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China Daily Website

Rolling stone finally settles

Updated: 2013-07-09 02:28
By Sun Li ( China Daily)

Before he moved to Xiamen in 1988, William Brown had already lived in over 30 cities. This American bitten by the travel bug had no intention of staying in Xiamen longer than a year or two and he never imagined he would still be here more than two decades later.

Brown is also Fujian's first official foreign permanent resident.

Rolling stone finally settles

 William Brown rides a tricycle with his wife and children in Xiamen in 1988.

Now a professor of management at Xiamen University's MBA Center, Brown has taught business studies for graduate students since 1989. He tells us that his bond with China started as far back as 1977, when he was serving with the United States Air Force in Taiwan.

"It was a time of mainland-Taiwan hostility and one day mainland propaganda leaflets dropped onto the air force base. Police warned us not to touch them, which made me only more curious," Brown says.

As Brown secretly looked at some, he was amazed by the photos of happy farmers and tumbling acrobats.

"I've never imagined people on the mainland being real people like people in Taiwan. I thought they were enemies. The photos sparked my interest on the other side of the Taiwan Straits."

After Brown finished his forces career in 1978, he returned home for college and career. The idea of visiting China again lingered, but it took calls from two strangers to draw Brown's attention to Xiamen.

"A guy from Thailand and a man in California phoned me. I didn't know them and they didn't know each other. Both asked me: ‘Since you'd like to go to China, have you ever heard of Xiamen,'" Brown recalls.

Brown started to find out more about Xiamen and discovered that in the 1980s, Xiamen University was the only university in China that allowed foreigners to study Chinese while bringing their family members.

Brown thought studying Chinese was the first step, and so he arrived in Xiamen with his family — his wife Susan, an American who was born and raised in Taiwan, and his two sons.

He was surprised once again when he was invited to teach at the university's MBA center. Brown had graduated from Walden University with a PhD in business administration and management.

"Xiamen was the right place and the right time for me," Brown says. But it was also hard to adapt in the beginning.

"Xiamen in the 1980s was not a nice place to live in. People burned coal and the air was polluted. I had to carry candles to the bookstore because the electricity was awful. It took me months to register and buy a tricycle."

Brown says what made him stay was the people in Xiamen.

"In the 1980s, during the planned economy, Chinese people used food coupons to get meat, vegetables and oil. But foreigners had no such tickets, and we could not use cash, which was crazy," Brown says. "Many Chinese teachers sold their tickets to me, not to make any profit, just the cost it should be.

"During such festivals as Spring Festival and Mid-autumn Festival, the Chinese faculty would invite my family to their homes. Even though they were not rich, they shared everything with us. Just one year after, I had already decided to live here permanently."

In 1992, Brown became the first foreigner in Fujian province to be granted permanent residence.

As a veteran expatriate, Brown was bombarded with questions by new foreigners who wanted to know where to buy cheese, and where to buy toilet tissue that was soft on the posterior.

In 1993, tired of answering the same questions again and again, Brown spent eight hours completing a 24-page handbook called Survival Guide for Foreigners in Xiamen.

It became very popular and Xiamen University began to distribute it to all newly arrived foreign teachers. It took years before Brown realized that even the Xiamen city government was copying "the terrible little book".

"My god, it was only a work done within hours," Brown says.

Brown started to edit and expand it in 1999, and the next year, he published the 160-page Amoy Magic, adding more content about Xiamen history and culture. All 500 copies were sold within two weeks.

He wrote more books after this initial success, including Mystic Quanzhou — City of Light and Magic Fujian.

To write the books, Brown threw himself into research on the Internet, bought enough books to create a private library and drove himself out into the field to interview local people.

All this not only make him a resident expert on Fujian province, but also helped him deliver a brilliant presentation for Xiamen in the international Nations in Bloom competition in Stuttgart, Germany.

Now known as the LivCom Awards, this is the world's only competition for local communities that focus on environmental management and the creation of livable communities.

Xiamen will host the final round of this year's LivCom Awards at the end of the year.

Sun Jianhui, a Xiamen official involved in organizing the event, says the reason Xiamen was chosen as host can be attributed to Brown's great performance 11 years ago.

"Dr Brown really treated Xiamen as his second home. He spared no effort in publicizing the city and is the only foreigner I know who understands the culture here even better than some local residents," Sun says.

Looking back, Brown says the changes to Xiamen have been impressive.

"I knew the difficult times would pass, but I didn't expect the city change so fast," Brown says of a city that now has a good transportation infrastructure and a bustling nightlife similar to Las Vegas.

Over the past decade, Brown has taken his family traveling across China, amazed by the sheer scope and variety of China's natural beauty, but in his eyes, nowhere is more impressive than his hometown, especially when the hometown is Xiamen.

"I dreamed of Xiamen becoming an international city and I will live here forever, until they bury me," Brown says.

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