& then…

A friend of mine lost his mom today after a long illness; I sent him this, because it’s the most comforting thing I can say to that level of loss:

Everyone has his own beliefs about what comes next; mine is that [your mom] is again as she was originally, and will hear you now if you speak to her.

When I was 9 years old my grandmother died. About a year later I began to really miss her; it wasn’t until then that I got a sense of the finality of death. When I understood that I would not see her again I cried and cried. Then wrote her a 14-page letter.

That night I had a vivid, very odd dream: there were no images and there was nothing to see, but suddenly she was with me. I was so excited, I yelled and told her how much I missed her and that I had so much that had happened that I wanted her to know. She put me on her lap — still no images, I never saw her — and told me to tell her everything. I talked and talked and talked, filling her in on the past year.
When I was done she told me she wanted me to know something, too.

She said that she would still have to leave, and that we couldn’t see each other for a while, but that there was a very important reason for the separation, and the distance was necessary, but temporary. She told me if I ever missed her the way that I had that day, that I should write again, exactly as I had. She said, “Just aim and write, exactly like you did, and even God will hear you.”

I woke up so comforted, relieved and peaceful. I was not quite 11 years old. The letter I had written her had disappeared; I never found it again.

Because of this I have never feared death.

My belief is that your mom is safe where she is, whole, at peace, and aware of what you’re going through. ❤🙏🏼


And I do believe this.  That was one of the most defining moments of my childhood, because it shaped my response to every big, significant thing that came after it.  This experience was such huge comfort to a grieving kid… maybe it can give solace to someone else.


The trees!  They are magnificent.  Even here on the edge of the city they’re exploding into brightness so brilliant it practically has auras.  There’s been a spate of rainy days so everything’s more striking, bursts of red and gold against a low gunmetal sky.  The chill in the air finishes it all off perfectly.  Yesterday was Halloween; for the first time the wind really kicked up, and after dark there was a driving rain.  This morning I was thinking we must have lost the leaves but there they still are, hanging on.

Such seasonal perfection surely can’t last.  I do not venture far from the windows; I don’t want to miss a minute of it.  I’ve been spoiled by fall this year:  during our trip up north for my sister’s wedding, the colors at our destination were peaking as we arrived.  The days were uniformly blustery, all high blue skies and bright sun, trees shining.  We stayed for 4 days and by the time we made the return drive, the trees for the entire route home had also reached their peak.  There was snow for the first 2 hours of the drive, then frigid wind and rain; the trees practically strobed against that deep autumnal sky.  We were rapt for the full 8 hours.

And as the trip had been marred by a couple practically back-to-back emergencies still in the process of resolving, the beauty of the drive was a very welcome distraction.  Arriving home, the color change began here and advanced slowly, with stately progress.

I almost feel like we’ve earned it, after the past 3 months or so.

Preparations for that trip took a ton of time and money and energy away from the beginning of the semester, and I paid for it in more ways that one.  Things have settled down now, so I’ve been writing regularly again.  Emergency situations were quickly resolved.  All that remains to do for the moment is think, relax, and admire November.




Well, that was unpleasant.

Am I really thinking about a return trip to China already?  I barely got through submitting midterm grades for the fall semester and speaking of that, how is it possibly time for midterms already?  This semester’s flying by.  I have a ton of work to do at all times.

School and writing are taking just about all I’ve got.  Now that my sister’s wedding is over, I can focus a little.  There has been a great deal of extra time and energy demanded since last month, which has made things a bit harrowing, but now things should settle down a bit.

Next week is my birthday… so, just in time.

Final Beijing Entry: Grading hell, victorious. Dragon Tie. Non-communication Taxi. PEK. Delta slacking. SkyClub lounge. First Class with a sliding privacy door.

On the tarmack, and I have to get this up ASAP because we’re due to take off relatively soon and this lady just handed me a menu.

I’ll really miss Beijing.  I’m ready to go home, but I fell in love with it.

Grading sucked up the entire day yesterday, as I knew it would. Thursday I was able to venture out one last time into the city via the most excellent supreme Beijing subway system.  Thanks to my friend Fan, a Beijing resident of 25 years, I saw the Temple of Heaven park and grounds, The National Museum, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City (from one end to the other), Ghost Street, downtown hutongs, and experienced Peking Roast Duck.  I saw things I never would have on my own.  She made the trip incredible, and  I’ll be forever grateful.

So much more to write about; I’ll post this one now, but will have lots of flight time in my private first-class cabin to work on a more thorough report.

Overall: Beijing 2019 was a rampant success.  The kids did exceptionally well, I worked my ass off, and I totally earned my Delta One seat.

The plane’s rolling… bye for now, China.  Maybe I’ll see you next year.

Wild dogpack fight beneath my windows; The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, The National Museum, Ghost Street crawfish, & hutongs.

Tuesday June 25 in Beijing, 9:48 am.  Tuesday, my day off.  It’s Monday night at home, 9:48 pm.

The wild dog fight woke me in the middle of the night; not last night but probably the night before… Sunday night, maybe? Yelping and barking.  When I got up to look, I counted at least 7 of them, though the “fight” was actually more like a dramatic family reunion,with half of them wagging their tails and running around, and nobody really actually looking mad or biting anyone else… more of a territorial standoff, really, and when they were done with their carrying on they went bounding off together on their merry way into the 3 am darkness of the construction site.

Finally made it out into the city to see a little of the world of Beijing I’ve been missing because I spend absolutely all of my time in the classroom or preparing for the classroom.    It was an extraordinary day, really — ripping around Beijing on the subway and various buses, stomping through The Forbidden City from one end to the other in the sweltering smog-dense 97F Beijing heat (an utter and contemptible misery, I was likely within arm’s reach of heatstroke); exhibit after exhibit in The National Museum, viewing Tiananmen Square… then on to Ghost Street and a restaurant renowned for its crayfish, Hunan something.  The menu was a hard-bound oversized book in color with photographs of every dish.  We had some kind of cooked greens, pumpkin leaves with steamed soy stems, and a very American-looking salad with lobster in it and some kind of ginger/mustard dressing.  A note:  there is no cheese in China.

On the other hand, classes have been a tremendous success.  All of these students  have dramatically, even drastically, improved in their ability to speak before a group, which is not a small feat for students speaking a foreign language.  I’m really proud of them.  I’ve also managed to pick up a couple of bonus students–word of the American teacher’s public speaking class travels, I hear:  last week I was approached by a student who said, “Professor, I have heard about your class.  My friends and I would like to know if we might be allowed to visit your course to sit in for the rest of the term.”  I was pleasantly surprised; as the semester goes on in America, generally the trend is one loses students and attendance falls off, but here I think I’m a bit of an anomaly… people stare at the foreigner.  Why not, I said, come anytime, and there were multiple new students in the last class.  Also, another teacher — an Italian instructor — asked to come to observe as well.  The more the merrier.  We already have a full house, what’s a few more.

I went into the city with Fan, one of my Teaching Assistants, on Sunday.  Headed out on the 8:30 am shuttle from the campus, down to the East campus by 9:30 am, where I met Fan and her son, and then out into the city.

First stop was The National Museum, right on the edge of Tiananmen Square and adjacent to the main entry to The Forbidden City.  What a pain it is to try to buy stuff in China, including tickets for the tourist attractions.  You have to use their version of PayPal for everything, or WeChat, China’s version of Facebook.  Everybody’s on it, but foreigners can’t get accounts because they don’t have a Chinese ID number.  I’ve been extremely fortunate to have the help of native Beijingers at nearly every turn in the time I’ve been here, so getting to and from everywhere I’ve needed (or wanted) to go has been simple.  Given my utter illiteracy, this is a great relief.  My goal is to learn Mandarin, and I hope to be invited to return next year.

During the 2nd faculty meeting, a number of the professors were bestowed with an honorary title, Adjunct Professors of BUCT.  They received certificates in very nice keepsake folders.  It would be a great thing to be invited back, and I’d love to have the opportunity again.  If I do return, I’ll need to be able to speak more of the language than I currently can.  The extent of my abilities so far are ni hao (hello), xiexie (thank you), and meiyao (no).  I use “xiexie” quite a lot.

[to be continued]

The Great Wall. More wild dogs. Hot Pot. Satan’s Testicles. Also, the kids are learning. [this is an entry in progress]

Just when I think I couldn’t get more behind with entries, I look up and a week as passed.

What all have I done?  We’ve been out to the same mall so that I could re-supply with groceries and incidentals, and I was able to pay for my purchases using my Bank of Beijing card; I shopped for Chinese shoes, but didn’t find anything; I’ve had to hike to the gates on the perimeters of the campus every time we go offsite, and it’s roughly a mile to every gate. Any time we leave the campus we have to scan out, where a camera scans our faces, and a card reads my faculty ID before we can either exit or enter.  There are BAOAN (Chinese police) stationed at every entrance to the campus, and no cars not affiliated with the university can get onto campus.  Police here are not armed.

I rode a public bus for the first time with my student assistant (pretty much the same as riding a bus in the US, except the ads are all in Mandarin), because when we left for our last shopping run it was raining at 9:30 am on Saturday and the DiDi drivers (China’s version of Uber) were nowhere to be found.

Construction on this new North Campus of Beijing University of Chemical Technology never stops.  There are cranes everywhere, each of them with the Chinese flag at the  top.  The workers live in dorms on the construction site.  The wild dogs like to wander into their living areas.  They’re working most days before 6 am.

Beijing smog is pretty much the equivalent of Los Angeles smog, to my eye so far.  It also doesn’t smell as bad as LA.  Also, it isn’t as grotesquely rust-colored, just a mild stain.  On the worst days here so far, it’s still been nothing like I’ve worried it would be. People do wear the masks you hear about.  I have breathing issues but have had not a scrap of trouble so far.

The time really does fly.  I got here Friday, June 7th; it’s Tuesday the 18th. Have I really been in China for almost 2 weeks?  How is that possible? I’m leaving the 30th, still 12 days away, and have completed four classes of the 9 total I have to get through to complete their course.  The 9th class period will be entirely spent hearing final exams, so that’s a class I don’t need to prepare for.  Four 3.5 hour classes remain for each section, so four morning and another four in the afternoon, a total of 4 days of teaching; I can see the finish line.

I have a great deal to do the day before each class to prepare lecture notes and the day’s activities, about 3 hours of work, then another 3 or so review before class.  It sounds like a lot and may even be overkill, but I think classes have benefited tremendously from it; every one so far has been a great success, even the afternoon class on my first day, when I’d been up since 11 pm the night before because of jetlag and was low-energy and feeling put through the wringer.

I made it, though, and the harsh schedule and pressure I’ve put on myself and my student assistant has made it a little grueling but in the end, the payoff has been worth it.  I’ve toughened up and can finish the days without trouble. And these are excellent classes, for their size (36-38); every single lecture has been successful, the kids are entertained, enlivened, engaged, and actively participate.   We have fun.  They’re speaking every day and they work hard in class.

But there’s just so much to do all the time.  It’s also kind of a pain that there’s been yet another dinner and faculty meeting summons to the East Campus this afternoon, one of my only days to do class prep during the week.  I just want to stay in and rest and work from my bed, but I do need to take advantage of the opportunity to go to the main campus and see the Dean again, as well as take advantage of the opportunity to meet and speak with some of the other profs.  I really have almost no time to myself, but Saturday I realized a lifelong dream when I visited and walked upon The Great Wall of China.

Wow! Talk about breathtaking.  This one stop made the entire trip worth it; I’m pleased that this was my first real tourist attraction that I visited in the city, and I’m glad I was able to do it my first weekend, because this is the one thing I really did not want to miss. It was incredible, a stunning thing to witness, unfurling along the spines of the green mountains around Beijing.  We walked along as far as it was possible to go, and I took about a hundred and fifty pictures with my husband’s camera.

There’s so much more to say, but I need to get the lecture notes for tomorrow’s class  done before I have to get ready for this meeting and dinner again, so I have to fly.  More to come, and hopefully soon.

Sun umbrellas, Diet Coke with fiber, & 15 hour days. Also: What did I just eat?

So busy I can’t remember the day I last made an entry.  Keeping up with a daily log has been impossible.

On teaching days (MW&F), I arrive in the classroom between 7:15 and 7:45 for 8 am class.  Class 1 goes from 8 to 11:30.  Break for lunch until 1pm.  Class 2 goes 1-4:30 pm, but it’s identical in content to the first class, so it’s not TOO bad, all things considered.  By the time it’s done, though, I’m pretty spent.

The first day… did I give a review of the first day?  I think I did.  Day 2–oh yes, my last entry was before the orientation.  Well, it took us a while to get down to the second campus, which is actually about an hour’s drive away, and we used campus transportation to get down there en masse, a group of the foreign profs.  The rest of them had extra paperwork to complete for their living arrangements, among other things; although we’re here on the same assignments, and guests of the same international program, and living in the same building, some of us have different visas.  I didn’t have to complete any additional paperwork or applications; my visa, classified as “F”, is good for multiple entries into the country as a guest lecturer, which left me free to open a bank account at The Bank of Beijing and see a little of the campus with my Student Assistant.

There was a meeting with the Associate Dean, a very lovely woman who is also an English professor, which included a brief orientation, which included some information on conscriptions.  As we were completing her presentation on the university and some relevant social and cultural aspects, we were joined by the rest of the visiting faculty.  Introductions were made, there was a little chit-chat, and then we were invited to be the Associate Dean’s guest for dinner, which surprised and alarmed me not a little bit, let me tell you.  I wasn’t prepared to have a formal differ in professional company and didn’t feel at all capable of not insulting everyone with my American ignorance, but it actually turned out very well.  There were 8 of us:  5 professors, including myself, the Dean and her assistant, and my student assistant.  I was the only new professor.  Everyone was very down-to-earth and the food was magnificent.  It went pretty late though, and it was almost 9 pm by the time we headed back to campus, with still an hour to drive.  I had class at 8 am the next day.  I was in bed by 10:30 or so, but up at 4 to make sure I had time to prepare.  It’s become my routine to rise at 3 or 4, work until 6, shower and get ready for class, leave by 7 or so, and get back to my rooms at about 5:30.  I crash before 8 pm.

So today’s my first day off since I got over the jet lag.  I slept in, then spent all morning working.  Had lunch at the “canteen” about an hour ago — pointing at whatever looked good (not always a successful enterprise… thought I was getting a steamed bun with something inside it today but ended up with what was basically a plain gigantic roll instead) and apologizing for not understanding anything; I hate doing it but it’s that or starve and for the most part people are tolerant — then ventured down to one of the dormitory convenience stores where I scored what I think might be a couple of versions of Gatorade (can’t tell because the labels are in Mandarin), which I have been desperate to find (more on that soon)and a sun umbrella, which absolutely everyone on this campus seems to carry, even guys, and for which there is a real need because the Beijing sun absolutely fries you (I’ve been burned in less than 15 minutes more than once.  I’m getting better about remembering sunscreen.)  The umbrella was a find; walking in that sun is punishing hell and none of the public buildings is air conditioned.  When I get done in the afternoon, the day’s temperature is invariably at its hottest and I feel like keeling over during that ultraviolet assault for an uphill mile.

Other solitary excursions into campus marketplaces resulted in purchases of some kind of individually packaged picked eggs, a couple of rolls of  toilet paper (not provided anywhere; one carries one’s own), orange juice, a can of diet coke (“Coke Light”– which is not, in fact, Diet Coke at all), and another bottle with the same design as the Coke Light that looks like Diet Coke and tastes like Diet Coke, and professes to have 30% fiber in it.  Don’t ask me.  I saw the fiber part after I got it back to the apartment.  I have not opened it yet.

The rest of the day will be spent doing class prep and staying off my feet.  Standing in front of a class for 7.5 hours is not easy.  Between that and the punishing melanoma slog, I have blisters and sore feet.

Upcoming posts will cover Beijing heatstroke, my personal  water filtration system, and urban famine.



Not-sleeping Sickness

… kept me from an entry yesterday, or I’d have done one after classes. Instead my day went like this: woke for the day at 11 pm.  Worked on last-minute course prep for 6 hours.  Met my student assistant at 7 AM to have breakfast in the “canteen”, as they call it, then get a tour of the lecture hall and facilities where my classes would be held.  Lecture TWO 3.5 hour classes (with an hour and a half for lunch in between).  Make my first solo venture into the grocery store in the basement of the lecture hall where I teach to grab some crap so I don’t starve in my room; in the store I am faced with The Language Barrier, an intimidating obstacle I will forever have much greater sympathy for from now on; luckily they figured out that I was an illiterate monkey and helped me make my purchases without incident.  It helps that my Faculty ID has a bank balance on it like most student cards in the US do now, so all I had to do was scan it.  Slammed a tiny Chinese Diet Coke (standard can size is about the dimensions of a can of Red Bull) and hauled my dripping carcass uphill through Monday’s 93F smog-infused humidity to the Faculty Residence, took a cold shower, and dropped dead into my bed by 6 PM.  I woke briefly for less than an hour at around midnight, but went back sleep and didn’t get up again until 4:30 AM, feeling like a champ.

This schedule, Lord have mercy.  That was just the first day.  7 hours of practically back-to-back teaching is insane.  First class was excellent, though, great group of  kids.  They applauded at the end of class, surprising but very nice, but I should have paced myself better; I was jacked-up so I was pretty high-energy and by afternoon I was feeling spent, with far less energy in the first half of the 2nd class.  It moved more slowly and lacked the dynamism of the morning class for a bit, but by the time it was about half over I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, I was able to pick it up a bit.  Engagement and interest improved dramatically.

Now I know better than to try to lecture for 3 hours twice in a row; bad idea.  We managed to save it and had an excellent second half, with the kids enjoying themselves doing silly group presentations.  My voice was suffering by the end, I was feeling the jet lag, and the adrenaline of Day 1 of my teaching assignment in a foreign communist country had dissipated.

Today *was* supposed to be my day off but I’ve been told that I have to attend some kind of orientation with the Dean and the department hosting me; my Student Assistant says to expect it to take all afternoon.  Great.  Oh well.  It’s at the other campus location, and I am looking forward to seeing more of Beijing; I’ve been here almost 4 days and between jet lag and work have seen a little, but not a whole lot yet.  The campus is gorgeous; everything on this site is brand new, including the lecture halls and the residence I’m staying in, and the place smacks of cash.   It’s been no great hardship to be largely tied to things on the campus, finding my way around, and there have been a few excursions into the city — one the first day to a mall for dinner at a restaurant my SA recommended, a place called Green Tea, where the food was very good and we ate some kind of pork thing, some kind of peanut-sauce drizzled lettuce, candied steamed lotus flower, and some kind of green tea discs that were fried and rimmed with sesame seeds that were absolutely wonderful.

At least my sleep situation has improved.  I still want to take some time to do prep for the classes before this orientation thing, so I better get going.

Day 2: I saw a pack of wild dogs and my grapes have seeds

Five dogs of various breeds, the smallest the size of a chihuahua, came from the direction of the mountains and wandered into a construction site beneath my windows. Now, that was a first for me, though I understand packs of wild dogs aren’t uncommon in this region and surrounding environs.  They didn’t seem aggressive or anything.  Just looked like a bunch of house dogs.

I’ve bought a few types of fruit just to have in my quarters, though most of my meals will be at the cafeteria, like the students.  I have a dragon fruit, which I’m really looking forward to, and something that looks like little sea anemones, which I suspect may be durian.  Will have to report back on them, as I currently have no knife to get past the rinds, an unforeseen obstacle.

The dining halls are impressive here.  I have a Student Assistant whose job it is to help me with teaching & to get acclimated to things; he took me around the campus yesterday and we ate lunch at a 4-story cafeteria (think of a sort of mini-mall consisting exclusively of 4 levels of food courts, with seating for at least 500 on each floor).  The food was pretty good.  I don’t recognize most of what I’ve been eating, but everything has been good so far.  At some point I will try to upload some pictures.  I’m still adjusting to a daylight consciousness schedule, so technical manipulations require a level of sophistication that’s still beyond me.  I just chew the seeds in the grapes when I get to them, and that gives you a pretty accurate sense of my level of competence right now.  I’m sleeping sporadically, a couple hours at a stretch at various intervals–most recently from 2:30 to 4:30 am.  It is currently 6:59 am.  My first class begins tomorrow at 8 am.

Until I’m on a more sane schedule, entries will probably be short.