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Illustration by Simon Pemberton

500 Lifetimes [private]

On September 10, 2014, just a few hours before dawn in Bhutan’s Chumey Valley, a teenage boy and girl hanged themselves side by side from a tree in the sloping, silvery conifer forest behind their high school. They had been caught in a relationship, which is forbidden by school rules, and were likely to be suspended. Their shared noose was the boy’s kabney, the cream-colored scarf made of raw silk which is part of the traditional attire (along with the robe-like gho) required for Bhutanese males in formal settings. At the end of a work day, it is common to see men on the street folding their kabneys with dignity and tenderness.

A health worker on the police investigative team took a photo of the hanging bodies with his phone. He sent the image to friends via WeChat. Within minutes, the grisly picture went viral. “True love” was a common pronouncement on social media among young Bhutanese, who saw the deaths as the ultimate romantic sacrifice. Older Bhutanese considered it another sign of the idyllically isolated country’s tainted bargain with modern life. Most people, of any age, saw the deaths as karma.

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Illustration by Jun Cen

Fear Factors

When I moved to China nearly two years ago, one of the first things I bought was a bicycle. I live on a university campus, where everyone rides, and the bike was cheap: $17 for an ancient Five Rams cruiser, with a lively color scheme of teal and rust. I used to cycle to work when I lived in New York, dodging tourists and threading in between delivery trucks. But the moment I pulled out onto a street in China, it became clear that this was going to be a different experience.

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