Name: Doug Bonner
Tags: Writer, actor, student
Been in Fuzhou: 5 years
Recently, while chatting with an English friend of mine, he felt strongly that there were 3 types of people who would choose to come and settle in China. The first type is obvious, those seeking adventure and the thrill of the exotic. The second type is rather obvious as well, those that are actually escaping something or someone. It may be as innocuous as a bad breakup or as emotional as overbearing parents, but whatever the reason, escape is the only answer. The last one may be a bit self-serving, but is necessary and important for strengthening ties between disparate nations and peoples – business. Fuzhou might be the perfect home for any one of those types of people, but for those craving a bit of carefree adventure, it’s perfect.
Doug falls into that first category; he’s all about comfort and adventure. He accepted an offer to move here for a 2 year contract at Fuzhou University in 2006 and enjoyed his time here immensely. After returning home, he found himself thinking about Fuzhou more and more, so he returned in 2011 and is currently studying Chinese. This may sound like another story of a college student who fell in love with a culture after a summer abroad, but Doug is about as far from that as you can get – he turned 60 last month.
Transcript of Doug’s Interview:
H：What is it that attracts the most in Fuzhou?
D: I like travel. I have been to more than 40 countries, and I enjoy learning new languages and customs, and observing ways of life. It’s been ten years since I came to Fuzhou for the first time. I think what has been attracting the most is still that the city is very nice to walk around in. Sometimes I would even walk from Min River all the way to West Lake. Many places carry my good memories, as Fuzhou has hosted me for a good while. I remember the streets that my friends live on, or the diners that serve really good food. Those memories keep me staying in Fuzhou.
H: What are the changes you observed on today’s Fuzhou compared to what it was 10 years ago?
J: I lived on Gongye Road when I first got to Fuzhou in 2004. Back then, it was a bleak street scene. After work each day, I would take a taxi to a gym around Dongjiekou. When I was back to my apartment, my neighbors all turned lights off and went to bed, and it’s only around 9 o’clock. I like coffee very much. But I’d like to go all the way to Xiamen for good coffee. But it’s different today, as you have all the restaurants and coffee shops in town. Fuzhou has started to assume some ‘international fair’. Oh yeah, back then, I went to Shanghai for coffee beans every quarter of the year, but I know where to buy pretty good beans in Fuzhou now.
H: What parts in town are your favorite?
J: I remember Da Ming Lu was the place to go for foreigners around 2006, because they got many coffee shops there. For me, it’s the most relaxing experience to have when I had my cup of coffee and saw people walk on the street. I moved to Hubin Road back then, so it’s very easy for me to get to the coffee scene on Da Ming. I kinda miss back then now, because Da Ming was so cool. Today though, people are appealed to Wanda or Shaoyuan. But there is a big difference there. Da Ming Lu was able to present opportunities for you to observe the local way of life, and the connection to the past of the city. But in those shopping malls, everything is new.
I also liked to hang out in Guxi Road and Gudong Road. Well, speaking of those areas, you also have a makeover in San Fang Qi Xiang, and everybody knows that. I still like to go to Yong’an Street, because it has many coffee shops, hotsprings and foot massage store that I like. Yong’an Street was special to me for another reason as well. It’s next door to Waijiu – the hotel I stayed for the very first night in Fuzhou. It felt like going back to my ‘starting point’ when I go back there. But still nevertheless many restaurants are gone now, and replaced by chain stores.
H: What about the people here?
D: I spent a lot of time in adjusting to people, and of course people change too in their attitude and values. Fuzhou people are very friendly to foreigners nowadays,and they would not usually ask ‘what is the foreigner doing here?’ I’ll tell you something interesting. I went to this barbershop in the neighborhood on Gongye road at a time 10 years ago, and all residents came to see me. People gazed at me from the windows, craned their neck.. some took out their camera to take pictures of me. Those kind of things you know. But I went back to the same place for a haircut 10 years later in 2011. The barbershop was still there and it’s the same guy working there. And he’s not surprised to see a foreigner any more, and said to me in composure, ‘You have to wait in line. I have two more guests.’ Big change in people’s attitude. Generally, I think my stay here has been a time when you see the most drastic things happening. I always wanted to write a book for foreigners to know China better. But I won’t be able to keep up with all the changes. What’s written in the book will be changed in two years.
H: You went out of Fuzhou for a while, and went back. What brought you back to Fuzhou?
D: When I went back to America from Fuzhou, I found myself a bit sad when I heard Mandarin spoken around me occasionally. I was surprised how much I missed here. Chinese were building and realizing their dreams. People would work so hard, make money and then buy an apartment or a car. But back then, the economy in America was so bad. Unemployment was high, banks took your house away because you couldn’t afford the loan. And I am so familiar with American culture, there is nothing new there for me. Americans believe live and learn. Although I am an old man, I still love to travel and learn. Also it’s interesting to be a foreigner here. I know I still can’t be 100% accepted and understood here, but I enjoy the difference. Those challenges will help me to learn more of a different language, history and culture.
Homeland, Issue 98, January 2014