Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Stones of Suzhou

I don't even know what to call them, but Suzhou's signature openwork-window-screen-grille thingies are trippy to the point of delirium!

Values creep

The Core Values of Socialism 社会主义核心价值观, which I spotted all over Beijing, have come to Shanghai, a bit different in each district. The above I spotted Saturday in Honkou 虹口; the rather disconcerting one at left is from Xuhui 徐汇 (where they're just our values 我们的价值观).

Monday, March 30, 2015

We're The New School (again!)

So the New School has a new "visual identity," the third since I've been associated with the place. But it may be the first I like. (It's actually animated: see it here.) The team which put it together, working together with a celebrated logo-designer (MoMA, Metropolitan Opera, etc.), doesn't mention the New School visual identity of its first several decades - they do mention that the two lines recall the Joseph Urban building at 66 West 12th Street, echoed also in the new signature building - but there's clearly an influence. I appreciate that continuity.
This is part of a much broader visibility campaign. We're a "design-inspired, human-centered university" offering an "integrated, flexible and personalized" education, something conveyed by the fact that the custom-designed font - called (of course!) Neue - has three widths for each letter and an algorithm which determines which to use when. This makes for the endearingly wonky look (my words here, not the adminstration's!) while communicating that the divisions are related but distinct. E.g., Lang's and Parsons' As are different sizes. Kinda cool!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Visible cities

One of the pleasures of having visitors is that you get to visit the place you live. I discovered many of New York's sights only because visitors told me about them - usually in the form of "what, you've never been to ....?!" Another pleasure, for a place you haven't lived so long, is discovering that you have somehow picked up enough street savvy to treat visitors to a credibly "local" visit in the place you live. This happened for me with a few visitors to Shanghai in the Fall, and a new season has just started. My sister and nephews arrive for a visit next week, so I've been busy learning about Shanghai for families!
Some friends from Japan have just arrived for a few days, too. Tomorrow we go together to Suzhou (about time, I hear you say), but yesterday and today was Shanghai. We met for dinner at the elegant Peace Hotel on the Bund, where they managed to find a deal, and I showed them how to avoid the crowds of East Nanjing Road and enjoy the European-like cityscape. We soon found a nice nono-touristy restaurant with big tables with glass lazy susans, tasty local food - including fried rice for their daughter. After, since they're both scholars, I took them to nearby Fuzhoulu and the book palace, where we found some facsimiles of historic maps of Shanghai (we both picked up the one from 1946, above). One of my friends, N, studies early 20th century Japanese literature and no small number of important figures have connections with Shanghai, so she recognized the names of streets, etc.
Today was explicitly in the footsteps of these Japanese literati. Turns out the the area just to my south - the northern edge of Shanghai in 1946 (above) had been the Japanese Concession, and a bookstore, called Uchiyama Shōten (内山書店, Chinese: neishanshudian) was an important gathering place for Chinese as well as Japanese intellectuals. With my current Shanghai map and a book my friends had brought from Japan, which superimposes past Japanese Shanghai (in red) on a contemporary map (the first image above) we were able to find it - a bank now stands where it was, but houses a small museum on its second floor. Uchiyama was a friend and supporter of the great Lu Xun, whose house nearby we visited, too, in an area of old lilongs like the ones described in Shanghai Homes. Somehow I managed to get us into a tiny soup dumpling place across the street, too, N enthusing that Japanese writers' diaries were full of references to them. Not perhaps surprisingly, the Western and Chinese sources of my Shanghai nostalgia have never dwelt on what was going on in the Japanese Concession...
Speaking of Lu Xun I took my friends first to the park now named after him, and was able to share my delighted experience of amateur choirs, dancers, Peking opera, harmonica ensembles, etc. in a park today in perfect Spring flower. N made friends with some water calligraphers, too, and their daughter was a pretext for us all to take some rides in the amusement park. A perfect combination of new discoveries - I've never been to this charming area south of Lu Xun Park, though I see it from my train - and somehow playing the local guide. Playing the part I even nipped into a shop and got my friends some 青团, the special green rice balls prepared for the upcoming Qingming Festival. More soon...!

Saturday, March 28, 2015


A pink-white magnolia extravaganza on view near my house! Meanwhile (courtesy of my parents) in the California desert everything is golden!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Double vision

Wonder of wonders, my friend O, too, has a translation of Calvino's Invisible Cities! He even found a brief section of the Chinese translation which, with not too much handholding, I was able to (sort of) read!


Here's William Weaver's rendering of the same passage (it's the end of the first part of the second section, representative of the book's particular brand of melancholy):

"Journeys to relive your past?" was the Khan's question at this point, a question which could also have been formulated: "Journeys to recover your future?"
And Marco's answer was: "Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have."

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Maybe very awkward

Meanwhile, back in Chinese studies, I've been pulling my hair out over the translation in my textbook of 义务 as voluntary; duty, obligation and the phrase in a list of untranslated usages 也许非常别扭, which means something like perhaps extremely awkward. How can something be both voluntary and obligatory? How can something be perhaps very?

My teacher said that apparently contrary usages of 义务 happen in Chinese, too, but also offered that people perhaps do voluntary things out of a sense of duty - an ingenious, perhaps profound insight. (I remember when I was teaching English conversation in Japan and made up all sorts of things to answer people's questions, convinced that my suppositions didn't have to be correct, just to reassure my student that the English language made sense.) As for maybe very? It would only be in tension if someone were describing her own feeling, reporting that she was feeling perhaps extremely awkward (which would make it the kind of passive aggressive thing I thought it was). If it was one person trying to make sense of another's feelings - perhaps venturing a guess as to why someone was unusually subdued on some occasion - it makes perfect sense.

I'm only pretending to be annoyed. It's precisely where another language doesn't gloss easily in your own that you discover the differences between the languages and perhaps between the sensibilities of their users; disclosed, too, is the sublime artifice which is language itself. And if you've spent time with the later Wittgenstein, you expect insights of other kinds, too. Like just what voluntary means - no simple concept in English either! Or the slippery wonder which is maybe.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


In Maurilia, Calvino's Marco Polo may have anticipated today's China.

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities trans. William Weaver (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Second set of eyes

Here are a few more of my friend O's photos from Yangzhou. Some of them he took the same time I was taking a similar view, but not all: a canal, a bike bank, Tianningsi temple, the Grand Canal, Damingsi pagoda from Slender West Lake, a random non-tourist street, Heyuan, a Yangtze ferry.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fish that got away

Just made a very stupid mistake - deleted all the Yangzhou pictures on my camera's memory card without first downloading them! Don't think I can get them back. But it's not the end of the world. I took a few on my cellphone. My friend O took a few on his. Others I recall and can try to set down in, well, words. Indeed, some of them may come out better composed in words than they did as snaps, the lighting perfect, the angles just so, with never too much or too little distortion around the curving edges - and no other photographers' heads ruining the view! So let me try to tell you about Yangzhou 扬州, my experience of whose half-hidden and unglamorous charms may well turn out to be best served by such indirection. The city's most famous site is the 瘦西湖 "Slender West Lake," a vast parkland of gardens and pavilions and bridges over bodies of water of various kinds. (At least one artificial waterfall had mist-ers along a little bridge to ensure rainbows.) I thought it too big, and certainly overpriced at RMB150. The five pavilion bridge (left) which is Yangzhou's icon was nice enough, but I was as taken by the willows luminous in their first flush of flower. (Some had found their way into braided garlands around the heads of little girls.) Themeparky 大明寺 Damingsi nearby was something of a bust, too. (I enjoyed a porcelain Guangdi who had crashed the party of red-golden luohan arrayed around the equally red and new buddhas in the main hall, behind them a papier-mâché-crude vertical spread of the Journey to the West.) Perhaps the netizens who dissed Yangzhou as not even a ghost of its former self, its glorious 2500-year history wiped out to make way for the generic urban sprawl you see throughout China, saw only these places.

But bundled with the tourist traps in a multi-site pass were two lovely smaller gardens within the old square of the city, 个园 Geyuan and 何园 Heyuan, which were totally worth the price of admission. Both boast glorious rockeries - those twisted hole-y grey stone fancies, here rising high into the sky and burrowed with dark pathways and steep little stairs. In Heyuan they are beautifully interlaced with a two-storey system of walkways and light-filled rooms and a few slender palmtrees. I'm afraid I have no pictures of these two - but many of those I took were of the magnolias which seemed like flights of white doves rising skyward, some against intricate grey-tiled roofs, and a few, taken from one of the elevated walkways, down through a spray of blossoms to a pond full of golden carp - those midair schools I really regret losing!

But what was most enjoyable about Yangzhou was more than discovering these sites. It was exploring a town small enough you could get around easily - especially because the city offers free bikes with bike banks conveniently located everywhere (I'd show you one such bank, in cheerful primary colors of red, green and blue, if I could). If retaining little of its ancient splendor, it is still a place whose long life you could feel in low-slung old neighborhoods and bridge-straddled canals connecting all to the biggest of all canals, the 大运河 Grand Canal, which meets the Yangtze here. Just off the tourist-oriented 东关 Dongguan Street, which felt like it could be in any Chinese city recreating heritage in easily consumable forms, we found dark atmospheric alleyways between hutong-like houses (the photo above is O's), deep down one of which was a simple hand-pulled noodle place; neighborhood families, some on motor scooters, passed under the awning between the kitchen and the four rudimentary tables as we savored the true 地道 taste there Friday night. The spread of unrecognizables at 小觉林素食馆 Xiaojuelin, the hoary local vegetarian restaurant where we ate Saturday night (below), also offered more memorable food than the famous Yangzhou fried rice, crab-filled soup dumplings and baozi we had at one of the city's celebrated 茶社 tea houses; the "pork" meatballs were tastier, too!

Taking three days for a place most people visit for at most two, cruising around on the free bikes and following the scent of old Yangzhou, we had a grand time. I leave you with a selfie by the fool who thought he was following - at once intrepidly and ironically - in the footsteps of Marco Polo. (Others asked to take pictures of me - we saw only two other visible 外国人 foreigners the whole weekend, so I was some people's first live specimen; I now wish I'd asked the excited folks who posed me in front of a wax diorama from the distinguished history of Buddhism in Yangzhou at 天宁寺 Tianningsi - 鑑真 Jianzhen (Ganjin) setting off to bring the Dharma to 7th-century Japan - to send me a copy!) I took (and lost) pictures of much of the exhibit in the Marco Polo Memorial Hall, too, where he is fit seamlessly into a narrative of China's age-old cosmopolitan culture and international appeal. Polo claims to have been made governor of Yangzhou in the 1280s, a claim other things I'd read treated with some skepticism since there was no corroborating evidence on the Chinese side. But in this commemorative museum unconstrained by actual artifacts or original documents his claims were presented as true. Who really wants or needs evidence anyway? Because of the Marco Polo connection, I'd brought along Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, whose elegaic caprices of memory and fantasy - poetic fable-cities Marco Polo describes to a Kublai Khan weary of his hard-won actual empire - may have contributed to our enjoyment of Yangzhou, also... along with the poem by Li Bai which sent us there in the first place, and which points toward an unrealized Yangzhou, too.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ruff cut 扬州

Hello through a quick VPN window from Yangzhou, which turns out to have much more going on than the (many) disappointed and dismissive descriptions which say there's nothing left of its glorious history. (My Rough Guide doesn't even mention it!) I'll have photos for you when I get back to Shanghai; for now here's a page from a travel notebook by two professional illustrators who visited Yangzhou last February, drawing themselves as dogs! They found some lovely spots; we've found more!

Thursday, March 19, 2015


I'm going on another little trip, this one to the 2500-year-old city (they're celebrating the anniversary this year) of Yangzhou, near where the Grand Canal mouthed in the Yangtse River and where, according to legend, Marco Polo spent years as an official. It was the idea of a friend who was reminded, at the start of the month, of this poem of Li Bai's:

故人西辞黄鹤楼, 烟花三月下扬州。

孤帆远影碧空尽, 惟见长江天际流。
It's a poem people must learn in school, as everyone I've told I'm going to Yangzhou starts reciting it! Here's a translation I found which my friend says doesn't really capture the beauty of the language:

You have left me behind, old friend, at the Yellow Crane Terrace, 
On your way to visit Yangzhou in the misty month of flowers; 
Your sail, a single shadow, becomes one with the blue sky, 
Till now I see only the river, on its way to heaven. 

Now the poem doesn't even take place in Yangzhou, and the "misty month of flowers," identified as the third month, is of course the third month of the lunar year, but I'm sure we'll have fun exploring! My access to this blog, as ever when I travel, is not assured, so you might not hear from me before Sunday. Know I'm following in another Marco's footsteps!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Iconic! A view of Pudong from across the river, at a swank 5th-floor wine bar on the Bund. But below is something even more interesting about nocturnal Shanghai. I'm not sure if you'll be make out this glimpse of the upcoming summer I spotted on my way from Bund to Yuyuan metro station: outdoor karaoke on TVs, some mounted on the backs of motorcycles, with groups of people gathered around in an otherwise lightless parkway. Along with several karaoke stations a clearing played host to groups of people practicing swing dancing, all in the warm dark!


Tried my hand at a brief essay in Chinese. My teacher S suggested a good many changes, but said it has the feel of sanwen, 散文. Here's it is, and what Bing Translate made of it:


今年也一样,三月突然就到了。可是今年是我的“中国的一年”所以我就惊了两次。第一次是“三月到了!不可能!”第二次是“三月了!我得快要 回国了!” 老实说,今年“三月了!” 有特别的意思。那特别的意思是 “我只有三个月就要离开!”


 这三个月怎么用好呢? 我知道,六月的离开其实是“再见”,我将来一定会再回中国来见我的朋友们。 这三个月,我想最好的用法是一边总结过去的经验,一边体验新的东西, 一边为下次来中国做 准备。

In March! [March already!]

As every year, one day it's March. Because February is shorter than other months, March always come too early. Year after year, I have never [gotten] used [to it].

This year too, the March arrived suddenly. But this is my "China year" so I was surprised twice. First is "March is coming! No way! "The second is" March! I was going back [must soon return] home! "To be honest, this year's" March! "Have a special meaning. That particular meaning is "I only have three months left! ”

My "China year" three-fourths really did in the past? Don't there is no [It never was] 12-months. I only to China in early September last year, has received only a 90-day visa. So I didn't stay in China in December. On January 5 when I come back to China, 180-day visa. Three months plus six months, not a year, just nine months. In June, I should [must] leave.

How to use the three months is good [well]? I know that June's departure was [is not] "Goodbye", in the future I will definitely come back to see my friends. In these three months, I think the best use is summing up past experience, while experiencing new things, while getting ready for the next time you come to China.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Under the Dome

Just watched what some are calling China's Silent Spring, the self-funded documentary "Under the Dome" by investigative TV reporter Chai Jing. Structured like a TED talk, it's almost two hours of damning information about Chinese pollution, the toothlessness of regulation and the fecklessness of everyone else. We see pollution-creating infractions happening with impunity at every level and learn that China's two fine-sounding environmental protection laws have not once been used. Hard-hitting muckraking journalism at its best! You can watch it on YouTube with English subtitles - I did.

Theoretically, I wouldn't be able to watch it here, not any more. It was released online at the start of the month and was soon watched by 100 million people, and promoted by the People's Daily site. The newly appointed Minister of Environment sent an SMS to Chai Jing congratulating her on raising awareness about the problem. But then press directives advised media outlets not to fan the flames, and soon video websites were directed to take it down. A friend assures me that it would be incomplete just to say it's been "censored," though - he thinks later taking it down was the price paid for first making something so critical of entrenched industry interests available in the first place: everyone who needs to know about it knows about it, and doubtless has access to it.

Focusing on censorship in China, as Peter Hessler describes with characteristic brilliance in a recent piece for The New Yorker, can be like looking the wrong way through a telescope. What's remarkable is not that an enormous apparatus of state control stops some things but that so much else gets through - including most of the things the apparatus tries to stop. The remarkable thing in this case is that this film, professional and clearly the work of someone with access and support, was made and distributed. My friend thinks it actually fits the current government push for "rule of law" - for a legal system whose laws are actually enforced. It calls for market competition to push state enterprises to innovate, urges its viewers to report infractions to their local authorities and suggests that regulation might be better if not drafted by the industries it's supposed to regulate. Corruption, we see, is pervasive and makes a mockery of efforts to tackle the pollution problem, but there's no suggestion the system as a whole might generate and sustain such corruption.

Perhaps, as in other countries, China's environmental crisis will mobilize change, getting people to see the need to rethink a way of living and doing business whose problems they had accepted as both unintended and inevitable, the price of admission to modern life. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Friday, March 13, 2015

Thirty years of qigong research

Thursday was the thirtieth anniversary of the (re)establish- ment of the Shanghai Qigong Institute. As a friend of a French-Catalan couple who are involved with the place, I got to attend the festive opening of their museum, the biggest museum dedicated to Qigong in China. They had a small museum before (1993, updated in 2000) but this new one is thrice the size of the original - over 200 square meters. One has to wonder who paid for this expansion... I can't say I inspected everything on display and mentioned in the Chinese-French official visit, but it seems a bit of a stretch. The three rooms of the historical section have no actual historical artifacts, though there are two replicas of artifacts and several of the kinds of statues you can find in shops in any Chinatown in the US; pablum from classic texts confirms that qigong is safely ancient, Chinese and - this may be key - medical. The contemporary section is more interesting, and tells of the abiding commitment to qigong research in communist China (except, of course, for the nearly fatal years of the Cultural Revolution), ending with a photo of the current president with a quote about the value of traditional Chinese medicine. Token of renewed commitment from the Party or an appeal for such commitment?

Oh, and I got to (had to!) be in the commemorative group photo.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Patrick Riley, RIP

I just learned that Patrick Riley has passed away. Patrick was a political philosopher, historian of political thought, and the closest thing to Leibniz I think I've ever met. I was never officially his student - he was on the faculty at Wisconsin Madison (and managed somehow at the same time to live and work in Cambridge, Mass) - but he was my main Leibniz adviser on a dissertation - on Leibniz! Patrick Riley wasn't even on my committee, but he was all over my dissertation, and all over the career I made for a decade as a Leibnizian and dixhuitièmiste

Patrick's edition of Leibniz' Political Writings and later his Leibniz' Universal Jurisprudence: Justice as the Charity of the Wise (1996) shaped my whole view of the philosopher, and of myself as an emerging citizen of the république des lettres. I first wrote to him in January of 1992, and first met him in October 1993 - I still have the letters on my computer, though in a format only TextEdit will open. The pretext was a connection I thought I saw between Leibniz' writings on China (!) and something Patrick had written. What a graduate student I sounded:

I am writing about the last of the three previously unpublished pieces you present in the 1988 edition [of Leibniz, Political Writings], "On the Greeks as Founders of Rational Theology." If I am not mistaken, there is a reference to China in this lecture which it would perhaps be appropriate to point out in a future edition, and, arising from this, I have a question about the translation at one point. (Obviously, having no access to the original, my query is purely presumptive. Further, you are probably familiar with E. J. Aiton's biography, in which Leibniz' abiding interest in things Chinese is discussed, so what follows will come as no surprise to you. Nevertheless, ...)

Unfortunately, this being before the days of email (which Patrick never embraced), I don't have his response... I'm sure it was not just forbearing (though he wasn't interested in Leibniz sinologue) but effusive and welcoming. I was driving up to visit friends in Cambridge regularly in those days so started meeting him every time I went up there. At a place called Cafe Pamplona he became a kind of Geheimrat adviser to me. A remarkable scholar he was also remarkably self-effacing. I remember being very touched by how attached he was to his own teachers, getting teary whenever Judith Shklar's name came up - which it always did, since it was Cafe Pamplona where he used to come with her, too. He seemed to me - and this fit the Leibnizian view he opened up to me of a commitment to justice and scholarship anchored in love - to be someone driven by a tender and almost childlike love of human goodness. He was a citizen of no place and every place. No time and every time, too - he looked more like an eighteenth century character (even caricature) than anyone I knew; the photo above is all I could find and doesn't really capture it. Our friendship wasn't framed by any institution or place - it felt based on serendipity through and through - and I saw him lots of places, as often as not without knowing he'd be there. With someone who made caritas sapientis believable, one wasn't surprised at moments of harmonie préétablie.

It has, I am sorry to realize, been a very long time since I last saw Patrick, though not as long as I remembered. I'll mention that last time in a moment, but first let me tell you about the time I remember most clearly - it involves Leibniz, and those inspired by Leibnizian loves - and one I'd forgotten I'd forgotten about.

The time I remember most vividly was in Fall 1999. I was taking my Japanese friend Sasaki Yoshiaki around Germany - his first trip abroad - and since he was a great Leibniz fan, we went places important in the great polymath's biography: Hannover, Wolfenbüttel, Goslar, and, eventually, his hometown Leipzig. Sasaki is the Japanese translator of Leibniz' Theodicy and his view of Leibniz as shaped by Patrick Riley as mine. I was only sorry I couldn't introduce him to Patrick back in the US, the living spirit of our hero. The day we showed up in Leipzig turned out to be an important anniversary - 10 years since the Monday meetings started at the Nikolaikirche which had helped bring the Wende - with a concert in the Nikolaikirche with some musicians we knew. (Part of it's on YouTube, though not the cliché-transcending performance of Beethoven's Fifth.) But first we nipped into the restaurant in what used, in DDR days, to be a police station, and long before that was the schoolhouse where young Leibniz went! We'd read that it had been lovingly restored to its schoolhouse appearance - as much at least as was compatible with serving beer and sausages. You picked up your food first, then entered the main hall to sit, but when we came into the room every table was full. What to do? Maybe there were seats behind the door, I said, and there were. Right next to ... yes, Patrick Riley!

A staggering coincidence, and the highlight of Sasaki's Leibnizian pilgrimage (meeting the great Patrick Riley! in Leibniz' childhood classroom! by harmonie préétablie!) ... but the wonder of it was that I wasn't even all that surprised to find him there! I had no idea Patrick was in Europe, let alone in Leipzig - and even being there together we might easily have missed each other, too (he was going to the concert, too). But I had by this time already come to expect to find Patrick in all sorts of unexpected places, the way one did Leibniz in the late 17th and early 18th century world of letters. And so the last time I saw him I described him in my diary as a little like Alfred Hitchcock when he inevitably appeared for a moment in each of his movies.

But I was going to describe one other time first, the one I'm surprised I'd forgotten. We were in Berlin, walking to Café Zwiebelfisch on Savignyplatz for dinner after the first day of the International Leibniz Congress (to which Patrick had helped me get an invitation). It was 2001. It was September 11th. In his hotel room he'd just heard that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. We were united in horrified disbelief, though we leapt to grab a special issue of some paper a newspaper boy was selling table to table (the time I saw the picture of the "jumpers"); only when we got back to the congress and met another philosopher trying in every way he could to resist the meaning of the words he'd just heard, that the towers had "pancaked," did we really start to understand. I'm surprised I'd forgotten that it was with Patrick that I experienced that, though I remember that one of the planes was a flight he'd regularly taken to visit his parents in California. Maybe that's why. That day wounded serendipity.

The last time I saw Patrick Riley was in London, March 22, 2003 - can it really be a dozen years ago? I was at the National Gallery, and had got a timed ticket for a big Titian exhibit (though I wasn't much of a Titian fan then). Here's how I described it in my diary:

Decided to go out and get some coffee before Titian, and as I left the building, my Albert Hitchcock cameo man was there — Patrick Riley, this time with his wife. I wasn’t even surprised, since I see him everywhere—Leipzig, but even San Diego! They came for a talk at Aberdeen and have made their way south, and I’m invited up to Cambridge to stay with them if I have a chance. 

I never had that chance. I didn't make plans to see him, since he seemed like someone who always turned up when he had to. Patrick continued and continues to shape my thinking on many things, though it seems (to me as well) to have moved far beyond the Leibnizian contexts in which it was first articulated. (I am in China, though...) If I thought of his appearances as a little like Hitchcock's cameos in his movies it's a sign that Patrick Riley felt like one of the directors of the movie of my life.

May you rest in peace, Patrick.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


My first letter in Chinese! My teacher Susan asked me to write a letter of job application modeled on one in our textbook where an American expresses interest in a position as 市场开发部经理 Manager of Market Development for a Chinese-Canadian joint venture. Remembering that she had told me she was thinking of opening a little boutique when she moves with her husband to the US later this year, I postdated my letter and proposed myself as 市场开发部经理 for her nascent boutique empire. She didn't have a Market Development section yet? I offered a perfect opportunity to imagine growth in many directions, perfectly poised with experience teaching English to Japanese junior high school students as well as a degree in religious studies!









Here's how the letter - with her suggested revisions - emerges from Bing translate. It's much better than Google translate but still a little off, so I take the liberty of indicating delicate points it misses, perhaps because I repurposed vocabulary from unrelated sections for Lego-style bricolage (well, what one does when one doesn't know that much of a language...!):

Dear Susan boss: 
How do you do! I hear that you are considering looking for market development manager. Your company is a Sino-US joint venture, has now developed into a United States famous boutiques, in the United States many cities have business in the East [Eastern United States]. I to your company's business and was interested in the position, market development manager, now writing this letter is a formal application for job seekers to you. 
May be I do not know if [I misunderstood that] your company is considering hiring managers, then, dear Susan boss, the Marketing Department's idea can be a good opportunity to your company. Regardless of the size of other companies increasingly find that [if] they have no marketing department cannot continue to be successful and develop. I so appreciated your company [If your company, which I so admire] was knocked out of competition, I was [would be most] unhappy. 
My name is Luo Make, are American, graduated from United Kingdom at Oxford University. After graduation, I was in Japan's junior high schools, responsible for contact with the students knowledge of a foreign language services. In teaching, no matter how the students are not interested, I'm trying to solve, and strive to develop their interest in foreign language learning. In a very short time, the students of this school to become as international man of dual language. The attitude of my sense of responsibility and enthusiasm, has repeatedly praised by the students parents. 
If you are concerned about my experience on [that my experience is irrelevant to] your company's marketing doesn't matter, I'd say no! I would not like to study small students into English-reader [I can turn students who don't like study into little English scholars, so], I have no mission impossible. If your company would like [to open] in the United States around Susan's Boutique chain stores, I can help you succeed. If your company would like to open several Susan boutique supermarkets, I can do. If your company would like to become multinational corporations, you can rest assured. Development of outer space to think about [is worth thinking about too]. In order to deepen the understanding of all things in the world, I left Japan in the school work, beginning in the United States, Lin Houston [Princeton] University study religion. 
In my opinion, if your company has decided to open the market development and the Manager of the hiring department, I am best suited to the job. I wish I could participate in your company's development at home and abroad, to say I'm not interested in your company's market development within the Earth are unrestrained development of extraterrestrial [indeed I'm interested not only in your company's market development on Earth but also its unlimited development extraterrestrially]. Applicants should be able to see the future [Can other applicants see such a future]? 
Enclose my curriculum vitae. Need to know if have any questions, please call or contact me by e-mail. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

In a mall near where I live La Gioconda is smiling

Monday, March 09, 2015


A new American has arrived at the desk next to mine in the office the Fudan International Center for the Study of Chinese Civilization offers its visitors. She's a scholar of Chinese philanthropy who's actually been coming to China since 1983 - she's really got the long view. When she first arrived in Beijing, she says, the baggage was brought to the terminal in a horse-drawn cart, and Shanghai before the Expo was nothing like what it is today. But today's conversation, with another American (who teaches in England) pitching in, was about settling into life here now, which they both decided is much more expensive than they expected. But what inspired me to dig up this picture of a folkloric paper-cut I saw in a show at the Shanghai Public Library early last month was realizing that my going six months without seeing a fly or cockroach isn't a wild coincidence. Pesticides are pervasive. It's no longer DDT, which apparently used to to be sprayed liberally under beds and furniture, not to mention on crops, but probably something not much less lethal...

Sunday, March 08, 2015


Now this is turning a new leaf with flair - or do I mean flare?!

Saturday, March 07, 2015


On upscale Daxue Road 大学路 near my Chinese school there's a little shop selling imported beers called Cheers IN. I'm not sure they're doing that well (their shelves seemed emptier today than last time I went) but they still have a wide selection of Belgian beers (on which I'll pass) and, 
more surprisingly, beers from San Diego (I'll partake). This one - I can't tell you how bracingly wonderful even a ho-hum IPA is after thin Chinese beer - would be the taste of home (jiaxiangwei 家乡味) even if it didn't have one of the San Diego beach lifeguard towers on its label!

Friday, March 06, 2015

How long, Lord?

Just finished a charming book, Jie Li's Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life (thank you, Kindle!). The author grew up in one of Shanghai's traditional alleyway complexes, referred to as lilong 里弄, longtan 弄堂 or shikumen 石库门 (depending which feature you're focusing on, alleyway, representative halls or portals) These webs of lanes are almost invisible from Shanghai's broad main streets - and I have to admit that until I read this book I had no real idea of their scale or vitality. The one above left is entirely hidden from the street it abuts: there's only the narrow entrance marked X at top for a settlement which housed many thousands of people. These places were developed to accommodate various influxes of residents early in the 20th century and then took on lives of their own, changing from transitional to permanent residences as the Communist government instituted a new household registration system. There are fewer and fewer left, as they are leveled and replaced by residential high rise complexes and shopping centers, and people wax nostalgic for their claustrophobic intimacy the way people in New York sometimes claim to miss the world of tenements.

Li moved to the US with her parents when she was eleven but returned often to see her grandparents, and ultimately wrote a senior thesis about their lives which has now appeared as a handsome book with many academic trappings. The heart of it is the story of two specific locales in two different kind of settlements, which she tells by giving a history of people moving in and out, altering the premises as they did; evocations of the ways objects helped people make homes there; and a taste of the kind of gossip which sustained and was sustained by their fraught communities. The book ends with the demolition of the two complexes, which she is able to characterize with just the right mix of sentiment and relief. Most people who were still living there were happy to trade up, and those "nail" houses which dug in their heels and refused to be bought out seem to have been interested in trading up even higher. (Most succeeded.)

The conversion of the senior thesis into an academic book is not without its challenges, as is arguing that studying one's own family history should be recognized as a distinct and legitimate field of study. It does provide unique access, but I'm not it's that different from the historical "microhistories" claimed as a model, and one has to wonder if family loyalty (conscious or unconscious) might not conflict with the demands of scholarship - and rightly so. In any case, here's my favorite part: drawings of cutaways of the houses by the author's parents informed by their memories and her research. The one below shows the kind of place one set of grandparents made their home (marked A in the map above) when first built, in the 1940s. A single middle class family used it. By the late 1960s it was home to five multi-head families, each in one room (often with a loft built in), with people using every available space - and sharing a kitchen (with four faucets). This makes real the intense congestion I learned about my first days in Shanghai - in 1979 the average space was just over 4 square meters per person, practically quadrupling in the next two decades. Social bonds are definitely stretched if not severed by this resettlement into faceless towers (I have yet to form an image of how the life there can be like life in a shared streetscape). Yet what was replaced, though people managed to make "homes" in it with virtuosity, was often a social stranglehold.
It's probably a useful lesson for those of us who talk up the ingenuity of "lived religion" making "worlds" in landscapes not of people's choosing. The creative work of people struggling to maintain their humanity in difficult, even dehumanizing, circumstances deserves to be recognized, celebrated. But necessity isn't the only mother of invention...

Jie Li, Shanghai Homes: Palimpsests of Private Life (NY: Columbia University Press, 2014)