Graduation week has special meaning to me as a university professor: It signals the end of my time with my students and the beginning of their new professional careers. As we end the academic year, I am remembering graduation week last summer. I spent part of my sabbatical from my university in Philadelphia at Sun Yat-sen University in the Guangdong province of southern China. The Sun Yat-sen University campus looks a lot like my own university campus during graduation time, with students clad in black graduation gowns milling around campus, many carrying bouquets of flowers and followed by misty-eyed parents and grandparents who keep stopping to snap pictures and take videos of their darling offspring. (And who can blame them for being so proud? I wept openly with pride throughout both of my children’s preschool graduations, and all they had to do to graduate was show up to class and not bite the other children.)

More… “Exchanging Notes”

Denise Agosto is a Professor of Information Science at the College of Computing & Informatics at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she teaches, researches, writes, and dreams of returning to China one day.


Rudolfo Botelho must have been about 65, perhaps younger, though of course to a 15 year old he appeared ancient. His white moustache bristled on an otherwise mild beige-skinned face. You didn’t much notice his small size; it was always the moustache you saw. And the twinkle — there was the twinkle. I lived in Shanghai, 15 years old in 1948, a Eurasian child of an Italian-Dutch-Indonesian father and Chinese mother. My parents knew him back in the golden days of Shanghai’s roaring ‘20s like those in America. I met him when he became the accompanist for the choir at St. Columban’s, a church run by Irish priests. More… “Bottles & Me”

Lucille Bellucci grew up in Shanghai with an Italian-Dutch-Indonesian father and Chinese mother. After exile from China, the family sailed to Italy, where they lived five years before immigrating to the United States. Lucille has also lived 15 years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
She has five novels and has won many awards for her short stories and essays.


In an early scene of Eileen Chang’s 1956 novel Naked Earth (reissued this month by NYRB Classics), Liu Ch’uen – a young, enthusiastic new participant in Chairman Mao’s Land Reform movement – watches the “struggle session” of a local landlord’s wife. The woman has been brought into a courtyard to make a confession before the student recruits, Party members and local villagers. The landlord’s wife is frightened and pregnant.

As they approached the low flight of stone steps they saw that a thick rope hung down from the eaves. It hung loose, swaying a little in the breeze. Several tenant farmers were standing around, looking nervous. The atmosphere was thick, as if somebody had hanged himself here and the body had just been taken down and removed.

More… “Struggling Through”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at


I had initially intended to visit the National Museum that abuts Tiananmen Square, but someone informed me that it might be closed. When I spoke to the concierge in my hotel, he suggested the Capital Museum, which had apparently opened in its present location in May 2006, and so, being relatively new, was not as well-known.


Let me digress for a moment and note that the title “concierge” was an incongruous one for this hardly post-pubescent youth, obviously a recent arrival to the big city from the countryside. All the workers in the hotel, which was located in the north of Beijing away from the tourist areas, were startlingly young and lacking in English skills, which, since I am even more lacking in Chinese ones, made communication difficult. Questions such as, “Can you do something about the strange… More…

If Shanghai isn’t really China (as I was repeatedly told by Shanghainese), and the Expo isn’t really Shanghai (in but not of the metropolis, they also insisted), then I really have no clue where I spent 10 days last month. I ate Swiss fondue, bought a Kyrgyz felt hat, and had my passport stamped “Trinidad” by a young Chinese woman who never looked up from her text messaging. It was thrilling to visit North Korea and pretend the guard watching me was compiling a surveillance report on “the American with straw hat and a digital camera.” I think he really was. The replica of the Trojan Horse was undeniably creepy, hovering in the ominous blue light of a well-sacked mock-Troy. There was a parade every night and lines all day and the staff drilled and marched in military display. I was encouraged to consider the universality of 21st-century urban life… More…

She makes for a beautiful corpse. That alone is impressive. Factor in that she is almost 4,000 years old and she may be the most impressive corpse in human history. You can gaze at her for as long you want at the Bowers Museum in Los Angeles County (she’s in the “Secrets of the Silk Road” exhibit until June 25).

“Secrets of the Silk Road.” Through July 25. Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, CA.

Nobody knows a damn thing about who she really was. All we know for sure is that she died about 3,800 years ago in what is now the Lop Nur desert of Western China. She was buried amongst a complex of tombs first discovered by a Swedish archeologist in 1934. Chinese history being a complicated affair, no one was able to give the site… More…


“China is the most unresolved nation of consequence in the world.” — Orville Schell, Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society

Travel vs. Tourism

Paul Fussell, in his nostalgic travel book Abroad, described the difference between travel and tourism: Travel is authentic and surprising; tourism, packaged and predictable. Fussell claimed that the former, in our market-driven, homogenized society, has been more or less superseded by the latter: not just cities but countries, too, have been turned into “pseudo-places or tourist commonwealths, whose function is simply to entice tourists and sell them things.”

My sentiments exactly. And why I tend to balk at the idea of going anywhere, especially to faraway, inconvenient places — like China. I was sure that a two-week, organized trip to China, which my husband had arranged when I was… More…


It begins in September. My husband starts trolling travel sites on the Internet and, after dinner, retires to the living room with brochures emblazoned with pictures of the vast Sahara and the high Himalayas. Then he begins to throw out possibilities for our summer vacation: Barcelona? Kyoto? A trip down the Volga?

I resist. Travel strikes me as one of life’s more absurd endeavors. If you live here, why go there? Why not sit on the front porch, go to the local Italian restaurant, and rent a Bollywood movie? As far as seeing the sights, isn’t that why they invented IMAX?

But couples, if they endure, are sites of compromise: The extreme of one partner cancels that of the other and thereby creates a reasonable middle course (reasonable being, admittedly, a relative term). Take, for example, a typical… More…