Breathing, Speaking, Eating

g mask

They are adventurous, agile, adaptable. They will manage.

Today is another bad air day. This morning in Shanghai, for the half-mile walk to my grandson’s pre-school, we’re masking up. The four-month-old has not left the apartment in two weeks. In each room in the apartment, Blue Air purifiers do their job making the space safe for occupation.

Shortly after arriving here, I learned about Plume from my daughter.  Plume is an app that reports levels of particulate matter (PM), providing “full coverage from Alabama to Zanzibar.”

Plume labs rely on air quality data collected from cities and countries around the world–for example, Federation ATMO in France, DEFRA in the UK, EPA in the US.  Air quality data in China is reported by US embassies and consulates.  In China, Plume reports air quality, why I do not know, in PAQI numbers, short for Pakistan Air Quality Index. We look at the Plume report every morning, cross-checking it with data on the US State Department website. Continue reading

Fang Xin–Rest Assured: A Fleeting Glance at the Issue of Food Safety

f mart

Wet means everything uncovered, unwrapped, naked and exposed to the human touch…

“If I lived here,” I tell my daughter, “I would shop at Fart Mart.”

I’m referring to the grocery store next to the high-rise where she’ll be living the next two years or so. It’s real name is FMart. She goes there only when she has to.

FMart is a full service grocery store, with a Chinese accent. The store combines elements of industrial food production and distribution with the traditional Chinese “wet market.” It’s about the size of a large 7-11, well, four 7-11’s piled on top of each other. Four floors of pandemonium. Continue reading

The Fifteenth Floor


 I’m reminded of the folly of thinking we can understand much in such a short time.

One morning we walk to the Montessori pre-school our grandson will attend. A few blocks from there, a man is lying on his stomach on the sidewalk. It’s 10:00 a.m., a weekday in late January.  The temperature is around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This man is shoeless and shirtless, both arms extended in front of him, like he’s a swimmer diving into a pool. Under his left hand, visible between splayed fingers, is a small pile of banknotes. He’s talking, maybe he’s begging; to me it sounds like chanting or singing. Something tells me, even if I knew Chinese, I might not understand what he’s saying. Continue reading

ATM, Wontons, Lizard


I am an illiterate deaf-mute.

After the jet lag passes (it takes a week) I’m getting up again at 5:00 a.m. every morning. No, I want to get up that early. Everyone has their quiet time. This is mine.

One morning I shuffle in bare feet into the kitchen to make coffee. There are two small children in the apartment. For the love of God, let them sleep a few more hours. Every sound is deafening: the tick of a spoon on the kitchen counter, the spray and percussion of water in the sink, the sticky refrigerator door that goes thonk when I pull it open.  Back in the living room, I foolishly decide to put my pants on while standing up, in the dark. What could be a perfunctory operation goes badly. With both legs pushing into the same pant leg, I lose my balance and tip over sideways, flopping with a silent splash onto the couch. Unhurt. Continue reading

The Dope with the Camera

four cameras

The exotic will do that to you. You want to capture it, to save it.

This morning I took a picture of my breakfast. I didn’t do it to remember it. I took the picture with sharing in mind.

We’ve come to Bread, Etc., five consecutive mornings.  It’s a French place–baguettes, pastries, Edith Piaf singing “Chanson d’Amour” on the sound system the last three mornings–in the French Concession area of Shanghai, where our kids’ apartment is. Continue reading