One of the terrific things about the internet is that friends – old and new – are only a keystroke away. Now and then, someone you haven’t seen in a long time turns up - as happened to me a week or so ago.
Not that I haven’t kept track of Joyce Wadler. She is a reporter for The New York Times, is well-known for the “Bold-Faced Names” column she wrote for several years and she now covers a range of eclectic topics such as in this recent piece titled, Peter Rabbit Must Die, which is funny and not-so-funny all at once – a Joyce Wadler specialty.
When we were catching up by telephone, Joyce said that she had been to China last year to visit her friend, Emily Prager, a magazine writer and author of several books who was one of the screenwriters back in 1979, with my old friend, the late Michael O’Donoghue, on Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video.
It’s a small world – more like two, not six, degrees of separation. But none of this is what I’m here to tell you about today which is, instead, a gem of a story filled with fascinating and colorful detail about life in a strange, new place.
Two years ago, Emily moved herself and her daughter from New York City to Shanghai.
“I was annoyed at spending $20 for a hamburger,” she writes, “depressed by designer boutiques on Bleecker Street, weary of the hovering specter of Al Qaeda, and still grieving over the demise of [classics movie theater], the Thalia. I was getting old waiting for the real estate bubble to burst and the city to regain its vibrancy.”
A year ago, Emily wrote about settling into a “lane house” in an area she describes as the Greenwich Village of Shanghai:
“Each lane is a perfect little ecosystem," Emily explains. "There is a lanekeeper who watches over the lane and a lane sweeper who comes morning and evening to clean it up, to whom I contribute about $5 a month. At the end of each lane is a little house with square windows, which covers garbage bins on one side of a wall and a communal sink on the other.” (Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)
Emily isn’t entirely new to China. She lived there for awhile as a child and has visited several times since. She adopted her daughter, Lulu, in China and wrote a book, Wuhu Diary, about their visit to Lulu’s home town in southern China when Lulu was five years old.
Nevertheless, it is brave to move halfway around the world into a culture so different from what has been familiar for a lifetime.
Some retirees move to new places when their careers are done, but I think probably not as dramatic a change as Emily has made, and while still raising a child. A good-sized part of me wishes I’d been more adventurous when I left New York City two years ago.
Whether you’re up for something as entirely unlike your life as Emily has done or more an armchair traveler, Settling Down in a City in Motion is fascinating read, and don’t miss the slide show of Emily’s Shanghai lane house.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz recalls a childhood trauma she calls The War of the Roses.]