With the help of Montell Jordan

This was one of the many weekly newsletters I wrote during my years at ChinesePod, and remains my favorite, if only for the subheadings. As far as I can tell it no longer exists on the public web, and I don’t want to lose it.

One of the things that new Chinese learners often hear is that “Chinese has no grammar.” This is, quite honestly, absurd — Chinese most definitely has grammar! What Chinese doesn’t have are some of the headaches that many languages, particularly Indo-European languages, have: notably, verb conjugations, genders, subject-verb agreement, etc. Chinese has some tricky spots of its own, though, including the ever-mysterious 了 (le, liǎo) and the multi-functional 着 (zhe). …

Image for post

It’s the 20th anniversary of Dave Winer’s proto-blog (the email list that would eventually become what would eventually be called a blog), and this has made me reflect on what blogging has meant to me.

I’ve been blogging, on and off, in one form or another, for almost 15 years. I started on Diaryland in early 2000, at age 19, because a girl I had a crush on used it. Around the same time, several of my friends started, and it seemed like a fun thing to do. …

Image for post
Lanterns at a restaurant on 簋街 in Beijing

The “expatriate leaving China” post is now a thing, and I understand why. This place, love it or hate it, changes you, and in leaving you want to condense those changes into something small and tangible, and then finding that to be impossible you write.

And so it is.

I first came to China in May 2001. I was in college and lost. I started as a Computer Engineering major who didn’t realize that it was Computer Engineering rather than Computer Engineering. I switched to Education, which had long been a passion, and found it painfully lacking in rigor. I was thinking about dropping out and joining the military and seeing the world for a few years while I figured things out — the timing on that would not have been ideal, in hindsight. Then, on a random trip to visit friends at another school, sitting beside the pool at a water polo match shooting the shit, one of my friends mentioned a friend of his that had gone to China to teach English and was enjoying it. When I got back home I started looking into how such a thing was done, and in a few weeks had found a job for the summer teaching English in Changchun, a city I had never heard of and that took me a solid 20 minutes to find on a map. …

Image for post

It was the summer of 2005, two months before my wedding. My buddy Greg had gotten involved with a group of people who were organizing a summer English program for elementary school kids in a suburb of Wenzhou called Liushi, a few hundred kilometers south of Shanghai across the yawning mouth of Hangzhou Bay and the eastern coast of Zhejiang Province. It was supposed to be an eight-week camp, and paid a thousand dollars, which was a not insubstantial sum at that point in my life. I needed the money — I was about to become a family man, after all! — and I wanted to help Greg, so I agreed to do it. …

Image for post
Rails bent by the 2010 Canterbury earthquake / Malcolm Teasdale

Yesterday I experienced my first earthquake. It wasn’t much of one — 5.0 at the epicenter, a few hundred kilometers to the northwest, and not much more than some quesiness-inducing shaking at the coffee shop I was in at the time, taking a break from a long day of meetings — but it was definitely an earthquake.

See, I grew up in Florida. Born and raised. We have our fair share of natural disasters — hurricanes most famously, but really thunderstorms kill more people, and we have tornados now and again. Drought, too, which isn’t normally a killer, except when it leads to sinkholes that swallow your bedroom in your sleep. But no earthquakes. Not in my lifetime, at least, and hardly ever in recorded history. …


John Biesnecker


Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store