As a young boy, I only had two ambitions. The first was of being a cowboy in the Wild West, riding lonely mountain trails, eating peyote, consulting Navajo shamans, and pilfering forgotten ghost towns. The other was to go to China like Marco Polo exploring its wilds and cities along the Silk Road in search of the real General Tso, the great Qing Dynasty soldier-statesman made famous by Chinese takeout menus the world over. But never in my wildest, childish hallucinations could I have imagined that I would discover an amalgam of these in reality, as if a chapter in the story of my life became a chimerical tale of the Far West.
My first semester in China as an English teacher was over. I would leave at dawn for Vietnam on Monday, January 25, 2010. Now it was time to go and see if I had what it takes to travel for real. This would be the first time traveling alone in the developing world without a(…)
One day I found myself squealing like a pig in front of children. I pushed my nose up, grunted, and oinked. We were playing a simplified version of charades. It was a Sunday afternoon in the bleak of January. And this being China, it was bleaker than bleak. The dean of my university had loaned(…)
In this literature class I help Chinese university students decipher passages in Thoreau’s essay, “Reading,” pointing out that it may take multiple visits to his works — a journey over a span of years — to gain more understanding. I also answer a student’s question into why Thoreau thought reading the classics, preferably in the(…)
They were a tough crowd. I introduced my first two literature classes to my concept of learning as a journey. At first their faces were impenetrable masks. Then I told them, “Even in America we know about Chair Mao’s famous Long March, and the founding of the People’s Republic of China.” Their faces lit up(…)