About Thor’s New China Diary

Zhengzhou Skyline

Thor’s Chi­na Diary began in 1998, from Wuhan where I taught in a cou­ple of uni­ver­si­ties. The air was dif­fer­ent then in more ways than one. They gave me a lit­tle green book list­ing all the things that for­eign­ers were not sup­posed to do. Chi­na was get­ting some con­fi­dence in wicked cap­i­tal­ist ways, but the pub­lic lan­guage nev­er said so. Things were cheap, but the salary was laugh­able. And the real air was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

A record of those times can still be found at http://thormay.net/chinadiary/diarysitemn.html . It all came to an end a cou­ple of years lat­er when I was sucked off to South Korea, a finan­cial­ly rich­er des­ti­na­tion with its own charms, but def­i­nite­ly a cold­er expe­ri­ence on the local friend­ship front. Of course, I’ve changed a bit too. Ten years in East Asia does that too you … an old fool turn­ing into an old­er fool? Maybe I’ve just learned to mod­er­ate my Aus­tralian road rage, imi­tate the locals who are pret­ty tol­er­ant most of the time. The big dif­fer­ence there is that ulti­mate­ly I have a tick­et out to a dif­fer­ent set of absur­di­ties, while they are stuck with the local absur­di­ties.

This new park­ing spot, Zhengzhou in Henan Province, cen­tral Chi­na does not look promis­ing from a dis­tance, but close up it’s not too bad at all if your sur­vival kit is in order : an air con­di­tioned apart­ment and a cred­i­ble income, it least by Chi­nese stan­dards. The city is as flat as a pan­cake, but made decent by its tree-lined avenues. Twen­ty kilo­me­ters away across the parched plains, the Yel­low Riv­er wends its slug­gish way between high earth lev­ees, but Zhengzhou’s main claim to fame nowa­days is as a rail­way junc­tion. Amaz­ing­ly the sky is often blue, some­thing I nev­er saw in Wuhan. The urban pop­u­la­tion is sup­pos­ed­ly about 4 mil­lion, and seems to be grow­ing fast, fed by uncount­ed rur­al-to-urban migrants. There are lux­u­ry shops and the direst pover­ty side by side. Satel­lite TV is banned, and any Google search will auto­mat­i­cal­ly stall if you enter “Zhengzhou”, but if you can walk around these kinds of author­i­tar­i­an anachro­nisms, the mood on the streets is pleas­ant enough. Around here they are big on al fres­co din­ing, foot­path style, but if you want a sim­ple cof­fee shop you’ll per­ish. Three thou­sand, five hun­dred years ago this was the cap­i­tal of Chi­na, so I guess they’ve had time to sort out the local pref­er­ences. Any­way, it suits me well enough for a while…

post­script : Any­one inter­est­ed in a wider range of Thor’s ideas, his CV, poems, pho­tos, and a bunch of stuff on teach­ing and learn­ing Eng­lish as sec­ond lan­guage should check out http://thormay.net. That is a sprawl­ing web­site, not a blog.

cheers, Thor

Zhengzhou University campus

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