Chicago

I’m now in my third week in Chicago. I can’t say that the transition has been easy; my dog Gougou endured almost 24 hours in a pet carrier being transported from China, and the culture shock of re-entry plus the jet lag have left me feeling drained.

We lived in a hotel for a week, while I searched for and rented an apartment in Lake View. We’re now installed in a comfy but small studio, and I’ve purchased the bare furniture essentials, and begun to outfit the kitchen. Gougou seems to have adapted better than I have, and we enjoy walks together to the nearby lakefront, Belmont harbor, and the abundant parks that stretch along Lake Michigan.

It’s strange new world that I inhabit: I can understand the language here, and the mannerisms and attitudes of Americans are very different from those of the Chinese. I’ve lost my different-ness; in China I was often the object of attention, and here I’m simply another person on the street. Coincidentally, my new apartment is just a couple of streets away from where I lived many years ago at age 22, fresh out of university and experiencing the big bad city with young eyes.  I constantly compare what the neighborhood was like then with its current incarnation. There are far more yuppies now, and the gay population of Boys’ Town is much more visible than similar populations would be in China. My neighborhood seems to consist entirely of joggers, dog-walkers, and gym rats traveling to and from their workouts.

I have a two-week teaching stint in a summer English program at DePaul University, and I continue my job search as I continue to adapt to my surroundings.

I seem to have come full circle, once again.

two days in Singapore

Pagoda Street, Chinatown, Singapore

 

 

I took advantage of a three-day weekend to take a quick trip to Singapore. This was my last chance to travel in Asia before my return to the USA at the end of the month. Two days is much too short to take advantage of the stunning variety of food for which Singapore is famous, but I tried my best, fitting in four to five meals each day.

My base for three nights was the One Orchard YMCA Hotel, centrally located and next to the MRT station, which felt like my second home as I shuttled between historic districts and food hawker centers. The trip was sometimes relaxing – a back and foot massage in a cool, dark massage therapy center was a highlight – and sometimes rushed, as I did as much walking as I could in the heat and humidity, burning off calories before my next meal.

Here are some highlights from my whirlwind trip.

 

 

Hawker Chan Hong Kong soya sauce chicken rice – the only hawker stall with one Michelin star

 

 

serving the next customer in line, Hawker Chan stall

 

 

Big prawn noodles, Chinatown Complex Food Centre

 

 

Sri Mariamman Temple, Chinatown

 

 

chicken masala meal on banana leaf, Tekka Centre, Little India

 

 

Maxwell Food Centre – one of the “hawker centres” where former street food sellers were relocated, and the places to get the cheapest and best food in Singapore

 

 

the famous Tian Tian Hainanese chicken rice, with a side of bean sprouts with cuttlefish

 

 

beef rendang, Kampong Glam district

 

 

Sultan Mosque, Kampong Glam

 

 

an end, and a beginning

After 11 years living and teaching in China, I’m calling it quits. My dog and I have a reservation on a flight from Hong Kong to Chicago on Friday, June 30. Yes, I’m returning to my home country – even with Trump in office, even with the unpredictable job market, even with all my misgivings about making the move. I’ve stayed on in China for an extra year, after mandatory retirement from my last teaching job, to give me time to reflect on what I really want from my life, and to research the international job market for teachers. It’s been a pleasant year, living in an isolated, semi-rural environment, making occasional weekend trips to Hong Kong, and working out religiously at a local gym. The end result: I’ve decided to re-invent myself. Again.

For a couple of months now I’ve felt stuck between two cultures. I’m in a no-man’s-land, neither fully in China nor in America. I’m returning to the USA with no job and no place to live. I’ve had second, and third, thoughts about spending my savings to start a new life rather than investing it in a retirement account. I vacillate between terror and optimism, thinking of the opportunities I will have in  my native culture but then enumerating the things I will miss about China.

I have always taken risks. At age 50, I began a new career as a teacher, after 25 years of working in nonprofit arts organizations. I moved to a country about which I knew virtually nothing, and learned to teach as I went along. I managed to pick up a second masters degree in teaching academic English, taught at three universities, worked for the British Council as an IELTS examiner, and did occasional private tutoring. Now, I feel as if I’m getting ready to jump off a new cliff.

I’ve been planning how to make the landing as soft as possible. First, the dog and I will need a home. Then, I’ll need work. My plan is to create my own job as a freelance private tutor in English and academic writing. I will look for other teaching jobs, and have one possibility as an advisor for Chinese students studying in Chicago.

I plan to work on my writing and photography skills. I hope to be able to take courses in bookbinding and papermaking, things I have wanted to pursue for about 20 years. I am even open to office jobs, or working in the nonprofit arts field again. The possibilities for a new life are numerous, but it also be the first time in 20 years that I’ve been unemployed. At age 61 that’s a frightening prospect.

I will continue this blog, although my writing will take new directions. I haven’t lived in Chicago since the early 1980s, so adjusting to the city and the American culture will be a handful. Wish me luck.

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night in Marseille

restaurants in the Noailles district, night

 

I once spent an entire night wandering the streets of Marseille. It was 1979, I’d spent the day in the city, and I’d just managed to miss the last train to Aix-en-Provence, where I was living as a student. I was too cheap, or couldn’t afford, to pay for a hotel in Marseille, so I decided to just tough it out and stay awake until the first train left for Aix in the morning.

Marseille was a lot rougher around the edges then than it is now; in my student journal for 1979-80 I described it as taking on a “sinister aspect” by night. The area around the old port offered a rather enticing sense of danger, as well as several late-night cafes that glowed from within with dim, yellowish night. I entered one of these cafes and sat awhile;  however, as there was nothing to watch outside the windows, and not much inside but people drinking into the night, I soon became bored

 

 

La Canebière, pedestrians

 

The narrow streets surrounding the port featured some rather disreputable-looking bars; in the doorways of some of them sat women who beckoned passerby to take a chance and venture inside. One such woman stared at me with a challenging look, as if to say “I dare you, monsieur, to come inside and see what happens.” I walked up to her and asked, rather sheepishly, what went on inside. With a shrug of her shoulders she replied, “It’s a bar.” I walked on.

The rest of the night was a blur, but somehow the time passed as I walked and walked down dark streets, up hills, across large empty squares, and finally past the hulking shadows of the Palais Longchamp, fronted by a spectacular fountain, now silent for the night, and home to a couple of the city’s museums.

 

mysterious street, Marseille, night

 

When looking at some of my night photos from a week spent Marseille during summer 2015, I re-read parts of my student journal from my study-abroad year in France in 1979-80. There was some good description of the city, but oddly, no notes about my all-night walk. Perhaps it was an inconvenience I wanted to erase from memory.

 

nighttime tram

 

Most of the city seems to close down soon after dusk, which in the summer comes well after 10 p.m., and the streets becoming eerily quiet. On one evening, I walked along the south side of the old port and then up the hill to the Abbaye St.-Victor, whose bell towers glowed from within with purple light. There were a few people sitting on benches looking out at the view over the port and the city lights. Continuing down side streets and past restaurant shuttering for the night, my solitary walk took me back toward the main shopping area of the city.

 

 

Canebière Capucins tram stop at night

 

By day, the city lies under a sky of deep, rich blue, the smell and nearness of the sparkling Mediterranean always in the air, if not visible. By night, in contrast, the bright Mediterranean sun is replaced by the vivid glow of colored lights from below: tram stops with people spotlighted under bright lights, a brilliant confusion of light and color from inside passing trams, restaurant lights spilling out onto sidewalks, buildings glowing under yellow street lights.

 

Cours Lieutaud bridge

 

In my night photo of the Cours Lieutaud bridge, the dull daytime gray of the buildings and concrete has suddenly become a stage set, lit by greenish-yellow glow from street lights, accented by electric-blue illumination from underneath the bridge, the blue creeping up the walls of an adjacent building. The bridge, and a set of hillside stairs nearby, lead to the Cours Julien, the “Quartier des Artistes” and one of the city’s areas for nightlife. The area is featured in a Google Night Walk, led by Julie de Mur, creator of the audio city tours Promenades Sonores, and narrated by Christophe Perruchi, a French production designer. Although I can’t access the Night Walk in China, a description of it can be found here.

 

Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, above the Abbaye St.-Victor, illuminated at night

 

For a “soundtrack” to night walks, you might enjoy listening to the album Night Walks by Hidden Orchestra.

 

night door, Rue de la République