I still look at the photograph of this lotus blossom and cannot believe I was the photographer. This very recent post, from last month's Forest of Lotus Blossoms
proved to me that my photography skills had come a long, long way in two years of learning, and I'm really proud of the beauty these photos evoke.
But in case you al think I just flit around, camera at the ready for any pretty flowers that catch my attention, it's what the photos don't show
The day I heaved to a stop at this lotus farm it was about 38 degrees and at least 98% humidity. I'd spent the previous four hours pedalling up and down hills on a tandem bike with a passenger whose legs were too short to reach the pedals, I was verging on heat stroke, and I was sweating so much my fingers kept slipping off the camera. It was intensely
hot. I wandered around the lotus farm like someone on the final leg of a marathon, wobbly, nauseous, and with sweaty eyeballs, trying not to fog the lens with the heat coming off my face.
Despite this physical ugliness, these turned out to be some of the most beautiful shots I had ever taken. Miraculous.
Shanghai to Guilin by Slow Train
, a rambling post from July 2010, was about my first long-distance train trip in China. In terms of popularity, it ranks neck and neck with The Cave Dwelling Paper Makers of Guizhou
, below, and I have yet to discover if this is due to ranks of secret train enthusiasts around the world who are pushing up the numbers, or a bunch of Russian viagra cyber-hackers who use this as an entry page.
My most popular post, as told to me by people who actually read my posts (as opposed to train geeks and Russian drug barons), would have to be the one about our Chinese real estate agent, Bruce, and the Rotary Candle Holder
he gave me for Christmas last year. People I've never met before can repeat parts of it line for line, and even I
snort when I re-read it. I must have been pretty shit-faced when I wrote it, and if you don't know the meaning of shit-faced
, you will after reading, promise.
3. My Most Controversial Post
Earlier this year I blogged regularly for Shanghai's City Weekend online magazine (before they offered me a regular columnist gig in their print magazine), and wrote about a visit to the Tongchuang Lu Seafood Markets
where I happened to mention that one of the shops sold dried shark's fin. Did you say SHARK'S FIN?? Did I say I supported the trade in shark's fin? Er...no....but that didn't stop the ensuing bunfight.
4. My Most Helpful Post
I like to be helpful, even when I don't know I'm being helpful. Way back in March 2009 I visited Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) and stayed at a cute little guesthouse in the nearby village of Xidi called, poetically, the Pig's Heaven Inn
. I found the guesthouse through Lonely Planet, and had a Chinese friend make the reservation because I didn't speak much actual Chinese
at the time...
Now had I known that I would prove to be the only person in the English language universe possessed of an actual business card for the place, with an actual phone number and email address on it, I might have written a much more descriptive post with actual directions on how to get there, cost of rooms and so on. Then the lovely folks at Time magazine mentioned it in a travel article and it would seem I am still the only website on the planet with any information whatsoever about the place. Good to be useful for something, right?
It is lovely, you should visit sometime when all the Time magazine subscribers leave.
5. A Post Whose Success Surprised Me
thought this was an interesting story, about a bunch of papermakers in the Chinese middle of nowhere - The Cave Dwelling Paper Makers of Guizhou
Then it was featured on Etsy's blog
, in an interview with me. Except
that I had never been interviewed by anyone at Etsy, and the lazy buggers had just lifted it directly off Life on Nanchang Lu, cut and paste style. I was planning to email them a small angry protest, until I noticed their 'interview' had sent more than 2000 new visitors to my blog. Cool. Etsy, you can steal my content anytime.
In fact, that post on Etsy led me to getting to know a journalist in Shanghai who is writing a series of stories for Etsy on crafts in China. And guess who's photographs were featured in the first of the series
6. A Post That Didn't Get the Attention It Deserved
You all love xiaolongbao, right?
And you're all desperate to learn the secret behind these famous Shanghai soup dumplings, aren't you?
So you'll be wanting to re-read my post on the top-secret recipe for pig skin jelly
that transforms these ordinary dumplings into sublime little pockets holding hot steaming fragrant soup, right?
Well, apparently the words pig, skin and jelly in the same sentence pretty much guaranteed that this post sank without a trace, despite it containing a detailed step-by-step guide to making your very own pig hide aspic.
A shame, because this post was my very own service to the world of food, and it took me a hundred years to translate it from the Chinese original.
7. The Post I Am Most Proud Of
Written as part of the 25 Days of Shanghai Christmas Series last year, A Christmas Story
tells of The Giving Tree charity, who distribute bags of gifts to Chinese migrant schools at Christmas time, to children who have never received much at all. All the bags had been filled by children at our school and their families, and every child had made a beautiful card for their gifts. I still cry every time I read it. I'm proud of this post because I think it's the first time I managed to recapture the emotion of a time and place in the written word. And I love seeing those smiling faces again and again.
Paying it forward: I hereby nominate the delightful and very talented cook and photographer Shaz from Sydney blog Test with Skewer
, and Christa, voracious reader, reviewer and food-lover at The Mental Foodie