I was on my way back from getting a haircut in the strip mall near the campus South Gate when I glimpsed something I hadn't previously seen in my five weeks here — a fellow laowei. I'd noticed a few westerners at the mall and the supermarket in Zhuhai city, and they were more common in Shenzhen and Macau (and of course Hong Kong is swarming with them); but this was the first one I'd seen in the environs of the campus.
We both did slight double-takes and then struck up a conversation. Turns out he's lived with his wife, who's from Zhuhai, in the apartments next to the strip mall (I photographed a chicken coop there in my early wanderings around the area and posted it on the blog) for three years. He seems like an interesting fellow: He's an international "venture consultant" who was in the Marines in the early 1970s, is trained as a cultural anthropologist, and says that for several decades he hasn't lived in any country for more than two years until he came to China.
Even though we chatted for nearly an hour, I didn't really get to find out that much about him (and he didn't express all that much interest in me) because he was busy pontificating about a vast range of subjects, from doing business with the Chinese to the works of anthropologist Gregory Bateson. I joked that after lecturing to my students for over a month, it was refreshing to be on the receiving end. He might be full of hot air, but he did have a lot of facts at his disposal and I did learn quite a bit from him, from the macro (China's policies on alternative energy) to the micro (the grocery and restaurants outside the South Gate only opened a few weeks before I arrived here).
I'm a bit curious about how he wound up here (not just in China or in Zhuhai, but in a fairly remote area that must have been even more undeveloped when he came here) and how he met his wife (who was standing by patiently the whole time but contributed little to the conversation despite my occasional efforts to include her). He's also got some sort of business scheme brewing, but he wanted to keep the details under his hat, and I wasn't particularly interested in prying into it anyway. In any case, we traded e-mail addresses, and we'll probably get together for dinner next week, either at one of the samll restaurants in the strip mall or a Szechuan one he knows in San Zao; so I'll probably learn more about what brought him here then.