Friday, December 19, 2003

In Memory...

As many of you, friends and colleagues alike know, a very good friend, fellow colleague, office mate and lover recently met an untimely and very violent death.

I am repulsed and revolted at this shocking news, finally passed on to me by a good friend and colleague who knew us both.

Six thousand, six hundred and eighty miles away, I feel detached and out of sorts with this situation, but as many of you know I had already begun to detach from the situation which I left back home.

This woman I knew and grew to love, whose name I will refrain from posting online, will be fondly remembered. She and I met about six years ago and through the years, we were able to share many thoughts and feelings together. She supported me when I was down and beside myself with heavy decisions, as I tried to support her when she was in the throes of indecision and fear brought on mostly by her tumultuous life with an ill chosen man.

She fell victim to a selfish, cowardly man, suffering from terminal “little man syndrome,� who wanted more of a possession than a wife, more of a plaything than a friend, more of a puppet than a soul mate. He, like so many controlling men, couldn’t deal with the fact that he was so much less of a man that he failed to hold onto a woman whose spirit could not be broken by his egocentric way of thinking and acting.

I knew this wonderful woman in so many different facets. She had many faults, like we all do, but most of us hate to admit. Behind her façades, she was a wonderful, caring, loving person who gave of herself to many people.

In the span of six years of friendship and about ten months of a more intimate relationship, we shared many, many laughs and special moments that never will never be forgotten and never can be replaced. She had a spark inside her that was so vibrant but she struggled with many demons, that only time may have cured.

Now, her life is cut short. May she rest in peace. Wherever you are my sweet woman, know that your memory will always be with me.


Sunday, December 07, 2003

Milly and Ann

Every morning, same time every day, Ann and Milly come to visit me in my office. Their classrooms are upstairs but they make the trip, for about ten minutes or so, to spend some time with me in the office every single day.

Ann strokes my beard. Milly hangs on my shoulder. They look about and ask me, “What’s this?”….”What’s this?” The two of them using every English word they’ve learned….Finally resorting to trying to teach me Mandarin.

I’ve taken to getting my work done early so I’m ready for them, giving them my undivided attention.

These two girls, along with the other bunch of students who are all so special to me, make this international venture worth it for me. If it were not for the kids, I’d never have made it here.

Milly speaks English well and she gets better day-by-day.

She’s like a sponge, soaking up English and wanting more. Ann, however, is Chinese to the core. Her pronunciation is lacking but she tries hard. She gets frustrated and shakes her head, her long ponytails swinging about, knocking down anything in their path.

Today, Milly asked me if I was happy. I turned towards her, cupped her pretty face in my hands and told her, “Yes, because of you, I am happy!!”

I’m not sure if she understood but she and Ann both smiled and said, “We love Jim!”

My God…my heart couldn’t take much more.

This is the reason I’m here. This is what I’m looking for.


Saturday, December 06, 2003

Chī fàn!

“Have you eaten?”

“No, not yet, but I’m getting ready to….”

In fact I’ve just prepared twelve boiled “mystery dumplings” from the local market. I call them “mystery dumplings” because these frozen delights are all dumped into large bins in the freezer section and labeled in Mandarin as to their contents.

I’ve had help from some of my Chinese friends who can read the labels but I can never remember the order of the bins. So, I go by sight. The folded ones seem to be better; typically pork or beef either with vegetable or not. I stay right the hell away from the purse-string looking ones because they are usually contain seafood and God are they nasty tasting.

In the U.S., I was an “EATER.”

I loved to eat. If I wasn’t going out to eat at a steakhouse restaurant or a Mexican food joint, I was downing Big Mac’s left and right at Mickey D’s, going for the Bacon Double Cheeseburger at Burger King®, or pointing to the biggest hamburger on the menu at Wendys®.

“Uh, excuse me….Can you Super Size that?”

Here in China, my taste buds, along with my appetite, went on strike. To get to a McDonalds®, Pizza Hut® or Kentucky Fried Chicken®, you have to take a bus to Guangzhou, over the highway for thirty minutes or risk your life on a motorcycle taxi ride to Xingtang.

Sometimes it just isn’t worth it.

So, I cook in my apartment. Spam sandwiches, fried egg sandwiches, chicken gizzard-eggplant-green pepper-onion stir fry, pre-frozen, spicy dog kebobs….thus, my appetite has been reduced to nearly zero and I’ve lost a lot of weight. So-much-so that my pants finally fit as they should.

Plus, I’ve been sick for a month, if not longer. Every day I’m downing licorice pills and other assorted thingamajigs that the Chinese Traditional Medicine doctor gives me, but still my cough, general malaise and runny nose persists.

But this coming Friday it’s PARTY TIME!!!!

Me and my pal Sebastien are gonna paint Xingtang red!

I was surprised a couple weeks ago when I received an e-mail from someone I didn’t know, with the subject line: “Hello From Phoenix City!”

The e-mail was from a French Canadian guy named Sebastien who is working at the five star hotel here in Phoenix City. Sebastien saw my blog site online, which surprised me because I can’t pull up my blog at all. Evidently Sebastien got through by doing a search on

He’s got two co-workers named Tanka and Bala, who are from Nepal and we’re going out to Xingtang on Friday to kick back at one of the outdoor barbecue joints, eat, drink and look for Mary.

It’s such a pleasure to meet someone from my neck of the woods.

Sebastien is from Montreal, which is as close to New Hampshire as you can get, given being here in China. Sebastien speaks good English so it’s going to be a pleasure to sit back and enjoy good company and a good meal while conversing normally.

Things are looking up for me now after a long and depressing adjustment here….The hard-initial culture shock, depressing news from back home, Chinese red-tape, being robbed, feeling vulnerable and lost. But finally I’m fitting in here. China suddenly isn’t so bad. It just takes time to adjust to things.


Thursday, December 04, 2003

The China Post

Coming from a country where, “Going Postal!” means freaking out and turning on your co-workers in a murderous way, I’m thinking China must be the exact opposite.

The Postal Service here leaves a LOT to the imagination.

Honest to god I’m trying really hard not to be negative about my China experience, but dammit, it’s not my fault my native culture spoiled me!

The China Post, as its called here, is an interesting organization. It handles the massive amount of snail mail that is generated both in-country and out and serves the billions of Chinese citizens present here in this huge, overpopulated country.

In America, the U.S. Postal service, when its not creating murderous, seriously disgruntled employees, is par for the course regarding efficiency. Organization is its claim to fame and its motto, something to the effect that neither rain, nor snow, nor fog, nor any other inclement weather will stop the delivery of the U.S. mail.

China….well,………….suffice it to say it’s different here.

The China Post is a sketchy organization that does pretty much as it pleases. They open mail at will, take what they want, deliver what they want – when they want to deliver it, IF they deliver it.

When I first arrived here, my first contact with the China Post was at the selling center in Phoenix City. I had a letter to send. I had no envelopes or stamps, so I went to the China Post (with a Mandarin and Cantonese speaking friend) to mail it.

“No envelopes!” we were told. So I tried to purchase some stamps. “No stamps!” we were told.

Jesus Christ.

In the months to follow, I discovered that this particular office of the China Post opens when they decide it is convenient to open.

Too many times I’ve showed up at ten in the morning, one in the afternoon, four in the afternoon and so on….only to find the damn place closed.

When they ARE open, it is an experience in-and-of itself.

I bring a sealed envelope into the office, give it to the clerk and he weighs it. After weighing it, he peers at a sign in the lobby that’s virtually impossible for him to read unless he’s equipped with binoculars for glasses. Then he makes a split decision as to whether I need extra postage or not. Suddenly he points to a 2 Yuan stamp and holds out his hand.

Well, I began taking careful notice of this. I carefully counted the pages I inserted into a letter. Six pages was typically 6.80 Yuan. So, one day I showed up and gave the clerk a letter containing four pages and I was charged 8.80 Yuan.

Go figure.

What was I going to do? Argue with him in English?

I don’t think so.

But, the real nutcracker lately was the time I showed up to mail a letter and was told to wait while the clerk went to his motorcycle, removed his saddlebags of mail, fished out at least ten various size envelopes and handed them to me.

I looked at them, recognizing two of them. One was mine and the other was for the other foreign teacher here at the school, mailed from Seattle, Washington. The rest of them were addressed in Chinese.

At first I didn’t get it. Then the clerk sticks a sheet of paper in front of me and asks me to sign for these letters.

What the fuck?

Finally, I get it.

I’m a little slow in my old age, but finally I figured it out. These letters were for the school and this lazy ass wanted me to deliver them so he wouldn’t have to drive all the way out on East Guang Yuan road in Phoenix City.

Jeeem the Postman.

Gotta admit I felt important that day. I wonder what that clerk would have thought if I’d pulled out a gun and wiped out all the administrative staff when I got back to the school?

(Things that make you go….”Hummmmm.”)


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