On the Silk Road

Poetry for along the way – by Susie Gordon



Over plains and hills we came

for miles. Miles and months we trod west

in a camel train, carrying silks and furs,

jade and ivory, wood and metal

from Chang’an. Turkan, Altai, Tashkent, Palmyre:

miles of tundra, desert, forest, lush brown foothills -

obsidian sky;

each night a caravanserai.


In Damasc by the mosque my father heard it said

there was a lodging ten miles out of town

with a bath-house tiled in topaz, day beds thrown with fleeces,

and a poet who spoke and sang of truths, of secrets.


Qi soup

A Chinese American rediscovers TCM in Beijing – by William Poy Lee


When she escaped China by marriage in 1949 and settled in San Francisco, my mother made eight promises to my grandmother. The seventh promise was to cook the traditional qi soups for her family to protect their mind-body balance and inner energy.

Along with every other American in the 1950s, my brother and I ate Campbell’s most popular soups – chicken noodle, cream of tomato, mushroom, split-pea. But at home, we also gulped down smelly, weird tasting Chinese soups – cow brain with ginseng, turtle, ox tail, four herbs chicken (from a live chicken, throat slit and defeathered in Chinatown). 

As we ate, Mom explained the rationale to us in ways that made no sense at the time.



A prophesy comes true in Shanghai – fiction by Tom Mangione


When I first came to Shanghai, I was a young man with a full head of hair and a bare chin. I could grow a beard, but I always thought it a bit gauche. Back home, everyone was growing beards, but the trend was lost on me. Clean-shaven felt classic, and I was a classic kind of guy. Maybe I was more classic than I knew.

I spent my first weekend in town at some local bars that I'd heard were cool. Everything about me gave away the fact that I was new to Shanghai, new to China, new to all of it. I fumbled with the novel currency, studying Mao’s smirk each time I pulled out my wallet. I tried out my nascent Chinese – wo yao yi ge pijiu – only to have the bartenders answer in calm, steady English. I was the proverbial deer in the headlights, and Shanghai was the Mack truck ready to splatter my assumptions all over the pavement. 

At the bar, I took up conversation with a middle-aged, white American guy, sitting sad and alone. He was bald, bearded and quite skinny. He looked like he had no one to talk to, and I felt sorry for him. I don't remember anything we talked about except for one thing. He said that every white man who stays in China long enough becomes bearded, bald or both. Usually both. When he said this I assumed that this was just his way of coddling his fragile middle-aged ego. He was, well, bald and bearded himself. It wasn’t until later that I realized I was wrong. Deer-in-the-headlights-meets-Mack-truck wrong. A chin full of prickly pear stubble is fate. A shiny bowling ball of a pate is destiny.


Portrait of a Beijinger: Call of Duty

A deli owner collects war relics in a bunker museum – by Tom Fearon


Each month, Tom Fearon and Abel Blanco profile an ordinary Beijinger with an extraordinary story. We’re proud to present the second episode in the series, along with Tom’s story of meeting its protagonist Yang Guoqing. The video is viewable on Youku for streamers in China, and on Vimeo as embedded below


The town of Nankou on the outskirts of Beijing is perhaps best known for its abandoned, incomplete amusement park Wonderland, a ghostly reminder of China’s property bubble. But beyond the fake Disneyland façade is a winding mountain road to a highland, overlooking the sleepy Ming Dynasty village of Changyucheng, that provided one of the most dramatic backdrops to the Second World War.


The Story-Telling Robot

A science fiction story by Fei Dao – translated by Alec Ash


Once upon a time, there was a King, who loved neither the beauty of his domain nor its women, but only took pleasure in listening to stories. He kept a story-teller in his palace, but the number of tales that any one person can know is limited, and whenever a minstrel had told them all the King would exile them far, far away. After a while, no one dared tell him any story at all.

And so the King convened the most ingenious scientists in the land, and ordered them to build a story-telling robot. At first, the stories that the robot told were lifeless, but it had the ability to learn independently, and under the supervision of the scientists it slowly perfected the quality. Its brain was installed with every story that was known of, and each night the King, tired from the affairs of state and wanting to relax, ordered the robot to spin him a yarn. If the King could not hear two or three short stories before retiring, he was not able not sleep.

One day the King, reclining in the imperial bed, closed his eyes and prepared to enjoy a new and fabulous story.