Er Wai Pro­logue

Those Who Will Die Can­not Live; They Who Will Live Can­not Die.

That's China - - Contents - Text by / David P. Pur­nell


“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

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