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S2, Ep 8 Betrayed: Talking Turkey

betrayed beijing, china, christmas 1984 a barely credible cross-cultural story

Episode 8 of Betrayed: a tale of Christmas spiritual pollution, Series 2 of our ‘The Truth Lies in Bedtime Stories, from See Through News‘ podcast

Series 2 of our podcast The Truth Lies In Bedtime Stories takes place over 30 minutes or so on the morning of December 25th 1984, in Beijing.

For best results, start from Episode 1 – The Staircase

In Episode 8, we may or may not discover What Happens Next…

Series 2, Episode 8: Betrayed -Talking Turkey

If you enjoyed this series, please share it with others, and try our other stories.

Series 1: The Story of Ganbaatar: the only deep sea navigator in Mongolia

Series 3: Life on the Edge: Taiwan, China, America and the Moment I Realised Mrs. Wang Was Mostly Guessing What Her Husband Said

Written, Produced & Narrated by SternWriter

Audio Production by Samuel Wain

Betrayed is a podcast by The Truth Lies in Bedtime Stories, from See Through News.

See Through News is a non-profit social media network with the Goal of Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active.

We welcome your feedback via this short survey.

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Transcript

Episode 8: Talking Turkey

We left Calum and Robert straining their necks, open-mouthed, mute with astonishment, as the bus doors hiss shut behind them.

The bus pulls away. Dapper Man stands at the bus stop, his hands still clasped behind his back, his head still cocked to one side. 

He grows smaller. Within seconds, he disappears behind one of the buses and lorries, floating trees and houses borne along by a flood-torrent of bicycles.

In 1984 Beijing, after all, December 25th is just a day like any other.

Tucked inside the pocket of Robert’s army-issue cotton padded overcoat is the piece of coloured paper, with Wim’s instructions to get to the mythical Meat Market. 

A few hundred metres behind them, back at the Foreign Students dorm, classmates and friends from around the world await the result of Calum & Robert’s Mission to Save Christmas.

Does the Meat Market even exist?

If it exists, will Calum and Robert, with their elementary Chinese, be able to find it?

If they find it, will it have a turkey for sale?

If there’s a turkey, will it be alive or dead?

If it’s alive, how are Calum and Robert going to kill it? 

So many questions. Which would you like answered first?

Would you like to hear what Calum and Robert said to each other, once they’d recovered the power of speech?

Or are you more curious about Dapper Man, and how he ended up speaking like Mr. Darcy? 

I’ve implied that Dapper Man, and the PhD supervisor for Wim’s friend, the one studying Chinese translations of Jane Austen, are the same person. But could they be different people?

Maybe after all that business about finding a turkey on Christmas Day, you’d like the turkey issue resolved first. You want to discover whether Calum and Robert’s Mission to Save Christmas ended in success or failure..

What’s your vote? Turkeys may not vote for Christmas, but this is your chance to vote turkey in a Christmas story.

Fine, let’s talk turkey then. 

First off, is any of this true?

I’ve told you this story was written by SternWriter, but what else do you know about me? 

For a start, am I – the person reading this script I’ve claimed is by SternWriter – SternWriter?

What kind of a name is SternWriter, anyway?

And where are all these other noises coming from?  Let’s have those geese again, Sam.

Do you really think we recorded dozens of live geese on a bicycle?

How would you even know what it sounded like?

Did you not know that geese go mute when suspended upside down?

Probably not, as I just made that up. 

At the end of each episode, I say this podcast series is called ‘The Truth Lies in Bedtime Stories, by See Through News’. 

I mention the See Through News website, and its Goal of Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active.  

What does any of this have to do with Carbon Drawdown?  What the hell is Carbon Drawdown anyway?  And what are ‘Inactive’ and ‘Active’ supposed to mean in this context? 

So far this episode has contained a lot of questions, but have you noticed a sly trick?

I started out asking myself, the writer, questions on your behalf. But then I started asking you, the listener, questions instead.

Have you noticed I’m asking you another question right now?

Isn’t it about time you got some answers, after investing so much time in Calum and Robert, and their Mission to Save Christmas?

It’s perfectly natural to want to know how the story finishes. And it’s perfectly natural to want all the narrative threads neatly tied up, Agatha Christie style.

Here’s another question – how often in real life have you found all the narrative threads neatly tied up, Agatha Christie stye?  

Have you ever known anyone to Live Happily Ever After?  

When you think about it, is living happily ever after even such a great prospect?  

Happy ever after implies stasis, stalemate, inaction.  A place where Nothing Ever Happens. 

In the real world, loads of things are happening all the time, we’re in constant change. Indeed, the changes we’re experiencing now are happening on a planetary scale, at unprecedented pace. Real life is messy, unpredictable, very much unresolved.

In The Truth Lies In Bedtime Stories podcast, we tell you that we tell you ‘fictionalised true stories’. 

I’ve not been issueing blow-by-blow updates on which bits of this story are True, and which are Lies. That would have been tiresome. Spoiled the flow. Got in the way.

If you feel left in suspense, open-mouthed like Calum and Robert on the bus, seeing Dapper Man being swallowed up by the traffic, you must be itching for some resolution. 

Well…

Calum and Robert never found the market. 

They were so discombobulated by the Dapper Man incident, they pushed their way off the bus as the next stop. They raced back along the crowded pavements, dodging vegetable-sellers and schoolchildren, craning their necks above the heads of Beijing pedestrians.

When Calum and Robert finally made it to the Bus Stop, a knot of passengers was already gathering. They turned to the foreigners, and immediately formed a new audience. 

If you’re entertained by laowai just standing there and chatting to each other, imagine how much better it would be to find laowai with their hands on their knees, chests heaving, great plumes of vapour emerging from their panting mouths.

Calum and Robert scanned their audience for Dapper Man, but none of this crowd stood with their hands clasped behind their backs, their eyes to the sky, an ear cocked. 

Dapper Man was gone…

That’s quite neat, isn’t it? A good compromise between resolving dramatic tension, and leaving gaps for you to fill with your own imagination. 

That’s what short stories are meant to do, right? Give you just enough sense of character to feel you might know what the protagonists do next, and just enough plot to feel you can extrapolate what happens next.

Still feeling a bit short-changed? Need another strand or two tied up? OK.

Calum and Robert slowly catch their breath. 

The plumes of vapour coming from their mouths, slowly revert to puffs. A bus arrives, the crowd breaks up, a new audience forms.

The streets around the Foreign Languages University bustle and teem as usual. Beijing on December 25th 1984 is, after all, just a day like any other. 

In the few minutes between delivering his whimsical, Mr. Darcy zinger, and Calum and Robert’s breathless return to the Bus Stop, Dapper Man could have boarded a dozen different buses,disappeared down two dozen different alleys. 

Eventually, with a glance and a shake of the head, Calum and Robert accept Dapper Man has disappeared. 

Suddenly the turkey doesn’t seem so important. 

In that moment, the efforts of their dozens of foreign friends a few hundred metres away, busy reproducing their facsimile of home in their little insulated bubble, seem irrelevant, trifling, unimportant. 

A Foreign Fantasy. The kind of thing Outside Country People indulge in because they can afford to, oblivious to the bruised, battered reality of the country they claim to be interested in. 

So much for Calum & Robert’s Mission to Save Christmas.

Standing at the Bus Stop, a fresh audience awaits their next performance. 

Calum and Robert realise their appetite for turkey disappeared along with Dapper Man…

Better? Still unsatisfactory? Still feel a bit cheated? Short-changed? 

Betrayed? 

I’ve done my bit, it’s really up to you now.  

Which kind of story do you want? 

Do you prefer messy Truth, or neat Lies?

If you enjoyed Betrayed, a Tale of Christmas Spiritual Pollution, why not try Series 3 of The Truth Lies In Bedtime Stories. Life on the Edge: Taiwan, China, America and the Moment I Realised Mrs. Wang Was Mostly Guessing What Her Husband Said