Some surprising news went around last week – Kungfu Komedy veteran Turner Sparks was doing his last stand-up show in Shanghai. And then a few days later came some more surprising news – Kungfu Komedy veteran Joe Schaefer was doing his last stand-up show in Shanghai. And that was followed by some more surprising news – Kungfu Komedy veteran Paul Johnson was – you guessed it – also doing his last stand-up show in Shanghai. These shows all went down a within a week of each other. So what the heck is going on with Shanghai’s best stand-up outfit? Are the comedians just tired of risking their lives in the Kartel elevator?
I recently moved apartments. Everyone hates moving, except me. I kind of like it. At least I like getting to know a new neighborhood, exploring it, discovering what it has to offer. And after a few months I can say that my current neighborhood is one of my all time favorites. Here’s why.
It’s that season, just before Spring Festival, when beggars proliferate, hoping to make some extra money before the holiday like everyone else. Two new ones appeared in my neighborhood last weekend, pitiable things out there in the cold holding pieces of ripped cardboard scrawled with their sad stories. They stood at intersections of busy streets, shuffling from car to car, getting nothing. And then there was one new one near my office near iAPM. He sat on the ground, shirtless. His left arm was the size and shape of a cucumber. I gave them all money. Just a coin. I almost always do. Here’s why.
A few weeks ago, before the end of the year, I found myself wandering around Lujiazui at 7:30 in the morning. It wasn’t the good part of Lujiazui you see in photos, but the part with waterstained concrete buildings dating back to the 1990s. I was looking for the Huaxia Bank Building which holds a branch of the Ruici Clinic where I would finally join one of the last great events still in existence from China’s Communist past–the health check.
It started with a conversation in someone’s living room between three foreigners during the recent Victory Day Holiday. “Shanghai’s boring. There’s nothing to do here anymore. Nothing’s new. Nothing’s interesting,” said one. “How come there aren’t any good clubs? In a city this size there should be awesome clubs playing good music every night of the week,” said another. “Yeah, there should be like 10 URVCs–each one playing a different type of music,” answered the first. “It’s a war,” added the third. “It’s a war on anything decent that is held in common.” Part of it, I concluded, is lassitude and age. Collectively, these three expats have half a century worth of years of life spent in China. But that’s not the whole story. I thought about Shanghai’s Great World.
This summer marks four years living in Pudong, split between Century Park and Jinqiao. I used to think it was a curse, but over time I have come to see it as a blessing, especially for someone like me who loves cycling. Over the last four years I’ve cycled all around Pudong. Nature here is much more accessible than in Puxi. It’s a great way to spend a sunny Saturday. So I’ve put together this guide to my favorite Pudong cycling routes.
Sometime in 2016 Shanghai Disneyland will open to the public–Mickey, Minnie and the largest Enchanted Storybook Castle in the world. By now everyone in Shanghai has been touched by Disney in some way. Either you know someone who works for it, overheard someone talking about it, made a bit of money on land speculation around it, or all three. It’s also got symbolic meaning as a perpetuation of Expo, a permanent fictive happiness walling off Shanghai from the crises multiplying across the mainland. So on Saturday, under gorgeous blue skies, I set out on bike to find the Middle Kingdom’s Magic Kingdom. Not only did I find it, but I infiltrated it. I got as close to the Enchanted Castle as any non-Disney employee has gotten.
Saturday, May 16 marked the 10th Moganshan Triathlon, and probably its last–at least in its current form. “Sometimes you just know when it’s time to move on,” event founder Tori Widdowson told me at the post-race barbecue. The first year there were only a dozen participants. This year there were 40 in the individual Olympic distance category alone. Another 25 filled out the sprint distance along with 12 relay teams. Together, almost 100 people participated, mainly foreigners, and a few Chinese as well. People came from as far away as Beijing to take part. Brands like Osprey, Specialized and HUUB donated prizes. It’s seen admirable growth in a few short years, so why is it ending?
Once upon a time, I started a website. It was called Wisdom of the East. It was loosely inspired by a zine out of L.A. called The Crash Site.
There were no blogs back then. Back then, if we wanted to call our websites something else, we called them zines. So I launched my first zine in early 2000. It bounced between a couple of free hosting platforms, none of which are around anymore, before succumbing to entropy. It was swallowed up in the black hole which had not yet been eradicated by near-infinite server capacity. Nowadays everything online is permanent, including and especially, all the dumb shit that you do. For the older stuff, we have to do a little work to make it come alive again.
I was living in Shanghai at the time and pretty much most of the content on the zine was China-related. Back then there basically were no English language websites in China, except Beijing Scene, the web version of the sorta-famous pre-TBJ, pre-CW print mag, and Chinanow.com.cn. By some miracle of goodness or delusion, Scott Savitt, the lead editor of the mag who was kicked out of China for trying to run over a police officer, still pays the registration and hosting fees every year. Chinanow was not so lucky. There was something else called Renao.com, but that only lasted a little while. They once tried to suck in my site, but I refused on principle.
Over the next couple of months, I am going to resuscitate some writings from the Wisdom period. Why? Because nostalgia matters. That and I can’t think of anything better to write about.
So, to kick things off, I have excerpted below the sum total of the ShockTherapy weekly updates which I used to send out to a small but influential list of people. This would have been your proto-traffic-driving newsletter. But I only saw it as a way to make people read what I was writing. Because I was convinced it was the best stuff in China. It may not have been, but at least it was way better than what I write now. Onward!
This is not a China post, even though this is a China blog. It’s a post about the vicissitudes of life, inspired by the fact that even after 16 years in China I still sometimes stop in the middle of things, look around and wonder: how the hell did I end up here? On the page it seems like a rhetorical question, but there really is an answer. All the little occurrences over time wound me through a maze of possibilities. But some of those occurrences loom larger than others. Going to Memorial Park Middle School, for example, is one of them.