Back to blog index

A Life Without Boundaries | TEDxBrisbane

I’m an introvert, born without a single extrovert gene. If I go to a party I get all anxious and wobbly at the thought of talking to people I’ve never met before. I worry about what I should say and then worry what I’ve said isn’t witty/interesting/serious enough. It’s an affliction.
And public speaking? An introvert’s worst nightmare. The thought of standing up in front of a group of people, even people I know and love, makes my voice box seize up. I’d honestly rather just send them a little written note. This may explain why I love blogging – it’s like public speaking without saying a word.
But then back in July a message popped into my inbox.
Hi Fiona! How are you? I wanted to invite you to give a talk at TEDxBrisbane. We think you’d make a wonderful addition to the day if you were interested? I hope so!
TEDx? I thought.

Continue reading “A Life Without Boundaries | TEDxBrisbane”

Nanchang Lu Voted Best Asian Weblog 2014! Ponies all round!

When they said things run fast in the Year of the Horse, I didn’t realise they meant galloping speed. 
Writing and photography projects that have been sitting on the back burner for months suddenly burst into life and took off, leaving me trying to hold the reins and stay on as I raced to meet deadlines in Beijing and Shanghai whilst simultaneously holding down my hospital day job, mothering two children and doing rather a lot of travelling. Crazy, frantic and sometimes (honestly) terrifying, trying to hold it all together. 
So that’s why you haven’t heard much from me in these last weeks, but believe me there are great stories and pictures (see below) coming up from my recent travels.
But first things first – a very big and very overdue thank you to every one of you who voted Life on Nanchang Lu as Best Asian Weblog in the recent 2014 Bloggies. What a result!
I’m so happy to share the win with all of you – the other blogs in this category were amazing with many talented writers from all over Asia. 
A huge thank you for your support – I’m really thrilled. Dumplings all round! And Qingdao beer! (yes, by now I guess it’s obvious there aren’t nearly enough ponies with red ribbons to go round – but there is an endless supply of dumplings and beer in my internet universe).

 (And thanks for being patient with me…some great posts are coming very soon)

And the Bloggie Goes To……!

I must say you lot are awesome.

Not only do you love reading stories about esoteric Chinese foods, and stories about myself, as a non-Chinese person, stumbling through my discovery of them, but you apparently also love reading about out-of-the-way places in China, and fights I have with my husband whilst driving.

How do I know this?
Because you nominated me for a Bloggie, the blog-world equivalent of the Oscars, for Best Asian Weblog. Again.
THANK YOU!!

Voting is now open until March 23, so if you’d like to see Life on Nanchang Lu take the prize for Best Asian Weblog, please vote!
It’s very straightforward.
Scroll down the page to the second category, Best Asian Weblog.
Tick Life on Nanchang Lu (that’s us! Because I very much see this as a team effort – the writing is nothing without an amazing bunch of readers like yourselves)
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to prove you’re not an alien life form, answer the captcha code and register your email address.
When you receive your email, click on the link to verify your vote.
Thank you, all of you, who nominated Life on Nanchang Lu. It’s days like this when it’s a joy to keep writing, because of you.
Imagine if we won!
And Fiona takes the Bloggie! 
Oh wait….it’s actually Cate Blanchett. Well, she is Australian, like me. 
But…somehow I don’t think she eats a great deal of Chinese food. 

Excitement! Life on Nanchang Lu the App!

I’m so excited! I’m proud to present to you the very first ever Life on Nanchang Lu free App for iPhones, iPads, Androids and mobile devices. For a technically-challenged person like myself, who had to google ‘what is an Android?’ this is quite a feat.
Of course, I didn’t do it all by myself, a clever software company did it, and even gave me a little wizard to set it up. This would have taken five minutes, except I struggled for hours with the true meaning of ‘insert your 512×512 icon.’ What exactly is an icon? I don’t think they’re talking about Audrey Hepburn here, but I eventually figured it out, taking screenshot after screenshot (511×514 – damn! 515×508 -bugger!) until I got it right. There was possibly an easier way, but please don’t tell me now, it’ll kill me. 
Also, I spent several days cogitating on whether it was false advertising to call myself ‘a writer and photographer,’ in the marketing description, but I figured adding ‘champion dumpling and noodle taster’ made it all pretty much mostly true. 
Here are the best things about the app:
1. It’s FREE!
2. Even technically challenged people can easily download it to their ‘devices’ (I don’t think the remote control counts)
3. If you live in China, you can access all of Life on Nanchang Lu without using a VPN!! This is a major breakthrough for those of us behind the wall….
4. You can see full content, including pictures!
So now you need to just get it on your ‘device’. Here’s how to do it in three easy steps.

1. Go to Notice Orange’s Life on Nanchang Lu landing page here or type http://LifeonNanchangLu.noticeorange.com directly into the address bar on your device.
Choose either:
Download Android or 
Download Mobile Web App (for iPhones and non-android mobile phones)
2. The Android App page looks like this – scan the QR code, or type the blue link directly into your device, or reqest an email to be sent directly to your device. (you see how easily I write ‘scan the QR code’, when in fact I have no idea whatsoever what it means. I presume if you have an Android this will mean something to you).
3. The Mobile Web App page (for iPhones and iPads etc) looks like this. Simply type the blue link directly into your device’s address bar, or request an email be sent to your device if your typing fingers are tired.
That’s it! It’s very easy. Now you can test your eyes by reading Life on Nanchang Lu on smaller and smaller screens! 
My icon. I think you’ll find it is exactly 512×512 somethings. Pixels? Millimetres? Who knows.

Seven Posts You Don’t Want to Miss

The Tripbase Seven Links Project is something Maryanne, writer of  A Totally Impractical Guide to Living in Shanghai put me up to. Dared me, in fact, to tackle and publish a list of seven posts that qualify as personal favourites or ‘best’ in some way, or posts that could have been on that list if only more people had read them…

Here are the seven posts I wanted to share with you, some of which you may have read, others you may not, but all are special to me in some way.

1. My Most Beautiful Post

I still look at the photograph of this lotus blossom and cannot believe I was the photographer. This very recent post, from last month’s Forest of Lotus Blossoms proved to me that my photography skills had come a long, long way in two years of learning, and I’m really proud of the beauty these photos evoke.

But in case you al think I just flit around, camera at the ready for any pretty flowers that catch my attention, it’s what the photos don’t show

The day I heaved to a stop at this lotus farm it was about 38 degrees and at least 98% humidity. I’d spent the previous four hours pedalling up and down hills on a tandem bike with a passenger whose legs were too short to reach the pedals, I was verging on heat stroke, and I was sweating so much my fingers kept slipping off the camera. It was intensely hot. I wandered around the lotus farm like someone on the final leg of a marathon, wobbly, nauseous, and with sweaty eyeballs, trying not to fog the lens with the heat coming off my face.

Despite this physical ugliness, these turned out to be some of the most beautiful shots I had ever taken. Miraculous.

2. My Most Popular Post

Shanghai to Guilin by Slow Train, a rambling post from July 2010, was about my first long-distance train trip in China. In terms of popularity, it ranks neck and neck with The Cave Dwelling Paper Makers of Guizhou, below, and I have yet to discover if this is due to ranks of secret train enthusiasts around the world who are pushing up the numbers, or a bunch of Russian viagra cyber-hackers who use this as an entry page.

My most popular post, as told to me by people who actually read my posts (as opposed to train geeks and Russian drug barons), would have to be the one about our Chinese real estate agent, Bruce, and the Rotary Candle Holder he gave me for Christmas last year. People I’ve never met before can repeat parts of it line for line, and even I snort when I re-read it. I must have been pretty shit-faced when I wrote it, and if you don’t know the meaning of shit-faced, you will after reading, promise.

3. My Most Controversial Post
Earlier this year I blogged regularly for Shanghai’s City Weekend online magazine (before they offered me a regular columnist gig in their print magazine), and wrote about a visit to the Tongchuang Lu Seafood Markets where I happened to mention that one of the shops sold dried shark’s fin. Did you say SHARK’S FIN?? Did I say I supported the trade in shark’s fin? Er…no….but that didn’t stop the ensuing bunfight. 
4. My Most Helpful Post

I like to be helpful, even when I don’t know I’m being helpful. Way back in March 2009 I visited Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) and stayed at a cute little guesthouse in the nearby village of Xidi called, poetically, the Pig’s Heaven Inn. I found the guesthouse through Lonely Planet, and had a Chinese friend make the reservation because I didn’t speak much actual Chinese at the time…
Now had I known that I would prove to be the only person in the English language universe possessed of an actual business card for the place, with an actual phone number and email address on it, I might have written a much more descriptive post with actual directions on how to get there, cost of rooms and so on. Then the lovely folks at Time magazine mentioned it in a travel article and it would seem I am still the only website on the planet with any information whatsoever about the place. Good to be useful for something, right?
It is lovely, you should visit sometime when all the Time magazine subscribers leave.
More seriously though, people living in or visiting Shanghai reckon my guide to The Shanghai Fabric Market Part 1 and Part 2 is actually quite useful.

5. A Post Whose Success Surprised Me

Well I thought this was an interesting story, about a bunch of papermakers in the Chinese middle of nowhere – The Cave Dwelling Paper Makers of Guizhou

Then it was featured on Etsy’s blog, in an interview with me. Except that I had never been interviewed by anyone at Etsy, and the lazy buggers had just lifted it directly off Life on Nanchang Lu, cut and paste style. I was planning to email them a small angry protest, until I noticed their ‘interview’ had sent more than 2000 new visitors to my blog. Cool. Etsy, you can steal my content anytime.

In fact, that post on Etsy led me to getting to know a journalist in Shanghai who is writing a series of stories for Etsy on crafts in China. And guess who’s photographs were featured in the first of the series?

6. A Post That Didn’t Get the Attention It Deserved

You all love xiaolongbao, right?
And you’re all desperate to learn the secret behind these famous Shanghai soup dumplings, aren’t you?
So you’ll be wanting to re-read my post on the top-secret recipe for pig skin jelly that transforms these ordinary dumplings into sublime little pockets holding hot steaming fragrant soup, right?
Well, apparently the words pig, skin and jelly in the same sentence pretty much guaranteed that this post sank without a trace, despite it containing a detailed step-by-step guide to making your very own pig hide aspic. 
A shame, because this post was my very own service to the world of food, and it took me a hundred years to translate it from the Chinese original.

7. The Post I Am Most Proud Of


Written as part of the 25 Days of Shanghai Christmas Series last year, A Christmas Story tells of The Giving Tree charity, who distribute bags of gifts to Chinese migrant schools at Christmas time, to children who have never received much at all. All the bags had been filled by children at our school and their families, and every child had made a beautiful card for their gifts. I still cry every time I read it. I’m proud of this post because I think it’s the first time I managed to recapture the emotion of a time and place in the written word. And I love seeing those smiling faces again and again.

Paying it forward: I hereby nominate the delightful and very talented cook and photographer Shaz from Sydney blog Test with Skewer, and Christa, voracious reader, reviewer and food-lover at The Mental Foodie.

Fiona, Almost Slightly Famous. A Bit.


In the world of blogging, where apparently 50,000 new blogs pop into existence every day, I sometimes think it’s a minor miracle when someone other than my parents are reading about my adventures in Shanghai from places as far afield as Finland, Alaska, and Brazil. It’s quite mind-blowing, and I get a quiet thrill from all you wonderful readers out there in your very diverse locations. 

But up until now my blog has been quite invisible inside China – for a start, I write in English, and although I entertain plans of one day writing in Chinese, that day is about five thousand years from now. Also, Life on Nanchang Lu is blocked in China, because…well, I have no idea why – it’s not a personal blockade related to my political views – all blogspots are blocked, whether they’re kntting blogs or anarchy blogs, and mine is blocked along with all the others. So without the magical portal into the internet known as a VPN (virtual private network), Chinese readers can’t access my blog. In an attempt to rectify this I recently purchased my own domain name, www.lifeonnanchanglu.com, only to find that the host is also blocked in China. Back to square one. (by the way, you can now use either www.nanchanglu.blogspot.com or www.lifeonnanchanglu.com to access Life on Nanchang Lu. Both work.)
So given my extremely low profile locally, it was with some surprise that I was contacted by the lovely people at Ctrip, China’s largest travel website, to ask if they could feature an interview with me this week. Ah….let me think about that for a nanosecond…yes! I don’t quite know how it happened, but strange things are afoot with this blog. Some sort of critical mass has been achieved, in terms of longevity, or gradual persistence, or just sheer doggedness, but either way, people are starting to notice it exists. People other than my parents even. First it was the lovely Maryanne at Ephemera and Detritus who interviewed me for her expat traveller series; CNNgo are about to publish my Shanghai Factory Girls as a photo series on their fabulous travel website; and now here I am, Ctrip’s featured blogger for the week. 

Don’t worry, I won’t let all this go to my head, but for sure Jackie Chan will be calling soon about a kung fu street food movie he’s making….;)