China Collage: Episode One

I kept a journal, and regularly exchanged emails with friends back home during my twelve years living in China. As China is half a world away from the US, I felt like I was on the flip side of America – 15, 16 hours time difference. This is the first China Collage episode: covering August 2007 (when I moved to China) to December 2007


(Photos above) Shanghai Airport approach; International House Foreign Teachers’ Residence


I arrived safely, and Hong met me at the airport with some fried chicken and beer. We sat together, content to be reunited but with minds filled with unspoken questions. When we got to Hangzhou, she said she was moving in with me. A few days later, much to the surprise of the university too, she moved in. We changed the lock on my university supplied foreign teachers’ apartment and started to really get to know each other.

(Photos) Interior of my new home in China; View of Baochu Pagoda from my apartment window

From a faraway land

September, 2007

Hong and I are becoming a couple. We have little things we do together, but we still allow each other room to work etc. She has friends and her sister who is an engineer so between Hong and her sister they can fix almost anything. Got second teaching job and a third job tutoring an American millionaire’s two kids, so they can learn about western education.

Early morning rush hour – notice the cars ignoring the center line
I am reconstructing the shattered bits of my life here, and slowly adjusting to such a different society. Last weekend we went to an “English Corner” where people gather to practice speaking English and the affable American was very popular.

Bicyclist from University bus

It is a sweet dream at times that Hong and I can walk together, talk quietly for hours, and take care of one another. She is an even more incredible woman than I first believed.

Hong has been giving me traditional medicines and just finished washing my back with very hot ginger infused water to reduce a fever. All foreigners come down with various bugs to which they have no immunity, and in the end they must build up their immune system.

Environmental problems are still a major challenge for China, but they do recycle many things, but with a billion plus people it is sometimes like living in a crowded bus station.

Student housing, abundant laundry
Everywhere in China there is laundry hanging to dry.

From my friend and professor:

Your letters are great. You are very brave and I respect you for learning how to cross cultures. Be content in the now…where you are. Others do not validate you. Wish them well. Your children are your joyous treasure and they believe in you. What did those back home expect? That you would stay there with no good jobs and sink further into anguish…fat and stroke prone? Did they ignore your two serious coronary episodes, and just expect you to surrender to the void? No, you’ve written a new script. Don’t look back. Move forward. The first year is likely to be grueling….it’s all good. Hugs.


Before I arrived Hong consulted a fortune teller to see if this would be a fortunate move or not. The fortune teller said the following:

The good-lucky Star will visit you, so good luck is more than bad luck. You will be happy even though there is no happiness.


The Sun Star will protect you. You can get treasure if you want. Happiness and official position will come to you naturally.


You are brave and can struggle by yourself. You will make progress and be happy and sing for a lifetime.


You will be prosperous and be respected by others. There will be someone important who will help lead you to the bright future. You will be successful and get happiness.


You will get wealthy and you will get a certain position from the government. You will get richer and more good luck if you are converted to Buddhism or Taoism..

3.4两:财谷有余主得内劫爵禄富贵之人。此命福气果如何 僧道门中衣禄多 离祖出家方得妙 终朝拜佛念弥陀

Amazing complexity of morning traffic, notice the red card threading through

11/2/2007 Saw a person killed in traffic today in the taxi/bus/truck versus cyclist scooter/pedestrian struggle. It was sobering.

I have a new phrase it works as an acronym also OIC (oh-I see)Only In China. Examples:
Corn Candy :-); Chicken breast fillet costs less than bony chicken chopped into somehow bonier chunks; tripe is more beloved than lean meat, huge chunks of pig’s feet fat is “good for your skin”; chicken feet…
A Man on a scooter, on the phone – smoking – while on the back another guy is holding a plate glass window – four foot wide – who is also smoking;

Fox milk?: Stinky Tofu (and yes it stinks horribly).

Condom machine outside the university; Student cosplayers outside downtown campus

Fri, 2 Nov 2007
Negotiating the 21st Century in the heart of the flame.

I am near the forefront of the “standing wave” that is forming here. I am working, as Stephen King says, like a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest, but there is an edginess to it all. Not quite Blade Runner, but an otherwordly quality to many things.

Magazine Office at foot of Jade Emperor Hill

Magazine office, on Jade Emperor Hill near Leifong


I was sitting in a university meeting of teachers, and one of the teachers said she knew of a job editing local magazine if anyone was interested. I said, “I am a writer – a real writer”. She thought that was funny and gave me the boss’ card. Hong contacted them and we met with them. He said he had problems with editors in the past – leaving, obstinacy, troublemakers – so he arranged for my first month as probationary – 1000 RMB less. The other three editors are young, excellent and very helpful. I work there part time Thursday afternoons and Fridays. I am the foreign editor, lead writer and correspondent for the only province-wide English language magazine and weekly English-language newspaper.

Sustainable development meeting with Arup developers, I was the only non-Chinese person in the audience. I interviewed Sir Peter Head

I attended a very important high level forum on sustainable development. I interviewed a world famous expert – the only foreign writer there, and only one of two allowed by government to have a one-on-one interview.

I also tutor a couple genius Chinese boys, and a woman artist/digital designer.

There is still a lot that is unfamiliar, confusing and frustrating, but each week grows sweeter between us. I would not want anyone else in my life. She is incredible, but at the same time puzzling, but it is the joy we share that sustains us and will bring us closer and closer together.
I am so proud of my kids, and I miss them terribly. My heart glows with their love when I think of them, because they are the sunshine of my life.
The university is giving me two months off, but I won’t get paid until the end of March, so that frustrates the hell out of me.

Village next door to magazine office, the lady who lived to the right, ran a small café and cooked for staff every day

Here are a couple photos of the magazine office entrance. I am the foreign editor and lead writer for the only English-language provincial monthly magazine and weekly newspaper. This is what the countryside looks like. There are great views all around the neighborhood. Behind the building there is a Tea field, and you can see the God of Luck Temple.

Ever present construction demolition and chicken, in front of magazine
I only had two jobs today, so I feel as if it is a day off. Students from other classes sit in on my lectures, and another professor has started coming to my class.

My college students/ actors
For Christmas, I am wrote a five minute play for my students at the lower level college across the street. We performed before 1000 students and profs. It is called, “Journey to the North – Santa Claus Meets the Monkey King”. We are going to introduce them to Christmas and guess who will be Santa – complete with free candy 🙂

Encore of student show with all the colleges and technical schools – Santa is hiding in the back 🙂


I am getting a full dose of wanton coal usage and car exhaust the past few days. This city of Hangzhou is growing richer by leaps and bounds, so traffic jams are becoming commonplace. It is becoming a center of the rapidly growing Internet businesses. (insight) One of my students was in a car accident – minor one and the police knew before they got there, who he was because all cell phones are registered with them. Later he had to go the bank to pay the fine. Everything is interconnected: phones, utilities, banks, ID, transportation, factory production, Internet…

Lotus root harvesting in the West Lake
My stray literary thoughts drift along in an alternate sort of reality, as in Gabriel Garcia Marquez, William Burroughs, Camus, Thomas Pynchon, where the fantastic is joined to the mundane to build a structure for the action to unfold within a poetic, metaphorically futuristic world which I inhabit.

The worldview here in China, the structure of an agreed-upon reality- what ‘WE’ accept as real – is largely built upon an unfamiliar mental lattice I cannot as yet grasp. My daily existence is buffeted by the winds from this mental construct. As all people are taught the same way, hear the same stories, aphorisms are used as life lessons, crumbling antiquity is re-molded freshly painted and passed off as original.

Staging area for the Impressions West Lake
Some friends were worried that this culture, with its immense unified distortion-field, would consume me. It has at times threatened to overwhelm and absorb me, but I have remained psychically intact. By butting up against this great walled world, I am discovering holes, flaws in the fabric of this different way of life.

There is an Aurora Borealis like light that flickers and dances in my mind as I am alone with my thoughts. As even though Hong and I are together every day, I have recently discovered that much of the deeper meaning of communications is lost within the cultural distortion field. How can we find equilibrium with the fantastic suspended within the mundane? I meditate and refill the artistic well.

December 2007
There is tea field behind the magazine offices, but I don’t go back there because they say wild boar roam the mountains, due to lack of hunting. One day we heard a wild boar did wander into the grounds of the national silk museum down the street. It was cornered by the staff, butchered and cooked. One of our editors went down to sample the wild game BBQ and said the wild boar meat was delicious.

Tea fields behind the magazine office, taken from second floor

On Christmas Day I taught two classes. And at the end of each, I ducked behind the podium while they studied for final and emerged as Santa (jacket, hat/beard) and handed out fruit and a cheap toy 🙂 It was quite a surprise for all of them. Some of the students were so thrilled they handed me impromptu gifts. After getting to know some of them better, and learning of their life struggles, I see them as truly great to have overcome so much, and all the while remain so positive. This “post-80s Generation” is so very optimistic about the future. It is inspiring.

My apartment door. I modified the God of Luck and gave him a Santa Claus head. It is funny

The newspaper comes out on Fridays – so much proofreading and editing. The magazine/newspaper staff is an eclectic group of people with me being the entire foreign staff. I talk a lot with my three editors and learn a great deal about Chinese culture both ancient and modern. My people skills are up to the challenge, and my writing has been honed. I am very proud of my work as editor and writer.

Back to Introduction Next Page: Episode Two

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