Most of these blogs do not last long (they typically end when the blogger returns to his or her home country) but some of them have built up loyal followings and continue to shine.
By now Ryan McLaughlin has to be king of this better-noodle genre. As the pen behind the once mighty Humannaught, the still there expat portal, Lost Laowai, and the only relevant China news aggregator HaoHao Report, Ryan has evolved from China blogger to China blog shepherd for the would-be China hand, guiding thousands of new eyes to various topics each day.
Ben Ross was the plucky original, with his blog, An American Hairdresser in China. Ben chronicled his experience learning Chinese and coping with his Chinese bosses in a Beijing barber shop. This series of posts ended when Ben returned to the States, but it is still worth reading for every hilarious tidbit. (Why no book yet Ben?).
The international entry, from New Zealand, is bezdomny ex patria. This is the guy you want to have dinner with when you come to Beijing, preferably at a place that doesn’t mind loud conversation. His self-described ramblings are straight from mouth to page, like the transcript of a licensed court reporter. Even though his life as a new dad has reduced his blogging of late, reading his archives is the next best thing to living in Beijing.
My personal favorite noodle blog has to be the genius mad house 10Tonfunk, presided over by the equally genius-crazy Fred Dintenfass, before he returned to New York this past Spring. His street poetry, archived under the “Song of Songs” tab, and the modernist works of fiction and graphics design found under his Hi-Art tabs come highly recommended as a singularly unique set of reflections on life in China.
Over the last half of the aughts, however, noodle blogging has largely been co-opted into the social network noodle bowl (maybe more of a ‘ZuckerLinked Sausages’ bowl?), which has allowed travelers to impart their hutong discoveries in the quick-click verse of newsfeeds and microposts. Now it feels like the China blogosphere is a little empty (indeed, it may be dead) without the noodle blogs we once loved and loved to shun.
That makes the Seeing Red In China blog a most pleasurable anomaly. It is the herald of China noodle blogging version 20.11.
Seeing Red In China’s author, Tom, has traveled the China road less spit on, preferring to start in the country’s rural heart and only then work his way towards the coast:
For the past four years I’ve been living in China, but my interest in the middle kingdom started almost a decade ago when I started reading every book about Chinese history I could get my hands on. My goal throughout college was to one day live in China, and when I got the chance to work for a Chinese Christian organization working in education in rural China, I jumped at the chance.
I arrived in Longzhou, a town so small few people had heard of it even within the province, completely unsure of what to expect, but with my background in East Asian Studies and Anthropology I was sure that I could handle it. I lived in villages for two years in Guangxi, before moving to Chengdu for a year. I currently live in Nanjing and am experiencing a completely different part of life in China.
Tom’s popularity (and one only need look at the quantity of comments he receives to know he is popular) is due in large part to not straying from his mission statement:
My goal is to slowly cover every aspect of modern China, and to avoid simple black and white explanations of what is happening in this country of nearly 1.4 billion people.
Tom meets the call of his mission statement by offering up original journalism that evenhandedly evaluates China. Tom’s posts are original and offer his readers an honest window into the unique humdrum of everyday Chinese life .
Some of his very best articles address challenges facing China’s health-care infrastructure. Tom presents these issues through intimate portraits of people he meets as a teacher/worker in a Chinese hospital.
The post “Mental Health in China – a personal case,” [link no longer exists] is a typically compelling read. It deals with both mental health services access and commercialized abortions in China, while staying within the confines of a very human interaction with a seventeen year-old student struggling to find someone to talk to after a harrowing sexual encounter and an unwanted pregnancy:
One night I received a phone call from a female student who was incredibly distraught. Both myself, and my teaching partner spent close to an hour talking with her on the phone that night in an effort to calm her down. She didn’t want to live anymore, but could not tell us why. All we knew at this time was that it had something to do with her breaking up with her boyfriend.
These break ups are much more serious in China than what I have witnessed in the States. Here boys are encouraged to date around a little, but if a girl has had more than 2 or 3 boyfriends it can be considered fairly scandalous. At my previous school a girl had thrown herself into the river because she couldn’t handle Valentine’s day after her boyfriend left her.
Tom’s writing skills must come, at least in part, from his listening skills:
Finally though she decided that she was ready to tell us what had happened. One night she had been out with her boyfriend and his friend, and they were all drinking (they were only 17). Her boyfriend was called home, and she was left there with his friend. That night he raped her. If that wasn’t awful enough, he told her that if she didn’t continue to have sex with him, he would tell her boyfriend that she had seduced him.
Tom often fills his posts with facts, integrating them as elements of the story:
In China (and other Asian cultures) women are often so socially powerless that in situations like this it feels impossible for them to escape. He had targeted her weakness, and she knew if her boyfriend found out, her parents would too, and they would no longer love her (this is partially just the emotions of a 17 year-old girl, not everything is China’s fault).
After being blackmailed for sex by this boy three or four more times, she realized that she was pregnant. As a young unmarried woman, her only choice as she saw it was to have an abortion. She knew that this was a common procedure, and one that she shouldn’t feel bad about, since that was what the advertisements on the bus told her (they do actually advertise abortions on the bus).
She went to the cheapest clinic she could find. She told me about a month after it had happened that she knew that she was going to be a mother, but that they “cut out the baby.” There had been complications from the procedure as well, and she was told that she would be infertile.
I for one, hope that Tom really is a signal of what is to come in the new China blog order. Do check out the rest of this post at Seeing Red In China and Tom’s other posts as well.
What other noodle bloggers out there should we be checking out?