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Interviews | March 17, 2014 5 comments
It's hard to believe that 200 years ago, the Pacific Northwest was one of the most remote and isolated regions in the world. In 1810, four years... Continue »
Michael MeyerDescribe your latest project.
I first came to China in 1995 as a Peace Corps volunteer, and moved to Beijing in 1997, just in time to watch the city's venerable neighborhoods give way to shopping malls and office towers. In 2005, I took up a dare from Le Corbusier, who in the 1920s mocked those who would preserve the old quarters of Paris, yet would not live in them. So I moved into Beijing's oldest hutong (lane) neighborhood, just south of Tiananmen Square. The courtyard home is shared by several families, and absent heat and plumbing. I volunteered as an "Olympics English" teacher at the elementary school and at the retired workers center.
The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed is a character-driven history of the neighborhood, which is under threat of destruction. My students love to point out the window at the golden arches in the distance. By the end of the first school year, we could see a Wal-Mart, too.
I took phone orders for QVC, which was a televised shopping channel. It was worse than working at McDonald's or doing yard work; people called in to buy stuff they didn't need. I started trying to talk them out of it: "Do you really want a sable coat? You live in Arkansas, it can't be that cold there." It was good preparation for being a teacher, realizing you can't always change people's behavior.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Why do you write?
In the For-All-Eternity category, what will be your final thought?
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Five Great Books about Cities:
Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk
Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood
The Years That Were Fat, George Kates
* Bonus short story: "A Guide to Berlin," Vladimir Nabokov
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Michael Meyer first went to China in 1995 with the Peace Corps. A longtime teacher, and a Lowell Thomas Award winner for travel writing, Meyer has published stories in Time, Smithsonian, the New York Times Book Review, the Financial Times, Reader's Digest, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune. In China, he has represented the National Geographic Society's Center for Sustainable Destinations, training China's UNESCO World Heritage site managers in preservation practices. The Last Days of Old Beijing is his first book.