Personal history

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.

a series of images

Old tree, 水井坊 Shuijingfang area, Chengdu

 

“Life isn’t some vertical or horizontal line.  You have your own interior world, and it’s not neat.  Therefore the importance and the beauty of music, sound, noise.  When you go outside and you’re hearing…hundreds of different sounds…all of these things are potentially beautiful.”

Patti Smith, in A Dream of Life

It’s been  while since I posted anything.  It isn’t just being busy – I am, with my schedule so spread-out that I have classes six days a week – but I’ve felt that I had nothing to say.  Other people seem to have quite a lot to say; I’ve spent some time reading a few excellent teaching blogs, and some well-written and perceptive film blogs.

The past couple of weeks have produced some indelible images.  First, there was the horrifying footage of the tsunami that devastated Japan’s coastal areas and swept away entire communities.  The online videos of buildings, cars, and people’s lives being carried away by surging waters left me dumbstruck.  Then, there were the continuing images of damaged nuclear power plants, unleashing a manmade, not natural, devastation upon the world.

I was tremendously encouraged by the images of the pro-worker uprising in Madison, Wisconsin, USA.  Increasingly marginalized by totalitarian corporate rulers, people are finally responding with a mass, democratic movement.  In spite of our government’s double-speak of “spreading democracy” via warfare and state-sponsored terror, the people taking to the streets are showing what democracy is really about.

In a quieter, more contemplative vein, I’ve watched several films lately that have stayed with me as a series of mental images.

Patti Smith – A Dream of Life [2008]

Patti Smith – A Dream of Life is a 2008 documentary, a collaborative effort by Smith and director Steven Sebring that was supposedly 12 years in the making.  There are a lot of moving images – grainy shots from moving trains, views through car windows – as well as the thoughts of a truly remarkable and very intelligent artist.  I’d seen the film before, but watched it again a couple of nights ago on a whim.  The above image of signposts made me think of signals, progress, turning points in my life.  In terms of language, signposting means giving verbal and physical cues to help your audience follow your train of thought, and to point to where you’re going next.  Sometimes we want to see signals, but they’re simply not there.   Maybe that’s why I look at so many movies: to see something of myself reflected in them, to give my interior life some shape or recognizable form.

Jean-Luc Godard, Film socialisme [2010]

Jean-Luc Godard’s Film socialisme [2010] is a confounding film, filled with exquisite images, symbolism, and (to me) mixed messages.  The image that stays with me is an exquisitely-framed shot of a reporter standing against a textured, sky-blue wall, the constantly-rotating shadow of a windmill animating the scene and creating a kind of dark aura around her.  It’s an amazing sequence.

Other films that made an impression on me were Des hommes et des dieux [Of Gods and Men, 2010] directed by Xavier Beauvois, and Mike Leigh’s Another Year [2010].    One last very Zen-like sentiment occurs in the Patti Smith documentary where she visits the grave of Beat poet Gregory Corso in Rome.  Tapping into the “river of existence” or cyclic imagery that occurs often in Buddhism, Corso’s epitaph for himself reads

Spirit
is Life
It flows thru
the death of me
endlessly
like a river
unafraid
of becoming
the sea

 

Patti Smith – A Dream of Life [2008]