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:
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!