The Last Post in China

Chinese Word of the Day: 再见
(zai4 jian4 literally “again see”) goodbye

This is it for The Man in China. I’ll be in China no more, at least not for the foreseeable future. These last few days have been very emotional. Panda’s parents came all the way from Xing Tai, near Beijing, to say goodbye to us and take us to lunch. Wang Yijing’s parents came from Suzhou for the same purpose. Elaine phoned from Hangzhou and got all teary on the phone to Ruth. We had our last ride with Xiao He this morning, and we all got a bit teary. I’m writing this on the fast train to Shanghai where we will have lunch with the two Jennies and their husbands, plus Robin, Armstrong, Air, and our old Chinese teacher, Frank Chen. We still owe Frank 150RMB from our last lesson a year and a half ago, and we’ll finally remember to pay him back. I don’t know how much more of this parting stuff I can take.

I’m carrying my Italian violin, which I will leave with Jenny.

The Violin Story

I bought my Italian violin, a G.Guarneri del Gesù Il Cannone copy, in Toronto back in the days when I had money. It was made by Maurizio Tadioli an award winning violin maker who teaches violin making in Cremona and learned his art and craft at the feet of his grandfather, Carlo Pizzamiglio. It has the most beautiful tone, especially on the D string.

One hot summer day eight years ago when I was on my way to the airport in Weihai to go home for the holiday, I put my Tadioli violin on the ledge under the cab’s back window… and forgot it there when I went into the airport with my luggage from the trunk. I remembered seconds later, and rushed out screaming, but the cab was already gone and I had no receipt.

Our friend Ellen went to great lengths to get my violin back, contacting radio stations and newspapers with my sad story, but by the time it was in her hands it had ridden on that ledge at the back of the cab for two days in the intense heat of a Weihai summer. The finger board had melted off. The cloth cover inside the case had melted into the finish.

It’s worth noting that the cab driver refused a substantial reward for returning the instrument. Such has been our experience of the Chinese people.

Picture:  My poor damaged Tadioli violin.The following summer I had the violin put back together by Brian Hoover on Bowen Island in B.C. That’s when I learned that the nut was missing. Also, it had developed a wolf note on the G string and the finish was a disaster. Brian did what he could for it, and probably a bit of adjustment would cure the wolf note if I had time to wait, but I didn’t and I was not happy.

I contacted Maurizio and asked him if he had any advice on refinishing it. Here’s his reply.

Hello and thanks for your message.
I’m very afraid to what’s happened to my/your violin…. Please, don’t make any work and don’t give the violin to any maker to retouch or above all to revarnish!!! This is a special work that has to be done by the maker of the instrument. I’m sure that we can find the way to return the violin to me to fix the work. Don’t worry about the cost. I can make something special because I’ll be happy if my violin will return as before.

Let me know.
All the best,

I should have expected this, I suppose. Maurizio is not a hack factory worker; he’s an artist making pedigree instruments. I hung the Tadioli Il Cannone on our living room wall and there it served as room decoration for the past seven years. But now we’re leaving China and it’s time to do something.

I contacted Maurizio again and asked him for shipping instructions. Here is his reply:

Dear Mr. David,
Thank you so much to be back with the update of the violin.
In October I’ll be in Shanghai.
Keep in touch.
All the best,

And that’s why I’m now taking my violin to Shanghai. We’ll leave it with Jenny and hopefully Maurizio will be able to take it back to Cremona with him in October.

In a year or so, if Ruth and I are able to afford a trip to Italy, I’ll get to meet the maker of my violin, pay him whatever he asks for the refinishing job, and return with it to Canada. Whew.

 A Few Words about Jiangnan University and North American College

Our administration discovered that they had paid Ruth half of her travel bonus before schedule, so Roy in the office explained that she wouldn’t be getting as much money as I would get when we leave. Ruth pointed out that this would have caused her to pay more taxes than she should have paid. Roy said he would look into it. Here’s what he wrote a few days later:

Hi Ruth,

Thank you for reminding me of the difference in tax. I have calculated the difference. It is 55. You will get 550+55=605.

Best regards,


And here’s what I wrote back to him.

Roy, I have to tell you what a pleasure it is to deal with you and the rest of the staff here, especially in comparison with our previous university.  There our concerns over taxation were met with a refusal to consider the question, and a contract offer that we were obviously going to refuse.

You guys are great and I’m going to say so on my website unless you write immediately to stop me.

BTW, I’m told that some people actually read my website after all these years.  Who’da thunk it, eh?

Warmest regards

We have been very happy with our administration at Jiangnan University. They have been consistently friendly, considerate, and helpful. There has been a very appreciated lack of micro-management. They really made us feel like we were part of a family, and they cared about us. This, as I said to Roy, stands in stark contrast to previous employers in China.

If you are offered a job here, that’s all you really need to know. We wouldn’t have stayed for seven years if they hadn’t been good to us.

 So Long 三军车 (san1 lun2 che1) three wheeled vehicle/tricycle

I gave my trusty garbage bike to the wonderful woman who has kept your apartment stairway clean all these years. She seemed delighted to have it.

Picture:  Our cleaning lady and her inherited trike.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China She seemed delighted to have it.

Picture:  David and our jovial cleaning lady.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

A Few Thoughts on China

I tell people that coming to China has been the best decision of my life, and this is very true. It was a steep learning curve, but felt like a rebirth of my brain and a return to childhood, that time when I knew nothing and had to learn things like numbers and counting. It’s been fun.

With very few exceptions, the Chinese people are golden. They are friendly and helpful to a fault and their hospitality is unbelievable. I think much of this is due to the cache of the Western world, giving any foreigner high status here. But I also think it’s part of the Chinese nature, a result of their collective culture.

Of course there are things we didn’t like. I think China is making a huge mistake when they block websites, especially websites like the Khan Academy, a fantastic collection of educational videos. But just blocking Facebook and Twitter and Youtube is doing damage to their country. For a while I bought the idea that China was doing this because of the fear of unrest, trying to get control of the communications between citizens, and this may be a large part of the truth. This way they know that the servers are in China, and can be shut down at a moment’s notice. But also I came to believe that it was because China wants to give their own networks a leg up, and don’t want an Internet that is totally dominated by foreign powers. They now have this. They have their own version of Youtube (YouKu) Twitter (Weixin) and Facebook (XiaoNei) and Google (Baidu), and these have more users than any of the Western versions. It’s time China opened up completely to the West. To fail to do so is to follow the same thinking that lead to their defeat during the Opium Wars – isolationism and resistance to foreign thought.

We won’t miss the 没用的保安 (mei2 yang4 de bao3 an1), the useless guards that seemed to serve no purpose except to prevent our driver or moving van from getting to our apartment door. And we certainly won’t miss the walls and gates. There’s a mote around this campus, and our closest gate will never allow our taxi to enter.  There’s another gate at the entrance to our apartments buildings, and it closes and locks at 11:00pm, though we can still enter through the pedestrian door.  There’s a wall and gate around the other foreign teacher apartments, near the North gate, and that one requires a pass card, or buzzing the service station staff, for entrance.  It used to be that we could ride our bikes directly to those apartments, but a wall was put up across the back road so now we must ride around.  It feels like there are walls and gates and guards everywhere.  Our students have a hard time believing that in Canada there are no barricades or guards at the entrance to the campuses. But the Chinese do love their walls, their gates and their guards.  We don’t, though perhaps we would if we had their history.

Final Days

Picture:  Our seven boxes ready to float off to Canada in the campus post office.  jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaThese past few days have been hectic. In addition to the big box we’d already shipped, we’ve packed up seven boxes of stuff that cumulatively might be worth the postage but mostly contain memorabilia and junk I should probably leave behind, with a few exceptions such as my magnificent Beijing Opera robe. We’ve given away anything of value that we didn’t want to take with us – our small electric oven, our crock pot, our pots, plates, cutlery, vacuum cleaner, fans, heaters, lamps, electric blanket -mostly to Panda and Gloria. Panda arranged for a hardware dealer to come and buy all my tools, my welding setup, grinder, and drill plus assorted wrenches, files, hammers and screw drivers. I was surprised to score almost a hundred bucks Canadian for the lot.  This still leaves a pile of small items for Panda to sell or give away as she sees fit.

Jeanette will be returning in the Fall, so I’ll leave her my bike. Ruth gave her bike to Panda. My left over boxes of helmets all went to the man at the bike store, to sell or give away.

We knew that we would be going to Shanghai today, and would have no time to get to the post office or bank after this, so everything except the very final packing has been done. Yesterday we got to the bank and exchanged our RMB for Canadian.  I picked up a couple of strings of pearls for my sister to give away. Now we can relax, party and visit until the van comes to take us to the airport tomorrow morning.

So today we had a final ride with Xiao He and a first class fast train to Shanghai, arriving about ten thirty, which was time enough to get to music street for a final visit with the maker of my Shanghai violin. I wanted to pick up a new case, since they are bound to be cheaper here than in Canada.

Picture:  a final visit to the maker of my Shanghai violin.Picture:  Two generations of violin makers.  Shanghai, ChinaWe made it in to Zen Restaurant in Raffles Plaza by 11:45am, just in time to join Lv Min and Simon.

Picture:  Lv min and Simon in Zen, Raffles Plaza, ShanghaiLv Min and Simon came bearing gifts, a saki bottle and glasses set for me and a beautiful shirt for Ruth.  We took a private room, and soon Robin, Air, and Armstrong joined us, all students from our days teaching in Weihai six years ago.

Picture:  Lv Min and Ruth in Zen, Raffles Plaza, Shanghai

Picture:  Frank Chen and David with Frank's present.  Zen restaurant, Raffles Plaza, Shanghai

Picture:  Frank Chen and Ruth with Ruth's present.  Zen restaurant, Raffles Plaza, ShanghaiArmstrong came all the way from Hangzhou to have lunch with us.

Picture:  David with Armstrong, Zen Restaurant, Raffle's Plaza, Shanghai

-Ruth Anderson photo

Picture:  Ruth with Air, Zen Restaurant, Raffle's Plaza, ShanghaiAgain it was an emotional time. Ruth ordered a fantastic spread of our favourite Zen food, including three dishes of chicken feet in bean sauce, a favourite of mine, shrimp dumplings, pineapple rice, wild mushrooms and meat, pork slices, sweet and sour pork, sausage and rice, cooked lettuce, lettuce leafs with something tasty on them, pot stickers, popcorn shrimp, Peking duck with toufu wrap, and a durian pastry, all finished off with the traditional watermelon. I was a bit disappointed that Zen no longer serves the ginseng tea I used to drink by the potful, but aside from that no complaints at all. Two of the things we will really miss about China is the food, and the prices. Zen is a classy restaurant with great food. Never the less, when I picked up the tab for the meal it came to 933RMB to feed ten people. Less than $150 Canadian. Less than $15 Canadian per person. At that price even poor English teachers can afford to look like big shots.

Picture:  David and Ruth and friends, Zen Restaurant, Raffle's Plaza, ShanghaiWe handed off the Maurizio Tadioli Il Cannone to Jenny…Picture:  Xiao Qiang and Jenny with my Tadioli violin.  Zen Restaurant, Raffles Plaze, Shanghai, China paid Frank Chen the money we owed him… Picture:  Ruth hugs Frank Chen.  Zen Restaurant, Raffles Plaze, Shanghai, China

and had a wonderful time with our young friends from Weihai. All in all, a perfect way to wrap up our time in China.

Picture:  Armstrong and David.  Zen Restaurant, Raffles Plaze, Shanghai, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

I’m writing this on the train back to Wuxi. We said goodbye to Frank Chen in the subway, with him going South and us going North. Jenny and her husband went with us on the subway as far as the Shanghai train station.

At the Shanghai railway ticket station we got our tickets for this train, leaving at 3:15. We’ll be back in Wuxi by four o’clock, and home by five.

Picture:  Ticket lineup Shanghai railway station ticket office.  Shanghai, ChinaAnd another first for China. In the ticket lineup, a young man seemed to be jumping the line. In fact he was just joining his girlfriend at the ticket booth, but an older gentleman scolded him and told him to get to the back of the line. We’ve never seen such behavior before in China. I’d always assumed that recognition of a lineup was simply optional, and that nobody wants to lose face by complaining when somebody jumps the queue.

The Last Night in Wuxi

We got home about five o’clock.  Panda and Gloria were waiting for us.  After I had a shower, a nap and a vodka tonic we all heading into the village for a barbeque.  Ruth packed our wine glasses and a bottle of Spanish red wine.

Picture:  Gloria, David and Panda in Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China

-Ruth Anderson photo

Picture:  Student celebrate the end of the term.  Shitang Cun barbecue, Wuxi, ChinaWe enjoyed another feast while a table of recent graduates next to us got roaring, puking drunk.  We ignored them.

DSC08785Picture: Shitang Cun street barbecue, Wuxi, China And we had a great time soaking up the atmosphere for he last time.

tPicture:  Panda and Gloria enjoy the street barbecue, Shitang Cun, Wuxi, ChinaThere’s a lot we’re going to miss about China.  Most of all our friends and the good times we’ve had here.

Picture:  Gloria at the street barbecue.  Shitang Cun, Wuxi, China

And that’s all she wrote.  End of the story.  We all got pleasantly tipsy amid the wonderful street ambiance.  Then Ruth and I went home to finish the final details of our departure, Ruth to look at customs requirements and me to do this post.

It’s now twenty after one in the morning.  Our ride to the airport comes at 9:30am.

Time to call it a day, and the end of a nine year China adventure.

As always, I welcome your comments.