Author Profile: Mike Melanson

Biography »

Mike is a 2nd year graduate student of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and has a B.A. in Language & Literature from Bard College. He has worked as a wire editor and copy editor for The Daily Texan, Web editor for Laptop Magazine and reporter for the Austin Business Journal. Originally hailing from Connecticut, he moved to Austin to get away from the cold and ride a bike instead of drive. Interests include cycling, volunteering for the Kerrville Folk Festival, new media and Barton Springs twice, sometimes three times a day in the summer.
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Publications »

After: Wearing sandals in China

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[3 Jul 2009 | One Comment | ]

“Whatever you do, don’t bring sandals,” someone told me as I readied for my trip to China. I couldn’t imagine what would be so different about China that I couldn’t wear sandals, but I almost left them behind on the advice of those who’d traveled that road before me.
Meanwhile, while packing, I fretted over simple prescriptions, like antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea, and how I would explain  myself to Chinese customs officials in what would inevitably be an interrogation upon stepping off the plane.
“Should I bring this book? What about my …

China’s percolating love affair with coffee

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[26 Jun 2009 | 2 Comments | ]

It’s 9 a.m., my eyelids are heavy with sleep, and the Sofa Café doesn’t open for another hour. The café down the street also has an hour and a half to go before opening time.

“What type of coffee shops don’t open until 10 in the morning?” I ask Hao Ziduan, my interpreter, while walking with her through Shanghai’s tree-lined streets, punctuated with café’s, coffee shops and restaurants, in my quest to explore China’s coffee culture.

“Coffee for [Americans] is different than coffee for Chinese people,” she tells me. “For you, it [helps you] wake up. For Chinese people, it is [an opportunity] to sit around and talk.”

While Hao’s assessment is accurate to some degree, coffee in its various roles has taken China by storm. Every morning, a stream of Chinese walk into their local Starbucks, emerging with a cup of Joe to go. Inside, the scene appears equally familiar to the Western eye — students study at tables stacked with textbooks and coffee mugs while businesspeople talk shop with clients.

Xi’an: Into the incandescent future

Xi’an: Into the incandescent future

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[20 Jun 2009 | No Comment | ]

“History,” said the young Chinese man seated at the table next to me in one of Xi’an’s Starbucks, when I asked him for his thoughts on the most important aspect of the old capital city. “Xi’an is very old.”

But while citizens pay lip service to the past, it appears that Xi’an, a bustling city of over 8 million and growing, is more than anything a place that appears intent on hurtling itself into an incandescent future without casting many lingering backward glances. My conversational partner was a case in point. . . .

Mission impossible? Using tourism to close the rural-urban gap

Mission impossible? Using tourism to close the rural-urban gap

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[13 Jun 2009 | 2 Comments | ]

The village of Nuanxuan is just a three-hour bus ride to the west of sprawling, modern Beijing. Uneven dirt roads swallow tires whole after a good rain, laundry is hand-washed in a concrete reservoir in the center of town and bright storefront billboards starkly contrast with the sharp odors wafting from 300-year-old outhouses across the way.

But according to Zhang Wenbo, the town’s mayor, Nuanxuan is on its way up in the world. In late 2005, the town was one of 85 across China . . . .

The Ragman cometh

The Ragman cometh

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[5 Jun 2009 | No Comment | ]

Pick virtually any neighborhood in sprawling Beijing and you will find tricycles resembling miniature pickup trucks trundling down the narrow streets, stacked high with cardboard, plastic bottles, newspapers and other refuse. Each member of this ragtag fleet is on its way to a local recycling center somewhere – often little more than a cramped room where recyclables are processed. For the past 10 years, Shan Hong Jun has operated one such center on an alleyway off Houhai, a Beijing tourist district. But business has been difficult of late. . . .