Shaoxing is a magical place for me. There are a few others in China–Qingdao, Moganshan, and Xiangshan just outside Beijing. These aren’t obscure places. Many people have been there, but maybe they don’t see them the way I do. I have been to each of them many times and even after years of separation I don’t need any map to get around. Each is a separate and important thread of my China story. Previously I have written about Xiangshan. Now I want to talk about Shaoxing.
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.
A week ago we woke to the unexpected announcement that SmartBeijing.com had closed. Few saw this coming. Just as surprising was just how little coverage the closure got. Beijinger blogged it, throwing a few crumbs their way. Sister site SmartShanghai mentioned it on their Wire in between “Shanghai Dolls Networking Night This Thursday” and “Mauro Colagreco, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Theo Croker At Unico”. Someone posted the news on the Beijing sub-reddit and it drew zero comments and only 5 upvotes, 1 less than “Vietnamese Food Recommendation In Haidian”. No one seems to realize that for the first time in like what 7, 8 years Morgan Short is off the air. This, my friends, is wrong and now I am going to rectify it.
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.
August 12, a Wednesday, the nighttime quiet of Tianjin’s Binhai Special Economic Zone was shredded by a series of explosions. It quickly became a tragedy of national proportions. A lot of firefighters died, possibly because they themselves caused the blasts using water to put out a fire. The South China Morning Post published this excellent article detailing China’s firefighting infrastructure in which the lowest level–the level most likely to be first response–is almost completely untrained and untested. We are two weeks out and now it’s just about the dead fish, right? Maybe not.
I don’t get pissed off much by hypocrisy anymore, not nearly as much as I did when I was in high school. Having lived through two decades since then filled with plenty of it in work and life and love, I’ve come to see putting up with hypocrisy as a price you pay for being left in some semblance of peace. But sometimes I see stuff so egregious I get pissed off and want to write about it. That’s what happened a few couple weeks ago.
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.
It’s surprising no one has ever titled a book “Sexpat.” Certainly this book has been lived many times all around the world, especially in China. Plus it’s a much better title than Shanghai Cocktales, the recently published memoir which was reviewed–and slammed–this past week on Beijing Cream. It reminded me of that simmering desultory debate about writing about sex in China.