Throwback Thursday: Friday Night Lectures on the Sunshine Campus

I tend to distance myself from any China writing I did from 2008 till early 2010. While I was never shaken by China, some of that early writing is still amateurish, misguided and compared to where I am now, a tad embarrassing.

That being said, there are some gems. For Throwback Thursday, I’ll be reposting them until I run out, which means this should probably last another couple Thursdays:

Entry 17: Friday Night Lectures on the Sunshine Campus (originally posted March 26, 2009)

Concentrated Oral English Training Centre.

We have gone from a semester of Concentration Camp to Concentrated Oral English. We have gone from extremely offensive to hmmmm? If the classes are concentrated, then what are the students? Concentrated? Or just concentrating? Let me know.

The routine last semester was to hold English Corner on Friday nights. Although it’s understandable because that’s when all the students were available, there were two obstacles stopping most foreign teachers. It’s on the New Campus. It’s on Friday night.

The first isn’t bad until you combine it with the second. As a result, asking a foreign teacher to do the English Corner went from a “Would you mind doing the English Corner?” to “There is 1 million RMB sitting on the New Campus. Yeah, it’s right there.”

Under the net.

The English Corner wasn’t so bad. They provided you with free drinks and there were plenty of opportunities to meet and talk with students. Aside from the location and time, one issue was the questions that would come up. You are a foreigner. They have probably never met a foreigner before. So it makes sense that they would get curious.

How long have you been in China? Can you use chopsticks? Do you like Chinese food? Do you like China? What do you think of [city you’re in]?

And my all-time favorite: why did you come to China? One student asked me this with clear surprise in her voice. But she’s an English major. She’ll find out in a few years.

I had not been to an English Corner since October or so. Two weeks ago, they asked me to do a lecture for English majors. When?

Friday night.

Jesus. Where?

New Campus.


I asked them to move it to the old campus (where I live). They couldn’t. Then Elise proposed the following: Molly and I do the lecture together.

We combined our classes one day and played games. We played Hangman, Head’s Up 7-Up, and Musical Chairs. During the last one, they opted to ignore the music and sit down whenever they wanted, despite repeated reminders not to. It added a nice element of chaos that I really appreciated.

Elise took this idea and gave us the lecture. Molly prepared the topic, made an outline, and told her non-English major students to meet them at Building 7 where it’s supposed to be held.

Except Elise then told us it’s supposed to be in Building 3. D’oh!

On a cold Friday night, we took the bus and got off at the first stop. At building 7 to tell her students to go to building 3. Students weren’t there. We waited. Finally, ten minutes after it was supposed to start, the student organizer Patricia comes running up frantic. She’d already gathered Molly’s students and directed them to the right place. D’oh!

We entered to applause and lots of pictures. We lectured to silence, an occasional laugh, and lots more pictures. We ended with even more pictures. Your students will want to take pictures with you. Let them.

Oh, and the questions. Did I mention that? We did college life, American university life where the emphasis is typically anywhere but on the University part. At the end we opened the floor to Q & A.

A girl got the mic and related the history of an athlete named Carl Lewis. I’m not talking about a few notable accomplishments, but she gave me a thorough biography. I knew a question was coming, and I was hoping her recitation might shed some clues on what I should say.

No such luck. She asked, “How is he doing with the cancer?”


“But you’re American! You know who he is!”

She got upset. Visibly agitated that I don’t know who he is. Or was.

How is doing with the cancer?

Journey through Nanking and The Seven Year Laowai: FREE until May 21!


If the 99 cents price tag was holding you back, then rest easy: The Journey through Nanking and The Seven Year Laowai are both FREE on Smashwords until May 21.

If you read them, leave a review on Amazon or Smashwords. Even negative reviews are fine. And if you think you have nothing of substance to say beyond “this is great” or “this sucks”, go ahead and review it anyways. Reviews go further than you may realize, especially for indie authors and the like who don’t have a strong marketing department supporting them.

Facebook Page + Seven Year Laowai on Anthill

A couple things here…

First, I have a Facebook page: Like it to receive blog updates, book announcements, and I’m releasing a lot of samples, available only via my Facebook page.

Secondly, a couple days ago The Anthill published an edited (and vastly improved) version of The Seven Year Laowai. Check it out here and when you’re done, consider reading the full ebook, available here for only 99 cents.


I met my wife in September 2008, at Wuhan University of Science and Engineering, now Wuhan Textile University, not to be confused with Wuhan University or anything close to prestige.

Our relationship took time to develop. She had never dated anyone before; she’d never even kissed a boy.

That may seem odd to see in a twenty-seven year old woman. It certainly struck me as odd, and the first time I kissed her, she didn’t know how to react. The product of a sexually sheltered upbringing. As another teacher put it, people in their twenties going on twelve.

So our relationship progressed slowly, and after a city-wide foreign teachers’ banquet, we were official: she put the check in the box labeled Yes and had a friend pass the note back to me in class. We’ve been going steady ever since.

We had different ideas about showing one’s love, and early on actions did not strike me the way they strike me now, six years on, when I’ve moved from an easygoing lifestyle in an “exotic” place to the classic American model: job, car, house. Debt. Everything that makes the American Dream the most numbing sleep.

She showed her love for me in her own way; she checked under my fingernails for nicotine stains to make sure I wasn’t smoking. Any ailment called for a solid dose of warm water, and if that failed, then you graduated to the emergency treatment: IV. I needed the IV treatment the morning after a long night, in which I’d tested out a brilliant idea: mixing baijiu with Sprite to mute the nasty taste. Unfortunately, my idea worked.

But it’s socks that stand out to me now, typing this at a broken table, years removed from who I was and what I knew, the memories no less fresh.

I came to China with the same socks I’d been wearing for at least a year, and during one of our South Lake walks I mentioned that I had a hole in my socks; my big toe could fit right through.

She’d didn’t acknowledge this, far as I can remember, but the next day when we met up for dinner, she had something for me.

A package of socks.

She told me she hoped it was the right size.

A Mei Suzi Level Event

March 2014, Hankou train station and my wife’s had enough.

“Tamen dou mei suzi de ren.”

The crowds rushing past us, the unhelpful train station workers, four suitcases and a fussy one-year old. First day here and she’s already hit a China Breaking Point.

Tamen dou mei suzi de ren. One of the rushing passengers bumps into our suitcase.

It falls over.


How do you convey this to the people back home? How do you make them understand what it’s like to haul your four suitcases up the stairs after the guard tells you the elevator’s out, and then watch that same guard open the elevator for someone else, quickly locking it again?

How do you do it?

How do you explain what it’s like to get on the train and find people in your seats? Then these people argue with you and you have to get a stewardess to make them move and they argue with her too.

How do you do it?

If you can explain all that, then you can understand what it’s like to stand there atop the stairs as the crowd surges around us. As not one person bothers to stop and help, as the guards just watch us and the train whistle blows again. Hurry up.

If you can, you’ll understand why my wife said “Tamen dou mei suzi de ren.” When it comes to a China Breaking Point, it’s actually rather tame.

It was my first time in China in three years. Going in, I tried to be realistic. I tried, because three years does funny things to the brain. It makes the brain think that the every man for himself mentality is not a big deal. Hell, it’s part of the culture, it’s a quirk. It makes you romanticize the days when you had no money, weighed over 200 pounds and subsisted on a diet of beer and hot dry noodles. It makes you long for the taste of baijiu — fucking baijiu! And not the well-brewed kind but the tiny 5 RMB bottles, one of the many perks of your “high” ESL salary. It doesn’t make you realistic. So I prepared myself.

But preparation only takes you so far.

We make it to my wife’s hometown. We’re heading out of the train station. As we close in on the exit, a guy behind us starts to speed up. He and my wife hit the door at the same time, and he goes faster. While there’s plenty of room on the right, he has the warrior’s instinct: he knows the slit between my wife’s shoulder and the wall will be quicker.

He squeezes through. The checkered flag drops.

Still, I’d say I’m better equipped than most. Check out the airplanes. Taxi’ing in, seatbelt sign on? What seatbelt sign? One guy actually made it all the way to the front with his luggage before we’d come to a complete stop. That’s more than skill — that’s an inbuilt instinct, the difference between waiting at the front or waiting close to the front.

The difference between life or death.

Not everyone sees it my way. When we landed in Chicago,, a man cut off this old lady, nearly whacking her with his suitcase. She glared at him.

“Excuse you!”

Then she gave me this look. The look of someone who’s on her first (and only) trip to China. The man didn’t react. I could tell her he can’t understand “Excuse you”, but I don’t think she knows how to say it in Chinese.

And besides, she’s nowhere near a “mei suzi” moment.