The Cultural Landscape of China’s Urban Parks

For a city its size, Shanghai had been short on two things—green space and art. –New York Times, 36 Hours in Shanghai, 2017 I have to agree with The Times that Shanghai is short on art relative to many large cities—artists have pesky habits like bucking authority—but green space? I simply disagree. Surprisingly dense canopies of…

Thai Zeed Recipe: A Little Slice of (Lost) Heaven

We’ve finally arrived at the sweet spot of this year, post-Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas. Admittedly, this is a filler post. I’m working on a longer piece comparing China’s urban parks with America’s, and it is taking me in unexpected directions. It seems I need a little encouragement and some holiday cheer. Visitors to Shanghai are inevitably…

China In Relief

I write this week from Singapore, a city-state that legislates politeness; the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act made it illegal to incite hostility toward most religious groups, and vandalism can beget a caning. Moreover, Singapore fines citizens for jaywalking, importing gum, littering, urinating in public and spitting, misdemeanors that throw China sharply into relief. Singapore is…

The Constant Struggle

In this new century, no matter where you live—the mountains of Tibet or the beaches of Tahiti—you will most certainly have a cell phone. This is especially true in China, a country whose citizens are widely known for their cell phone addiction. If you’re an expat in China, you’ll need to buy an unlocked phone,…

Regarding Wulumuqi

Wulumuqi Lu (pronounced WUL-u-MU-chi) is the heart and soul of Shanghai’s Former French Concession. Linguistically speaking Wulumuqi is without question the best road name I’ve ever heard. If you say the word aloud—and you should—it will be instantly clear that this is another one of those words that grants pure phonetic joy. As streets in…

Biggest, Tallest, Fastest, Highest: China’s Attempt to Beat Everyone

(or) How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept China China’s rapid modernization and the rise of its powerful new economy is a topic of deep anxiety for many Americans. The Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” had everything to do with China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia and its economic strength. For now, the US…

This Mortal Coil

“For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they were born, the city apartment or the farm in which they learnt to walk . . . . And because you cannot know persons of a nation foreign to you except from observation, it is difficult to give them…

The Ubiquity of Bamboo

If you’ve visited a city in China, you’ll understand why I say that bamboo is the chief artifact of Chinese utilitarianism. It’s everywhere. Scaffolding is the most conspicuous example, but during a 15-minute walk around Shanghai you’ll see many other forms: brooms with bristles and shafts of bamboo, pole saws, hanging rods, fences, food, platforms,…

Mountains, Monks, and Monasteries

Garze, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture This is a place worth visiting. If Wikipedia can be trusted, the Kangding Airport is the third highest airport in the world at 14,022 ft—a mere 400 feet below the world’s highest airport, which is also in Tibetan China. In fact Tibet lays claim to all four of the world’s highest…

The Flower and the Serpent Under It

Beauty and the Beast. Like all cities, Shanghai is a little of both. The outer rings of Shanghai (Dante invoked!) play host to more rural residents who land there to set up their urban lives. Living in Minhang, a district out past the Hongqiao airport was a world away from our current home in the former French Concession.

A Fish Without A Bicycle

China measures functionality by the turning spokes of the wheel. An artifact of European industrialization, the bicycle and its uses mirror a country’s values–it’s a means of leisure and athleticism in the U.S. and Europe. But in China, the bicycle is all about utility.