A slice of life: a city in central China where I knew almost no one. That was OK, I’m a free spirit. But then, you never know who will come knocking. So one Saturday morning, here was a rather attractive woman at my door with her young daughter in tow. My fame, apparently, had to do with the magic of speaking English. A tiger mother? Wanting a father? A visitation from the Chinese secret police? Anything and nothing was possible in a place like this. I invited them in, together with their “uncle”, an engineer, who could proudly speak some kind of English. An hour of chit chat later, the mission was still unclear, but the next weekend the engineer invested in taking us all to lunch. We had a nice bottle of wine, then alone for a moment, the engineer wrapped his arms around my shoulders and slurred “I’ll take you to a place that has some girls”. Hmm, this mission was looking even more clouded. He meant, of course, a brothel and became offended when I declined. Our cross-cultural friendship hit the rocks, if it was friendship we had been trading in. Yet this estrangement was not really about a taste for working girls. In another time and place, it could have been about praying to this god or that, to belonging to one academic clique or another, to being a willing participant in some ‘company culture’ (regardless of whether it was corrupt or honest), or even to sharing a cigarette. By temperament, a strange few like me are forever outsiders. That’s OK, outside is the place I know best. It has the friendly familiarity of fresh air. Others crave converts to their cause, co-conspirators in their crime, or fellows in shared weakness (this last, the foundation for many a marriage). An orgy of shared backslapping, a haze of shared tobacco smoke, is as close to truth and certainty as a normal person ever wants to come. That’s fine too – for them.