Robert’s Appendix

Imagine it’s 1985 and you in Xiamen, Fijian Province. You come to an old building of hand-cut granite and a curvy, red roof. Inside there are dark wooden staircases, freshly swept red tile floors, the somewhat dingy look of a typical traditional Chinese building. Then you enter a ward which reminds you of World War I or II movies with European settings. Above the hand-crank hospital beds are mosquito net racks hanging from the ceiling. You approach the one bed with a heater/air-conditioner, a luxury reserved for foreigners and important Chinese. The patient is a tall, gregarious young man with Read More

A Walk in a Chinese Port Town

Xiamen, 1985

You’re standing on the shore near the docks, watching an artist paint the passenger boat which used to go down to Hong Kong but which now serves as hotel and nightclub.

In the nineteenth-century, Westerners called this harbor Amoy. It’s now called Xiamen [pronounced approximately shamen], meaning the “lower gate” to China. The two islands of Xiamen lie in Fujian Province across the strait from Taiwan. It was from here in 1661 that the seventeenth-century pirate-turned-patriot, the Ming loyalist Zheng Chenggong, trained his 990 ships and 25,000 marines and then drove the Dutch out of Taiwan. Later … Read More

At A Village Wedding

Michelle was without question the most dedicated teacher I’d ever met, causing some to label her a missionary of French language and literature. In late 1985, when we were both teaching at Xiamen University, Michelle was hoping eagerly that one of her students would invite her to spend part of New Year’s vacation at her home in a farming village in northern China. I’d never before seen this voluble Frenchwoman as excited as she was when the invitation finally came.

Michelle’s story

It took four days by train. We went “hard seat” [third class] because my students couldn’t have afforded … Read More