The Welcome back to China but not for good post

I didn’t resist the idea of doing an “I’m back” post so much as I resisted making a big deal of it. Just as it doesn’t matter that so-and-so is leaving China, it’s not too important that so-and-so is coming back. If you think about it, that’s what we do. We come, we leave. We come back.

And we write about it.

Sometimes we produce interesting, original content while other times we produce irelevant bullshit for our 500-post a day RSS fuckfeeds. What we have in common is an interest in China, and a desire to share our interest with others.

Returned expat can’t shut up about China? Well, what of it? The big problem with readjusting to life in America is that not many people understand you. You can talk about the wonderful things you saw, the great experiences you had, you can try to make them understand, but without a common base, more often than not the people you’re talking to aren’t listening. They’re doing what most people do.

Waiting for their turn to talk.

Other though, others have questions. Wait, you actually lived over there? Get ready to be considered an expert. Yes, I can speak some Chinese. No, I am not fluent. Yes, you can eat dog and cat but you have to go to special places to do it, and no, everyone doesn’t do it all the time.

My students asked me, “Why do you come to China?”

My coworkers asked me, “Why did you go to China?”

And people now ask me, “Why did you come back?”

I’ll try to answer: my wife’s parents run a store in a small town. Her father gets up early to join the others in the farmer’s market, selling vegetables and meat. Her mother runs the store until he gets back, around lunchtime. Her mother will do manual labor; working all day, for maybe, 100 RMB.

Now, a couple weeks ago I tried to buy coffee. No real coffee here, it’s back to that gourmet Nescafe in a can. We went up to the cashier and I had my 100 RMB bill out, ready to pay.

My mother-in-law came over and handed the cashier a smaller bill. She said, “Take mine. You don’t have to give back so much change.”

Not a good answer. I wasn’t good at any of those questions, and not much has changed. Let’s leave it at this: I came back.

And I wrote about it.

An “I’m back post then? No. More like an attempt to summarize in a few hundred words what would take thousands. So let’s stick with seven:

It feels fucking great to be back.

Shoes Turn Into Children

I can understand more than I could three years ago.

Part of it’s from listening to my wife talk to our daughter. Sometimes it’s just easy to predict what’s someone’s saying and another part might be “attention to detail”, that old military teaching tool.

I still can’t follow every word. Mealtime conversations quickly turn into trainwrecks of sounds, the wreckage rising in direct proportion to the amount of baijiu consumed. Another problem is this place. This dialect.

The local dialect.

It’s easy to hear the difference between the local Hubei-bred Hua and the CCP-approved brand, easier than it was three years ago. The local dialect sounds faster — when people know each other, for whose benefit would they slow down? Also, it’s louder, naturally, here in the home of the “nine-headed birds”. The number of tones are the same.

Here’s a short list of differences between Mandarin and the local dialect. This is spoken in a small Hubei town. Suggestions and corrections are welcome:

hē 喝 “to drink” = huǒ

xué 学 “to study” = xuó

gěi 给 ”to give” = gě

ne = ni (as in: Baba ne? becomes Baba ni?)

bào 抱 “to hug” = pào

chī 吃 “to eat” = qī

zāng 脏 “dirty” = āo zòu

yī diǎn dian 一点点 = yī kār

And everyone’s favorite:

Shoes = Children


A scene from (real) China: the twins’ first birthday

I have never referred to a place as Real China, and God willing, I never will. I don’t think there is such a thing as Real China. There’s Modern China, there’s Old China, and there’s even, and I’ve heard this, Old Old China, which is a lot more descriptive than either Old or Ancient, isn’t it?

Real China (and it’s variant: real Chinese city) are used in comparison to places like Beijing and Shanghai. The recruiter for my first ESL gig said that Wuhan is a “real Chinese city, unlike Beijing and Shanghai”. Beijing and Shanghai.

Fake China.

However you want to describe it, here in my wife’s hometown you’ll see stuff you may not see, even in “real Chinese cities” like Wuhan.

For instance, yesterday’s birthday celebration:



Twins, a boy and a girl, were turning one. It’s usual to treat a baby’s first birthday as a big event, and these parents didn’t disappoint. There was a banner:

Wishing their dear daughter and son a happy first birthday.

Wishing their dear daughter and son a happy first birthday.

And live music:


The celebration, loud music and speeches kept going until about 9 that night. Close to the end, right before the firecrackers, they announced that Fei Xiang had dropped by. I went outside to snap a photo, but sadly, it wasn’t really him.

Earlier in the day they had Zhuazhou. I don’t have pictures, but Zhuazhou is where the child is set down and allowed to crawl towards and grab an object. What he grabs is supposed to tell the parents about his future aspirations and accomplishments.

For more on Zhuazhou, see:

The Tradition of Zhuazhou, First Birthday Celebration

Zhuazhou – Gift Picking at 1 Year Old

Here’s wishing the twins a happy birthday

A pity the real Fei Xiang couldn’t make it.

So I’m back in China, and…

Patience is still a required skill.

On the train we entered the car at the back end. We had to get our huge suitcase to the front. We’re going along pretty well, until here comes this guy. His suitcase is smaller than mine, more of a satchel with wheels. We politely ask him to stand aside, but Fuckstick apparently can’t wait the whole three seconds it would take to let us by. He says he can’t and just stands there, waiting for us to haul our suitcase, which is bigger than two of him put together, out of the way, squeezing it between a couple seats.


Patience is watching a woman twice your age throw a temper tantrum because she can’t cut you in line for the elevator.

Patience is being woken up at the crack of dawn by a megaphone right outside your window blaring “Mai pingguo you zi!” on infinite repeat.

Patience is arriving at the Hankou train station jet-lagged with four suitcases to find the elevator closed. Patience is listening to the guard tell you it’s closed without explaining why.

Patience is then watching the guard open it for someone else after you’ve hauled your four suitcases up the steps, one at a time.

Patience is dealing with stuff like this on a daily basis. Patience is dealing with it, and not going to jail.

Patience is the difference between making it in China or going fucking insane.

Book Review: Outbound Flight, by Timothy Zahn

He cocked an eyebrow.

Before the prequels, when the sequel trilogy was definitely never going to happen, we had The Thrawn Trilogy.

It’s easy to forget, what with the prequels and a book now it seems for just about every character who appears on screen (and even some non-characters; the Millenium Falcon hardly counts as a character) how important the Star Wars novels once were. They ranged from the inspiring (The Han Solo Trilogy) to the less inspiring (The Black Fleet Crisis) to the outright terrible (anything by Kevin J. Anderson). Let’s not forget the strange either (The Crystal Star). For many of us, the Star Wars expanded universe was the obvious sequel trilogy.

The Thrawn Trilogy got everything started in 1991. Timothy Zahn got over well, and he didn’t do it with prose; when a character expresses surprise, he “cocks an eyebrow” or if Zahn feels like switching it up, he’ll “twitch a cheek”. This happens so often I can’t help but wonder if everyone in Zahn’s version of the SW galaxy suffers from mild Tourette’s. No, Zahn got over via superb research, and a skill that many authors lacked.

He understood Star Wars.

He understood the locales, the characters, the appeal. His new characters fit well into the Star Wars universe. Early in Heir to the Empire, it’s believable when Pellaeon muses that Thrawn could have pulled out a victory at the Battle of Endor, even after the Executor went down. It’s believable that clones grown too quickly could go insane (and that the clones were the invaders, not the defenders, but that’s another argument for another time) and that a Force-sensitive clone could go doubly off his rocker, especially combined with years of isolation. It’s believable that Obi-Wan would one day be unable to linger as a Force ghost.

It’s also believable that the Jedi would want to explore outside the galaxy.

The source of Outbound Flight comes from the following exchange in Heir, after Pellaeon has suspicions about their new ally/pawn, Joruus C’baoth:

“Yes, sir.” Pellaeon braced himself. “Admiral… I have to tell you that I’m not convinced dealing with C’baoth is a good idea. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think he’s entirely sane.”

Thrawn cocked an eyebrow. “Of course he’s not sane. But then, he’s not Jorus C’baoth, either.”

Pellaeon felt his mouth fall open. “What?”

“Jorus C’baoth is dead,” Thrawn said. “He was one of the six Jedi Masters aboard the Old Republic’s
Outbound Flight project. I don’t know if you were highly enough placed back then to have known about

“I heard rumors,” Pellaeon frowned, thinking back. “Some sort of grand effort to extend the Old Republic’s authority outside the galaxy, as I recall, launched just before the Clone Wars broke out. I never heard anything more about it.”

“That’s because there wasn’t anything more to be heard,” Thrawn said evenly. “It was intercepted by a task force outside Old Republic space and destroyed.”

Pellaeon stared at him, a shiver running up his back. “How do you know?”

Thrawn raised his eyebrows. “Because I was the force’s commander. Even at that early date the
Emperor recognized that the Jedi had to be exterminated. Six Jedi Masters aboard the same ship was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

When I first heard of this book, I cocked an eyebrow myself — is this a story that needs to be told? I remember a lot of excitement when this book was first announced, though what was the source of the excitement? Was it Zahn’s return to the Star Wars universe, a momentous occasion heralded by a million fanboys/girls suddenly crying out in glee? These same people, who probably couldn’t name one of Zahn’s non-SW novels, even the book he won a Hugo for? Or was it because they found the references to it so interesting, yearning to know the details of this doomed expedition beyond the galaxy?

The big problem with this book is that even if you don’t already know the ending, a single glance at the blurb gives the game away:

“Now, at last, acclaimed author Timothy Zahn returns to tell the whole extraordinary story of the remarkable–and doomed–Outbound Flight Project.”

Not a big deal, right? Like Titanic, we all know the ship sinks. But since we know the ultimate conclusion, we need a great story leading up to it.

We don’t get one.

First, Obi-Wan and Anakin come aboard. They don’t do anything. Oh, we get a cheap glimpse of Anakin’s corruption when he approves of the original C’baoth’s methods (and there’s no surprise here — the original is just as batty as his clone). They come aboard for a half-assed reason and leave just before it’s destroyed for an equally half-assed reason. What’s worse is that if you know what happens, and you know this is between Episode I and II, then you know everything they do is meaningless, rendering their scenes a waste of ink and a waste of our time.

The other characters don’t fare much better. Jedi Jinzler had a potentially interesting arc. After all, she meets a long-lost brother who is not Force sensitive, who resents her for being their parents’ darling little Jedi. This could have been interesting, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. She meets him, feels sad about it…and then that’s it.

Rounding out the list: Jorj Car’das doesn’t know his right from his left, Quennto and Marris have some meaningless jealous lover angle, and Thrawn. Yes, the Magnificent Bastard himself is not yet a Grand Admiral but a Chiss Commander who believes in preemptive strikes. His people don’t believe in preemptive strikes. Trouble ensues, again, events referred to in another book, this time the Thrawl Duology (Vision of the Future, specifically).

Thrawn’s well-done, the ending confrontation is well-done (despite how it cheapens Thrawn’s original quote on the matter — C’baoth basically forces his hand), and overall, it’s not a bad book.

It could have used more on Jinzler’s brother, no Obi-Wan and Anakin, a more competent Jorj Car’das and just a more interesting story leading us from the Outbound Flight’s launch to it’s destruction.

As it stands now, you can just read the conversation from Heir to the Empire and not miss anything.

The Seven Year Laowai – now available for the Kindle!

real cover


Available for the first time on the Kindle, the underground hit The Seven Year Laowai, an ESL teacher’s recollections of the seven years he spent teaching English in Wuhan, China.

From the alcoholism which led him there to the nasty power games that pushed him out, The Seven Year Laowai provides an unflinching look at the lives of ESL teachers in the smoggy never-never land of Wuhan.

Available here!

The story is more or less the same, only I went through and did a major revision, i.e. removing some extra crap, tightening certain scenes, and making it match up better to Little Red King.

Later on I’m going to include the opening chapter from Little Red King. Right now that’s odd because Little Red King‘s first chapter is longer than the whole Seven Year Laowai! So yeah…

Only 99 cents for the Kindle! A version for other platforms is forthcoming!

The Letter in the Drawer (An excerpt)

He pulled open the drawer slowly, the old clothes carrying the smell of years ago. The passage of the drawer roused little from this place, just from his heart. He unfolded the letter and looked over it in the dark. Then he folded the letter, put it back under the clothes and closed the drawer.

He put one hand over another at his waist, and lowered his head.