I am Rob Schmitz. I'm from Elk River, Minnesota, and I am the Shanghai Corespondent for National Public Radio
. I’m also the author of Street of Eternal Happiness
. My Shanghai story is a circuitous one—in college I was a Spanish Literature Major and I wanted to use that to go to the Peace Corps
. I wanted them to send me to South America and I said so much on my application. But they completely ignored that and sent me to China, a place I had never given a thought to prior to that.
So in 1996, right after graduating college, I was sent to my site in the city of Zigong in southern Sichuan; myself and a married couple, we were the first foreigners to live there since before 1949, so it was sort of a bizarre crazy experience those two years. I liked it a lot though and I really enjoyed China, I came back in 2000 and lived in Chengdu and started writing as a freelancer, then went back to the U.S. for grad school at Columbia University
to get a Journalism Masters.
Then I started doing public radio and I kept going back to China about every other year to do fellowships, different journalistic projects, before I landed a job with Marketplace
which sent me back to China in 2010. Two years ago I switched to National Public Radio.
I think that Shanghai’s a really exciting, vibrant city with an amazing mix of people from all over China. I think that’s even more interesting than the foreigners, that this city has people from all over the country in one place. It’s a young city and there’s a sort of feeling here that there are opportunities all over the place. Also it’s probably one of the best planned cities not only in China but in the world. It’s amazing that this is a city of over 24 million people and you don’t have incredible traffic—I mean you do—but it could be so much worse.
Downsides of the city, I am a father of two young sons and there are no places for them to play. I think that’s what prevents the city from becoming a great world city—in their kind of dorky engineering mode of planning they forgot to think about children. The other drawback is it’s a city solely focused on money, at the expense of other things, and I think that’s a problem.
I don’t go out to bars that much…my go to local bar is Senator Saloon
, ‘cause I live close by. I always order the Stinky Pig—but you have to get there on a night that’s not busy so they can focus on making the drink. I have kids who love baseball so Cages
is one of my favorites, I love that place. What else...
The Long Bar
at the Waldorf Astoria
is one of the coolest bars I’ve ever seen. And there’s a bar that’s the tiniest little bar in Shanghai and it’s sort of hidden, I profiled it once for a piece on NPR
. It’s a bar called Moju
, owned by Moe (pronounced “Mo-ee”), she’s Japanese Mongolian, and you go in there and she’ll just make stuff for you, you don’t ask, she just tells you what you’re gonna get and it’s awesome. If you want a good mixed drink I can’t think of anything better than her place—and she’s super cool. [Ed's Note
: you need her WeChat to reserve a seat. Happy hunting.]
I’m not a foodie type of guy, but I am a Sichuan food kinda guy, I was spoiled when I was in the Peace Corps. Shanghai has really crappy Sichuan restaurants though, a lot of them are really terrible. The best one in my mind, there’s a Zigong food restaurant on Shaanxi Lu (near Jinxian Lu), called Ben Lai
. They have this dish called damayu
, “the big numb fish,” it's fish in this huajiao broth with like 1,000 kernels of huajiao all over the place. You can’t even feel your mouth at the end of that, it’s great.
No way I’ll live here forever. I guess I’m not one of those people that’s so in love with Shanghai or China. I like this place, but I’m also periodically incredibly annoyed living here and I think as time goes by and my children get older I’m even more annoyed by the way things are, that I think it’s going to push me out. And as weird as it sounds right now, I do miss life in the United States quite a bit.
I don’t like saying I’m proud of things... but I am happy about the book
and I’m happy with the reception the book has had. Honestly, the thing I’m most happy about is I feel very fortunate to be reporting on such an amazing country and to have this job because it allows me to travel around one of the most interesting countries on the planet.
To read/listen to Rob's work, check out his website
, or his work on NPR
, or both. Go nuts.