Jeff Moger Reviews "China Cuckoo" by Mark Kitto

Travel | by Rebekah Pothaar
Posted: May 14th, 2010 | Updated: July 25th, 2012 | Comments
I mentioned Mark Kitto's book Moganshan. Today I came across a positive review of it by Jeff Moger on enjoyclassifieds' blog. While I have still not had the chance to read it, Mark Kitto led a run a couple weeks back (on my second trip to Moganshan) for a bunch of us who were training for the Great Wall Marathon. Mark knows the area well and is a bit of a fitness junky (ie. he wins triathlons for shits and giggles), so he volunteered to take a group of 11ish runners on a cross-country run in the woods, up a mountain, down a mountain, in bamboo forests, through farmer's fields, around chicken pens, through a little village, back up a mountain (did I mention Moganshan was, in my non-technical opinion, more like a hill than a mountain in the last article? Well, I LIED. It's DEFINITELY more like a mountain, especially when you are running up and down it!!!). Well, Sophie and I, who are the slowest in the running group were a bit hesitant about running 15 kilometers through unknown terrain starting at 8 a.m. without breakfast or coffee.  However, spurred on by the enthusiasm of everyone else, we went along with it, but decided to take our own sweet time. To make a long story short, we lagged behind and ended up losing the group. This is after about 13 kilometers and we were really tired and very hungry. The run was lovely (before we got lost). However, we reached a point where there were five different route options in the bamboo forest. One problem about being in a bamboo forest is that everything looks the same: like a bamboo forest.  We had no idea which way to go and decided to flag down a tour bus. I pretended to have an injury and lay on the side of the road. Sophie ran out in front of a bus and told them that they had to stop because I was injured and needed to be rescued. I hobbled over and we got on. After about 10 minutes driving, we figured we didn't know where we were, so got off the bus in the middle of nowhere and decided walking back to where we had flagged it initially. We got a phonecall from Magda and she told us which path we needed to take. She also informed us that it was still another 40 minutes hiking (mostly uphill) from that point. Luckily we were able to hitch a lift back to the trail in a minivan. On the final 40 minutes of the hike, Sophie and I were so hungry that we were considering eating bamboo shoots that were growing everywhere in the bamboo forest.  Anyhoo, I blame the famous Mark Kitto for getting us lost. Alas, I digress with my namedropping. Here is a bit of the review: I've just finished Mark Kitto's book, China Cuckoo - How I lost a fortune and found a life in China. If you're new to Shanghai, Mark Kitto was the founder and owner of that's Shanghai before a pair of his senior Shanghainese managers decided otherwise. A little disclaimer - I've known Mark since 1997 when I first arrived in Guangzhou and later worked with him at that's Shanghai until the coup in 2004. So I had been looking forward to this book and I make no pretense at being an objective reviewer. That said, it's an awfully good read, and the more so because it is not a lengthy diatribe against the byzantine politics and sordid betrayals that led to the verb "kitto-ed". There is a bit of that of course, enough to justify the title, but largely the fall of that's/Kitto is there to put the real story in context. And it's not a bad story at that. Briefly, it goes something like this: The author discovers the beauty of Moganshan (formerly a mountain side retreat for early 20th century foreigners wishing to escape the nasty summers in Shanghai), falls in love with the place, and follows through on a dream to renovate an old villa for weekend getaways. Along the way, he loses his publishing business in dramatic fashion, decides to become a real writer, convinces his wife to leave Shanghai and move to their "summer" home atop Moganshan to raise their two children, and start a cafe (The Lodge) where he settles into fixing proper ‘English' bacon for the foreigners who will soon be returning to the mountain to escape Shanghai again, as they had back in the old days, circa 1930. The book contains some decent storytelling - some of the best is in the portraits that emerge of Moganshan villagers and government officials. Government bureaucracy naturally plays a large and antagonistic role, but in comparison to the cutthroat politics that drove Kitto out of publishing, Moganshan's government officials come across as almost comical if not exactly benign. READ ON for the complete review.
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