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Dan Washburn's 'Shanghai Diaries'

“Dan Washburn is an award-winning American journalist who quit his job being an award-winning American journalist to teach English courses at Shanghai University in China. To do so, he took a huge cut in pay — which is almost impossible for a young American journalist to do.”

- From the “About” page on

When I first arrived in China to teach at Fuzhou University a decade ago, 99.99% of the world, myself included, still had not heard of “The Internet” or the “World Wide Web”. Communication with the outside world took place through handwritten letters - at least two weeks out and two weeks back for a reply - or through humble self-published “newsletters” that I would photocopy in a local shop after typing them on a rickety 20-year old typewriter that, because the ‘Q’ and ‘W’ keys were broken, the Foreign Language Department let me borrow for my personal use.

O’ the times they are a’ changin’. Foreigners teaching in China now in many cases are as “wired” and online as they would be in their home countries, and a fairly broad collection of web sites posted by these teachers can be found across the web. Some consist mostly of “tourist” pictures; others start well with pictures and narrative but halt abruptly, as if their owners were deported one day in mid-sentence.

One of the best and most regularly updated is a site called “The Shanghai Diaries”, a project created by Dan Washburn, the aforementioned award-winning American journalist. With its smart visual design and a generous peppering of diary entries, essays and other observations filtered through Dan’s sometimes-acerbic-but-always-refreshing wit, “The Shanghai Diaries” makes for a keen documentary of what life is like for this “American in Shanghai”.

Case in point, this diary entry, titled “don’t sneeze at others“:

It’s late April, nearly six months after the deadly SARS virus launched its sneak attack on southern China, and Shanghai — the country’s most populous city — has just seemed to take notice. About a week ago, we went from inaction to overreaction literally overnight. I remember the day well. It was a pleasant day: not too hot, not too cold. I went for a run that night, and I could actually see the stars. I took a deep breath, and the air actually felt fresh. Little did I know that, all of a sudden, I would be surrounded by one of the most rapidly spreading infectious diseases known to man … fear.

You can read the rest of this entry at

Dan’s Photo Galleries offer some truly excellent picture tours of several locations around China, in and around the Campus of Shanghai University (including his classrooms and students), and of a young, hip all-girl rock band called “gito gito hustler” - what they sound like we can only imagine, but those matching pink plaid outfits they’re wearing do make us wonder.

Some of the best fun on Dan’s site is found on the “Stuff” page, including Dan’s classroom lesson plans, items on menus in a couple Chinese restaurants (”Sheep Lung Chips” or “Spoiled Little Yellow Croaker”, anyone?), and “filmschool”, a set of short videos Dan has provided for our viewing pleasure, including one called “strip-tease” that he describes this way:

“Well, the strippers don’t really strip at the Disco Bar in Lin’an, but the dance floor lights up and bounces up and down. The police crashed the party on this night looking for some shady out-of-towners. I was allowed to leave … I didn’t fit the profile.”

You can also sign up to receive an automatic notification each time Dan adds a new diary entry. We did. Great site. Thanks, Dan.

Visit Dan Washburn’s “The Shanghai Diaries” online at

April 2003

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