I Love China

As my wife, whom I love very much, reminds me from time to time, I assume too often that the readers of the blog actually know me. I hope this post helps you better understand where I am coming from as you read about the China that I know.

From time to time readers of the blog ask whether or not I even like living in China. They say things like, “If you don’t like it, why don’t you just go home?” In no time the comment section fills up with reasons why I should stay in China to continue my work, whatever that might be.

The truth is though, I love China.

Since high school I’ve been fascinated by everything about the country, and as surprising as this may be to regular readers, it was an interest in communism that first pulled me to learn about it (one teacher called me “that commie” in front of his other students). In my classes I would rush through my homework so that I could use the gained time to read Chinese history books I had borrowed from the library and scribble interesting bits into my dedicated China notebook.

When I started college, I signed up for East Asian Studies and filled my schedule so full of China related classes that by my second year I had already fulfilled most of the requirements for the degree. I added Anthropology as an excuse to take even more China related classes, and it gave me the foundation to organize my thoughts about Chinese culture.

Finally, in 2007, I had the chance to visit the country I had already dedicated so much time to studying. I had the opportunity to see dozens of historical sites as well as get glimpses of Chinese family life as I traveled through 9 major cities.

It was very shortly after that trip that I signed up to be a volunteer in rural China. I arrived with a one year contract and a salary lower than what I had received working part-time as a butcher in college. After just 3 months of teaching, I had begun the paper work to add another year to my contract.

After that second year, I was given the option to extend for another three years, and I agreed to it without any discussion of salary. I can say in complete honesty that I didn’t care how much I was going to be paid. I have a job that gives me a sense of purpose, my work is appreciated by my colleagues, and I am challenged in someway everyday.

I’ve spent my last 5 birthdays in China. My wife and I met in Guangxi, were engaged in Chengdu, and started our married life together in Nanjing. This country has shaped who I am.

When people think I dislike China they don’t realize that the things that make China such a great place are very hard to put into writing.

How do you accurately capture students’ enthusiasm? How do you describe the warmth and smell that comes from a bowl of dumplings you just spent the last hour folding with friends? Sharing stories from different worlds, and still finding similarities; walking through temples that have been frequented by pilgrims for thousands of years and being enveloped by a cloud of incense meant to carry prayers to the Buddha; enjoying a glass of jasmine tea in a park in Chengdu on a sunny winter day while struggling to learn yet another version of mahjong; these are the simple joys that have sustained me during my 5 years in China (roughly 20% of my life).

When I look back at those years, I don’t regret a second of my time spent serving others. I’m pulled back, again and again, to the classrooms of rural Guangxi full of wonderful students, and hope that in some small way, I can shed light on their concerns and their hopes for China.

37 responses to “I Love China”

  1. Marvin Eckfeldt says:

    Great post Tom! Thanks for the warm and honest witness to your third great love. I’m remembering that high school kid whose enthusiasm about music and so many, many other things became captured by your interest and love of all things Chinese. It has opened your world, deepened your appreciation, and by your writing been a gift to us all. Thank you. Take good care! Your friend, Marvin

  2. It’s nice to know more about you Tom. After reading your “bio” I can see there we share many similarities living here in China. I too have lived in China for 5+ years (first visited in 2002) living and doing business here. I also love many things about China – mostly related to its rich culture from long ago -and there are many things I don’t like about China too. You could say that I enjoy much of the cultural/traditional side of China but I detest the Communist Party and their way of governing. No matter what I say about China, I do know this: If I left China tomorrow to go back home to California, I would miss China very much. I think China will always be my 2nd home seeing that I have many friends here and have many business concerns here as well. Over the years, I have helped 13 Chinese students get accepted in USA, UK and HK universities and am currently helping 3 more; one I’ve been teaching advanced English to for free for over four years.

    I one day plan to open a unique American-based teaching academy so that many more students can study abroad and have the chance for a better life. I would never be doing this sort of thing if I lived in California because I would be too distracted doing other things. So, like yourself, China has changed me considerably (mostly in a positive way!) and I’m still in the process of maturing in ways I never thought possible living as an American. I plan on visiting the few cities that I haven’t yet seen in China so that I can say that I know China very well – better than 90% of the Chinese people living here. Then, I plan on writing a book about my life in America, my business successes while living in China, my many memorable experiences in China, and incorporating many of my blog posts into the book. I’m sure it will be very unique and interesting. I hope one day we have the chance to meet in person. If you’re ever in HK or Shenzhen area, let me know. Cheers!

    • du depp says:

      i dont mean to be a damp sponge, but could you elaborate what you mean by knowing more about china than 90% of the population.
      sounds odd, i wouldn’t travel around Europe and claim i know more simply because i travel and do business there.

      • @du-depp. Actually, the answer to your question is simple. I have traveled and seen more of China than most Chinese people; this according to all my Chinese friends who know me well. Also, I studied and researched about China before I moved here. I have been doing business in China for 10 years and have some close friends who work in the government. They tell me things that most foreigners don’t know about. Furthermore, just because the concept of me knowing more than most Chinese people is difficult for you to comprehend, doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible. Lastly, being that most Chinese citizens are not as well-educated or informed as I am adds to my claim.

      • du depp says:

        i never said it was impossible, no doubt you can write and read traditional chinese impeccably after being there so long, but i do believe it to be unusually arogant to voice ones position over others. respecting others is probably something you didn’t learn (or did, considering your thoughts on chinese people).
        can you back claims of being more informed than the 90% of the population? a lot of chinese have ccp connections through family and friends, so being informed through friends isn’t much unless of course your close friend happens to be Hu jin tao.
        Bottom line is when you write this book, “knowing more than 90%” is something you shouldn’t really include. Being humble is also something i like to would address.

      • Why don’t you let this subject go DU DEPP and live your life as you see fit and let me live mine. I suggest you stop picking arguments with people who attempts to do more good things for others than bad. If all you can do is focus on negative matters, then you have way too time on your hands. At the end of the day, most people don’t really care what I claim or what you say about my claims. Your opinions and suggestions are yours only, so keep them to yourself. I’m not interested in them.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      CK repeats a common sentiment expressed by Chinese people when they hear you’ve travelled so much. Suffice to say that this a particular kind of “knowing China.” However well we come to “know” China as foreigners, it is not the same as a Chinese person “knowing China.” There is a fundamental distinction that I’m sure CK is aware of.

      • Lao Why? says:

        I agree with Lorin. The English word “know” is too general. You can visit many cities in China and therefore, “know” China better than a local villager in Anhui who has not ventured beyond his county. You can study the political system and read all the current events and therefore be much more abreast of the sociopolitical situation. But you cannot “know” how a mainlander thinks and feels and relates to his fellow man better than a mainlander.

      • Exactly Lorin. I don’t claim to be an expert or better than than most Chinese, I just go by what others tell me and what I sense to be factual. Anyway, it doesn’t matter if the % is 90 or 9, I know China well enough to lay claim to certain facts. This was my point in referencing the %.

    • PanadaBear says:

      Excuse me? I highly doubt you know more about China or the CPC for that matter than 90% of Chinese. Just another pretentious American. I’ve lived here 7 years, am fluent in Mandarin, work for the Red Cross and have traveled most of the country, but I would never say I know more about China than 90% of the people. Go back to Americo you idiot.

      • Hey Panda Bear. No one cares what you think, so shut your trap and stop acting like you are so mighty. You guys who spend time bickering about my 90% statement need to get a life and stop your whining about what I say. I suggest you focus on everything else I said in my comment and leave it rest. Just because you work for the Red Cross and speak fluent Mandarin doesn’t mean that I can’t do what you haven’t done (or cannot do). And for another thing, if you want resort to calling me an idiot, do it to my face. I dare you!

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Why the constant need to rehash these things? Is it not clear that CK made that comment in a highly imprecise and casual way? No, it was not particularly delicate, but a reasonably sympathetic reader can easily pick up on the meaning. Perhaps we should start a thread in which every pseudo-anonymous commenter posts his/her claims to superiority without irony. In that way, we would all have ample opportunity to make asses of ourselves when the superior-er candidate comes along.

        Now, back to saving the world’s downtrodden with you, PandaBear. I’m sure there is someone in the canvas tent even more fluent than you, who has been in China for 8 years, who has travelled ALL of the country, and survived on nothing but uncooked rice and recycled urine the whole time.

      • @Lorin. You always (well, at least 90% of the time) have something intelligent to say in response to the sometimes crude comments made in this blog, and this comment is nothing less. Anyone willing to come forward and publicly announce here that they are the one who you referred to as the most downtrodden foreigner living in China? Good stuff!

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Well, we all say ill-considered things sometimes (at least 90% of us do), things that we regret. Forgiveness for wayward pseudo-statistics is the least we can do for each other.

  3. Anonymous says:

    All of us with such long experience with China, in China got similar complicated feelings about this facinating country. Love and hate at the same moment. Everytime I need to leave China I am happy, but after few weeks I miss Shanghai with it’s traffic, Suzhou, my second home, Hangzhou, Shaoxing, all the places frquently visited by me. And everytime when I come back to China I get upset because of the traffic in Shanghai, permanent construction works in Suzhou, etc., etc. As I wrote in my blog: China is like an opium: at first it’s a new experience full of pleasure, then you se all the bad side effects. But it’s already too late. You are addicted.

  4. Terry says:

    Loved the post, and I can totally relate. I am much older than all you folks and have lived in Greater China for over 30 years. I started my China fascination prior to High School in the 60’s and was an East Asian Studies major in the 70’s. So here I am 16 years in Beijing and have totally given up on any plan to move to the antiseptic world of the US. I love your blog Tom and appreciate all your writing here. Thank you.

  5. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    Terry: “Loved the post and I can totally relate. I am much older than all you folks” – Agree, Terry and I am even older than you! I started my China fascination in 1966 when I lived in Singapore. I was 21 years old, married with a child. It was 2001 before I actually visited China and I’ve been back 5 times since then. China has been a virtual life time fascination akin to a drug addiction and I neither smoke nor drink alcohol so I guess China is my substitute habit! So many things past and present that I hate about China but I have wonderful friendships with people there which I could never have experienced here in Scotland. Tom, many people know and understand where you are coming from. You have enriched lots of lives, both in China and outside China. Keep going!

  6. Tim says:

    Well said my friend. Good stuff. You’re right, it’s so easy to assume that being constructively critical of certain aspects = dislike. Keep up the good work. Let me know the next time you’re in the States, it would be cool to figure out a way to meet up.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Your post made me smile. Sharing your life with students is a wonderful journey anywhere in the world. I hope this finds u well and happy. You sound like u are. Ryans mom

  8. Honinbo says:

    I admire you Tom and most of you guys, you have been able to do what one day you thought you were made for, this touched deep in me

    “I can say in complete honesty that I didn’t care how much I was going to be paid. I have a job that gives me a sense of purpose, my work is appreciated by my colleagues, and I am challenged in someway everyday.”

    I have been briefly in China 3 times and I am still wondering about going there for a longer time, still chains to escape from I am not sure I will be able to beak. I just know I naturally get more and more curious about chinese culture.

    Thank you for the post!

  9. risenh says:

    No pictures, no truth!

    • Tom says:

      Unfortunately, getting a picture hugging a panda was too expensive for me while I lived in Chengdu, the stories will just have to suffice.

      • risenh says:

        Oh, oh, oh, I think you misunderstood what I meant. “No pictures, no truth” is just a phrase which used by young Chinese in the forum for joking, and not really doubt your love, 🙂
        From your article, I found we are the same age, I am 24 years old too, but your experiences are much richer than mine, and you have a firm goal. I doubt I have any qualifications to judge anything about you. However, I think you are a happy person.

      • Tom says:

        :), it’s always hard to tell people’s tone online, and from your picture, I thought it might be less friendly.

      • risenh says:

        I think this should be pretty good~~

      • Munro says:

        It’s 1000rmb and I got a photo taken while I was there. Sorry you didn’t have the money (I’m sure things will pick up).

  10. Yaxue C. says:

    Time for some Yaxue promotion: I make the greatest dumplings–everything from scratch, including chopping meat. I will be available to make dumplings for you if you see me. Or if I see you.

  11. […] I Love China (seeingredinchina.com) […]

  12. […] Sometimes one has to cast diplomacy aside and exorcise the demons. And I will no doubt get flamed but who cares, and this brings me to the website Seeing Red in China and the gormless piece titled I Love China […]

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hey, I just left southern China after spending two years there, and this post really resonated with me. I get it. Thank you.

  14. Sara says:

    Thank you for letting us know more about you! I totally agree with you when you wrote: “the things that make China such a great place are very hard to put into writing.” My parents lived in Beijing for few years before I was born and I think from their stories I grew up loving China. My earliest memory is from the 6th grade when I did a presentation about China. Since then I’ve just been falling deeper and deeper in love with this amazing country. A country with it’s many flaws, but also with that kind of appeal you can’t describe.

    Also a big thank you for all of you who left a comment. I’ve been in China for just two short years, but it’s only the beginning. I already feel like I’m home in here at Guangzhou. I hope that after years and years I have as amazing stories to tell as you have already.

  15. Fools and horses says:

    I just had an email conversation with a friend back home that reminded me of this post. She was asking about what China was like and I started off by saying it’s a hard place to love and she asked what I meant and was kind of asking, why do you live there then? My answer was bascically that anyone who says they ‘love’ China is oversimplifying their emotions, I suggested to her that it was like loving the the ogre that beats and bullies you and for a rational mind it’s impossible to wholeheartedly love China.

    Why come back here and post a comment? Well I kind of find it frustrating that I have to justify living in a country that I do not love. I am often very negative about China, its culture and its people. This doesn’t detract from my fascination with it in fact it heightens it. Sure, I have loved some of my experiences here, walking in and witnessing the socialism of city parks, watching and wondering in wonderful karst wildernesses, cycling in warm friendly rural settings, climbing ancient steps on vast mountainsides to fantastic temples etc. But there is always a massive but[t] farting in the room when I go on to analise my experiences either in solitude or conversation.

    I don’t love China, I came here on what I would call a blind date with the country, I didn’t know much about it I gave it a chance to show me its qualities and I made efforts to search them out but ultimately it’s not seduced me. And I am happy with that.

    I can safely say that my lack of warmth for China has been discovered through sincere experiences and I am happy to have engaged in my limited way. I stay here for the time being because, for what it’s worth my life is here, sometimes I am happy sometimes I am not. Sometimes my girlfriend is happy here and sometimes she is not, our emotions do not always co-incide and we help each other out. Moving back home as people often suggest when I am critical of my current home would be an anti-climax that I know I would experience from having lived in Japan previously. Despite it all I am happy to stew in my juice in China and withness with incredulity the insanity without loving it.

    I am always deeply suspicious when people claim to “love China”. I love Picasso’s paintings but the guy was evidently an arsehole. I love Volkswagens but we all know about Hitler… etc.

  16. […] I Love China (seeingredinchina.com) […]

  17. Mark says:

    Europe Meets China: A Forum for Young Leaders (EMC)
    (Berlin, September 4th-7th, 2012)

    Europe Meets China: A Forum for Young Leaders (EMC) is a network of individuals who have an interest in exploring and strengthening the relations between Europe and China. Participants join the forum by taking part in a EMC Weeklong Seminar, following which they are encouraged to conduct their own research and organize their own activity in the field. ICD Weeklong Seminars are targeted at students and young professionals with an interest in the European-Chinese relationship.

    For more information please visit:

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