Long time no write-y!
I feel like I’ve been shying away from one of the main aims I had in mind when I started this whole thing. I want to write openly and honestly about my experiences in a more general way than I have been doing, as much for myself as anyone else! Interesting titbits and anecdotes are fine but I have been pussying out of writing about any personal. Keeping it detached means I don’t really have to challenge my limited ability to write interestingly and I don’t have to really analyse myself and my experiences. Which was kinda the point of this, at least one of the points. So, at the risk of sounding narcissistic, here’s some stuff about me.
At this stage I can honestly say that I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here. I couldn’t have said this three weeks ago but things just keep getting better and better. I started on a big low, got hit by insomnia for a week or so. Was running on an hour or two a night, something I have never experienced before and hope never to again. Not sure what the cause was, I think a mixture of jetlag and just general nerves/anxiety. Just glad I don’t have it with any regularity!
Every day here is a challenge, almost every interaction is a challenge, but it is also incredibly rewarding. I’m learning things every day, even if it’s just something small like finding out about a new cultural difference between ourselves and the Chinese. Or learning a new sentence in Mandarin. Or learning how much Chinese beer it takes to knock me out. We’re also reaching the stage now where we have some kind of routine that, at least vaguely, ticks all the boxes that I wanted to tick when I was here. Doing some exercise, learning some Chinese, working hard and meeting interesting people. Should point out that if it wasn’t for the fact that there are some brilliant people here I wouldn’t feel half as comfortable as I do. Living in a city where you are, 99% of the time, a complete outsider hasn’t always been easy, but it’s the gatherings every now and then with teachers and such that make it manageable. Something about a port in a storm.
That does sound awfully over-dramatic doesn’t it? Hopefully those of you who know me would believe me when I say I’m doing my very best not to sensationalise my emotions. Recently I’ve tended to be insular to a fault about this sort of thing. I’ve got it in my head that, as a society/culture, we’ve lately become obsessed with creating or valuing unnecessary melodrama and the personal quality of getting-on-with-it is hugely undervalued. I’m as guilty as anyone, this whole paragraph is a prime example haha.
Oops. Tangent out of nowhere!
The teaching has been awesome fun! I don’t think it’s something I’m naturally great at but, again, I’m learning every day. It’s very satisfying in ways that have surprised me. First of all, someone explained to me very shortly after arriving just how utterly shite the life of the average middle-class Chinese child is. Aspirational families who are just below the level of wealth needed to be able to afford multiple children put absurd amounts of pressure on their one child. There are a few reasons for this. There’s the whole idea of ‘face’, kind of like honour. They want their family to be seen as successful and that includes their child. There is also huge societal pressure, motivation quotes from people like Chairman Mao are everywhere in schools. The cynic in me says that it is predominantly because, in China, when you get old your child pays for you. There’re no pensions or schemes to help the elderly if your kid can’t afford to look after you you don’t get looked after.
Strange for a supposedly communist country don’t you think? Well this place is basically communist in name only. Or at least, the government cherry pick the more useful and repressive aspects of communism to keep the population stable and then run, economically, on some kind of uber-capitalism. It’s a strange mix! For example, the government own every building, every utility, everything. You can’t buy a house here, you rent it from the government and they can take it off you any time you like. However there are TONS of millionaires, billionaires. People with wealth you can’t even get your head around. The wealth gap is insane, something that I’m pretty sure isn’t supposed to be a trait of communism.
Anyway, all this pressure means that a lot of these kids are pretty much knackered, racked with anxiety and unhappy when they come in to school. Not all, but a lot. However, knowing what you do, it is incredibly satisfying to see them just have some fun! Once they open up and get used to the more western style of teaching they actually get to have a laugh. They can run around and shout a bit and just be kids! It’s simultaneously joyous and depressing. Some of them are just so excited for the lessons you can’t believe it. They can barely control themselves! I have a boy in one of my classes who looks like he could cry with happiness before we are about to play a game. He will sit in his chair, gripping the side of his desk with an absurd grin on his face literally rocking back and forth in excitement! I thought, before arriving, about how great it must be to see kids learning. That is brilliant too, don’t get me wrong, but right now I get most of my job satisfaction from seeing them just have a good time with their friends for an hour or so every week because you know a lot of them aren’t getting that anywhere else.
That’ll do for now. Sorry it was a bit heavy! As always, I hope you’re all well.
Currently working on a few other little writings projects, a couple of stories are coming along nicely. Maybe post a chapter or two up here soon.