Obscene and not heard.

Another post?! So soon!?

Well Nanjing is pretty miserable again today so I’ve taken refuge in the warmth of a Pseudo-Bucks.

There’s a photo-shoot going on, which is a common sight in Chinese coffee shops. Heavily made-up girls posing with their iPhones while a man with an obscenely large camera fawns over them, taking photos utilising a hilarious 80’s glam-rock guitar solo pose. It’s very hard to tell whether this guy is a pro or he has just been friend-zoned to the degree that this is literally how he is forced to spend all of his free time.

Anyway, my next few posts are probably going to be attempts to regale you with teaching stories. A kind of ‘Chinese students do the funniest things’. I hope the fact that I tell these stories with genuine nostalgia and love means that they don’t, quite, count as complete exploitation! It’s often laugh or cry in these scenarios. It’s always better to laugh along with the situation.

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I feel a bit bad naming names. As such, in all cases but one I’ll maintain the child’s anonymity.

Piggy is the exception to the rule. Not just in this particular instance but in all particular instances.

I don’t feel bad calling Piggy out by name because I’m going to assume that sometime, as he approaches adulthood, he will choose to shed the name ‘Piggy’ and he will no longer be associated with his previous persona. I must stress I didn’t name this kid Piggy. Piggy’s previous teacher also didn’t name him Piggy. His origin story is lost. He simply is.

He’s one of my favourite students, but also quite a handful. He used to be a real difficulty in the classroom but, after some hard work by my TAs and me, he’s manageable and is learning pretty quickly! He still has his moments though. He is usually incredibly overexcited, but in an entirely endearing way. He dances with joy very often during a class. It is not always desperately clear what he is responding to but hell, I’ll take it as a compliment.

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Here is a standard ‘Piggy’ classroom experience:

We start with a spelling test. Piggy takes an unusual approach to this form of examination. He has decided that the optimal strategy is to listen closely to the first of fifteen spelling words. Unsure of the accuracy of his first attempt, Piggy will proceed to erase and rewrite the initial spelling word for the remainder of the test. As I approach the end of the list of words I will always, without fail, glance over and see Piggy eagerly awaiting the second spelling word, which I said 4 or 5 minutes ago. Endless attempts to explain the flaws in this strategy have had no effect. He does this, tries to totally nail the first word, then scrambles and panics his way to a complete spelling test during the second re-reading of the words.

Unfortunately Piggy also has an itchy knee. As anyone who has ever had an itchy knee can testify, it’s really really hard to spell ‘purple’ while you have an itchy knee. So between words Piggy is attempting to solve this issue but can’t make any progress due to the thickness of his tracksuit bottoms. In his frustration he stamps on his school bag which is under his feet. With some perseverance, however, he powers through. After an appreciable amount of repetition and face-palming the test is completed!

Success.

Now it’s time to push the chairs back from spelling test positions to normal classroom positions. This is always a bit of a free-for-all and unfortunately someone knocks Piggy’s pencil box off his chair. Though purely accidental, I encourage the perpetrator to say “I’m sorry” to which, due to the Pavlovian conditioning style of teaching I’ve utilized, Piggy responds with the phrase “It’s OK”. However it is clear from the moment the words leave his lips that this isn’t a simple apology acknowledgement anymore. It’s a vocalised demonstration of newfound self-assurance. It’s a mission statement; a goddamn epiphany!

It IS OK!

With that Piggy whips down his tracksuit bottoms and scratches the hell out of his knee.

All power to him, but this isn’t an ideal teaching situation. After frantically re-clothing Piggy I encourage him to pick up the pencils that have fallen out of his pencil box in the aforementioned collision. He has lost interest in these useless floor-pencils and, instead, seeks out new stationary in his bag. Which, don’t forget, he was stamping into the planes of oblivion not 2 minutes previously. Instead of a new writing implement, he instead finds the remains of at least 6 or 7 bananas which were at one point his lunch. Everything is soaked in banana pulp. I attempt to help, but Piggy has got this.

He stands up, takes his bag to the corner of the room and tips out the entire contents, books and all, into the rubbish bin. Dances back into his seat in a Jagger-esque fashion and sits, arms crossed, ready to continue with the class as if nothing had happened.

Sigh.

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A few other brief classic ‘Piggy’ moments:

–          Halfway through class Piggy runs over to Catherine, the TA at the time, and begins to stroke her arm. She asks him what’s wrong and he whispers into her ear “I’m saving them!”.

–          Asking students their names. “What’s your name?” – “I’m Tina!”. “What’s your name?” – “I’m Rily.” “What’s your name?” – “………….WATERMELON!”

–          Piggy is playing Connect 4 with Tina. Piggy sneezes all over his sleeve. With the sneakiest grin I’ve ever seen he leans over to Tina and wipes his sleeve on her jumper. Then gives her a kiss on the forehead and raises his hand to ask if he can go to the bathroom.

–          A brief encounter with Piggy in the wild. I’m at a restaurant meeting a private student when Piggy runs over to me. I say “Hello, how are you?” to which he responds “I can swim!”. He comes over to investigate the contents of my plate. He takes a piece of cucumber, says “You’re welcome” and runs off back to his parents.

Amazing scenes.

Incoherent waffle. Oh man I miss waffles…

I’ve been in China for over a year now. I’ve finished my ESL job, currently travelling around a little until my working VISA runs out and I have to head back to the UK. At least temporarily.

This is a post I think like I ought to write rather than one I really feel like writing but I’ll try to power through. Here’s an amusing photograph before the vague and nebulous spiel begins:

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Haha. Old people acting in a youthful manner.

It seems like a very appropriate time to reflect on the last year. But, in an attempt to reflect ‘properly’, I’ve been trying to recall what I had, 13 months ago, thought I would get out of this whole thing. Despite scanning my old entries here I’m still struggling to remember what exactly it was I was expecting. It’s a very strange feeling.

I think it would be fair to say I had no solid concept of what ‘China’ was before I came. I had vague notions of a huge economic power far away with a vastly different culture. I knew it was a country that functioned, politically and socially, in an altogether different way to any other I had visited before. If all the other places I had visited before were, effectively, branches of ‘western culture’, then I thought living in China would be a sample of a legitimately ‘different’ culture, whatever that means. It’s very hard for me to dig past the, still not yet considerable, experiences I have had in the last 13 months and remember what I thought I was getting myself into. I think I just wanted to do something a little reckless, relatively unusual and attempt to, and I hate this phrase, challenge myself.

On these fronts China hasn’t disappointed. The experience of landing in a city wherein I understood nothing was one of absolute anxiety and excitement. The culture, language, even the bloody traffic systems were all incomprehensible. Initially it was barely possible to muddle through, never mind live as I had been used to. I remember being lost, barely a kilometre away from my apartment, thinking ‘I have literally nothing to go on here’. I couldn’t read any signs, couldn’t talk to anybody.

So effectively you land as an idiot. But an idiot with a very special skill! You are an idiot of English origin! As such you are treated, very often, as being special and as having special privileges. I hesitate to call the treatment positive discrimination, because of the connotations the word ‘discrimination’ carries, but that is effectively an accurate labelling of some of my interactions and experiences. You get stuff because of your race and your native language over and above similarly qualified Chinese people.
Despite being this idiot, you’re very valuable. There aren’t so many native English speakers in Fuzhou, perhaps 1000 or so out of 10 million citizens. If I wanted an unusual situation in which to live this certainly fit the bill.

It’s certainly not a bad situation to live in. I was treated excellently, both by the school and the people of Fuzhou. Often treated better than I felt I genuinely deserved! Occasionally this will make you feel a little uncomfortable. It’s not like I earned the privileged status, I just happened to be born in England! Should I be comfortable with this treatment?

But you have to remember how lucky you are to be facing this supposed dilemma. Any kind of discomfort I felt about this ‘discrimination’ only served to highlight how difficult it must be to be a minority but have the opposite form of discrimination. We were the lucky few, nothing deserving sympathy!  So it wasn’t an uncomfortable way to live, though occasionally logistically and linguistically challenging, but I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say this is a relatively unusual way to live. It was certainly new to me.

After only a year it’s fair to say that China is still a mystery in many ways. Inevitably, once you learn a little about a topic, as I now have, you invariably become aware of just how much you don’t know. I can talk about various instances I have experienced. I can offer my opinions about certain aspects of China and Chinese culture with a far more informed position than I ever could before. But I’m still relatively new to the place. I have enjoyed learning what I have so far, but much remains enigmatic. The country is huge; a diverse and varied landscape populated with diverse and varied people. I’ve spent the vast majority of my time in Fujian province while I have worked so inevitably my ideas are heavily informed by my experiences of this province. But I think it’s fair to say I know a lot more than I did and I’m quite proud to have learnt what I have.

We are presented with various ideas of China back home, some accurate some not, but it’s very difficult to really get a sense of it before you come. By the same token it’s going to be hard to pass on what I have experienced to others back home but I will do my best!

I’ve touched on this idea in earlier posts; whenever I’ve travelled before I’ve left wherever I went with a sense that there was more left to do in that particular place after I left than there was before I went. I think this is a feeling everyone gets, except when you visit Skegness. A longer experience like this has been, being a little more immersed, has given me a similar feeling but one that seems a lot stronger and harder to elucidate.

I’m pretty sure whatever this thing is, however, it is what I had hoped to feel when I set off to come here in the first place. So yeah. There we go.

Next post I might make some jokes. Stay tuned!