A party. And a difficult post to write.

Too bad my site is still blocked in China at the moment (even after changing the IP address yesterday), as this is one of those “important” posts. To cut to the chase, after a lot of soul-searching and lengthy conversations with people I love back home, I decided that I have to get my priorities right; I have to leave China and move back to America. I will be leaving China next month.

Boy, that was hard to write.

When I joined my new company in March, I told them I couldn’t sign the standard one-year contract because I didn’t know how long I would be in China and thought there was a good chance I couldn’t stay a whole year. I had already been in China more than two and a half years, and in Asia for more than four. I knew I would have to return to America at some point, where I have family commitments I can’t ignore.

This is not an easy decision. As my friends here in Beijing know, over the past several months, ever since the Olympics ended, I’ve become integrated with the city, it became my home. Before and during the Games, I could have been almost anywhere, because I was working almost constantly, including nights and weekends. That was exciting, but my schedule never allowed me to familiarize myself with Beijing, aside from the narrow strip of road from my apartment house to the office in the CBD and to Haidian, where I did a lot of my work. There is no complaint about that; it was the most exciting work I ever did, even if it didn’t give me much time for exploration.

After that I had more time to spend with people here and to savor life in Beijing. I finally figured out how to get around by bicycle and bus after nearly two years traveling mainly in expense-account taxis. My circle of friends grew and instead of seeing Beijing as an overwhelming and unnavigable place, I began to see it as home. The new job as an editor at the Global Times gave me a chance to once more do what I most enjoy, writing and editing, while giving me a bird’s eye view into how the Chinese government and media work together. I got to see some courageous work by editors there who pushed hard to put out stories that “the powers that be” were uncomfortable with. I got to work with some wonderful people, and I also got to see just how the news is used to push the party agenda and to shape harmonious public opinion. (Some of the bloggers I most admire, like this one, as well as the now-defunct Beijing Newspeak and Leaking State Secrets, took the same course, working with the Chinese media despite their outspoken criticism of the CCP. It offers an exceptional microcosm of how things work here.)

The choice to go back home was not made on the basis of my job or my finances. I still believe China is “the place to be” right now, especially for people striking it out on their own, and that despite their monumental headaches, the Chinese will emerge from the mess faster and less scarred than the US, for whatever that’s worth. In other words from a financial/career perspective I’d probably be better off staying here at the moment. But this decision isn’t based on considerations like that. It’s a lot more personal and has to do more with intangibles like feelings and emotion and love. Having a secure job and most of our needs met is great. But the old cliché still applies: Without love, it doesn’t matter much.

I’ll be around several more weeks. I stop working in July and then will ship my stuff and prepare for the big move in just a few weeks.

Having done this before, I’m ready for all the reverse culture shock in store – getting used to anchors on CNN who don’t have English accents, seeing a lot more overweight people everywhere, going to the supermarket and not being overwhelmed with the scent of raw fish and durian fruit (in summer), not needing to look both ways for silent-but-deadly electric bikes every time I cross the street, and getting onto any web site I want. Things like that. There’s a lot of mixed feelings and some serious anxiety about facing the US job market at its worst moment, and also some relief. The reason “there’s no place like home” is such a cliché is simply because it’s true. I remember coming home from Singapore half a decade ago and going to sleep the first night in my own bed in my own house, with my cats lying on the foot of the bed. I don’t think I ever felt safer and more comfortable. Now there’s only one cat, and America is a lot different than it was then, but still….

I plan to hold one last dinner before I leave. Not a sit-down dinner like in the past, but more of a cocktail party/buffet so we can all talk without being confined to one seat. Co-blogger and best-friend Lisa will be here on July 7 so that’s the date I’m looking at. The last one, which Jeremiah and I organized, had around 40 people and was quite a night. It was the fifth in what by then had became a kind of tradition. (Go here to see the photo of the very first one, a lunch, and see who you can recognize – too bad the photo’s microscopic.) I’ll post updates on where we’ll go as the day approaches; I’m hoping it will be a place I like near Gulou. I know with all the tweetup and Web 2.0 dinners of late that a “Peking Duck Dinner” may not have the cachet it used to, but it would still be excellent to have one last get-together before I go, especially with Lisa in town.

What more to say? Workwise and productivity-wise and learning-wise, it’s been the greatest almost-three years I’ve ever had. Adapting to a new life without the people and the conveniences I’m so used to will be painful (not to say that everything in China is so convenient – just look at how this site is blocked – but some things, like 40-fen bus rides and no need for a car and $4 dinners and sleeper trains and having a maid will be hard to do without). On the other hand, priorities. We have to have our priorities.

Even though it’s early and I’ll be saying it again, a lot, thanks to everyone here who was so good to me. It was the complete opposite of 2002 when I first came here, alone and unable to speak a complete sentence in Chinese, when I had no bearings and no friends. It’s so ironic that this blog took off during the last few weeks, as I was getting ready to leave, and when I was most unhappy. For all its randomness and at times frivolousness and cloying mawkishness, it opened up a lot of doors for me here and directly led to some of the most precious friendships of my life. I’m still not sure how I’ll do without them. So many amazing people, the people I worked with the first two years and all the people I’m working with now, and all the friends this site led me to. To say “I’ll miss you” is trite and inadequate.

You’ve still got a few more weeks to put up with me. This post is to let everyone know I’m leaving and to invite you to the July 7 party. Please try to be there. And yes, I’ll keep the blog up after I go. Thanks again.

______________

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.

The Discussion: 55 Comments

Welcome back, if you’re coming back to Phoenix.

June 15, 2009 @ 9:37 am | Comment

Richard… your site was one of the very few that I checked routinely, even without my RSS reader. It developed a loyal following and was always an excellent place to discuss the latest news/current affairs in China, and also in the United States.

I didn’t comment here much, but always appreciated your perspectives and insight (and the lively discussions which often followed). I understand how difficult it must be to return home. I am faced with the same problem of determining when is the right time to head back to my home country, and know it will happen eventually. I admire your decision and wish you nothing but success.

Would love to be there for the Peking Duck dinner, but alas I am down in the SAR. If you are ever in Hong Kong, please do look me up.

Cam.

June 15, 2009 @ 9:49 am | Comment

Richard,
Yours was the first ‘China’ blog I discovered and remained one of my favorites throughout the years. Best of luck and keep in touch,

Matt

June 15, 2009 @ 10:10 am | Comment

I know the feeling. One reason I left the US (probably forever) was for family and love. Following your heart is really the only way to go.

June 15, 2009 @ 10:36 am | Comment

Sorry to hear you’re leaving on what appear to be less than satisfactory terms. However, I must take issue with your reference to bloggers you admire because they “work[ed] with the Chinese media despite their outspoken criticism of the CCP.” Black and White Cat I am not familiar with (although I like the blog). Leaking State Secrets and Beijing Newspeak, on the other hand, did not work with state media out of some higher calling to engage and in spite of their reservations concerning the party. They needed jobs. And in the case of Leaking State Secrets, his stint with state media was brief, he alienated many of the people he worked with, and the quality of his work was, by most accounts, negligible. I fail to see what he contributed to media in China. Nevertheless, best of luck to you.

June 15, 2009 @ 10:45 am | Comment

Hi, I’m one of your Chinese readers. Although I rarely leave a comment on your blog but I’ve been one of your Chinese readers for a few years. Thanks for provding such a unique and interesting perspective on China and everything, I learned a lot. Knowing you’ll be leaving Beijing soon makes me a bit sad, I wish you the best in your life back to the US.

China is still changing in every aspect everyday while it still consists of many unjustified problem. As a Chinese, I sometimes was happy for China’s rapid changes in a good direction, more often than not, shamed by social issues. I wander and sometimes get lost in both Chinese and English news reports and media, but still feel blessed with my bilingual ability to open the window of the world for me.

Hopefully Chinese and Americans can understand each other better and easier with less barriers as more and more people like you lived in China for years, now are going back to the US home.

If ever you decide to come back to China again for no matter a short tirp, a break or work, I do hope this land can amaze you again and brings you endless wonderment and enjoyment.

June 15, 2009 @ 10:49 am | Comment

Hi, I’m one of your Chinese readers. Although I rarely leave a comment on your blog but I’ve been one of your Chinese readers for a few years. Thanks for provding such a unique and interesting perspective on China and everything, I learned a lot. Knowing you’ll be leaving Beijing soon makes me a bit sad, I wish you the best in your life back to the US.

China is still changing in every aspect everyday while it still consists of many unjustified problem. As a Chinese, I sometimes was happy for China’s rapid changes in a good direction, more often than not, shamed by social issues. I wander and sometimes get lost in both Chinese and English news reports and media, but still feel blessed with my bilingual ability to open the window of the world for me.

Hopefully Chinese and Americans can understand each other better and easier with less barriers as more and more people like you lived in China for years, now are going back to the US home.

If ever you decide to come back to China again for no matter a short tirp, a break or work, I do hope this land can amaze you again and brings you endless wonderment and enjoyment.

June 15, 2009 @ 11:25 am | Comment

Thanks for all the great comments. Frank, I do need to correct one thing, where you say it sounds like I’m leaving on “less than satisfactory terms.” I leave on excellent terms with everyone. Anytime you move from a place you love there will be some regret and unhappiness, no matter what your next stop is. But no dissatisfaction and no complaint. I leave on good terms with my employer and my friends and everyone in between. And I can’t speak for why the other bloggers joined state media, but I can say what they did with that experience and how they continued to express their conscience despite who they were working for. Whether one was good or bad to work with I have no idea, and this isn’t really the right forum to discuss that.

Mirror, thanks for finally commenting, and have no fears – China will always amaze and mystify me. Anyone who says they fully understand China and are no longer amazed by it – well, I don’t think any such person exists. I love this country with a passion, and part of my heart will always, always be here.

June 15, 2009 @ 11:52 am | Comment

I got nuthin’ Richard. Except to say this is a beautiful post and expression of love for your second home…

And see you soon!

June 15, 2009 @ 12:17 pm | Comment

One more “thank you” from a daily reader. This site is excellent …..

Best of luck to you.

YK

June 15, 2009 @ 12:18 pm | Comment

Good luck, and thanks!

Eric

June 15, 2009 @ 12:59 pm | Comment

Thanks Richard, haven’t been reading from the beginning, but it’s been a great 2007-2009 with PKD. I wish you all the best of luck in your move back to the states (and I know what a mess it must have been to make that decision as my wife and I are going through the same decision process now.)

However, from experience I know that having lived in China for so long, you’ll always be a China watcher, so I expect this blog’s China content not to diminish too much despite the move. I look forward to more great posts in the future! :)

June 15, 2009 @ 1:16 pm | Comment

I am going to miss this duck ;-)

Maybe the China Global Times guys will need a good editor in the US.

Good luck with life and love. :-)

June 15, 2009 @ 2:37 pm | Comment

Thank you and good lucky. If you have another chance to write farewells,please be brief and short.

Blessing from Jiangsu.

June 15, 2009 @ 4:16 pm | Comment

Thanks a lot Echo – I’ll still be here. And I will probably keep writing columns for the GT. This is my latest – adequate until that throwaway closing line.

Andy, you’re right, no matter where on the planet I am I’ll still write about China. In fact, I expect to have a lot more time on my hands so the volume of posts after July could well go up. You can take that as a threat or as a promise…

June 15, 2009 @ 4:25 pm | Comment

Hi, Only just started reading your blogs since a few days back. It amazed me that all this can be written in China! When I landed here last year, someone told me every where is safe in China (and I have found this to be true) except for the internet (I don’t wish to find this out). So bravo for such conscientious reporting. Even though I’m a new reader, sigh that you are leaving. ..And I just shot down to pick up today’s Global Times.

Good luck!

June 15, 2009 @ 4:34 pm | Comment

oops that global times was to be mentioned only once. But can’t edit that comment now ..

June 15, 2009 @ 4:36 pm | Comment

Good column, Richard! I monitor the GT regularly, you know… :)

June 15, 2009 @ 4:44 pm | Comment

Writerfromhell, don’t worry, I fixed your typo.

Lisa, I thought the column was hai hao, but I look at the throwaway closing line and cringe. I was in a rush and needed a closer. I should ask them to let me rewrite.

June 15, 2009 @ 4:59 pm | Comment

You’ve been an inspiration, man. Best of luck in everything.

Michael

June 15, 2009 @ 5:37 pm | Comment

Your blog and your perspective are totally unique, Richard. I hope you’ll still chime in on China whenever you have time back in the States.

I’m in a similar position as you. I’m leaving Xi’an “for good” in the next couple months after being here for three and a half years. My Chinese fiancee and I will get married in the States whenever she gets approval on her visa (ugh).

Like you, we’re apprehensive about going back. Your comment on China “still being the place to be” resonates with me. Going back to the States to find work is going to be downright painful.

Things will all work out though.

Good luck in whatever new endeavor you choose.

June 15, 2009 @ 5:46 pm | Comment

Good luck with your move back. I can understand why you’d find it hard to move back. Despite assuming I’d prefer Shanghai, as just about everyone says they do, I found Beijing a welcome relief from it.

Another thing you won’t miss – taxi drivers ignoring red lights? I found that pretty annoying. Or do they do that as well in the US/they’ve started behaving now in Beijing?

Thanks for all the time you’ve put into the blog. I’m glad to hear you’ll keep it going.

June 15, 2009 @ 9:10 pm | Comment

I first came across your blog via an article in the China Daily “English Language China Blogs: Hate Sites?” written by the notorious MAJ. Being a virulent anti-China racist myself, I am glad that he pointed me toward your hate site and I am sure you would agree me with that there could be no higher recommendation :p

Best of luck with your move back and hope everything works out for you. I found the re-adjustment to be pretty tough and found reverse culture shock to be a big problem. Hope the transition is smoother for you!

I look forward to reading your posts from the US and thanks for your efforts of the last few years

Best regards,

Si

June 15, 2009 @ 9:30 pm | Comment

Si, is that true – that’s how you found this site? If so, amazing.

June 15, 2009 @ 10:45 pm | Comment

Best of luck with the move, although I am sure this is not the last we have heard of the travels of the Peking Duck.

June 15, 2009 @ 10:45 pm | Comment

@Richard

Yep! It’s true. I had been wondering where I could find writing about China on the web that went beyond the usual propaganda and luckily a no less august newspaper than the China Daily was able to make a recommendation! So thanks to them for that…..

June 15, 2009 @ 11:42 pm | Comment

Thanks for years of great blogging, Richard, and many more to come. Best wishes for the road ahead.

June 15, 2009 @ 11:49 pm | Comment

Best of luck, Richard. I feel privileged to have found your site.

June 15, 2009 @ 11:50 pm | Comment

Another lurker here coming out of the woodwork…

I left Beijing a year and a half ago and it was harder than I ever could have imagined. I never had culture shock on arrival in China but settling into a new country after that was tough. Going back to friends and family will definitely make that easier though and I hope you have a smooth transition.

It’s been a pleasure reading your blog over the last couple of years and I really hope that in some form or other you will keep us up to date with your musings in the future.

Best of luck with the move,

All the best, Jonathan

June 15, 2009 @ 11:59 pm | Comment

Good luck. I think who visited your site has broadened their perspectives of China.

June 16, 2009 @ 12:07 am | Comment

this is sad

June 16, 2009 @ 12:41 am | Comment

Ugh, all my favorite bloggers are moving back. Have you people no concept of BAD TIMING!!! Everytime a favorite blog of mine writes its farewell letter I always get that same feeling. The same one I got when I watched that last MASH episode… sad and sinking.

Well thanks for a great blog that was part of my morning routine and thanks for answering some questions of mine a few weeks back. It was a private email but I would like to share that you expressed the same positive comments as here, about China being an amazing place that “is never boring”.

Take care, welcome back soon, and good luck….. its gonna be needed.

June 16, 2009 @ 12:45 am | Comment

Thanks for everything and good luck!!
(an italian reader)

June 16, 2009 @ 3:28 am | Comment

Best of luck in your move, Richard. I discovered your blog about a year ago and have been a regular reader of it. Thanks for all your inspirational posts and insights about a country that seems to me so close and yet so far. Reading your blog and the comments have been an eye-opening experience for me. Thanks again and take care.

June 16, 2009 @ 3:44 am | Comment

The US economy and job market are in such trouble right now that my wife are moving BACK to China at the end of the year after having been there for six until 2007. Richard is very right…caveat emptor about life in the US these days.

I prefer to be in China for purely economic reasons.

June 16, 2009 @ 5:11 am | Comment

Should have added “my wife and I!”

June 16, 2009 @ 5:12 am | Comment

Wouldn’t it be nice that the GCF(tm) censors who keep an eye this blog send also their own best wishes to Richard.

That would be really show good manners from their side ;-)

June 16, 2009 @ 6:42 am | Comment

Come on guys! Don’t be so shy!! :-)

June 16, 2009 @ 6:42 am | Comment

Richard,
Best of luck in the States! As you know, I enjoy the blog so I’m glad you’re going to keep writing it. I’d even try to make it to your party if I hadn’t already moved back to America myself.

Am I right in assuming you’ll be back in China again sooner or later, though?

June 16, 2009 @ 7:03 am | Comment

@ecodelta

The question is whether or not the censors block themselves from the blocked pages…if so your appeals fall on deaf ears. I like to think that once the authorities block a site, it’s somewhat like political activists sent to the US, out of sight out of mind. Though I guess they must monitor the sites they block occasionally, otherwise how could sites become unblocked every once in a while? Perplexing….

June 16, 2009 @ 9:36 am | Comment

So many people have come out to say good-bye. Maybe we together can sign a petition to the Chinese censoring authority for the block to be lifted.

June 16, 2009 @ 1:02 pm | Comment

And invite them to the party too! ;-)

June 16, 2009 @ 2:00 pm | Comment

chino: So many people have come out to say good-bye. Maybe we together can sign a petition to the Chinese censoring authority for the block to be lifted.

Let’s just all go to the party instead. It’ll be more fun and better use of our time.

June 16, 2009 @ 5:57 pm | Comment

This is my first comment after so long lurking but I wanted to thank you for your numerous interesting and thought provoking blog writings. This is one of the few blogs that I check frequently and that’s intentional – you’ve consistently provided your readers with well thought out and sincere discussions about China, for both the familiar and the uninitiated. I truly will miss reading your thoughts on both China and the world.

June 16, 2009 @ 8:35 pm | Comment

Jude, I really appreciate that. And don’t worry, the blog isn’t going away, I’ll just be writing it from somewhere else.

June 16, 2009 @ 8:52 pm | Comment

Good luck with your move. I found this blog in 2006 after my first visit to China and I have to say that I read the posts with a degree of awe at the scope of knowledge and quality of debate on here. Being a china watcher of sorts myself I often find that reading your posts tends to curb any instinct I might have to be hateful towards china, reminding us that its a complex place made up of a wide variety of people, many of whom try to do good against astounding odds. This is why it doesnt make much sense that your blog is now blocked by the chinese government, but as often pointed out I’m not sure anyone on here does.

June 17, 2009 @ 5:05 am | Comment

China’s loss is our gain… Good luck with your move, welcome back, and do let me know if you’re ever in SF.

June 17, 2009 @ 8:46 am | Comment

vaara, it’s been a year or so – great to hear from you. I should be in California in August, hope to find you then. (And it’s nice to see our old mutual friend going after the extremist right. He’s still his old racist self, but I have to give him credit for distancing himself long ago from the kooks like Pam Atlas.)

June 17, 2009 @ 1:28 pm | Comment

Richard, your fellow compatriots warmly celebrate your return to the motherland.

June 17, 2009 @ 1:56 pm | Comment

I Think S. Korea’s ex-President’s Suicide Means S. Korea Is Not Westernized Enough

Recently, the former President of South Korea Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide by jumping off a cliff, because he was surrounded by a corruption/bribery scandal. What is the essence of this incident, and the essence of many Asian politicians often “caught in corruption scandals? This post wants to analyze this topic.

East Asian societies’ “cooperative mode” has very strict regulations about the business-government relationship. The Western societies’ “democratic mode” also has very strict regulations about it. However, as the East is trying to transform itself to be more like the West, as the East is Westernizing its basic political concepts, its traditional cooperative social mode has not changed much.

In America, Democracy is a hat, a piece of fig-leaf. The business-government cooperation takes on this hat and wears this leaf, and is able to rationalize and legitimize all of its “corrupt, undemocratic” activities. From the very beginning of American politics, businesses and industries were able to promote their spokespeople and associated interest groups to the highest levels of government. Behind the President is a huge collection of different interest groups and forces. In the Congress, these groups are able to turn their agendas into laws. All of those actions are considered completely reasonable and legal in American politics, under the guise of the “Democratic Process”. And these are not all, the interest groups are able to turn their ideas and wishes into top-level agendas for the nation, through sponsoring various formal and serious thinktanks and research bodies. As a result, all the conflicts of interest inherent in the business-government relationship are suddenly “smoothed over” under the big hat of democracy. Under this hat, periodically there’ll be some “big punishment” or “big case” against an individual corrupt businessman or politician, an “bad apple”. To the naive public and democracy-lovers, these big punishments look like they “maintain the justice” of the society – in reality they simply serve to maintain the famous Western Democratic rule of “Hiding and Finding”.

But in Asia, such a hat and figleaf don’t exist within its social traditions. Today, as Asia “modernizes”, its traditional business-government cooperation model is being forced to co-exist with the modern democratic principles. As a President, he was in a very awkward position. In order to develop the economy, the traditional Asian business-gov’t cooperation mode must be preserved; but in order to “modernize politics”, the Western Democratic system’s legitimized tolerance of corruption must also be respected. And as a result, if there was a Asian politician “cleaner” than his Western counterpart, but without the proper legal and traditional systems to protect him, he may still be found in such “scandals” and forced to commit suicide.

Therefore, if only Asian businessmen can legally bribe their politicians like in the West, they and their politicians wouldn’t have to bear the name of “corruption”, it would simply be “lobbying”. And maybe this tragedy can be avoided. Asian businessmen and politicians simply do not have the luxury of that hat and figleaf.

The tragedy of the Korean President was not his personal tragedy, and not a Korean tragedy, but a tragedy of Westernization by Eastern societies. If Eastern societies do not look deeply at the core of the West, but only at the concepts of the West. If they do not look deeply at West’s history, but only at West’s present. If they do not look deeply at the unspoken rules of the West, but only at the written rules of the west. Then his tragedy will not be the last.

Many critics of Chinese politics attribute the problem of corruption in China as a result of the “one-party dicatorship”. Then why is the Korean society that is much further along the West’s cherished “multi-party democracy” model unable to elect a President without corruption (3 of the past 4 presidents were arrested or killed due to corruption)? It is not a problem with their presidents, but a problem with their system. It’s not a problem with the original system they copied from, but the problem of them not fully copying the system. In computer science lingo, when Korea copied the West’s model, they did a shallow copy and not deep copy. They copied the concepts on the surface, but missed many subtle aspects.

So what can Korea and the rest of Asia do? They have two choices, either do a deep copy, or do not copy at all. I prefer the second way.

June 18, 2009 @ 11:30 am | Comment

After an offhand joking comment, I can always count on Math to post something even stupider…

June 19, 2009 @ 10:07 am | Comment

Sorry to hear that Richard, but happy to learn that you will continue blogging.

June 19, 2009 @ 2:03 pm | Comment

@Math, superb. I am totally with you on that one. Simply superb peice!!!

June 26, 2009 @ 11:13 am | Comment

Richard, can’t share enough gratitude for the Duck’s presence in the Chinese English language blogosphere. I’ve enjoyed it, and will continue to do so. Look forward to following your happenings, and your reflections on reverse-culture shock upon your “return”. Let me know if you swing by the Bay Area (where I’m located).

June 27, 2009 @ 6:47 pm | Comment

what about a peking duck does america? ok, that’s a bad title, but you get my drift… reflections on life once you’re back in the states. don’t hang up the ol’ blogging shoes yet!

June 29, 2009 @ 7:55 am | Comment

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