Networking, relationships, and greensFrom this week's New Yorker: Peter Hessler describes life along a hutong, one of the alleys snaking through old Beijing. It's an example of excellent ethnography, with details gleaned from five years of immersion in the culture. He depicts cigarette vendors and scrap recyclers who peddle through the dense network of dilapidated houses too narrow to accommodate grocery stores, and the competitive knowledge advantage of the bicycle repairman. "[He] keeps his pumps and his toolbox next to the Olympic toilet. In a hutong, there's no better network than one that combines bikes and bathrooms, and Old Yang knows everybody."
And unlike gossipy neighborhood Chinese restaurants, the McDonald's is a quiet "underground" rendezvous spot, with the relative anonymity only Western fast-food service staff afford. Old Yang relays a matchmaking offer to Hessler, who meets a young woman there. "I asked her if she wanted anything from the restaurant, and she shook her head. I respected that—why spoil a date at McDonald's by eating the food?"
And speaking of food, in another article Nora Ephron (really) reveals her youthful obsession with celebrity chefs and her gradual culinary maturation. "Just before I moved to New York, two historic events had occurred: the birth-control pill was invented and the first Julia Child cookbook was published. As a result, everyone was having sex, and when the sex was over you cooked something. . . . This was right around the time that arugula was discovered, which was followed by endive, which was followed by radicchio, which was followed by frisée, which was followed by the three M's—mesclun, mache, and microgreens—and that, in a nutshell is the history of the past forty years from the point of view of lettuce."