Buddy, Can You Spare a Mao?


On the sidewalks, parked and ready, are blue, yellow, orange, and red dockless bikes.

This week James has come to our apartment twice to help us regulate the heat. One morning I wake up feeling like a steamed dumpling; in the afternoon on the same day I layer up in the living room, trying to keep warm. When we call the desk downstairs, in five minutes James appears at the door. He is thin, dressed in black pants and the property company blazer. He looks like he’s in his late 20s, medium height, with a shock of black hair and black glasses. He kicks off his shoes and goes to the thermostat.  His English is pretty good, though he’s a more fluent speaker than listener.  When I see him around the building, he’s always in a hurry. We say hello to each other now. Continue reading

And Then You Eat It

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Outside these places, people in line wait for the goods.  We stop twice to eat.

Hello.  Thank you.  So far that’s all the Chinese I know.  Nihao (KNEE-how).  Xiexie (sheh-sheh).

I could use one more word, right away: fork.

Coming to Shanghai I knew I would face the challenge of how to get food in my mouth. I’ll use chopsticks in restaurants back home. It’s kind of fun, for about five minutes. I adjust my grip and the length of the sticks, align them and go for the pinch and lift. When my grasp fails, I stab whatever I can with one stick and take comfort in knowing there is always a fall back plan, a life preserver. Flatware. Inevitably I’ll lay my chopsticks down so I can pick up a fork and fully engage the food. Continue reading

Say Good Night

lamp shade therapy

I’ve never lost a day. A few nights perhaps.

“Please bring a spray bottle of melatonin.”

It’s the day before we leave for Shanghai. My daughter is sending I forgot messages. I forgot Gabriel’s swim goggles. I forgot to pack the new baby monitor. I forgot the fenugreek capsules. Her tone is apologetic. She knows she’s adding to the anxiety of our pre-trip prep. In her WeChat message this morning, however, you can sense low-level desperation. Continue reading

People, Pillows, Water


Further investigation reveals that the drinking water in Shanghai comes from the Huangpu River.

Tomorrow my wife and I leave for Shanghai, to join our daughter, her husband, and two kids for a few weeks.  I keep thinking: This is what going to camp must have felt like.  The nerves.  The harrowing uncertainty.  All those people I won’t know.

I’ve been putting certain big Shanghai concerns out of my mind. Air quality, for example. I asked my wife the other day, Do you think we’ll have good pillows? Continue reading

Christmas 2017, Dear Friends

Dear Family and Friends,

This year there will be no Christmas mustache. I do not refer to my face. I refer to our hearth, which Tizi has adorned the past few years with a horizontal wreath. In the off-season she collects holiday greenery and reddery. She’ll say, “Hey, let’s stop at English Gardens.” Definitely my idea of a good time. We come out of the store loaded with artificial poinsettia blossoms, faux holly branches laden with berries, assorted sprigs and stems, fronds and vines, shoots and peduncles. In prior years, bent over these decorative riches, she lashed together a long, narrow pastiche of holiday flora that, to my eye, looked like a festive Snidely Whiplash mustache. Same ingredients this year, except more; less linear, more rectangular arrangement. Suitable for framing. Continue reading