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.