Today we are all Sichuan people

Being here in China, now in the aftershock of the May 12 earthquake, has shown me proof that human beings are fundamentally good.  I have been floored by the outpouring, from my friends, my colleagues, my clients, of a compassionate and sincere desire to help in whatever way possible.
Whenever news of the earthquake has come on public TVs in Beijing, people gather round to watch — stopping mid-step in shopping malls, huddling together around the monitors on the bus.  Jo Kent has done a brilliant job in describing the tremendous generosity that Chinese people themselves have had, so just take a second to read her article here.   
As Jo notes, the Red Cross is one of the organizations tasked with disaster relief.  Another friend who studied with me in Chengdu in 2006 has done some digging and recommends donating through their international website at

There’s much more to say, and much that has been said better by others, so I’ll stop here.  I just wanted to let you know how to donate, and give you a hint of how much people here have come together around this tragedy.  There’s a palatable sense of compassion, perseverance and hope — one I remember feeling in New York City in the days just after 9/11.
Stay well,

You can’t fauc-et

It’s been fascinating to vicariously watch the US primaries from a country where, how shall I put it, the media isn’t as exuberant about discussing candidates’ political platforms and poll results.  Or their hair styles.

I have no interest in being a commentator on China’s political system, especially not on a blog.  But there was a great real life situation I came across a while ago that serves as an illuminating metaphor for how China’s one party state works:

So I’m at my friend’s apartment in Beijing, where another guest is washing the dishes for the first time in the sink.

“How do you turn on the hot water?” the guest asks the host.

“There’s just one knob,” the host replies. “Sometimes the water is hot.”

“So how do you wash the dishes when the water is cold?” the guest responds, perplexed.

The host pauses thoughtfully and then replies, “Yeah, I never thought about that.  My aiyi (housemaid) washes them somehow.”

Counting down to Super Tuesday,

Sub Urbia

Shanghai sprawl
Shanghai sprawl from JinMao Tower. 

Create. Own. Inspire
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“Most of the building… is being done by people who don’t like cities.  They do not merely dislike the noise and the dirt and the congestion.  They dislike the city’s variety and concentration, its tension, its hustle and bustle.  The new redevelopment projects will physically be in the city, but in the spirit they deny it –and the values that since the beginning of civilization have always been at the heart of great cities.” 
— William Whyte, The Exploding Metropolis, 1958.  Talking about New York.


This quote was in an exhibit I saw when I was in NY at Columbia University on Robert Moses, the (in)famous developer of New York during the mid 20th century. But it could just have well been used to describe Beijing (or Chengdu, Shanghai, Kunming, Xi’an, Chongqing, Qingdao or any major Chinese city) today.


New York is an eminently walkable city, built Continue reading

How do Chinese people stay thin eating Chinese food all day?

I had forgotten that Americans didn’t all look as flawless as the actors on Friends. And that they weren’t all 20 to 30 year old, well-educated, well-off, well-dressed globe trotters.

So when I arrived in Chicago after spending over a year in China, I felt like I had walked onto the Starship Enterprise. There were teenagers. With real live acne. Continue reading

Big Aab visits China

My sister visited me over January, and wrote down a few of the things which impressed her the most. It’s good seeing China again through fresh eyes. After a year here, I take for granted that you never flush toilet paper, that at restaurants water comes to the table hot or at least warm, that everything is eaten with chopsticks, that no one speaks English, and that Chinese characters are unintelligble unless you’ve learned them.

So here are some excerpts from my sister’s Big Aabservations: Continue reading

Cold Feet

It was when the chocolate melted that we realized we weren’t being picky — our air-shaft facing room at one of Beijing’s top hotels was unacceptably hot. So my Dad (the lawyer) smoothly advocated for an upgrade. And it was in the new room, sipping green tea, with my feet up on our new balcony watching a true blue-to-red sunset settle in over Tiananmen Square, while thousands of silhouetted black birds soared through the sky seeking a perch for the night, that I finally felt ready for the next leg of the adventure.

It seems silly to complain about heat. In Beijing, everything is heated and front doors are closed. In “southern” China, where I’ve been for the past year and for much of our travels, it just isn’t. Continue reading

Up Over – Tibet

Liz turns 26 at 4,990 meters 

I just got back from a fantastic trip to Tibet, whose highlight was a 5 day 4 WD trek over incomplete roads from Lhasa to the Everest Base Camp and back. Pastel mountains. Red and gold rimmed monasteries cast against a flawless blue sky. The glimmering white face of Mount Everest. The mystic smoke of incense wafting through the streets of Lhasa…. It was one of the most amazing places I have ever been. The next time you have two weeks to kill, seriously, GO TO TIBET. Continue reading