Thomas F. O'Neill

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Phone: (800) 272-6464



Copyright © 2005 - 2018 by Thomas F. O'Neill - All rights reserved. Commercial use or reproduction in any form is strictly prohibited without the author’s consent.

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Location: Shenandoah, PA / Suzhou, China, Pennsylvania / Jiangsu, China, United States

My writings have appeared on websites all over the world, including in various magazines and newspapers. I do not view our existence as being set apart from god but rather our existence and the existence of all things is the subtle altruistic outreach of gods love. Life for me is an ongoing quest with greater self-awareness as the means to greater spiritual growth within me and in all that I touch. This interrelationship will ultimately lead towards a greater comprehension of our universe and humanities role as intricate living beings within an evolving and consciously growing universe. It is when we discover and in recognizing our spiritual interconnectedness that is the sustaining essence of all things that we become living, breathing, and ever so subtle revelation of the altruistic outreach of god’s love.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Proud citizen of China and the US and bilingual to boot ....... ❤          

Friday, January 04, 2019

If you want to find joy and happiness bring it to others ....... 🧐

Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year everyone may the New Year bring you peace, happiness, and great fortune -- ��❤ HAPPY NEW YEAR 2019 ��❤

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Thomas F O'Neill's Christmas celebration at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School in Suzhou, China.

Thomas F O'Neill's Christmas celebration at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School in Suzhou, China.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School in Suzhou, China.

Well I’m back in China for the Holiday Season and this is just one of the reasons why I love this time of year. I would like to wish everyone a great and super holiday.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Suzhou China

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Meeting Ali

By Thomas F O'Neill 

I am going to tell you a story about a person I met in September of 1978. I truly admired this person because he was an extraordinary human being.

His name was Muhammad Ali and in September of 1978, he was the first heavy weight boxer to regain the world championship title for the third time. Ali’s training camp was in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, approximately 12 miles from my home in Shenandoah.

In February 1978, Ali went up against Leon Spinks it was Spinks 7th professional fight and he captured the world heavy weight title from Ali.  Ali began training hard for the rematch in Deer Lake.

My hometown’s mortician was a boxing manager and he was managing a young boxer that trained at Ali’s camp. The mortician was friends with a man who was a friend of my father. One day they took me to see Muhammad Ali.

When I walked in to one of the cabins at the training camp there was a large boxing ring there. Ali was bigger than life inside that ring and he joked to reporters who were snapping photos of him. He joked about how ugly Leon Spinks was and pulverizing him in the ring might improve his looks. He was funny, and he was extremely aware of how people like me saw him as a boxing legend.

One day I took the public transportation bus from Shenandoah to Deer Lake and I ran from the bus-stop up to his camp. I saw Ali running along a path in the woods. I ran up to him, but I was unaware of the champ’s security detail. One of Ali’s security guys tackled me to the ground. 
All I heard was, “Hey, Hey, what are you a cop? he’s just a kid!!!” those angry words came from Ali himself. He then pulled me up by my arm and said, “look go over to that cabin I’ll be over there later.” This became a regular thing for me, not getting tackled, but going to Ali’s camp.

Ali could never remember my name he just called me “Kid.” I started hitting the punching bags and jumping rope there. I got to know the members of his entourage. One of the boxers there was from Shenandoah and I would get a ride home from him.

One day Ali yelled over to me, “hey, Kid, are there any good movies playing?” I told him the Capital theater in my hometown was playing Superman. After Ali’s workout four cars pulled up in front of the cabin. One of Ali’s entourage people asked me to get in one of the cars.

When we arrived at the theater a man in the ticket booth said to the Champ, “hey did anyone ever tell you how much you look like Ali?” My only response from that statement was a sarcastic “Duuuaa.”

Muhammad Ali bought every seat in the house and when the ticket booth guy asked “Why?” Ali said, “I want to watch the movie.”

When we sat down before the start of the film. The champ looked at me and asked, “hey kid have you ever noticed how all the superheroes are white?”

“I never thought about that” I said.

He then asked, “have you ever thought about how all the angels are white?” he then paused for a second, “how come there aren’t any black angels?”

My reply was, “I think angels are spiritual … kind of color neutral.”

Ali then asked, “have you ever thought about how your god is white? All the twelve apostles were white.”

“I never thought about that either,” I said, “was Muhammad black?” I asked.

“Of course, he was black and so was Jesus” he said.

“I wouldn’t know, I never met them,” I said, “Is your god black?”

“God is god kid, only people are black and white” he said.

“Well,” I said, “you’re a superhero for many people and you're black.” 

“Well, Kid,” he said, “I won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympic games, and I couldn’t get a hamburger in a dinner, because I’m black.”   

“Maybe they heard about you stealing those bikes” I said.

“What are you talking about?” the champ asked.

“Howard Cosell said, you started your career stealing bikes,” I went on to say, “he also said you’re not the man you were ten years ago.” 

“Hey, Kid, every time Howard opens his mouth, he should get arrested for air pollution.” Ali went on to say, “besides, I talked to Howard’s wife,” Ali paused for a second because the movie started, “and she told me Howard’s not the man he was two years ago.”

He then put his index finger up to his lips to let me know the movie started.

When the movie ended the guy in the ticket booth looked at me and asked, “What does he do?” pointing at Ali. My only response was a sarcastic “duaaaa” I then said, “he will soon be the only heavy weight boxer to regain the world title three times.”

The ticket booth guy’s eyes widened and said, “you mean he’s the guy?” he said in a surprised tone of voice.

Well, Ali did go on to regain his title for the third time but for me that was just a foot note to his greatness. His abilities in the ring captured the imagination of children and adults all over the world. He was truly a champion with a bombastic way of expressing himself. He wasn’t just a great athlete in many ways he was also a great entertainer. But most of all, his capacity for kindness transcended, race, religion, and one’s economic standing in the world.

What he taught me 40 years ago is how to reach out and treat others the way you would want to be treated. You can also define the true character of Muhammad Ali by how well he reached-out to those of the least influence.

Ali in 1978, reached out to the grandson of a coal miner and revealed to me. That the true measure of Ali’s worth was revealed by what he gave to others and his true legacy will not consist in his athletic abilities alone.

Ali liked to tell people, “I’m the greatest,” his greatness, however, will not be defined by the ring. His true greatness consisted in his capacity for kindness and the kindness that he bestowed on me will truly be his greatest legacy in my heart and soul. 

Always with love,

Thomas F O’Neill

Phone: (800) 272-6464

WeChat: Thomas_F_ONeill

Skype: Thomas_F_Oneill


Happy Thanksgiving everyone !!!!!!! 😎

Friday, September 28, 2018

Thomas F O'Neill with John Ackiewicz and his friend Steve in Shanghai, China.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Suzhou, China - Aerial footage


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Thomas F O'Neill

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Thomas F O'Neill's students at the Suzhou International Foreign Language...

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Thomas F O'Neill's students at the Suzhou International Foreign Language...

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Thomas F O'Neill at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School

At the Suzhou International Foreign Language School in Suzhou, China.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Grade 6 student at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School in S...

Thomas F O'Neill singing what a wonderful world at the Suzhou Internatio...

Thomas F O'Neill singing the wonder of you at the Suzhou International F...

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thomas F O'Neill singing Hello at the Suzhou International Foreign Langu...

Thomas F O'Neill singing Imagine at the Suzhou International Foreign Lan...

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Thomas F O'Neill with students at the Suzhou International Foreign Langu...

Friday, June 15, 2018

Thomas F O'Neill's English class at the Police training center in China'...

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Thomas F O'Neill, Suzhou, China

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Finding purpose in life

By Thomas F O'Neill
Every person at some point in their lives need to ask themselves this simple question, “what is my true purpose in life?”

A purposeful life will help you find something more meaningful -- in the things you do for yourself and others. It can also help you achieve what you most want in life - true happiness. People, throughout the world have the same deep desire -- to be happy.

For me happiness is not something that is given to me with each passing day. It is something I try to bring to each passing day. In other words, happiness is not found in the things we want to get from life. But rather happiness is found in the things we give to life.

There is an old Buddhist saying, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

I like to tell my students at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School in Suzhou, China. That there will be times when the burdens of life make us feel as if we are carrying them on our shoulders but without life’s pressures diamonds will never appear.

Helen Keller once said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” On our life’s Journey things may not always go as planned but that does not mean there are not greater opportunities before us.

I like to remind my students, that the most precious things in life, cannot be built by hand, bought, or sold by man. They can only be experienced through a wondrous soul and shared from one heart to the other. Happiness can only be experienced once it is shared with those around us.

There is also an old Chinese proverb, “Fools seek happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under their feet.” We all want happier lives and the material things we seek, and desire may in fact make our lives a little more comfortable. But the material things we acquire in life - will never provide us with a meaningful and purposeful life.

There are also things in life that we can give away and keep, our word, a happy smile, and a grateful heart. There is an old saying, “It’s not happiness, that leads to gratitude, it’s gratitude that leads to happiness.”
Our greatest achievements in life, will not consist in fame or glory, but in the unremembered, unrecognized, and undetected acts of loving kindness that were bestowed on others. That is where our true purpose and the meaning of life resides.

I am a firm believer in the universal law - what we give to others is returned to us a thousand-fold. I also like to remind my students that kindness and love are the greatest forms of wisdom and love itself is the afterglow of life.
Always with love,
Thomas F O'Neill
Phone: (800) 272-6464
WeChat - Thomas_F_ONeill
Skype: thomas_f_oneill

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Acts of kindness are what counts in life

The yuletide season is once again upon us with all the hustle and bustle of the mad shoppers. I for one didn't participate in the frenzy of Black Friday like millions did in America and I never will.

I am one of those people who simply enjoys the sharing and to give thanks for the special people in my life. That truly makes this time of year special for me especially here in Suzhou, China.

I surely have plenty to be thankful for because throughout my life people have gone out of their way to be kind to me and the Chinese here are no exception. I once told my students in class when you care for others you are cared for and when you love others you are loved. This special season of giving should reveal our love for one another through kindness because loving kindness gives this special season its true meaning.

The cities in China are all lit up now with Christmas lights and they are so beautifully displayed that they also bring out the Christmas spirit in me. The Chinese also enjoy celebrating this special season with the lighting of bonfires. Some sing songs and dance around the large glowing fires. They set off large firework displays as well in the night sky. It is an ancient tradition that goes back thousands of years. It's one of their ways of coming together as an entire community to celebrate their abundance and to be thankful for having one another in their lives. That is just one of the reasons I find this season so special here.

Here like in America parents and children alike also take great joy in Santa's arrival on Christmas Day. I also enjoy seeing the young children's faces light up at the sight of Santa the jolly old soul.

There was a time though when I felt the season of giving was simply a common courtesy in order to receive and provide our significant others with material gifts.

I now understand more clearly that this special season is for heartfelt acts of gratitude for having people in our lives. When keeping the true spirit of giving close to our heart it enables us to give from the heart all year-round.

The yuletide season should be a time when our love comes to call because that love gives this time of year its true meaning.

What intrigues me about the Christmas season here in China is that the majority who celebrate this time of year are non-Christian. The Buddhists have embraced the season as a way of giving thanks.

I have found over the years, though, that it's not the material gifts that count in life but rather it's the unrecognized, undetected and unremembered acts of loving kindness that are our greatest gifts and achievements in life.

If we truly want to see a world of loving and joyous people we must be loving and joyous toward the people in our own lives. That potential is part of our humanity. When we reach out and touch others we touch part of the humanity that is within us. When we enhance the life of another in need we in turn enhance our own lives.

Objects gift-wrapped in shiny paper can be forgotten over time but kindness whispered to those in need will echo endlessly throughout the community. Those small acts of kindness resonate with the giver and the receiver because they are gifts from the heart. Such priceless gifts can never be measured monetarily though because how can you put a price on love?

From my heart to yours I would like to wish all of you a very merry and joyous holiday season.

Always with love from Suzhou, China

Thomas F O'Neill

U.S. Voice mail: (800) 272-6464        

China Cell: 011-86-15114565945 

Skype: thomas_f_oneill 


Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, 


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The future looks brighter from Suzhou, China

By Thomas F O'Neill

I have been teaching in Suzhou, China for two years now and my fourth semester is now coming to an end. In all my classes I have students that stand out from the rest. It’s mostly due to the questions they ask or their sense of humor. It reminds me of my college days before most of my students were born. I had the same curiosities and thirst for knowledge that I am witnessing in my students.

I find however that many students in China seem more sophisticated than I was at their age. They are not shy about pulling out an iPhone in the middle of a classroom debate in order to back up the facts to their side of the argument. They seem to be putting their technological gizmos to good use and today’s technology is progressing education in leaps and bounds.

Religion comes up quite often in my classes and it’s always a hot button issue. In the beginning of each semester a new student will ask what my religious beliefs are. I always tell them that I was born and raised Roman Catholic. Several students will then bless themselves to evoke a laugh either from me or their fellow students.

I tell my students that I am no longer a practicing Catholic but I’m always open and honest about my spirituality. I was surprised at first about how knowledgeable they are about the current problems facing the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world. They always bring up the decline of the Churches influence in the world.

Students always ask me if I’m an atheist and my response is usually - Life and god are one and the same to me and that I can't separate my life from the life of others.

A young female student said, “so you are a Buddhist.”

I told her I don’t have religious beliefs and I tried to the best of my ability to explain that we are simply sharing god's life. I experience my existence and the existence of all things as the subtle altruistic outreach of god’s love. I went on to say that I have a deep intuitive awareness of my spirituality and the spirituality that is within others

“But that is religion,” a male student said with frustration in his voice.

I don’t believe in religion I told the class once again. I cannot contain god in religious beliefs, buildings, creeds, dogmas, or religious institutions because god transcends all religion. The love that is within us cannot be contained in our beliefs or faith in what god ought to be in our lives. God is the eternal sustenance that sustains us and all things. God is the essence of our eternal love which transcends all human beliefs and faith.

“How can you say that when there are such atrocities throughout the world? If what you believe were to be true than we would all be living in paradise,” another male student said.

Many of those atrocities were committed in the name of religion, I said. It all comes down to beliefs and free will. Evil is the result of a perversion of the human will. We are all free to think and do as we please but for every action there is a reaction. The consequences of those actions whether they are good or bad will always come back to us.

I may not be a religious person but I am spiritual in nature. I told the class, my spirituality is what I experience with each second, minute, and day. I try my best to explain that my spirituality is not something I believe in or have faith in. It’s something I experience and come to know within me. It’s simply life itself because I experience it as a living being. We are not set apart from god because god is the intimate and eternal life that is within us and around us.

Questions and debates on whether there is an afterlife always come up in my class as well. I always tell my students that I’m not an expert on death but rather an apprentice in life. With each second, minute, and day I am learning how to live. I like to think of humanity as our significant other. We may come into the world as separate human beings but humanity is never truly apart from us. When we reach out and touch others, we touch part of the humanity that is within us. When we open ourselves up to love others, we in turn allow ourselves to be loved. When we care for others, we allow ourselves to be cared for. We are not just human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey. We need others in order to learn and grow not only in knowledge but in greater self-awareness.

“America is a Christian Nation,” a male student said, “so I’m sure many people in America don’t think like you.”

When it comes to the reality of life, I said - there are only two opposing views. One view is - there are no miracles in life and the other view is - life is a miracle. It is within these two opposing views that I have chosen to live my life. We are the hands of god -- one hand is used to build a better life for ourselves and the other hand is used to build a better life for others. I do not seek to be understood by words alone because I believe it is best to teach by example.

“In China many don’t believe in Religion,” a female student said, “but many believe in Karma. When you do good - goodness is returned to you.”

I have experienced that in my own life, I said. A truly spiritual person does not seek conformity from others by imposing their will or beliefs on others. A person with a deep spiritual understanding will bring about positive change in the world by becoming the change that they would like to see in others.

“That is an idealistic way of thinking,” another female student said, “but there are so many problems in the world.”

If the world has become a dark place then it is our responsibility to become the light so that others can see more clearly, I said. Positive change cannot come about by forcing or imposing our way of life on others but rather it is achieved by living our life as we would want others to live their life; in doing so others will embrace and emulate our way of life.

“Religion in America has a tendency to impose their ways on to others,” a male student said, “the slaughter of the American Indians, your previous wars in Vietnam, Korea, and now your wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Isn’t that an example of a Religious Nation imposing its will and beliefs on other Nations”

Yes, I can see many of America’s mistakes throughout history, I said. That is why it is best to live your individual lives as genuinely and authentically as possible. We are all spiritual by nature and by nature we are all uniquely endowed with extraordinary gifts and talents. The more self-aware we become the more aware we become of all we have to offer. We must also learn from History so that past atrocities’ will not be repeated.

“Average is a dominant gene trait” a female student said jokingly, “the problems of the world are caused by average people’s short sightedness. The world’s spiritual problems will always be beyond your pay grade no matter how far the value of the U.S. dollar drops.” That statement got a huge laugh from the class.

She then asked me, “Where do you find your inspiration?”

My inspiration comes mostly from my quite time and the interaction from my students, I said. The thought of knowing I am where I’m supposed to be and doing what I’m doing can be an inspiration as well.

I like to remind people that when the mind draws a blank to the world’s riddles it turns to the soul for answers for the soul knows what the mind seeks. Some people may call that intuition. I suppose my intuition and the gift of the imagination are my greatest abilities in expressing to others my perspective on life.

The class than quickly turned to the state of the global economy and the current cultural issues facing the world. The death of Osama Bin Laden became a resent hot topic in my classes as well.

Every semester I tell my students when it comes to life what we learn in the classroom will not define our lives. But rather how well we live our lives in communion with others will in the end define our true character and our true worth.

My students are brighter and more informed than I was at their age and that is a good thing. They have vast amounts of knowledge at their fingertips with their iPhones and various other gizmos. The questions they ask in class also reflect their curiosity about the deeper dimensions to life, their future, their nation’s future, and the future of the world and that is certainly a good thing.

Always with love from Suzhou, China

Thomas F O’Neill

Phone: (800) 272-6464

China Cell: 011-86-15114565945

Skype: thomas_f_oneill


Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog,


Friday, April 01, 2011

Education is vital for America’s future

By Thomas F O’Neill

The United States is slowly bouncing back from one of the worse recessions in our Nation’s History. Our country still has a long way to go though in terms of a full economic recovery. Many States are also facing huge budget deficits and the State of Pennsylvania where I was born and raised is no exception.

I have been reading online about Gov. Tom Corbett’s current budget proposal to slash Pennsylvania’s education funding by fifty percent. To say that such a proposal would be detrimental to the Pennsylvania School Districts would be an understatement, especially, for the Pennsylvania coal region.

There has also been talk about cutting the headstart programs in some of the School Districts due to budget shortfalls. In my opinion that would be a huge mistake also because early childhood education especially the head start program is paramount for the Child’s educational development.

I am no longer living in Pennsylvania or the United States for that matter. I have been working as a teacher at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School in China for several years now. I am witnessing firsthand how education can change the course of a nation and lift millions of people out of poverty. Here in China K-12 students have twelve hour school days they go to School from 8AM to 8PM. They have 43 more school days per year than American children.

Shanghai, China last year achieved the highest test scores in the world in reading comprehension, writing, math, and science. They accomplished this with English as their second language.

The Chinese are not smarter than Americans they are just better prepared academically. Many Asian’s are coming to the U.S. and going to our top Schools on full scholarships. The sad thing about that though when they complete their academics in our American Universities, our Federal Government makes it extremely difficult for them to remain in America. That is so unfortunate because their knowledge and educational skills can truly benefit our country.

Chinese engineers who earned their engineering degrees in our American Schools built the world’s fastest Supercomputer. Their computer design wasn’t built in America though it was built in China. This Superfast computer can make 2,700 trillion calculations per second and no other computer in the world can do that. It would take a laptop computer 480 years to accomplish what China’s new Supercomputer can accomplish in one second.

Chinese engineers who graduated from American Universities are in the process of building commuter trains that can reach top speeds of approximately 500 miles per hour. Unfortunately, those trains are not being built in America they are being built in China. Our country could have benefited a great deal from those engineers knowledge and skills. Imagine taking a train from New York City to Los Angeles in 4 hours.

The China Government has people on its payroll to actively find and recruit people from the U.S. and various other countries that they feel can aid their educational facilities and help prepare their students for the global market. This is also adding to the ‘Brain Drain’ in America because China is hiring the people that should be preparing U.S. students for the global market.

In 2010 there were 34 other countries that achieved higher test scores than our American students in reading comprehension, writing, math, and science. They accomplished this with English as their second language. This is truly giving the U.S. a ‘dumbing down’ image in the eyes of the world.

The State of Pennsylvania shouldn’t be cutting its educational funding but rather the State needs to develop resources to enhance the educational opportunities for its citizens. Education is vital for the Pennsylvania coal region where I was born and raised. It is also vital for our Nation as a whole because it provides people with the means, skills, and opportunities to better themselves.

Always with love from Suzhou, China

Thomas F O’Neill

U.S. Voice mail: (800) 272-6464

China Cell: 011-86-15114565945

Skype: thomas_f_oneill


Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog,


Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Summer Of 1828

By Thomas F O'Neill

This Story is dedicated to Schuylkill County Pennsylvania’s Bicentennial. The county were I was born and raised.


Jonny Hargrove turned 14 in the summer of 1828 and he was a restless teen who sought adventure.

“I don’t know what to do with that boy,” said Jonny’s grandfather to his daughter at the Pottsville canal, “I could get more work out of a one eyed coyote. Your boy is lazy as they come.”

“He’s just an imaginative child still has some grow’n in him,” said Jonny’s Mother.

“Yea but he’s a waste’n his best work’n years,” said the grandfather.

Jonny climbed up high in a tree and worked his way out onto one of its large limbs. It was then that he noticed young Sally a bright eyed young scarlet.

“Ahhhh !!!” yelled Jonny as he lost his balance and fell into the water. A large splash pursued followed by a laugh from Sally. The thirteen year old girl removed a man’s trousers from a potato sack. She ran behind a tree and quickly put on the trousers. She then tied a rope around her waist like a belt. After all the pants were five times her size and she didn’t want to lose her father’s trousers in the canal.

“What are you boy’s doing in there?” a man yelled.

“What does it look like,” yelled Sally

“We’s fish’n,” yelled Jonny.

“I’ll knock that sassiness out of you boy’s you wait and see,” yelled the Man.

“I’m not a boy I’m a girl,” yelled Sally.

“I can vouch for that Mister,” Jonny said, “she goes to my School.”

“Do I look stupid or something,” yelled the Man.

“Yep,” said Jonny

“Since when do girls ware trousers?” yelled the man.

“I only ware um when I swim,” Sally replied and she was highly insulted by being referred to as a boy.

“The canal is not for swim’n so get out,” the man said angrily.

“So what are you the governor or something?” asked Jonny sarcastically.

Well that certainly ruffled the man’s feathers to the point of jumping in the canal after them. The two belligerent teens never swam so fast, their hearts were pounding with a combination of fear and amusement. Their legs and arms moved faster than they ever had before. When they got to the other side of the canal they ran but Sally quickly noticed something - her trousers were gone.

She quickly jumped behind a bush, “I got you, you little monkey,” the man said to Sally.

“Hey Mister please get me my trousers in the water,” said Sally with great embarrassment.

“What?” the man said with confusion, “you don’t seem so sassy now, now do you.”

“Please Mister,” she said.

“Oh all right can’t have you run’n around with no clothes on,” said the man.

Sometime later he yelled “I found them.”

Sally popped her head up from behind the bush at the same time an elderly man was riding past her on a mule. He saw the man with the trousers in his hand and the child hiding behind the bush. He then noticed the child had no pants on. The poor fellow holding the trousers never saw the fist that came in his direction from the man on the mule - popping him on the jaw. That elderly man jumped off his mule so fast to aid the trouser less child. He was a bare fisted champion fighter in his youth and it sure showed. The elderly gentleman knocked out the man holding the trousers with a one-two bare knuckle combination punch.

“Here you are child,” said the elderly man handing her the trousers “that scoundrel will never bother you again.”

“There you are,” Jonny said to Sally, “I was wonder’n what happened to ya.”

The elderly man on the mule trotted on past him.

It was then that Jonny noticed the man lying on the ground.

“Boy he must really be out of shape if the swimming made him that tired,” Jonny said, “hey there’s a big bump on his head.”

“It’s a long story, Jonny” said Sally.


Jonny’s Mother spoke often about how her husband was killed in 1814 by the British troops. He was killed in the war of 1812 shortly after the birth of their son. Jonny’s Mother witnessed the burning of the White House. “The devil be with us this night Johnny” she said clutching her infant child tightly to her chest.

Her heart pounding with fear and the sound of the screaming people embedded in her soul. She hid with her parents and prayed for the war’s carnage to end. Her husband never returned home from that war. On many nights Jonny would clutch his mother in his arms as she relived the moment of that harrowing night in her nightmares.

She moved northward with her parents and in 1819 settled in the village of Pottsville. Jonny’s Mother gained employment as a School teacher and her Father owned a small produce store.

Every Friday early in the morning before the sun would rise Jonny and his grandfather would go to the Pottsville canal. They would wait there with many others for the large barge to arrive. They would then load their goods on to a mule drawn carriage to their produce store.

“I’m going to be a barge captain and travel all over the world on it all the way to China,” said Jonny to Sally.

“You have to cross a big Ocean to go to China,” Sally told him as they sat on a large tree limb overlooking the canal.

“Maybe if I make enough money on the barge I could buy my own ship,” said Jonny.

Friday’s came quickly that summer and Jonny dreaded having to unload the crates.

“Where is that lazy good for nothing son of yours,” said the grandfather to his daughter.

“He’s not here,” she said.

The barge arrived and the produce was loaded on to their mule drawn carriage.

“No lunch or supper for that lazy boy,” he said to his daughter as they headed home to their store.

The barge headed southward down the canal.

The barge Captain heard something it sounded like two large rodents. He started slamming a large stick against the large wooden crates.

“I’m tired of you dam rats get off me barge!!!!”

Two loud screams broke loose causing the captain to tumble backwards over a large crate.

“Who the bedevil may you two be?” said the captain.

“We just wanted to come along that’s all Mister,” said Jonny.

“Yea” said Sally, “don’t hit us with the stick.”

The Captain had a thick Gaelic sounding accent that they never heard before.

“Look this is no place for children,” the Captain yelled, “but I can’t take yas back til me finish me rounds and me ain’t pay’n yas none either.”

“Where are you headed” asked Sally.

“We’s got a lot of stops along the way to Philadelphia.”

“Never been there,” said Jonny.

“This is no Joy ride there’s raiders to look out for,” said the Captain.

“What’s a Raider?” asked Sally “is that like a big cat or something?”

“No you stupid child they steal your barge.”

“What do they do with it,” asked Jonny.

“Pirates they are dirty Pirates” said the Captain, “they sell the produce for themselves and when they done with their business they set it ablaze.”

“What do they do with the people?” asked Sally with fear in her voice.

“They kill um” said the Captain “that’s why this is no place for the likes of you.”

Sally and Jonny stared at the Captain in disbelief wondering if they will ever get home alive. As the barge pulled into the next stop ropes were thrown to them and two mules pulled the barge closer to land. They saw a man struggling with one of the mules because the mule was refusing to pull. An elderly man gave the mule a swat on its rear with a large piece of wood. The mule kicked back with its hind legs knocking another fella clear into the canal.

“That must hurt,” said Sally to Jonny watching it all from the barge.

“Well just don’t sit there, unload” the Captain yelled to the two barge mates.

Unloading the barge was no easy task it was hard work and their arms ached and their legs ached and parts of their bodies they never noticed before ached.

“How many more stops are there?” Jonny asked lying across a crate.

“Plenty” said the Captain.

Sally fell asleep lying between two crates.

“You look like a bright young fella so since you’re here you can learn to sail me barge,” said the Captain, ”then you can take your nap like your girl.”

“She’s not my girl she’s just a friend,” said Jonny.

“Nightfall,” said the Captain, “that’s when I will let you sail me barge. That way the Raiders can’t get to her. If she’s move’n at night they know we are awake and they will leave us be. The Raiders come and steal when we’s sleep’n not when we’s move’n.”

“When will I sleep if I’m up all night,” asked Jonny.

“When you’re not unloading you can sleep like your girl there,” said the Captain.

That night Sally stayed really close to Jonny every sound and thump made them jumpy. They were scared of the darkness that surrounded them. They were mostly scared of the unseen Raiders ready to pounce on their barge at any moment.

“I wonder what they look like Jonny?” Sally asked in a petrified voice.


“Those Raiders, those Pirates?” asked Sally

“I don’t even want to think about it,” Jonny said trying to hide his fear.

Jonny felt a large callused hand come down on his shoulder and he let out the loudest and most gut wrenching scream the Captain ever heard. Sally clutched on to the Captain’s arm during that terrifying moment.

“What in blazes boy is wrong with you?” asked the Captain.

“I thought you were a raider,” Jonny said in a frightened voice.

“You’re doing a good Job sailing me barge we’s be in Philadelphia by morn’n,” said the Captain.

The Captain handed each of them a dried beef-jerky to eat and water to drink. After three days on the barge Jonny was thinking about his mother’s scrambled eggs. He told Sally about his Mother’s cooked ham, her warm fresh milk, and her fresh bread. “Stop it Jonny you’re making me hungrier,” Sally said placing her hand on her stomach.

As the barge approached Philadelphia two small boats pulled up close to them. “Raiders!!!!” screamed Sally. Jonny grabbed a stick to take a swing at the men in the boats.

“For crying out loud I ought a just leave yas off here,” said the Captain pulling the stick out of Jonny’s hand.

The two high strung teens grabbed the ropes that were thrown their way by the men in the boats. They tied them to the barge good and tight. Mules on shore pulled the barge closer to the harbor. The two barge mates helped to unload and when they thought they were all through they sat down with delight.

“What are you two rug rats doing over there?” asked the Captain.

“Everything is off the Barge,” said Jonny proudly.

“We need to fill our next orders for the trip back so get to work,” said the Captain angrily.

As they looked at all the crates ready to be loaded on board Jonny’s legs began to feel like two wet noodles. Sally’s arms began to feel like ragweed and tears began to well up in their eyes at the sheer horror of it all.

“What good are yas?” asked the Captain, “when we get back to Pottsville you two got to go.”

When the barge was reloaded with various produce “well,” said the Captain, “we got to get some food in yas before we head back.”

The Pottsville teens were awe struck by the amount of people on the City streets. They never saw so many stores and taverns. The Captain took the two starving children into the White Horse Tavern for a hot meal and fresh coffee. The Captain drank one mug of beer after another in that character filled place. He seemed to know many people there as he comingled and laughed.

“Where are you from?” Sally asked the Captain, “I never heard anyone talk like you before.”

“Me nether,” said Jonny, “sometimes I have a hard time with the way you talk.”

“Ireland,” came the Captain’s reply.

“Is it near Philadelphia,” Jonny asked.

Sally laughed at Jonny’s question and so did the Captain.

“No” said the Captain, “but there are plenty of Irish here just the same.”

It wasn’t long before the Captain was filled to the brim with booze and he soon began to sing to the other patrons in Gaelic. Sally shrugged her shoulders at Jonny because they couldn’t sing along. They didn’t know the words to the songs and the songs weren’t even in English. The owner in due time placed the Captain in a small room on the second floor to sleep off his drunken stupor.

“Hey” said the owner “do you guys have any money.”

“No” said Jonny.

“I don’t either” said Sally.

“Well here is a dime and a nickel for you” he said to Jonny, “and here is a dime and a nickel for you” he said to Sally, “go out and have fun he won’t be going anywhere till morning. You can stay here tonight this is where he normally stays before heading back to Port Carbon. Is that where you two are from?”

“No we live in Pottsville,” said Sally.

“Well have fun and come back later I’ll give you guys a room.”

They walked around and visited various stores. They saw beautiful suites and dresses in store windows. They saw men walking around with large top hates and women with beautiful hairpins with fancy designs.

They came to a large theater, “how much does it cost to get in?” Jonny asked the man in the ticket booth.

“Ten cents” came the reply.

“That’s an awful lot of money Jonny,” said Sally.

“I’ll tell you what,” said the man in the booth, “I’ll let both of you in for ten cents.”

“Thanks Mister,” said Jonny excitedly.

They went inside the theater, “I never been in one of these before” said Sally.

A man and women began to pompously sniffle with hankies up to their noses. It seemed to them that the two young barge workers sitting nearby watching the Opera were in desperate need of a good scrubbing down. “The people they let in here,” said the woman.

“How much for one of those meat sandwiches?” Jonny asked a street Vender.

“Two Cents,” came his reply.

“Two cents for a sandwich” said Sally “everything is so much more expensive here.”

“Well I’m still hungry so give me one and her one” Jonny said to the vender.

The next morning the Captain seemed to have a bit of a hangover but he was looking forward to his trip northward to Port Carbon via the various canals and stops along the way.

“Well you guys need to wash your clothes and take a scrubbing before we head off,” he said to his two young stowaways. He didn’t have the heart to leave them there.

“We’re not taking a bath together” said Sally

“Did I say together first you than him,” said the Captain.

“I had to share a room with Jonny last night. What will people think of me in Pottsville?” Sally grumbled to the Captain and Jonny through a closed door.

“Hurry up in there” the Captain yelled to Sally.

“I just got in the water and it’s cold,” said Sally.

“Oh I boiled that water plenty,” said the Captain.

“What are we supposed to ware while our clothes are being washed?” Sally asked angrily.

“Just wrap yourself in a towel,” he said, “now get scrubbing.”

On a Friday morning the barge slowly moved towards the Pottsville canal. Sally and Jonny were so grateful to be back home. They were only gone a week but they never been on such an adventure before especially to a grand place like Philadelphia.

As the mules pulled the barge closer to shore Jonny’s grandfather noticed his grandson on board with his friend Sally.

“You got a lot of explaining to do” said Jonny’s grandfather, “but first unload our produce. Your Mother hasn’t slept a wink since you two left.”

Jonny gave his Grandfather a big hug.

“There’s plenty of time for that later just help me unload my produce,” said the Grandfather.

When Jonny’s Mother seen him she broke down in tears, “where did you go” she asked.

“Philadelphia,” said Sally excitedly.

“Do you believe that they went all the way there on the Barge,” said the Grandfather.

Jonny turned and waved goodbye to the barge captain as he sailed off.

The week long disappearance of Jonny and Sally made a huge stir in Pottsville that summer.

The day they went missing someone came forward and reported that a man chased a trouser less child across the Pottsville canal. The incident occurred just a few days before the two teens went missing. That certainly raised the fear level among the Pottsville villagers. Things like that just don’t happen in Pottsville. A description of the man went out and the elderly gentleman on the mule spotted that scoundrel once again near the Pottsville canal. He jumped off his mule and gave that man a one-two bare knuckle combination punch. The suspect was knocked out cold and quickly apprehended. The judge ordered that he be held without bail in the Pottsville jail.

The day the two young barge mates returned home the man in the Pottsville jail was released. It took him a long time to build up enough courage to return to the canal. The two adventurous youth were ordered by the Court to do work for the man accused of their abduction. They had to tend to O’Neill’s farm for each day he was unjustly incarcerated and it served them right.

Sally and Jonny eventually married due to the scandal of them sharing a room in Philadelphia. They took over the produce store in 1849. They had twelve children over the years and their descendants are spread-out across the United State.

We must never lose touch with what filled the heart and soul of those two young teens in the summer of 1828. Their wondrous youth filled imaginations and carefree innocence are within all of us just waiting to be rediscovered.

Always with love from Suzhou, China

Thomas F O'Neill

Phone: (800) 272-6464

China Cell: 011-86-15114565945

Skype: thomas_f_oneill


Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog,

Friday, October 01, 2010

Fundamentalism dangerous, whether Christian or Muslim

By Thomas F O’Neill

There is a growing number of Christian fundamentalist in America that depicts Islam as nothing more than radical suicide bombers waging war on the U.S. There is certainly a terroristic threat against America by radical Islamic fundamentalists but they do not represent all of Islam.

Christian fundamentalist also have a habit of distorting history to show how superior they are over the other religions of the world. However, their Islamic-phobic rhetoric is far from the truth.

When the Christians were experiencing the Dark Ages" (400-1400 A.D.) brought on by religious extremism. Muslims were writing about Plato, Aristotle, and other great philosophers.

It was the Muslims' deep thirst for knowledge and wisdom that preserved some of the early literature of antiquities greatest philosophers. They also preserved the writings of early Christian theologians.

Most contemporary historians - but not all - believe that during the Dark Ages the Christians burned the library of Alexandria in Egypt. The library contained hundreds of thousands of scrolls, literature, and knowledge of the ancient world's greatest thinkers.

The Christians at that time however believed the Bible contained all the knowledge that is necessary for man's salvation. That belief resulted in the burning of the library and the loss of a treasure-trove of knowledge.

There is a particular Islamic sect known as the Sufis who believe all knowledge is sacred because the human intellect is ours for the enhancement of humanity.

St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1228 A.D.) was greatly influenced by the Sufi belief system. He and the Sufis believed that the spirit of God is implicit and can be intrinsically known by all people no matter what their religious upbringing may be. The Sufis and St. Francis of Assisi's spirituality stood in total contrast to mainstream Islam and the Catholic Church's teachings at that time.

The Sufis where trying to bring spirituality into the Islamic faith by living and communicating their spirituality altruistically. St. Francis was trying to accomplish a similar mission within the Catholic Church of his day.

In the 13th century Muslim and Christian extremists were slaughtering one another in the name of religion. St. Francis however walked into the Muslim camps without harm. He talked to the Muslims about the Sufis spirituality and how similar it was to his own spirituality.

He was revered by both Muslims and Christians alike due to his implicit understanding that if you want to be understood you must touch the hearts of others. He did not accomplish his mission by imposing his will and beliefs upon others. He simply lived his life as he would want others to live their lives, in doing so, others embraced and emulated his way of life.

The Sufi Muslims have a similar mission to bring about peace in the world through a genuine and authentically lived spirituality.

We mustn't judge all Muslims by fanatical fundamentalists. On the contrary, there are many good and spiritual followers of Islam.

Fundamentalism is dangerous - it forces ill-willed people to live their lives ignorantly due to a lack of spiritual insight and a narrow minded belief system. You can find these extremists in every religion throughout history.

Religion is shaped by one's parents and by their parents' parents, but our spirituality is what we are born with. Spirituality is the spark, the essence, and the spirit that sustains us and all things. It's beyond rituals and religious symbols because it's the core of our existence. True spirituality is the torch that lights the way not religious principles that are imposed or mandated on others. It is lived and expressed freely in ones character for others to emulate and embrace.

I did not write this with the intent of offending the religious. I wrote this as a way of expressing how religious beliefs and differences separate people. On the other hand, spirituality can and does unite those who are searching for an altruistic way of life.

Always with love from Suzhou, China

Thomas F. O’Neill

Phone: (800) 272-6464

China Cell: 011-8615114565945

Skype: thomas_f_oneill


Other articles, short stories, and commentaries, by Thomas F. O’Neill can be found on his award winning blog at the link below,




Monday, February 01, 2010

China and the coal region: Technology connects us all

By Thomas F O'Neill

Ni Hao (Hello) from Suzhou, China.

I have been living and working as a teacher at the Suzhou Foreign Language School in China for approximately seven months now. I have found the culture to be quite intriguing, and I have been enjoying my stay here.

When I sat down to write this column, I was interrupted by a text message from a friend of mine in America. I am 13 hours ahead of the East Coast in America; when it is midnight here, it is only 11 in the morning in my hometown of Shenandoah. It amazes me, though, how I can instantly communicate with people thousands of miles away on the opposite side of the world.

Before I came to China, I never imagined that my students here would have cell phones and their own personal computers – the things I didn’t have when I was their age. Their papers are also e-mailed to me for grading, and they are always texting me with questions. The text messages and e-mails are a constant reminder of how this technology is permeating all facets of our lives.

“How old are you?”

I said to my students in class one day, “I can look back at my youth and remember the age of the manual typewriter before computers and the Internet was our communication lifeline.”

A hand went up and a young female face looked at me with such curiosity. She asked, “What is a typewriter, Teacher?”

I tried my best at that moment to simulate a typewriter with a paper adjuster and return carriage. Unfortunately, it only enhanced their confusion, so I used the Internet browser on my cell phone and found a picture of a manual typewriter. My cell phone was then passed around the room so that my students could understand what I was saying.

I also told them, “I am old enough to remember the era before VCRs and the cell phone.”

Another hand shot up. “Teacher,” the young man asked, “how old are you?”

“Very old,” I replied. “The first cell phone I had I could only talk on; no pictures.”

“No, you not that old, teacher” he said with some sincerity in his voice. “But how old are you?”

“I’m 47,” I told them. At that moment, another hand shot up.

“My mother 43,” a young female said excitedly.

“Age is just a number,” I said to them. “But now imagine where technology will be when you become my age.”

That got them thinking about not just their individual lives, but about the future of China.

A hand shot up. “Does this phone have GPS?” a young male student asked with my cell phone in his hand. “Nice phone!”

“It’s a BlackBerry,” I said, “like the one Obama has, but I only use it to text and talk.”

“Obama,” Chinese students repeated back and forth with amazed looks on their faces. Chinese chatter immediately filled the room.

I then told my students that I am excited about how fast technology is advancing. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when it took a month for a letter to travel halfway around the world. It was also very expensive to call the U.S. from Asia. The Internet can now be used to place phone calls for free, and it is something I have become dependent upon in my life.

Science fiction comes of age

Last week I spoke to a very dear friend of mine, Mr. Henry Zale, on the phone. He is living in my hometown in Pennsylvania. He will be 93 years young in January. I told him that when he calls my local number in the states the calls get forwarded to my cell phone in China. He paused for a moment and said, “Tom, when I was your age that was called science fiction.”

I said, “Henry, if I ever live to be your age, I can’t even fathom where technology will be, or what my life will be like.”

“Well, Tom” he said, “I am a World War I baby and I served in World War II, so let’s hope there isn’t a World War III in your lifetime, because if there is, people will be back using those manual typewriters as a sign of the aftermath. The technology in our lives can be good or bad depending on the hands that are using it.” Wise words.

China has indeed witnessed amazing technological growth in a very short period of time. It is resulting in their country advancing very quickly. The cities here are very modern and growing very fast. People also have more money to spend because of the growing middle class.

I noticed quickly the big differences between China’s growing economy and the economic condition of the Pennsylvania coal region. My hometown has been beaten down over the years due to being economically depressed.

China is not a perfect country, though, because approximately 600 million people make less than two American dollars a day; that is severe poverty in any country. On the other hand, approximately 365 million – more than the entire population in America – make more than 12,000 American dollars a year. They live much better than most of the people in the Pennsylvania coal region. It’s a sad contrast, but it’s also the reality of the times.

Poverty has become a worldwide pandemic, though, and it is something that will not go away anytime soon. It is also something I have witnessed firsthand over the years. It has shaped who I am and how I relate to others. It bothers me when I see vast amounts of wealth throughout the world while people live in squalid conditions with no running water, electricity or indoor plumbing. That is how millions of people live throughout the world. Seeing it firsthand made me more appreciative of who I am and what I have. I also grew to realize that we do not truly live until we place ourselves in the service of others. When we enhance the life of another, we enhance our own lives, and that is when we truly feel alive in the world.

The students are teachers

Working as a teacher here in China I am learning a great deal from my students. When I read my students’ writings, I learn a great deal about them, personally, due to their openness and honesty. I tell my students all the time since I arrived in China that I have learned more from them than they have from me. I look at each of them as friends as well. Although my humor at times can get lost in the translation, it’s the moments when I connect with them that are priceless.

Well, I have a few more text messages to send out and e-mails to grade. I will keep you all informed about my daily musings here in Suzhou in upcoming columns.

Always with love, from Suzhou, China.

Thomas F. O’Neill

Phone: (800) 272-6464

China Cell: 011-8615114565945

Skype: thomas_f_oneill


Other articles, short stories, and commentaries, by Thomas F. O’Neill can be found on his award winning blog at the link below,