My First Post: Bowl o' Snails—Food Court on The Bund in Shanghai, China.

2017 Introduction:

Uncertainty in the world is as old as the world itself, but sometimes the tumult and the unknown can feel constant and overwhelming. These days it seems to be a way of life, particularly in print and web media. I remember the first paid assignment I got as a writer. It was for a Singaporean magazine called asia! I also remember thinking that I could now call myself a real writer and not just a blogger. Thus, began my freelance life as a food writer and occasional restaurant critic. All the while, I sporadically maintained this food blog.

As time went by, the big dogs of traditional media in my city—L.A. Times, L.A. Magazine, and L.A. Weekly—all launched blogs of their own to supplement their usual content and to stay nimble. I was asked by then L.A. Mag food edtior, Lesley Suter, to be one of the regular contributors for L.A. Mag's Digest Blog. This was the first time I had a "home" as a writer. It was a nice feeling. That lasted a little over 2 and a half years, then things started rapidly changing in the media landscape.

It seems that traditional media's keeping up with bloggers may have not been the best way to achieve financial viability. Inadvertently training readers to not pay for content by masquerading as blogs probably wasn't the most prudent look. Of course, that's not the only reason for the recent demise or deterioration of entities like LAist, Thrillist L.A., Grub Street L.A., O.C. Weekly, and most notably, L.A. Weekly, where I was an on and off again freelancer for years. Advertisers concentrating their ad buys at Facebook, Google, etc. plays a major role too.

It's too easy to get caught up in the helplessness, sorrow and bitterness of the ever-shifting sands on which media today sits. And it's even easier to forget why I got into writing in the first place: because I love it. I don't play a musical instrument. I don't paint. I'm not athletically gifted, but I've always enjoyed writing.

So to remind myself of my original joy for writing, I wanted to share my first post for Deep End Dining. It's brief but descriptive and a bit timid (a voice finding its way). It's been over 13 years since I wrote this, and I still remember typing out these word in the Santa Monica apartment I was sharing with my then wife. It was exciting to piece together my first food post and even more exhilarating to click "publish." What was going to happen after? Who would read it? How are they going to react? It turned out my clicking that button introduced to me a world of which I never thought I'd be a part, and it was fantastically crazy, wonderfully infuriating, full of dreadful doubt, unstable yet intoxicating, fulfilling, rewarding, sadness to the point of collapse, bone crushing, marrow sucking, joyous to an undeserved degree, and it goes on.

And it will go on. I will always write, not because there's a place with a gatekeeper that will allow me to do so, but because I have something to say and share. It's stormy out there, and the torrent will do its best to drown us. But it will never get to the flickering flame, deep within that fuels the creator.

My very first Deep End Dining post follows:

Every major city has its place of congregation and regeneration. New York has the sanctuary that is Central Park. Venice has the grand Piazza San Marco. Bloomington, Minnesota has the Mall of America. And Shanghai, China proudly offers The Bund, a lively esplanade that spans about a mile and runs along the Huangpu River.

At the crack of dawn the Bund comes to life as tai chi practitioners get their chi flowing. Later on a magical scene materializes as scores of ballroom dancers waltz gaily to the tinny music eeking out of a haggard boombox. And in no time, the tourists start flocking here to see what all the commotion is about. All this flowing chi, waltzing and picture snapping can make guts grumble with hunger. No worries here. A platoon of sidewalk vendors and the food court are at your service.

The offerings at most of the sidewalk food carts are handy, portable edibles. Many of these carts hawk colorful skewered fruit encased in a translucent, sugary shellac. If you're seeking more substantive sustenance, then head on over to the food court.

The food court on The Bund is in appearance and concept pretty much like any food court in any mall you've been to in the US. The big difference is that you probably won't hear any Valley slang and you most definitely won't find any Orange Julius or Hot Dog on a Sticks. However, you will find just about everything else, whether you like it or not. Actually, it's not that extreme. It's not as bold as many Chinese wet markets where you can find all kinds of "beast" meats, dead or alive. The kinkiest the food court fare gets are the strange shell fish and snails.

It had been a while since I indulged in escargot so I ordered it, but when it was served up I wish I hadn't. The contents of my bowl looked like a snail genocide was just perpetrated. There were at least a hundred snails piled up and out from the greasy, brown sauce. How did they get so many snails into a bowl? Easy. They were midget snails. It was quite difficult for me to extract the snails out of their shells even with a toothpick because they were so tiny. I'm guessing that after around thirty snails I just got tired of poking at them.

Snails are generally bland and, unfortunately, the brown sauce didn't do much to punch them up. The texture of snails are uniquely wacky because they have an initial crunch then the rest of the way it's chewy...chewy...chewy...chewy. C'mon, now, I've been chewing on this damn thing for the last fifteen minutes and it ain't goin' nowheres. I give up. Lil' dragon buns here I come!