To Grandpa with love, in real time

When my Dad died in 1989, I didn’t find out about it until hours after the fact. It happened suddenly — he suffered an abdominal aneurysm and quickly bled to death internally — and I was out of town at the time.

My mom didn’t have a cell phone that she could call me from in the ambulance that took Dad to the hospital. They were still uncommon then and obnoxiously large and expensive. I was in a car with a friend and his father, less than 70 miles from home, but essentially unreachable.

Today, I live in Beijing, a world away from my family in the United States. Yet as my Grandpa, stricken with final stage Parkinson’s disease, enters the final days or hours of his life, I’m receiving texts and emails every few hours about his condition. My aunts are uploading on Facebook pictures of relatives by Grandpa’s bedside, kissing his face, holding his hand and playing guitar. Continue reading

Sometimes I get the red, white and blues

On June 12, the US Embassy in Beijing sent out an e-mail warning Americans to be careful at nightclubs in Beijing. It said that an embassy employee was attacked by a group of Chinese on June 9 at a club near Workers Stadium, a popular bar area and expat hangout.

“The employee, who was out with some colleagues, was hit in the head with a sharp object as he was dancing away from the group,” the e-mail said. “According to witnesses, the employee fell to the floor and was repeatedly beaten and kicked in the head by individuals serving as bouncers for the nightclub. By all accounts, the attack was unprovoked.”

Workers Stadium in Beijing. The US Embassy said one of their employees was attacked at a nightclub on the west side of the stadium. (Photo by Jason Walsh via Wikipedia)

The attack wasn’t the first targeting US citizens, the embassy said, adding that “maintaining an awareness of your surroundings and keeping a low profile are critical to avoiding potential problems.”

Asking a foreigner in Beijing – especially those who look and sound very different from the Chinese – to keep a low profile is a bit like asking a cricket marching in a pack of ants to blend in. It’s just not going to happen. Foreigners make up less than 1 percent of the city’s 20 million residents. We stand out wherever we go. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s not. Continue reading