By Fred Fagin
My son Colin (Fan Wei-cheng) and I, Fred (Fan Cen) ventured forth in late June of 2005 to the Middle Kingdom, specifically to Nanjing, the native place of Zhang Li (now Angela in America), my dear Chinese bride and mother of said Colin.
Here son and I shared almost a year of fascinating, fulfilling, and frustrating experiences: in the realms of learning, of friendships, of history witnessed, of challenges met and overcome, of travel to many places of beauty and spiritual significance, and of surviving the onslaught of air pollution and the standard “China diet” of the modern city.
It had been Angela’s and my decision to bring our nine-year-old to this birthplace and childhood home of his mother, to “immerse” him in the culture, language, trials, and joys of life in modern China. Here were the homes and lives of his PoPo (grandmother), two aunties and their families, some chums of mine from an earlier stint working in China in 1993, and many new and fascinating people to be met during this year of teaching – for me, and learning – for Colin.
Our abode was a homey four-room apartment (see the reality check on this in a future episode!) in the “foreign experts” residence at the prestigious Southeast University. The campus, which is located in the heart of Nanjing, is an old and lovely place, and this northeast corner teachers hideaway had been created in the style of a park, with a variety of beautiful trees, bronze statues honoring men of letters, fragrant flowering shrubs, and numerous flowers and ornamental grasses, arranged in a soothing and meandering pattern below and around our “experts” five-story bastion of security. The wide wild world lay outside, just beyond the perimeter wall.
Bicycles were readily acquired, safety rules practiced, and we made the city our own in very short order, finding remote back roads of unheralded sub-cultures, colors, sounds, sights, and aromas. Foods of every description were proffered for our enjoyment, and we dined and ‘funned’ at the bright-lights entertainment strip of Hunan Lu and the south end riverside ancient red-light district of Fuzi Miao, at the Hui (Moslem) redoubts with their special menus. And we climbed through bamboo forests and agricultural research zones – up the slopes to the top of the city’s own Purple-Gold Mountain. From the peak of this lofty height, we could peer down across a 270-degree panorama of the eastern, northern, and western sectors of this great city. We could see miniature trains winding along the riverbanks and in and out of tunnels along the lower foothills of the sprawling suburban perimeter of the city below us. This is but a sample of the many scenes we would be thrilled to enjoy.
Nanjing, with more than 4000 years of recorded history, is a city steeped in both fabled charm and unimaginable tragedy. At a strategic location on a bend of the great Yangtze River, she lies only about 160 miles inland from Shanghai, the hub of modern China.
Nanjing and its greater metropolitan area are proud of their many schools of higher learning: universities, colleges, technical schools, science research institutes, forestry and mining engineering schools, teachers colleges, and the burgeoning and ubiquitous schools offering the MBA, avidly sought by young Chinese as the way to “Strike it Rich”!!
I taught across the river on the suburban out-campus of Southeast University, in the capacity of professor of English for Academics, Speaking English for Business, Writing English for the English majors, etc. Meanwhile, dear Colin bounced from public school teachers to an inept tutor at the home of an old friend of Mrs. Fagin’s. He nevertheless enjoyed the life of Riley, or maybe Wai-Lei (Foreign Thunder), while gaining nada in the realm of scholastics, but acceding to the lofty pinnacle of Cute Little Foreign Kid in the eyes of his charmed teachers and contemporaries.
In the ensuing year, the scenario shifted a good bit in Colin’s favor, while I experienced some rewarding highs in my teaching, together with some lows in the theater of relations with the omnipresent and insidious Waiban, known and despised by all. These Commie Campus Cops, ostensibly poised to “assist” foreign teachers with their various financial, cultural, legal, healthcare (or lack thereof), etc. needs, in fact aimed to spend as little effort, as infrequently, and with the least possible charm on the mongrel Laowais (Dear Old Foreigners), having planted their proboscises firmly and unpleasantly in the region of one’s situpon. Nasty beasts.
[From November 2006 CAFAM Newsletter]