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Photo: Taobao / JD.com.
Livestreaming has brought some Chinese farmers badly needed customers during the pandemic.

I originally heard this reassuring tale at the radio show called The World, which is great about covering news from around the world, not just the US. If you’d like to listen to the broadcast, click here.

As Karen Hao reported at MIT Technology Review, some Chinese farmers hurting from the Covid-19 lockdown have been saved by technology.

“A few years after Li Jinxing graduated from college, he returned to his rural hometown to become a flower farmer. The days were long but the routine familiar: rise early and tend to the blossoms in the morning; trim and package those in bloom during the afternoon; deliver the parcels, delicately stacked in trucks, to customers by late evening.

“Where the flowers ended up, Li was never quite sure. From his fields in Yunnan province, China, he sold them to national distributors who sold them to flower shops who sold them to end consumers. … It all threatened to come to an end with covid-19.

“Li, 27, remembers the exact moment he heard about the viral outbreak: it was past midnight on January 20, 2020. The Chinese New Year was only five days away, and he had spent the day harvesting flowers in preparation for the expected holiday bump in sales. As he swiped through Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, he saw a fleeting mention of the disease. Li wasn’t sure what to think. Wuhan was nearly 1,200 miles away — the problem felt distant and intangible. …

“But as lockdown protocols swept through the country, panic began to set in. The logistics company that Li relied on had shut down for the holidays, and now the drivers were stuck at home. Without any way to carry out deliveries, Li watched as his flowers plummeted in price and still couldn’t be sold. In the end, tens of thousands of blossoms waiting in storage spoiled. …

“Then, on February 11, he received a message from an old friend, Ao Fenzhen, the COO of a flower distribution company. JD.com, one of China’s largest online retailers, was offering to help farmers use live-streaming to reach consumers, she said. It would involve broadcasting a few hours of content each day on its app, JD Live, to show off different products and answer questions from potential buyers. The company would provide access to its delivery networks — one of the few that had survived the lockdown — and take a small percentage of sales. Did Li want to join in? …

“Both JD.com and Alibaba-owned Taobao … helped farmers and merchants set up online stores with expedited approvals and showed them how to design the content of their broadcasts. They made their apps more intuitive and used their logistics networks to ship the products directly from farm to home. …

‘Most farmers didn’t know how to live-stream; even fewer understood e-commerce,’ says Zhang Guowei, the head of JD Live.

“But the pressure of the crisis — and the unique scale of China’s consumer base — provided the necessary catalyst. … Growers who had once sold 90% of their products offline have now flipped to selling 90% online. Live-streaming has not only helped the industry weather the crisis — it’s forged an entirely new way of business that is likely to continue long after the pandemic is over.

“Li’s friend Ao had been with her family for the holiday when news of covid arrived. … It was through an ad that she learned of JD.com’s live-streaming initiative. She didn’t have any experience with the medium, but she also didn’t know what else to do. She contacted the company and messaged Li. He was onboard.

“The first week of live-streaming was largely a blur. Ao set up an online store for consumers to make their purchases, and prepared scripts for one to two hours of content per day. Li then used JD Live to broadcast from his fields. He gave a tour of where the flowers grew, showcased their characteristics, and explained how to care for them. Li worked even longer hours than before … but when he sold 100 orders on the first day, he knew they were on to something.

“Through JD’s initiative, Ao and Li also connected with live-stream influencers who offered to help them promote the flowers for free. The pair provided the expertise, teaching the influencers the properties of the flowers and how to arrange them. Once, an influencer’s broadcast surpassed 1 million viewers.

“More orders came flooding in, and Li began to gain his own following. At one point, he remembers, he barely had enough farmhands to fulfill the sales. … By the end of the harvesting season, he had sold several hundred thousand flowers. His and Ao’s businesses had survived.”

More at MIT Technology Review, here.

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Art: Wei Man Kow

While many of us feel crushed under the weight of stories about Covid-19, cartoonists have been addressing the coronavirus in their own way, mostly trying to be helpful.

Jason Li writes at Hyperallergic, “No corner of the globe experiences the epidemic in quite the same way. … Cartoonists and illustrators have taken to the public squares of social media to express statements of solidarity, share experiences (and grievances), and laugh a little. [We’ve] collected our favorite works from around the world — taking care to include as many perspectives and geographies as we could, while still centering those in China, who remain most impacted by the virus. …

“[One] viral illustration by momo shows that Wuhan, ground zero of the epidemic, carries the support of everyone else in China. Wuhan is represented by a caricature of its famous food, hot dry noodle, while those cheering them on are drawn as foods from other regions of China.

“On a gentler note, the 3×3 comic [by] Wang XX is a fantastic encapsulation of the tenderness and care that people in China are feeling for one another during this calamitous period. In it, a seal, octopus, walrus and mouse help each other don their face masks and then hug it out. …

“[Another] comic about the shortages in Hong Kong by Ah To shows a person keeping toilet paper them in their safe along with their gold bars and surgical masks. …

“Many in and outside of China criticize its authorities for handling the crisis poorly and for muffling early warnings from medical experts. [A] mini-comic by A ee mi in Taiwan weaves a fantastical yet blunt critique of China’s healthcare system. In it, a coronavirus carrier is sent home without proper treatment, spreading the virus to their friends and community.

“While many airlines have suspended flights to China, the authorities in Hong Kong, which shares both land and sea borders with Mainland China, have staunchly refused to close off its borders. This has left its citizens incredibly anxious and angry. [Toballkidrawing] aptly depicts how the issue is viewed in Hong Kong — that the government is handing out a free pass for the virus to move in. …

“One genre of responses that’s been common across the globe is illustrated health advice. Some are comedic, some pithy, but the most popular are detailed and instructional. The above example by Wei Man Kow in Singapore was an unexpected hit and was subsequently translated into seven different languages by various strangers on the internet. (The artist has also made the instructional available for free download, including coloring book versions in Chinese and English.) Meanwhile, veteran cartoonist Sonny Liew (also in Singapore) teamed up with local doctors to put out [a] calming, animal-themed strip combating paranoia and disinformation.

“The breadth of these illustrated responses mirrors the myriad lived realities of the coronavirus. While none will argue that the virus is not a global epidemic or phenomenon, few agree on how serious the problem is, and people around the world are experiencing and interpreting its impact in vastly different ways. ”

Check out all these comics and more at Hyperallergic, here. If you have seen other good cartoons on this topic, please link to them in comments.

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Photo: Hanjun
Music director Long Yu with the Shanghai Symphony  This orchestra carried on straight through World War I and World War II. During the Cultural Revolution, they had to play folk songs and songs of revolution. But they played.

This past August the Shanghai Symphony came to Chicago. And thanks to coverage of the visit, I learned something new about a Chinese city I visited in 2007.

Howard Reich interviewed the symphony’s conductor at the Chicago Tribune. “When the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra makes its Chicago-area debut Aug. 16 at the Ravinia Festival, no one will be prouder of the occasion than its music director, Long Yu.

“For to him, the Shanghai ensemble will be more than just a visitor from the other side of the world – it will be bringing with it a legacy stretching back to 1879, when it was established under a previous name.

“ ‘This is the first orchestra not only in China, but in the Far East,’ says Yu, speaking by phone from Hong Kong. …

“In effect, adds Yu, this orchestra ‘introduced most of the classical music to China and to Asia.’ …

“ ‘There is something wrong about how the Western world – I don’t speak about the United States only – the Western world is taking for granted our culture,’ [Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti] said. ‘In China, where we performed in this big (arts) center – where they have theater, concert halls and drama – that is so modern and fantastic, they told me that they are building a new hall!’ …

“Few could have envisioned such an embrace of Western classical music when the Shanghai ensemble was founded. But equally remarkable is the fact that it has survived through so many political, social and cultural upheavals.

“ ‘You can see this orchestra for 140 years, you can find all the programs through the First (World) War, Second (World) War, Cultural Revolution and till today – they have not stopped playing concerts,’ says Yu.

‘Especially during the Cultural Revolution, they still played! They did function in the Cultural Revolution – Chinese folk songs, but they still played. …

“ ‘Today it sounds like a very crazy idea. But during the years of the Cultural Revolution in China, it was fashionable to punish people for learning too much Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. I graduated from high school (in 1970) having been trained as a pianist, but my studies were interrupted, and I was sent to the rice fields for four years of physical labor. The government felt they needed to purify my soul, and they believed physical labor was the best way.’

“Musicians who nurtured Western culture suffered severely. Yang Bingsun, the Central Philharmonic Orchestra of China’s concertmaster, spent ‘nine years and four months in prison, my fingers constantly being injured because I was forced to work in cement,’ he told me in 1987. …

“What a difference a few decades make: In May, the First China International Music Competition launched in Beijing with an unprecedented first prize: $150,000 plus professional career management for three years (second and third prizes were $75,000 and $30,000). … Why have the Chinese put so much muscle behind classical music?

“ ‘To be placed on the international music map in a very serious way,’ Richard Rodzinski, the contest’s general director, told me earlier this year.

“Which helps explain why conductor Yu and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra are bringing their wares here. …

“For his Ravinia program, he’ll feature cellist Alisa Weilerstein in Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Qigang Chen’s ‘Wu Xing (The Five Elements),’ a kind of East-meets-West program. But unlike some observers, Yu sees fewer distinctions between music-making in the two hemispheres.

“ ‘I don’t like to put Western music or Eastern music, Western culture or Eastern culture’ in categories, he says. ‘People ask me what is the difference between Chinese orchestras and Western orchestras? Basically, no difference. Eastern and Western orchestras do the same things, we teach every orchestra the same way, we rehearse the same way, we do the same programs.’ ”

More at the Chicago Tribune, here.

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A saxophone made in China.

I’ve always liked the sound of the saxophone, and when I listen to my favorite jazz station, WICN.org, I often try to identify which kind I’m hearing — alto, tenor … Identifying instrument sounds is not my strong suit, but I’m working on it.

Recently Javier C. Hernández published an unusual story about saxophones at the New York Times. It turns out the mellow instruments are quite popular in China, especially in the village that makes them.

“By day,” he reports, “the factory workers pound sheets of brass into cylinders and slather metal buttons with glue. By night, they take their creations to the street and begin to play.

“The soothing melodies flow through cornfields, street markets and public squares. They interweave with the shouts of street vendors hawking tofu and men playing mah-jongg.

“This is the music of Sidangkou, a northern Chinese village of 4,000, where one sound rules above all else: the saxophone. …

“The saxophone has never had a large following in China, in part because it was long associated with jazz, individuality and free expression. After the Communist revolution of 1949, officials denounced the instrument for producing the ‘decadent music of capitalists.’

“But here in this town, the saxophone is king.

“Sidangkou, which calls itself China’s ‘saxophone capital,’ produces about 10,000 saxophones per month at more than 70 factories, according to Chinese news media. ..

“Factories in the region now produce thousands of oboes, trumpets and tubas each year. Yet nothing seems to have captured the imagination of people here like the saxophone. …

“Assembly line workers began trying their hand at the instrument, mimicking famous players they saw on television. By the mid-2000s, saxophone fever had broken out.

“Fu Guangcheng came to Sidangkou in 1995 to work as a polisher on an assembly line. He quickly fell in love with the sound of the saxophone and started formal studies.

“ ‘It’s my career, it’s my life,’ said Mr. Fu, a factory worker. … ‘It’s a miracle that even rural people who are used to holding hoes in our hands can make Western instruments.’ …

“Many of the players are self-taught or follow along with online tutorials. … Some of the more advanced players in the village now use live-streaming apps to broadcast lessons online.”

As I was looking for photos, I discovered that Chinese depictions of Santa Claus nearly always show him playing a sax. Max Fisher of the Washington Post wondered why and discovered that no one knows. Maybe, one reader suggested, it’s because the saxophone is “cool and romantic”!

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Dinghua Yang/AFP/Getty Images
This pregnant Dinocephalosaurus, a long-necked marine reptile, didn’t lay eggs but instead gave birth to live young 245m years ago.

After uncovering new evidence, surprised scientists are revising a long-held understanding of the pre-dinosaur Dinocephalosaurus.

According to a Reuters story at the Guardian, “An extraordinary fossil unearthed in southwestern China shows a pregnant long-necked marine reptile that lived millions of years before the dinosaurs with its developing embryo, indicating the creature gave birth to live babies rather than laying eggs.

“Scientists said [in February that] the fossil of the unusual fish-eating reptile called Dinocephalosaurus, which lived about 245m years ago during the Triassic Period, changes the understanding of the evolution of vertebrate reproductive systems.

“Mammals and some reptiles including certain snakes and lizards are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young.

“Dinocephalosaurus is the first member of a broad vertebrate group called archosauromorphs that includes birds, crocodilians, dinosaurs and extinct flying reptiles known as pterosaurs known to give birth this way, paleontologist Jun Liu of China’s Hefei University of Technology said. …

“ ‘I think you’d be amazed to see it, with its tiny head and long snaky neck,’ said University of Bristol paleontologist Mike Benton, who also participated in the research published in the journal Nature Communications.

“Its body plan was similar to plesiosaurs, long-necked marine reptiles akin to Scotland’s mythical Loch Ness Monster that thrived later during the dinosaur age, though they were not closely related.

“Not laying eggs provided advantages to Dinocephalosaurus, the researchers said. It indicated the creature was fully marine, not having to leave the ocean to lay eggs on land like sea turtles, exposing the eggs or hatchlings to land predators.” More here.

I admire scientists for continuously revisiting accepted wisdom when they find new data. The only complaint I have about the story concerns the Loch Ness Monster, an old friend of mine. Should one really call it mythical? Perhaps the data just haven’t floated to the surface yet.

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Wouldn’t it be strange if China, the smog capital of the world, started assuming leadership on environmental causes like global warming, clean air, and … sustainable fish farming.

The PRI radio show Living on Earth recently explained how China was tackling the latter challenge.

“Consumer demand in both the U.S. and China for safe and healthy farmed fish is shaping aquaculture practices in the world’s most populous country. And fish farmers are using traditional Chinese medicine as well as high-tech monitoring systems as they strive to keep their fish healthy and their farming practices transparent. Jocelyn Ford reports from the Hainan Province. …

“HAN HAN: With such a huge population in China, if we didn’t have aquaculture, if we totally relied on the wild fishery. I guess we would already running out of all these wild fish, maybe 10 or 20 years ago.

“FORD: That’s Han Han, the founder of the China Blue Sustainability Institute, China’s first non-governmental, environmental organization focused on sustainable fishing and aquaculture. Today, aquaculture accounts for one of every two fish that land on the dinner table worldwide, and it’s growing faster than other sources of animal protein. China is the global aquaculture leader, and because of its expertise here, it wants to help other countries. …

“Aquaculture is expanding globally at about five percent a year, and that’s a plus for some of the Earth’s most pressing environmental issues. For example, compared to a pound of beef, a pound of fish has only about one-seventh of the carbon footprint. But large-scale aquaculture has created new problems. Naturally, farmed fish need to eat. And gone are the days when Chinese fish farms were all organic. Qi Genliu is a professor at Shanghai Ocean University.

“QI: Traditionally we used grass to culture grass carp.

“FORD: That changed with the growth of the fish feed industry and the need to feed carnivorous marine fish [and keep them disease free with antibiotics]. …

“The founder and president of The Fishin’ Company, Manish Kumar, started coming to Hainan to build a coalition for a safer, more environmentally sound and sustainable tilapia industry [using traditional herbal medicine instead of antibiotics]. His company is sponsoring trainings, and offering financial incentives to a few model farms that invest in improvements. The idea is, others will follow suit if they see it makes financial sense. …

“FORD: His ideas include increasing omega-3 levels in the tilapia, the fish oil that may help lower risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. To help reassure customers who are nervous about what their fish are eating, next year he’s planning a state of the art oversight system that involves cameras, QR codes, and consumer monitoring.

“KUMAR: We will now proceed to do something no one in the industry has done before. Put a camera system into the farm area. A customer buys a bag of fish. You have a QR code on the bag. Run your smartphone through our QR code on the bag, and you will have a chance to see the actual farm that raised this fish in your bag. And how it’s being raised.

“FORD: Customers can see the type of feed, and the plant where the feed was made, and the insomniacs can watch the fish grow 24/7. Manish Kumar says the extra cost will be negligible. As the largest supplier of tilapia, he expects to be able to take advantage of economies of scale.”

More at Living on Earth, here, where you can learn more about the use of Chinese herbal medicine to ensure the fish stay healthy.

Photo: Jocelyn Ford
Harvesting tilapia for export on an internationally certified farm in China.

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Sandra and I have been keeping an eye on a neighbor’s lotus all week, hoping to see it bloom. Today was the day. Above is what the lotus looked like at 7:30 a.m. Below is the lotus at 8 a.m., at the end of our walk.

This exciting development sent me to the Tennyson poem about Odysseus landing on the island of lotus eaters. I don’t think I had ever read the whole thing. Here are excerpts.

A land where all things always seem’d the same!
And round about the keel with faces pale,
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.

Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them,
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make. …

Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.

I’d say that’s an early example of an altered state.

According to wikipedia, however, our lotus is Nelumbo nucifera, whereas the one that hooked the Greek mariners was probably Ziziphus lotus, which doesn’t look nearly as pretty.

Sandra was interested in the showerhead-like seed pod. If you get close, you can see a blue-ish seed peeking out of every hole.

And what amazing seeds they are! As the invaluable wikipedia reveals, “An individual lotus can live for over a thousand years and has the rare ability to revive into activity after stasis. In 1994, a seed from a sacred lotus [in Northeastern China], dated at roughly 1,300 years old ± 270 years, was successfully germinated.”

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This story from the NY Times is about a matrilineal society near Lugu Lake in Yunnan Province, China.  Amy Qin writes that the area’s beauty and the colorful female-centric traditions are a tourist draw, but once again, a culture and a language are threatened.

“A young man clad in a white shirt, black pants and red belt suddenly scrambled up the side of a log house and slid feet first into a second-story latticed window.

” ‘This is how Mosuo men would climb into the “flower room” of the women,’ Ke Mu explained to visitors as the triumphant swain stuck his head out the window of the flower room, or private bedroom, and waved his hat.

“It was morning in the lakeside village of Luoshui here in southwestern China. On a narrow side street, dusty from hotel construction nearby, a group of young workers, including Ms. Ke, 18, was preparing for another day of cultural pageantry at the Mosuo Folk Museum. …

“A fascination with such traditions has led to a booming tourism industry in this once-isolated region. …

“Visitors can watch residents perform traditional dances in colorful costumes and can take boat rides on the lake as young Mosuo men serenade them with love songs in Naru, the Mosuo language.

“All around the village are signs that read, ‘Welcome to the Kingdom of Daughters.’

“Lively as its traditions seem, however, the Mosuo community is facing a crisis. As its interaction with the wider society increases, residents and outside experts fear that the group’s unique cultural practices are facing a grave threat.

“Experts say that the population of Mosuo in the Lugu Lake region, estimated to be about 40,000, is decreasing as more young people marry outside the group or move to larger cities for work. And without a written language, Mosuo culture is particularly vulnerable to disappearing.” Read about some curious customs here.

Photo: Adam Dean for The New York Times
Mosuo women in traditional outfits danced for Han Chinese tourists at a show in Luoshui. 

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I have another unusual library story — this time from China. It’s about a small village that built a magnificent library, drawing admiring visitors and boosting the local economy.

Jane Perlez writes at the New York Times, “The tiny village of Jiaojiehe suffers from being close to the nation’s capital. The young flee easily to the big city, leaving the elderly behind, lonely and poor.

“In today’s China, villages like this often try to engineer a sense of well-being by opening a new medical clinic, say, or by upgrading the water supply.

“But Li Xiaodong, an award-winning architect who fuses traditional Chinese ideas of design with Western themes, had a different idea for Jiaojiehe. He was captivated by the potential he saw in the village’s most abundant natural resource, the branches of its thousands of trees, which the locals harvest for fuel.

“So he built a library — with a twist. At its base, it is a steel and glass box in the vein of a Philip Johnson open-plan creation from the 1950s, but its exterior walls and roof are clad with fruit-tree twigs.

“The spindly sticks are arranged in vertical rows, and their uneven shapes allow natural light to filter into the library’s reading room, while keeping the building cool in the summer and cozy in the winter. They also act as a kind of camouflage, making the library’s rectangular edges barely noticeable in the landscape as visitors approach the village on a narrow, twisting road. …

“The library has a presence on social media, and many of the visitors on the weekend are university students or young professionals. They wander around the village, snap photos of themselves and order the local delicacy, stewed chicken with chestnuts, at one of the restaurants.

“And some of them actually read. Sun Liyang, 27, an automotive journalist, said a friend in Beijing had donated some books after hearing about the library online, and he decided to come for a look. ‘I am sitting here reading “The Adventures of Tintin,” ‘ he said. ‘It’s taking me back to my childhood.’

“Wang Fuying, 57, who used to grow crops in the area, is now the librarian, even though she can barely read. ‘All the library visitors are from the city,’ she said. ‘We have up to 200 visitors a day over the weekend. They come for fun, take a look, take some pictures and take a walk.’

“There are a few flaws. To preserve the wood floor, patrons must remove their shoes at the front door, but in the summer when there are many visitors, the reading room becomes smelly from all the socks, Ms. Wang said. …

“Mr. Li’s projects in other parts of China where he has built small structures in rural areas — including a school built high over a creek — have won many prizes. But few honors seem to have pleased him more than last year’s Moriyama R.A.I.C. International Prize, named for the Canadian-Japanese architect Raymond Moriyama. …

“On a recent weekend, Mr. Moriyama, 85, was one of the visitors to the library. He liked what he saw. ‘I was so happy this particular project won,’ he said. ‘It was all about picking one that represents service to the people. The sense of humanity of the library is so great.’

“The older architect patted Mr. Li on the back. ‘You did good,’ he said. ‘I was not on the jury, and quite often, I disagree with the jury. But in this case, I believe it was 150 percent right.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times
Li Xiaodong, a prize-winning architect, was inspired by the branches of local fruit trees, which he used to cover the Liyuan library’s roof and exterior walls.

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Suzanne’s friend Sara Van Note is heading off to Central America to research a story, but before leaving, she filed this report on a wasp that is being used to fight the emerald ash borer.

“A swampy forest in the floodplain of  the Merrimack River is one of the first places in New Hampshire where the dreaded emerald ash borer was discovered. These days, Molly Heuss of the New Hampshire Division of Forestry and Lands knows just how to find the tree-munching beetles lurking in green and black ash. …

“In recent years, the emerald ash borer has chewed its way through tens of millions of ashes across 24 states and two Canadian provinces, and counting.”

So scientists have decided to use a parasitic wasp to combat the menace.

“The parasites are descendants of wasps brought to the US from China, where the borer is also from. And they are very tiny. ‘About the size of a pin,’ says entomologist Juli Gould, of the US Department of Agriculture in Massachusetts. …

“The borers themselves were discovered in North America in 2002. They probably got here by stowing away in shipping crates. Scientists here knew nothing about them at the time, so Gould says they began working with colleagues in China to find a way to control the bugs.” More here.

Using the parasitic wasp is a last-ditch effort, and other scientists worry that the wasp could end up doing other things that are less desirable. That’s always a possibility, as Erik pointed out the other day when I showed him an article in the Providence Journal about a local effort to beat back a winter moth infestation. The article said that the parasitic fly Cyzenis albicans dines only on winter moths, so no worries. But Erik was skeptical. The best laid plans of mice and men …

Photo: John Cameron
Mountain Ash in New Hampshire

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Here’s an interesting start-up by a couple of entrepreneurs who love to eat. The two women decided to build a business around helping travelers find truly authentic cooking.

According to Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence’s website, “Traveling Spoon believes in creating meaningful travel. We are passionate about food, and believe that by connecting people with authentic food experiences in people’s homes around the world we can help facilitate meaningful travel experiences for travelers and hosts worldwide.

“To help you experience local cuisine while traveling, Traveling Spoon offers in-home meals with our hosts. In addition, we also offer in-home cooking classes as well as market tours as an extra add-on to many of the meal experiences. All of our hosts have been vetted to ensure a safe and delightful culinary experience.

“Traveling Spoon currently offers home dining experiences in over 35 cities throughout Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam, and more countries are coming soon!” More here.

I have no doubt that Traveling Spoon is also boosting international understanding. What a good way to use an MBA! Business school is not all about becoming an investment banker, as Suzanne and Erik would tell you.

Photo: Traveling Spoon
Traveling Spoon founders Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence met at the Haas School of Business.

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I had just cut out this story for the blog, when a colleague from northern China stopped by my office. He said it was the fifth time he had come upstairs to see if he could find another friend who was getting laid off. He wanted to give her a hug. I said, “Hug? Look at this.”

Didi Kirsten Tatlow, who writes dispatches from China for the NY Times, had just filled me in on a change among my friend’s former countrymen: “Of all the changes to sweep China since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 — stock markets, private cars, fashion — one thing seemed not to have changed: No hugging. Chinese were physically reserved. That’s changing now.

“Recently, it seems like everyone is hugging. Friends are hugging. Family members are hugging. In hugging between Chinese and non-Chinese, it was non-Chinese who once foisted physical affection on the Chinese. Today it may be a Chinese initiating contact. The tables are turning. …

“Teachers are joining in. In Nanjing, the Liuhe District Experimental Elementary School began a class in emotional intelligence last fall, concerned that children lacked it and would thus be held back in the world, the newspaper Modern Express reported.

“The third graders’ homework: Hug your parents tonight. Sixty schools in the district now have emotional intelligence classes, the newspaper said.”

My co-worker’s first reaction to the news clipping was, “They are always trying to copy Americans.” But then he got a funny look on his face.

“Actually, the last time I went home, my uncle hugged me. I was really surprised. He’s my father’s generation. We were always taught to show more respect for older people.”

I’m happy to see hugs are catching on with nontraditional huggers. As they say of chicken soup, “It wouldn’t hurt.”

(A thank you to John’s family for all the hugs this morning!)

Photo:  Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

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On Sunday, my husband and I decided to see what’s new at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln.

A favorite in the biennial show of New England artists was Laura Braciale of Manchester, NH. It took me a minute, but when I realized she had displayed everyday objects along with what they looked like once she had turned them into art, I thought, Yes, art really is in everything if you look.

The blurb about her says, “close observation reveals subtle differences between the three-dimensional structures and their two-dimensional renderings. …  Her works engage a question concerning representation—which image is more ‘real’? As both her items and her illustrations occupy the same physical reality, however, Braciale’s work suggests that neither is more real than the other.” (Sigh. I’m not really fond of the way museums write.)

In a different DeCordova exhibit we saw three tintype photo portraits by the late David Prifti, Suzanne’s high school photography teacher. (A solo show in Winchester, Mass., goes through March 2, here.)

The biggest surprise was a documentary about Laos, a country we are interested in largely because of the the mystery books of Colin Cotterill. (Read one of my posts about him, here.)

The film, Route 3, shows a small mountain town that, having been leased to China for 75 years, was utterly destroyed to make way for casinos, hotels, entertainments, and jobs for Chinese people alone. Hard to imagine selling a part of your country like that, but Laos is desperately poor.

The documentary was by Patty Chang and David Kelley, who live and work in Boston and Brooklyn.

The DeCordova says on its website, “Blending the genres of documentary and road trip films with surrealist cinematic passages, Patty Chang and David Kelley present a compelling trip through the physical and psychological landscape of a community in transition. … Enlisting the help of tour guides and local entrepreneurs in this tightly controlled area, the artists immersed themselves in this community to create a unique portrait of a changing society.” More information on the artists here and here.

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Someone tweeted this today, and I thought you would like it.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has created a nighttime art installation made of bicycles all lit up.

On October 5, says Alice at the website My Modern Met, “Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei presented a new version of his incredible Forever Bicycles installation. As the centerpiece of this year’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, the all-night contemporary art event that takes over city streets, 3,144 bicycles, the most Weiwei has used of this work to date, were stacked 100 feet in length and 30 feet in height and depth in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. This was the first time the installation has been displayed in an open air, public space. Since this was a night-time festival, it was spectacularly lit up with pink and blue lights.”

Check My Modern Met for a stunning array of photos, here.

Photo: http://www.mymodernmet.com

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I went to school with the daughter of the consul general from Taiwan. One time she told me that the people of mainland China looked physically different because of communism.

I thought I already knew a bit about China. After all, my mother had traveled there in the 1930s as an assistant to Owen Lattimore (cowering later under the dark cloud manufactured by Joe McCarthy and his ilk, who saw Reds under every teacup). She was always talking about China. so although I realized my high school friend probably knew more about China than I did, I had doubts about her statement. How could living under communism make a Chinese person look different from family members on Taiwan?

Nowadays, a rapprochement between the two Chinas is in the air. At first I was surprised that so many people living in Taiwan — and accustomed to views like my friend’s — seemed to have no trouble talking about reunification with the mainland. But family does reach out to family.

Now I see that two sections of an ancient scroll are also being reunited. An article in the NY Times last week describes a new Taipei exhibit and the reunification of “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains.” Writes the Times:

“Wu Hongyu, a wealthy Ming Dynasty art collector, was evidently not fond of sharing, given his deathbed command to burn his most beloved painting, ‘Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains.’ Fortunately, a nephew snatched the scroll from the funeral pyre that day in 1650, but not before flames split the work in two.

“During the three and a half centuries since then, the two sections were kept apart by greed, civil war and the vicissitudes of geopolitical gamesmanship. The smaller piece, just 20 inches across, found its way to a provincial museum in Communist-ruled China. The more imposing 21-foot-long section ended up on Taiwan, the island where the retreating Chinese Nationalists — and boatloads of treasures from Beijing’s imperial palace — ended up after they lost the civil war in 1949.

“If the story of ‘Fuchun Mountains’ is richly symbolic of China’s tumultuous history and its six-decade estrangement from Taiwan, then the painting’s reunification last month at the National Palace Museum here in the Taiwanese capital is a made-to-order metaphor for the reconciliation that Communist Party leaders have long imagined for what they deem a breakaway province.”

Who would have thought?

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