Born and raised in a suburb of rust-belt Indiana, I've been writing songs since the age of 16. After three years working and studying China (from small-town Gaoyou to Beijing), I am based in Oakland, California. Since 2005, I've been on 10 regional US tours. I've written five home-recorded and seven (more or less) studio albums, probably around 150 songs. My music has bits of American folk revival, DIY folk, anti-folk; rock and roll, garage rock, and punk; blues, country, and early R&B; rap and traditional pop.

Current band: 
Adam Balbo (vocals, guitar, harmonica)
Mr. Andrew (drums)
Jon Moyer (electric bass)
PJ Bottoms (tenor saxaphone)

Past members:
Michael Loebs (drums)
Jeanne Foss (vocals, whistle)
Fancy Dan (electric guitar)
Laura Mahan (keyboard)
Sara Lautman (electric bass)


Here is my longer, unfinished story:

PART 1: Omaha, New England (1980s-2001)
As a kid, I listened to music a lot. My dad played "oldies" (in the 1980s, that meant 1950s and 60s rock'n'roll, R&B, and folk) in his car. Dion, The Shirelles, and, of course, The Beatles (of which more later) and the Rolling Stones, among countless others. He had a greatest hits tape of Peter Paul and Mary, too. Top notch.

My older brother, six years my senior and incalculably wiser, had heavy metal cassettes (Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Metallica, and Megadeath). Catholic mass, which I attended twice a week, usually had some pretty good hymns, especially at Christmas. (Easter tunes, not so much). There were maybe only one or two commercial pop radio stations in my home town of Fort Wayne, Indiana: hair metal (Bon Jovi), English electric pop (Pet Shop Boys), progressive rock (Genesis and Peter Gabriel). I usually had a radio on at home.

Then there was, for me in the mid- and late-80s, the trinity: Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Whitney Houston. My best friend in middle school and I used to pillage his parents record collection - and, eventually the liquor cabinet. We stayed up to God-knows-how-late and took turns dancing like MJ and sing into a hair brush like Axl Rose (Guns N'Roses). I'm sure we weren't the only ones. 

"Thriller" has to be the first album that I knew was an album. It's MTV premier was a minor event in my house. We huddled in the living room around our furniture TV - with popcorn and (only one) 12-ounce can of pop -and all that. MJ (and his videos) were all at once epic, graceful, fun, and ... kinda weird. 

Madonna was an irreverent, a Catholic and a Leo (the zodiac) from the Midwest. Just like me. She had a knack to mix sexuality with religious iconography, wringing it into pop spirituality. 

Whitney Houston beamed from my TV. I remember holding a popsicle (orange-flavored) the first time I saw her "I Wanna Dance With Somebody” video one balmy summer night. Besides being awestruck by her booming voice, she was ridiculously cute and effervescent. 

The three of them, to little old me from suburban Indiana, was both incomprehensibly larger-than-life yet accessible and invigorating. Didn't know why. Didn't care why. 

Then the goddamn 1990s. Walking to mass with my middle school class at St. Vincent de Paul, I distinctly remember everyone talking about Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Super Mario Bros. 3. That musta been 6th grade. I also remember pretending to be a radio DJ and playing MC Hammer's "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt ‘Em” and saying cuss words for the first time in juvenile rebellion.

Grunge, as we were told it was called, was suddenly cool. Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” was one of the first CDs I ever bought. Summers at my friend’s lake cottage near the Michigan border. Same with Nirvana’s “Unplugged in New York”. I was 13 or 14. This was the most I was into contemporary (“alternative”) rock or its varieties: The Flaming Lips (“Clouds Taste Metallic” and, later, “The Soft Bulliten") were brilliant. They Might Be Giants (especially “John Henry"), in retrospect, made me realize songs could be clever, heady, quirky, and even funny.

I stared smoking pot. A lot of it. And I clocked in the obligatory acid trips while taking in The Doors oeuvre, probably on the way to buy more pot. The pantheon of 1960s and 1970s rock gods who achieved transcendental grandeur: Jim Morrison, Jimmi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Ozzy Osbourne, and Grace Slick. These were some of my best friends.

But The Beatles's discography was my bible. Whether in my step-dad’s van playing “Beatles For Sale” on the way to church or in bed, far from sleep, at 15, listening to “Magical Mystery Tour” on acid. They cold do no wrong. My obsession with Paul, George, Ringo, and (especially) John could be a whole chapter in my autobiography one day. But, for now, suffice to say that I knew the track order of every song on all 13 of their (American version) studio albums, plus the two volumes of Past Masters, which constitutes their whole catalogue. I had nothing else to do, I guess. 

My stepbrother, Jay, inherited an electric guitar around then - 1995. We hid our weed in the case. One day, Jay got a library book, a teach-yourself-guitar kinda thing (for kids, I think). So, we did. Then learned a bunch of Beatles and CCR songs. 

I went to high school from 1994-98. Everybody, by then, was convinced that it was worst time for music, as if we knew what the hell we were talking about. Narcissistic cynicism apparently landed in middle America. Everything sucked - except the stuff that didn’t suck. MTV was dying. The only independent music I heard was a few of my friend's bands. Shows (mostly regurgitated metal, psychedelic rock, and ska) were usually at church auditoriums or disused warehouses. Razing Kane, Muffler, and Figure 8. I’m forgetting a lot. We smuggled in warm Budweiser and smoked cigarettes in parking lots. Fun shit. 

My band was gravely-named: The Dreaded Truth. The only cassette recording was lost in the USPS in 2005. The four of us practiced in Jesse's basement. Poppy rock, blues, with some ballad kinda stuff. We played maybe three shows. It was great.

The next wave of rap hit, too. Gangsta rap had really dragged the genre into the mainstream, which is all I knew at the time. I loved it. Snoop Dogg(y Dog), Warren G, Dr. Dre, and, to me the pinnacle of all that, Tupac (more on him later). 

By my senior year in 1997, I was ready to get the fuck out of high school and get the fuck out of Fort Wayne. I applied to one school: Indiana University, in Bloomington, a whole 175 miles away.

It was in the first couple years at college, in 1999 and 2000, that I really got into more obscure commercial stuff. Bob Dylan was my new hero. Dylan (more on him later) was the gateway into the vast nether regions of American folk, of which I was utterly ignorant before. Not far after, I scoured the dorm music library for gems: Woody Guthrie, early 20th-century bluesmen, and the Tin Pan Alley songwriters who wrote standards for popular singers like Elle Fitzgerald.

I was listening to lots of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Buddy Guy, blues guys active in the 1940s and 1950s. Masters of subtle sexual innuendos. That pretty much brings me up through my first album, finished in early 2001. Recorded on cassette, the one copy I had promptly collected dust. 

And, so after my rambling backstory: this is basically a blues song. The last song off my first recorded album.

PART 2: We don't smell like machines (2001-2003)
I lapped up all I could in college. Naively unconcerned about racking up debt, I just enjoyed reading and writing about whatever, mostly history, literature, and religion. All three, basically, tell stories to try to explain the world or, even better, to convey wonder about it.

I was ready to tear up all my assumptions that thrived in my insulated suburban upbringing. I was going to read about shit. After growing up in a (mostly) apolitical middle class family, I gorged on left-wing American histories: Howard Zinn and William Blum; while being assigned main-line academics like Alan Brinkley. A favorite history professor of mine preached on Jared Diamond, thankfully.

The history of Africans in the Americas, though, especially griped me. It is both terrifying and inspiring: C.L.R. James on the Haitian revolution; W.E.B DuBois on African-American equal rights; Richard Price edited a group of essays on escaped slaves throughout North and South America; Stephen B. Oates on Nat Turner’s slave revolt in Virginia. 

Then, of course, there were the chroniclers of the other others: outcast by virtue, or curse, of being born in the United States: Angie Debo attempted to fill in the stereotypes of the various Indian tribes of North America; Rodolfo Acuna on Mexicans and their descendants before and after US annexation. All this fascinated this white kid from Indiana.

I used to read books. My two best friends back in Indiana were both bookworms and writers. So, I suppose I started with the icons of Western lit. The great transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau was my companion in the winding, wooded footpaths on campus and by my own Elegant Pond. He probably hardly bathed and thought he figured out a bunch of shit. I couldn’t do without the exuberant and irreverent ramblings of either Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg. H.G. Wells and Carl Sagan were brief obsessions. Contact flipped my shit, conjuring fanciful extraterrestrial worlds. Mark Twain was brilliant and hilarious. Leo Tolstoy was fucking nuts. Terror was  joy. I slept with Edgar Allan Poe in a dark ditch one night — just the two of us.

Then there was philosophy classes, a major which I eventually abandoned when I found out how much logic was involved. But I was glad to have to read Plato, Zeno of Elea, Michel de Montaigne, Thomas Hobbes, and Freidrich Neitzsche. Good mind fucks.

Around this time, I really started to bury myself in Chinese shit (religion, history, literature, and geopolitics). Thomas Merton, an American Catholic monk who wrote Thoughts On the East, might have been what sparked my interest as early as 1997. His talks with Buddhists, like the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, focused on the common ground of different religions, which appealed to me. I really hated the idea that one tribe had the one true story. My church's local brand of Catholicism didn't emphasize this with fire and brimstone. But it was still embedded in church theology. 

Being a history student, a second language was required. Spanish class was full in the fall of 1999, so I opted for Chinese. With two years of study under my belt, I spent the summer of 2001 studying Mandarin at Beijing Normal University. I remember walking into the little market on the second floor of the dorm to buy beer or cigarettes or something. It was so surreal to communicate in another language (outside of class) — the disheveled store clerk expected Chinese. I played along. It seemed to work. It was very weird, though. But fun. It took me awhile to get used to it ...

By then, I was neck deep in it. Laozi and Zhuangzi, whose writings constitute the scripture of what came to be called Daoism (Taoism), is heavy on poetry and absent of ritual. Right up my alley. Later, when I tired to whip up a 10-page paper on the elaborate, ritualized Daoism of the Chinese dynasties, I got bogged down by the arcane minutia of just another organized religion. Sorta like my own Catholicism. The canon of Confucius, Mencius, and Han Feizi — the foundation of Chinese filial duty, deference to the state, and even national identity —  was useful (eventually), but not nearly as fun. Then, I drank wine wine with Li Bai.

I accidentally minored in Chinese literature, having accumulated the credits. One course had only one book: (红楼梦) “Dream of the Red Chamber” aka “The Story of the Stone” (Cao Xueqin), an epic, roughly 1,500-page novel from the mid-1700s which follows one aristocratic family’s gradual decline. Maybe this is obvious now, but to me, then, it was a revelation: story-telling can at once be both about particular characters and places — and about something bigger. Dream v reality. Truth v falsehood. Words can be Trojan horses; revolt scribbles on paper.

Another class that I took — but coulda saved money on if I just got a library card — was modern Chinese literature. Lu Xun, Feng Yuanjun, Shi Zhicun, and Zhang Ailing. Just to name a few. I felt like I had crossed the rubicon: what was once incomprehensible and utterly foreign was becoming familiar. People everywhere just live their lives. Some feel compelled to write about it, however extraordinary or mundane. Again, this seems obvious in retrospect. But it took all this to sink in, viscerally. 

I also took 20th century European intellectual history elective. You know, for fun. The heavy thinkers writing from a continent that imploded on a mind-fuckingly massive scale — twice. Hannah Arendt, Neitzsche (again), Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault. Slobber on my brain.

The result was my second album, Elegant Pond, which I put to cassette in October 2002. The title is taken from the direct translation of my Chinese name, given to me by my first Mandarin instructor. The phrase also recalled to me my personal quiet place on the IU campus, a small pond just south of the main student library, next to a sole weeping willow tree.

I guess my songwriting was dense and heavy because I had all this shit swirling around in my head. These just happen to be the ideas and writings I was exposed to. They neither form a complete picture of the world or even a coherent one. They are just pieces I picked up and stuck together. Then stood back to look at and try make sense of. It turns out, I keep finding new stuff to stick together. 

PART 3: Flat on every side (2003-2004)
I was smoking lots of hash that I bought at rickety bars in Sanlitun, the main Western bar strip, from Nigerian dealers, who said they got it from Afghanistan. I was writing and reading a lot in my new apartment in Beijing. I lived on the 13th floor in Chaoyang district, which is where many of the foreign embassies are located and where much of the expatriate population lives. (The word for "four" in Chinese has a similar negative connotation because is very close to the word for "death."

There was an awesome dumpling restaurant down the street. Our 小区, or neighborhood subdivision, was pleasant. It had a eatery at the street-level our apartment, bamboo-lined paths, and public exercise equipment for old folks. We cordial with our neighbors, almost all of whom were Chinese. I think there was just one other foreign tenant in the 14-story building. The elevator operator lady was nice to us. There was an enormous, bulky office and retail building going up directly across the street, one of countless new construction projects in 2004 all around the sprawling city of ~15 million people.

I was reading "Mao: A Biography" by Ross Terrill, an Australian academic and journalist. The book was banned in China. On a 50-hour train ride from Beijing to Hong Kong that winter, I drudged through Dr. Cornel West's "Democracy Matters." In a spare room in our flat, I had a map of the Caspian Sea region that I got from an issue of National Geographic that I found in the bathroom of a local bookstore, called Bookworm, which severed food, coffee, and drinks. I loved that place.

PART 4: The Utah (2000-2005)
I guess you could say that this is the sister song to "I've Been to Canada Once" (song #27). But they were written probably a year apart, and I can't remember why the hell I wrote either of them. 

This song was definitely written around the time I started to regularly go the open mic at the Hotel Utah Saloon in San Francisco - summer 2005. El Zakador, Keith Savage, JJ Schultz, Skeleton Television, Girls with Guns, Steve Arnsten, Ivan Sandomire, Michael Loebs, Torleiv, Kacey Johansing (of Yesway), JC Tourbillion, Le Jeanne, Mary Margaret, Michael Beese, Bramble and Briar, Citymouth Countrymouth, Vlad the comedian .... and many others that I'm sure I'm forgetting were all there. These were the first songwriters and characters I met in California.

When I packed my life into two large suitcases moved out of Beijing, I went directly to California, a place I had never lived. I did visit it once in the summer of 2000.... 

Once upon a time, my three best friends and I drove from Indiana to the west coast. I had never been west of the Mississippi River. Kansas, I heard, is flat. But flat doesn't do Kansas justice. This is the kind of flat that flings the horizon farther off than I could have imagined. An sea of land. Eight hours adrift on the Great Plains. I don't even remember any trees. We couldn't play the usual road trip games there, like I Spy or something. So, the four of us listened to the Indigo Girls and Bob Dylan's early "Bootleg" cassettes. Like a thousand times, until it provided a comfortable background monotony while we talked, giggling and chain smoking American Spirits. 

Colorado made me realize what a mountain is. At first, off in the nebulous distance, it is a quaint purplish backdrop. Majestic, sure. But small. Westbound on I-70, from the Kansas border to Denver, which sits at the foot of the eastern slope of the Rockies, the state is on an incline. So, by the time we hit Strasbourg, east of Denver, the mountains were a imposing blue-hued wall. The air was cooler and smelled like pine. The white-capped peaks were visible. Our firewood noticeably drier - and more expensive. The next day, we slogged through mid-May snowy cragged, past the peaks, ending up in Utah. We stopped and took pictures and all that.

I suppose all continental empires, including this one, have their exotic hinterlands with oddball religions and quirky local folk. Russia has Siberia. China has Tibet. Then there is Utah. I don't have time to talk about the friendliest, cleanest, and kinda creepiest large American city I've ever been to: Salt Lake City. (My Greyhound bus stopped there on the way back east after my car broke down in Elko, Nevada. But that's another story). I'll stick to the kick-ass landscape: like Arches National Park, near Moab in the southeast. Alien rock formations that look fucking fake because you've never seen anything so fucked up and wonderful. These days, it seems, you only see some outdoorsy asshole scaling them in Chase credit card TV commercials, conquering inhibition or some bullshit. But I digress.

Now, the word grand can be bandied about. Pianos and theft can be grand. I have a grand plan to buy a small fridge and put it in my back shed. Sure. One day. But the Grand Canyon ... that is fucking grand. It's basically a vast hole in the ground that took a mind-fuckingly long time to form. But that is some impressive hole. Arizona was like what I imagined Mars would be like, except it is just barely less hot in the day and just a wee bit less cold at night. From the weird-ass rubbery plants with needles all over them to the crazy scaly things crawling on the ground, it was very strange to me. And the dirt was red. And, at night, it got as cold and dry as a week-old turd. What's that about?

After frolicking through fruited plain, over the purple mountains (majesty), across the rivers, and past that big-ass hole, before the shining sea, we got to the desert. It's not the biggest one in the world. Not even the biggest one in North America. It's downright puny compared to the Sahara, Arabian, or Gobi, none of which I've been to, mind you. But the Mojave is the quintessential desert. It's what a desert should be: fucking hot and dry - but with rest stops equipped with modern bathroom facilities with flushing toilets. Even plowing down I-40 at 75mph, we rolled the windows up to keep out the blast of hot air. That's messed up.

Eventually, we emerged to discover settlements, where the locals seemed to have adopted agriculture. The first city in California we hit was Bakersfield, next to rolling strawberry crop fields, smack dab in an arid valley. We didn't hang out there. 

Instead, we flipped a coin - LA or San Fran, as we Hoosiers called it. Jesse lost. So, we B-lined it further west still and found the Pacific Ocean at Pismo Beach. We parked on the sand and camped out. We later made Half Moon Bay our base, making day trips to the City by the Bay. I had no idea I'd end up living there. Funny how shit turns out.

As it happens, this most of what I just described, from what is now southern Colorado onward, was once the northern part of the Mexican Empire. Until, of course, the Americans colonized and annexed and conquered it. So, maybe you could say that I have been to Mexico.

This must have been the time I really got into The Moldy Peaches (the duo of Kimya Dawson and Adam Green) and Magnetic Fields, the main project of songwriter Stephin Merritt.

PART 5: Back to Indiana (2003)
I begrudgingly left Beijing in spring 2003, after SARS hit, and slunk back to Indiana. My goal was to work until I could afford a plane ticket back, hopefully by the fall. At first, I worked, coincidentally, at a struggling Chinese restaurant near my mom’s house, where I stayed. I did that for a couple months, reading, watching day-time talk shows with my sister Jessica and hanging out at my old cafe haunts, like Toast and Jam, in Fort Wayne, where they had a popular weekly open mic. There was a bluegrass house band that was usually there. I played stuff from Elegant Pond.

Then, fortune struck. My friend Nate got me a job as working the deep fryer in a mobile cheese truck. Charlie from Wisconsin ran the food car. The idea was simple. Cut the cheese (curds, in the parlance). Toss it in batter. Deep fry it. Sell it at summer fairs. Lines could stretch a ways. 

The carny life fit me well. I only worked two gigs over the span of a month: the Indiana State Fair, in Indianapolis, and the Elko County Fair, in the southeast corner of Wisconsin. But it seemed longer, in a good way. Every day, the five of us would get up, start work at 10am and run the cheese truck until the fairgrounds closed, around midnight. One cashier. One batter-maker. One fryer (two at peak times). Charlie pitched in when needed. One guy on break, for about an hour. Next day, we’d do it again. (There was one girl in the crew). We’d rotate stations.

At the end of the 10-12 hour days, we smoked pot and drank beers and hung out in our living quarters, either a mobile trailer or a disused train boxcar. It was hard work and good money. We’d barter with the neighboring pizza truck for food: swiss curds dipped in rye-batter on a stick for a large pepperoni. We didn’t have time to ride the rides. I did check out the cow show at in Elko, though. At the state fair in Indianapolis, my girlfriend Helen came to visit from Chicago, to which she fled SARS. We had a whole boxcar to ourselves, situated on the edge of the fairgrounds. A guitar, a journal, a book, a candle (no electricity), some cans of soup, and a firepit is all I needed. 

By August, I had money for a plane ticket, around $1,200 at the time: Fort Wayne to Beijing. Helen and I eventually found an apartment. We took odd jobs that required nothing much except being a native English speaker (though it helped if you “looked American” (i.e., were white): tutoring, freelance proofing for magazines, transcribing TV shows and other videos.

PART 6: Working for a commie mouthpiece (2004-2005)
After a few months, my American friend Katie told me that an English-language news weekly, Beijing Review, was hiring a foreign “specialist editor,” what turned out to a proof-reader. A degree from some kind of Western university was required, though not necessarily in journalism. The magazine has national distribution in China. The readership, judging from readers’ letters, are mostly Chinese students zealous to practice English, some Western expatriates looking for a “Chinese perspective” (this phrase is common) on politics and culture, and the odd podunk Asian politician or diplomat. 

I got the job and signed a year-long contract, including a generous month’s vacation time. The office was housed in two floors of a drab ~1970s-era mid-rise building, tucked in a residential area of western Beijing, about an hour bus-ride from my apartment on the eastside. The staff was all Chinese, except for me and two other foreign editors, divided into two rooms of cubicles. One room had senior journalists and editors. Since all content was first written in Chinese, the other office had the translators, who also did some independent reporting.

My desk was in among the younger staff, who would send me electronic documents of their translated articles. Katie, a jaded expat veteran from Vermont, knew the drill: polish the English articles in your inbox, and the other five to six hours of the day was left to read or meander online. I gleefully did, too, for the first few months. 

After awhile, though, the routine got tiresome and, eventually, very frustrating. Spring 2004 was around the time I discovered Wikipedia, which I would pillage as a reference to look up some Asian prime minister or political party. For instance, I received an article on the Korean legislative election, and duly added some info to give the reader some background. No problem there. To challenge myself, I got permission to translate a couple articles myself, including one on the “snakehead” gangs that smuggle people out of China. General social problems could be reported. The magazine published a piece on tainted blood transfusions in a central province that was contributing to a rural AIDS epidemic.

The quality of writing varied drastically, though. Some of it was actually decent first-hand journalism. One young reporter in his mid-20s, who we called Xiao Ni, went out into Beijing, and occasionally beyond, to report. 

Some of the articles, on the other hand, were a mash of talking points that the government's Information Office would hand down to the editor (and to editors across the country). After several months on the job, a couple of my coworkers pointed out the name of the writer who ostensibly wrote one of these propaganda pieces, which translates roughly as “No Name,” the romanization of which looks like an innocent Chinese name. I call it propaganda because the pattern of the language was consistent. And when I directly asked my boss, the managing editor, Madame Wang as she liked to be called, she tactfully told me as much.

Talking in her office once, I asked her frankly about covering the 15 year anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square killings. She recalled journalists who were fired specifically for refusing to censor coverage of the government ordering the military to open fire on student protestors encamped on the sprawling cement plaza after a peaceful stand off. To this day, there is blanket news blackout on this subject. 

Other taboo subjects include: questioning the central political role of the Communist Party, criticizing specific Communist Party leaders, (the president or prime minister), the de facto independence of Taiwan, and political autonomy in Tibet. Around the anniversary of Tiananmen in June that year, I was reading coverage of the New York Times online. My colleague in the next cubicle, who became a good friend, teared up when she saw me reading the front page story. She told me she was upset that she, as a journalist, had to rely on foreign news of the events and was ashamed that her government forbid even discussing it publicly. 

It sounds almost quaint, but the government, over which the Communists have a monopolistic control, has an information ministry. And it is very serious about media censorship. It has a two-pronged approach to censorship and propaganda: domestic and foreign. Xiao Ni told me, privately, that he was obliged to attend regular meetings to go over what subjects were not allowed to be reported or opined on. I got my hands on a (Chinese) book in the office library, nestled among major English language publications (Time, The New Yorker, The Economist and Newsweek - before it when to shit). It lays the Party’s strategy to “making China better know to the outside world,” which is code for repeating rosy platitudes about Chinese society and politics in English-language newspapers, like Beijing Review, for example. 

And I’ll never forget watching one of the Bush-Kerry presidential debates that fall with Xiao Ni. He was genuinely shocked that John Kerry, a mere federal senator, could tell the incumbent US president to his face that his policies were wrong. Senator Kerry wasn’t throw into an unmarked white van and detained indefinitely, as would-be protestors today are.

Meanwhile, the nationalism that bordered on chauvinism in the office started to grate on me. Most of the staff were fairly patriotic Chinese who wanted to make an honest living, despite the professional constraints. Two of the (youngish) senior staff were the main source of the jingoism in the office. 

Political relations between China and Japan have been tortured since the second world war for many reasons, not least because of unresolved emotional scars from Japanese imperialism across much of East Asia. Almost a year into the job, I got kind of loopy. One of the nationalist journalists in the office sent me a article of Japanese military reform. It was paranoid right-wing boilerplate, painting the Japanese government as neo-imperalists who wanted to dominate a poor, well-meaning, benevolent China, ready to assume its natural role as the center of the world.

So, I played along. Thoroughly jaded at this point, I poured scorn on the Japanese running dogs, even turning up the rhetorical temperature of the article. He said it was the best work I had done for the magazine. Admittedly, it was kind of fun. Harmless, I thought. Ultimately, felt sorry for the whole sorry futile endeavor.

This journalist was the same person who, trumpeting “5,000 years” of Chinese history, chuckled out loud when I mentioned in a staff meeting that I had studied US history. History? What history does the US have? Good question. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to actually discuss it with him, let alone cover it in our newspaper.

To be continued....