Archived entries for Katrina Hamlin

HAL’s Mad Tea Party: Two Lumps

That’s right folks, time for more tea, check out these lovely little crumpets from our gals D and K below!

Dena Rash Guzman – All the Tea in China

Katrina Hamlin – New Home


New Home

By Katrina Hamlin

The small blond girl opens the door, and steps out onto the landing. She drags a big suitcase with broken handles. She’s late.
A Chinese man – timid stance, mid-50s – is standing at the top of the stairs.
He is shocked to see a small blond girl on the landing. He spills a “Hello” before he can stop himself.
“Nihao,” she replies, and turns to rattle the keys into the lock. She’s used to her own novelty, and those looks, which come with a reflex “Hello”.
“You live here?” he asks, watching.
“Wo zhu zai zheli. Wo de jia.” She zips the keys into a hand bag, and moves to push past, to the stairs. The plastic wheels rumble on the concrete floor. Continue reading…


The Beautiful Country

by Katrina Hamlin

My name is Xiao Yu. I am nineteen.

I have eaten KFC fried chicken and onion rings, washed down with milk tea. Then I ate a doughnut, which is an incomplete cake with a hole in the middle.

I have heard rap, which is when you have a song but you don’t sing. I can do that at the KTV.

I have seen their TV show series, which are about real life, but with shiny teeth and hair and perfect love.

So I already knew quite a lot about the Beautiful Country when I met my first Beautiful Person.

The Beautiful Person, whose name was Sam, was still in some way not what I expected.

Continue reading…


The Golden Boy

by Katrina Hamlin

Ocean Park Themepark, Hong Kong, 1993.

“Scallywag,” said Mummy.

“Scallywag!” said the Hong Kong Granny in Cantonese as the peppermint ice cream slid down her face. But she smiled, licking cream from her hairy chops.

She reached out to touch his hair again, still smiling, green cream gathering in the wrinkles around her eyes. “Little gold-hair boy! Such good luck.”

He had nothing left to throw, and this was stranger danger just like they told him at school. Why did she want to touch his hair? Why was Mummy on her side? Why was she angry with him? Why was the woman not repelled by the well-aimed ice cream?

Overwhelmed by Mummy’s injustice and seeing that the world didn’t make sense, he turned and ran.

“You Scallywag, come back,” screamed Mummy.

He felt a knot tightening in his stomach and knew he couldn’t ever ever go back. He ran faster.

The Hong Kong Granny at another Granny in her tour group. “Did you see the gold-hair boy? I touched the gold for luck, and now he is running.”

Continue reading…


Happy Birthday, Spring 2112

by Katrina Hamlin

It was her 123rd birthday party, a century after she’d first come to Shanghai.

They gave her a silver walking stick. They also promised to take her to the tailors to have another cheap qipao fitted, though they were all certain that she would never wear it out of the house.

Some of the neighbours came to pay their respects. She thanked them with bare, toneless niceties; then, flustered, she returned to the backroom.

“So rude,” her great-grandson complained to his mother. “Why does she do that?”

“You know, when they arrived, almost all of them were illiterate, and most of them couldn’t tingdong,” said his mother. “Sometimes it’s still a bit much for her.”

That was the first time he’d thought about her arrival. Suddenly, his great-grandmother’s life seemed like a bad fit.

After a hundred years, the qipaos were still only costumes; this wasn’t her real home.

Continue reading…


Rabbit Hole

by Katrina Hamlin

Once upon a time someone had told her not to go out into the dark, dark city when the sun went down. Shanghai was full of monsters after midnight, she was warned.

She was told not to go out into the dark, dark city. But she went out.

She left a trail of rice behind her, so she could find her way back.

She followed the music in the air, towards the bright, distant lights.

She found a city built from the Frankenstein shards and splinters of other places and peoples. She couldn’t understand what she heard and saw, because they didn’t make sense, together or apart; red rabbits and Father Christmas and pink tinsel and gold characters and toneless speech and sing-a-long, ghostly laowai and rosy cheeked Shanghairen slamming glasses on the table, dancing on the bar, sleeping on the floor, falling out the door and blowing smoke into the night.

Continue reading…



by Katrina Hamlin

She looked up from the pocket dictionary. Hard, sleeper; “Ying, chang. Ying chang. Yingchang.”

The ticket seller looked back at her. “Yingchuang?”

“Ying, chang.”

The next lady in the queue repeated her, concentrating on each sound. “Ying chan.”

An impatient teenager behind her hollered, “Yinchuan,” and then in ragged unison the entire queue shouted, “Yinchuan.”

Relieved, the girl thanked them and smiled. “Yes, a hard sleeper.”

Continue reading…


Hard Seat from Shenzhen to Shenyang Chapter 1


by Katrina Hamlin

She woke up to the smell of chicken bones and fangbian mian. She tried to sit up.

Her head hit the thick metal springs. She had been sleeping underneath the seat.

The night before, she had met an American boy celebrating the end of his teaching tenure and the beginning of his winter travels. He’d been gifted two bottles of baijiu from the school. They finished the first one together.

She remembered being very sick, and declining his offer to share a joint in the squat toilet.

He had left the train at one of the small dark stations in the early hours.

She had tried to sleep in the carriage aisle; but the rice trolley couldn’t get by, so the other passengers rolled her under the seat, with the chicken bones and discarded fangbian buckets.

Continue reading…


The Broken Comb

by Katrina Hamlin

I live alone, apart from the cockroaches. My room is on the ground floor, down a lane. The house is as old as the People’s Republic. Damp is climbing up the walls, and the paint is peeling. I lock up my bicycle outside. At night, someone tucks it in under a blue tarpaulin. I have never seen who does this.

A line of chamber pots sits along the wall behind the bikes, drying in the wind. Further along the lane, the elderly couple keep tortoises in a porcelain basin. They settle a plank over the basin at night. The couple has a friend from one of the upstairs rooms. The man is old in an ageless way – he could be fifty, or one hundred and fifty. He comes down to the lane in his slippers. If the weather is warm, he doesn’t bother with trousers: He teams a bobbly sweater with dirty white long johns.

Around the corner from the tortoises’ basin, by the main entrance, there is a passageway to the street. Every morning a shabby mash of boxes unfurls into a dumpling stall. They sell vegetable jiaozi, tea boiled eggs, toufu patty and pickled greens. I think the proprieters are somehow related to the elderly couple. I exchange courtly nods with them  on my way to work, and the customers scoot on their stools to let me pass.

When the gate is shut at night, and my heavy door is locked, I feel as though I am in a fortress. Or a prison cell. I don’t really have windows, just little chinks the size of a catflap, too high for me to look out. That’s why I couldn’t see what was happening, though I heard everything.

Continue reading…


The Soup Shop

by Katrina Hamlin

‘Is this mao cai?’

The man in the cap heard the halting words. He looked at the foreign girl.


His Mandarin was careful. She needed it. So did he. He missed his home dialect in this city.

‘What is it?’


The words were alien. Still, she thought she knew the scent and the colour of the soup; and she wanted something known.

‘From Sichuan?’

Behind a boy prepared trays of cold nuts and beans. The boy paused to listen to the unfamiliar tones. He couldn’t understand the common tongue yet.

‘Yes.’ Continue reading…


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