Buffet Rebellion 

At some point in my May trip – surprisingly early – the charm of breakfast buffets wore off, as did the virtues of all hotel food.

So this trip, I brought seven meals in my suitcase, everything from noodles to tuna. They were the best seven meals of the entire trip, and probably the healthiest.

Overnight oats were a favorite. I’d take the cup upstairs to the VIP lounge at around 9pm, where they would give me just enough skim milk to steep the oats.  Left in the fridge overnight, it added an hour and cut 500 calories out of my days, and saved the company $20 each meal.

It was an epiphany, and it has changed the way I travel.


Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, then Shanghai again, all in nine days, all by rail. Through it all, I kept hearing in my head Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street:”

This city desert makes you feel so cold
It’s got so many people, but it’s got no soul
And it’s taken you so long
To find out you were wrong
When you thought it held everything

Call me a nostalgist, I don’t care. Each successive journey through China seems to leave me more alienated than the last, no longer connecting with China’s yeasty burgs at the visceral level that I had in the past.

I walk the streets of Gaolicun and wonder: has Reforming and Opening done any less to extract the souls of China’s great cities and cauterize the wound than the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution?

Is the soul of a city to be found in the carefully curated ersatz nostalgia of old towns? Or is it something subtler, an enticing sub-verbal call that defies the ham-hands of city planning aparatchiki?

And finally, does anybody with the power to craft the future of a Chinese metropolis understand what makes a city livable beyond tall buildings, clean streets, and working infrastructure?


Nanjing South

Nanjing South is one of the points in China where North-South meets East-West, more of a junction than a destination. Which is a pity: this storied city deserves a train station that not only does a good job shunting bodies, but is also a tribute to the art and aspirations of a great metropolis.

Nanjing deserves more than huge and efficient: it deserves its own King’s Cross, Grand Central, or LA Union Station, an iconic transportation cathedral that ties the city’s past with its future. I suspect that one day it will get it, but only long after the nation has forgotten Beijing West Station, a failed attempt at creating an iconic station that is instead a monument to corruption, ugliness, gigantism, and ghastly architecture.