It has been months, and so much has happened. At the end of June I went to Shanghai to in an intense and difficult language course. But it wasn’t really intense enough. I had too much free time, and ended up going almost daily to the spectacular spa on Siping Lu, with its ginseng baths and environment of total relaxation, married couples playing mahjong in pajamas, a great restaurant… It rained much of the time while I was at school, and when it didn’t rain the city was hammered with a brutal heat. I was making no money during these several weeks and lived off of credit cards and my fast-dwindling savings. I ate almost every afternoon at the university “canteen,” where not-bad meals are served on metal trays for about 4 kwai (fifty cents). I wasn’t very happy at the school, where I had only one really close friend; most of the other students in the program were Japanese, and they stuck together and had a surprisingly poor grasp (if any at all) of English.
After struggling to keep my head above water in Shanghai, I traveled to Hong Kong in the late summer, and the next day I checked my email when I visited my former employer, and there it was: an email from the Beijing office of a multinational PR company offering me my dream position. Could it be possible? After weeks of living in sheer terror about how I was going to get financially stable, about how I was going to survive, I finally could relax. That night I went for dinner with Pauline, Priscilla, Katie and her husband at Tung Ah. I had to go to Bali in two days, I had to come back to HK and get a China visa, take care of my stored belongings, go back to Shanghai and pick up two huge suitcases I had left there. Luckily I still had a few weeks.
Bali was beautiful, though not what I expected. Much of it is commercial, at least in Kuta, and over crowded with tourists. But we had some great times, including a full-day boat trip with snorkeling, a grilled-fish dinner on the beach at Jimbara, many cheap massages, and some great food. We also did a two-day tour that was quite beautiful — huge rice paddy valleys, temples, monkey forests, etc. It was a good vacation, though I never do seem to rest enough, ever.
It is the full-week Lunar New Year holiday here in Beijing, where I have settled down in a cozy apartment. Unfortunately, it is getting cold already. I have not experienced real cold in years, having lived in Phoenix and Hong Kong most of the past 12 years. Also, I don’t know anyone, so the sense of aloneness can be pretty intense.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.