The Two-Body Problem

A few months ago, I had lunch in Shanghai with a very pregnant American friend preparing to give birth in China (and she has since had a baby girl). As I sat listening to her hilarious stories of body shaming—a regular occurrence at her doctor’s office—I realized that I could not recall ever seeing a…

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…

Regarding Wulumuqi

Wulumuqi Lu (pronounced WUL-u-MU-chi, or more authentically, UL-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…

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,…