Date of this Version
September 18, 2008 in The China Beat http://www.thechinabeat.org/
My redeye flight from Singapore to Shanghai in August was timed purposefully before the Olympics ended, but my route was planned meticulously to avoid the big Olympics events.
Before the trip I likewise scoured the library of the Singapore school where I teach for fresh (or at least fresh to me) narratives on China–the kinds of simple but expansive journeys that unabashedly take young explorers “beyond the headlines” and spark awe-inspiring careers. I’d already read Peter Hessler’sOracle Bones and I was looking for more.
(My friend Anka was tasked with writing about life in China, and I was tasked with accompanying him with my camera. I was looking for some inspiration.)
I accumulated a large stack of books–history, nonfiction, travel guides, memoirs–and sifted through them. Oliver August’s 2007 Inside the Red Mansion quickly rose to the top. The subtitle is “On the Trail of China’s Most Wanted Man” and the prologue opens the story with a fearless madam charming customers at a dubious nightclub in Xiamen. Forgive me, but it was an easy choice.