Thor's New China Diary (from 2007 to now) - a blog, mostly in Zhengzhou
All ideas expressed in Thor's New China Diary and The Passionate Skeptic are entirely those of the author, who has no aim to influence, proselytize or persuade others to a point of view. He is pleased if his writing generates reflection in readers, either for or against the sentiment of the argument.

 1. Thor's Old China Diary (from 1998-2000) also has been many stories

  2. A YouTube video autobiography of my years in China (1998-2000) is here: Thor's The Ages of Man Part 4

Index of Contents


15. Somebody Else's Problem

A land-of-no-responsibility generates certain cultural behaviours, and makes others impossible. The desperate urge not to be the patsy guarantees that before anything, even the smallest thing, is allowed to happen, there must be a marathon meeting involving as many people as possible. The purpose of the meeting is not to exchange ideas and hammer out a consensus. Every citizen of the PRC knows in their bones that offering ideas or considered opinions in a public meeting would be suicidal. Moreover, the protocols of 2000 years of rigid hierarchy would never allow it. No, the public meeting is purely to allow the titular head of, say, The Room Allocation Committee (there is a committee for everything) to claim, if there is any stuff up later, that ‘the institution’ decided XYZ after proper deliberation. XYZ was actually scribbled on the back of an envelope in an off moment when the Chair of the Committee for Room Allocations wasn’t having his back scratched by the girl who wanted promotion from licking envelopes to opening envelopes....


14. The Big Parade at Dragon Lake

The deal was 8am. I’m a just-in-time guy, but here she was knocking on the door at 7:15. Jeez. Can I offer you some breakfast? We sat looking at each other across a big wooden coffee table, the golden drapes suffusing a soft glow of early sunshine. She’d never tried anything like my special concoction of oatmeal mixed in with raisins, sunflower seeds and yoghurt. Foreigners are funny. She picked at it experimentally.

13. The Cigarette

The small shop next to the bank was in the humble business of selling hot flat bread, shao bing, freshly baked in a coal oven, irresistible to those raised on its crisp crusts. It opened very early, and shut very late. The shao bing came piping hot, and sold for a song at five jiao apiece...

12. The End of Capitalism is Announced

So the crookedest brains in Moscow, Beijing and Washington didn’t want to make a system that worked for you or me.  Has anyone managed to do it? Well, yes, more or less, for brief moments in history.  Virtue, like vice, is a temporary affair with unpredictable outcomes....

11. Mind Games Under Heaven

All the world art mad but thou and I. So it seems. The collective mind of peoples as nations expressed either through the ballot box or by the voice of the emperor (L’Etat c’est moi) seems erratic at best in most locales...  

10. Choose Your Game

They have come all shapes and sizes, the fitness freaks and the slobs, the loners and the social butterflies. My trade is language teaching, not Phys Ed, but the best help I can ever give them comes by example : you choose your game, you do it for the love of excellence, you keep running, and by the measure that counts most, you will win.

9. Australia Blue

Centre country scene:

A thousand miles of desert,
Ten thousand miles of shimmering heat.     
... more

8. The Earthquake

The earthquake: I was running back to my apartment from the classroom for something, and didn’t feel a thing. The other foreign teacher here staggered out of her apartment and said she thought she was dying. I told her to put her head between her legs and I’d get a doctor. While I was racing back to the administration building all these people started pouring out of buildings.

7. Covert and Overt Values

Cultural patterns are often phrased as value statements. Ask someone what it means to be Chinese and they may offer you a list of virtues (this kind of response is the same in every culture). The virtues they state for you will be OVERT values — those actions and beliefs that are publicly approved in the culture. In practice the real shape of the society also includes behaviour driven by COVERT values. In fact, for several reasons covert values are usually a far better predictor of where a society is going than overt values...

6. A Child Goes Missing

Each evening I walk for an hour or two, and sometimes one of the students tags along. This is wonderful, since she can bring meaning to the blur of Chinese street life around us. Yesterday, she pointed out a tragedy that I would have walked right past.

5. Post Office Blues

The Chinese Post Office continues to excel. We’ve had scraps before. This was the outfit that wouldn’t let me send Christmas cards in different sized envelopes, or send copies of my thesis to an Australian university in any box but their own.

4. Chasing Out The Devils

Zhengzhou has been under heavy attack for several days, apparently to chase out accumulated devils. These aren’t minor explosions, though I have been dodging small boys for a couple of weeks. The streets are cleared of the usual surging crowds and most shops were shuttered yesterday. Every rooftop and courtyard is smoking with cordite.

3. The Iron Rooster and the White Dragon

.At last a sum was settled upon, and as I reached for my wallet, the girls as one tearfully pushed me away. “We pay!” they insisted, handing over forty-two hard earned yuan to a lady in hair curlers. Still brimming with tears they told me to be careful. “We never talked with a foreigner before”, one said. And they bustled out into the night, out of my life, but warm in my memory.

2. Christmas Story

There was a bitterly cold wind, and road workers were struggling to sleep on the pavement in their rags while Sunday crowds of factory workers stepped around them. A cavalcade of monumental buildings, like Sydney CBD in a bombed out horror flick, had gaping, semi-lit interiors full of more endless shoddy clothing stalls.

1. Well, Hello Again

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 about 4 million, and seems to be growing fast. There are luxury shops and the direst poverty side by side.

writing & photography on this site is
   copyrighted © Thorold (Thor) May 2009
   all rights reserved,

thormay AT  

The Passionate Skeptic 
[and what this website stands for ..]

Doubt well, do what you can, then let it be. Presidents, priests, wage slaves, hustlers, men and women, kids, we all live by the grace of those we love to despise...

Thor's Old China Diary

Photos around China

Travel Notes (includes Chinese cities)

Rebecca's Place - where she teaches Thor about China

Links to China-related sites (old)

Living in Wuhan ... a guide for visitors and others  (rudimentary, unfinished project)

©2009 Thor May