Working as I do at OnMilwaukee.com, it’s easy for me to see Milwaukee as the center of the universe. It’s where I live, it’s where I work and it’s what I write about every single day. It is pretty much the center of my daily universe.
And even if the "flyover zone" doesn’t get the respect it deserves from the coasts, Americans know of Milwaukee and can make quick associations upon hearing the name, be it Fonzie, Harley, cheese, beer or Dahmer. (I still chuckle, however, about the major New York City-based publishing house employee who once asked me if Milwaukee was in Minneapolis.)
So, I found it a little disconcerting when I recently spent a week in Beijing and came across not one person who seemed to have even heard the name "Milwaukee."
"Where from," folks would ask with a friendly smile. I’d tell them, and upon seeing the puzzled look, I’d add, "near Chicago," for some sort of geographical context, at least.
"Oh, Chicago," they’d say, their faces brightening with recognition. "Yes, Chicago!"
On one occasion, I attempted to clarify my response with a sure-fire international cultural reference. "Milwaukee," I told the driver who took us to see the Great Wall. "Where they make Harley-Davidson motorcycles."
He responded with that uncomfortable look of someone who sensed he ought to recognize the reference, but clearly didn’t, and an uncertain, "okay."
The answer likely lies in the numbers. Milwaukee is 31st on the list of U.S. cities by population, clocking in just shy of 600,000.
There are 40 – that’s not a typo – cities in China with populations over 1 million. There are five with more than 10 million people (New York, our largest city by far, has 8.5 million). Beijing, with more than 19 million residents, is the second largest city in the country after Shanghai, which is home to more than 22 million people.
Milwaukee is but a blip on a radar of such astronomical scale.
That’s not to say I didn’t see the odd Wisconsin sight.
Bernie, like Milwaukee, is all a blur in Beijing.
At an MLB branded store in a mall on the popular Wangfujing shopping street, I spied a Bernie Brewer shirt and on the same rack, another tee featuring the Hot Dog racing sausage. A pretty impressive array considering not every team was represented and few had their names on more than a single item.
At the Great Wall, a group of Australian teens each wore a pro sports jersey – the NHL was especially well represented – and one donned an Aaron Rodgers model.
At a fancy grocery store in a mall in Chaoyang, there was a shelf of UHT Organic Valley cartons containing milk from La Farge, located west of the Dells.
But that was pretty much it ... unless you count the Snow beer I had on the flight home, which I later learned is a Miller brand (and the world’s best-selling beer, even though you can’t get it outside China).
And, no, I didn’t wrestle up any useful information about the future of the former Northridge Mall. How could I when no one even knows that the city it’s in exists?
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.