Serious Business

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.

Fuzhou-2

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.

Class :)

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.

Matt.

Finish what ya started!

Awful song.

Almost two weeks ago I committed to continuing a few little tales that I teased you all with. It was a promise I immediately regretted; I am publicly committing myself to never publicly committing  to anything. I was excited when I wrote that post, eager to fill everyone in on the madness that I’d seen, but as the days passed I got busier and had less and less time for doing my bloody washing never mind writing a post on here. Excuses excuses. It is funny, though, how you are completely prepared to commit to insane amounts of communication right before, or early on in, a trip. My family kindly showed interes in receiving regular updates, which I gleefully agreed to. Following through is another thing entirely! But I’ll get there. Hell, I was only here a few days and I promised the whole internet (ok…ok, 3-4 of my facebook friends who read this) that I’d happily go into detail on multiple complicated and confusing incidents. Anyway lets get it done, one less thing to worry about.

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First one was about taking the Chinese Working VISA mental and physical healthcheck accompanied by someone having a mental breakdown. I’m afraid I’m going to have to be a massive dick at this point and say I really don’t feel comfortable going into much more detail about this now, at least not in a public way like this. I always promised myself I wouldn’t hold back on here but lets just say the individual concerned has since suffered greatly and unfortunately and whimsical posts about something like this are no better than me writing a humorous post about someone getting hit by a Tuc-Tuc full of melons. Bad analogy, that would have been uncontroversially hilarious.

The first night out was pretty funny, although it feels like a long time ago now. In typical almost-but-not-quite Chinese form, the club could have been significantly improved by a few alterations. Removing everything inside would have been a good start, followed shortly after by knocking the building down and placing one small speaker looping the sound of a grown man weeping amongst the rubble. Of course, this is exactly the sort of club you want to go to in China, or in fact anywhere.There’s a great honesty to a place which is such a dive that everyone knows that everyone else is just there to get battered and have a laugh. There were a few baffling occurrences that night but the main thing I recall is that it seems fairly western and familiar for regular 30 minute long chunks. Then there will be 2 minutes of madness. For example, the first section of normality was interrupted by a group of men in chefs hats coming out of fucking nowhere to sing a lengthy dubstep-backed rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, accompanied by the entire bar staff. I asked one of the waiters whose birthday it was. Yep you guessed it, there was no birthday. In fact I don’t think the English was there to be understood, it was simply some song with English in it, therefore real cool! The night concluded with Lewis having to push an overenthusiastic Chinese man out of our elevator after he followed him back to the apartment to, presumably, gain carnal knowledge.

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What else was there. Insane construction, the photo below says it all really. Everything is done in this country on an entirely different scale to anything I am used to. There are entire cities being built (Google Ghost Cities) with nobody to live in them. Skyscrapers appear in no time. The road from Fuzhou airport to the city proper was littered with huge communities in construction, areas for hundreds of thousands of people to live. Vast road systems, communication lines, sewage systems are being built on the outskirts of the city constantly to keep up with the demand for housing. Apparently it is often done preemptively. Growth is so fast here that the government will build flats for 100,000 people outside a city just so, when the time inevitably arrives, the people who wish to settle there will have somewhere to live. It is literally staggering and somehow makes our umming and ahhing regarding, for example, the high speed rail system seem both incredibly slow and reassuringly considered.

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The roads and the supermarkets honestly deserve posts of their own so I will briefly mention the fireworks. It is pretty clear that the Chinese, having invented them, feel that they must utilise fireworks with some regularity and vigor. We have only been in China during one of the major festival nights (lantern festival) but it was genuinely one of the most incredible things I have seen and heard in my life. As I was on the bus towards the city centre it was like I was being driven into some kind of flamboyant war zone where two opposing forces were bombarding each other with a kaleidoscopic array of colourful explosives for reasons they had long forgotten. On approach I assumed that people were, perhaps, occupying specific arranged zones from which to set off the fireworks. Standing from a safe distance, orderly queues were lining up to carefully aim and launch their small collection of fireworks before heading home for a cup of tea. I think that’s the most wrong anybody has been about anything ever. I was literally thinking 1/reality. Re-read my imagining inverting everything but the presence of fireworks and you have some idea what was going on. It was complete mayhem but it was incredible to see. After standing on our balcony briefly, only to have to retreat inside as we realised people were launching fireworks so they exploded feet from peoples balconies, we headed up to the roof. It was a 360 degree firework show accompanied by deafening noise. We weren’t alone up their either, a nice bloke in his dressing gown obviously felt that our apartment block were letting the side down and had decided to put down his pipe, leave his fireplace and go set off a few for the team. Mad, but great fun. (I have some of this on video but, as of yet, can’t make youtube work over here, despite the VPN

Once again I must plead tiredness and cut short. I’m teaching private lessons this week which is why I’ve been busy. Expect more soon!

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Two Peanuts Walk Into a Bar

One was a salted.

Back in England my peanut allergy was, at worst, mildly embarrassing. It felt kind of undignified and pathetic to have to decline food lest I be brought low by a legume. Not the best, but I never felt like I was in danger. It was very much a first world problem, a mild inconvenience.

Nobody who has a peanut allergy in China has to suffer from this inconvenience or embarrassment.

Because they’re dead.

When it was realised by other foreigners here that I had a peanut allergy I was met by either surprise  or accusatory looks, presumably because it was considered possible I was unstable. Greetings directed at me during the first week were often along the lines of a good-humoured  ‘Oh, still alive then?’.

Surely it’s not THAT bad. What about all the Chinese people with bad peanut allergies? Well there aren’t any. I wasn’t being dramatic before. At some point, I guess right after breastfeeding, they die because they eat something. Maybe they survive the first meal or by some ridiculous chance grow up with a family who only eat fruit and manage to see a birthday or two. But at some point they’re going to want to eat chinese. And then they die. A conservative estimate for the amount of Chinese food that is either cooked in peanut oil or contains peanuts would be, from my massive two week experience, something like 80%+. Given that Chinese food is remarkably popular in China that causes a problem.

I should point out at this point that my allergy isn’t as bad as it used to be. I think I would have to eat quite a lot to expire (unsure how much for obvious reasons) and when I do eat something with peanuts I know about it immediately and can abruptly face the impossible challenge of gracefully refusing an entire meal in a restaurant. So that is good, but it steal leaves everything food related here as a bit of a challenge.

Another guy here has the same allergy (much worse actually, seems to be unfazed by his regular hospitalisation which I can’t help but find totally bad-ass) and gave me some of what I have dubbed ‘Death Cards’. They’re just little business cards that say, in chinese, something along the lines of ‘Please don’t use peanut oil in your food or you will experience the inconvenience of moving a dead English guys corpse out of your lovely restaurant’. It’s pretty helpful, although it seems like a lot of Chinese people understand the writing but just don’t understand the issue I’m attributing to myself. I don’t think that they ‘have’ allergies here really, they aren’t generally recognised.

Death Card

Death Card

All in all this just adds to the adventure. Every meal starts with a teary goodbye to Lewis and Ayesha and a re-writing of my will. Successful completion of a meal is accompanied by an absurd high, a feeling of enlightenment and a reinvigorated appreciation of how great it is to be alive. How many of you can say that?*

*May be exaggerating massively.