19 June 2006 2006 nian 6 yue 19 hao

Lifelog: Back to Reality

At the risk of stating the obvious, this website is no longer being regularly updated. Originally I thought that the change of location might give me lots of new things to write about, but in fact it has been quite the opposite. I've written almost nothing since moving to Beijing, partly because I've been too busy with work the last few months to really get out and experience Beijing, but mainly because Beijing is not exotic enough to be worth writing about. True, it's comparable to Dalian, but during my stay in Dalian everything was new and interesting in my eyes. Then I moved to Qinghai, and that was very different to anything I've experienced before. But Beijing is like a return to reality. Everything I've been through in the last few months—finding a job, working, hanging out with friends, looking for an apartment—is really not much different to life in Australia.

But I still want this website to stand as a record of my life in China, in the hope that one day someone (perhaps myself in twenty years time!) will be interested enough to read through from start to end. So I am introducing a new type of post called "lifelog". These posts, which I might only write every 6 months or so, will chronicle the major events and changes in my life here. As for friends and family, I will have to think of another way to keep in regular contact.

I arrived in Beijing in early January, moved in with my old friend Li Qingtao and his girlfriend, and immediately started looking for work. What I was really hoping for was full-time work at an NGO, but it soon became clear that my chances of finding that kind of job were very slim, so I changed my plan. I decided to look for freelance work (either translation or computer programming), thinking that a few projects each month would pay the bills and still leave me some free time to get involved in the NGO community as a volunteer.

After the usual period of growing despair often associated with job hunting, I started to pick up some work. I did a few translation and proofreading jobs for very low pay, before getting some work with a company that paid 100 yuan per thousand english words for proofreading. In the Beijing translation industry, proofreading (aka "polishing") means that a document is translated from chinese to english by a chinese translator and then passed to a native english speaker for editing. (The first rule of translation should be that one only translates into one's native language, but market forces make that a moot point in China). The proofreader's job, in theory, is to make the language more "natural", but in practice I often received badly translated material where I had to read the original chinese version just to understand the meaning. Quality varied, though, and there were one or two translators who did impress me. Being unexperienced at proofreading and a perfectionist in my work, editing and checking often took me up to 3 hours per thousand words. What that means, to put things in perspective, is that I was earning a mere fraction of the going hourly rate for private english tutoring.

I also did a small programming job that I found via an outsourcing internet site called GetACoder.com, but like all software development it took longer than expected and the client kept adding new requirements, yet I was only being paid a fixed amount. I swore, never again.

Then, just as I was thinking I might have to turn to english tutoring to make a living, my luck started to turn. All in a very short space of time, I started to do some volunteer work at an organization called China HIV/AIDS Information Network (CHAIN), which I found via a job posting at the China Development Brief website, then I was contacted by a former colleague from Australia, now in Beijing, who said there might be some short-term database design work that I could do at the foreign company where her husband works, then I received an email from a representative of Healthlink Worldwide, an NGO based in the UK that has done some work in partnership with CHAIN, asking if I was interested in working on a project for them. The odd thing is, Healthlink didn't hear about me from CHAIN, but from a person I just happened to meet at Brendan's favourite hang-out, the Sandglass cafe on Nanluogu Xiang.

So now I have 2.5 jobs (because the CHAIN and Healthlink work partially overlap), and that's where all my time has gone these last few months. During that period, I've also moved home twice. I was originally living with Li Qingtao at Majuqiao, far out of town (beyond the fifth ring road). Getting to anywhere in the city usually took at least an hour and a half by public transport. But it was interesting to see life on the outskirts of the metropolis, where the only two banks were the China Agricultural Bank and the Rural Credit Union, the rent was reasonable, and stray dogs roamed in packs (those hounds were definitely bigger than the 35cm shoulder height imposed by law in the city proper). Later I moved with Li Qingtao to an apartment at Sihui, which was a lot more convenient because it was right next to my beloved subway. Then finally, about a month ago, I rented my own apartment only two minutes walk from the CHAIN office.

For quite a few weeks, I was working on weekends to keep the database project on schedule, but I met the deadline and I should have a bit more free time from now on. Just like in Dalian, one of the first things I plan to do is buy a guitar.

My girlfriend, Qin Yuxiang, is still in Qinghai. But she will finish her masters (law) in about a month, and then she's planning to come to Beijing. I always told myself that I would never get involved in a long distance relationship, but it seems to be working out, even though we've now been apart from more time than we were ever together.

I once wrote that I had a circle of friends waiting for me in Beijing. There is Li Qingtao and Yu Ting, without whose support (and apartment) I might never have made it in the big smoke, then there is Tie Cheng, my good friend from Dalian who is now studying her masters in Beijing, Brendan, who I know from his blog, and Gill and Roric from Perth. But sadly, there are just as many individuals who were here last year but have now left, such as Mami, a japanese friend who I met in Dalian, Gao Xuesong, a friend of Yuxiang's who used to work for China Development Brief but has now moved to Chengdu to work at an NGO, and Canada Fund coordinator Cindy Tan, who will soon leave China to study a post-graduate degree (giving up the opportunity to be my mentor!). But although it's not quite the "Toddopolis" of my imagination, I still have good friends here, Yuxiang will arrive soon, and I get along well with my workmates too.

Who is Li Qingtao?

Li Qingtao and his father (Spring Festival 2004)
Qingtao and his father.

I met Li Qingtao at the university I once taught at, the Dalian Nationalities University. Officially he is part Manchu, although this is fairly meaningless since the Manchus, who ruled China under the Qing Dynasty, were long ago culturally assimilated by the Han and the language they once spoke is virtually extinct. Qingtao grew up in Daqing, a city in Heilongjiang province that owes its existence to oilfields in the area. It's where I spent my first Spring Festival (when the photo above was taken).

Qingtao met his girlfriend Yu Ting at university, where she was studying english. She has part Mongolian ancestry, but having been brought up in the city, she too is culturally Han.

Qingtao majored in accounting, and after graduation found a job at General Electric in Dalian. He worked there for about two years, and then last year he was transferred to Beijing. However, he had some problems with his colleagues, and ended up quitting. He could have returned to his old job in Dalian, but Yu Ting and he decided to stay in Beijing and look for work. He eventually found a position at another foreign company, while Yu Ting found an administrative job at one of Beijing's international schools. At least she has some exposure to english there—many english graduates end up in jobs which don't require them to apply their knowledge of english at all.

Apart from the pressures of paying the rent and sometimes working overtime, they seem to be doing alright. They spend their free time watching TV and DVDs, or meeting friends. They would like to go to a movie theatre once in a while, but in Beijing it is too expensive. Qingtao is studying for the CPA exam later this year. Yu Ting's grandmother is coming to visit them soon, and might stay with them on a semi-permanent basis. Sometime in the future, of course, they will get married, but they don't seem to be in a hurry.

Back in his university days, Qingtao was one of the school's singing stars. He used to know a few guitar tunes too, but that was all long ago.

Li Qingtao and Yu Ting on a bus
Qingtao and Yu Ting saw me to the airport on the morning that I left Dalian.

It has been a long time. I even forgot what the name I am using here. Anyway, glad to see the update. It is not a easy job to host a blog.

No matter where we are we have to make a living first. We are not lucky or lucky to be the one who has to work for food, shelter, and other essential staff.
20.06.2006 , 06:07

Nice to hear that you eventually found not one, but 2.5 jobs. Good luck with all, and keep on writing!
carlo [homepage]
21.06.2006 , 10:38

A small hi, and thanks for leaving tracks! K :)
liukaiqin [homepage]
26.06.2006 , 01:10

Wow, I had sort of given up on this blog, but it was great reading about your past several months. I have wondered what became of you in Beijing. Glad to hear everything is working out!
John [homepage]
27.06.2006 , 15:25

Welcome back!
07.07.2006 , 21:46

22.07.2006 , 18:07

i find that you changed the description of your english journal a little.
27.08.2006 , 12:56

hey Todd
great to hear things are going well with you, i definitely miss your comments on life in china. and it sounds like we may yet meet for the 2008 olympics...
05.09.2006 , 16:25

Comments disabled. Sorry for any inconvenience.

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