Film review – Refuge

Cbq_dLcWAAAbBvTIf you’ve been around the blog long enough, you’ll know that I’m a sucker for an apocalyptic tale. Even though I tend to gravitate to zombies, I’m an equal opportunity end-of-the-world enthusiast.

In fact, having spent six years living in Beijing (with a population of over 20 million crammed into tight quarters), I really connect with storytellers who imagine the collapse of society as the product of disease rather than creatures. I was once on a Beijing bus so crowded that a man couldn’t help sneezing directly into my mouth. In addition to being terribly grossed out, I had the flu within 12 hours.


I also made the grand mistake of watching Contagion for the first time at the start of the 13 hour flight back to China. Halfway through the film I realized everyone around me was coughing and spitting into paper bags and I spent the next 12 hours very consciously trying not to touch my face.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that Refuge resonated with me in a very real way. The premise of the movie is that a so-called “Nightmare Superbug” resistant to antibiotics has spread globally, decimating the population. The country falls apart, and the only people left are those who have isolated themselves and avoided contact with the infected.

While I wouldn’t consider them spoilers, I am going to talk a bit about the characters and very general plot points. Keep this in mind as you read ahead.

REFUGE: Available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, Youtube & VOD on Comcast, Time Warner, Fios, etc. from Passerby Films on Vimeo.

Aside from a montage flashback during the opening credits that outlines the pandemic, the movie is set several years after the complete collapse of society. Survivors have been reduced to roving bands of scavengers, trying to glean whatever scraps of food and medicine are left in abandoned homes, all while continuing to protect themselves from coming into contact with any infected corpses.

In essence, Refuge is a movie about tribes. There are no lone wolves, no solitary hunters, but instead people have grouped themselves into what could be considered post-apocalyptic family units. Jack, Nell and their daughter Birdie are an actual biological family, with the supplementary addition of Kyle – an artist they took in and who serves as a secondary patriarch.


On the opposite end of the spectrum you have a sort of hybrid of The Lost Boys and the Manson Family, a pack of young men who revel in violence and mayhem. Led by the cold, brutal, and arguably sociopathic Rez, they take whatever they want and kill indiscriminately. Russell is running with Rez’s crew, but it’s clear that he’s not on board with their methods. When he crashes his motorcycle trying to get away from them, Jack finds him in the road and takes him home to set his broken leg.


Other groups cross their paths over the course of the movie, each categorized as being on either extreme side of this morality scale. It’s not necessarily new ground being covered here in terms of characters or themes, but that’s par for the course when it comes to exploring human nature. It’s not about coming up with a unique scenario, it’s about coming up with a unique approach to immersing the viewer in that scenario.

This movie’s approach immerses you fully, putting you right in the thick of things. You see, more than anything else, ambiance is what revs my horror engine. Refuge leans heavily on the sounds of an abandoned world – crickets chirping, leaves crunching underfoot, the labored sound of breath through a gas mask, papers rustling, wind pulling at branches – and all that natural atmosphere makes you as the viewer really feel the weight of the emptiness. The soundtrack weaves in between these sounds and amplifies their impact.


The loyalty Jack’s family members (related and adopted, old and new) show to each other is fierce, and when they are not together the separation anxiety is real and intense. He can be a bit sharp, to the point where it feels almost cruel, but you get the impression that this is a well-honed survival reflex and his family understands and respects that. None of them seems to question why they press on, they just continue to live because living is what they do.

In my opinion, Refuge nails the pacing – not so much slow as it is deliberate, punctuated with moments of intensity. It is not an action-packed thriller in the traditional sense, but it still does have both action and thrills. For maximum effect, I’d recommend you watch it with the lights out, on a larger screen. If you’ve got surround sound, even better. It’s available to purchase VOD from a variety of services.

3.5/5 stars

Exit, pursued by a bear

For a while, it was all the rage for expats to write a “Why I’m Leaving China” essay on the way out. For Mark Kitto, it was a slightly bitter diatribe about the futility of assimilation. For Charlie Custer, who left in quasi-clandestine fashion, it was more like a heads up that he was gone, but still scathing nonetheless. These letters made such sexy fodder for the China news hawks that earlier this year CNN published a letter from a guy nobody had really heard of explaining that he was leaving China because he got a new job in Vancouver, so he left and is going to work there now, just in case you guys were wondering where he went.

The truth is, for the most part, expats are transient by nature. We’re people who like to explore, creatively minded, looking for an interesting challenge. Is this true of all people living abroad? No, of course not. But I think it holds true for a lot of the people I’ve met while living far away from home, and from time to time, far outside my comfort zone. If it wasn’t a valuable experience, I wouldn’t have moved abroad twice. Three times if you count Canada (it’s actually more foreign than you’d think).

There was pollution in 2005 too. We just didn't talk about it.

There was pollution in 2005 too. We just didn’t talk about it.

When I first moved to Beijing in 2005 I was a wide-eyed kid, freshly graduated from college. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to do something different. When my Chinese professor suggested I consider taking an English teaching job at her childhood school in Beijing it took me about 15 seconds of deliberation before telling her to set the wheels in motion. The second time I moved here, nearly three years ago, it was more of a strategic decision than a whim. The financial crisis made it nearly impossible to find job opportunities at home in advertising (a field I had fallen in love with), but my CV pulled a bit more weight in China. I was able to cut my teeth in the digital marketplace with an amazing amount of autonomy and creative control.

Yes, the pollution is an issue, but it’s also not enough to drive me away. There are the little things that grate on my nerves, constant construction topping the list, but there are always going to be minor annoyances in your life. Changing location just changes their form; it doesn’t eliminate them. At the end of the day, the reason I’m leaving is the same reason I came here in the first place – I want to do something different. It really is that simple. Add to that the fact that I would like to live closer to my family for a while, and buying the plane ticket back to America was an easy decision.

When I started thinking about all those angry leaving letters I couldn’t help but fixate on the idea of a swan song. When a kettle boils, it whistles. So, why is it that when people boil, they seethe? (This is a rhetorical question, obviously, since kettles are not subject to human emotion. The moment they are, the machines have won.) But in all seriousness, I like the idea of a melodic exit, a moment of beauty plucked from a tumultuous time. In the spirit of that, I leave Beijing with this tune. It very eloquently sums up how I feel about this place, and this experience, both the good and the bad.

And if you find it cheesy, well that’s just how I roll.

Taste test: Potato all the chips!

A few months ago in the US, people were going crazy for 3 flavors of Lay’s chips pitted against each other in a contest for permanent production status. In reviewing the Chicken & Waffles, Sriracha, and Cheesy Garlic Bread chips, The New York Post said that they “were about as far away from the classic BBQ, Sour Cream & Onion and Salt & Vinegar varieties than one could imagine.” The good people at the NYP have obviously never been to China.


Just in time for stuff-your-face hibernation season, I bring you a comprehensive review of all the Lay’s flavors we could find at my local Beijing supermarket. What’s important to remember here is that these are just the Lay’s chips I rounded up. There are countless other crunchy potato snacks in countless other flavors, and quite frankly the task of collecting and tasting all of them is just too daunting.

As it was, I needed to enlist the help of my friends Alex, Ami and Sam (who are fellow snack food enthusiasts/fearless eaters) in order to make it through the stack of greasy goodness piled up in my living room. Ami also happens to be a mustard lover, and thus gave me her opinions of some chips dipped into all the mustards she found in my fridge.


These are what I would call “classic” flavors, meaning they’ve been around in China for quite some time and are the flavors you’re most likely to find even at a small kiosk shop. These are, from left to right, Texas Grilled BBQ, Mexican Tomato Chicken, and Italian Red Meat. Not pictured (or taste-tested) is the American Classic, which is just a standard no-frills potato chip.

Texas Grilled BBQ

Natalie: Tastes like something I don’t like. Just, no.

Ami: Bleh x2

Alex: Not too sweet, but not very meaty? It tastes, but I have no idea what it tastes like.

Mexican Tomato Chicken

Natalie: There’s nothing Mexican or chicken about it. But there is tomato. Sort of.

Sam: It just tastes like sweet tomato.

Alex: Sweet! Tomato flavor, but not chicken.

Italian Red Meat

Natalie: I get a hint of ginger and garlic, but not red meat.

Sam: Flavor is really weak. I don’t even know how to describe it other than vaguely sweet?

Alex: Actually tastes like meat, but also very sweet. It’s a very accessible flavor, not too weird.


Of all the “classics” we’d honestly rather stick to just plain potato chips, but if we had to choose another flavor to declare edible it would have to be the Italian Red Meat.


This next group are the “fresh” flavors of Lime and Cucumber. The alleged freshness comes from the addition of xylitol powder to the chips, causing a sort of cool burst in your mouth like you’d get from chewing gum. Lay’s also makes a “fresh” Tomato flavor, but thankfully my market didn’t have any in stock. There were so many damned tomato chips in the bunch that I couldn’t even look at pasta sauce without cringing for a few weeks after we finished our tasting. They used to also make Blueberry flavor and Lemon Iced Tea flavor as part of this series, but they’re no longer on the market.


Natalie: Tastes sweet – like a citrus soda or a lime candy.

Ami: It’s like a Jolly Rancher in chip form.

Sam: Smells like Seven-Up and tastes extremely sweet.



Natalie: It kind of reminds me of cucumber rind under all the xylitol dust.

Ami: Cucumber Mojito. Nori aroma.

Sam: Legit tastes like the Wrigley’s cucumber-mint gum. Mint chips = no.

Alex: Tastes like cucumber, but I don’t want that in a potato chip!!! Why would you sweeten it?!?!


We’re a bit split on this one. Ami and I both liked the strange tingly cucumber flavor, but Sam and Alex were strongly against. Lime wasn’t terrible, per se, but it tasted more like candy than potato chip. Unless you’re a fan of coating your tongue with xylitol, it’s probably best to steer clear.


The new kids on the block, these flavors were also part of a flavor vote at the end of the summer. They include Sweetie BBQ Pork, Wildly Grilled Rib, Fun Wasabi Shrimp, Spicy Green Peppercorn Fish, and Zesty Tomato. In addition to the strangest pictures on the bag, this group also happens to have my favorite flavor translations. China has a habit of adding unnecessary descriptors that is in part responsible for the funny menu items you’ll see now and again.

Sweetie BBQ Pork

Natalie: Smells like dim sum. Not a strong flavor, but inoffensive.

Ami: Like pork floss.

Sam: Tastes sweet but then I was left feeling confused about if this is what pork is supposed to taste like. Chip gave up too soon.

Alex: Tastes like BBQ sauce, but only for a second. Unsatisfying long term.

Wildly Grilled Rib

Fun fact on this one: The Chinese name of the chip is Cowboy Flavor. Which thankfully is not what it’s actually made from.


Natalie: Tastes like a burst of cowboy in the face. Or chargrill.

Ami: Smoky, peppery, not meaty, not sweet. Improved by mustard.

Alex: I guess they can’t make it taste like meat, so they make it taste like things around the meat.

Fun Wasabi Shrimp

Natalie: Wasabi, yes. Shrimp, no. Mild, a bit sweet, and really tasty. I could eat an entire bag.

Ami: Not nose-tickling enough. Amazing with whole grain mustard.

Sam: Not that spicy, but definitely tastes like wasabi. My favorite so far.

Spicy Green Peppercorn Fish

By far, this bag had the least appetizing image on it. If I wasn’t organizing a taste test, I never would have picked this up in the store of my own free will.


Natalie: Firebombed my tongue. It’s 0% fish and 100% peppercorn, with a hint of lemon.

Sam: What? Where is the fish? Just tastes like nasty peppercorns.

Alex: VERY PEPPERCORN! It’s spicy, but long-term won’t burn your face off.

Zesty Tomato

Natalie: Tastes like tomato paste with a slight kick.

Ami: Little bit of zest at the end. Mustard was overpowered by the chip.

Sam: Wow! So zesty! Tastes like fresh tomato.

Alex: Not as sweet as other tomato flavors, and tastes more fresh.


Chips in this group were unanimously hit or miss. If we were going to sit down with a bag of chips and a good rom-com on a cold night, we would all lean towards the Fun Wasabi Shrimp, despite its distinct lack of shrimp-ness.


This group of chips are a bit difficult to classify, so they’re lumped together as the oddballs. They include Hot & Sour Fish Soup, Cheese Lobster and Cola Chicken. Lay’s went so far as to call Cheese Lobster a “classic great taste,” but we refused to accept this and thus excluded it from the “classics” section. Interestingly, the Cola Chicken is the only variety of Lay’s we’ve ever seen in China that didn’t have an English translation of the flavor on the bag. There’s a fairly popular dish in China that is made by boiling chicken wings in a spicy cola sauce, and this flavor is meant to replicate that. More specifically, the flavor actually translates to Pepsi® Chicken, since they have the same parent company as Lay’s.

Hot & Sour Fish Soup

Natalie: Tastes like aged vinegar and nothing else.

Ami: Blah. Sweet. Marginally improved by the addition of Ikea mustard.

Sam: Thankfully does not taste like fish.

Cheese Lobster

Natalie: Strangely sweet. Vague lobster flavor. Even more vague cheese flavor.

Ami: Red Lobster biscuit! Not improved by mustard.

Sam: Initially tasted like a lobster, but later started tasting like a strange, bland version of an onion pie.

Alex: Definitely NOT classic flavor.

Cola Chicken

Natalie: Pretty much the only chip that tastes like the name.

Ami: Closest match to advertised flavor. It smells like flat soda.

Alex: Smells like Pepsi, tastes like chicken.


We wouldn’t recommend any of these for actual snacking, unless you’re a fan of cola chicken. We’re not fans, but we’re still willing to admit it does actually taste like the food it’s supposed to mimic.


I wasn’t going to include canned chips in this review, but then I saw these flavors and couldn’t resist the urge to add them to the mix. They are Mediterranean Roasted Chicken, Finger Licking Braised Pork, and Spicy Seafood. A lot of the other flavors we reviewed are also available in the extra-processed, molded can chip form, for those who prefer their snack food pre-chewed and pressed into discs.

Mediterranean Roasted Chicken

Natalie: Vaguely herbal, no chicken, definitely nothing roasted.

Ami: Chicken bouillon.

Sam: I don’t really get what this is supposed to taste like, but it tastes bland with an aftertaste of oil.

Alex: Weird smoky flavor.

Finger Licking Braised Pork

Natalie: Just tastes like crunchy to me…

Alex: It only tastes like something when you lick it. And that’s no way to eat a potato chip.

Sam: I actually thought this tasted pretty accurate.

Spicy Seafood

Natalie: Smells like fish food. Tastes innocuous. Just not good.

Alex: Tiny spicy! Shrimp paste? Still just crunchy.

[Sam refused to even eat this one after smelling it. I think she had the right idea.]


Just don’t. Not these. Not ever.


Ok, they’re not chips, but they are still technically a Lay’s product so we decided to include these as a bonus round. Regular, manna-from-heaven cheesy Cheetos are (for reasons unknown to me) not sold in China. Instead, they offer up these two varieties: Tomato Beef and American-Style Roasted Chicken.

Tomato Beef

Natalie: THIS IS NOT A CHEETO. It’s an impostor.

Sam: This is why China will never be a #1 superpower. They can’t even do Cheetos right.

Alex: Why does this exist? Although it is meatier than the Italian Red Meat chips.

American-Style Roasted Chicken

Natalie: This is the most unAmerican thing I have encountered in a while.

Alex: Tastes like Chicken Twisties.

Ami: Less offensive than Tomato Beef, but still not good.


The fact that these even exist is an offense to common decency. And to cheese. And also cheetahs. Somewhere in China a drunk exchange student is quietly weeping into a bag of American-Style Roasted Chicken Cheetos and wondering if life is still worth living.

Previous Taste Tests

Hello Kitty Beer

Oreos vs. Faux-reos

Salad bar sociologist

When I was a kid I used to love family outings to Sizzler, although not really because of the salad bar. I mostly looked forward to the soft serve machine adjacent to the salad bar that they (abandoning all sense of logic and decency) allowed children to operate unsupervised. Thanks in part to health and safety regulations, it seems that Sizzler has all but disappeared from the American landscape. However, luckily for me, China doesn’t really pay much attention to health and safety regulations.

For ¥52 (roughly $8.50) you can get the unlimited salad bar at Sizzler, or 时时乐, which loosely translates as HAPPY TIME! Yes, the caps are necessary to convey the excitement of the double “时” in their name. This ¥52 also gets you one piece of cheese toast and as much people watching as you can get in before the restaurant closes. You technically receive the salad bar free if you order one of their entrees, but these are all insanely expensive and look as though they were microwaved by a stewardess on a regional airline.

I only eat the "gourmet mix" because I'm obviously a foodie

I only eat the “gourmet mix” because I’m obviously a foodie

Even better than all-you-can-eat wasabi potato salad (which is difficult to top) is all-you-can-watch couples on dates at Sizzler. Alex and I like to make sure we get our money’s worth, so we were there long enough for the tables around us to clear a few times over. She is by far more of a salad bar champion than I am, having managed to eat half a dozen plates of salad and fruit. She also turned pasta sauce into soup, because nobody tells her how to live her life. Respect.

Things I observed at the Sizzler while Alex showed the lettuce who’s boss:

  • Not one, not two, but three gentlemen ordering for their lady friends like they were at a restaurant with chez in its name
  • A dude sitting solo speared his steak rather than cut it into pieces. He bit chunks out of it like a raptor.
  • An older couple in track suits power walking between their table and the buffet
  • Lots of ladies food hoarding. They would fill five or six plates before they started eating. I don’t think they understand how a salad bar works.
  • At the insistence of his date, one dedicated fellow left Sizzler, bought hot milk tea at another stall, and returned triumphantly, a provider
  • A couple arrived already eating fried potato balls from a different restaurant. They did not properly prepare for salad bar domination.
  • Several guys drinking cans of beer not on the menu. Apparently Chinese Sizzler is BYOB.
  • A man who kept making trips to the salad bar for things his date requested. She would continue eating while he made subsequent trips. She obviously wears the (stretchy) pants in that relationship.

I’m not sure if the clientele is as entertaining at other locations, but I can safely recommend the U-Town Mall branch of Sizzler for some Grade A people watching and Grade D steak. Seriously, don’t order the meats. Just stick to the salad bar and enjoy the show.

Hello Kitty, goodbye liver

They released an official Sanrio sanctioned Hello Kitty beer in China, and I drank it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome, internet. Rumor is that there are at least 4 flavors, possibly 6, but currently I could only find two of them at my local 7-11. The one on the left is lemon-lime and the one on the right is peach. Both contain 2.3% alcohol and 5% fruit juice.

First impression? I swear it looks like Hello Kitty is farting out the fruit. This does not give me a good feeling about the contents of the can.

Lemon-lime and Peach

Lemon-lime and Peach

Kotaku recently had one of their writers test the beers as well, and he actually gave them a glowing review. His takeaway from the experience was this:

They’re so ridiculously smooth and tasty that one can barely tell they’re drinking beer. It’s almost like drinking fruit juice, even if the cans do say “beer” (啤酒 or pi jiu).

So, I figured that I was just being overly cynical when judging the can. Maybe Hello Kitty fruit beer wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe it would be refreshing and enjoyable. Maybe it would make an excellent option for daytime drinking in public.

I saved the can in case I need it at the emergency room

I saved the can in case I need it at the emergency room

I decided to try the lemon-lime beer first because it made a bit more sense to me. You put a lime in Corona or orange in Blue Moon, so a citrus beer is not all that divergent from what I’m used to. I cracked it open and was greeted with the unmistakable aroma of freshly laid asphalt. Seriously, holding the can near my face was like inhaling tar steam. Adorable, cartoon tar steam.

The taste? Absolutely terrible. It was like someone combined watery beer and flat Sprite, poured it on the pavement, had me lick it, then gave me a lemon rind to bite. The aftertaste was distinctly chemical, very bitter, and it lingered on my tongue for an uncomfortably long time. Consulting my notes, it seems I wrote: “I am belching and regretting my decision to drink this.”

I am concerned that this beer may be the world’s cutest poison. I would definitely never consume this again on purpose.

hello kitty peach beer

At least it looks like actual beer

After my harrowing brush with Hello Kitty death, I figured I was already halfway to hell so I may as well finish the journey. It was time to try the peach, and I decided that this time I better pour it into a glass just to make sure it wasn’t caustic. Luckily, this one didn’t smell nearly as toxic. The aroma was identical to that of a popular sweet bottled peach drink that they sell in China, and the flavor was basically a watered-down alcoholic version of it.

It is vaguely drinkable, and I could see non-beer drinkers being willing to drink it socially. If you pour it into a glass, you could blend in with other beer drinkers at a party. Then again, anyone who intentionally purchases Hello Kitty beer probably wants to be seen drinking it directly from the can. It could benefit from more carbonation.

I would also never consume this again on purpose, but at least I’m pretty sure it won’t kill me. I guess only time will tell.

Yep, it's official

Yep, it’s official

I scream for ice cream

“Hold on a minute, I’m just negotiating an ice cream budget,” is an actual sentence I actually spoke recently in the course of doing my job. Since then I’ve been traveling around sampling the city’s frozen options (which it turns out are mostly gelato and not ice cream) and taking flavor and ambiance notes like, “A girl was annoyed that I asked her to move her Prada bag from an empty table so I could sit.” Ah, the joys of Beijing in the summer.

Lest your jealousy be frothing into a creamy foam at this point, let me just say that not all the dessert I ate for work was enjoyable. Some of it was actually downright terrible. The clientele (see: Prada brat) was less than pleasant at a few of the locations. I’m also pretty sure that one of the gelato shops I sampled was just a front for laundering money, based on the, “cash only, no receipts,” conversation I had with the manager.

But nothing beats the odd exchange I had with the waitress at the last shop I visited. I mention it briefly in my review, but I’ll share the entire exchange with you here because it’s such a quintessential China moment. This cafe is in an area heavily trafficked by tourists, and I was there on a Friday evening in the middle of the summer. So, you’d think they’d have their A-team out on the floor. Not quite.

soft serve

Tasty jasmine cone from a walk-up window

I looked over the ice cream menu and decided I’d try the maple-walnut since I hadn’t seen anything like it at the other restaurants I visited. When I called over the waitress to order, she got really flustered and explained to me that she didn’t speak any English. Not a huge deal. I told her in Chinese what I wanted and that seemed to sink in.

I started taking down some notes on price and surroundings, when I saw a cup with a bright orange scoop slide onto the table. I waved her back and explained that this was in fact mango, and not maple-walnut. Just to be clear, “mango” (芒果 - mángguǒ) and “maple” (枫 – fēng) don’t sound anything alike in Chinese, so it wasn’t a case of mishearing me.

I could see the confusion quickly filling all the creases of her face. “That can’t be mango,” she said emphatically. “It’s definitely mango, you can even smell that it’s mango,” I explained. “Well, are you sure that maybe it’s not the maple one?” she asked. “Nope. Mango for sure,” I said. “Hmmmm, come with me,” she replied.

We walked together back over to the ice cream cooler, and she pointed to a container that did in fact say “maple-walnut” on its lid. She lifted the lid to show the orange contents and I sighed. “That’s mango, the name on the container is wrong,” I told her. “Really?!” (She was incredulous.) She looked around for a container labeled “mango,” lifted the lid and saw that its contents were also orange. “So, then what’s this one?” she asked me, as if I were some sort of ice cream wizard. “That’s also mango,” I said. “Really?!?!” (The level of incredulity in her voice was steadily rising.)

She looked around for another “maple-walnut,” found two containers of it (both having been opened, scooped from, and left freezer-burned, I may add) and asked me to then confirm for her that these were in fact the flavor I was seeking. “Yes.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” “How do you know?” “There are walnuts in it.” “Is that a walnut?” “Yes.” “You’re sure?” “Yes, haven’t you seen a walnut before?” “Well, yes, but I don’t know what a maple is.” “Not a problem. It’s maple-walnut, and those are walnuts.”

In the end I got my maple-walnut scoop, but I almost wish I hadn’t. It was so bad that I didn’t even bother finishing it. She probably thought she still served me the wrong flavor and I was just being polite.


Actually maple-walnut ice cream

Repetitive motion

Beijing is perpetually under construction. This isn’t some sort of grand metaphor or anything like that. Spend enough time here and you’ll be able to distinguish the make and model of a drill within three floors of it being used. It’s so prevalent that it took six years of constant noise before neighbors realized that one Beijing resident had built a miniature mountain on top of his apartment building.

I could spend all day flipping through the mental album of construction memories just in my current apartment. There was the time my downstairs neighbor decided the hallway was a perfect place to mix cement. There was the time my next door neighbor spent an entire afternoon using a tile saw outside my doorway. There was the time a business on the street figured 4:30am was the perfect hour to install a new neon sign under my kitchen window. There was the time the apartment under me decided to start off Saturday morning by hitting a balcony railing with rubber mallets until it fell off (Fun fact: it sounded exactly like a railroad spike being driven into my headboard for 2 solid hours).

Oh, the memories!

So, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me to wake up this morning and find that magical construction elves had appeared on my street overnight and installed a fence. In the middle of the road. Directly between my apartment gate and the grocery store. Because apparently it was too easy for me to get to the fresh produce.


It made me think about a poem I’ve always loved, partially because of the placement of the fence, but mostly because it just feels like a perfect description of daily life in China. Whether you’re getting on a bus, flagging a taxi, navigating the market, or removing a balcony railing, the soundtrack of the city is that of repetitive motion.

In the middle of the road there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
there was a stone
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Never should I forget this event
in the life of my fatigued retinas.
Never should I forget that in the middle of the road
there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

(“In The Middle Of The Road”, Carlos Drummond de Andrade)