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The China Chronicles
or

'Gay Long Island Jew Boy Tries Tai Chi in Taoist Temple on Snowy Saturday Morning in China'

By STEVE FRIESS
(aka Shi Zhi Mou)

<See also my Budget Travel story on Beijing and the transcript of

my live Q-and-A with readers in May 2004>

Note: Herein are brief excerpts of lengthy dispatches written to family and friends since my arrival in Beijing on Jan. 1, 2001. If you have an interest in being placed on my e-mail list, send me a note to tell me who you are and why you're interested.

Otherwise, Enjoy. And e-mail comments!


On the time difference:

     I am presently 13 hours ahead of New York, 14 ahead of Chicago, 15 ahead of Sedona, Ariz., and 16 ahead of Las Vegas. So if anyone wants the winning numbers for the lottery, I might be able to help.

On arriving in a strange land:

     I let out a few fearful tears when I got into the place and it was cold and lonely, but then I remembered how I went to Las Vegas alone at first with so much fear and found such wonderful people who changed my life. It'll happen again here, I suspect. God knows if I'll ever have any idea what they're saying to me, though.

On tai chi:

     I must reflect my Western bias. It was silly. I've always been one of those very practical (ugly?) Americans who doesn't get into letting your mind feel the energy in your little right toe travel through your veins to the hairs on your ear as you swing your arms about. My pal Lizi didn't get it either, although I think she might've been more willing if she could feel her frozen fingers, toes and nose. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the concept: "Gay Long Island Jew Boy Tries Tai Chi in Taoist Temple on Snowy Saturday Morning in China." Bends the mind, no?

On poking around Beijing:

     I enjoy wandering around here feeling like I'm a part of something. You don't get that feeling in the USA anymore. Granted, it's "something" that has caused the murder of thousands and crushed the hopes and dreams of millions, but still...it's something.

On Chinese workers:

     The human spirit being what it is, they become extraordinarily earnest when they sense there is a valid purpose to some task that comes along. Take, for instance, the replacement of my toilet. This was a huge event to the building staff! At least six people crowded into my tiny bathroom or overflowed into the hall outside as the cracked commode came out and a new one came in. Each of them carried a screwdriver at the ready, apparently the universal tool of choice here. A smaller gang, just four screwdrivered folks, returned to ponder my heating problem, which really was only a matter of me not being able to understand the Chinese on the machine. Illiteracy can literally make your home a cold, cold world.
     I can only imagine the hullabaloo that will ensue when I figure out how to tell them that my washing machine takes more than three hours to do a load of wash. Next door, the same model takes 45 minutes. But this concept seems more difficult to explain. With the heat, I did a shiver and put my hand to the vent, which blasted chilly air. With the toilet, I showed them the river of putrid liquid trickling out of the side. Much easier to follow.

On prices in China:

  • Lunch at the canteen: 45-80 cents.
  • Fancy 20-person goodbye dinner for another polisher, featuring 16 different dishes: $90.
  • Bootlegged CDs: $1-$2.
  • Hour massage: $10. With additional half-hour footrub: $13.75.
  • Subway: 24 cents.
  • Bus: 8 cents.
  • Hour of Internet, peak time: 32 cents. Off-peak: 16 cents.
  • Jar of peanut butter: $1.12.
  • Cost of a standard letter from the USA: 60 cents.
  • A Singapore Sling (cherry coke and whiskey) at the gay bar Drag-On: $4.50.
  • 15-minute phone call with my husband if I call: $10. If he calls: 31 cents a minute.
  • An e-mail from you: Priceless.

On finding my first tutor:

     I've made acquaintance with Zhangzhi (pronunciation: Dgang-dguh) who has decided to be my tutor. When I say he decided, I really mean it. I was in the canteen shoveling some lunch slop into my mouth one day by myself, a bit in a world of my own because of how close I have to put my face to my dish to get anything off those infernal chopsticks, when I looked up to see Zhangzhi sitting across from me.
     "You speak English?" said this Chinese man. This startled me quite a bit, for I'd become so accustomed to most Chinese people speaking in their own tongue that when one spoke to me in mine I just stared in the same sort of shock I might have had if the table itself has tried to engage me in idle chit-chat.
     I recovered to say yes, and he said, "You want to learn Chinese?" Again, I haplessly assented. "I want to learn better English. You will teach me English, I will teach you Chinese. I will come to your home tomorrow at 2 p.m." And he did.

On indulging in Americana:

     My pal Jeff has lived abroad for many years now and isn't as enamored as I am by the challenge of immersing oneself in the culture. So he gave his chef the night off, brought in Popeye's Chicken (for me) and Kenny Rogers Roasters (for him) and watched some neat cable station he gets that offers reruns of "Friends," "Ally McBeal" and "The Practice." As the old NBC summer ad slogan goes, "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!"
     Yes, I felt somewhat filthy about my indulgence in this American Night In, as though I had somehow betrayed my purpose in being here, whatever that was. (Does anyone remember, by the way?) But my desire for salty french fries was sated and seeing the look on America's Favorite Fattie's face on "The Practice" when she found a head in her weird ex-boyfriend's medical bag was more than worth it.

On the Bush Inauguration in China:

     At precisely 1 a.m. Beijing time, (Saturday noon, EST) as that Texas moron was being inaugurated as leader of the free world, I convinced the DJ to play the song, "It's the End of the World As We Know It" and I ordered a round of scotch shots for my crowd.
     Then, with my new Chinese friends watching in awe, as I raised my glass to toast our new leader, President Idiot, may he not accidentally run our country into the ocean. (Idiot was the only English word for "stooge" the Chinese seemed to know.)
     You may not agree with me and you may believe I gave comfort to those who oppose the USA by insulting our odious "leader" on foreign soil. But I believe I acted as a true patriot, a true ambassador for political freedom, because I demonstrated something utterly unfathomable to the Chinese: I can express my distaste for my president and pay no consequence for doing so.
     In fact, I told my friends, President Idiot would probably defend my right to do it if he weren't so busy, like the rest of us, wondering how he came to control our nuclear arsenal.

On the adjustment:

     As I've read over my prior dispatches, I fear I've given the impression through my cheeky socio-political analysis that I've got some sort of handle on what's going on around me. Fact is, it's taken me four weeks to hazard the bus and subway by myself, and I only did it because I lost my map and couldn't tell a cabbie where I live. And I resorted to eating an "American-style Mankattan" [sic] hotdog-in-a-bag (Wrapper: "USA style hot dog has Chicken sausage flavour with Chilli sauce") bought at the store today because the canteen wasn't open, nobody was around to lunch with and I'm still not clear how many dishes I'm expected to order in a restaurant if I go by myself. As I mentioned moments ago, I only know one by name.

On Chinese facilities on a trip:

     At daybreak, I stumbled out of our cabin to locate the toilet but couldn't remember where it was, so I invoked my male privilege and picked a discreet bush to do my business. As I'm standing there contentedly watching the sky lighten, I suddenly spot what appears to be a big, furry dead animal bobbing up and down from the other side of the same bush. I peek over and realize that's no animal, at least not anymore: It's the innkeeper's hat! But just as I'm about to blush in embarrassment and apologize for my choice of facilities, I notice he's smiling impassively as he, too, uses the bush for the same purpose! He nods, we exchange "ni hao"s and I move on to wonder if I can ever tell anyone about this.

On Chinese basketball:

me and Yao

     We found a thumping, pulsating arena -- site of 2008 Olympic badmitton, perhaps? -- where we were lucky to get seats together and many fans happily stood in the aisles and along the railings to cheer as the team played beneath a massive Chinese flag. Scalpers lurked outside, a guy in a duck suit roamed the room as Beijing's mascot and the loudspeakers blared Ricky Martin and the Backstreet Boys as a dozen cheerleaders in black tights and shimmering butterfly vests danced about the court during time-outs. I noted there seemed to be few families in the audience, but then realized that under China's One Child policy, there aren't as many children so you're not going to bump into a the irksome broods that make outings at professional sports in America so much fun.

On my emotional breakdown:

     I'm asked all too often how we can survive like this, 16 time zones apart. People either marvel at our apparent superhuman maturity or question whether we're really all that close to begin with. And even I had wondered why I'd blitzed through my first month here without thinking too much about my partner, without feeling a trace of homesickness. Did it mean I didn't care? That I am cold-hearted or selfish? That my life was changing in ways that somehow wouldn't include him?
     My sudden torrent of tears that night answered these questions and more. I picked up my cell phone and dialed Jim's number. I expected his voicemail, but I'd forgotten it was Sunday morning there, so he startled me by answering. He must've been terrified to hear my sobbing, wondering as I fell inarticulate what horrible trouble I was in over there in that strange behemoth of China. "No, no, nothing is wrong," I managed to blubber eventually. "I just wanted to tell you that I love you and miss you and I wish I could hug you right now and this phone call is too expensive so we can't stay on for much longer."

On Eating Conditions at the China Daily Canteen:

     Next to my elbow fell a large, half-chewed bit of beef and bone ejected by the mouth of the Chinese dude sitting next to me. A moment later, the gal across from him would spit up some fishbones, dripping them right there onto the table surface next to some discarded bits of rice and chicken left behind by her seat's previous occupant.
     It is something of a Chinese custom to discard food refuse on the table, although in local restaurants it is done with a bit more discretion and is always removed before the next group inherits the table. This is, in fact, why the canteen food is repetitive to me despite the dozen or so dishes offered for any given lunch or dinner: I refuse to choose food with bones in it. As immersed as I want to be in the Chinese way of life, spitting all over the place is just one thing that goes too far.

On Chinese milk products:

     Cheese, then, is something of a luxury. A package of a dozen individually wrapped slices (I'd say "American cheese" but it's white, from Australia and has a slightly tart taste) cost 22 yuan, or $2.75. That may not sound like much to you but consider that that's more than almost any cab fare I've paid here. I'm told there's a cheese shop somewhere around here, although I've not found it yet and I suspect searching for gorgonzola is a fool's errand.

On gross eating:

     I tried really hard to set aside my Western fears to try a duck's tongue with new Chinese friends in Shanghai who took me out because, being the guest of honor, it is customary for me to eat of newly arrived dishes first before the others may do so. They went on to munched them down like tortilla chips, but I quietly set mine aside after biting the fleshy front part and realizing its texture Ñ complete with stiff nerve lines within Ñ really felt like what you might expect. Call me a hypocrite, but my meat can't resemble its original form or I get the heebie geebies.

On the influence of American fast-food:

     This trend is making a huge impact on this culture, most significantly turning their teenagers into Zit Faces as equally hideous as their US counterparts. American dermatologists can claim all they want that intake of greasy french fries and chocolate don't produce acne, but I've seen the before-and-after here. I've been to the slums of Beijing where the families cannot afford Happy Meals and I've been to the posh malls where the upper-class kids are yapping all weekend long on their own cell phones. And while I'm not advocating the lifestyle of the slums, the skin on the visages of those children raised on inexpensive produce and rice is by and large flawless. Some of the "rich" kids could break more mirrors than I did once upon a time.

On the purpose of the Olympic bid:

     And why bother with the Olympics at all? Efforts to keep a population of 1.3 billion people in its place are not served, you would intuitively believe, by the sort of attention garnered when the world's biggest sporting event arrives in your backyard and brings with it flag-waving patriots from nations with political systems that contradict your own. Perhaps Nazi Germany could fool the world in 1936 by staging a Summer Games that papered over the ruthless regime in its midst, but we're more sophisticated nowadays, right?
     Oh, but so are they. In fact, it is time to stop thinking of China so much as a country than as a gigantic corporation Ñ I call it PRC, Inc. Ñ and the Communist Party leadership not so much as a political structure than as its Board of Directors. This is the world's largest company town, with billions and billions to serve, and trillions and trillions of dollars to be earned. Everything PRC, Inc., does Ñ from its efforts to entice foreign business investment to its hopes of landing the 2008 Summer Games Ñ is aimed first and foremost at improving the bottom line, bringing in the booty.

On Capitalism:

     Yes, this is still China, and it's not necessarily a picnic to be an average Chinese person here. But nor was it a picnic in the United States 50 years ago to work in, say, a West Virginia coal-mining town where some major corporation provided housing, owned the local market and provided the income to spend at that market. That wasn't viewed as Socialism in America, it was viewed as unrestrained and out-of-control capitalism.
     So, too, this is what we have in China today. PRC, Inc., owns 75 percent of all enterprises in some form or fashion. The Board of Directors look westward and see seemingly limitless natural resources, so they plunder the earth and waters, extract those resources and ship them east to the factories near the ports that provide access to international commerce.
     Lost in that equation are the people who live west, who work for beans so those folks in the factories of the eastern cities see their incomes and lifestyles improve. If the western folks don't like it, they move east and work in the factories, just as Americans did during our Industrial Revolution.
     Dissent is not welcome from the peons, to be sure. But tell me, would a non-unionized Ford Motor Co., put up with employees spouting off in public against the company? If it weren't for Big Labor in the US, dissenters inside the company would be summarily dismissed, wouldn't they? Who needs someone on their payroll causing public relations problems?

On the Falun Gong:

     Sometimes China doesn't get a break. These days, we have this odd sect known as the Falun Gong. Proponents call it a harmless exercise and meditation group with some spirituality mixed in; PRC, Inc., calls it a dangerous cult. They've banned it and hauled off some followers to re-education camps.
     The Chinese ban, of course, creates an instantaneous backlash from the US, which, you might recall, reacted a bit excessively not so long ago to a little cult problem of its own in Waco, Texas. Nonetheless, the US government considers the crackdown on the Falun Gong to be a cruel human rights abuse.
     The truth, as always, must lie in between. These Falun Gong folks are running all over Beijing lighting themselves on fire. Sounds cultish, no? And, while the PRC, Inc., efforts to stomp them out may seem like anti-religious fervor, our officially atheist state does take a mostly hands-off approach to dozens of legitimate religions around this country, from Shamanism to Buddhism to Islam. We even have Arabic writing on our money here, a bow to the large groups of Muslims who live in the northwest provinces.

On key moments in life:

     Yep, I've got plenty ahead of me here. And I like to remind myself that, when I look back upon my life, at least three significant moments will stand out. I met Jim. I joined the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. And I went to China. I expect to be with Jim and to be an NLGJA member my whole life; I have a finite time here. I mustn't waste it pining for a life that I will return to soon enough.

On being stared at:

     He stared.

     I could feel it. It was another one of those dead-weight stares you notice out of the corners of your eyes. This happens to me all the time. Every day for three months. I learn to live with it, mostly, because it comes along with being a minority who resides in a homogenous society. These folks, despite their Big Mac appetites and Chicago Bulls apparel, are still shocked to see someone white or black wandering their streets.

     Still, understandably, it gets to me at times. For almost a full block, I walked ahead of this man while I could feel his stare pound on my back like the oppressive Florida sunshine of August. Sometimes these people are rude, but this was a bit much.

     So I swiveled around suddenly. My eyes bulged at my observer with a "now-you-know-how-it-feels" gusto. This stunned him so much, he stopped walking in the middle of the street.

     That's when the taxi smacked him.

On the spy-plane collision:

     I once believed that people overseas viewed Americans in a negative light because our travelers are obnoxious and ignorant, the so-called "Ugly American" concept. That only scratches the surface. Sure, most of us don't bother to learn anything about the local language or customs and certainly many of us believe -- rightfully so, in fact -- that the American dollar will resolve any and every overseas issue that may arise.
     But more than this, I see now that vast differences exist in how our actions themselves -- even the justifiable and well-meaning ones -- are perceived. To the rest of the world, the South China Sea episode begins and ends with the fact that we spy. This is just unseemly, rude, tacky. Few average citizens in the US or elsewhere were quite so aware of this fact of life before, and it looks bad. And the fact that this dead Chinese fighter pilot was probably a kamikazi is irrelevant to the sense that if we weren't there in the first place, none of this would ever have happened.
     Try getting past that point with people dead-set against seeing the US perspective. You can't. You can argue that we know the Chinese media spits out the government's lies -- and my colleagues at the China Daily should know this better than anyone -- but they'll retort that the US media does, too. Never mind that the US media is privately owned and famously assumes an adversarial role with the government, particular with a Republican administration. They want to say that the US media is spewing deliberate lies in concert with the authorities, no matter how illogical this may seem.

On the moral dilemma of my job:

     One Sunday night, I had something of a crisis. An alleged letter to China Daily actually went so far as to say that all American people are evil and Chinese people should avoid us because we'll lie and harm them. It concluded by saying the Chinese should "screw" the Americans. I felt this personally and had to ask myself why I was doing this work. If I had to edit something so stridently anti-Jewish or so outrageously anti-gay at a newspaper in the US, I'd walk out, right? So why do I continue to do this?
     My best answer is that maybe I *am* a spy, although not for the US government. I sit at the epicenter of the Chinese propaganda machine and, as abhorrent as it is, it is fascinating.

On my Passover seder in Beijing:

Chinese Seder     Mogen David, however, hasn't discovered China yet. Too bad for them, though, because the Chinese would love it. Turns out, there's something called "Chinese Red Wine" drunk here for pleasure that has approximately the same taste. Many of the guests disliked it, but our hard-drinking British crowd eventually caught on that "boray puhree hagafen" -- for "who creates the fruit of the vine" -- was Hebrew code for "Bottoms up!"

On not becoming USA Today's Asia correspondent:

     Two years ago this week today, I tried out for a job at Newsday, the Long Island newspaper I read as a boy. I was crushed then, too, when a position was not offered to me. In time, though, I would see that it was all part of the plan. We would move to Florida to step in and provide vital support to my grandmother as she watched my sickly grandfather leave her. We would meet more of the finest friends we could hope for, people who have changed our lives and priorities for the better. And I would come to China, where I would learn to use a 99-cent pack of playing cards to relate to people whose life and language beared no resemblance to my own.

On impressing my visiting husband:

     We squeezed into the appropriate car and I directed the driver in Chinese where to take us. A little while later, when I noticed we were going the long way, I corrected the driver, again in Mandarin. This was truly the very least I should know how to say by now after three months of twice-a-week lessons, but looking into Jim's stunned face made me feel like I spoke the Chairman's Chinese. I even started to show off a little, asking the driver where he was from and telling him that this was my American friend visiting for one month.

On the China Daily life:

     Jim also quickly came to indulge the bizarre China Daily lifestyle, which is as low-stress and high-pleasure as any grown-up existence possibly could be. Our work is a hearty joke among us, an excuse to mooch off a foreign government and plan our next trips as soon as payday rolls around. We hop on our bikes for all-Saturday rides in which we breeze casually through gritty, lively narrow Chinese alleyways where women are hanging laundry, men are selling steamed breads and grandparents are bouncing diaperless babies on their laps. When we're hungry, we pull off for lunch at whatever Chinese eatery we stumble across, then often we conclude our afternoon with drinks at dusk at a quaint bar overlooking a pretty little lake.

On the disappearance of Jim's bag:

     So was it stolen or just lost? We say stolen, because somebody saw the bag, said, "Hmm, this ain't mine," and kept it anyway. With the passport inside, returning it to an authority who could locate us would have been relatively simple.
     The Chinese visa office, when we went to replace Jim's documents, didn't make much of a distinction. They just told Jim to sign under the spot on their form where, in English, it calls for the "Loser's Signature."
     How can we shrug off such a calamity? Because the US embassy and even the Chinese government made the recovery process shockingly simple and relatively inexpensive. A cab ride here, a subway ride there, fill out this form, go here for a photo, come back in a few days, voila. Replacing the mobile phone was a more costly and more bureaucratic headache, and not having the digital camera deprieved all of you of receiving online photos of our adventures.
     But in the end, the lasting outcome was that my partner signed off on being a 'loser.'

On the Great Wall touts:

the Wall at Simatai, China     Our uninvited companion, amazingly, trekked up the rocky cliffs and steep trails with us without a need to pause for balance, water or breath. Obviously, what was an intense climb for us was a daily jaunt for her, a daughter of the surrounding countryside who attached herself to Western visitors as a way to supplement the meager existence of her agrarian family. She waited patiently for us as we consumed our lunch at the top, refusing to take our food or drink, and even made herself useful by snapping our pictures and helping me as I lost my balance on the descent.
     In the end, we bought in, paying her for some postcards with frightful mispellings and merely adequate depictions of the breathtaking vistas. She grumbled that we owed her more than I gave her for taking us so far, which shattered any affection I'd developed for her by reminding me how she imposed herself in the first place.

On poverty:

     This all begs the question of how visitors should handle China's poor. I don't have the answer. In some of the more popular expatriate hang-out areas of Beijing, parents bring their grubby children and set them loose to stick their hapless hands in front of comparatively opulently dressed foreigners. The guilt is overwhelming, but giving to one is a sure prescription to have seven more blocking your path seconds later.
     In the US, we can assuage our guilt at not giving to panhandlers by donating to charities for the poor with good reputations. This gives us confidence that our gifts are part of a more comprehensive effort to attack poverty and provide nutrition, jobs or shelter. We don't know this about China, and my distrust of the Chinese government is so intense at this point for having edited their blatent lies for these five months. Even if there were a legitimate charity helping the poor in a sensible way, I'm not sure I'd be able to recognize it or believe it.

On China Daily's 20th anniversary celebration:

     Unfortunately, I've nothing to report. Not because I missed it, because I didn't. Not because I couldn't hear, because I could. And not because it wasn't humorous, because any gathering to honor a "newspaper" with so little to be proud of is, in and of itself, funny.
No, I have nothing to report because they extolled the virtues of this, China's only English-language daily newspaper, in a rather peculiar, yet somehow fitting, way.
     In Chinese. With no translation. Except for an impassioned, inexplicably chosen rendering of the Bryan Adams' hit 'Everything I Do, I Do It For You.'
Go figure.

On Chinese air travel:

     You may chuckle at the notion of taking domestic Chinese airlines, but aside from the spicy dried soybeans they served up in lieu of peanuts and the woman in the row ahead of us who staged a coronary to get moved to first class, it was alright. (Dr. Jim didn't think she was faking it, but I could tell she just didn't want to sit next to her husband, whom I could smell.)

On seeing the pandas:

Pandas at play     Holy cow, they are as cute as advertised. That's major for China, where almost nothing is as advertised.
     Only about 1,000 giant pandas exist and, aside from the few at zoos around the world given to other nations as goodwill gestures, most reside in China's Sichuan Province. Chengdu is its capital and ground zero of the most ambitious breeding program, not to mention the most humane facility for captive pandas on the planet.
     Pandas are actually fat and lazy animals, but they're so adorable that they're forgiven. However, if you don't wake up early and catch them having breakfast, your photos will likely be of their backs hunched in a corner for eternal naps.
Panda at lunch     We did. Accompanied by Joanne, a Mesa, Ariz., teacher we met at our hostel, we rented bicycles and pedaled a 90-minute trip that took us out of urban Chengdu and into a rolling countryside. It's easy to notice the difference, aside from the scenery. For one thing, we kept passing children in their yards making mud pies out of animal waste. For another, roosters squawked outside a restaurant waiting for a customer to issue their execution orders by asking for, say, gong bao ji ding. (That's also known at Chinese eateries in the West as Kong Pao chicken.) You can't get closer to the source than that.
     I loved the pandas, as I said. I am sorry to report that I hate Joanne. Well, not really, although I wish she had admitted her incompetence with a simple snapshot camera before we entrusted her to shoot the photo I wanted to show our grandchildren, that of their two grandpas in our youthful, rugged primes posing with our two-toned furry friends. The pandas certainly were cooperative, munching away in gleeful oblivion while humans watched from behind a walled-off walkway. Weeks later, however, we would retrieve our pictures of this momentous occasion to find that Joanne might have suggested I move a little to the left so my big head didn't conceal the panda. Maybe she thought we wanted our photo with a shrub.

On Chinese medicine:

     Chengdu also is prominent in China for hosting the largest teaching hospital for Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. They allow Western curiosity seekers to wander through the pharmacy and the patient wards, sit in on lectures and chat with other foreigners studying TCM at its source in China. So we did all of that, which is how we came to decide that TCM might be better renamed TCMWBWDRKSJTIALUK, or This Cure Might Work But We Don't Really Know So Just Try It And Let Us Know.

On ear-cleanings in the park:

     It didn't take long for my wax-digger to strike, uh, gold. When he pulled forth an ear booger the size of Atlanta, Jim exuded a perverse form of satisfaction that his heckling about aural hygiene was justified. For his part, though, Jim seemed to enjoy this version of auricular therapy until his disappointed digger emerged with nothing much to show for his effort. I was disappointed, too; I hoped it was ear-wax and not human will that cause my partner to seem not to hear much of what I tell him.

On loosing my cool:

     As we checked into our room -- prepaid to the Chengdu travel agent "George of the Jungle," who was becoming our one true enemy -- the reception dude demanded another 300 yuan before we could have our key. Jim proceeded with a supernatural calm to try to parse the situation, but I spent the time looking up in my Chinese-English dictionary, then shouting, words like "extortionist" and "criminal." Eventually, the dude got an English-speaking pal on the phone to tell Jim that the 300 yuan was just a room deposit. Oh.

On my purpose here:

     The more significant truth is that our Sinophile friends are trying their best, through study and practice, to see China through Eastern eyes. Jim and I have no great, abiding fascination for China and no misconception that we are capable of seeing what we see through anything but Western eyes. This is not to say our friends are being duplicitous; that is absolutely not so. Rather, I am simply acknowledging here that I have no fantasy that in the span of one year I will be able to unearth the elusive truth about why China and its people are as they are. Instead, I view my function here as interpreting this world honestly through the lens I see it. There is value in both approaches, since improving Sino-US relations may well hinge on understanding what average people perceive about the other nation and why.

###


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