Richard’s Announcement

We all have our favorite opening lines from our favorite books. This is mine:

A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.

Each of us is all the sums he has not counted: subtract us into nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas.

The seed of our destruction will blossom in the desert, the alexin of our cure grows by a mountain rock, and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern, because a London cut-purse went unhung. Each moment is the fruit of forty thousand years. The minute-winning days, like flies, buzz home to death, and every moment is a window
on all time.

Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

For the past few weeks, hardly a day has gone by when I didn’t think of these lines, especially the part about the London cut purse, a rich symbol of the quirkiness of fate. I was talking many months ago with one of the founders of Talk Talk China, who told me how an unexpected phone call transported him from his world in America to his new world in Asia, and how he had no idea how much that phone call would alter literally every aspect of his life. Those little moments that at the time seem not so extraordinary, that then change everything. This was a moment:

I met my Chinese teacher at a local Starbucks for our daily lesson a month ago, and as we were finishing up the phone began to ring. Not wanting to be interrupted, I let it go. A few minutes later, when I was alone on the street a text message appeared from my colleague in Beijing: “Richard, can you get to Beijing immediately? This is urgent.” Why it was urgent and what it was about isn’t really relevant and I can’t go into that for the sake of my company’s privacy. Let’s just say I didn’t think too much of it; it wasn’t the first time I’d been asked to drop everything and travel. I was excited to be invited to spend a few days in Beijing, and within a few hours I had my ticket in hand.

About three weeks ago I wrote to two readers of this blog about what a sad trip it was. This was when I got sick and could scarcely walk. When the weekend came, I couldn’t get out of bed. I wrote to these people about how alone I felt in Beijing, even though I have so many friends there. When you are sick, you don’t want to bother your friends; that’s what family is for. Never did I miss my family as I did that week. Never did I so want to leave Asia and just go back to the safety and warmth of my own home, my own bed, my own cats and family. It was then that I decided it was time for me to leave Asia and go home for good.

For a couple of weeks I was intent on going home and was making the necessary plans. But fate plays tricks. Suffice it to say that as a result of the meetings I flew up for, I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse: to return to Beijing to work on a most important project. Slowly, bit by bit, the plans solidified, approvals came by email and by phone, and suddenly it appeared that I had a whole new life mapped out. I felt deeply conflicted. The recent memories of my weekend in Beijing drove home to me how harsh that city can feel when you’re down and out. The lure of all that I have in America is as strong now as it was a month ago, when I decided I had to go home. But suddenly the deck was rearranged, and I felt there was no choice whatsoever: this was literally a dream opportunity and I couldn’t say no.

Conflicted, but also certain. That’s how I feel. I’ll be moving back in less than four weeks and the whole situation has an almost dream-like quality. When I explained the situation to my family, they understood, and agreed I had to do it. This wasn’t what I expected. I was certain the next stop would be Shanghai and then home. Four weeks ago, i was ready to skip Shanghai altogether and just get back to my loved ones. And now, my reality is something very different. I have to buy a winter coat and gloves. I have to stock up on chapstix and facial moisturizers, and prepare psychologically for dealing once again with Beijing’s ruthless January cold.

For all the jokes we make about Beijing’s weather, it’s actually a very serious issue for me. It’s not by accident that I own a house in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1984, O’Brien explains to Winston how each of us has his one huge fear. For Winston, it was rats. For me, it is the cold. I can deal with it, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a major source of anxiety for me at the moment. It’s nearly all I can think about – the joy of the opportunity tempered by the fact that the last time I lived in Beijing, the cold made me miserable. The one difference this time is that unlike then, I now have friends, even a small community, in Beijing. Back then I had no one – or practically no one – and nothing made the loneliness more intense and nasty than those slicing winds and frozen fingers.

Still, I am optimistic, even thrilled. I’ve always wanted to go back, and I’ll be doing the kind of work I love most and working with people I know and trust. So this is it. I’m moving back to China. It’s finally approved and on paper, and I haven’t felt this excited in many months, despite the doubts and fears and memories. Ever since I left I was dying to get back for reasons I still can’t fully fathom. My last few times in Beijing (aside from my days in bed last month) were among the happiest trips of my life, and each time I felt the city’s mysterious appeal wooing me. And now I am going back. In just a month, once again I will truly be The Peking Duck. I am still in shock and amazement. It hasn’t penetrated 100 percent.

To those of you who I love so much in China’s capital, all I can say is I can’t wait to see you again, this time as a resident and not a visitor. Quirks of fate…unexpected phone calls….those are the things that life is all about. Actually they are the rule more than the exception. Life is full of these unexpected twists and turns; maybe life is simply a series of unexpecteds. (Sorry for all the armchair philosophising; I’m in a very contemplative mood.)

I’ll need help; I need to find a place to live. I have to get reacquainted with a vast metropolis that has changed like a chameleon since I lived there three years ago. I’ll also have to learn simplified characters after spending 12 painstaking months studying traditional Chinese. So I’m nervous as all hell while at the same time feeling totally high. I’ll see you all very soon. I’m taking a much-needed three week vacation back to America, leaving next weekend. When I get back to Taipei I’ll have just two or three days to gather my stuff and catch a flight to Beijing, and to a new life. I’ll be recording every step of my new journey here.

The Discussion: 39 Comments

Good luck!!!

December 8, 2006 @ 9:34 pm | Comment

Thanks Peter.

I forgot to mention, I’ll also have to get used to a censored Internet again. If you comb through the archives (particularly January 2003), you’ll see the Cyber Nanny was the cause of some of my worst frustrtaions.

December 8, 2006 @ 9:59 pm | Comment

Bruderschaft! (Toasting you with 100 grams of vodka.)

Now I’ll have to teach you how to chain-smoke, to clear all the other pollution out of your lungs…

December 8, 2006 @ 10:06 pm | Comment

Wow, what an unexpected twist! Well, welcome back to Red China! Sounds like a great opportunity, hope everything pans out for you!

Best of luck, congratulations, and enjoy the winter heat back in Phoenix! Everyone will be wondering why you keep singing “Beijingle Bells. ๐Ÿ™‚

December 8, 2006 @ 10:55 pm | Comment

Best of luck, Richard. I look forward to hearing your take on things as the city gears up for 2008!

December 8, 2006 @ 11:34 pm | Comment

My Dear Friend,

Welcome home! This is the best news I have received in a very long time. You are loved and have been missed by your Beijing brothers. Please tell me and all whom love you what we can do to help in even the smallest way make your return to this very cold but vibrant city a little easier.

What a wonderful time for such exciting news. I have been feeling quite blue and overly stressed by some of the pressures that always come my way because I try to do too much. Having you here will brighten the hue of blue, and render close by a truly trusted and valued friend to advise me when I venture astray too stupidly.

What wonderful news!

See you soon, my friend,


December 8, 2006 @ 11:39 pm | Comment


I’ll be back in Beijing this month as well, so it’s nice to know other people with the same homesicknesses, frustrations with Cyber Nanny, fear of the Chinese medical system, etc. that I do. We’ve got to stick together and keep up our good spirits, even if only through our computers. I can tell you’ve definitely got a good deal for this coming stay, so I wish you good luck and happiness in this new endevour! Man I’m sounding cheesy!

December 9, 2006 @ 12:33 am | Comment

Starting next month, I too will be returning to the land of roast duck and public loos for a gig that is set to last at least a year…Hope to see you in Beijing.

Good luck and all the best.

December 9, 2006 @ 12:41 am | Comment

Congrats, Richard ! Hope everything works out fine there for you and your family.

December 9, 2006 @ 1:12 am | Comment

Dear Richard,

Tor is your internet friend. If you are using a laptop, suggest you download it before you go. i think others here can offer better advice but it does seem to work pretty well.

What can I say? You were meant to do it, obviously. Of course it was also your actions that led to this twist of fate, so who can say where the balance lies?

See you soon, in either case, hither or yon…

December 9, 2006 @ 1:14 am | Comment

Well, it seems you have this one thought out, Richard. Don’t worry too much; Beijing should start being crappy only after the 2008 Olympics.

Cheers and good luck in your endeavors.

And if you really are feeling cold or blue, Hai Di Lao in Haidian is such a good place to get hot pot and have parties… it’ll cheer you right back up (as well as keep you warm.)

December 9, 2006 @ 2:01 am | Comment

At least you won’t have to try coming up with a catchy new title for this blog. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Best wishes for this new adventure!

December 9, 2006 @ 3:11 am | Comment

Exciting news, Richard. Judging by your hops around Asia, you seem like some who is very willing to walk through whatever doors life opens for you.

Glad to hear that you’re feeling better, too.

As for winter cold, let me share a quote from our school custodian, who grew up in the mountains of western Maryland (I didn’t know Maryland had mountains):

Winter is like getting hit by a tractor trailer – you never get used to it.

I disagree actually, having taken a month-long trip through northeast China two winters ago, starting in Liaoning and ending in Heilongjiang; moving from cold to f***ing cold in the span of three weeks seemed easier than the shock of heading straight from relatively balmy Qingdao.

Beijing is cold, but at least it’s dry. Where I’m from in Michigan, we see at least 4-5 severe winter storms in a season plus plenty of snowfall and the occasional nasty and dangerous sleet and freezing rain.

So you have a house in Phoenix? You must tolerate the heat better than I do. Given the choice, I’d opt for Minneapolis, Minnesota, or Burlington, Vermont, over any city in the sunbelt outside of California.

I’ve been back in the States 18 months, and I still miss China and Korea. I don’t have to tell you to enjoy the ride because I know you are making the most of your opportunities.

December 9, 2006 @ 5:42 am | Comment


I’m so glad that things eventually work out for you. And most importantly, you’re among friends again.

This is a great time to be in Beijing, while the city is preparation for the big event to come in 2008. I was in Sydney in the year 2000 and I still had fond memories of the Olympic Games. Don’t listen to t_co, the glamour of the Olympic city is not going to vanish immediately after the Games. There’ll be more international events held there for many more years to come. That’s the case with Sydney anyway.

Anyway, look after yourself and I’ll pay you a visit when I have a chance.

December 9, 2006 @ 7:00 am | Comment

Congratulations Richard! I can definitely relate to anxiety about cold weather as I grew up in California and spent my college years in the ur-temperate zone of San Diego.

There is a silver lining to the cold, though: the feeling of euphoria when spring hits makes suffering through three or four months of freezing weather worth it.

Then again, I’ll be safely ensconced in Kunming so I remain a confirmed “weather wimp”.

Anyway, great news and best of luck with the transition.

December 9, 2006 @ 7:36 am | Comment

Good for you, Richard.

I’m sure the warmth of friends will help you bear the cold.


December 9, 2006 @ 8:47 am | Comment

Welcome to Beijing. Looking forward to meeting you finally in person!

December 9, 2006 @ 10:43 am | Comment

Joesph, thank you so much for the kind words. They literally made my day. If I had known people like you – not just Joseph, but all of you – when I was there, I wouldn’t have left. It’s ironic that this blog’s readership didn’t take off until I was leaving Beijing in the wake of SARS. When I was there, I was mainly writing for myself.

It’s great to see that others here are heading for Beijing as well. There must be something in the air.

Slim, I’ll try to get down to Shanghai every chance I get, and maybe you can head north once in a while, too.

Jeremiah, Chip, I look forward to catching up with you soon. Sonagi, I can deal with heat, especialy the Arizona heat, which is way easier to survive than the humid summers of New York.

Everyone else, thanks for your encouragement, and drop me a line if you’ll be coming to town. And now, on to the always fun chore of packing and shipping all my stuff.

December 9, 2006 @ 11:20 am | Comment

Congratulations Richard, and welcome back to Beijing.

And yes, there’s definitely something in the air…. the ever-present dust, for starters….

Don’t let the cold get to you, your mates will take care of you, I’m sure.

December 9, 2006 @ 12:05 pm | Comment

Congrats Richard. I will email you the secret knock and handshake to gain entry to Beijing’s best Happy Hour.
And don’t sweat the hanzi vs. fantize problem. There are only a dozen or so substitutions to memorize.

December 9, 2006 @ 12:32 pm | Comment

You mentioned chapstix and a coat, but no hat.

Seriously, your number one defense against the cold will be a good fur hat (yes I do mean a Russian style chapka), made of REAL fur, and preferably with ear flaps. But as long as you can bring it down over your ears, that’ll be more important than your coat.

But get one made of real fur, please.

December 9, 2006 @ 2:40 pm | Comment

Good luck, and remember, if the cold ever gets too bad to tolerate, just tell O’Brien to “Freeze it to Julia!”

December 9, 2006 @ 3:56 pm | Comment

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Good luck on your new adventure.

December 10, 2006 @ 6:53 am | Comment

Hi Richard,

Even I must say that I welcome you to go to Beijing! You will find it very enjoyable, its people, its culture, its food, everything. Hope your life in China will be exciting and you’ll start to like China more.

December 10, 2006 @ 7:12 am | Comment

Oh dear. If you just add a stalker’s greeting to the above two comments, you’ll can chant:

“Nationalists and Stalkers and Hacks, oh my!”

December 10, 2006 @ 12:05 pm | Comment

Ivan, with all due respect, you might disagree with China Law Blog on various issues, but I think the “hack” label is, um, uncalled for. CLB has offered a lot of very intelligent comments here, whether you agree with him or not. So let’s try to put a wall between arguing on issues and and labelling people.

December 10, 2006 @ 1:25 pm | Comment


I hate to do this. But with due respect, CLB seems to have a personal problem with Ivan. If you go to the Chang thread, you’ll find that I’ve tried to intervene in an attempt to defuse the issue and bring the discussion back to Chang’s article. But CLB has decided to ignore me all together. So he’s made it very clear that this is between him and Ivan. Since CLB intends to make his attack personal, I don’t blame Ivan for taking CLB’s comments personally.

December 10, 2006 @ 1:47 pm | Comment

Apologies for the late reply — have been pulling a series of all-nighters on a couple of largish translation jobs. Great to hear that you’re coming back — we’ll be glad to have you. We’ll make an apologist of you yet!

December 10, 2006 @ 2:13 pm | Comment

And now the site’s name truly fits! Congrats, Richard! I’m sure you’ll find plenty of drinking buddies to help you pull through the dismal Beijing winter. ๐Ÿ˜‰

December 10, 2006 @ 2:23 pm | Comment

Fat Cat, I’m willing to make the plea to both of them (and I haven’t had time to read all the comments to all the posts this weekend), and to everyone else: let’s just try to skip the ad hominems. They don’t help encourage a spirit of serious discussion.

Nausicaa, Brendan and other latecomers to the thread, thanks a lot.

I’m packing my stuff today, and am feeling a very mixed flurry of emotions as I prepare to leave Taipei for good. You don’t realize how much you really like where you are until you start to pack your things. That’s where I am right now: I really do love Taipei and I will be very sorry to leave. I am equally excited about getting back to Beijing, though, and all in all I think this is a good thing.

December 10, 2006 @ 2:51 pm | Comment

Welcome back!

December 10, 2006 @ 9:54 pm | Comment


No need to worry about the Beijing winter. Take a look here

and make this your first lesson in Simplified Chinese.
Enjoy !

December 11, 2006 @ 3:21 am | Comment

I hear you Richard. It’s an oddly emotional experience. This week, I’ve been packing up my apartment here at the university and putting everything in storage. It’s amazing what your life looks like piled floor to ceiling in a 10×10 locker.

But I’m looking forward to being back to Beijing, getting my research started, and heading into the next chapter. It’s what livin’ is all about.

See you in the hutong.

December 11, 2006 @ 6:23 am | Comment

Jeremiah, we really have to hook up soon – maybe we can hold one of those blogger dinners and bring the Beijng community together – last time about 22 (25?) people showed up. Your comments have raised the bar at this site, and I’m blown away that we’ll be heading off to Beijing at the same time.

The packing…I really hate it. It’s only when you move that you realize about 70 percent of your stuff is never used, and you cling to it for emotional rather than practical reasons. I’m trying to be brutally realistic and giving as much as I can to charity,but it’s so hard to give up those pieces of your life….

Lao Lu, I went to that site, and appreciate both the poem and the Chinese lesson. It did freak me out a bit to see that some of the characters I’ve memorized thanks to their pictogram qualitites (like the qi of tian qi) are totally different when simplified – for those, I’ll just have to start over, and figure out a different way to make them stick in my memory. (One day, when I really get the nerve, I will tell everyone what it’s like for me to study Chinese. Unlike so many others here, I came to it late in life and can only take classes around my work hours, so I’m always cramming, in effect teaching myself. The story of how I deal with memorizing characters, and the problems I’ve encountered with certain sentence patterns would make a funny-sad post, except it’ll subject me to a lot of mockery and embarrassment from those who are fluent. So I’m holding off…)

December 11, 2006 @ 8:34 am | Comment

Richard, you also must see the flag raising ceremony in Beijing every morning in Tianamen. It is a very sacred and respectful moment. It is early, but it is worth it.

December 11, 2006 @ 9:32 am | Comment


All the best in your new venture and China is to be enjoyed more than criticized. Despite my mixed feelings about the present political system, the Chinese by and large can be very good friends and they have a strong sense of yuee chi( can be good and bad) if you go as a friend. God speed and God Bless.

December 11, 2006 @ 5:12 pm | Comment

Thanks – I’ve lived there before, and still have many close friends there. I am not going there to criticize – I can do that from anywhere. I am going because I like it there, and because, in this case, it’s where my job is taking me.

December 11, 2006 @ 6:28 pm | Comment

Richard, to beat the cold, I highly recommend lamb hot pot at Donglaishun. Go for those thinly sliced frozen lamb from inner mongolia and Upper Hebei. If it doesn’t work, check out the polar bear club at Bayi lake right under the TV Tower. They held daily event not too far behind the Diaoyutao Guest House. I used to be a member of the group by the way.

December 12, 2006 @ 2:42 am | Comment


I missed your initial announcement and then caught your moving recognition of Taipei’s place in your heart. As a result, I wanted to go there at the drop of a hat. Years back I visited a Taoist temple in Queens, NY that was organized by Taiwanese folks, among the sweetist and most gentle people I’ve ever met. Little did I know ’till I read your testimony that their culture breeds such goodness at its depths. Of the many things I learned at that temple, I offer you their most profound prescription for living, especially applicable in China:

Be Kind, Be Careful, and Be Yourself

December 13, 2006 @ 1:52 pm | Comment

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