Thursday, September 27, 2012

Living next to the Russian Embassy

My apartment complex is adjacent to the Russian Embassy. It's a giant, barbwire-encircled compound and I can see an Orthodox steeple peeking above the fence directly across from my building. 


My street is extremely, blissfully quiet at night and is always guarded by at least half a dozen boyish-looking PLA troops.

The PLA troops live across from the embassy. I can see where they hang their laundry and some mornings I can hear them shouting in formation. It's not loud or often enough to be annoying and it's kind of a fun reminder that I'm in the capital.

Plenty of opportunity to gawk at Russian diplomats. Some of them like motorcycles and have skinny, beautiful blonde wives who look like models. Maybe because they are models. Or maybe because the Russian look is really popular right now and a lot of models look like Russians. That's one of those chicken or the egg things. 

There are enough Russians living near here to warrant not one but two small Russian groceries on the street. I never thought it was possible to live this close to a steady supply of sliced bread and salami and still be in China.


My local grocery lady is always telling me the price in Russian and then looking at me like I'm completely stupid when I'm all "什么?" I want to say "hey, not 100% of the white folks on this street is from up north." But cab drivers are always mistaking me for Russian too, so I don't say anything. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Meichang 3

Oopsies. So I have my blog set up so that I can write an email and it will automatically post to my blog. I also frequently email myself interview notes, and it appears I accidentally posted my interview notes to my blog. 

Nothing to see here folks, move along...

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Tuesday was my birthday, the third I've celebrated in China. I have fond memories of all three. Each exemplifies a different period of my expatriate journey: When I turned 24, I'd been in Shanghai six months, I'd just finished my first cover story and my chief editor (whom I now count as a dear friend) took me out for dinner and drinks in the French Concession. It was a little triumph, I was finally being welcomed into the fold after several lonely months in the vaguely-defined and poorly-funded world of "web editing" (I was promoted to the magazine soon after). When I turned 25, my roommates threw a house party, which was big and loud, I worried the neighbors would complain. After 18 months, I was in my element. Now, at 26, I've only been in Beijing three months but I slipped into a community easily this time. Partly because this isn't my first rodeo, partly because I got lucky with cool roommates. I hadn't planned on anything special, but Brando rallied a handful of people for dinner at a hutong restaurant. We ate Yunnan food, drank Belgian beer and a bunch of architects sang "Tanti auguri a Te," which was very sweet.

It was at about 13, half my life ago now, that I decided what kind of person I would be. When I was 11 and made my first trip to Asia, for Billy's adoption, I promised myself I would one day live in this part of the world, and over the next few years the idea cemented itself and I decided writing and traveling were the most important things. I never came up with goals like "win a Pulitzer by age XX," my thinking was more along the lines of "if I can make enough money and spend this much time writing and live in such-and-such a place that would be really, really cool." My 13-year-old self would be happy with how things turned out so far.

That said, I have so much to learn. Like expats my age across industries in China, I haven't had much mentorship. Responsibility comes quickly, and there's very little guidance to go with it. Four years out of college, I'm anxious and eager to keep learning. I don't know if or when that will happen in an academic setting, but my goal for the next year is to read widely and deeply. My work commitment ends in November. Then, I'll begin traveling and I plan on instituting some sort of organized approach to working my way through the Western canon. Or parts of it. I'll pick and choose and inject a bunch of modern lit too, it won't be all dead European men. I'm looking forward to having time off to experiment with my writing outside of a work setting. Basically, I'm going to slide into my late twenties with a massive downsizing in responsibility, I'll just coast on in...

Sunday, September 2, 2012

American Magic

We had a barbecue this weekend. There were about 20 people in attendance including myself, my roommates, a Greek-Chinese translator, a Spanish-Chinese translator and then mostly Italian architects. My contributions to the meal were two bottles of rum and a vanilla cake made from a box, so it was kind of embarrassing when all the Europeans started gushing about how delicious the cake was (don't thank me, thank Betty Crocker, guys!). 

As I explained this box-cake thing to my Italian roommate he said the other day he was quite surprised to find our other roommate (also American, not much of a cook) whipping up pancakes in the kitchen, but then he learned that you could buy this box from the import grocer and just add water. 

"If you'd been born in America, you too would also already know this magic," I explained.