Writing Portfolio

A selection of my writing and photos from China and New Zealand for Paste Magazine, The Awl, Roads and Kingdoms, and Fresh Cup magazine. Plus some newspaper reporting from Montana and California.

Travel Writing:

China’s Growing Coffee Culture

Fresh Cup Magazine, Aug. 15, 2016 (photos and story)


My first thoughts of coffee when I moved to China were ones of longing.It was my first time in Asia, and I arrived with a job at a city university and a stubborn commitment to experiencing the culture in as pure a form as I could—forsaking a few of my favorite comforts from home that threatened to dilute the Chineseness of my life there. First off: no coffee. At least not in my apartment every morning. No, I would save it for a treat in the newly opened café on campus, or even the Starbucks downtown. I would learn to wake up to green tea.

After four months of private deprivation, a university administrator sent an emissary to my door with a small, friendly Christmas present: a neatly wrapped bottle of instant Nescafé. My will was broken, and I drank.

As soon as I’d washed the bitterness out of my mouth from my first and last cup of instant coffee, I took the hour-long bus ride to the foreign supermarket, in the city’s most upscale shopping mall, and bought a french press. The only bean option was $40-a-pound Lavazza, roasted and ground in Italy. It wasn’t cheap or particularly convenient going back to my morning indulgence, and it certainly wasn’t an exercise in localism, but I found it was possible, and it’s becoming more so every day.

READ THE STORY at Fresh Cup 

Spring Fever

The Awl, May 13, 2016 (photos and story)

Kane Laing on the right. ©KettiWilhelm

On a recent Sunday afternoon, on the waterfront in Wellington, New Zealand, an unusually large crowd gathered before a repurposed shipping container with a neat, black-and-white sign that read, “The Water Bar.” The bar was part of an exhibit of art installations inside cargo-shipping containers at the downtown harbor, called The Performance Arcade. Several attractive and busy-looking young people were handing little samples across a bar in shot glasses, tiny cups, and miniature porcelain spoons. The smiling crowd grew steadily in size and apparent interest. They were slurping saltwater slushies out of the spoons, sipping spring waters from the shot glasses, swirling and sniffing small tumblers, including one containing distilled water over a smoke-flavored ice cube. “The only thing missing to make it a legitimate water bar,” Kane Laing, the bar’s creator said, “is people paying for it.”


The Case For China’s Trains

Paste Magazine, Jan. 12, 2016

The bizarre combination of investments from quasi-communist China and a private Las Vegas firm might instigate a new era in American travel. Or at least introduce a quicker way for Angelenos to get to Vegas for a wild weekend.

In less than a year, China plans to start building a high-speed train line from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The new line will be a joint venture between private American firm XpressWest and several Chinese state firms. China has built the world’s most extensive high-speed rail network in the last decade, while the U.S. has debated and ultimately nixed funding most expansions. Until now.

Residing in China for the past year, I’ve spent at least 100 hours on Chinese bullet trains, zipping up and down the country’s East Coast, watching the digital speedometer above the door to each car rise above 300 kilometers an hour-186 mph. The system is called “China Railway High-speed.; Once onboard, things get even more Eastern, as a serenely-voiced recording welcomes you to “Harmony.”

READ THE FULL STORY at Paste Magazine

International Ink: Searching for Rebellion in China

Paste Magazine, June 29, 2015 (photos and story)

International Ink: Searching for Rebellion in China

China is a country of deep-rooted tradition and superstition that has survived a near century of Civil War, occupation and communism—a combination that doesn’t leave much room for a well-established Western symbol of rebellion: body art. So, when I took a road trip through industrial, inland China with a carful of strangers and the promise of a free tattoo, I wasn’t exactly surprised when things didn’t work out as planned.

READ THE FULL STORY at Paste Magazine

China Survival Guide

Paste Magazine, May 28, 2015 (photos and story)

China Survival Guide

The People’s Republic of China is a perplexing place for outsiders—a communist country where you’ll often feel like you’re trapped inside a shopping mall, where English is constantly a form of decoration and only occasionally a means of communication.

The international mega-cities of Beijing and Shanghai have taken Westernization to heart, but outside the cosmopolitan centers, China is still a hot mess of a destination—in the best way possible.

Now that U.S. passport-holders can get 10-year visas for business and tourism, the options for experiencing both Chinas are multiplying.

This guide—collected wisdom from a year in a massive, smelly, industrial, capital city called Jinan—will serve you particularly well in China’s lesser-known cities and mountaintop villages—and everywhere in between.

READ THE FULL STORY at Paste Magazine

Long-form Features:

Prohibition Pains

March 13, 2013, The Montana Kaimin

The carpet of a smoky, one-bedroom apartment overlooking the Clark Fork River is dotted with cigarette burns — reminders of days when powerful narcotic painkillers became too much for the 110-pound woman whose life fills those small rooms.

She’s impressively spry for how sick her body is from leukemia, severe degenerative scoliosis and a damaged heart after multiple major cardiac arrests. But her life has gotten much easier since she moved to Montana from the Southeast several years ago.

“I found peace here,” she said. “And a lot of the peace is that I can get the medication I need legally.”

READ THE FULL STORY at the Montana Kaimin

Out of the Ashes

May, 2013, (University of Montana) Native News

Sandy Spang and her family nervously watched a newly sparked wildfire approaching over the horizon and thought, or hoped, firefighters would promptly snuff out the flames. As the fire continued to burn through the hills of southeastern Montana, engulfing stands of Ponderosa pine and crisp, dry grasslands, they started to get nervous.

With the fire sweeping closer to the Spangs’ secluded home, ringed with tall trees and tucked between rolling hills and flat-topped buttes, Sandy called the Bureau of Indian Affairs police. An unfamiliar voice answered. Normally, she recognizes the voice of the officer on the line.

She asked for a pumper truck to come protect her home. The man told her no one was available. In a compassionate voice, he said no equipment could be sent. Nothing could be done.“God help you, Sandy,” he said.



Looking for light 

Aug. 28, 2014, Missoula (Montana) Independent

Politics is a cheap game to play in Montana, thanks largely to “dark money,” a furtive type of campaign funding for which the state has a substantial claim to being the nation’s poster child. Liberal and conservative groups flooded Montana with funds from undisclosed donors in 2012, attracted by a high-stakes U.S. Senate race, relatively cheap TV ads and the low cost of reaching the state’s nearly 680,000 registered voters by mail.

According to ProPublica, almost a quarter of the $51 million or more spent in the 2012 Senate race came from issue-advocacy groups that do not disclose their contributors. The dark money—and the influence it represented—drew protests from Democrats and Republicans alike.

READ THE FULL STORY at Missoula Independent 

Scotts Valley survivors of SFO crash describe wreck, confusion

July 9, 2013, Santa Cruz (California) Sentinel

SCOTTS VALLEY — Elliot Stone has had a lifetime of training in martial arts, but none in emergency medicine. Still he was one of the first responders to reach four victims who were torn from the Asiana jumbo jet Flight 214 as it crashed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday.

The plane came in for a landing flying too low and too slow. The landing gear crashed against the seawall, ripping open the back of the airplane and scattering people onto the runway, while the rest of the plane careened down the tarmac.

Just seconds came between Stone’s realization that something was wrong and the impact. He was seated next to Elena Jin, 23, his fiancee from Santa Cruz whom he had proposed to a day earlier at their hotel in Suwon, South Korea.

“All that went through my mind was grabbing her arm, looking in her eyes and saying, ‘This might be it,’ ” he said.

READ THE FULL STORY at Santa Cruz Sentinel 

Merc still looks for options

May 22, 2014, Missoula (Montana) Independent

For nearly four years, Missoula’s most prominent downtown retail space has remained vacant. While the Missoula Mercantile building has turned into little more than a billboard for art shows, what with its windows filled with posters and displays, officials say it’s an exception to an otherwise healthy downtown.

READ THE FULL STORY at Missoula Independent

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