13 Good Reads That Inspired My 2013

Dear friends,

It’s that time of the year again! In 2009, I started a mini tradition for myself of summing up the year, with a list: “9 Crazy Things I Did in 2009.” Then, it was “10 Best Things from 2010.” 2011 saw “11 Unexpected Things in 2011.” Things got a little crazy in 2012, so instead of my #newyearslists you got, “12 Months in the Air in 2012” as part of my annual holiday greeting.

This year, before I hop on a plane to celebrate Weinachts in Deutschland, I’d like to share “13 Good Reads that Inspired My 2013” with you. I’d love for you to share your favorite reads and news from 2013 with me too. Happy holidays and early happy 2014 to all!

13 Good Reads That Inspired My 2013

1. “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosch

Part comic, part rant, part quiet self-reflection, this blog and eponymous book of illustrations can cheer you up when you’re having a crappy day, or inspire some reflections on your own Self when you’re in a contemplative mood.

2. “Philomena” by Martin Sixsmith

Yes, there’s a film coming out, but read the book! I learned a bit about 1950s Ireland’s church and state relations, about the Republican National Convention, about struggles of the gay community in the US as recently as the 1980s, about how a person’s childhood experiences shapes their life and Work. It was a fast read and a real tearjerker (the guy who sat next to me on that flight must’ve thought I was strange).

3. “Yoga Sequencing” by Mark Stephens

This year I tried to approach my yoga teaching and practice more scientifically. Mark Stephens’ book is my new bible for understanding the mechanics of anatomy and vinyasa.

4. “Bhagavad Gita”

I started with “Bhagavad Gita For Beginners” but a package from Mumbai containing a behemoth “as it is” version (thanks JP!) arrived in time for Christmas. This reading project will continue into 2014.

5. “This Is How You Lose Her” by Junot Diaz

Wow! Not since Mrs. Valles’ IB English class have I enjoyed the madness of reading pure fiction (although the short stories of Diaz are somewhat autobiographical). I felt ludicrously indulgent getting to know different cultures, times, and socio-economic segments through reading, without a thought of what functional use I would get out of it. I may have to stalk Junot Diaz a little during his teaching semesters at MIT next year.

6. “The Human Game” lecture by Alan Watts

I owe my introduction to Alan Watts’ philosophy lectures to VQ. This particular one made me think about Life and Living. “Say when dancing, you don’t aim at a particular spot in the room – that’s the where you should arrive; the whole point of the dancing is the dance.”

7. “Theory U” by Otto Scharmer

LXB brought this mega tome onto my reading list. I’m not done with it yet (it’s about a thousand pages long), but so far I’m enjoying the way Dr. Scharmer blends waxing poetic, management theory, and “transcendental” teachings into one book. More stalking of authors to be done at MIT in 2014…

8. “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

Fast, fun read. And if you read too much into it, it could freak you out about the psychology of women, men, and marriage. Interested?

9. “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

If you love nature, hiking, Bill Bryson’s travel adventure books, or if you’re a woman in her 30s / 40s / 50s going through major life changes, you’ll enjoy this. It’s funny, it’s painful, it’s perfect for a vacation read. Thanks TW for the recommendation!

10. “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain

A fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway and first wife Hadley Richardson’s life together in 1920s Paris. Need I say more? Oh, lesson learned from this book – brilliant people are often crazy!

11. 《孩子你慢慢来》by 龙应台

It’s been a while since I read for fun, and not for research, in Chinese. I didn’t think there would be a book that combines English, Chinese, Swiss French, Swiss German, and child psychology into one perfect read…but ZRK found it for me (thank you!). Primary reading language for this book is Chinese.

12. “Oh, wie schoen ist Panama!” by Janosch

I fell in love (with a dirty old German artist-writer, it turns out) after reading this. Then I devoured the Metzler Family’s entire attic collection of Janosch children’s books. Thanks, FM, for bringing these stories that inspire dreaming into my life. The primary reading language for this book is German, but you can just bring a healthy imagination as you flip through the pictures. (There are also many translations available – Google / Baidu it).

13. “Bounce” by Matthew Syed

Written by a two-time Olympian and sportscaster, “Bounce” explores the “talent vs. practice” debate with plenty of case studies (or, if you’re a real scientist you may dismiss then, in which case they’re just inspiring stories of highly motivated individuals).

Happy reading, happy holidays, and happy new year my friends!


And from previous years…

In 2009, I made a list of the “9 Crazy Things I Did in 2009” and sent it to friends around the world, many of whom I hadn’t seen in years. I was surprised with the number of responses that came back to my unconventional “holiday email.” Since then, the “annual list” has become a habit. Here’s a look back at my lists from previous years…


9 Crazy Things I Did in 2009

  1. I quit my job in a recession
  2. I fasted and mediated for seven days
  3. I lived in Paris just for fun
  4. I started a blog (http://QriousLife.com)
  5. I took in a stray puppy
  6. I free-lanced
  7. I found out what getting paid “peanuts” really means
  8. I taught six-year-olds
  9. I wrote a column (Fridays on www.ChinaDaily.com.cn)

Dear friends,

2009 was a year of new experiences. As I plot my adventures for 2010, I hope to hear what you’re up to. I wish you a happy holiday season as this year comes to a close, good health and many laughs in the coming year.



This year, I tried to live by “something new everyday.” To continue the thread I started with 9 Crazy Things I Did in 2009, this year I bring you my 10 Best Things From 2010. (If I keep up this tradition, I’ll have to write up “68 Awesome Things in 2068” I’m 87 years old…).

Happy holidays! I wish you health, happiness and great adventure in 2011!

10 Best Things From 2010

1.     I became certified as a yoga instructor…

2.     …which means I did 48 90-minute hot yoga classes at 42˚C over 28 days

3.     I hosted a live broadcast talkshow

4.     I crossed ~1000 km of Xinjiang territory in a bus

5.     I found a permanent home for my stray puppy (#5 in 2009)

6.     I turned down a “dream” financial journalism job…

7.     …to work at a humbler publication (brand new design coming in January!)…

8.     …which also means I’ve joined a danwei

9.     I tried vegetarianism for a month (but I cheated, so it was more of a pescetarian month)

10.   I made 33 sweat-and-tears sisters & 1 brother (see photo) at Absolute boot camp


Dear friends,

It’s that time of year when I can be unabashedly cheesy and say “Thank you. For inspiring me, for supporting me, and – in some cases – for putting up with me this year.”

11 Unexpected Things in 2011

To continue the personal tradition I started with “9 Crazy Things I Did in 2009,” I now present “11 Things I Didn’t Expect in 2011.” As ever, I wish you health and happiness for the coming year. Drop me a line, I would love to hear about your latest adventures. Have a wonderful holiday season!

1. I stopped writing QriousLife.com

No, my blog didn’t get hacked. I was just too technologically inept to hold onto my domain name and independent server hosting. I haven’t stopped writing, but I’m writing once again from behind The Great (Censorship) Firewall of China. Gorey details of how an analog dog just can’t seem to learn digital tricks here. (If you’re still subscribed to RSS feeds from QriousLife.com, I take no responsibility for the weird stuff that’s now coming out!)

2. I became a “Capital-ist”

To my very pleasant surprise, I found a job that pays me to do the things I love – meet interesting people, go to strange places, figure out how the world works, and write about it all.

3. I stopped caring…

…in a good way. As I continue to practice and teach yoga, I’m starting to understand the pithy wisdoms that I read. This year I learned to say, “I love all that I have now, but if it goes away one day, I will be ok.”

4. I started running

I even bought new running shoes. The last time I did that was a decade ago. To celebrate my baby-blue-with-pink-laces shoes, a 10K race may be in order in 2012.

5. I travelled alone

And I kind of liked it. Life is good, when you’re way up here (in the Cappadoccia region of Turkey).


6. I learned how to fly…

That’s Parsva Bakasana for the yogis…


7. …and how to turn my world upside down

AKA Shirshasana


8. I drove for days in 40C heat around landlocked central China looking at 2000-year old baijiu cellars…

…and sampled 68% alcohol afterward. Occupational hazards, what can I say?

9. I was a vegetarian for two months (progress from #9 on last year’s list)…

…here’s hoping 2012 will be the year when I go all the way.

10. I kicked off a 21-day detox program right before Christmas

I’m still working out (on Day 5) whether this half fast over three weeks will be easier or harder than the full fast over seven days from 2009. Stay tuned.

11. I considered buying property and options for changing my citizenship

How very Chinese.

12 months in the air in 2012

Dear friends,

This was a busy year as I got on a plane to go somewhere every month. Within China, 2012 took me from Beijing to Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Jinan, Qingdao, Shenyang, Harbin, Changchun, Huludao, Guiyang, Yibin, Luzhou, Nanning, Hangzhou, and more for work. Away from China, I was in Hong Kong, New York, Paris, London, Los Angeles, Berlin, Boston. In Germany, I spent the happiest days of the year in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Certainly more than 12 memorable things happened this year, but none of them beats finding the person who promises to take walks with me and hold my hand when I’m 87. It seems unfair to make a list of 12 things, like I usually do at year end, when one big thing changed everything. So, this year I bring you a story instead…

 In January, I met, at a party, a graduate student from MIT who was doing research in Beijing. It was late and it was loud, so we each left without remembering how to spell the other’s name. After much effort, he found me. We first traded emails on journalism and cultural biases, and Germany’s position in the Euro crisis. A few days, dates, and flight changes later, Florian flew back to school. As soon as he left, we both realized that something important was happening and we weren’t cool enough to just “see how it goes” across 7000 miles. So, we chased each other around the world for a few months. By summer, it was clear that the most important thing – someone who understands all the strange little pieces of us that we picked up in the decades we lived abroad – had been found. The rest were just details. 

Luckily, the details worked out. On June 15, I put on white lace, he wore his bow tie, and we married in front of our family as witnesses in the city of Illmensee, Germany. Florian finished his thesis in August and moved to Beijing where we have made our home. We spend our weekdays working and chasing down our pet bunny; on the weekends we indulge in Mama Qi’s home cooking.

As the year draws to a close, I want to thank you, my friends, for understanding our madness and supporting us as we followed our hearts in 2012. Here’s to finding greater happiness in 2013!




Happy holidays,


What I have been writing…

If you read my last post, you know that I haven’t been writing much of the Qrious Life lately. Here’s why…

When I was seventeen years old struggling to put together the right words for my college application essay, moping and stressing around the office of my dear high-school counselor VH, I had a dream to write a book. I wanted to write about growing up “north of the river” (Harbin code words for being a country bumpkin) in the great cold Chinese northeast; about the Shandongnese etiquette riddles my grandfather would mutter at me as I broke all his rules of what girls should and shouldn’t do (climbing trees all summer long with boy cousins was a “shouldn’t do”); about getting up before sunrise every morning to gather firewood to heat up the kitchen and kang with my grandmother (which gave me the lifelong habit of waking up obscenely early); about moving to the big city in Beijing and finding that a home in a “gleaming” (by early reform-and-opening-up standards anyway) apartment building was not nearly as fun as running around the countryside; about going abroad and not speaking a lick of English – nor understanding anything about the normal (read: non-Communist socialist) world overseas – but fumbling my way through for twenty years anyway.

These are my stories.

Then there are the stories of my family: of my mother as a little girl, banging on village doors late at night to find an extra ration of rice so that her newborn brother could have a chance to live during the decade of deprivation; of my father arriving as a student in Harbin from Qiqihaer by train, carrying his life in a hemp sack and his only “valuable” – a fountain pen – in his shirt pocket (which was promptly stolen by a “kind” man who offered to engrave it for him); of my grandmother who was sold in marriage to my grandfather, twenty years her senior, and then spending a lifetime bickering (an arranged marriage that decidedly did not work out in the end).

In the years since those dreamy days of seventeen, I carried these stories in my head, in my heart, occasionally scribbling them down on a scrap of paper to later glue into my writing journal at home. Life, work, and the world got in the way of my actually writing a book.

Recently, VH found me again (thank you, Facebook), and reminded me – well, chided me really – that I still haven’t written that darned book. “Qi!!!!! How’ve you been???? I’m still waiting for the next ‘Wild Swans’ from you…and no one can do it better than you!!!”

The universe works to some logic that I can never seem to comprehend at the time that things happen. But with time and patience, almost everything I find mysterious and incomprehensible has revealed its reason to me. This business of writing may work out the same way because recently I’ve been finding the time, energy, inspiration, and – most importantly – “platform” for writing some of the things I’ve been mulling over writing for two decades now.

I fell in love – with a fellow word-nerd – and his enthusiasm for reading, writing, and exchanging ideas through the written word (and in five languages we cobble together between us) has rekindled in me the dream of writing more. Anyone who likes to write knows the immense weight the words “writer,” “book,” or, even worse, “publishing,” and “agent” can bring when uttered. I don’t dare to make these proclamations privately or publicly, but I can say that I hope to compile, together with my love, a series of writings on the most important things in life (according to me).

So, I promised my dear old counselor, VH: “I’m getting there, to the writing part. I think it will be more a ‘book’ about happiness, love, and transcendence. Maybe no one will read it, but my love will, and we can gift it to our future children, so that they get to know us when we were young and dreaming.” In fact, we’ve already begun. Here I share with you a teaser – the best birthday gift I’ve received, a book my love made of the writings we sent to each other in our first fifty days together. It’s 600 pages long! Looks like I’ll have to work on editing down as much as I’ll need to work on writing more.

Bear with me…

…while I make a couple of changes.

After losing my domain name I also lost about a year’s worth of posts and publications. In an un-savvy attempt to get it back (doing something fancy like “Importing” code) I’ve messed up a few things on my homepage, such as added a top bar with bizarre menu options! Please ignore – things will return to normal soon (fingers crossed!).

Happy 2012!

I’ll gladly take more of this kind of “work from home” (or “blog from home”) next year…

Tonight, I’ll raise a glass of a friend’s treasured 1996 bottle of something good – dutifully ferried in a suitcase across 2500 kilometers from Shanghai to Yunnan – to more healthy, happy and productive times next year! Happy new year.

Apparently I’m a cliché

My good friend and fellow yogini WH sent me this link today, which really burst my yogic bubble. And all along I’ve been thinking I was special and finding The One Truth! (This awesomely funny yoga humor is copied from Lee Anne Finfinger’s article on Elephant Journal).

The 10 things you’ll do once you start yoga (that have nothing to do with yoga)
…presented here with my annotations

1. At least once, you will force yourself to try to be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten-free (insert any over-zealous diet here)/ drink Kombucha/ buy bottled water before class and pour it into your sustainable water bottle before the teacher/students/Whole Foods cashier next to you sees. (If you’re craving meat, just eat it! On your deathbed, will you really be glad that you didn’t have that steak on your 30thBirthday?)

Check. Just did all of the above for 10 days, round 3 of 2011.

2. Your iPod will now include a heavy serving of Kirtan music that you will listen to on your very long commute to your yoga studio (It’s cool; if you want to listen to Kirtan occasionally, go for it! When you start listening to it while driving and falling asleep — time to go back to your old playlists. Do NOT switch over to NPR!)

Jai Uttal is all over my iPod, even though I don’t have a long commute for an excuse.

3. You will pretend not to notice that your ass now fits in a size 6 instead of an 8, but you’re secretly thrilled. (When you get down to a 4 though, watch it. People will talk.)

Hate to be a skinny b*tch here but I was nevr a size 8.

4. You will go back to your natural hair color/ remove your hair extensions/ cut your hair short in an attempt to stop paying so much attention to your vanity. (Try not to cut it too short — the growing out process is a bitch and then you’ll just need more hair extensions. I did.)

Definitely stopped doing things to my hair and have let it grow wild from time to time, before trimming it to stay appropriate at my day job!

5. You’ll attempt to read the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, or the Upanishads while your stack of fashion magazines calls to you from the next room. (Really, why can’t I like Rachel Zoe and yoga? Now that I’m thin enough to actually wear her clothes, why should I pretend I don’t want to?) (See #3.)

Check. Check. Check. How many bookmarked yoga books do I have sitting on my night table?!

6. You will take a retreat. Hello, Kripalu! (It’s ok — those other people probably are weirdos. So are you. Eat your breakfast and shut up. No really, shut the fuck up – it’s a silent breakfast.)

Um, I know what Kripalu is and I have taken a retreat, just not there…yet.

7. You’ll start taking photos of yourself in yoga poses. Often. And you’ll think that other people care. It’s like the modern-day version of the vacation slideshow. No one gives a shit, but they’ll pretend like they do so that you do the same when they whip out their own photos.

Actually, I get professional photographer friends to take photos of me in yoga poses. Even better!

8. You will at some point wear mala beads, which will break all over the floor of your 6:15am class. (Basically, it’ll end about as well as when I wore my Grandmother’s rosary beads to dinner at age 6. Silver Lining: The company was kind enough to re-string them for free, and now I just wear them like a really cool wrap bracelet. It’s very hippie chic. Thank you September Vogue.) (See #5)

Good to know that as I keep practicing and teaching there are new heights to scale — haven’t worn mala beads yet except at teacher training graduation, and as part of a costume.

9. You will become a cheap date. Remember, you just dropped two sizes and you continue to spend at least an hour a day sweating and twisting and breathing. You’ll be buzzed from one drink!

Always been a cheap date, and getting cheaper by the day!

10. You’ll get over yourself. If you teach yoga, you’ll hope that people show up because they like taking class from who you really are. If you practice yoga, you’ll keep showing up and you’ll realize that the other shit doesn’t matter.

Truth. See my “11 Unexpected Things in 2011” post, item # 3.