We’ve got a guy here on the editorial floor of Ink’s London office who’s a source of great amusement for his colleagues, as well as some confusion. Anyone who sits within hearing distance – and that’s plenty of us – gets to overhear a life played out in one-sided phonecalls that are by turns comical (the conversations with his four-year-old daughter when he speaks in the voice of Mr Dinosaur), achingly funny (like when he’s explaining to a writer why the story they’ve just filed is unpublishable) and outright hilarious (his retelling of how he locked himself out on a balcony in his underwear with his daughter who quickly became desperate to go to the toilet). The confusion is because lots of people don’t know what Chris Wright does.
That comes about as a result of him not working on a London-based magazine. His magazine is Hemispheres, a class publication that Ink actually puts together in its New York office. As executive editor, it’s Chris’s job to remind the rest of the editorial team on the other side of the Atlantic that there is a whole world out there beyond the shores of America.
He is also specifically responsible for putting together the magazine’s Dispatches section; this takes the form of a bunch of short stories filed from around the globe that suggest that wherever it is you’re heading, it’s all a lot quirkier than you think. Some of these are no more than groan-worthy shaggy-dog stories or extended jokes, but others are almost profound. They are all reliably finely honed pieces of writing and all represent a very Chris Wright outlook on life. If you’re not lucky enough to be listening in on his phonecalls, then reading Hemisphere‘s archived Dispatches online is the next best thing.
Try this one:
Author Cain Nunns Illustration Peter Oumanski
SHANGHAI – Barely five feet tall, hobbled by an old industrial accident and decked out in an ill-fitting navy blue Mao jacket, 74-year-old Zhang Ying doesn’t look like a trainer of prizefighters. But appearances can be deceiving. The Shanghai native has produced hundreds of champions over a career that has spanned six decades.
When Zhang ducks into a doorway on a side street at the edge of Shanghai’s commercial district, his presence hushes the crowd inside, which has gathered to witness a favorite bloodsport in this region of China. At the periphery, stewards collect fistfuls of yuan. Bets at underground matches like these routinely run into the thousands of dollars.
The smart money is on Zhang’s fighter, Yellow Dragon, who has won 15 bouts in a row.
It could be the result of the fish diet Zhang’s been feeding him, or the brutal workout regimen, but the champion is much broader than his opponent. There are whispers that Zhang’s also got him hopped up on some kind of herbal tea concoction.
Yellow Dragon, who stands about an inch high, is one of the stars (known as qu qu) of cricket fighting, a tradition that was once the domain of the gilded set but which is now played out in insect markets, like this one, across Shanghai. Each fight lasts no longer than 10 seconds or so, but in that time the crowd can be whipped into a fury of screeching and finger-pointing as combatants execute supposed kung fu maneuvers.
Zhang’s cricket is released from his bamboo cage, and the two foes eye each other warily across the Formica-topped table. The Dragon, however, hasn’t built his reputation by playing coy. Within seconds he is a blur of hurricane aggression and snapping limbs. Outmatched and outgunned, his opponent scurries back to the far side of the ring. He’s had enough.
“Pathetic,” spits one onlooker in disgust.
Zhang barely responds to the victory. He has seen it all, from the banning of the bourgeois sport during the Cultural Revolution, to intermittent police crackdowns on gambling, to its recent resurgence and the establishment of pro leagues across the Middle Kingdom. Few crickets would be a match for the Dragon, who, having dispatched another victim, continues his march to immortality.
“Don’t count on it,” Zhang sniffs. “Crickets don’t live very long. He’ll be dead within a month.”
Here’s a couple more recent good ones:
Once a training tool for budding Cold Warriors, Soviet video games are attracting a new breed of player. By Robin Cherry, from June 2013
The comic potential of topographical confusion. By James Dorsey, from Nov 2013
(Posted by AndrewH)