The changing and unchanging parts and the bit between

I’m cycling through my hometown and the places of my youth, and it’s impossible not to get romantic. The pond we used to feed the ducks with our mom and later fish on our own, the field where we played football but had to watch out for dog poo, and the outdoor swimming pool that […]

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One life lived, and others lost in the process

I’m in my hometown in the Netherlands, a small city of around ten thousand people. And yet these words are still very much about China. Normally in this space, you’ll find me looking at China through foreign eyes, but like many people who have lived abroad for a long time, I now also feel a […]

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Smartphone pictures of China

When I was in art academy, the vaguest class we had was on concept development (‘workshop activity’, or in Dutch ‘atelier practicum’), and one part of it was just collecting pictures, which we’d then discuss personally with the teacher. This was always on Mondays and the continuous struggle of it is burned in my mind. […]

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Post-Double Eleven delivery piles

These days, the annual post-Double Eleven piles of deliveries can be seen on the streets again, although they’re less high as previous years. For the first time, Alibaba is not disclosing full sales results for the event. Before, each year a new sales record was boasted — which always felt political; the message to the […]

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An audience with Zhufa

We’re in Heshang (河上镇) — which basically means ’town on the river’ — and we’re here for the most famous of its 28,042 citizens: Mister Zhufa (朱法). Zhufa is 86 years old but still works every day, and he’s so famous that people drive from nearby provinces to get his advice on Traditional Chinese medicine […]

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Disappearing Yangpu

Foreigners often lament the loss of old areas in Shanghai (or anywhere in China) — most notably Laoximen — but we do so with a luxury that many Chinese people don’t have. We’d like these old buildings to stay around for us to look at and understand better the China of old, and perhaps the […]

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想 (Wish)

In English: A rabbit wants to become a hare A dog wants to become a wolf A coat rack wants to be a moose A football player who wants to be a champion A chess player wants to be the best a boxer to be the last man standing A book wants to be a […]

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Thrillers & detectives

I loved plenty of crime novels — Devotion of Suspect X, Journey under the Midnight Sun, In the Woods by Tana French, and several Agatha Christie stories as well as Lee Child, some Stephen King — and I’m now reading The Chestnut Man. The main thing I noticed, though, is that even when I absolutely […]

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In Taicang: Porcelain shards of history

The museum in Taicang (太仓) shows the city’s history, how 1000 years ago — during the Yuan and Ming Dynasty — it was one of China’s richest cities, thanks to its position next to the Yangtze River. But the link between that city and today’s Taicang remains unclear to me, apart from some excavations and […]

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We’ve lived 2021

We’ve lived 2021. In the future, you’ll remember the big accomplishments from 2021, but will you remember how they felt? The worries you felt were significant, the little joys that found their way, the hopes you had. Historic events will be reduced to paragraphs on Wikipedia, your feelings dulled by time. Write them down before […]

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