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Going Home

The last time I visited home was in the winter of 2019. It has been a quite eventful four years since then. I have been trapped in China, living through some fairly interesting times, as the old proverb goes.

Now that the Co-VID SARS II restrictions are finally being lifted after a recent flurry of panic that involved daily PCR testing, and finishing the school semester online, I am going to visit home. I had originally considered waiting until the summer, however I will be renewing my work visa at that time, and I did not want to risk running out of time on my current documents. –In order to return to China, I need to show the authorities that I have reason to be in the country; therefore the necessity of maintaining a current Z-class visa.

Although international travel restrictions are being eased, I am still unable to leave directly from Beijing. I shall have to travel down to Shanghai's Pudong airport and leave from there. This adds a lot of stress to my travel plans. I will need to take high-speed rail down to Shanghai a couple of days ahead of my departure date. Then, I will need to take a PCR test so that I can re-enter the United States. The day after that, I board my flight.

I am not exactly looking forward to the journey. But, I have something like three or four years of mail and business piled up at my kid brother's place that needs to be taken care of and cleaned out. I may have to rent a PO Box in Philly to ease the burden on my brother; but we'll see.

I am sure things will be fine once I am home. But it is going to be something of a "working vacation" for me this time. I will not have as much time for fun and socialization as I would like. I have correspondence to review, credit cards and bank cards to collect, licenses to renew, accounts to visit, new electronics to set up, clothing and winter gear to pack, and so on.

There is a lot I would love to bring home to storage. A lot I would love to bring back with me to Beijing. However, since I have to travel between distant cities before even boarding my flight, carrying more luggage than a single traveler can handle alone is simply not feasible.

Furthermore, I have two graves to visit; during the time I have been trapped here in Beijing, both my uncle and my stepfather have died. And a very dear friend has become quite ill, and is possibly in the early stages of dementia. Of course, I knew, when I came to live in China, that Life back home would not simply pause for my convenience. But this is bitter.

And so, I am ambivalent. I look forward to visiting home, seeing family, eating familiar foods (deli!), visiting with friends, and collecting gear that I need to bring back to Beijing with me. But the trip itself? And the constraints that will be on my time? These, I could live without.

Oh, yes—Happy New Year, Merry Christmas—Western and Orthodox– a belated Gut Yontif for Chanukkah, and whatever else I may have forgotten.

As for the obligatory New Year's Resolution, to be broken within the first month or so, I will again promise (probably an empty promise, mind you), to post regular updates here on the blog.

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Personal News

I had always imagined that my first heart attack would be presaged by pain. I had always imagined that I would feel that pain under my sternum, like the blow of a sledgehammer. I had always imagined that pain, and then numbness, would radiate down my left shoulder and arm.


But that's not what happened.


My warning was not pain, but fatigue and mild discomfort. I had an odd feeling just below my xyphoid process, as if my heart were doing rapid somersaults, or something like that feeling when you try to swallow a bite of food that's just a bit too large and hasn't been chewed enough. I also had a loss of equilibrium, and I was quite sleepy, despite my having just woken from a night's sleep. My pulse was racing, and I was slightly out of breath, as if I had just been running.


Now, I would sometimes have symptoms like these every now and then, but just that; only once in a while. And usually only one at a time. I would normally pause to bring my breathing under control, calm myself, and be done with it. But on this occasion, I had experienced the symptoms for two or three days. And I could make them go away by simple

breath exercises.


At first, it didn't worry me too much. After all, I'm fat—a fact which doctors never fail to point out to me, no matter the reason I go to visit (Me: Doctor! Doctor! My arm just fell off! Doctor: Ah. Well, you're too fat, you see. Let's take care of that first.). And I have high blood pressure and tachycardia, for which I have been taking medication since about 2016. But this past week, as the symptoms carried on, and I was unable to properly perform my work, I decided that it was time to go to the hospital.


I had gone into work that morning, tired, stumbling, and with that discomfort in my chest. Even my colleagues thought I was looking a bit pale. I begged off work from a supervisor, and went straight to the local hospital, where my minder met me. He got me checked in as per an emergency, then we went up to9 the cardiology department.


Now, this is probably something I should have done a long time ago. Living here in China, my custom has usually been to see my cardiologist when I come home for summer break. He would examine me, and if necessary, update my prescriptions, which I would simply have refilled each month at the local hospitals here in China.


This was, perhaps, bad enough. However, with the viral pandemic which has recently settled upon the planet, and the concomitant restriction of international travel, I have been unable to visit home for about two years, at least. So, if my condition had been changing, or if I had needed to alter my medications,  I would never have known.


Well, my body had just sounded a warning klaxon.


At the office, my blood pressure was found to have been 151/115. And the EKG found sinus tachycardia with premature atrial complexes, left axis deviation, and non-specific ventricular conduction delay. I was then sent for a blood test just to be sure I wasn't actually having an acute myocardial infarction on the spot.


I was prescribed new medication to bring my blood pressure and tachycardia under control; the old meds were no longer working, and who know for how long they had not been? I was also prescribed a concoction of herbal medicine to deal with the physical discomfort I was feeling. A combination of TCM and Western medicine. Well, whatever works. I am scheduled to return in a few days for a follow-up exam to see if the medication is working properly and to see if I have a good chance of continuing my existence.


After two days, the discomfort in my chest is gone, though I am still rather tired. Still—I can walk up to my third floor office at work, so my heart is apparently still functioning adequately. For now.


Of course, I will keep everyone posted. I should be more annoyed  at not being able to finish the writing I want to complete before my death. On the other hand, every one of us will have a full in-box on the day we die, so I should just try to stop worrying about it and do the best I can.


And fear not; I have a plot reserved at Montefiore cemetery near Jenkintown—which, the gods willing, I shan't need for another ten or fifteen years.

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Beijing Diary

Earlier this past week, on the morning of Wednesday 7th April, I finally got my first vaccine dose. Beijing has begun to vaccinate eligible foreigners, and my school made an appointment at the vaccine center set up in the Ditan Athletic Stadium. 

As usual, Chinese efficiency was on full display; even with the half hour waiting period after the shot, it still only took about an hour for the entire procedure. The queues were not particularly long, as there are apparently not as many foreigners in Beijing as there used to be before the pandemic. Anyway, after filling out several forms for identification, tracking, and consent, I got the actual shot. More forms to sign, and the individual dose I received was matched to my identification forms for the record, and then after the jab, I was sent out to the waiting area. 

Everyone who received the vaccine was required to wait for thirty minutes so that in case any adverse effects were observed, we could be treated right away. The area was a fenced in section of the gym floor, surrounded by modular walls of the type you see in modern office cubicles. The seats were basic stools, rather than folding chairs. To me, it looked and felt very much like sitting shiva. I caught up on a bit of reading, but otherwise, it was dull and uninteresting. It was odd to see other Westerners around the room; I so rarely see them these days.

Suffering no ill-effects, I left. While my morning class schedule had been cleared for this, I still had afternoon classes to attend. but within the next hour, I became extremely tired. In fact, I was completely enervated. I managed to get through my classes without falling asleep, but even my kids saw that something was wrong. When I got back to the teachers' dorms, I fell asleep from about 16:00 to 05:00. The next day still saw me quite fatigued, and I used a cane for a slight loss of equilibrium. I had a mild headache, a slight case of sniffles, and loose bowels. But I survived.

The day after that, I was fine. And I am scheduled to receive the second dose on the 28th of April.


I have a flight reserved for July 8th to return to America for a month-- assuming Delta (my airline) has resumed flights by then. I am hoping that things improve in the United States to the point that I will be able to visit. My return to China is scheduled for early August, rather than the last week thereof; I will need twenty-one days to sit in quarantine before I'll be able to get back to my flat. But by then, I should be able to begin work at my new job. Of course, if Delta does not resume its schedule of flights, well then, I shall just have to wait a bit longer.


In any case, stage one of my immunization has gone well. 

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Beijing Diary

This weekend is a Trifecta of holidays here in Beijing! The eighth day of Passover, Easter, and the Qing Ming Festival. I assume that most of my readers already have a certain amount of familiarity with Passover and Easter; Qing Ming is the traditional Chinese "tomb sweeping" festival. Most Chinese families will go to their families' graves, to tidy up the tombs, pay their respects, and sometimes have a small picnic there, leaving offerings for the spirits of the ancestors. Often, incense and ghost money will be burnt. Being neither religious, nor ethnically Chinese, the big benefit to me is a three-day weekend. 

But, on to this month's update, including what is for me, Big News:


 About a month ago, I was contacted by the recruiter who brought me up to Beijing from Ningbo, and was presented with a rather generous offer for the next academic year. After much deliberation, and several second thoughts, I have decided to accept the offer.
Last year, what with the Pandemic, there were very few jobs available to foreign teachers. The lockdown was lifting, and many schools were reluctant to hire American teachers, noting the devastation being wrought by the virus in the United States, and the general resistance to sound medical and scientific advice. There had been a modest opportunity available near Dengfeng, a few thousand miles inland from Beijing. I did not want to go, but had resigned myself to it when I was contacted with an offer from what would become my present school in Dongcheng District in the Fensiting Hutong.
The pay was adequate, but not great; though the post also came with two meals a day at the school, and free accommodation at the teachers' dorms which included free WiFi. The environs were pleasant, and within walking distance of most of Beijing's tourist attractions. The school itself has been pleasant as well; a small campus, almost intimate, especially by Chinese standards. And, after working at a large school like Liangxiang High School in Fangshan, with forty pupils in a single class, this new school, Beijing International Vocational Educational School, was a wonderful change. With an average of ten students per class, allowing me to see each class thrice weekly, I was able to get to know my students and give them each a measure of personal attention.
The post I am being offered will pay me almost twice as much, and include a small allowance to rent an apartment, plus an eight thousand yuan bonus toward airfare after the completion of the contract for the year. My current school's counter-offer was almost as good, and I do feel bad about leaving my pupils behind; but what finally sold me on accepting the new offer was the type of position. I am being asked to teach AP History in addition to assisting in developing English language-based curriculum. I am also being asked to assist with administrative duties and admissions activities. In other words, I am being asked to become part of the administration as well as mere teaching staff. But it is the subject that appeals to me.
When I began my teaching career in East Asia, it seemed that any foreigner could pick up a "white monkey" job teaching English. In those days, you needed little more than native fluency. And being an "English Teacher" once had a certain stigma, especially in Taiwan, because of young Americans and Brits who would backpack around Asia, stop off to teach for a few months and fill their pockets and then disappear into the night, leaving classes and students untended. There was a time I used to dread being known as an English teacher in Asia.
However, I am now being asked to teach History, a subject I have read in University, and for which I still have great interest. Of course, I will also be able to teach a certain amount of E.S.L., and I will be given administrative responsibility that I do not enjoy now. It makes me feel more "legitimate" as a teacher.
Still. It is not easy to leave my current position. And I dislike being uprooted every year to move elsewhere. Reminds me too much of my unsettled and poverty-stricken childhood.

And so, I am now preparing myself to this new adventure, as it is only a few months away. 


I finally this week also received word regarding the CoVID-SARS II vaccine. Presumably, I will be able to get it soon, but it must be done through my employer. I do not know now whether it will be through my present school or if it will have to wait for my new school. The process of my work-visa transfer is supposed to begin in June, though I will be working at my old school until June 30th. I was sent an informational flyer from my school's administration:

COVID-19 Vaccination for Foreigners in Beijing Started
Acting on the State Council's instruction, Beijing has started COVID-19 vaccination for
foreign nationals in the city.
Foreign nationals within the age group specified below may, following the principle of
voluntary participation, giving informed consent and assuming personal responsibility for
risk, take COVID-19 vaccine.
The following are answers to TEN most asked questions by foreign nationals in Beijing:
What is the age requirement for COVID-19 vaccination?
Foreign nationals at the age of 18 and above in Beijing are eligible for COVID-19
What type of vaccine will be used?
China's domestic inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccines will be used, and two doses are required.
How to make an appointment for vaccination?
Foreign nationals who wish to be vaccinated may check notices issued either by their
employers or their residential community offices, and take vaccine in a planned way.
Generally, foreign nationals working in Beijing should make appointments through their
employers; foreign teachers and students in colleges and universities should make
appointments through such institutions, and other foreign nationals in Beijing should make
appointments through their residential community offices. After appointments are made,
foreign nationals may take vaccine nearby as arranged by local district authorities.
What documents should be provided for vaccination?
Foreign nationals should provide valid documents when making appointments and present
their passports and valid residence permits at the vaccination site. Please make sure that
relevant documents are valid on the date of taking the second dose.

What papers should I sign?
Before taking vaccine, you should sign both a form of informed consent and a statement of
bearing personal responsibility for all risks associated with vaccination. Please take necessary
precautions and inform the vaccine giving personnel of your health condition so that they can
decide whether you can take vaccine.
Should I pay for the vaccine?
Foreign nationals who have joined Beijing's social medical insurance scheme may take
vaccine free of charge by presenting due insurance document on the vaccine taking site.
Those who have not should currently pay a charge of 93.5 RMB per dose.
What care should I take after taking vaccine?
You should stay at the vaccine taking site for 30 minutes of observation and may then leave if
you have no adverse reaction. Keep the injection point dry on the day of vaccination and
maintain personal hygiene. You should immediately seek medical help and alert the vaccine
provider if you develop a persistent fever.
How do I get the vaccination certificate?
Beijing Health Kit (Jian Kang Bao) mini-app for people from outside the country will soon
have a new feature of printing the COVID-19 vaccination certificate, which foreign nationals
may access after taking the second dose.
Do I need to wear a mask after being vaccinated?
Vaccination will produce immunity from COVID-19 and greatly reduce infection risks.
However, no vaccine is 100% effective; some people may have insufficient antibodies after
taking vaccine and they can still be vulnerable to infection, especially when an immunologic
barrier is not yet created. So it is important that you should wear masks, wash hands regularly,
and keep social distance.
Do I still have to take nucleic acid test after being vaccinated?
Can my vaccine taking certificate substitute for nucleic acid test report? [Short answer: No]


I will keep you all posted.



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Beijing Diary

Today marks the first day of the new semester here at the Beijing International Vocational Education School. I have been working here since September first of last year, and I have been enjoying my time here and my interactions with my pupils. During the previous school year, I taught at Liangxiang High School (affiliated with Beijing Normal University), where I saw roughly twenty lecture-hall sized classes per week. Here at B.I.V.E.S., I have five classes, each of which I see three times per week, and with an average of twelve students per class, as opposed to forty, I am able to give my kids much more personal attention than I used to.


Anyway, before I digress further, I have been on break for about six weeks. The end of last semester was rushed, as new coronavirus outbreaks had been detected to the southwest of the city. From the AP at that time:


BEIJING — More than 360 people have tested positive in a growing coronavirus outbreak south of Beijing in neighboring Hebei province. China's National Health Commission reported Sunday that 69 new cases had been confirmed, including 46 in Hebei. The outbreak has raised particular concern because of Hebei's proximity to the nation's capital. Travel between the two has been restricted, with workers from Hebei having to show proof of employment in Beijing to enter. Hebei has recorded 183 confirmed cases and an additional 181 asymptomatic cases over the last eight days. China does not include those who test positive but do not show symptoms in its official case count. Almost all of the cases are in Shijuazhuang, the provincial capital, which is 260 kilometers (160 miles) southwest of Beijing. A handful have also been found in Xingtai. Both cities have conducted mass testing of millions of residents, suspended public transportation and restricted residents to their communities or villages for one week.


As a result, the Spring Festival-- what most of us in the West know as "Chinese New Year--" was rather sedate for me. I did not go out unless absolutely necessary, just in case. Many of the tourist destinations which I had wanted to visit were closed. Indeed, they had already had tight restrictions on how many people could visit, and the authorities were very strict on tracking. That said, I still enjoyed my break. I was able to get a lot done regarding my writing (not the least of which was, of course, this nifty new website). I was fortunate to be allowed to stay in my accomodations for the break; normally, when the school closes, so do the teachers' dormitories. However, due to the latest viral outbreak, it was deemed safer to allow us to remain where we were, rather than risk the spread of the contagion.


During that first week of the break, it was only a break for me, as a teacher. The administrative staff still had another week or two of preparation for the holiday. One of the things they organized was vaccinations for all the teachers in the school. I had been pleased to be included in that, since I am, technically, a front line worker. The entire school staff met at a designated neighborhood vaccine station, and we waited patiently for a few hours for our turn. However, when it came time to actually receive the shot, I and two other foreign teachers were turned away because of an administrative glitch. 


Apparently, the computers were unable to scan in data from our passports. For the other members of staff, it was no problem; all Chinese citizens have national ID cards. But I and the others, obviously, did not. We were turned away, much to my annoyance. I had been told since that they will try to arrange something for us once the semester begins again, but I have yet to hear anything. What made it all the more annoying was what happened the following week.


Because of the new outbreaks, Beijing set up mass testing for all people dwelling within the city. An amazing undertaking, rather like performing mass testing for the Greater Philadelphia Region or New York's Five Boroughs in a single day. But they did it. We all went that morning to the staging areas assigned to us according to district and neighborhood. I went to an outdoor testing area in the park around the old Bell and Drum Towers in Beijing (I live in the Fensiting Hutong of Beijing's Dongcheng District). It took less than three hours, and when I went in to be swabbed for collection, they had computers that were able to scan the data from my passport, and use that as my ID card. In fact, not only was I easily included in the testing, I received my results from the Department of Health the next day via text. --Negative, thankfully.


During my time off, I have tried to keep busy, despite my penchant for procrastination. I have been re-editing the books I have already published through Amazon/CreateSpace so that I can re-issue them under my own imprint, and get them into local brick-and-mortar shops. I have completed my second edition of Medousa, and a new edition of my memoir previously published under the title Wednesday's Child. I am continuing to work on new books as well. There will be another myth-based fantasy novelette, another memoir focusing on my time living in China and Taiwan, as well as my time in the martial arts, and a book of, you'll forgive the term, meditations, which I have been putting together out of my morning meditative essays from the first ninety days I began practicing Stoicism. 


I decided to go with the services provided by BookBaby, as they are well spoken of in the independent writing community, have excellent customer service, and because they are a local Philadelphia company. However, I am discovering that doing everything on my own can be quite expensive. And so, the process is going a lot more slowly than I had hoped it would. All of the services that KDP would have handled, I am doing on my own. (I have a button on my website that will allow contributions, should anyone in these dire times feel that their money would be better spent helping me publish my work instead of paying for rent, food, or medical care. I also began to set up a Patreon page; but although I myself support several artist/writers who are putting out web comics, I have no idea what I could offer as a slightly more traditional writer with no talent for artwork. What kind of rewards could I offer? I'm not sure I am prolific enough.) So, the upshot is that my books will be coming out, as well as new work, but it will not be anytime soon– by which I mean, anywhere from six to eighteen months. Part of the problem is that I am financing everything myself out of my own paychecks. But, enough whining. The "original editions" will still be available on Amazon.


It is my hope that, as far as the pandemic goes, things will be under control to the point that I will be able to visit home over the summer break in July and August. I was unable to return home last summer, for obvious reasons, and there is quite a lot that has piled up for me to deal with at home. One of the tings I am hoping to do is visit a few local book shops to request that they stock my work. And of course, there will be visits to various doctors, a visit to my storage locker for clothing and equipment, picking up eighteen month's worth of mail at my kid brother's-- It'll be a busy vacation, if I can make it back.


But now, it's time to prepare for the first week of classes!


See you again soon on these pages. .

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