“The national bird of China is the crane,” quipped Hu Xinyu, managing director of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Centre. Construction cranes are indeed everywhere in China, and so is this joke. While travelling across China to research my book, I heard it in Lanzhou, Xi’an, Taiyuan and even far-flung Kashgar. But in Beijing it took on an especially bitter tone.
St. Petersburg: The Secret Agent I spent six days in St. Petersburg, touring Gustaf Mannerheim’s old haunts, interviewing scholars and immersing myself in the city’s grand architecture and cultural institutions. The highlights included touring the city with retired Russian naval officer and Mannerheim aficionado Alexey Shkvarov, and interviewing the director of the State Hermitage Museum [...]