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By Thomas F. O'Neill

They say when you get old time goes by with a blink of an eye but for the very young time moves at a snail’s pace. I am witnessing firsthand how fast time is moving especially here in Suzhou, China.

It wasn’t that long ago in 2009 to be exact that I was invited to be a guest teacher at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School for one semester. Now three years later I’m still in China and the semesters are racing by very quickly.

I get easily attached to my students especially the ones who participate in class they make my classes more enjoyable with their unique brand of humor. Some of my students even comment that they wish my classes would continue on especially when the semester comes to an end.

I enjoy teaching and entertaining my students with humorous stories about some of my experiences in life. When they ask me how old I am I tell them I am very old with a youthful personality. A Buddhist student said, “Mr. Tom you are an old soul that returns to teach and enjoy life with others.” The Buddhists have such a unique perspective on life and the subject of Buddhism intrigues me.

I once told my students when you are enjoying life time moves quickly and that is very true for me. I suppose that is why I don’t have any particular plans on moving back to the United States. But it’s not that difficult to stay in touch with people due to the internet. I can email videos to people and call people via Skype anywhere in the world. I enjoy staying in touch and reading about the happenings in the area I grew up (Shenandoah, PA) because a part of me never left my hometown.

I tell my students the world is becoming a smaller place especially with our modern technology. Computers, cell phones, satellite television, and especially our internet technology are bringing the world closer together in ways our ancestors never would have imagined. The evolving technology has no end in sight and it will only make our lives a bit easier as time progresses.

China’s culture here is progressing rapidly and my stay here is something I value dearly because of the beautiful people I encounter. I particularly enjoy the children here and I never find myself getting bored when they are around. I like playing games with them and they have a knack of making me laugh. I find that the Chinese children here are more trusting and open than most American kids their age.

That lack of trust among some American Kids is mostly due to the U.S. media covering crimes against children especially the abduction of young kids. That is something that always disturbs me how people could harm a young child in such heinous ways. A little Chinese girl once said to me “America Danger” she was trying to say that it’s dangerous for kids in America. With the help of a Chinese teacher I told her it’s not as dangerous in America as some people think. People think that way because of the American News stories of adults in the U.S. harming children.

I never watch Chinese television here even though you can pick up loads of western channels on satellite television. I get most of my news online by reading various newspapers and watching news programs via the internet.

I like to recap some of the global events in my class and the students are always ready for the questions and comments. One student asked if America is losing its ‘top dog’ statues in the world. I replied that I do see China as being the ‘top dog’ in 20 years. A female student then quickly interjected that “China is not a dog.” I said to her your right ‘top dog’ is just a bad expression of who has the greatest influence and in my opinion in 20 years China will have the greatest influence on the rest of the world.

My students’ readiness to voice their opinions in my classes is something I enjoy. There are times when I disagree with their comments, especially, when their perceptions of America is based on what they see in popular western films.

One of my student’s felt that all Americans’ walk around with concealed weapons. I told him some Americans do but most don’t. I went on to say if they ever visit America they won’t have to worry about a little old lady sitting down next to them with a magnum 45 hidden in her purse.

The western media along with western music and movies greatly influence the Chinese culture. It also influences their perception of what America stands for. America was once a land of dreams and opportunities for many in China. But their perceptions of America is changing they see the U.S. as a land of immense wealth and material greed.

The sad thing about that is many here in China are ignorant of the millions of Americans struggling below the poverty line. The great divide between the haves and the have-not’s are becoming wider in America but nowhere near the divide that’s in China. Over 600 million Chinese make less than 2 dollars a day that is extreme poverty.

However, more than 400 million Chinese are now middle class and the middle class is growing with each passing year due to their booming economy. I tell my students that both the United States and China have an immense disparity between those who have plenty and those who have far less.

I am deeply troubled by the poverty here perhaps because I witnessed it firsthand. I also have deep empathy for those who are impoverished but seeing homeless children is most disturbing of all. No innocent child should have to live on the street. It is so painful for me to see homeless children and some of them are forced to beg on the streets to all hours of the night out of despair and hunger. I tell my students that there are plenty of homeless in America too some with serious mental health issues.

You can judge a nation by how well it reaches-out to the unseen the so called downtrodden. They are the ones with the least influence but some Americans will complain that the U.S. is using hard earned tax dollars to help the down and out. Those same people who complain about Government entitlements derogatorily call it ‘Socialism.’ Helping the homeless however is not ‘Socialism’ it’s just doing the common decent thing when common decency is called for.

America and China need to do a far better job in caring for the less fortunate.

The overall Chinese culture does continue to intrigue me though and I’m curious what effect their growing economy will have on their rich culture. One thing I enjoy doing here is visiting an elementary school near my apartment. I get various invitations to go there and when I visit the school the first thing the Chinese teacher does is hand me a cup of tea. It’s a sign of respect and hospitality for my visit and the children stand up when they see me enter the room. Then they show their excitement for my being there. Some yell “Hello, Mr. Tom” and they practice their English with me. They keep me entertained, young at heart, and they bring out the child in me.

The children here are also more disciplined than I was at their age and I enjoy the time I spend with them. When I was a child I wish I worked as hard as they do now in their studies and I also wish I had the teachers they have now as well. The Chinese students are not smarter than American students they are just better disciplined and far better prepared for their future academic challenges. China’s emphasis on education will enhance China’s overall well being because education is vital for any nation to compete within the global economy.

I would like to wish all of you a fabulous New Year and may it be filled with warm thoughts and happy hearts.

Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill

    U.S. voice mail: (800) 272-6464
    China Cell: 011-86-15114565945
    Skype: thomas_f_oneill
    Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link:

    Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


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