This isn't really goodbye; I've just been channeling my semantic energy into a book I've been working on for the past few months. I've written a couple of full-length manuscripts, dozens of short stories, and hundreds of poems in my life, but this time, I'm really concentrating my efforts on making something that others will like as well. I plan to release the novel as an e-book in June. Here is the e-cover, and you can find a synopsis and other info here and on the book's Facebook page.
By the way, the family's doing great, spring is finally here, and work is work but still a pretty good gig. Cheers!
Well it's been six months since this blog went into hibernation, but we're back in business now. Here's a quick summary of what's been happening lately.
-Nolan turned one year old on July 24th. We had a big party with several neighbors and friends, and it was especially cool since my mother came from the USA for a visit. It was the first time that she had seen Nolan and Tina in person, and we had a blast while she was here. My father passed away last year so he never got to see his grandson face to face, but I'm glad that my mother was able to make the trip.
-Tina celebrated her 30th birthday on August 2nd. I arranged a little surprise party with some of her friends, which was something she had never had before. For a lot of Chinese people, turning 30 is the equivalent of becoming middle-aged, so Tina was lamenting the grinding gears of time a bit. But since she already has the husband, the baby, and the house which are all required of Chinese girls by the time they turn 30, she wasn't feeling too bad. Plus she still looks like a dream, and people always tell her that she's got to be in her mid-20s. By the way, she's a year and a half older than me, and you know what they say about hot, horny older women. Giggity!
-Life is slow and quiet at our new home, but it's nice. It's a few kilometers outside of the city, which means that everything is much cheaper but it's kinda boring, with small town people, small town manners, small town life. I'm the only foreigner around so I'm a bit of a local celebrity (which we have been able to use to our advantage in creating a small English school at our home during the summer) but I spent three years in Jiangxi province before I came to Xiamen so I'm used to the Chinese countryside. There are a lot of things that I wish were different, but I appreciate what I have.
-Tina and I got tattooed together last week. She got a little "Z" on her ankle for Nolan, whose middle name is "Z" (I know, cool huh?). I got a large design filling up the empty space on my left elbow region. It took two sessions for a total of six hours. It was not fun at all. I've decided that in the future, I'm going to get tattooed once a year, and with this new tattoo out of the way, I don't really have any desire to get anything new, so I think I'll just devote my tattoo energy to improving the ones I already have (and some need a lot of touching up). I'll post the photos of Tina's and my tattoos once they've healed.
-I've been doing lots of research on cathedrals, particularly the Gothic style of architecture. I've always loved cathedrals, but now I'm taking a serious look at the design, the styles, the symbolism, and it's utterly fascinating. There is a commanding grandeur in this structures that I find lacking in Chinese construction, and the more I learn, the more I yearn to explore them in real life. I'm even reading The Hunchback of Notre-Dame right now.
So that's the deal for now. I'll be heading back to work in a couple of weeks, and it's been great having the whole summer to spend at home with the family, particularly Nolan as he navigating these formative days. I feel bad for a lot of parents, particularly fathers, whose jobs take them away from home for so long. It's nice to have personal space sometimes, but I wouldn't want to miss first steps or first words for anything. The Bible says that children are a gift from God, and it's true.
It's been fun but I'm going to hang up the gloves on this blog, at least for the foreseeable future. I'm very busy these days with teaching, family, and home so I don't have too much time to post new entries, and honestly, I don't really have that much to say anymore. I'll just say that life is good and getting better, and I'm enjoying my new home with my wife and son and chihuahua. I've got some plans for the future that will hopefully work out but life is always twisting and turning, and it can still be fun even when it doesn't work out the way you plan it. Just smile and roll with it; don't waste time worrying, just do your best and deal with things when they happen. That's my idea, anyway. So adios amigos, and always remember to turn on the lights when you're taking a leak- it's just easier that way.
I haven't posted on this blog for a while, because we've been busy getting our new apartment ready. But the good news is that we finally moved in last week. It's still a work in progress but it's so nice to have our own home. It's a pretty cool feeling to look around and realize that everything I see belongs to us and was paid for by my hard work. No more landlords, no more rent, no more leases. Just a mortgage for the next 9 years :-P.
Our home is about 90 sq. m., 2 bedrooms, one bathroom (with an actual bath!), a kitchen, a living room, and a balcony. We're on the 21st floor so we look out over the ocean, though between us and the ocean are some low-lying industrial buildings and train tracks. Still, it's quieter than our previous location in Xiamen. The rooms have large windows that let in a lot of sunshine and the view makes the home seem a lot bigger.
Since we now live outside of the island, the surrounding area is pretty much like a small Chinese city. No foreigners besides me, and not much in the way of shopping and nightlife. But on the plus side, everything is crazy cheap and there are restaurants galore, so in proper Chinese tradition, food is going to become a primary source of entertainment :-). I've even got a Chinese tea set now and I spend every evening sipping Oo Long tea.
The biggest negative is the distance that I have to travel every day to get to work, but a new bridge is under construction that will cross the sea and provide a direct route to my school, so when that's operational, it will take even less time to get to the university than when I lived in Xiamen.
It's been a busy week but it's good to finally be home :-).
My father passed away on October 8th after a six-year battle with cancer. He had a great attitude throughout and never complained (and frequently denied the seriousness of the doctors' diagnoses). He never got to meet his daughter-in-law and grandson in person but we videochatted frequently using QQ, and in fact we chatted via webcam the day before he died. It's sad to know that my father is no longer in this world but I know he's with God and his body is healthy and whole again.
I jetted back to the States last week for the memorial service. It was very moving and emotional with a few tears and many smiles. My father was a very generous person with his time and energy and spent every free moment with people who needed a friend. Those friends in turn showed up in droves to the service and I was very touched to see how many people my father affected.
The day after the memorial, my mother, my three younger brothers and I drove down to Daytona Beach, Florida, to relax, enjoy the sunshine, and decompress after such an emotional event. We spent a day at Universal Studios in Orlando where we laughed and screamed and basked in the sunshine. it was nice to see my mother having such a good time. The last year and a half of my father's illness was very stressful for her and even though she was heartbroken to lose her husband of 33 years, she was able to enjoy a relaxing couple of days with her sons and no worries.
Of course I had to leave Tina and Nolan back in China, and it was hard to have so much fun without my own family, but this was a time for my first family. But when I came back to China last weekend, I wsa able to make a special memory of my own.
On the way from Shanghai Pudong Int'l Airport to Tina's friend's home where I was going to spend the night before heading back to Xiamen, I got off the subway at the People's Square station. My father and mother had visited me in China in 2006 and we had spent a couple of days in Shanghai, so my father had a direct connection there. This time I brought back some of my father's ashes with me and sought out a small tree in the square. After inspecting the perimeter to make sure I wasn't being watched, I poured my father's ashes over the tree's roots. Now my father's body will forever be a part of China, and his family is through me.
It's been almost a year since my last tattoo, though I've got a new design for my son's name that I'll be getting in a few weeks. But I've noticed a change in my attitude about life since getting married and becoming a father, and it's hard to say whether it's good or bad. I've found that I don't get excited about the less practical things in life like I used to, such as art, tattoos, etc. I still enjoy a few hobbies, such as collecting heavy metal music, dabbling in sculpture and drawing, yoga, and working on a couple of writing projects, but the passion that I felt for art, home decoration, and tattoos has faded. Of course it can be hard to find the right "crowd" to stimulate one's inspiration, but for me, it's more than just running low on inspirational fuel.
I've always been an aesthetically- and dramatically- minded person, and art, music, and movies were my life a few years prior. Now I find that the energy, excitement, and effort that I directed towards these self-focused enjoyments have now been placed on my new family. I still enjoy my old pursuits, but I can't justify spending as much money, time, and energy on these things like I used to. And the things is, I don't really mind. I'm not cynical and judging all impractical things like art as narcissistic and self-promoting but I now feel outside the scene that I was so immersed in before.
Now this sounds like a classic case of cool-dude-gets-a-family-and-becomes-boring syndrome, and perhaps it is to some degree, but I believe that as long as one finds enjoyment in one's life, the source of that enjoyment is irrelevant (unless of course it involves something perverse or illegal). Seeing my family sleeping safe and warm brings me great happiness that otherwise would have been spent on myself. People look at me and often assume I'm a hedonistic party animal, and I enjoy telling them about my simple, normal, domestic life. The course of the river has changed, but the water remains the same. And I think in a few years, I'll be able to appreciate the less practical things a bit more as well.
My wife will give birth to our baby in late August, and it's been an interesting seven months so far. A few minor scares here and there, but for the most part, it's been pretty smooth. That's easy for me to say,though, since I'm not the one with constant back pain and swollen feet :-). I've tried to be very sensitive and attentive to her and I can tell that I've made her feel very secure and even beautiful during this fragile time.
One thing that I am continually thankful for about my wife is her emotional balance. Yeah she's a girl and all girls get emotional now and then, but compared to girls I've dated before, my wife has a very good handle on her emotions. Of course, pregnancy brings the hormone onslaught and it's easy for an even-keeled woman to go all loopy, but I've fortunately been spared any tempestuous outbursts of mama-bear fury :-).
Yet one emotional battalion that takes a serious hit during pregnancy, especially for beauty-conscious Chinese girls, is confidence. Of course I've always told my wife she's beautiful, and before she was pregnant, she believed it, but as the kilograms start to add up, now she needs much more reassurance, especially with my job as a university teacher surrounded by slender (and very hormonal) students. In China, husband's infidelity is unfortunately a cultural fixture, and my wife tells me that several of her friend's husbands strayed while they were pregnant. My wife doesn't expect that I would follow the same path, but at the same time, she's a girl, and girls' minds are a whirlwind of doubts and worries. Actually, to be honest, my wife is still pretty freakin' hot compared to the other pregnant ladies waddling around, and any man who cheats on his wife while she's at her most vulnerable, such as during pregnancy, must be the most wretched scum alive. But even still, I continually remind my wife that she's still beautiful and still the apple of my eye as I massage her swollen feet, and I know she believes me.
For most Chinese people, owning a home is an extreme priority (though "owning" really means "a 70 year lease from the government.") In the West, owning a homeis a big priority, though not essential. In the Western mentality, houses are for owning, apartments/flats are for renting. And since there are very few houses in China, most Westerners are happy to rent when they come to China to live, even if they're going to be here for a long, long time.
A few months after my wife and I got married in February 2009, we decided it was time to buy a home. I was well aware of the Chinese inclination (read: obsession) with home ownership, and this is actually a valid perspective in China, where distrust and paranoia of being cheated reign supreme, and no one wants a landlord literally lording over you. I was also aware of the huge responsibility and cost that comes with purchasing a home. But we decided to take the plunge nonetheless, and so far, I'm glad we did.
For one thing, it makes my wife very happy, and happy wife=happy life :-). But seriously, women crave stability, particularly in China, and while my wife isn't like the hordes of money-minded materialistic sirens prowling around, having a home to call your own is a big relief.
Another reason is the investment opportunity. We live on Xiamen Island for the time being while we're waiting for our new home to be constructed, but our new home is outside the island, on the mainland. This means its drastically cheaper and quieter than if we had purchased a home on the island. It's still only a 45 minute bus ride and if we get our own car, a 20 minute ride back to the island, which is the hub for Xiamen's shopping, restaurants, and nightlife. There are several shopping centers, parks, etc. around where our new home is, but it's still mostly countryside. But that is actually what we would like, since Xiamen Island is quickly becoming too crowded. Right now, the home we are renting is right next to Zhong Shan Road, Xiamen's top tourist hot spot, and while the convenience is nice, the crowds and traffic is not.
So, back to the investment opportunity. As I said, our new home is waaay cheaper than on the island. It's on the 21st floor, 90 sq. meters, two bedrooms/one bath, looking out to the sea, though there are some industries and businesses around the building, but no smoke stacks or pollution. It's also right across from a yet-to-be-finished bridge that will let me zip over to my university in about 15 minutes. All this for 2990 RMB/sq. meter. That's right. We put down our deposit in May 2009, and already it has appreciated to over 4200 RMB/sq. meter. As I said before, it's still in the countryside, but there are several developments and apartment complexes going up around it, so in the next 3-5 years, that area will probably be a decent suburb of Xiamen.
Now I often have people asking me about the process of buying a house, so let me share my experience. My wife and I are quick decision-makers, and we were lucky enough to find this home that suited us, was in a good location, and had a great price, so we jumped right in. The down payment was a bit of an expense, and we used my wife's savings for that, since I had drank, shopped, and traveled away most of my money in my three previous years in China *looks sheepish.* I chipped in a bit though too. The law stated that if a house is under 90 sq. meters, then the down payment is 20% of the total house value, if over, then it's 30%. Our home came to around 89.40 sq. meters so we just bared squeaked in at the 20% mark.
Getting the loan from the bank was a bit of a nail-biter, since my wife didn't have a job, but we couldn't tell the bank that I, her husband, did have a job and was therefore capable of repaying the bank, since the bank wouldn't give her the loan if they knew that we were married. The reason is that the bank would be naturally squeamish about loaning money to a Chinese person with a foreign spouse, since the couple could easily take the loan, make their purchase, and then zip off to the foreigner's home country, leaving the bank empty-handed. But since my wife also owned a small storefront that she rents out, the bank saw her as low-risk (and still single), so they granted the bank loan to her at a fixed interest rate.
I thought this was interesting but understandable. From what I hear, foreigners can only own one piece of property in China, usually a factory or other business. I'm a teacher, not a businessman, so I don't need to worry about this, but without something significant tying me to China, the bank wouldn't give her the loan, so we needed to keep our marriage under wraps.
So now we've got a ten-year mortgage at a fixed rate, and the payments are quite reasonable, only about 20% of my monthly income. My wife doesn't work (her current job is incubating our little bundle of joy, due to arrive in August). The construction should be finished in July of this year, but all we're really getting is an empty concrete box. We have to take care of all the interior design ourselves, which is what we're saving up for at the moment. We expect to move to our new home by next summer. All in all, it's been a relatively low-stress situation, and I really feel that we got lucky. I would encourage other married foreigners to purchase homes outside of large cities, since urban areas are severely over-priced, though this could change quickly. Suburban homes tend to be quieter, less expensive, and the appreciation will probably be less erratic than city homes.
I think purchasing a home is a good idea, especially if you're going to be in China for the long haul and plan to have a family here. My wife and I expect that we'll stay in China until it's time for our child to begin his/her education, and a Western education is definitely the better choice- can I get an "Amen." But even while we're gone, we can rent our home, and we'll always have a home to come back to.
In unrelated news, I haven't gotten a new tattoo in several months, so I went to the beach and got sunburned to get that peeling and itching feeling that I know and love so well. Just thought I'd share.