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…

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,…

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.