Last year we came to China with a programme that bent the rules and which got you to break the law by not providing the correct visa. It was also run by a professional idiot. It did have one big advantage – it, at first, only brought you out for one semester, and let you tests the water.
For lots of people that initial test proved enough, but for us we stayed the year and have come back to China this year, though now we are in Chongqing. Having recently spoken to one of those who left, an Oklahomaian cursed with something known as optimism (www.empteacupfull.wordpress.com), I thought I would write a little bit about the differences (thus far) between our first and second years in China.
It isn’t new
When you first arrive to China everything seems strange and different. There is a pervasive sense of the uncanny wherein things are exactly the same but are also, somehow, “off”. This creates a great sense of wonder and your mind goes into interpretive overdrive – you will notice that when people have been in the country for two months they are already able to converse on the nature of “China” and “the Chinese”.
It’s exhilarating and bewildering. The buses, the pavements, the food, the jostling, the music, the shops… It’s a long logic puzzle, a metaphor or mirror in which you can see yourself so much more in opposition to all that otherness.
When you return, it isn’t. In fact it seems quite normal (to an extent) and lots of the things that you were really beginning to get annoyed by, are still there – especially when it comes to the education system. At first I felt a lit bit bummed out that nothing special is happening but, fortunately…
It’s so much more relaxing
The downside of all that newness is that it can be confusing, stressful and ultimately tiring. Lots of people who come out here end up doing nothing, stuck in their flats because just going around on one’s own is so daunting. Fortunately a year’s experience tells you that basically nothing bad will happen, that even if things go wrong it will still be OK, and everybody wants to help you.
So you feel much more free to wander around, try going to new places, and trying new things. Even just the normal anxieties of going to shops, picking up tickets, and so on, are really reduced because you know roughly what to expect.
You’re (hopefully) at better teaching.
In our first year we both struggled with our classes: adapting to the students’ way of learning is exceptionally difficult and taking part in an education system that seems both fundamentally, and on the surface, alien to one’s own experiences is exceptionally difficult.
This time around we have been able to approach the classes with the correct expectations, even though we haven’t taught the content before and only had three days to plan before the semester started.
This has meant that we have had good classes, good relationships with our students, are more relaxed and confident in front of the classes, quicker to adapt and alter our materials and so forth. If we had only done a year we might have come away pretty deflated – I know that at the end of my first year I was really disliking doing my classes, because I was burned out and frustrated. This semester I haven’t had a single class where I haven’t wanted to teach well all the way through
The foreigners are still weird
Last year we quickly came to the conclusion that the majority of foreigners who come out here come because of certain issues back home which make the prospect of being on the opposite side of the planet appealing.
This year we have met a slightly broader range. There are still graduates doing something before the world of work sucks them in, slightly older people (like us) taking a bit of a break before the world of work sucks us back in :’(.
However, there have also been a few foreign teachers that are socially awkward, with strange habits, a fixation on sleeping with Chinese women and accompanying disgusting attitudes. Like the guy who shared on our Wechat group for teachers that he had found the nearest brothel, and seemed surprised when called on it. There are also megalomaniacs who ask their students if they’ve done their homework, and then stand in silence for an hour waiting for an answer (this is a first hand story) until kicking the whole class out and then complaining to the university about the student’s lack of “respect”.
So yeah, there are cool people, but the weirdos at the very least equal them. If you are thinking about coming to China to get laid, let it be known that I, and my half of the scale, are judging you pretty damned hard.
Stuff is still crazy
Living somewhere gives you the opportunities to see places and things that you have to skip over so quickly when simply visiting. The sights and sounds and smells are still fantastic. Today from the metro we saw a huge abandoned foundation pit of a building, entirely filled with farms. Men with plastic bags stuck on their heads to get over the rain, cats eating from a metre-wide tub of fish guts on the roadside. There are more strange, picturesque, beautiful and grotesque things to see here than can ever be exhausted.