You Know It’s Time …
It was probably the longest year of our lives, the time we spent as teachers/ administrators of a private international school in Wuhan, China. To state that the environment was polluted would be like saying that wildfires are somewhat warm. As far as we were concerned, the whole country needed to be leveled and started all over from scratch. The abominable level of sanitation in the restaurants drove us to taking all our meals at international, four-star hotels.
Public transportation was plentiful, but the buses were always crowded like sardines, and their destinations were not marked anywhere that we could discern. Oh, maybe that Mandarin writing over the front windows would be our clue, but who had time to learn that 5,000 character alphabet? We found an apartment within walking distance of our school, a high rise with aluminum wiring, where the circuit breakers would melt instead of popping, which often led to fires that incinerated the occupants. We managed to stay at our school for up to twelve hours per day, and we were grateful for a busy schedule that kept us somewhat insulated from the bear traps that were also known as city sidewalks.
Yet, at the end of the year, when offered a chance to sign on again with the promise of a billet in one of the better hotels. we actually had to give it serious consideration. After all, with tax breaks, free medical, and free airline tickets to the States that afforded us twice-yearly R&Rs, we were saving a fair amount of money and occasionally visiting exotic places like Hong Kong and the new Three Gorges Dam site. We were also looking at positions at a Chinese university, as an alternative. We were wavering on the decisions to the point that we were almost ready to Re-Up, when Texas Tech came to our rescue and offered us positions in the College of Education. There are many anecdotes remaining to be told, but I thought it would be timely to share certain of the more offbeat reasons we finally put The People’s Republic in the rearview mirror. I hope you’ll see the humor, along with the hyperbole.
You Know It’s Time to Leave China When …
Vehicles veer suddenly into your traffic lane and make kamikaze U-turns in front of you without a sideward glance, and you no longer develop a laundry problem. (Corollary: You also quit worrying why ten thousand people aren’t killed every day in Chinese traffic. And on further reflection, you know you’ve estimated low.)
The bamboo scaffolding used in high-rise building construction begins to look OSHA-compliant. And you know the welding torches showering them with sparks will never catch fire.
The strong, pervasive odor of urine in your apartment elevator no longer makes you gag and retch, and you think about relieving yourself in one, just to even the score. But only when your wife isn’t with you, unless she’d like to join in the fun.
You look forward to the nightly news on the People’s Happy News Channel, and pout when you miss the full, ever-exciting coverage of the Chairman’s incredible victories over the Western oppressors.
You’ve ordered the pork loin but you know for a certainty that they’ve served you Lassie, and you eat it anyway. And like it. (Corollary: You know you’ll never, ever leave China when you go back to the same restaurant a week later.)
Your Chinese language skills get so good that you can pick out nuances of variations in several regional dialects, and you start correcting the locals on their pronunciation.
Visiting Americans begin to look like giants and sound like uncouth foreigners.
You’re so embarrassed by U.S. foreign policy blunders that you begin calling everyone “myte” and swearing you’re from Austrylia.
You start to believe that you can actually blend into a crowd and not stand out like a great big zit.
Someone mentions how far you money would stretch in retirement here, and you pay him even the slightest bit of attention.
You’re invited for dinner at the home of expatriate friends, and their American cuisine gives you dysentery.
You decide it would be cool to wear a “Mao jacket.”
Chinese opera singers begin to sound more like hip-hop musicians.
One day the city digs up you entire street without warning, your sidewalk becomes a new ad hoc taxi thoroughfare, and you discover that playing dodgem cares is really great exercise.
You become increasingly inscrutable, and start calling younger people “grasshopper.”
You realize that your wardrobe is now entirely black.
The intervening twenty years have given us plenty of time to re-visit the time we spent in China, and we find that time has not altered, but rather reinforced, the perspectives that led to our return home. Our senses have become much more finely attended to the dynamics of the ongoing march toward Asian (and ultimately world) domination of our world. We were there during an era of re-grouping and consolidation of the Empire, and they were actually tolerant of us in their passive-aggressive way. For, at the same time they were “peacefully” taking over Hong Kong and promising a new era of “One country, two systems,” they were busy rounding up their Muslim Uighur dissidents in the western regions and herding them into “re-eduction camps.”
The Chinese people are among the hardest working, most ambitious and generally peaceful folks that I have ever known. Their leadership (4% of the population) keeps them in line with rigid laws that leave no doubt as to the iron-fisted control of the Party. They lust after Taiwan, which WILL be taken over in the next few years, as we become increasingly distracted with European priorities. But they have been infinitely patient up to now, and they make no moves that are not planned many years ahead. Our continued presence in Asia can only be effected by strengthening our relationships with our current allies in the Pacific and India.
As the global drama continues to unfold, we’ll gratefully live out our retirement in the greatest country in the world, and we’ll pray that we don’t fumble away our democracy through complacency and internal division.
God bless the USA!
George Thatcher – Special to Raiderland
George is an American Bad Ass. He grew up in Jersey, flew B-52s in Vietnam, taught English, Spanish and other languages to children around the world, makes his own salsa, has been known to enjoy a beer or two and has called Lubbock home for a few years, just to entertain the locals. Welcome to Raiderland, Major. We are going to feature some of his writings going forward. Some new, some old. Some rhyme, some don’t. When it comes to George, there’s no box. So… enjoy our friend and enjoy his writings! – Hyatt
PS. George wanted to include a little companion piece. Here’s some original poetry, free of charge!
A Sketch of the City
The clamor, incessant and loud,
The swarming and surge of the crowd, The scale of their numbers, so massive, And each with a face, masked and passive.
The traffic, like squirming sardines, The numberless blaring machines That spurt like arterial plasma, Darting madly throughout the miasma.
The streets, slick with slurry and litter, Aromas, now acrid, now bitter. The sidewalks embracing the poor, And the neighborhood entrepreneur. The vendors, with trays full of baubles, The beggar, who staggers or hobbles. The carpenters, tailors, bootblacks, With tools of the trade on their backs.
Construction, a national scandal, And everywhere, buildings in shambles. Their marble and bright alabaster Hiding insides of cheap, cracking plaster. The razing of whole urban regions,
To make work for unemployed legions, On scaffolds of bamboo and wire, Disaster if there should catch fire.
The bureaucrats, browning their noses, Or preening in photo-op poses, and taking those three-hour lunches. Allergic to labor, my hunch is.
The vanishing culture of old,
A vision, gigantic and bold.
The heartbeat of Asia, a city
That welcomes your cash, not your pity.