a transplanted life in China 




 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.





 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.





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




Central Building 1_opt

Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou

Central Building




Central Building 2_opt

Central Building – geometries




Science Buildings 2_opt

 Science Buildings, XJTLU




Science Buildings 1_opt

Science Buildings, XJTLU – with waterfall


random Chicago image

Published on August 28, 2014, by in Chicago.

Margies Candies

window of Margie’s Candies, Armitage and Milwaukee, Chicago


monochrome Chicago

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 Elevated tracks at Leavitt Street, Wicker Park



Foremost Liquors bw

Foremost Liquors, Argyle Street



 Belmont and Clark bw 2

Belmont and Clark, Lake View


Goodbye Chicago

Chicago Theater_opt

 Chicago Theater


It’s over. Three weeks of indulging in food fantasies, hanging out with my dear brother, exploring Chicago, went by very quickly. Oh, the clothes and shoes I bought. In China it’s virtually impossible to find “western” sizes, so I had a good excuse to go slightly mad in Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Old Navy, and an incredible shoe store called Altman’s, where they won’t let you leave the store unless the shoes fit perfectly. It was old-fashioned service, actually measuring both feet, bringing stacks of shoe boxes for inspection, and fitting my hard-to-fit feet.



Wabash Ave.

 Wabash Avenue, El steps, pigeons


I even took a stab at riding a bike along the lake front. In my college days, I could easily make the 25-mile round trip from Evanston south to McCormick Place, but this time I was winded after just 45 minutes or so. 8 years of China smog, lack of exercise, and laziness have caught up with me (OK, age has something to do with it too).

My brother and I visited the Art Institute on a (free) Thursday evening, to catch the Magritte exhibition. We explored Chicago neighborhoods I’d never visited before, and I experienced the reverse culture shock of returning to my home country only the second time in 8 years. Most surprising, I guess, was the friendliness of the people. I’m a native midwesterner, and lived in Chicago in my youth, but I simply didn’t remember this kind of friendliness. It was a completely different kind of social dynamic than I experienced in my 15 years in Los Angeles. Rather than sounding fake, however, the Chicago friendliness seemed completely genuine.



Snow Drop 1

 Snow Drop Lounge – now Gino’s North Pizza


One of the sentimental journeys my brother and I made was to the former Snow Drop Lounge [above], a beautiful 40s deco bar where we used to hang out in the early 80s. The place had an amazing jukebox, and we would always play the Les Brown/Doris Day version of Sentimental Journey. These days the place is called Gino’s East, and serves pizza. Except for a window wall on the street side, it’s exactly the same.

We met up with an old friend, Lorraine, and reminisced about wacky things we did in younger years, such as visiting a fortune teller, crawling on hands and knees up the steps of Holy Name Cathedral, trying to drive into a 7-11, and re-enacting Lorraine’s birth at 4:30 a.m. on her New Year’s Day birthday at the Orbit Room bar. Generally, all of this was done while insanely drunk. Expriencing Chicago now after 22 years of sobriety was, well, a sobering experience.


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 Chicago skyline from Diversey Harbor


I’m now back in China, having gotten my working visa at the Chinese Consulate in Chicago, which was ostensibly my main reason for returning to the US. My biggest headache – the insanely difficult visa process – is now over, although I’m still experiencing jet lag, and waking up at ungodly hours. All my packing was done a couple of weeks before I left, so now I must make arrangements with a driver and vehicle to make the 2-day cross-China trip from Chengdu to Suzhou. My new job starts next Monday, at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, and I have an apartment to furnish. My dog and I will make the trip together, and soon we will start the next 2-year segment of our lives.



Goodbye to USA

Leaving the USA to return to China


Chicago buildings

Wabash and Trump

Trump Tower, viewed from Wabash Avenue; the Chicago El (elevated train) is on the left


Chicago is an architecture-lover’s dream. After the 1871 Chicago Fire, and later the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the city attracted many of thecountry’s greatest architects. Chicago was the birthplace of the skyscraper, and home to architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

I spent part of my 3 weeks in the city exploring buildings I had never seen before. The mild weather made for perfect opportunities to walk and take photographs.




Driehaus Museum exterior-2

The Driehaus Museum (originally the Nickerson Mansion), features perhaps the finest 19th-century interiors created in Chicago, reflecting the sensibilities of the Aesthetic Movement. I took a guided tour of the mansion on my 2nd day in Chicago.



Driehaus 1-2

 Driehaus Museum: main hall and staircase



Driehaus 2-2

 Driehaus Museum: smoking room



Driehaus 8-2

 Driehaus Museum: dining room

View more photos of the interior in my Flickr Album here.



Wright studio 1

 Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park



Wright Studio 2

 Frank Lloyd Wright studio, exterior detail



Heurtley House Wright

 Frank Lloyd Wright, Heurtley House, Oak Park. The suburb of Oak Park, where Wright lived from about 1889 to 1909, has a large concentration of the architect’s early work.



Robie 3

 Frank Lloyd Wright, Robie House, Hyde Park, 1910. This is Wright’s Prairie Style masterpiece.



Robie 2

 Robie House, interior and leaded-glass windows

More Frank Lloyd Wight photos are in my Flickr Album here.




Carson canopy

One of my favorite Chicago buildings, Adler & Sullivan’s Carson Pirie Scott store; detail of side entrance canopy. A Target store now occupies the first 2 floors.