Er Wai Prologue
Those Who Will Die Cannot Live; They Who Will Live Cannot Die.
“Life as a foreign English teacher was generally pleasant in the 1980’s in Beijing”. While intermingling with the locals in his newfound home and also spending time with exuberant foreigners, over-time David P. Purnell collected an eclectic mix of memories filled with unexpected encounters and pleasant surprises. He recalls moments of absurdness within daily life, from visiting the local post office to lively international parties.
Life as a foreign English teacher was generally pleasant in the 1980’s in Beijing. I quickly adjusted to the noon siesta schedule, teaching responsibilities were light compared to today’s standards, and the gang at the Foreign Experts Building was cheerful and interesting. There were plenty of little problems, but even those seemed rich and, for the most part, we got along like well-fed
nd participants at a United Nations conference. Having become a Chinese son-in-law near the end of my first year, I had entered a somewhat different category of foreigner, with responsibilities but also privileges. Before the Foreign Experts Building was completed on the campus of my school, Beijing Second Foreign Language Institute, I’d asked successfully to be placed in housing near there and move from the Friendship Hotel, the sprawling complex on the other side of the city, rumored to have been built by the Soviets, largely for volunteers and KGB. It had been fun there for the first couple months, with Irish journalists, ex-pats who had lived there the whole way through the Cultural Revolution, NGO workers and scads of language teachers from all over, drawn to China’s opening up and push forward. There was a rooftop garden bar and an air of exotic excitement, but I remembered at one point that I hadn’t come to drink with foreigners. I was finally in China.
At the end of my first year, I was asked to sign a contract for the next, but noticed that none of the terms or conditions had been filled in. I timidly said I’d be glad to sign once those blanks had been completed, but never saw it again. I trusted the school to treat me well and they trusted me to fulfill my teaching responsibilities conscientiously, and that was the beginning of a great relationship. One of the things I did to maintain this relationship, but mostly for fun and to just help out, was to go “speak” at a moment’s notice. When I asked on what topic I should speak, I was always told that it didn’t really matter and would shortly find myself