A Cultural Misfire

How I managed to lose 4 months of my experience in China to working instead of looking & listening.

I’ve recently rejuvenated my enthusiasm for China. One month ago I could have been coaxed onto an airplane for the United States so long as you made sure my things would be handled and shipped behind my departure with a promised delivery of at least 30%. However, today, it would perhaps take a candy bar or a bottle of gin to coax me onto that flight home. What changed? Well, in short… I was fired.

I’ve had a wonderful amount of time, vacation time, to evaluate my mood. Two weeks ago I did a similar evaluation, which ultimately, lead to my termination.

Two weeks ago, I decided I was distracted by a life of trivial frustrations and work. Frustrations with authority, frustrations with pride. I decided I was frustrated with the very same things I was frustrated with while working at home in the U.S. I decided I no longer wanted to meter my day with lists of faults, stories of intimidation, and levels of anger. I evaluated my situation and I meditated on that which could be changed, that which might be changed, and that which wouldn’t be changed. First, I accepted that which could not be changed. Second, I sat down with those things that could be changed and changed them, a great deal of which was my attitude. And third, I made steps to attempt to change that which sat in the middle. This worked. Discussions at lunch relaxed a bit, and my relationship with the people who surrounded me changed to. Some for the better, some for the worse.

Initially, people accepted these changes as an up for my mood swings, however, after some time, I was no longer perceived as happy-go-luck, but instead, disrespectful and untrustworthy (or so I perceived it). Still, my goals for ‘successful living’ were being met. While I still felt I was missing, I was feeling much better about my world. However, as people around me changed their attitude, it became more difficult to adjust my new senses to reflect those changes, and eventually I was back in a funk. I was miserable again.

Then came friday and I tell my boss I hate work. – The weekend happens and I’m fired.


Spring Flowers in Hohhot, China

Today I went to the park. Have you seen this park? Becci would be insulted if you came to Hohhot and you didn’t go to the park, or you went to the park and didn’t enjoy it. You have to see this park. It’s got two lakes, if not three, or four. It’s got duck boats, swan boats, submarine boats, 2 seaters or 4. It’s got a roller coaster, a log ride, carnival games, and a ferris wheel. And it’s got hammocks ice cream for sale around every corner. It’s quite the park.

Here in the park I found a great sense of renewal today. I found what I had been missing the last four months. The thing that was killing my sense of vitality. I signed up for a 6-month trip to China. I got a month at the beginning and then it ended. I began work and my world became a stew of English & American psudo-tradition wrapped up in a Chinese package. My world became a cultural mix-tape left on the side of the highway.

Why? How? When?

I’m sad it took so long to answer these questions.
It happened because I worked for a school that sells not only language, but culture. It sells a WHITE face. It sells promise. It just sells. And because it sells that culture, it’s attempted to take the culture of the ‘west’ and siphon off all things marketable about it, presumably all things good. Because it would be insane to represent all things bad in western culture, that is left out, and Chinese culture is used to handle the negative aspects of daily life, and this became my world. My adventure, hijacked, it was terrible.

I was indoctrinated into a western system, augmented by a Chinese system, that I was supposedly comfortable with. Every day I lived in a fake fantasy world that didn’t represent home, but was suppose to, and didn’t represent China, but was suppose to. I had all the worst parts of China mixed up with all the worst parts of being western, of being WHITE. It was terrible. I hated China. I hated life. I hated teaching. I hated children. I hated. Period.

Today I was in the park. Have I told you about this park? Today I was in the park and I was reminded of all the reasons I really liked China. All the reasons I really liked life, teaching, children. Period.

Outside of a silly institution are eager people, happy people, regular people, who go to parks on their weekends. Who work during the week, who have goals, and who are reaching for their goals. In the park, people approach me because I’m White but not because I’m WHITE. There’s mystery in a foreigner, just like there is mystery in a woman. But in order to figure that mystery out, you ask the cute girl next to you in 5th grade if you can borrow her eraser, you don’t visit the brothel. I’m approached by curious people, by people who tell me they’ve never spoken English with a native English speaker. I’m approached by people because they want to show me that they work for Amway, an American Company, and to ask if I know the CEO. (The answer is obviously, “Yes, of course. Peng You!”) I get to watch the fire works go off just because someone loves explosions. I get to smile at EVERY SINGLE PERSON I see on the street in order to elicit a smile back. I get to remember I’m in China! about once every 2 minutes. I go to lunch and eat noodles, again, and it’s great! I get to exchange QQ numbers with strangers and offer them help with any of their homework, call me anytime. I get invited to their home. I get to forget about every stranger I offered to help because they never ask. I get to go swimming for eight kuai and then play ping pong for five kuai. I get to live in China.

The difference is in the park I get to take all the BEST parts of China and set them in front of me in the grass next to the lake while watching swan boats and the ferris-wheel and I listen and look and touch and smell and smile. And at the end of the day, when I get home, I’ve forgotten about all the worst parts of the world and I only know the best parts… and that’s why I travel.

The Weekend Begins Again

As the weekend begins agin Dan and I reflect on a job done. We have yet to find out if our boss actually received the video or has watched it, however, it’s not important. What is important is that we’ve begun brainstorming our next projects and they’re going to be substantial. Using our daily experiences, our studio, and pulling from local and foreign inspirations we anticipate producing shorts which maintain both increases in technical quality as well as substantive quality. – I feel it’s important I convey my enthusiasm.

More so, in anticipation of becoming, well simply put, HUGE POP stars of China, I have been educating myself and experimenting with the dissemination of information and media here on this site using many google services – as it may have been noticed there are advertisements on many of these pages now. I assure you these are for testing purposes only (unless of course y’all start earning me money!)

So, as things go, that’s the update. Here’s to health, energy, and the weekend, maybe I’ll get some new jeans here soon.

English School Blues

At the end of last weekend, I was enthusiastic and motivated to tackle new challenges and build on old strengths. After this past week of travel and the weekend of teaching that followed, my motivation and energy for the sport has suffered.

This past weekend was a series of unplanned lessons, increased class sizes, botched presentations, zero energy, and shots to the face. Each mentally planned lesson suffered severely due to my lack of sleep and with every failed activity my faith in the subsequent drills was diminished. The ultimate failure came when I found myself with a class full of eight adults, 2 of which I had seen the week previous, prepared with a lesson that required the dead office printer and 4 copies shy of books purchased in Beijing on Monday. Compounding this was the new dispersion of ability, new difficulty in understanding and the silent observations of my boss in the corner.

After class I packed my things, notified the staff I would be leaving and any unfinished business would need to wait until Sunday, whereupon Dan and I arrived home to cook ourselves a delicious meal, down a glass of scotch, eat some Oreos and swiftly fall asleep.

Except for the fact that my students on Sunday are no taller than a toad, it was no different. Class activities perpetually fell flat, air time silent, and students started off every class even more rambunctious than I could possibly comprehend. Lunch started when one child rocketed my marker at my face. I went straight home and fell asleep.

My last class of the day received very little quality in their lesson and it’s off to drinks now. Tomorrow will be our first real day off in a while and I think I’ll take it easy and slow.

I can do this, but I’ve got to have my rest otherwise the … “what is this?” .. “it’s a DRAGON!” …comes out.

Weekend Face Punchers

“He punched me in the groin. Yeah.. let’s get some lunch.”

This was our first weekend teaching for the semester. With classes throughout the entire day, it’s no family picnic, though it involves many many many families. Class ages vary between 5 and 45. Needless to say we’re not stacking the 45 year olds into the 5 year old classes.

Dan and I have made a reasonable attempt at coping and rationalizing any negative emotion, buffering each with a fantastic stories of dragons, warriors, and non-substantive positive experience fallacies as well as anticipation of upcoming courses of enthusiasm and novelty. More so, I’ve found one of my classes is asking for true english experiences in debate, reading, listening, culture, etc. I’ve invited Dan to sit in on this class and help share in the fun of planning what part of the English world we’ll expose these new speakers to. – we’re thinking The Economist, Wikipedia, Fitzgearld, and Notorious B.I.G.

In the mean time, while the office is used by many for prep work and serious planning, Dan and I have found much joy in the simple task of classroom detox, pranking the English, sharing cookies, and loading up with squeaky toys to put into our pockets for classroom fun.

Starting Friday Dan and I have been sacked with tasks, planning, and a break here and there for a beer or some Oreos. After today’s last class we’ll seek out a local German bar to throw back some imported wine (we’ve quickly become friends with the owner) and then it’s off to Jinan to take care of governmental visa work and a bit of touring on the Company.

Good People

So happy together – we’ll take a photo at the end to see who’s still smiling. After the photo it was down to business working out the details of training and teaching. I don’t think it’s going to be too bad. After all I know the material, right?

We’ll see, first class is tomorrow at 6:00 PM. My first test.

-oh, and Dan feels tropical.