Waxing Nostalgic

I received an email this week from Fiona, my colleague that I worked with to get the teaching job in China.  She emailed to let me know that it has been 10 years this week since I first arrived in China. 10.years.  It’s hard to believe that I answered an ad in craigslist for a teaching job in China, got the job, got the visa, travelled to China and became a teacher for a year.  Harder to believe that was 10 years ago.  This has been the busiest decade of my life.  I taught in China, met my wife in China, travelled, got Married in Germany, worked for Microsoft, had a son, got more jobs, bought a house, had another son and here we are.

The decision to go to China was an easy one– provided the whole thing wasn’t some kind of sham.  Answering an ad on craigslist hardly seemed like a secure way to get a teaching job in China, but I remember I was at work at AT&T (where I work now… Oh, the irony), being bored out of my mind, proofreading Blackberry manuals (who has a Blackberry now?!?!).  After we did the proofreading, we would then write AT&T specific manuals for our users.  So you could kind of understand why I was looking on craigslist for something more exciting.

First mention of the opportunity is here:

If I could dig a whole to China…

That year went by pretty fast– although challenging, I learned a lot of things about how the world works and how I work within it.  In America, we often talk about all of the problems and how screwed up everything is, but the reality is that we are a long ways from the under developed world of China, although I am sure that there have been some significant changes in the 10 years, I bet a lot of it just like was 10 years ago, except with 10 years of age– and 10 years in Chinese development time is a long time.

I also really learned that you can get by on a measly amount of money if you have to– and you can also travel on it if you aren’t in the States or Europe.  Travel in China was ridiculously cheap– it had to be since most of the country earned a couple bucks a day doing hard labor.  At $450.00 a month, English teachers were treated like wealthy people– to a villager $450.00 usd was like 6 months of wages.. and a lot of my students came from the fields.  For a number of them, I was the first white person that they had ever seen face to face– and there were only a few of us in all of Chenzhou.  In fact, if white people would be seen in the city, I would always heard about it within a couple of days of them being spotted.

It’s the travelling that I remember the most.  So many opportunities for travelling during that time and I took every one of them– a free weekend meant a trip to Changsha or Guangzhou, a free week or two could lead me basically anywhere in the country.  There were only a few places I didn’t get the chance to travel to that I really wanted to go– the Gobi desert, Tibet. I know I will make it back to those areas at some point in my life– I just ran out of time.

Then there was the delight of teaching– and it was a struggle.


It was a University, but the students weren’t prepared for a college education and the University wasn’t prepared to give them one either– I remember arriving there mid week thinking I would be teaching that next week and it was something like three weeks later that I finally started teaching.  It was 6 weeks later that my freshman class finally started and two weeks after that– 2 months from the start of school when the text books finally arrived– such was the normal in China.  The school didn’t have the money to buy the textbooks until they got the tuition money from the students and the printing house didn’t print the books until they were paid in full from the University– seems totally logical, right? That’s what life is like without a credit system.  It was the Chinese way.  It might still be the Chinese way for all I know.  I later found out that the freshman were required to do Military service.  So for the first month, no freshman.  I saw the freshman marching every morning as I walked my way to my other classes.

Looking back over these archives makes me really glad I journaled online as I went through it– and took pictures– most of it is still here in the archive, despite losing it all a couple of times due to hard drive crashes, it all still lives here on the web for someone to consume.  Mostly me.  🙂

Maybe one day one of my former students will find it and contact me.  I always wonder what happened to all of them– most of them went to Shenzhen and I bet more than a few got jobs at Foxconn for awhile and put together iPhones or iPads at some point.  The last contact I had with a student was few years ago. She moved to NYC with someone she met and they were trying to make it in the Big Apple– she didn’t like it because she was very poor and her family wasn’t poor in China, but she felt that her new husband would find luck and they would be rich soon… Not sure what happened there, but I assume they are still trying….

Here’s a picture of one of the classes:

students 2005



Summer Rambling


Its that time of the year where you can hardly complain– the weather is so perfect that the worst thing we can do is complain about the heat.  This summer reminds me of the summer that I worked for the Ecology Youth Corps, picking up trash along I-5.  That summer was the hottest I can remember in the Pacific Northwest and you had to wear jeans and tennis shoes and a reflective vest– you know the kind of hot where your jeans would have that feeling that corduroy does when you run really fast in it… That was the kind of hot that summer.

I don’t pick up people’s garbage anymore.   We used to walk along the highways and interstates, through the brush and thicket that grows on the side of the road that you never notice as you are driving by– you never pay attention to all the shit that people throw out the window– I know I certainly don’t.  Every summer I see those white bags with the blue logos on the side of the road and I think about that summer– the faces of the people I worked with have long since passed, but the things we picked up, the porn, the old wallets, the receipts, the occasional treasure but mostly just the remains of a consumer culture, massive amounts of cups, wrappers, cigarette butts (which we leave) and Porn.  Porn ads, porn mags, porn toys (new and used).  People don’t throw away porn anymore either, I would bet.  It’s all stored somewhere now– there isn’t any throwing anything like that away anymore.

When I drive by those crews, I always look at their faces and sometimes I see a high school kid like me, probably doing it because he thought it would sound good on some college application or because maybe he’s making a difference or maybe he does it because his parents are making him, whatever the reason, they always seem to have the same expression on their face– nothing.  Not lost, not found– just wandering through the motions.

That’s how I feel during the hot months this summer– every day, I am just wading through the day, enjoying little parts of each day, but mostly floating — I think it is that way when you have a house and a couple kids– the list of things to do is virtually endless, its overwhelming– you can’t possibly do it all in one day, but you try.  It’s like picking up trash– you have a system set, but every few hours, something catches your eye and you stop for a while and pause and sometimes you figure out something you have been working at the back of your mind and sometimes you create another problem and if you sit there long enough, someone eventually comes along and tells you to knock it off and get back to work.

It’s always some kind of work, either at work or at home– life has it’s share of problems.  Those problems quantify when you have kids because they are still in that stage of life where everything is just right in front of them and its so goddamn refreshing!  For instance, I am sitting here typing this in the half an hour I have to myself and right behind me, Elliott is trying to sleep in the Kelty tent I bought when I accepted a job at Yellowstone Park in 1994.  That means that the tent that he is sleeping in right now is 21 years old… and that is CRAZY.  Hes been sleeping in that tent now for most of the week as Lili’s Aunt and Uncle are visiting from Germany.  They left yesterday, but he still insists on sleeping in the tent and our bottom floor of the hoggcienda smells like a tent thats 21 years old.  I’ll let your senses take that where it needs to go.