Meet Fei Wen Gang: Freedom and culture aside, he came to the Berkshires because of love
Accents: The voices of our immigrant neighbors in the Berkshires
That thing about Chinese students being pushed by their parents to study really, really hard?
“Yeah, it’s true,” says Fei Wen Gang.
“Chinese parents really focus on their kids’ education. There is a huge population, so there is a lot of competition,” he says. “School days start at 7:30 in the morning and often you have classes into the evening.”
Six years ago, Fei, now 32, quit his job at China Unicom — “like a Verizon or AT&T” — and moved from the city of Luzhou to “the Mountain,” the northern Berkshire hilltown of Florida where the parents of his wife Ashley live. Their son Lucas was 9 months old.
Fei found a job at Pittsfield Plastics on West Housatonic Street and because Ashley also worked in Pittsfield their daily commute dictated a move. But before leaving Florida, Fei found a hobby he would never have been able to pursue in his home country.
“After I moved here, my old friends from China said, ‘Now you can play with real guns, not with fake toy guns anymore,’” he says. “And I said, ‘Oh yeah … never thought about it. Maybe I should look into that!’”
Ashley’s grandfather, Richard, runs LaBlue’s Taxidermy in Adams.
“He is an enthusiastic hunter,” Fei says. “He showed me how to shoot and took me hunting. I went to the safety course and got my license and then I bought a couple of handguns and a rifle.”
He talks animatedly about the black powder rifle he uses for deer hunting in Cheshire. He tries to fit in weekly shooting sessions at the Lenox Sportsmen’s Club.
Fei had to leave China to be able to enjoy this American pastime. But in Luzhou in Sichuan province, the region with the giant pandas and the very spicy food, other aspects of American culture found him.
Specifically: Linkin Park.
“I loved Linkin Park in high school. They were my idol and even right now,” he says. “I had all their CDs. That cost me a lot of money.”
In college, he and two others started a Linkin Park-style nu metal band. Away from their parents, the pressure to always study was less intense: “We feel like we should come together and do some cool stuff.”
Fei played drums. He writes out the Chinese name of the band phonetically: sheng yin guai shou. He translates it as “Voice Master.”
In spite of his passion for loud American rock bands, he never really thought about moving to the United States until he met his wife. He wanted to finish college as quickly as possible and start making his own money. His parents did not earn much as farmers. He did not want to be a financial burden and knew that his engineering degree would get him a good job.
“Many Americans think that China is like North Korea, without any freedom,” he says. “That’s not really true.”
He and Ashley met online. While living in Luzhou, she learned to cook some of the spicy hot food her husband likes. (The recipe for mapo tofu she provided for Accents comes with a warning: fiery!)
Fei laughs when asked about the Chinese food in the Berkshires. Apparently, he gets that question often.
“China is not like the United States where you can get a hamburger or a hot dog everywhere you go,” he explains patiently. “The food in China is different everywhere you go. Languages are different.
“People also ask me often to translate what they say when waiters talk to each other in a Chinese restaurant. And I don’t know, because they’re from a different part of the country.
“But one thing I can tell you,” he says, in what sounds like a well-rehearsed punch line: “The Chinese food here is definitely not authentic.”
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.