Thomas F. O'Neill
From Changzhou, China, with love
I have been living in China now for two months and I am still receiving emails and phone calls from people I know. They
are curious about my experiences here. I’ve been reminding my friends that it’s been 18 years since I’ve been to a foreign
country and when I arrived here I was quickly reminded how much we take our language for granted.
The language barrier for me is quite apparent but my students here in the City of Changzhou, go out of their way to assist
me. I found out quickly that body language no matter how much you smile can only take you so far. The spoken word is so much
more proficient than hand and feet gestures. Besides the Chinese have hand signs I've never seen before.
On a positive note I am losing weight due to the abundance of healthy food. I am eating a lot of rice, vegetables, and
fruit here. I am also enjoying their unending supply of fruit juices. When I arrived in China a few months ago I was so much
heavier than I am now.
Last month the Chinese Government issued me a residential permit that allows me to live in China permanently. But in order
for the residential permit to be approved I had to endure a long Physical. It was the most thorough Physical I ever
experienced. I brought one of my students to the clinic to interpret for me.
When the Physical was all over and done with, I turned to my student and said, “Am I going to live?”
My student looked at me and replied, “Doctor, said you heavy.”
“I knew that before I came to China,” I said, “who’s paying for this?”
“No not me, School pay,” he said.
Well American humor has a tendency to get lost in the Chinese translation.
I learned some Chinese words since I’ve been here though but it's unfortunate that my coal-cracker accent from
Northeastern Pennsylvania is very difficult to understand here in China. Come to think of it, it was a bit difficult to
understand in America as well. I am very glad to know though that the advanced English students are enjoying my Cultural
Many of the emails that I’ve been receiving want to know about the Chinese women. I have to say they are no different than
American women with one minor exception. There are more Chinese women here than in Shenandoah, and, like Shenandoah, some of
the women speak English and the rest don’t. That is why I really appreciate the company of my students.
My students are extremely open and honest about everything and some of them are curious about spiritual matters. I enjoy
telling my students stories in class and I use those stories as a teaching method. I am currently in the process of putting
some of those stories on paper. Hopefully, I could send some of them your way in the near future.
I found out a few weeks ago that one of my students did a ‘Baidu’ search of my name and hometown. ‘Baidu’ is China’s
number one internet search engine.
The young female student said to me in class, “there is a great writer from Shenandoah in America. He has an ‘F’ in his
name to. What does it mean in America when they put ‘F’ in their name?”
I said to her, “You should email the writer and ask him. That would be a great way to practice your English.”
“Ok, Ok,” she repeated, “I will.”
She got the writer’s email address from his website. My student’s email was extremely well written. She wrote about her
studies and how she has a teacher in China with the same name. Unfortunately for me the writer she was writing to was much
more intelligent than her teacher.
Well to make a very long story short, the writer from that very small coal mining town in Pennsylvania answered her email.
I told her via email that her Teacher in China is far more educated and much more knowledgeable in explaining why some
American’s put ‘F’ in their name.
It only took her a week to realize that the writer she was writing to and her Cultural Diversity teacher was in fact the
I was also somewhat flattered to realize that someone in China is enjoying my stories.
I will continue to keep you readers posted on what is going on in Changzhou, China. Hopefully, I will continue to send
some of my stories your way as well.
Always With love,
Thomas F. O’Neill
Yahoo Screen Name for chatting online: introspective777
Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by
Thomas F. O'Neill can be found at the links below.
Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs