Beijing Diary

Well, things are going swimmingly here in Beijing. We recently had a record “heat wave” of 23 C just this last Friday. Not an unusual temperature for the summer perhaps, but certainly odd when winter is still supposed to be hanging on. Things have mostly returned to nominal now, what with a massive sandstorm in the Gobi, north of us—while it has been tempting to open the windows when the days are fair, the winds continue to blow dust, sand, and loess into the city (the ranks of trees and new forest planted on the northern borders of the city notwithstanding). Still, things could be worse—though I suspect we have already passed the tipping point for preventing the climate to warm another two degrees Celsius within the next fifty years or so.

And it is entirely possible that things are getting worse: Last week, I noticed a small wound on the end of one of my toes. Just a blister, on its way to becoming a callus, I suppose. My sneakers were no doubt too tight. However, I am diabetic, and although I have my blood sugar under control, I am not so stupid as to ignore possible ulcers, infections, or even gangrene taking advantage of my neuropathy. I cut into the affected area and let out some fluid. No bad smells, no purulent discharge, or anything like that. But the end of the toe is a bit redder than the others, and so I am keeping it clean with peroxide and iodine. If it doesn’t get any better, or if the damage spreads, I will have to see the doctor about it. I can feel the pain in the toe, however, so that’s a comfort—it means the nerves are not completely destroyed.

In other news, we are trying to figure out what to do about our third- and first-years students at my school. Many of the students have been spectacularly unmotivated to do any work in class, or even homework. Many of my first-year kids will put their heads down to sleep in class. (This puzzles me: what are they doing all night that they have to sleep in class? Back in America, I know some kids work at night to help their families make ends meet, but such a thing is practically unheard of in China. Are they up all night playing video games? Maybe. Who knows?)

And the pass-rate in the third year appears to be down to 38% of the student body. What’s particularly frustrating is that many of these students are quite academically gifted; but they lack motivation. One of my students from two years ago, who should have been in Year Four this year, is repeating Year Three, and still shows no signs of interest. We are seeing signs of this in the first-year classes as well, and I am trying to see if this can be corrected before the students develop bad habits that stay with them. It seems a waste of their parents’ money, if nothing else.

In any case, the Ministry of Education will not be giving us a good rating if we cannot improve this situation, so we are rather concerned. I’ll try to keep you updated on that. I mean, provided you are interested in high school academia.

In more pleasant news, I continue to work on my “Kabbala Noir” novel and have begun working on a series of children’s books which I have been mulling over for some time now. The children’s books are coming along well so far, but I am going to have to commission illustrators, and then find someone who will be able to format the text on these illustrated pages. I have no experience with this, but alas, these new books are not detailed enough to be able to stand on their own, like A.A. Milne’s, or Kenneth Grahame’s, or E.B. White’s more famous books. I am going to need illustrations in order to flesh them out. Still, it’s a lot of fun writing something that isn’t quite so grim as my usual story-fodder.

Speaking of which, I am also considering revising a few of my older short stories to see if I can make anything more of them than simple short stories. And I am still waiting for some of the final illustrations I commissioned for Medousa, in hopes of publishing an illustrated edition. (Though to be honest, considering the costs of self-publishing set against the almost non-existent returns on my efforts, the more time goes by, the less I am inclined to attempt to publish any more than I already have. Ah, well.)

Until next time, Dear Readers….

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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