At the Frienship Hotel

After the Cultural Revolution, when foreigners were first allowed to come and work in Beijing, they were all housed and watched over in the so-called Golden Fortress, a bulky gray compound behind a wall, a gate, and a guardhouse. I stayed there when I first arrived in China in 1984. In Hong Kong a year and a half later, Anna talked about her experience when she went to Beijing to teach English at the school inside the Xinhua [New China] News Agency. She arrived in 1979 as one of the first Foreign Experts. Much of her experience was typical for Read More

The Traveling Economist, Part 2

At the time of our 1986 interview, Michael had just completed his third trip by rail around China. He had traveled mostly third class, or “hard seat,” which usually means enduring almost unimaginable overcrowding. The hard seat cars were filled with people standing, trying to work themselves onto your seat, chewing and spitting out sugarcane, vomiting from motion sickness and throwing litter everywhere. The employees’ frequent attempts to bring drinking water, to mop up and to clean the toilets, which made first and second class quite presentable, barely seemed to make a difference in third class. But if you wanted Read More

The Traveling Economist, Part 1

In February 1986 I had a three-hour interview with an English economist who had just come to Hong Kong from China and was thinking of writing a book on the black market. At the time Michael was in his mid-thirties, a tall, dark-haired, handsome man. He had an aura around him which you often feel with long-term travelers who endure months of privation—an offhand, casual, self-sufficient strength paired with loneliness and a need to talk to another speaker of the same language.

Because of its length, I divided the edited transcript into two parts. The first contains his observations of Read More