China and make intimate perspectives accessible online.

Evan Zhou © ZhendeGender

On the Way

A young Chinese entrepreneur tells the story of his experience in China’s busiest transport hub just days before Spring Festival. The young man’s view are challenged by a lone child he meets in Guangzhou train station as the country’s workers head home for Chinese New Year.

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Where did my hair go? The aftermath of a drastic hair cut

Four months ago, I made the courageous decision to cut my 12 inch hair off entirely. Here’s a video of the day, the event, and the aftermath:

A huge thank you to my good friends Maxi Battaglia and Ponita Reasmy for making this video possible. It is a wonderful record of a major moment in my life.

If you’re curious about why on earth I would make that choice, here’s a little summary:

1. Short hair on women looks badass.
2. Binary gender stereotypes are best challenged on the body.
3. My sister lost a significant portion of her hair to cancer treatment.
4. The charity receiving my donations makes wigs for children dealing with hair loss from cancer treatment.

I wrote about my reasoning in an article named Four Reasons I’m Shaving My Head For Charity published by Aliljoy just days before the big shave.

While these four things are all great reasons, I think the biggest by far (for me) is challenging binary gender stereotypes. I’ve always taken an interest in challenging the authority of patriarchal social values that dictate and categorise the value of a woman’s behaviour and appearance.

Gender stereotypes are very clearly played out on the body. I’ve long imagined the female body as the ideal space for these to be challenged. To reference the ever-relevant Judith Butler, gender itself is performed: the gendered body is “the legacy of sedimented acts” (523).

When the body is both my private, personal space and my public, political sphere, I believe it the one place I can instigate my personal challenges to the world around me. Long hair is one of the primary things that makes me recognisably female, and one of the few that is distinctly impermanent. Cutting off all my hair – pushing my appearance to the extreme – is the ultimate act of rebellion against binary gender norms that surround us all.

Not only was this a personal challenge, but through the change to my appearance I challenged the people around me. I challenged my parents, my boyfriend, my friends, my boss, my students, passersby, and anyone who saw me in the three months my hair was unusually short for a woman. I challenged them to react and, in reacting, to show me their true views of what was appropriate for a woman my age to do with her hair.

The worst reactions?

The shock on my boss’s face when I told him my weekend plans. Six young students screaming their lungs out at my altered appearance. My boss telling me (with relief) that I looked like a ten-year-old boy, once my hair had grown a few inches. Being addressed as “sir” on a plane.

The best?

Being told: “you look super hot / badass / edgy.” Getting praised for my bravery. Having a friend copy my new hairstyle within the week. The look of admiration on my teenage students’ faces when I went back to work.

Probably the most common among my Chinese students, though, was an impulse to tell me I still looked beautiful. It was as though, like Samson’s strength, a woman’s beauty fades with a snip of her locks. This is precisely the stereotype that I wanted to challenge. I can’t assume it worked on everyone, but once they got used to my short hair many students – new and old – have praised me for my chic new look.

More on this soon.

If you liked this post, why not check out: Does Having Leg Hair Make Me Less Of A Woman?


Butler, Judith. ‘Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.’ Theatre Journal 40.4 (1988): 519-531.

Taungbyone Nat Pwe

We slowed down as we passed a group of people collecting on the streets, shaking large silver bowls at us, rattling whatever was in it already. Were they collecting alms? Sitting astride a motorcycle, I leaned forward to ask my driver and thought better of it. No, they were not monks.

People danced as they shook their bowls. Speakers were set up by the roadside – some groups seemed to be attached to specific stalls or stands. Mainly they seemed more concerned with enjoying themselves than with collecting cash; there were miles of people just enjoying the festival feeling – for that’s what it was, a huge, annual, Buddhist festival.

As we drew closer to the festival, though, people really started collecting money. Cars slowed to give money, or simply threw bills out of open windows. Cash fluttered to the ground behind moving vehicles and someone would scramble to pick the money up.

Only a few times did I see any kind of tussle; mostly between kids, but once between two grown women. They both dove for it and crashed mid-air. It was film-like; the kind of movement you’d see in a testosterone-filled sports movie. But it was not comical. The festival spirit was not the only reason so many people were out collecting money. People wrestled. Kids ran out in front of moving traffic for it.

I saw a woman sitting in the centre of the road, between two lanes of traffic, breastfeeding her baby. A man passed on a motorbike clutching a boombox between his knees as it blared music. He drove hands-free, whizzing along the little road to Taungbyone through the rice fields.

As we got closer still, I saw more beggars. Dirty, sleeping children and very elderly women tending to small babies by the roadside. I guessed that knowing the sheer number of festival attendees in a generous spirit (or should I say extra generous? The Burmese are the most generous people I have ever met) would draw people from all over.

That ‘sheer number’ was far greater than I had anticipated. I struggled through crush after crush to get to the centres of the two stupas I’d been advised to see. It took me two attempts to have my little bunch of flowers blessed (touched to the statue of Buddha) before I could follow suit and join the festivities.

I first learned about Nat Pwe in Mandalay airport. A fellow traveller disclosed that it was due to start the day after we’d both flown in. Lonely Planet was vague about a specific start date for this annual late-August spirit festival. I gradually learned that it spreads out over several weeks moving from one of several main locations (near Mandalay) to the next, and finally ending at Mount Popa near Bagan. Without entirely meaning to, I attended Nat Pwe (literally spirit festival) in three different locations. Taungbyone is the biggest, most famous and, thereby, most popular among tourists.

Beating back the Christmas Blues

A few weeks ago, I had a Bridget Jones moment. I know you know what I mean; we all have them.


Those times when all you want to do is sit in front of the telly wrapped up in your duvet, while you eat ice cream and drink far too much wine. Not exactly a healthy activity for a solitary young woman who has recently, undeniably, joined the “mid-twenties” club. There’s that overwhelming despair at being alone and the frantic worry that, given your recent track record, you might be alone for a very long time.

This wasn’t exactly helped by this Christmas-round-robin-gone-viral from a successful, happy looking young American family, which makes most of my 2013 accomplishments seem a little dull.

This video got me thinking. I stopped moping and started writing. My piece was published two days before Christmas on the wonderful

Although Christmas has now come and gone, the blues sadly returns. Maybe that’s because you can deny the end of the festive season no longer and must return to work-work-work (yesterday was the last day of Christmas and the first day of work for most people), or maybe because, like me, being at home-home over Christmas was actually really fun, and London seems a little lonely by comparison. Actually, it’s probably both, combined with the lengthy sessions of Christmas boozing and a mild health problem after all the food.

Whatever your reason for feeling those blues, take a look and see if my tips might help you beat what remains of those Christmas Blues!