Letter to an Imaginary Lady (1999)

[related stories: Gender Puzzle / The Connundrum of Men & Women /
The Inside Track on Happiness / Fountain of Youth / .. ]

Dear L, 

Hi. Pleased to meet you. Although you have no name, a little of your voice caught my ear. It seemed to have some clarity and character. A few months ago I wrote, but never posted, the kind of wish list we all fool ourselves with. Maybe that is the fairest kind of introduction, so here goes: 

WUHAN, CHINA (ex Australia): Contrarian, ever-skeptical, happily independent, incurably unfashionable, fine sense of the ridiculous, would enjoy the close friendship of a free-spirited woman with the verve and intellect to challenge/be challenged. Hope the right chemistry can give us both focus. Your wish for personal space will be respected. 

Personal data: born 1945, 168cm (5'6"), 64kg (147 lb), trim, fit (run 10km daily), Australian (Anglo-Saxon origins, but made from many cultural offcuts). Never married (like children OK, but not interested in raising a family at this age!); non-ideological language/ideas person who can also strip down an engine. Can lead a seminar easily, but often shy at an intimate level. An occasional social drinker, non-smoker, lean diet. Apt to be frugal with money, yet not mean. Some savings, no real estate; sometimes attracted to buying & selling. No religion but figure it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around. Zero interest in spectator sport or TV (film OK). Like instrumental music in a casual sort of way, hate European opera and religious choral music. Puzzled by kitsch, intrigued by good design. Much more interested in a spirited clash of ideas than in gossip. Good knowledge of international affairs; computer literate; never enough hours in the day. 

Career: M.A. (Linguistics), Postgrad.Dip. Teaching, Cambridge/RSA CTEFLA. Have published an odd mixture of stuff, and managed to withdraw from two PhDs in Cognitive Linguistics. Forty jobs from labourer to university lecturer in Oz, NZ, Pacific & East Asia. A fine teacher, though still figuring out a path to immortality, (..well, fickle fame at least). Now writing more & more, but if you are listening Santa Clause, please put a gold credit card in my wallet soon! Have been teaching English in  Chinese universities (Wuhan) since late August 1998. Not a bad life, awful money. Next: a book to write, then..? Extensive intercultural experience; have learnt some Indonesian; now also murdering Mandarin Chinese... my poor head!). 

Valued qualities in a woman: intelligence (i.e. smarter than me and most other folk), energy, compassion, humour, high literacy, a curiosity about how people, nature & machines work, a zest for debating ideas, practical competence, creativity, grit, adaptability. Things I don't care about: whether you like to cook, do housekeeping or read romance novels... Attracted to: slim figures, nice complexion, any nationality.


It was mid-winter in Melbourne when this was written first. Now the seasons have moved on and I have stumbled into another latitude. Outside my window trees are fluttering again with new leaves of the Northern spring . The voices of passers-by are in the dialects of central China. Tomorrow, who knows? I sit here trying to picture your daily life and favourite moments. Of course, it is a fantasy. We are strangers. 

Warm regards, 

Wuhan, China, 1999

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