Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Fog of Development

Looking out my window, I can barely see the buildings just across the street. “I was suppose to be escaping this by leaving Beijing,” I think to myself. Still, even down in a third tier, provincial city in the heart of Southern China, one cannot escape the relentless fog that covers this country. And when I say fog… well, if you’ve been reading the news about China building a coal fired power plant every week, or if you paid any attention to my blog before this, you know what I’m talking about.

So, how did I get from being in trouble with the police to living in Southern China? Well, it’s been quite a turbulent six months, and since many of you already know the story, I’m not going to dwell on it. Let’s just say I hope I never end up in Chinese court again.

What some of you may not know is that while I was suffering through court settlement hell, I was lucky enough to become acquainted with a beautiful Chinese lady who helped to take my mind off some of my troubles. While she wishes to remain anonymous for various reasons, I will say that she is a banker, and so she was able to “finance” a few weekend trips for us over the last few months to some of the more remote and tropical parts of China. That was enough to at least take some of the sting out of a difficult situation.

Then something happened that was quite… well, as my former mentor Sherman Teichman might say, serendipitous. Or as my mom would probably say, it was the law of attraction.

No sooner had I paid the settlement to the court, than I got an email from one of the school’s I recently started teaching for. They were looking for someone to move to Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, for a month to teach SAT prep to a small group of high school students. I’d be teaching six hours a day, but the pay was substantial: nearly three times what I would make in a normal month. I replied to their email 16 minutes after it had been sent, and within the hour I was signed up to move to Changsha. Just like that. When opportunity knocks, especially in this country, you’ve got to grab it by the horns.

And finally, here I am, five weeks later, preparing to fly back to Beijing in two days. While those days of teaching crawled by, when I look back it really seems like I just got here. This experience has given me a glimpse of what it’s like living in a real Chinese city; a third-tier Chinese city, where you still feel like you’re in a developing country. Where a new gated community and six-lane highway ends, abruptly, and gives way to farmhouses. And where, just like every other city in China, the fog of development hangs heavily. Of course, the locals don’t notice the fog. They only notice the new cars, houses and shopping malls. But maybe that fog will be lifting soon…

This entry is the first in what I’m hoping will be a series of shorter and more frequent posts than before. I hope you’ll stay tuned.


  1. glad to hear that you start a normal life again and getting to new places! Hopefully you will be getting used to the spicy food they have in Hunan pretty soon! changsha is not a third tier city though, it's a provincial capital, thus a second tier I would say.

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