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The five best albums of 2006 … so far


  1. The Starlight Mints, Drowaton: I got a weird look at the gym the other day because of this album. So I was singing on the elliptical machine — what’s wrong with that? This is infectious, catchy orchestral pop from the first place you think of when you hear the phrase “infectious, catchy orchestral pop” — that’s right, Oklahoma.
  2. Tapes ‘n Tapes, The Loon: I am going to try very hard not to say this debut album out of Minneapolis sounds like Pavement for the 21st century. Whew. Glad I didn’t say that. Listening to this album makes me wish I was drunk in a dirty bar. That is probably some kind of warning sign.
  3. Band of Horses, Everything All The Time: If you have been accused of listening only to “whiny indie rock” and you haven’t heard this album yet, then you, my friend, are no fan of “whiny indie rock”! I have listened to this album more than any other in the first half of 2006, but I have not listened to it much recently. Not sure why.
  4. Jason Collett, Idols of Exile: This not-quite-alt-country release from the Broken Social Scene member (seriously, name someone from Canada who isn’t in that group) is so relaxed and easy to listen to it scares the shit out of me: Does liking this mean I really am officially an old man? Have I totally lost my edge? And then Collett throws in a lyric like “I love it when my girlfriend calls me a cock-sucking faggot” — and I feel a little bit better about myself.
  5. Built to Spill, You in Reverse: Built to Spill and I go way back, so I put them here partly do to nostalgia. You in Reverse isn’t as good as the band’s previous efforts, but it is solid — and the opening track “Goin’ Against Your Mind” kicks so much ass it would make this list on its own. It’s an 8-minute 42-second song you never want to end.

Read more mid-year lists (and post your own) at Shanghaiist.

07.20.2006, 10:44 AM · Music · Comments (2)

I am a media whore

modernweekly_danwashburn.jpgOr at least lately it seems that way. I promise I haven’t sought out any of this recent trickle of media attention — I can’t even read most of it — it’s just that with two websites (make that three) I am very easy to get ahold of. So if the Chinese media need a toothy laowai to fill up their pages, why not email the editor of Shanghaiist?

That’s what local weekly glossy Modern Weekly did recently, and I ended up being their American voice for a feature called “Foreigner’s Map of Shanghai,” although all the restaurants I recommended cater more to locals than foreigners. They also interviewed guys from France, England and Japan. Not sure why they didn’t talk to any girls. You can read an abbreviated English version of the story here. The Modern Weekly printed version has a longer profile of me — they refer to me both as “a cowboy” and, naturally, “Matthew.”

Back in April, I was the subject of another Chinese magazine story, this time in a monthly called Shanghai Pictorial. The story was the brainchild of my former landlord Alex Huang, a very helpful man who is both good friends with the magazine’s editor and the kind of guy you really can’t say no to — so I kind of had to go along with the plan, although I really had no idea why they wanted to do a story on me. It could be because Alex, I’m not sure knowingly or unknowingly, has a habit of making me sound more important than I am. I used to work for a small Georgia newspaper called The Times, so he tells people I write for TIME. My last name begins with “Wash,” so according to Alex I have written for the Washington Post. I have tried to correct him, but I think he prefers the more successful Dan Washburn he has created in his head. (I actually did write a story for TIME Asia late last year, only to have it killed sometime this spring.)

The Shanghai Pictorial story got its start more than one year before it was published. The idea was they follow me around and document my presumably exciting life in photos. I tried to explain that on an average day this plan would result in a captivating series of photographs of me sitting in front of my computer in my pajamas. Lucky for them, my friends Brian and Jill were visiting China at that time, so for one of our days touring Shanghai, we had a photographer follow us around as though we were important. And the end result is that a normal day in the life of Dan Washburn appears to be filled with trips to the Peace Hotel, the Urban Planning Center and Jinmao Tower. The photographer met up with us a couple times over the next year (I thought the story had been scrapped) and so it also includes photos of our old apartment and our new one, Fat Dan and Thin Dan and a very small Ozzie curled up on Bliss’ lap. There is also a page of my photos from The Trip. There title for the story was “The City Walker: Dan Washburn.”

07.17.2006, 10:34 PM · Diary, Site News · Comments (3)

My Shanghai story in Budget Travel magazine

danwashburnbudgettravelshan.jpgA few weeks ago, the July/August edition of Budget Travel magazine hit newsstands across America and, I’m assuming, some other countries, as well. Page 66 featured a full page, color photo of a 32-year-old American sometime-journalist/marginally-informative-blogger/handbag-entrepreneur. A random reader emailed the guy in the photo and said the “pic struck me as nice” and told him “don’t ever stop smiling!” Meanwhile, an immediate family member told the guy his smile made him look “beaver like.” Well, you can’t win them all.

So anyway, I have an eight-page story in the current issue of Budget Travel. And yes, there is a full-page portrait of me (shot by a New York Times photographer, I might add). And yes, the title of the story is “My Shanghai Is Better Than Yours.” Both the photo and the title were the magazine’s idea — I’m sure your Shanghai is just fine.

The story is split up into three parts — Eat, Shop and Play — and I suggest 15 or so places/activities in each one. It was a little tricky. I had to keep in mind that my readers, and anyone who would actually end up putting my advice to use, would likely be be new to Shanghai and their Chinese would be limited or nonexistent. I also had a word count to stay under. As is my habit, I failed miserably in that task, thus the version that appeared in the magazine was a little less detailed than the one I turned in — but that is my fault. I may post the extended version here sometime after August.

You can read the story at budgettravelonline.com or you can download a PDF of the magazine version here. And you can also download the addresses of the places I mention in my story (in English and Chinese) here.

Also, on Tuesday I played the role of China travel expert (don’t laugh) in one of Budget Travel’s “live” Trip Coach chats. You can find the transcript here. And if you are wondering how I can think so well on my feet, keep in mind that I was sleeping when the chat actually took place.

07.13.2006, 10:19 PM · Best of Shanghai, Culture, Stories, Travel · Comments (6)

Introducing Mudan Boutique

mudanboutiquelogo.gifI have hinted at it a couple times on this site, and now I am finally ready to go public with my latest project. It’s a bit of a departure for me, but something I am really excited about. It’s an online store called Mudan Boutique. To start, we are featuring affordable pearls and jade and a variety of handbags, fashion accessories and gift items — all of which embody an Asian aesthetic. (We’re offering free worldwide shipping until July 17, too.)

Most exciting to me right now are the partnerships we are forging with local Shanghai designers, like Fiona Peng of Punk Pilgrim and Christine Tsui of Christine Tsui’s Fashion Club on Xinle Lu. That duo is responsible for Mudan Boutique’s current crop of handbags and clutches. And we’re currently working on adding more items from different local designers to the store — products and designs that until now were only available in small stores and boutiques in Shanghai.

Surprised by this? Yeah, me too. But something about Shanghai turns almost everyone into an entrepreneur. Ask most people what they do here, and their answer usually begins with, “Well, that’s a good question …” Most people I know have a few irons in the fire here. Maybe that’s why some people are calling Shanghai the new city of dreams.

So, I invite you to take a look at Mudan Boutique. I am really proud of the way the shop looks right now, and I really like the products we have been able to find thus far. We’re a small “company” — just a couple of us here in Shanghai and a couple of my oldest friends back in the States — but we have big plans and high expectations. Expect our product lines to grow in the very near future.

Mudan Boutique welcomes your input about anything. We have a boutique blog, a newsletter and you can always reach us by email: info at mudanboutique.com. If you are a China-based designer or artist and you think your work would be a good fit for Mudan Boutique, please email me directly at dan at mudanboutique.com.

You might also like to know that Mudan Boutique contributes five percent of net proceeds from each purchase to CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty.

So there you have it, my new baby Mudan Boutique. Please have a look and tell me what you think. Perhaps it (and Shanghaiist, celebrating its one-year anniversary today) offer some excuse for why I have been so out of reach and this site has been so neglected for, oh, I don’t know, the past year or so.

I sure am busy for an unemployed guy.

Mudan Boutique’s online store was designed by the great team at Rockbeatspaper and the product photography was taken by Brad at Shanghai Streets.

07.11.2006, 12:44 PM · Culture, Diary, Featured, Site News · Comments (1)