Category: Shanghai

  • Qipao

    When I was writing The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, I thought I knew the difference between a qipao and a cheongsam. Both, to be sure, were dresses for women. But in my mind, the former was figure-hugging while the latter was loose. I wanted to use that distinction to show how my main character…

  • Fish

    One of the best things about being in California is loading up on food. Chinese food, of course: dim sum and xiaolongbao, Chengdu hot pot and Peking duck. Plus plenty of home-cooked steamed fish. Then there’s the food for thought that comes with being at home with Mom and Dad. All these years, I’ve been…

  • All That Jazz

    My father has many gifts but dancing is not one of them. My mother taught me to dance: the two step, the waltz, the cha cha cha. She played the jazz tunes of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. We danced in the living room. She wore house slippers; I was in bare feet. She led,…

  • Korea

    In high school, I took a history class called China, Japan and Korea. Or maybe that was the title of our textbook. The salient details have escaped me. I had forgotten how close these countries are and how long their history of meddling in each other’s affairs. two korea’s In a recent interview by the Financial…

  • Amah

    Nian is a servant in my novel, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. She’s new to the Song household, the lowest in rank among the servants. Song Anyi arrives at the family home – more dead than alive following a vicious rape – and Nian becomes her amah. I never had an amah although both my…

  • Old House

    My father called it the Old House. Every week he would go there to visit his grandparents. My father described the Old House as a mixed-up design. It had a courtyard and a main hall like a proper Chinese house, but also two stories. The first time I visited Shanghai in 1984, Grandaunt Ta-An was still…

  • A Death in the Family

    Last month, my Aunt Ruth died. She was my father’s only sister and his favorite sibling. We called her Guma (姑妈) (father’s sister), just as her children called my father jiujiu (舅舅) (mother’s brother). The Chinese are very particular about family relationships. There are words to distinguish an older brother from a younger one and…

  • War Without End

    War in China. These soldiers are headed for the Japanese front. It’s 1944 in Luzhou, a river port in Sichuan province. In the back row from right to left are my father, my Uncle Charles and my Aunt Viola’s youngest brother. My father waited to enlist until he had graduated from university. By then, the war was…

  • A Pretty Girl

    My father once had a very pretty cousin named May. She came from his mother’s side of the family, jewelers from Wuzhen (乌镇). I’d love to see Wuzhen’s wood-crafted homes and ancient bridges, though I hear that few Chinese still inhabit the place. In my grandmother’s time, though, it was a bustling town. Her father was…

  • The House on Avenue Haig

    My father was born in 1923. His parents named him Shen Bo (申伯) which, in the local dialect means first son in Shanghai. He grew up in a house on Avenue Haig (now called Huashan Lu). This was the westernmost edge of the French Concession. foreign shanghai This is a map of Shanghai in 1929,…