Miànzi: Face

Perhaps no other aspect of Chinese culture gets as much attention or is as difficult for foreigners to understand, as face. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like such a complicated subject. After all, the concept of ‘saving face’ seems like a general human principle, hardly unique to Chinese culture. We all think we know what…

Three-Point Turn, Chinese Style

This is a photo celebration of the Chinese three-point turn. There’s no other driving  strategy as predictable on Shanghai’s streets as this particular maneuver. A turn missed? (Why not just turn at the next block?) Evading congestion at the upcoming intersection? (There was congestion at the preceding intersection, too.) Left your oven on? (The ayi…

Life Elevated

Landing in Salt Lake City after a long flight from Shanghai is always breathtaking. The valley is wide open, the white salt flats make a striking contrast to the lake, with its hues of brown, blue, green, and red. The mountain ranges lining the valley are snow covered more often than not. Driving away from…

Pirates, DVDs and Moral Decline

“Damnation seize my soul if I give you quarters or take any from you.” — Blackbeard A few years ago, I dropped off a Christmas gift – a small jar of Vermont maple syrup – to a friend in the States. A day or two later I received a thank you note via email. “What a…

Dear Japan

I don’t know how else to say this: I’m in love. China pales in comparison to you, (not that I expected it to shine). Don’t feel bad; I’ve always had issues with China. I know you and China have had your differences too, (don’t forget, you’ve had differences with America as well), but you’ve come…

40 Ways to Know You’re Back in China

After a lovely holiday break, it’s back in Shanghai. There may be fifty ways to leave your lover, but I could only come up with forty ways to know you are back in China. Here’s something a little less thinky than the dog meat post. Your yoga class is on the 39th floor You think…

The Nasty Bites: Looking Your Food in the Eye

“Cooking puts several kinds of distance between the brutal facts of the matter (dead animal for dinner) and the dining-room table set with crisp linens and polished silver.” –Michael Pollan, Cooked “ … the stew of meat that’s been cut into geometric cubes and rendered tender by long hours in the pot represents a deeper…

Guizhou Rising

“We need to leave.” I spoke with urgency as I looked over at my travel companion. She didn’t seem to be worried about the vibe, but I was. We had just made our way to the end of a short, dirt trail in the mountains of Guizhou Province, and turning a corner unannounced, we found…

Squatting in Zion

I’ve squatted many times in and around Zion National Park. In fact, I’ve squatted my way all across the upper portion of the Colorado Basin, which encompasses most of southern Utah. Typically there was a tent in the distance or a backpack next to me. But on my next trip to Zion, I will apparently…

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…