Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Santa Experience in South China

I lived five years in mainland China, from 2001 to 2006. I arrived in October in the sub tropical area of Guangzhou, better known as Canton to most people in the west. I worked at a private school, Yinghao College--the very first private boarding school in China, in the lovely green and mountainous countryside of Conghua, 35 miles North East of Guangzhou.
Yinghao College, Conghua, Guangdong PRC

 It was a great introduction to my first time in China, as it isolated me somewhat from the full brunt of China itself. It was ideal. The food at the school was horrid, not what one would expect from China, but again, I was at a school, not a three or four star hotel or restaurant. Next door was a resort hotel however, as Conghua is famous for its hot springs, which the school was tapped into literally; my shower was supplied with real hot spring water, and I could turn on the tap, set a plastic stool in the bath and enjoy a steam! When I wanted better food, I went to the hotel or other small restaurants that had sprung up specifically because the school was there and the hot springs.

By the end of December however, I soon left this lovely environment for the lure of the big city of Canton. It was a money issue--I would triple my salary by doing so--a no brainer.

I can't recall much of anything about my first Christmas in China as it just isn't observed there. That seems kind of odd because I found out much later that nearly all the world's Christmas decorations are made in that area, as well as most of the worlds sexual aid devices, and on and on. The Pearl River Delta--or the PRD as it's called among the expatriate crowd--is also known as "The World's Factory Floor". More than *half of all goods made in China come from that area. It has become an actual "Megacity" environment.

*in 2003 40% of all manufactured goods in China came out of the PRD.

Once rooted in Guangzhou, I shortly found a few free lancing jobs and quickly got to know the place. I as making really good money and one job I had during the day was working for an English language immersion school, where I again lived on the city-mountain of Bai Yun Shan (White Cloud Mountain) in the heart of the city.
Baiyun Shan, Guangzhou PRC

 My second Christmas in China, I had a much better and memorable experience. By this time I had found a nice little family run restaurant that catered to the embassies and consulates and also set out a great buffet for every western holiday of importance. At the school that year I bought a small one meter Christmas tree that were now being sold at a local department store, along with assorted ornaments and garland. I let my students do all the decorating and it was such a joy to watch them hang little ornaments and string garland around the room. It was brand new to the all and they were enthralled.

The third year in Guangzhou I was approached by a friend who said she had a contact who wanted a "store Santa" for the very first time at a fairly new shopping mall. I thought about it, and then thought "why not?" and so agreed. I met with the contact, another Chinese woman, rather young, who was in charge of public relations at the shopping center. This mall was on par with any large city mall in the USA. It was four stories and had hundreds of shops. 
Tee Mall, Guangzhou PRC

My "Santa's Workshop" would be on the last floor. I showed up about an hour before the event. A makeup artist was there, with the suit. I brought shorts and a T-shirt, as I figured it might be hot in the suit. It was quality stuff, probably a $200 outfit, no joke! The beard was incredible--something out of a Hollywood makeup department. I found out later that the suit and the make up artist were on loan from the local movie studio (I lived in Guangzhou--otherwise known as Canton--a city of 10 million people, and yes, a burgeoning movie business). When it came time, I was walked out a side door about 50 meters from the throne. The PR lady and her assistant accompanied me, and everyone we walked by were awe struck. At the thrown area, there were two young Chinese girls in wonderful green elf outfits. There was already a line of about 50 people, half of them children. I took my seat, and waited for the first child. The little Chinese girl was about four I think, and she was all eyes and open mouth. They sat her on my lap, and I said stuff to her in Chinese (I was relatively fluent in Mandarin after two years--another reason I was chosen), while her happy mother took photos. Within 20 minutes the line had grown double in size, as they were announcing that "Shen Dan Lao Ren" was on the fourth floor (literally "Christmas old man") through the audio system.
A few kids began screaming in sheer terror the moment the elves got them up to me--understandable--I have seen that in America, so nothing new. What I found so enjoyable were the bright eyes, the sheer wonder of my grand beard, and on occasion, a kiss on the cheek, encouraged by the mother or father.
There were some young school girls as well, and they had a blast. I did this for three days, and made about as much money doing it if I had worked three weeks at my regular job, which was editing for an Chinese educational book publisher. The next year a good friend of mine took over the reins and he also enjoyed it. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Propaganda Serpent Tightens More on the Journalist Neck of China in 2013

In April of this year China’s chief media regulator issued a statement outlining new regulations for media organizations. They basically boil down to the following:

News organizations may not cite foreign media without permission.
News organizations must file with authorities when setting up an official Weibo account and assign a person to insure that only kosher topics gets tweeted.
Journalists should offer proper guidance of public opinion under the principle of focusing on positive propaganda.
People without journalist permits are barred from interviewing or reporting under the name of a news organization.
Online news sites should not publish any reports from a news source, freelance writer or NGO before the facts are verified.

These directives are hardly enforceable, however they do show that with the newly minted president of China, freedom of the press won't be taking any giant leaps, or even small steps, forward.

Perhaps it has to do with the Internet you say. More and more Chinese are getting bolder because of information they can now get from overseas using their online connections. This very well may have a lot to do with it, but it's actually only a small influence. The real culprit is something which the average person outside of China has no inkling of. That is to say, there are three things you don't mess with in China: The Propaganda of the National sanctioned Press, and the People's Liberation Army, who had until only very recently, owned nearly all the best and most profitable real estate and businesses in the Chinese mainland. In fact, if it wasn't for the greatly influential former Chinese president Jiang Zemin who ruled throughout the mid 90s and early 2000s, the Army would still be in control of much of the economic purse strings. Fortunately he, along with many of his closest non-military advisers, saw the writing on the wall and began systematically retiring very powerful generals and their subordinates and took away a lot of their wealth in the process.

Even though, the Army still has  lot of influence. The city where I lived for five years, the capital of Cantonese culture and the center of business in the Pearl River Delta had a lot of the military's influence written all over the place. Many of the more outstanding high rise buildings built before 2000 are all still owned by the People's Army. In fact one day I was a bit drunk and couldn't find the exit in a very modern building that had begun to lock up for the evening. I began yelling and knocking around a few things to show my displeasure after unsuccessfully trying to exit through several different doorways. Finally after banging one of those chrome stanchions that they hang those lovely red velvet ropes on across barred entryways, a dozen men in nice dark suit suddenly appeared and attempted to thwart my rampage. I started yelling at them to get the police (in Chinese of course!) and fortunately two did show up. When I explained how I couldn't leave, the angry looking men in suits eyeballed me coldly as the police smiled and clapped me on the back, leading me to the now open door that had been previously locked. I found out later through a well connected Chinese friend that the suits had in fact been a group of former Army Intelligence Officers (read: Secret Police) who now made good money as security for the Army owned building I had thrown the fit in.

As for the Press, in the mid 2000s while I was at the height (and near my horrendous downfall) of my time in China, I found myself writing and editing for the only western language business magazine published in the region, put out by the very influential South China AMCHAM. Because of the strong American business ties, we pretty much had carte blanche on the articles. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how one looks at it, the magazine never really brushed up against forbidden topics.

I also wrote and edited for a very successful (and still I might add!) Chinese educational publishing company, overseeing the written English of 16 Chinese editors. Many times I would be called into the chief editor's office to verify some bit of story or article or subject. Even though she was well versed in "The Prime Directive" of censorship and propaganda, the 16 writers were not. The very deeply weighted propaganda that most of them wrote had to be rewritten--by me--so as to sound more authentically western in thought and style. I had a very cushy job but it bored me silly and I soon wished to drop to only part-time work which didn't sit well with them, so after a few weeks of part timing, I left for good.

Even though the company is still successful, the owner and very charismatic leader of the company was very nearly "sanctioned" and made to disappear from the news, from public, from everything for a bit of time. Why? Because some news hound happened to be around when he was giving one of his infamous lectures at a public auditorium and several middle school students were seen actually kneeling before him like he was an emperor, chanting his mantra. This did not go over well with the local or national government of China. And understand, this was my big boss! So of course they began to look into my background as well. Fortunately I had a pretty clean record, and my connection to the AMCHAM didn't hurt either.

So now it's 2013, several years since I have left, and things have not moved forward one inch. It will be interesting to see how thing turn out as China's current market and housing boom seem to be faltering  I have a feeling the snake will begin to tighten around the neck of journalistic freedom even more, if things begin to decline economically.

Friday, July 26, 2013

My Ramen Noodle Rescue Recipe!

The Ramen Noodle Urge

After living in China and having great home made noodles in little street shops I became addicted to all kinds of noodles. You can't get away from them! But I can't just have the normal cello wrapped pack of dry noodles with included soup mix. I have to add stuff as I am sure many of you do. So here is a recipe I came up with over time that is tried and true and never disappoints.


  • 2-4 packs Ramen Noodles
  • bag of frozen mixed veggies
  • 1/2 or whole small yellow onion
  • 1/2 or full link Portuguese sausage
  • one table spoon of cooking oil


  • large pot
  • large high-walled skillet or wok
  • strainer/colander
  • spatula or spoon
  • kitchen knife


Begin to boil several cups of water to boil the dry ramen noodles in for later, depending on how many packs you are going to use. The more the better because the water will be discarded afterwards.

Be sure you open your package of frozen veggies and pour out about 1/2 to one cup into a bowl to thaw before hand.

Chop your onion according to how much onion you like. 2 packages of ramen? 1/4 is enough. 4 packages? 1/2 or whole if it's a really small onion.
Dice your Portuguese sausage according to how much ramen you are making. I use 1/2 for 2 noodle packages and I dice the sausage very small--about 1/4 inch pieces.

At this point add the dry ramen noodle blocks to your now boiling water. Cook for about 5 minutes or until soft. 

Get your skillet hot and pour one table spoon of oil into it. Next dump your chopped ingredience into it and stir to coat all pieces of onion and sausage. After about 2-3 minutes add the thawed mixed veggies to this and stir again.

Your noodles should be close to ready now. Drain them BUT save one cup for mixing the soup base. After you have drained the noodles dump them into your skillet. Next, open your packets of soup seasoning that came with your ramen and stir into the one saved cup of hot water. Pour this into the skillet. Next measure out how many cups of water needed for how many ramen noodles you mad MINUS one cup. Pour this into the skillet, stir thoroughly and bring entire mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a very low simmer and cover for about five minutes. Remove from heat and eat when you're ready! ENJOY

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Frankenstein's Laptop

The Monster Begins

I pulled a good one not long back. I went out drinking and ended up coming home semi lucid. The next day I realized I didn't have my laptop nor my backpack. The last place I could remember having it was at the Taco Bell about two blocks from the bar. I evidently left it on the bench inside the restaurant. I called the next day with little hope of finding it. And of course I was right. I checked with the bar in case I was not remembering things correctly; nobody had seen either here as well. I expected as much.

So I broke out my old desktop someone gave me and fired it up. It had only one 64MB RAM stick working, the other had died. It had a small 40 or so GB Hard Drive and Win 98 on it. I decided to erase the drive and put on a lite version of Linux as I prefer using Linux anyway. The only thing I could find that would run on it was DSL--otherwise known as Damn Small Linux. It's only 50 MB in size once installed and it is amazing how much software it comes with! I really liked using it, but I could not do too much because of memory limits.

When I returned to the bar about two weeks later a friend there who I had helped with his computer, said he had an old laptop he'd give me. He said the screen was "detached" so I figured that was why I was getting a free one. He brought it to me the next day and sure enough, the screen was dangling by wires! I was desperate though so I took it home and got to work on it.

I set about removing the screen by opening up the case and pulling the plug. I cleaned up the internals and as I removed the CD caddy I noticed a bug scurrying around. Then another, and another. I went and grabbed the bug spray and gave the empty cavity where the CD module had been, then got to removing old dead roach carcasses and the freshly dead ones as well. There were about eight all told. Yuck!

I had bought a special "Y" adapter some time before through a Hong Kong mail order company that allows you to hook up both a serial mouse and keyboard into one USB slot. My intentions had been to hook up the now lost laptop to my flat screen TV and then surf the 'Net and play World of Warcraft from the comfort of my Capt. Kirk Swedish leather command chair (it really does look like the chair Capt. Kirk from Star Trek used). But this was not to be.

I also had the 15" flat screen monitor I was using for the sluggish desktop so I set out to hook up these items to the laptop. I crossed my fingers and booted up the system. It had Ubuntu on it and I considered just leaving that system on there, but I had used Ubuntu and switched to Fedora, so I decided after messing around with this one for about half an hour that I was going to completely clean the Hard Drive and start fresh.

I did something I had always wanted to try, I downloaded the newest version of Fedora from the Internet and did a network install. It worked great and several hours later I had a squeaky new Linux system on a freshly erased HD to play with. But all was not well as I soon found out.

One problem was, after about 20-45 minutes the laptop would just shut off. Not sure why, I would restart it and do things online and so on and it would do it again. I thought the system must be overheating and since I had been lazy and not reassembled the laptop case I simply propped up the keyboard and set a fan in front of it, blowing air over the CPU and everything else. It seemed to work but eventually it began to shut off irregularly over the next few days.

It finally occurred to me that perhaps the power button was to blame. The entire case, even before I disassembled it was a bit woggy to begin with. I poked around the housing surrounding the power switch and I concluded that must be it. So I found something to wedge between the case edges next the the switch--in this case the "handle ends" of a small alligator clip and poked them in. It has never shut down by itself since then and I no longer place the fan behind the system.

I have told some people about it, especially my son and he wanted a photo of "my command center" and "Frankensteined" laptop, so I snapped some photos and put together a photo tour of it all. That is it below. I hope this might inspire someone when they think they can't do anything with a crippled system. It is working great so far and I play Lord of Ultima every day, post and chat on G+, watch films on Hulu, just like a normal "pretty" laptop/desktop.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hurrah For the Chinese Factory Worker!

Leslie T. Chang, the author of "Factory Girls” showed the world that the supposed horrors of sweatshops in China are not all what it's cracked up to be. When I read her book--one of *25 similar books I have read about modern China--I applauded her complete honest telling of the stories of these hard working factory people. 

I found out this myself both first and second hand; I had students who were some of these very same factory workers from the very city she based her book on, spending their very hard earned money to learn English.

I admire the Chinese, I admire their government for creating a modern Utopia that gives all its citizens the opportunity to thrive and prosper, despite its less than stellar human rights issues.

I challenge any person from any walk of life or experience to debase or refute Leslie's observations and those of mine. We know. We have seen it first hand—I actually taught English at two different factories to engineers and sales people. I walked in to their factory owned dormitories and sat with them on tiny stools crowded around a wooden desk in a room with six bunkbeds eating the most delicious homemade Chinese foods they had made on an open flame in a communal kitchen down the hall.

So the next time you read or hear some “horrid story” about the sufferings of the Chinese factory workers, understand that for them it was entirely a personal choice; nobody forced them, they chose to work in a factory for long hours so they could change their lives for the better. Not very different at all from what my grandparents did in America during the first 30 years of the 20th century.

Below is a complete list of books that I have read about modern China and highly recommend them if you wish to understand the underpinnings of the middle kingdom and its people.

After the nightmare : a survivor of the Cultural Revolution reports on China today /
by Liang, Heng, 1954-, Shapiro, Judith, 1953-
 Bad elements : Chinese rebels from Los Angeles to Beijing /
by Buruma, Ian.
 The bitter sea : coming of age in a China before Mao /
by Li, Charles N., 1940-
 China candid : the people on the People's Republic /
by Yeh, Sang., Barmé, Geremie., Lang, Miriam.
 China high : my fast times in the 010 : a Beijing memoir /
by ZZ, 1975-
 China live : people power and the television revolution /
by Chinoy, Mike.
 Chinese lessons : five classmates and the story of the new China /
by Pomfret, John. 1959-
 Colors of the mountain /
by Chen, Da, 1962-
 Come watch the sun go home /
by Chen, Chen, 1939-
 A comrade lost and found : a Beijing story /
by Wong, Jan.
 Dragon rising : an inside look at China today /
by Becker, Jasper.
 Gang of one : memoirs of a Red Guard /
by Shen, Fan, 1955-
 Inside the red mansion : on the trail of China's most wanted man /
by August, Oliver, 1971-
 Mao Tse Tung ssu jen i sheng hui i lu = The private life of chairman Mao /
by Li, Zhisui, 1919-
 Oracle bones : a journey between China's past and present /
by Hessler, Peter, 1969-
 The river at the center of the world : a journey up the Yangtze and back in Chinese time /
by Winchester, Simon.
 Sounds of the river : a memoir /
by Chen, Da, 1962-
 South of the clouds : exploring the hidden realms of China /
by Faison, Seth.
Red dust : a path through China /
by Ma, Jian, 1953-, Drew, Flora.

I have seen the world begin /
by Jensen, Carsten., Haveland, Barbara.

China road : a journey into the future of a rising power /
by Gifford, Rob.

The early arrival of dreams : a year in China /
by Mahoney, Rosemary.

Sparrows, bedbugs, and body shadows : a memoir /
by Lou, Sheldon, 1941-

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Dead in The Middle Kingdom

It would seem to an outside observer that the people of China revere their dead. They have a "grave sweeping" holiday where relatives show up once a year and put fresh flowers on their ancestors' graves. Many families will have a black and white photo of a recently (or not so recently) deceased loved one propped up in a prominent place in the house with prayers in calligraphy along side it, as well as some fruit and incense. So how is it that while I was living there, I saw more ignored dead bodies lying around in roadways? I have to say, I had never actually seen a fresh dead body before I went to China. In America, bodies are quickly covered, either by a witness or passerby out of respect, until the police arrive. Not in China--at times it becomes a form of entertainment.

I personally deal with death not so well. I remember going to a funeral with my mother when I was a wee lad, about four I think. From my vantage point all I could see was the tip of a nose over the top of the big dark casket. Since I had no idea what death was, nor why everyone was looking at a big wooden box with a nose on the top, I began to fidget and got uncomfortable with the whole thing. See, everyone was adult and there were several and they of course all had on black, and nobody was smiling and everyone was very quite. I asked my mom rather loudly "Why is there a nose on top of that box?" She simply shushed me. I didn't stop. I began to panic. I kept asking, even louder why everyone was looking at a nose, and why just a nose. She promptly took me home and returned without me. She had to explain all this to me years later. I had no memory of it, but after she began explaining what happened I told her I did recall the "nose on the box", but had no idea where the memory came from or why. Then years later my grandfather died, who I adored, and it disturbed me to see him in that same type of box, nose and all. Now I refuse to go to funerals. I go only to wakes. If someone thinks I am disrespectful, so be it. Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I was out of the country when my parents died. It may seem terrible to say, but I am glad, because I am not sure I could have gone to their funerals.

The first dead body I saw in China was while on a bus leaving the school I worked for that was in the countryside. I had only been in that country for three weeks so everything was still shock-a-minute no matter what I did. The bus slowed down and someone tapped me and pointed out the window. There on the side of the road lay a woman, a dead woman and nobody around her. There were some people on the opposite side of the road, but it looked as if she were there for some time. The blood near her head had turned black and was dry from my vantage point. Nothing to cordon off her corpse either; it was just there, half in the road and half  in the ditch. I was stunned to say the least.

Then it happened again not four months later; I remember this well because the first one had been in December and my birthday is in April, and this was April, so easy peazy to recall the time frame. Me and a girlfriend had just crossed a four lane side street to go to a restaurant on the other side. The entire time we ate we never heard anything or noticed any commotion outside. We couldn't have been in the place more than 30-40 minutes. We actually had some business at the local police station--I had to register with them because I had just moved into their jurisdiction, a requirement for all foreigners (though I only did it once and moved multiple times; most don't bother). We had just left the police station while they processed my ID so we were only three blocks from a police station. When we left and went to cross the same street as before, there in front of us was a small van with a bump on its hood and 12 feet away a dead body. In the street. About a dozen people stood nearby on the sidewalk, looking at it. It obviously happened within the time we had been eating, and it was also obvious that it had not just happened in the last few minutes. Yet no police or emergency services of any kind, although one was obviously very close. We walked on down to the police station and my girlfriend told them about it. They had no idea. Nobody had called. And everyone in China has a mobile phone (more on that later). She very nearly blew up at the attending officer because he made no effort to inquire more, just looked at us as if we were a distraction. Absolutely nothing was going on  there. I saw about six policemen, smoking, joking and doing nothing. No paperwork, just hanging out like it was a clubhouse or a cafe.

The next body I saw was very unnerving because it occurred near girlfriend's apartment building, but I don't guess I can count this one because there were people doing something with the body. This one ranks as one of the "strange and unusual things" I witnessed while living in the Middle Kingdom. I had just left my apartment and was walking to my girlfriend's place. It was only half a block away and I was excited to see her. I had gotten off work early, and we had only been dating about a month so we were looking forward to a great day. As I rounded the corner to where her complex was I was facing a long concrete stair case to a neighboring building. I heard a commotion from above so I looked up. Coming down the stairs three men and an old woman in a rattan chair. Two of the men were carrying the chair in front, while one held up the back. The old woman's head rolled back and forth across the back of the chair. She looked like she weighed 80 lbs. And she was quite obviously dead. There was no urgency in their manner. In fact, right in front of me, they all stopped, sat down the chair, and took a break. Once guy looked at me and said in Chinese "old mother, dead." I started to say in Chinese míng míng (obviously) but stopped myself. At times the Chinese can be so blatant about things it begins to rub off on you. Then after an awkward moment, I said  Dùi bù qĭ  (sorry). As I walked toward my girlfriend's building, I stopped and looked back; they had picked the chair back up and were just rounding the corner. I thought "what will other people think when they see this?" and then just as quickly I realized that nobody would even notice. Why should they? It's just another dead body.

When I arrived at her apartment, my girlfriend said "what's wrong?". I guess I wore some beleaguered look on my face because I simply said, "oh, nothing--just had a 'China moment", which she knew was my term for seeing something totally bizarre, so of course she prodded me into telling her. Her response was "we have 1.6 billion people dear, we can't be concerned about everyone." Good answer. Practical. If nothing else, the Chinese can be practical when the rest of the western world won't.

Her and I eventually moved into our own apartment, replete with an enclosed courtyard. I still think of that place. We had our first and only Christmas there and her first--ever. One Saturday while I was home on the computer and she was at work, I heard some loud whaling and screaming through the walls. We were on the ground floor and the wall behind our bedroom opened into a stairwell. That is where the sounds seemed to come from. At first I thought it was a fight, then I realized someone was upset and other people were trying to calm someone down. Behind the building was a narrow access way, open the outside, with a series of sheds for residents to store things. I looked out the bedroom window in the direction of these storage sheds because I could hear that the commotion had gone outside. I saw two policemen with three or four civilians shuffling around arguing and pointing further down the access way, then they all went back inside and the noise stopped.

Not sure what it was about, I went back to surfing the Internet. Curiosity got the best of me though and I went outside to our courtyard and walked to the back of our unit where I could get a better view of the access way. An iron fence stood between our courtyard and the access, so I could see through the bars. I saw something at the far end but it was drizzling outside and I didn't make it out at first. Then with horror I realized I was seeing a slim human body hanging by the neck from the roof of one of the storage units! It appeared to be a thin middle aged Chinese woman. I went inside and got my camera and came back and debated whether or not I should take the picture. I resolved to do so, took a few pics, then went back inside and called my girlfriend. This time she had a bigger reaction--remember, this is our second shared dead body moment--she said she would be home right away. Not sure why I told her OK and hung up.

Turns out she used the dead woman as an excuse to get off work early; she told her boss she knew the woman and her family! Of course she didn't, but hey, I probably would have done the same thing if I had to work on the weekend.

And finally, the last dead body wasn't a body at all, but a British friend of mine who died while in the hospital. He, like so many expats found love in China. Unfortunately he wasn't really of the right mind to handle rejection and his girl rejected him in the most awful way possible. He went into a favorite watering hole and there she was, on the arm of a portly Austrian guy, laughing. When she saw him, she pulled him over and said "This is Rolph! He is my sweetheart!". Not my friend mind you, but the hun! My friend replied "What do you mean 'my sweetheart?" She went on to explain that her and her model Arian had been together for a long time and that he (my friend) had simply been a distraction while Rolph was out of the country.

Now to be fair, the Austrian was a friend of mine long before I had met, well "my friend"--OK, his name is also Michael, so I didn't want to confuse things. Rolph is a very generous guy and often invited me to go drinking. He and several other Austrians and Germans would regularly have cookouts in the back of the very pub Michael got rejected in. So this whole thing was somewhat uncomfortable for me. I knew the girl was nothing but a hump monkey, but it wasn't my place to say anything. Michael began drinking very heavily, a full bottle of whisky every two days. I mean he would drink one half one day, the other half the next. Eventually he ended up in the hospital for cirrhosis of the liver and I thought he was doing OK; he was released after 10 days and he quit drinking for a while, then he went back to his old habit and was hospitalized yet again. I had heard from him on a Thursday; had asked me to get his laptop from another friend who had borrowed it. On Saturday I was walking to a cafe where I knew this other guy was so I could ask him about the computer. Just outside the place a taxi slammed on its brakes and yet another friend named Christopher leaped out and hollered "Mike! Have you heard? Michael died last night!" Then he got back in the cab and sped off. I stood there a moment, not really sure how to take this terrible news. I finally walked into the cafe, went over to the couches where the guy with Michael's laptop sat, with the laptop and I sat down, stunned. He looked at me and said "What's wrong?" I very nearly said "Oh, just had a 'China moment". I looked him squarely in the eyes and said "I guess you just inherited a computer". He wasn't sure by what I meant so I sighed, leaned back and told him. Now it was his turn to be silent and stunned.

So much death in China, on a regular basis. So much so that everyone becomes numb to it all. I know I did. About six months later I saw yet another accident victim laying in the road. I was on my cell phone while sitting on a bus, nearly identical to the first body I had seen so long ago. I glanced away and continued my conversation, never once pausing or telling the other person. Just another dead body in China.