Personal history

October already

among giants: at the Architecture Biennial Chicago 2017

 

It’s a gray and drizzly day outside my window. October has arrived, and I’m marking my first three months in Chicago. I’m excited, since I’ve missed the turning of the seasons, especially autumn. In southern China, it seemed to be always an endless summer; before that, in Jiangsu and Sichuan, there were summer and winter seasons, occasionally with snow, but I missed the gradual changes as one time of year changed gradually and seductively into another. Before that, seasons in Los Angeles were distinguished only by a slight lowering of temperatures; if the air was clear and you could see the mountains, it was winter; when the smog and burning-eyeball season descended, it was summer.

Officially I’m unemployed, with no dependable, regular working hours and income. I’m working, sometimes diligently and fully focused, but only sporadically. I’m a substitute teacher for Stafford House, Chicago, and my freelance career as a private tutor hovers around 3-4 hours a week, but is failing to achieve lift-off. I’m in it for the long haul, anticipating two years to build my business and reputation, but what do I do in the meantime, right now? I’m applying for any and every job, pride be damned.

The honest truth? It sucks to be 61 years old and unemployed. It sucks to feel the pinch of age discrimination in the job market. Burning through my savings was not my idea of how to spend the time leading to my Golden Years. However, bitterness and resentment don’t put out positive vibes, nor do they lead to job offers. My 12-Step training is very useful now: one day at a time; KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid); and just act as if.

So that’s my current status: “As If.” FYI, in an earlier draft of this post I wrote a Pollyanna-ish, upbeat, rose-colored ending in which I imagined my happy future. I deleted it.

 

 

tower, Architecture Biennial Chicago 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Suzhou

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 北寺塔 North Temple Pagoda, Suzhou

 

I’ve now been living in Suzhou for two and a half weeks. At long last the trials and tribulations of the visa process have come to an end, the car drive across China from Chengdu to the east coast has been done, and I’ve settled into my new apartment. In the midst of all this, three wonderful weeks spent in Chicago passed like a dream. As of this moment, I’ve met all of my EAP (English for Academic Purposes) students, approximately 80 of them divided into four classes. I have each class for four hours a week, which comes to 16 hours of teaching, plus office hours. Between classes I’m in my private office in the Science Building, complete with brand-new large-screen computer and a printer. I keep wanting to pinch myself – did all this really happen, despite my misgivings and uncertainty about ever obtaining a work visa? I guess they did.

 

 

 

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 Location of Suzhou in China

 

 

A short recap: I was offered a two-year teaching contract as an English Tutor at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University, located in the section of Suzhou known as Higher Education Town, in the southern part of Suzhou Industrial Park. It’s a vast suburban sprawl, but with some stunningly beautiful landscaping; the whole area, so I’ve read, is a joint venture between Singapore and China. Fortunately, the apartment I found is three bus stops away from school. The dog and I have settled in nicely, after surviving the two-day drive scrunched together in the back seat of my hired driver’s car next to my luggage. I’d previously spent two and a half days in Suzhou before departing the country to renew my visa in the US. In between rain storms, I’d spent one afternoon looking at apartments with an agent, settling on the final one I saw, with two bedrooms. After my round-trip flight from Shanghai to Chicago, I returned to Chengdu for three days, made some quick goodbyes, and now here I am.

 

 

 

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 Art gallery and teahouse in Suzhou

 

 

I’ll write more about my first week of teaching after I have a chance to sit down and think about all I’ve experienced so far, but for now my feet are so sore from standing in a classroom for up to four hours at a time that I just need a rest. In the meantime, Here are some pictures of Suzhou and of the XJTLU campus.

 

 

 

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  留园  Liú Yuán  Lingering Garden, one of Suzhou’s famous classical gardens

 

 

 

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Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou

Central Building

 

 

 

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Central Building – geometries

 

 

 

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 Science Buildings, XJTLU

 

 

 

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Science Buildings, XJTLU – with waterfall

distance learning

Once I have internet connected in my apartment, and I don’t have to depend on coffee house wifi, I will share my thoughts about starting my M.A. program by distance learning.

My current plan is to stay in Chengdu for one more year, until I’ve completed the three core modules for the M.A. in Teaching English for Academic Purposes. At that point I’ll be halfway through the degree program. At the same time, I plan to complete the DELTA certificate online, which will give me qualifications to pursue higher-level teaching jobs beginning in 2014.

 

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Sunday antiques market, Rome Plaza, Chengdu

Kenneth Eugene Jones, 1926 – 2012

 1958

 

When my brother Kenton called me with the news of our father’s death, I got a falling feeling, as when a chasm opens below you and you don’t know what to hold on to or how to save yourself from annihilation.

My father was 85; he had cancer, and heart and lung trouble.  He had suffered a horrible fall a few weeks earlier. He had been moved to the Alzheimer’s ward of the assisted-care center he had recently moved into.  I’d had a sinking feeling for several days: last week I’d dreamt that he and I visited a funeral home together.  No matter how prepared you feel, you never really are.

My father and I had never been close.  There was a world of unspoken emotion and life experience between us.  Many things contributed to this – our parents’ push-pull relationship when we were children, my feelings of somehow being a disappointment to him, my being gay, my father’s strict fundamentalist religious beliefs, and both of our inability to let others get close to us emotionally.

As a young child, I both loved and feared him. I sat at his feet and watched him get ready for work in the morning.  I was devastated if he left home and drove away without waving goodbye to me. His wish for me to excel in things I couldn’t – sports and math – went unfulfilled.  He could be a rage-aholic at times.  When my parents grew further apart during my teens, and divorced when I was in college, the distance between us grew greater.

I spent much of my life living far from him, first in Los Angeles, and now in China.  He and my stepmother Bonnie came to China in 2008, and we spent a week in Beijing together.  I thought that would be the last time I would see him, yet when he asked me to come home to visit him last summer for his 85th birthday, I was able to spend a week with him. My brother and I were briefly together with him one last time.

My father spent his entire life in St. Joseph, Missouri.  After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he joined his uncle’s real estate company.  He eventually went into business for himself as a real estate appraiser.  There are many things I now wish I had asked him about his life.  I did ask him once about his service in the U.S. occupation forces in Japan after the end of World War II.  He told me about riding a train through Japan and witnessing the horrifying landscape of devastation after the atomic bombs had been dropped.

My father, I hope that the next part of your journey, whatever it entails, is filled with peace and the knowledge that you are loved.

 

 

sentimental journey

Autumn sun, Lincoln Park, Chicago, 1978

The above photo was one of the first that I took with my new Pentax KX SLR in 1978.  I bought the camera when I graduated from Northwestern University, and I still have it over 30 years later; I used it until I bought my first digital SLR a couple of years ago.

In 2 days I’ll fly to the USA for the first time in 5 years, in honor of my father’s 85th birthday.  I’ll visit my brother Kenton, and end my trip with 6 days in Chicago.  I’ll be returning to places I knew many years ago.  It will be a sentimental journey, but also a bit of a time warp and a culture shock. According to the internet, the Chicago temperature is in the 80s, but in my home state of Missouri it’s supposed to climb to 97 (36 Celsius) in the next few days.  Whew.  I’ll spend a lot of time indoors.

I’ll update my blog with photos, and impressions of my home country in the midst of an economic depression, joblessness, and attacks on workers, unions, and public employees.  I wonder what kind of place it will seem to me.  I’ll let you know.