I originally intended this story to be a very detailed and personal account of my life before and after arriving in China. My final draft was over 25 typewritten pages, single-spaced, and I submitted it to Middle Kingdom Life with full permission for them to print it as is.
My biography was divided into two parts and part one was published briefly until the site’s owner convinced me that it might be better for me to just to write about why it is I feel China saved my life. He was concerned that despite his best efforts at disguising my real identity, somehow the story would “come back to haunt me.” I still don’t know that I agree with that concern but I guess it is better to err on the side of the angels with something like this. So I rewrote my story to simply highlight why I credit China with having helped me to become the much better and happier person that I am now.
I’ve been in China for almost 10 years. I came here under very bad circumstances. I was one of those people the guide refers to as having “mismanaged his life back home.” The truth is that I was a drunk and a total fuck up and I moved to China to teach English for peanuts because I had nowhere else to go and nothing else better to do. The really screwed up part is that I had managed to trash my life back home with a doctor’s degree in business.
Without getting into every little detail of what I’ve been through in China over the last 10 years, I will tell you that I totally hated my existence and almost everything about China for the first three to four years of living here.
The language barrier was the worst part but not the only thing that tormented me. I hated all the lying and cheating. It infuriated me that I could never trust anything that was ever promised to me either verbally or even in writing. I also hated the way Chinese businessmen and other successful people would look at me when I told them I was an English teacher. They correctly surmised that any 51-year old man who came to China to teach business English with a doctoral degree must have some serious issues back home.
Maybe even worse than the language barrier was how I felt every time I drove my motorbike around town. I hated the way the Chinese selfishly and dangerously ignored traffic laws. It would be fair to say that my blood pressure reached stroke range every single time I was foolish enough to ride that bike into town. I would curse and scream and yell at them at the top of my lungs for being so stupid and they would look at me with a blank stare as if they had no idea what I was referring to, after having just knocked me down. I guess it was a good idea that I made a point not to learn one curse word in Chinese or I probably would have been killed by a mob during one of those episodes.
So my initial four years here were pretty tough. I was just about miserable all the time. And then something very strange began to happen.
Without deliberately meaning to, I found that I was beginning to adjust. I can’t tell you how or why exactly, other than maybe I just grew too tired of fighting back in all the ways I had before. Perhaps somewhere deep inside of me I knew that if I continued to react to stress and frustration in the same ways I always had, I would get the same results. I can remember the precise day and even moment that I was out riding around on my motorbike and the most remarkable thing happened after I had just escaped from yet another near-miss: I laughed! It wasn’t a laugh of mockery or contempt. It was the type of laugh one would emit in response to a joke or situation that is both funny and sad at the same time. Then it hit me that not only had I come to expect the unforeseeable, I had found acceptance of it for the first time in my life.
Another strange thing happened to me, just around the same time I began relaxing and laughing off things that would happen on the road (and at work) that used to enrage me—In my deeply profound social isolation, I began to finally enjoy my own company. After some really bad experiences with Chinese girls my first couple of years here, I had decided that it was better to just be alone than to go through a third divorce. I had stopped dating completely and would spend my free time socializing with other foreign teachers and mostly Chinese friends. I started reading again (thank God for Amazon.com) and found that I was spending a lot more time on the Internet than I ever did back home. It may sound corny but I guess you can say that, at the ripe old age of 55, I finally learned to love myself. Maybe I was finally able to love myself because China created an inescapable atmosphere of both challenge and new opportunity in which I was eventually able to forgive myself for past mistakes. I had been punished enough I guess. It was time to move on.
About five years ago I was walking around a department store when, all of a sudden, this beautiful young woman, with very good English, asked if she could help me. She was a very unusual woman I would say, especially in China. She was very pretty but either didn’t seem to know it or care. She also turned out to be the kindest and most emotionally generous woman I had ever known. She was the healthiest and most stable woman I had ever had the pleasure of dating and so I married her one year later. Some people may not believe in this sort of thing but, in my heart, I know that Angela is a gift from God.
Three years ago, about one year after our marriage, I was sitting in the computer room and was listening to Angela play with our dog, a miniature Yorkshire Terrier. All of a sudden, I found myself saying out loud “Life is good.” And then tears came running down my cheeks when I realised that I had never felt that way before. In fact, I had been suicidal most of my adult life. Despite some brief professional success I had known and then destroyed back home, this was by far my greatest accomplishment: I had a wife and a pet who, because of who I had become, were truly content with and loved me deeply. I had finally created something that I had never known or enjoyed before: a happy home—and I managed to do it in China of all places. Actually, as it turns out, China is the only place in the world that it could have happened in the way that it did.
Then a real miracle occurred. Three years ago Angela came home from the hospital and told me that she was pregnant. I couldn’t believe it because I had never been able to father a child before. The doctors told me that my sperm count was too low and that the sperm were also way too slow. If I didn’t know Angela they way that I do, I never would have believed that this was my child. But, Bill Jr. couldn’t look anything more like me even if he was my twin instead of my now two-year old son.
I don’t teach anymore. Instead, just around the time my son was born, Angela and I opened up a small Western restaurant in the center of town and it is always busy. We both get tired running it sometimes but we are also extremely happy with the financial freedom that it provides us with. Just before I decided to write this article, I finished paying off all the money I owed to people who had long written the money off as a bad debt lost on an even worse risk.
We bought a house about a year ago just overlooking a lake on one side and a mountain on the other. After having spent 50 years in my own private hell involving halfway houses for recovering drunks and even more time in and out of mental hospitals for depression and suicide attempts, I love my life and cherish every minute of it now. I quit smoking right after Bill Jr. was born and although I still drink on occasion, for some strange reason, it isn’t a problem for me anymore: I can take it or leave it.
It is true what the guide on this website says that if you move to China under the same or similar set of circumstances that I did, your life will initially be 100 times more difficult in so many ways. Everything is so different in China. Values, behaviour, personal hygiene, public health and safety, and just about anything else you can think of is like the difference between night and day. Moving here when you are feeling broken and beaten down is like trying to climb Mt. Everest with a bad knee and a chronic case of double pneumonia. On one hand you want to quit because there is no way you can possibly imagine being able to succeed with so much going against you. But you don’t quit because you know that you can’t, not unless you are willing to just roll over and die. So you’re in constant agony and you couldn’t possibly be more miserable or heartbroken. And then something miraculous begins to happen: You just put one foot in front of the other with all the strength that is left inside of you, and as you look back over all the ground you have covered, you realise that the knee has stopped hurting and you’re breathing much more easily than you ever have before.
So I am here to tell you that it can be done: People can and do rebuild their lives in China. I won’t tell you that it is easy or that everyone does it—but it is possible. I have also seen other foreigners in my situation crash and burn. I think they just gave up before the miracle took place or maybe they just ran out of strength because China can beat you down even more than you were before. But China also offers renewed hope and unexpected opportunities, a fourth, fifth and even sixth chance, for foreign guys like us who had burnt all our bridges back home.
It is true what they say: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
I thank God for my new life in China everyday. It’s funny, but most of the things about China that used to drive me crazy, I now embrace with an appreciation and a gratitude I never thought possible. It’s not that life in China has changed all that much in the time that I’ve been here, but the way I look at things today has—entirely. Even though I can afford to return home now on my own terms, I will never leave this truly remarkable and amazing country with all its wonderfully warm and charming people.