I first met Amy back in 1997 when I was living in Tianjin, a port city of 10 million people 2 hours east of Beijing. Probably only about a hundred foreigners were living there then, and many of them worked at the big Motorola plant that had just opened. Crowds of dirt- and sweat-stained rural migrant workers who had come to the city to find jobs would follow me around, as one of the few foreigners, and shout, “Hello!” They stood grouped together on roadsides, holding up “Job Wanted” signs with their skills scrawled on cardboard. When they would see me, they would come running.

One middle-aged man, whose clothes were so blackened by grime I wondered if they were his only set, approached me and said excitedly that I was the first foreigner he had ever spoken to. He must have been dirt poor—I could see his ribs sticking out from underneath his shirt, and he stank—but he was so excited to meet me, he insisted on treating me to a meal of crispy duck followed by unfiltered cigarettes so strong they burned my throat.

I used to love biking through Tianjin’s leafy boulevards, lined with the old mansions that Europeans had erected more than a century before during the waning days of the Qing Dynasty. The buildings were a welcome contrast to the drab, crumbling, Soviet-style block housing that made up the rest of the city. I would often eat my meals on one of those streets at Broadway Café, one of the few restaurants in the city that served Western food. ...

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