22 August 2005 2005 nian 8 yue 22 hao

Letter: Dreams of Toddopolis

12 September 1988    Monday    Fine

The plane slowly descended. My heart beat faster. At last we had arrived in the capital of the People's Republic of China—Beijing. Two years ago, I had hoped to one day have the opportunity to study in China. Today my dream had come true. How could I not be excited?

As soon as we got off the plane, we received a warm welcome from our Chinese hosts. They said to us, "How do you do! Welcome! Your journey must have been tough. After such a long plane trip, you must be tired." We expressed our gratitude for their concern, and I said, "All of us have been looking forward to arriving in Beijing. Although we're a little tired, we're really happy."

On the way to the school, our Chinese hosts pointed to buildings on both sides of the road, telling us: here are the embassies of every country, there is the Friendship Store, this building is the International Club, that building is the Beijing Hotel...


After arriving at the school, having a shower, eating dinner, and returning to my dormitory, I thought to myself: beginning from today, I will be living and studying in China. What will living in China be like? I think it will definitely be very interesting.

— from Elementary Chinese Readers (Revised Edition) Lesson 45, "A Diary Entry"

Dear Friends,

My stint in Qinghai has already passed the one year mark, and my feet are beginning to itch again. I won't be leaving for a few more months yet, but I feel that the end is already in sight—and a new beginning too.

On a personal level, I have no regrets about my time here. I've learnt a great deal about rural China, met all sorts of different people, and my chinese has improved a lot. But with regard to my job, now that I have some experience and some idea of what this work is all about, I look around and I feel that I haven't really achieved much in this last year. Admittedly, it has been a slow year for SDA, with only two new projects being approved. But ultimately, no matter how much the local people might be impressed by my mere presence here, there is not actually much I can do. The times when I have tried to get involved in project planning or project management, I have only discovered that my knowledge of the local situation, my contacts, and my language ability are all far too limited, and will be for a long time to come. The only way I can really contribute to SDA is by writing english documents such as proposals and reports based on the information that Mr Zhu gives me, but even in that role I am far from indispensable—were I not here, Mr Zhu would write these all himself.

And so on one hand I feel there is nothing much to keep me here, and on the other hand I feel something drawing me away. And that something is Beijing.

Sometimes people fall in love with a city before they even visit it. London, Paris, New York, Vancouver, Bangkok—I'm sure these cities all have their distant admirers. In Australia, I really couldn't give two figs for Sydney or for any other city apart from Melbourne. Although I had never been there, I imagined it as the embodiment of all the good things that a city can be...while Sydney was all the bad things! One day I actually visited Melbourne, and guess what? I loved it.

In China, the city that attracts me is Beijing. In my mind, it is synonymous with art and culture, education and new ideas. When I was first choosing where to work in China, I didn't have a very distinct impression of Beijing or Shanghai, but I deliberately avoided large cities like these. Looking back I am still satisfied with this decision, because no matter what Beijing or Shanghai may be, anyone will tell you that they are certainly not typical chinese cities, and I wouldn't want my first taste of life in China to be exceptional (or I too might have fallen prey to the hilarious assumption that chinese do not eat rice, or an alternative staple, with their meals). Another reason why I held off for so long is that I feared my chinese was not good enough to appreciate Beijing's cultural and intellectual delights, like somebody who goes to the ballet but can only admire the dancers' thighs.

But now the time has come, and it is not just the city itself which is tempting me. Several people I know, some of my best friends among them, are already living in Beijing or plan to move there soon. I won't list them here, but I look forward to introducing them one by one in a few months' time. I have moved twice in the last two years, and I'm really tired of leaving good friends behind and having to make new ones. This time, my very own little circle is in Beijing already, just waiting for me.

If that sounds egotistical, just wait until you hear my next idea. I invite all my friends, past, present, and future, scattered and distant though they now are, to converge in an unpopulated but picturesque location and establish a city. It shall be named Toddopolis, and therein shall the righteous dwell. And yeah, it will probably be a bit like a hippie commune, but with shorter hair and less sex.

Sadly, I know that dream will never come true. But I'm determined that my plan to move to Beijing will become reality. The main obstacle standing in my way at the moment is that in Beijing I will have no job and no money. I would love to find a job at an NGO, or a job related to rural development, but I may have to compromise. I have confidence, thought, that with my Qinghai-accented, broken chinese, my irrelevant university qualifications, and my limited experience, I can at least find some way to support myself without resorting to teaching english.

That is a problem to worry about in the future. For now, I just want to try to contribute something to SDA's work so that when I leave I won't feel like I've been nothing but a freeloader here for more than a year. I hope I won't jinx the project by saying this, since more and more difficulties keep coming up, but the women's health education project is what I'd really like to see at least a completed design for before I go. It's not like any of the other projects that SDA has done before, but it addresses an issue that many people have raised, and it's something that I feel strongly about.

It would be great to go home for Christmas this year, but at this stage I don't know if I will be able to spare the time (if I go, it will be for no shorter than a month) or the money (a trip to Shanghai at the end of this month to renew my visa will effectively close my chinese bank account, and after that I'll have to rely on my scant savings in Australia).

Love Todd

Hi Todd, nice to get another posting from you. Does this mean if/when you move to Bejing you will have more to write about and therefore there will be a few more postings per month? :-))

If you survive the pollution, do you think you might stay there another 3 years until the Olympics begin ... ???
David Tehr
26.08.2005 , 15:13

Hi Todd, check this out. Hope it helps. http://www.conservation.org.cn/cn/about/content_2.shtml
27.08.2005 , 04:58

I'm not sure that Beijing is the cultural metropolis you imagine it to be [read the That's Beijing forums to get an idea], but I'm sure you'll land on your feet here. If you can survive a year in rural Qinghai you'll have no problem here - you might even get culture shock with all the 7-11's and Pizza Huts etc about the place. Anyway, I reckon Beijing is the place to be, if I'm not in Muli coounty, Sichuan [look it up]
zhuanjia [homepage]
30.08.2005 , 23:26

Just discovered your journal and it's allowing me to enjoy China vicarously. Have just returned from Beijing after 10 months there. It's a wonderful place overall with most of the "usual" infuriating" things thrown in as well. Enjoy it, Todd.
08.09.2005 , 08:30

Todd, thanks for sharing your experiences & insight into Chinese culture. And if you do come to Perth for Christmas come visit your old colleagues at DLU.
17.09.2005 , 11:16

Hi,great to hear that you'll move to Beijing,so will I.Now I'm preparing for my further education exams which is really tough and caused me once nealy despair.However all has passed.I've standed
up on my feet now.Whatever will be,I will seek my way ahead high and low.
David Zhao
23.10.2005 , 11:35

Quite struggling when making a decision, stay or leave? But don't be so compunctious, just try your best to do what you can do, coz everybody has seen your efforts. All the friends will support you whatever the last decision will be. The point is just simply follow your heart. Back to the reality, truly life is tough from the financial point, but be brave boy, you are just in the deepest dark before the dawn. Enjoy your life and cherish all your happy moments in China.
16.11.2005 , 11:59

Comments disabled. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Previous Index Next