Enter the Dragon’s Lair: My years in China Part 1 – 9/11

I moved my family to China to further my exploration of this ancient, culturally diverse, somewhat secretive, vast country called China. I was there to teach. My children were there because they had no other choice. So, join me down the bumpy, often steep, memory lane of my years as a single parent teaching English in China. I shall do my best to include excerpts from what I, my daughters, family and even friends wrote as well as my memories. I will even try to find some photos from before the days of digitally enhanced photography.

As I begin my 61st birthday – it took weeks to finally decide it is alright to write and post this – it reminds me that events of singular import to me, family, and in the news, often occur on family birthdays. Therefore, rather than write about my first foray into the Middle Kingdom with my children from 1997 to 2000 I have chosen to start at my 44th birthday. September 11, 2001. Two days after arriving back in China after a year in Canada. A date etched on the hearts of so many. And yet, September 11 is so much more than one horrific date. Just as August 6, (Hiroshima), December 7 (Pearl Harbour), and too many more dates of man’s destruction of anything different. This is my observation. I am not wishing to enter into a debate.

It seems that whenever 9/11 comes someone asks, “where were you when you heard”? We had been out celebrating my birthday and signing teaching contracts at a local restaurant. By the time we got back to the school around 8:30pm and climbed the three flights of stairs to our apartment, we were all pretty exhausted. We had only arrived in Xin Cun two days earlier and I was expected to teach the following morning. I sent my two youngest girls to bed, turned on the TV – living so close to Guangzhou we could get English language channels – to a movie we really had no interest in was playing. Until an extremely distraught Hong Kong newscaster came on. When we realized it was not a movie. I recall gasping, then sharply telling my two younger daughters to go back to bed after they heard their sister’s and my shocked voices. I have little recollection if I really slept, I can still clearly see one of the newscasters becoming more and more distressed over the course of events. He knew people who died that day.

By morning, daughters up, fed breakfast and ready to head to their new classrooms (disastrous in another way) I was frazzled and wondering if we would be told we would have to leave the country. (As events unfolded we learned of thousands of people were stranded all over the world so it seemed highly unlikely.) As I met teachers they all seemed invariably happy. It was surreal, surely the events over the news must have affected them if only peripherally. Turns out very few of them owned televisions and many would have already gone to bed. Eventually, a shrug here and there. Besides, as we from western countries tend to respond to events in other countries, it did not affect their lives.

Looking back to that birthday, and the weeks after, it seemed everyone was a little ill at ease, looking over shoulders a lot and not specifically referring to the disaster. Fortunately, although it seems I wrote very little immediately after, I must have said the right things as I was not asked to leave!

It was eerie how easily we all slipped into our daily routines. Easier to shut our eyes to the impossible. Easier to laugh ,sing, make friends. Except it was not, and we did not. A knot of anxiety was always present. Nastiness was in the air. Insults flung at us in Chinese. My children were bewildered. By November we left. To a kinder, welcoming , new city and old friends. Nanning.