Three China Stories

One of the things I do as part of my “day job” is to produce a weekly online newsletter with curated news stories from China. I usually include a few dozen stories, but there are always a few that, for some reason, stand out.

Here are three news stories out of China that caught my attention this week:

NPR journalist Rob Schmitz travelled to Sichuan Province to report on a property developer who was so moved by the movie Titanic that he decided to build a life-size replica in his small, land-locked city:

A lot of questions spring to mind on arriving at the construction site for a full-scale Chinese replica of the Titanic: Why is this being built in the remote countryside, 1,000 miles from the sea? Why is this being built? And simply: Why?

The question that comes to my mind is, why not?

The New Yorker has an excellent photo essay about China’s so-called “Belt and Road” initiative to invest in infrastructure development from China to Europe, along a new “Silk Road.” It already includes a rail line that carries goods from China to London.

If bridges, pipelines, and railroads are the arteries of the modern world, then China is positioning itself as the beating heart. […] Like most Chinese official-speak, the phrase “Belt and Road” obscures more than it clarifies: the “belt” will be composed of land routes running from China to Scandinavia, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Middle East; the “road” refers to shipping lanes connecting China to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In the fall, the photographer Davide Monteleone traced stretches of one of the land routes, travelling from Yiwu, in the southeastern province of Zhejiang, to Khorgos, home to one of the world’s largest dry ports, and to Aktau, in Kazakhstan, on the Caspian Sea.

The photos are amazing!

Unfortunately, China is known as a place where anything and everything can be faked, from buildings to boots, from milk to money. Now comes word from the Chinese site Sixth Tone of restaurants in Hebei Province serving up fake donkey burgers:

Restaurants in a Chinese city known as the “hometown of donkey burgers” might not have been dishing up what it advertised, as a recent investigative report found that cheaper meat from mules, horses, and pigs was frequently being used instead. […]  Several people involved in the fake donkey meat trade said that demand for the genuine article has grown rapidly in recent years, leading to price hikes so large that some vendors in Hejian have instead turned to mule and horse meat — often imported frozen from overseas — and even pork.

Yes, you read that right: there is a HIGH demand for donkey meat. It’s a delicacy in north China, particularly in Hebei Province. I wrote about the popularity of donkey burgers in a post way back in 2006:

There’s a new culinary sensation sweeping the masses of Beijing lately—Donkey Burgers.   They are not burgers as you or I may conceive of them–a meat patty on a bun.  Rather, Beijing donkey burgers are BBQ donkey meat inside something that is very much like pocket bread.  There’s a small restaurant near where I work that specializes in them.

Today, while eating there, I noticed a sign on the wall–a poem of sorts– that I’d never seen before, extolling the virtures of donkey burgers.

It said, “xiang changshou, chi lurou; yao jiankang, he lu tang.”

Translated, it means:  “If you want to live a long life, eat donkey meat; if you want to be healthy, drink donkey soup.”

I’ve recently taken to trying to find out how widespread the love of donkey-meat is, so have been doing informal polls among my Chinese friends. The results: those from the north or northeast of the country are aware of the culinary value of donkeys, and those from the south turn up their noses. (But, keep in mind, folks from the south eat all manner of other strange creatures like civit cats!). One friend from the northeast even went so far as to quote a famous saying about donkey meat: Tianshang longrou; Dixia lurou. (In heaven there is dragon meat; on earth there is donkey meat.

Well, as clever as the sign and poem are, I still haven’t been able to bring myself to try a donkey burger!  Sorry folks, my loyalties are with Culvers!!!

Related posts:

Moon Cakes or Donkey Meat?

Donkey Burgers


Dancing Grandpa

One of the things I love (and miss) about China is the public dancing. While I only participated occasionally — joining grannies in fan dances when I lived in Changchun — seeing neighbors out dancing together in the evening or on weekends always brought a smile to my face. Men, women, young, old — everyone seems to get in the act. And if you don’t dance yourself, no problem; just sit back and watch!

Enter the dancing grandpa — a video clip of an elderly man and a young woman boogying down in a local park. Someone shot a video of their routine and now it has gone “viral.” If this video doesn’t make you smile this Monday morning, nothing will! (email readers, click here to see the video.)

There are so many things I love about this clip: grandpa wearing a Mao jacket; the girl with her baseball cap turned sideways; the Chines pop music; the people watching — all having a wonderful time.

I have long thought that if we, in the US, spent more time dancing with our friends and neighbors, we may be a less violent society.

Sometimes I really really miss China!

Related Posts:

Laughing is Happiness

Dancing Traffic Cops

Dancing on a Chinese Train

Break-dancing Fuwa

image credit:

Road Trip Reading

Long hours spent in the car means long hours spent reading. Here is a list of the books that the five of us read on this year’s road trip:

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Vergese

Cutting for Stone

Guadal-canal Diary, by Richard Tregaskis and Mark Bowden

Guadalcanal Diary (Modern Library War)

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Walls, Jeannette (2009) Hardcover, by Jeannette Walls

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Walls, Jeannette (2009) Hardcover

Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service, by Amy Young

Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service

Mexico Set, by Len Deighton

Mexico Set

Midnight in the Pacific: Guadalcanal–The World War II Battle That Turned the Tide of War, by Joseph Wheelan

Midnight in the Pacific: Guadalcanal--The World War II Battle That Turned the Tide of War

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrick Bachman and Henning Koch

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

On China, by Henry Kissinger

On China

Sipping Saltwater: How to find lasting satisfaction in a world of thirst, by Steve Hoppe

Sipping Saltwater: How to find lasting satisfaction in a world of thirst

The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 2), by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Tombs of Atuan (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 2)

We’re on the home stretch today: home in time for supper! Thanks for tagging along! I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip!

Pottery in the Panhandle

Our travels this weekend took us to Panama City Beach, on the Florida panhandle, where we checked into a lovely condo overlooking the gorgeous white sand beach. This was to be the more relaxed portion of our road trip.

On Saturday we spent the afternoon with my brother-in-law’s cousin, who lives in the nearby town of Lynn Haven. After a career spent flying helicopters to oil rigs in the Gulf, in his retirement he has taken up pottery. And he is seriously good at it!

After lunch at the Golden Corral (a southern favorite), he took us to visit his studio. Normally filled with wheels and clay, it is now set up for his annual Backyard Pottery Festival, which will held on the first weekend in December.

While his work ranges from mugs to tea pots to cookie pots, to sculptures, my personal favorites are his creative piggy banks. Here’s just one — guaranteed to put on a smile on your face as you save those pennies!

Wes’s 96-year old mother (“Aunt Netty”) has gotten in on the act now too, and has started her own line of clay figurines!

If you going to be anywhere near the Florida panhandle the first weekend in December, be sure to stop in at their backyard festival.

If you get there early enough you might even get to eat one of “Aunt Nettie’s” baked goods!

Mississippi Delta Chinese

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, during our time in New Orleans, we made the obligatory stop at Cafe du Monde for beignets and hot chocolate. Even though it was quite crowded, we managed to find a table in a corner overlooking Lafayette Square.

Our waitress was an ethnic Chinese woman with a thick New Orleans drawl who called us all “darling” and “honey-child.”

That took us by surprise!

But then I looked around an noticed that nearly all of the wait staff seemed to be Chinese, most of them speaking with thick southern accents.

Clearly, they were not recent immigrants.

Interacting with this sweet Chinese-Louisianan reminded me of a short film that I ran across a few months back about a community of Chinese who have lived in the Mississippi Delta region for over a hundred years. Produced by Al Jazeera as part of a series on Chinese food in America, the reporter introduces us to their life and their food. The title of the piece is The Untold Story of America’s Southern Chinese. 

Here is the video: (email readers: go here to view it)

In March of this year, NPR did a story on the community, titled The Legacy of the Mississippi Delta Chinese. 

Think of the Mississippi Delta. Maybe you imagine cotton fields, sharecroppers and blues music.

It’s been all that. But for more than a century, the Delta has also been a magnet for immigrants. I was intrigued to learn about one immigrant group in particular: the Delta Chinese.

To find out more, I travelled to Greenville, Miss., a small city along the Mississippi River. I meet Raymond Wong in Greenville’s Chinese cemetery, right across a quiet road from an African-American cemetery. Wong’s family has long been part of a thriving — but separate — Chinese community.

“We were in-between,” Wong explains, “right in between the blacks and the whites. We’re not black, we’re not white. So that by itself gives you some isolation.”

Finally, last year documentary filmmaker Samantha Cheng released a film titled Honor and Duty: The Mississippi Delta Chinese. 

The film tells the story of the early Chinese immigrants to the Mississippi Delta during the 19th century; then it explores how the community steadily grew in the early part of the 20th century, as Chinese families across the Delta opened grocery stores that served both the black and white populations. Subsequently, it reveals how 182 Chinese men from the Delta participated in all aspects of the US war effort in WWII, shows the transformational nature of their participation in the war for the development of the community in the decades immediately after the war, and concludes by documenting the contributions of the Chinese Delta families to the state of Mississippi and beyond as t

Their children became doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and many other types of professionals in the contemporary era.

You can see a trailer for the film here.


Road Trip Eating

One of the fun things about a road trip is the food. While we are not averse to grabbing a cup of coffee or a coke at MacDonald’s on driving days for the sake of convenience, we are trying to mix up our culinary experiences. This means trying to hit some of the local favorites wherever we are. Here are some of the highlights so far….

In Austin, the order of the day, of course was barbecue, at Blacks BBQ. As I mentioned in a previous post, perhaps the best brisket I’ve ever eaten.

Believe it or not, one of my brother-in-law’s favorite eateries is Waffle House.  They are ubiquitous in the South, but he often laments that the closest one to The Cities is in Kansas City! On our drive from Austin to New Orleans, we stopped in for a pecan waffle! He was one happy camper!

A great resource we use in trying to decide where to eat is the website Hosted by Jane and Michael Stern, authors of the book Roadfood, 10th Edition: An Eater’s Guide to More Than 1,000 of the Best Local Hot Spots and Hidden Gems Across America, it has information on their favorite local eateries in every state. The book and/or access to the site is a must-have for any American road trip.

After consulting the site for off-beat places to eat in New Orleans, last night we settled on a place called Rocky and Carlo’s a non-descript little place across the street from an oil refinery.

It’s claim to fame, as noted on a local website, is “fabulously oversized portions of Sicilian dishes and New Orleans classics including veal parmesean and the most popular item on the menu, baked macaroni & cheese, served with brown or red gravy.”

In this case “red gravy” is marinara sauce!

I have never in my life seen such a large portion of food for a single order. That’s THREE pieces of veal parmesan, which in our case fed three people!

My brother-in-law and niece, who have a more adventurous culinary spirit, opted for shrimp and oyster Po’ Boys respectively.

After touring a plantation house in St. Rose on Thursday, we stopped in at the Port Side Restaurant and Bar. Some in our party had deep fried soft-shell crabs; others had meat loaf!

And then there is breakfast. Forget cereal and toast! We are in New Orleans, which means beignets, those deep-fried squares of yummy goodness!

The first morning, thanks to a tip from, we hit up the Morning Call Cafe in the New Orleans City Park. Oh my!

The second morning we went to the famous Cafe DuMonde, on the edge of the French Quarter. It did not disappoint!

On Friday, we roll out of town for Panama City Beach, Fl.

And I mean roll!

Oh, and today, my sister gets to choose where we eat because it is her birthday!