Mia Li

Mia Li is a researcher for the New York Times by day. At night, she turns that news into stand-up comedy

Posts by Mia Li

Father's Day

Climbing generational walls – by Mia Li


One Wednesday in early June my father called me at work and said, “I heard it’s going to be Fathers Day soon.”

Alarmed, I sat up in my chair and tried to make sense of this. My father had always said that the invented foreign festivals were decoys imported from America to sell cakes and carnations to China’s new middle class gullibles. Even still, in recent years it had become customary for Chinese children to buy their parents gifts on Fathers and Mothers Day. Pressure from both Confucius and the consumer industry had become insurmountable, let alone guilt trips from mum and dad. Starting the year I got a job, each year my mother dropped hints about what gift she wanted (at least she didn’t make me hand over a portion of my salary like some other Chinese mothers do). But my proud father would never ask me for anything, so I thought.

“I’d like to get you a gift!” I said, in what I hoped was the right response. “What would you like?”

“I’d like an Astrill account,” he replied, not skipping a beat. “I need to get over the firewall.”


The Girl on the Dock

Tragedy on the Yangtze – a reporter’s vignette by Mia Li


I first saw the woman on the dock by the muddy banks of the Yangtze, while droves of soldiers in camo ran to and fro from the supply barge. I was in a huddle of reporters and TV crews, covering the capsized cruise ship along with the rest of China’s media, foreign and domestic. She stood to one side, out of everyone’s way. She was tall, wearing dark blue rain boots, denim shorts, a black t-shirt and small cross-body bag, her long black hair blowing in the wind. Her hands clutched the handle of a purple umbrella. At first I thought she was a fellow reporter, until I noticed how still she was standing, like a wooden stick planted in the dirt. Her gaze was fixed far away on the foggy river, oblivious to all the soldiers, journalists and government officials shuffling around her. My heart sank as I realised why she must be there.

Soon after, everyone was herded behind a high wire fence three metres back from the river bank. She stood so close to the fence her face was pressed against it. Her eyes were red, and she held a ball of wet paper tissue in one hand. She looked very young. 22? Maybe 19?