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Posts Tagged ‘China’

A Nice Soak in the Office Bathtub, and Other News

October 17, 2016 | by

Relax: bathe at work.

  • When one thinks of rugged outdoorspersons, one’s mind does not usually summon Simone de Beauvoir. But it turns out Beauvoir was an avid hiker, and her writing about the activity stands in powerful contrast to the “wilderness memoirs” of more recent years. Emily Witt writes, “Pages of her memoirs are taken up with descriptions of the hikes she took in her twenties and thirties: in the Maritime Alps, the Haute-Loire, in Brittany, in the Jura, in Auvergne, in the Midi. Since the publication of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild or even Robyn Davidson’s Tracks, it has become commonplace to see the solo excursion in the wilderness as a possible experience of feminine catharsis. Beauvoir abhorred sentimentalism in her writing and seemed constitutionally incapable of contriving a sudden epiphany after cresting a peak, but it turns out that in addition to all of her philosophical contributions she is a forgotten pioneer of this genre of memoir … Beauvoir hiked alone … She saw her colleagues’ warnings that she would get raped as ‘a spinsterish obsession,’ and wrote, ‘I had no intention of making my life a bore with precautions of this sort.’ ”
  • Today in productivity concepts: your start-up office might have standing desks, exercise balls, a Ping-Pong table, and a formidable organic pantry, but none of it means shit without a bathtub. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros., credits his imaginative success to Nintendo’s tub, and he makes a strong argument: “Thank goodness we had a company bathtub! … At that time, our office was in Tobakaido, which also housed the hanafuda [playing-card] factory … There was a water boiler that was used to make the hanafuda, and the water from this boiler was also used for a bathtub. The employees making the hanafuda could wash their sweat away in the bath after work, and at night when nobody was around, you could hang out there for a long time. It totally saved me … It was really effective at letting me put my ideas in order.” (Reader: if you’re interested in arranging for a claw-foot tub to be installed in the offices of The Paris Review, please be in touch.) 

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Live Your Best Pod Life, and Other News

September 30, 2016 | by

Photo: scarletgreen

  • Today in extravagant acts of self-protection: Julian Barnes wasn’t a fan of his first novel, 1980’s Metroland. So he wasn’t surprised when it got a savage notice in an organ called The Daily Sniveler by one “Mack the Knife”—a nom de guerre for Barnes himself. Yes, Barnes trashed his own novel, just so he could be sure he got there first. “In the old days,” he wrote, “the Sensitive Young Man, after producing his novel, would slide back into the obscurity of book-reviewing and hock-and-seltzer; he would in middle age be much taken with writing letters to the newspapers; and in old age, chairbound in his club, he would reveal himself to be the unremitting philistine which his earlier manifestation had sought to conceal. We must wish Mr Barnes well as he sets off on this inevitable journey.”

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Hy-Brasil Is Wherever You Want It to Be, and Other News

September 22, 2016 | by

Hy-Brasil in Petrus Plancius’s “Orbis Terrarum Typus de Integro Multis in Locis Emendatus,” Amsterdam, 1594. Image via Mapping Boston Foundation and Hyperallergic

  • Today in cartographical howlers: a new exhibition in Boston, “Hy-Brasil: Mapping a Mythical Island,” chronicles the exciting centuries when no one really knew where anything was and mapmakers had carte blanche to draw whole islands anywhere they damn well pleased: “O Brazil, or Hy-Brasil as it was frequently labeled, had haunted maps since the fourteenth century, first as a mistake, then as a mythological tribute. Its size and shape often morphed, its location wandered from Ireland to North America, and its name varied, but for five centuries it endured in Western cartography … There are all sorts of legends attached to Hy-Brasil, including giant black rabbits that lived with a sorcerer, gods hidden by the mists, lost civilizations, and, more recently, UFOs. However, its greatest connection is to Irish folklore, particularly the belief in the ‘Otherworld’ and its Elysium, a ‘Land of Youth.’ When it first was illustrated on a 1325 map, Hy-Brasil was considered to only be visible once every seven years due to the heavy mists, its land housing an immortal race of people.”
  • Planning your next family vacation? Why not force your loved ones to embark on a literary pilgrimage of Russia? You can tour the places where Dostoyevsky suffered, and where Tolstoy suffered, and then you can bicker among yourselves about which one of them suffered more productively. Jacqueline Carey did it, and she makes it sound more appealing: “We had the chance to visit the place where [The Brothers Karamazov] was written—Dostoyevsky’s last apartment, now a museum … Tea was always kept hot in the samovar, and he thought only he could make it right. When he drank tea made by his wife, he would say, ‘Oh, how wretched I am.’ He died on the couch, gazing at the Bible … In the Tolstoys’ sixteen-room winter house were many objects: books, a chess set, a piano, a tiger skin, a closet of clothes. On the landing an upright stuffed bear held a plate for visiting cards. Tolstoy was a man of obsessive enthusiasms. At the back of the house was a workroom with his cobbler tools, which he used to make shoes, including a pair for his oldest daughter Tatyana’s future husband.” 

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Raising Poets from the Dead, and Other News

August 30, 2016 | by


Ouija board. Photo: Dave Winer.

  • Given our newfangled penchant for the darker arts, it’s probably time for a James Merrill revival. I do not mean this literally: we should not raise James Merrill from the dead. Still, we might commune with him. To aid our spiritual discourse, Dwight Garner points out, we should turn to the Ouija board, the supposedly harmless instrument Merrill used to write The Changing Light at Sandover. As it happens, Merrill’s own biographer, Langdon Hammer, recently dusted off his Ouija, although he was too ravaged by paradox to contact the poet: “We didn’t try [to commune with Merrill]. I guess it seemed beside the point. Who had invited us to the table and sat us down at the board if not James Merrill? We were already in contact ... Looking back now, I think the board had a point to make. Using it puts you in touch with the soul. But it’s not the soul as we normally think of it—something singular and deep inside you. According to the Ouija board, it takes two people to create the soul, and it exists out there, between and beyond them.”

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Shanghai 1962

August 18, 2016 | by

How my mother’s accordion led to a chance encounter in Mao’s China.


For years my parents have told me about a photograph that shows my mother shaking hands with Zhou Enlai, the first premier of China under Mao Zedong. The photograph was taken in 1962, four years before the Cultural Revolution began, but it was lost until a few weeks ago, when a barrage of Instagram notifications, texts, e-mails, and WeChat messages alerted me that the picture had been found. It had turned up on Facebook, of all places, in a post detailing the history of my mother’s grade school in Shanghai. (A point of recent pride: Yao Ming, the basketball player, was a student at the same school, albeit decades later). An aunt of mine who lives in Hong Kong forwarded the picture to my father, who then distributed it across the Internet.

In the picture, my mother is fourteen. Her hair is in a low ponytail and she has an accordion strapped over her shoulders. She wears a checked knee-length skirt, a white blouse, white ankle socks, and Mary Janes. Several rows of Chinese flags fly in the background; in front of these stand many smiling girls holding bouquets of flowers. All eyes in the picture are on Zhou Enlai as he grips my mother’s hand. He’s tall and handsome, in a Mao suit and strappy sandals. Her smile is easy and uncalculated, bordering on surprise.Read More »

The Empress of Gowanus

July 7, 2016 | by

Two trees grow in Brooklyn.

Empress tree.

Empress tree.

Lately I’ve come to love the empress trees that stand at either end of the Union Street Bridge, which crosses the Gowanus Canal, in Brooklyn. The pair aren’t much in winter, but come spring their canopies grow heavy with grand cascades of lavender flowers. The display is especially remarkable because the canal that flows beside the trees is polluted by heavy metals, pathogens, polychlorinated biphenyls, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and other suspiciously unpronounceable toxins. Whatever perfume might drift from the purple blossoms is instantly overpowered by the rot that wafts from the canal’s murky, iridescent waters. Read More »