We went back to the office where Baruch gave me my teaching books. As he handed them over he told me although these were the books I could teach what ever I wanted. I was a bit confused at, and a little alarm bell rang in my head.
. All my students, across the three classes, were in their final year, so there was little motivation to turn up, even though they were required to ‘by law,’ and will fail their course if they were away for more than one third of the classes. Despite this they were not turning up. I was told these students were the ‘worst English students’ of their year.
When Richard turned up, he looked surprised to see me. ‘What are you doing here?‘ he asked. ‘Arthur told me to come,’ I said. ‘Arthur told me that you had told him what time I was to be here.’ I wasn’t expected to be there until Sunday apparently, things get lost in translation, or just not mentioned at all.
We were given a quick tour around the college, it was MASSIVE, from the front gate to my classroom block was a fifteen-minute walk.
Arthur is a LOUD exhibitionist that camouflages deep insecurities – he will say this himself, so I’m not doing him a disservice in describing him like that.
Tim and Suzy (notice teacher in bed behind Tim)
I had met Tim and Suzy, an American couple, in the grounds of my apartment, as I was coming or going one day. They were new like me, and fortunately were going to be working at the same college as I was. They were a bit younger than me; Tim had been a successful builder in Florida until the great American crash had wiped him, and his business out.
As we move up through the rarefied caste system of ESL teachers in China we must consider the ‘untouchables’. These are the ESL teachers that have a CELTA qualification and may or may not have a PGCE; nevertheless they are a step up from the RADicles (of course each group is not mutually exclusive and a teacher may belong to one or all of these groups).
This step up is in terms of the types of schools can they teach at and the salary they get paid. In the main this type of teacher might be working for what in China are generally called ‘International Schools or Foreign Language Schools’. Most, if not all of the untouchables that I know (apart from any newbie’s), have been in China for a while and many have Chinese or Asian/Filipino wives and children. To be in this type of a school is very beneficial because the children of said teacher can attend the school at very competitive and discounted rates plus wages are significantly higher than those of the gap year graduate or the RADicle.
As mentioned in Part 1 once you have achieved a CELTA qualification more options for better quality work opens up for you at these better quality schools. At these schools you might be teaching CIE courses aiming towards iGCSE’s or AS/A levels if they follow the English curriculum or you might be teaching the IB or the American ACT or SAT exams.
The most likely place to find an untouchable is in a Chinese High School where the students are being groomed for foreign universities such as in the International and Foreign language schools. This is where having a specialist degree like Math’s or the Sciences comes to the fore as not only can you teach ESL English you can also teach a specialist subject. Similarly at some of the better Universities teaching English and/or teaching a specialist subject is also a possibility.
The thing about a lot of the untouchables I know is that they really think that they are untouchable in the sense that they believe that the terms of their contract do not actually apply to them. Some of these good schools pay excellent wages, if you have a CELTA you can expect to start on around 10,000RMB (approx £1000) a month as a new, barely experienced, teacher rising, with experience and length of service in the school to 20 – 25,000 RMB per month.
Most of these schools have a dress code for the teachers – shirt, trousers, and good shoes. Some might even stipulate white shirt, black trousers – a uniform if you will. Yet some of these untouchables are so conceited that they still want to act like a gap year graduate and turn up in jeans, tee shirts, or shorts in the summer and then they complain when the school fines them as much as 500rmb (£50 approx) for breaking the dress code as per stipulated in the contract.
Yes, these highfliers are so self assured (read arrogant or stupid) that they sign a contract without reading it or at the least without having any cognitive understanding of what the contact they are signing insists over and above the salary and conditions such as the free apartment and health care.
‘But in my last school’ is a popular whine of the untouchable. ‘Im my last school I didn’t have to……………………..’ Please complete the gap fill:
Wear a white shirt
Not wear jeans and tee shirt to lessons
Come to staff meetings
Pay attention in staff meetings
Provide complete lesson plans before the lessons
Be on time
Do extra curricular activities with the students
Sit at my desk and do my office hours
Not leave before 5PM
Fulfil the terms of my contract, which I signed of my own free will, to the satisfaction of my managers
You will notice that generally, in the better schools, the ones paying the higher wages, the teachers are expected to put in a full day. That often means being at ones desk at 8am or earlier and leaving at 5pm. That you might only have two or three 45/60-minute lessons during that day is irrelevant, as you will be expected to stay at your desk, despite being ‘finished’. That’s why you get the big bucks.
What you do at your desk in China stays at your desk. So after you have done your usual school admin, marking, writing your lesson plans, then basically you can do what you want. If you are with Chinese teachers you will notice that they do not need a prompt to get their head down for a nap or two at their desk whatever time of day. Of course the two-hour lunch break is also naptime. In the offices I have worked in the camp beds are stacked up against the wall and come lunchtime they are put to good use by the snoozing teachers. The lunchtime nap is a cultural norm in China and a jolly good idea it is too.
Camp bed in the office
The rest of the time at your desk is yours. You can surf the Internet, watch movies, shop on Taobao, and write that block-busting novel you have wanted to get down on paper/on to your hard drive for years. I am currently writing this blog during my own two-hour office session as per my contract. I have also used this time to write the book I mentioned in Part 1. To write newspaper articles for the Shanghai Students Post, to do the proofreading for a local university, so technically I’m being paid twice for the same time – kerching!
Plus as I’m not physically at another place of work as I would be if I were teaching I can kid myself that I’m not working illegally and in breach of my contact and my Z visa conditions. (Of course the school does know about my book and my writing for the student newspaper it would be difficult to hide them as they are in the public domain but they seem pleased as it adds to my reputation.)
So the school pays the untouchables big bucks and also expects the teachers to work for it, no surprise there you might say. This often includes extracurricular stuff such as going on school trips, meeting parents, being wheeled out to a dinner as the ‘performing white face tame monkey’ on the staff and a myriad of other tasks that often get foisted on you at very short notice.
If there is one thing about working in the Chinese education system that riles us Westerners the most it is the lastminuteism that infects the system from top to bottom. So one might be in the apartment having done with teaching and office hours for the day, feet up, watching Game of Thrones with a beer, when the phone will ring.
‘Rob, where are you?’
‘Here in my apartment, why?’
‘You have a class!’
‘What?’ Frantically checks the diary on my iPhone. ‘ No I don’t’
‘Yes you do. 4th lesson in the afternoon. Didn’t anyone tell you?’
‘No. Nobody told me. What lesson?’
‘Senior B, we have changed the time table, come now they are waiting’
‘Oh Ok’. Frantically pulls on trousers and shirt and leaves to give a class on the fly.
This type of thing happens with a depressing regularity.
Or its Thursday evening, you have made big plans for the weekend, starting with a big Friday night at the bar grumping over a 10rmb Carlsberg or three with all the other RADicles then Saturday downtown, more 10 kuai beer, maybe a curry and more bar stories that you’ve heard a hundred times or more, but are too polite to mention as you try to get your own favourite story listened to again – your phone beeps.
The Spring trip is a regular event in the school calendar – this year was to proto-military place run by ex soldiers!
Chinese teachers enjoying the break
It’s a message on QQ, from the school administrator, ‘On Saturday afternoon the school is having a parents/sports/open day or something ‘ and they want you to be there/give a speech/talk to parents (despite in the two years I’ve been here there has only been one parent with English good enough to hold a conversation with me and she is an academic at a local university) /just be a white face smiling inanely as disinterested parents waltz past to talk to the Chinese staff.
Parents queuing to register their kids for next year
Bang goes the big Friday night as you don’t want to get so pissed that you have a hangover and stink of booze when you are in front of the parents. Plus you now have a PPT to create from scratch or a speech to write that not only will inspire the parents to keep forking out around the 80,000rmb (£8000 approx) per year, (for my school anyway) in fees plus extras for boarding, books, uniforms, trips and so on but also enables you to promote yourself as the BEST teacher they have ever had there in the history of ESL teachers in China. But bang there goes most of your Saturday, although you hope you can leave sharpishly once you have shown your face and given your speech/presentation and best smile and get downtown to meet up with your best buddies for that well needed pint.
Parents event where I am joined by my co -teachers
Personally, I think it is important, despite the late notice and the fact that they are messing up your weekend, to be there. It shows commitment to the school and I think it shows respect to the Chinese members of staff who work a darn sight harder than the ESL teachers. In most schools the Chinese staff have to be there at around 7:00 am and most if not all do not leave until after 9pm at night, others work later because as my school is a boarding school staff are allocated roles to make sure kids are in bed and nicely tucked up before lights out – these staff tend to stay the night in the dormitories despite having families and young children of their own to go home to.
At my school, which has over 3000 pupils, school starts at around 7:10 when the students file in from breakfast for self-study they have a full day of lessons until 21:00 although formal lessons finish at 17:00. The evening lessons are more about self-study, clubs and hobbies.
My schools winter timetable – the summer timetable advances 15 minutes but still finished at 21:00
On top of being here for so long everyday, the Chinese staff are not allowed off campus without a pass out signed by one of the bosses. For this full week the Chinese members of staff get paid significantly less than the Western Teachers –approximately 6-7000RMB per month, they also have significantly shorter holidays during the summer when they have to work.
As you would expect the untouchable ESL teacher would think that getting involved in this sort of extra curricular activity, especially at short notice, is beneath them. The exhibit a sort of colonial arrogance which exhibits itself as lazy racism whereby they think that they are better than the Chinese who can’t seem to be able to organize things in a logical and timely fashion. They expect things to be done in the way they expect them to be done in the west before they even considering doing something. They want the Chinese to respect their situation and defer to their bewilderment and hurt feelings when they are asked to do something, at the last minute, that is out of their comfort zone. You can hear it in their raised voices as they squeal out their outrage that their bosses actually had the discourtesy to ask them to do something that they feel is beneath their elevated status.
Any change is also seen as a threat. As noted above a common refrain from this type of teacher is ‘Well in my last school, we never….’. Shake their comfort zone and vindictive, insolent, backstabbing bullies drop out of the tree. It is as if they have found their niche, their comfort zone and its just too much hassle to think about doing anything new, or challenging, or even things that might benefit the students and enhance the reputation of the school. Indeed, so self destructive and arrogant are these teachers that just this last week at another school I know an ESL teacher was challenged by both the Chinese boss and the English ‘manager’ about his standard of dress. As I have already outlined many schools, and this is one of them, have a dress code. It’s outlined in the contract that he signed but this teacher constantly turned up dressed in shorts, polo shirt and trainers. His argument, when challenged, was that his dress had no bearing on his teaching ability so it didn’t matter.
His arrogance was such that he had no conception that first and foremost he is a role model for his students, secondly the school wanted to protect its reputation as a good school with parents and visitors who might come across him, and thirdly the school expected certain standards of professional behaviour from someone who was professing to be a professional. As he didn’t get his way in the meeting he had a hissy fit and left his job. This man has a Chinese wife and a child and because he could not put on a shirt in the morning he gave up a very well paid job. No doubt he could get another position relatively easily due to the very buoyant job market in Nanjing but it does tell you something of the mentality of this group. This guy is not an isolated case, believe me.
Just this week I hear more stories about untouchable teachers. First, one who was requested to meet his Chinese boss at, say 2pm. The teacher waltzes into the Chinese bosses office at 2:15, fifteen minutes late. The boss says, ‘You’re late, the meeting was at 2pm’. Teacher shrugs and says ‘What’s the problem? You were sat in your office doing nothing anyway!’ Here’s a thought – Try doing that at home with your boss – see what happens!’ Second the teacher was at a good school, earning good money, 20K plus, his Chinese girlfriend is just pregnant so he has to get married, he was teaching his students English four letter (swear) words. He got sacked (told his contract would not be renewed) although he has to work out his contract – four more weeks. He found a new job the same day, via contacts, but on the other side of the country from where his girlfriend lives and from where his future in-laws/grandparents live. Grandparents, in China play a very large role in the upbringing of their grandchildren. But he responds to this with a shrug of the shoulders, ‘it’s a fair cop’ he says and moves on to the next school.
I have never had the opportunity to ask one of these untouchable teachers, especially the ones with a PGCE just why is it they are in China and why are they so resistant to change in their schools. I have an inkling that these types of teacher would find teaching in schools back home too much like hard work. What with having to come up with lesson plans and doing the admin and filling out forms – “Well I never! Is that what its come too! What? Stay after 15:15 to do a club? In my last school in China….”
If you thing that I am being a bit harsh on these ‘untouchables’ what you have to realize, especially if you do come to China to work, is that here it is every man and woman for themselves. When you join a school, which may have other foreign teachers working there, do not think, for one moment, that you are joining a team. At best, what you will be joining is a loose alliance of individuals who happen to have similar qualifications as you and a range of different experiences either here or in other countries. Some of them will know all the tricks of the trade, they will know everything they can and cannot get away with and push the boundaries of acceptable behaviour to the limit in order to make their life easier and to increase both their guanxi and their salary.
Wikipedia tells us that guanxi describes the basic dynamic in personalized networks of influence, and is a central idea in Chinese society. In Western media, the pinyin romanisation of this Chinese word is becoming more widely used instead of the two common translations—”connections” and “relationships”—as neither of those terms sufficiently reflects the wide cultural implications that guanxi describes. So the jockeying for position and the backstabbing and intrigue that’s more subtle than at the court of Elizabeth 1st is normalized amongst Western teachers in these well-paid jobs. They are just looking out for themselves. Trying to build relationships and connections with their Chinese managers and bosses, just building guanxi so that when the shit does hit the fan they will be well placed to ride out the storm – they hope. We all have to do it. You will have to play the game too, get used to it and learn it quickly.
Of course this all is borne out of an immense sense of insecurity concerning our jobs and our place in China. A lot of these teachers have invested time and money into staying and living in China with wives and children but that could all finish in the blink of an eye should the Chinese bosses decide that you haven’t been pulling your weight or you’re simply not the dish of the day anymore or you are just too expensive so you will be replaced by a cheaper bilingual Chinese teacher as is happening at a large school not a million miles from where I am now. One teacher, I know, was told that he was under threat because he was constantly late for his class. He knew, for a fact, that he had only been late, due to unforeseen circumstances, for one class during the whole semester and this is despite providing a lot of help and advice to the school gratis as it was setting up and opening.
I, myself, was telephoned by my administrator and told I was late for a class that had been re-arranged and nobody had told me about. Which is the example I gave above to all intents and purposes. I had to remonstrate with the admin, quite loudly and forcefully when I saw her because she had started to get annoyed with me and use an officious tone of voice on the phone. I eventually got an apology and the woman immediately rang the admin assistant who had not passed on the change of class to me and tore her off a strip instead. But it is incidents like these which do raise ones level of insecurity because one really never knows how much the Chinese bosses of the school are reading into your, in their eyes, transgressions.
This is why when I teach I dress the part, I look professional, and I act professionally. If I am asked to fulfil a role, such as meeting parents or giving a presentation, even a last minute request, I do it with a smile on my face, a willing attitude and good grace even if it is screwing up my day or my weekend. I mean this doesn’t happen every day or every week, in the main they are blue moon events. But I want to increase my guanxi with the school. I want to work here next year, so I want my contract and my visa renewed. My point of view is that I work very few hours for a decent salary, I am pretty much left to get on with my teaching without managers or bosses looking over my shoulders. So why rock the boat?
It was made official I was on the scrapheap. My voluntary redundancy from the university was confirmed. I had been getting a bit worried as time was moving on and the agency in China had started to talk about getting visa’s and airplane tickets, and seminars in Beijing.
I couldn’t believe I had been at the Plymouth University for twenty-four years. That’s a long time.
Packing for China – the final 20 kilo
In no particular order and with some explanation… plus an afterthought did I need it or could I have bought it in China?
Black shoes for work
Running shorts – Lycra – can buy in China
Running shirt – long sleeves – can buy in China (unless large size)
Fred Perry Polo Shirt
Waxed type Jacket
Black and White Kefeya Scarf
Casual Rugby style shirts x 2 – 1long sleeve and 1 short sleeve
Track suit bottoms – new and thick and warm x1 – can buy
University of Plymouth Hoodie – parting gift from my job – I asked for it, and they are warm and good quality
Large Bath sheet – smaller ones can be purchased in China but not bath sheets
1 pair black jeans – can buy H&M or Uniqlo
1 pair Khaki Chinos – can buy H&M or Uniqlo
4 cotton shirts – for work etc – can buy H&M or Uniqlo unless large size (can be made)
2 x thermal vests and 2 x thermal long johns – I’m told that there is no heating in Chinese schools
6 pairs underpants (M&S of course) – can buy look out for Mini So stores
10 pairs of socks (1 pair a month huh?) -can buy look out for Mini So stores
1 woolly hat (courtesy of Darling Daughter, she bought it in Marrakesh)
1 woolly bobble hat – can buy
1 pair thick socks – can buy
Running trousers (Lycra) – can buy
That’s it in terms of clothes
Also in the suitcase is:
A bag with 6 underarm deodorants (from the £1 shop) – reduced from 10 – apparently you can’t get deodorant in China! You can buy it’s rare and expensive – Find a Mini So shop
Plus 5 small bottles of shaving oil.
Various prescription medicines, 3 Ventolin and 3 of the steroid puffers. 3 packs of Imodium (just in case!), about 12 of my migraine drugs (but hopefully will not need) cliploc bags x 2 boxes for teacher in china. 2 x large bars of chocolate requested by teacher in china.
Swiss Army penknife.
Unfortunately Snooks couldn’t fit as she’s 5.5 kilos….and this wasn’t posed she got in my suitcase – she’s been following me around like a shadow for the past week – I think she knows…..
Im also allowed 7 kilos in my carry on cabin bag and I can take my laptop bag on with me.
My carry on allowance is 7 kilo. I’m using a backpack and have just about squeezed 7 kilo of stuff in.
This is it:
From the bottom up:
Canvas tote bag with a big plastic bag of PG Tips in it! Talk about coals to Newcastle – I’m taking tea to China! – Very important – you cannot get decent tea.
Clean shirt – Ben Sherman
Micro fleece – can buy
Multi coloured fleece – can buy in Uniqlo
Rough Guide to China
Recharging cables for kindle, camera and new mobile phone (you can get the plugs and peripherals everywhere)
In the front pocket:
First aid kit
Shoe polish for the Cherry Reds
Toilet paper (moist) Apparently this is crucial when out and about around the Chinese City (you can buy)
6 migraine medicines
Lemsips x 10 (gold dust take more)
Anadia extra (take more) (Also think about your favourite cold remedy and Olbas oil for steaming your chest)
And in my Laptop bag which is also pushing 5 kilo
Photos (to show students)
Spare glasses x 1
Spare sun glasses x 1
4 x teaching books
2 x 100 index cards – useless
Mac book pro and charger (technology is priced the same as UK in China)
Plymouth photo souvenir book – for students
Ventolin (be prepared – I was a scout after all)
and Brown inhaler
pen pencil etc
So that’s it apart from the clothes I’ll be wearing,
I am planning on wearing during the trip, blue jeans, shirt, Dr Martens shoes, black jacket – and the crombie overcoat I’ll have to carry.
Part 2 of 4
While the graduate gap year teachers are having a ball, drinking, partying, hopping from job to job, seducing Chinese girls, over in the corner of the bar I hang out in are that group of ESL teachers I am calling the redundant, the alienated and the dysfunctional (RAD from here on in) grumping away into their ten yuan Carlsberg or Tiger beers during ‘Happy Hour.’
Most of these teachers are older and believe themselves to be wiser than the young itinerant teachers they pour scorn upon whilst yelling for the fú wù yuán for more beer. However, the two groups have more in common with each other than they might like to admit.
Many of these ESL teachers may have little or no teaching experience or ‘teaching’ qualifications over and above the TEFL course they did back in the day or just before they came here. That they might have a degree from a not so kosher university could also be open to some question, especially if they have spent some time in Thailand before coming to China.
At least one ‘teacher’ to my knowledge probably purchased his degree on the Khao San Road in Bangkok, as the ‘UK degree’ he produced to a British colleague of mine when applying for a job at his school, was for a ‘university’ that did not exist. He didn’t get the job of course, he was however, already in a job at a Chinese school for a Chinese agency where it was muttered quietly by the Chinese staff that the Chinese owners PhD was purchased in the US, as was his business partner/wife’s MA from Harvard, despite the fact that she can barely speak English.
Consequently, this group of teachers will be in the sort of teaching job that pays the usual 6000/7000yuan a month plus the standard extras as listed for the gap year graduate. They often, like the gap year graduates, have a number irons in the fire of education and move from job to job as and when it suits them. Most of them will have jockeyed for position from some of the more disreputable training agencies, schools, colleges and universities that first got them their Z visas to much better places, often with an increased salary because, now, they are ‘experienced’ teachers. That they started at these lower grade institutions is more to do with their own ignorance of the teaching market in China when they were applying for work, and the need to get here on a Z visa with the airline ticket paid for.
This suggests that the RADicles are slightly less transient than the gap year graduates. Most of them have been here for a good few years. Some of them will be settled here with Chinese wives and families. None that I know of have a western wife and family here in China with them. So the thrill of actually being here with cheap beer, a twelve hour working week, travel to exciting destinations on the doorstep, beautiful Chinese girls to look at, and screw soon palls. They become weary of the disinterested, unprepared, sometimes arrogant – because their daddy is rich, sleepy, video game addicted, students with the English ability of a 5 year old British kid (that’s being generous in regard to the 17 yr old college students at a college I worked at, who expected, as a rite of passage, to be accepted in a Canadian University without the hassle of really trying).
So when better work at better schools with better money turns up they jump at it so that their place can be filled with a gap year graduate or a new and unsuspecting RADicle. Such is the teaching caste system maintained in China and equilibrium is once again achieved. An important part of being a foreign teacher is to know when your bread is being buttered, and by whom, and when to jump ship before the rest of the rats do.
However, where the disgruntled RADicles differ from the gap year graduates is that despite of, or regardless of, where they got their degrees, or for that matter how long ago they graduated from their alma maters these teachers have learnt the lessons of the University of Hard Knocks. This influences their teaching and their approach to the jobs they take.
The teachers in these RADicle groups that I have met profess, in the main, a real zeal for teaching. Not for them simply babysitting sleepy students, or showing them You Tube Videos/Movies day after day just to keep them awake as per the graduate gap year teachers who spend their lessons counting the minutes until they can get back to the office to have a nap or play video games on their iPad before the next lesson.
In the spirit of openness and honesty I guess I, your good Doctor X, have to admit that to a certain extent I too belong, to this RADicle group. Yes, I sit with these fellow teachers, drinking beers swopping tales of what happened in our classrooms this week. Grumping about the gap year graduates and their sloppy Tee shirts and attitudes (but really for having a better time than we are).
Or how dispiriting it is to have to do, and say the same thing day after day with little evident success. And yet, and yet, we still prepare our lesson plans, we generate classroom materials, we pass on tips to each other about content and things that have worked in the classroom, albeit over a beer, so it’s probably forgotten by the next day.
Nevertheless, we still wake up with the expectation that we might make a difference to these kids, make a difference to China; we take pride in our work. We believe that we can, in some way, help our students achieve their dream of going to a foreign university, pass the IELTS/TOFEL exam, get their A Levels, or simply become more proficient in English. This is why I came to China. This is why I’m still at the same school as I was last year and why I will be at the same school again next year (OK, the money helps, more of which later, in another section).
What sets the older group apart is, I believe, a responsibility to the job, to teaching and to a certain extent the need for self-preservation. Some of the teachers I have met, and here I include myself, have been made redundant from jobs in the west. I took voluntary redundancy when it became clear to me that my post at the university I was working at was no longer tenable. It was clear to me even then, when I was in work, that at my age, with my qualifications (a PhD) I was going to find it difficult to find work in the UK. Plus I’d basically had enough of work. I’d worked since I was 16, I’d had enough and it was time to make a change. (Find out more on my soon to be published memoir on Kindle)
However, I couldn’t sit back and enjoy the fruits of my redundancy settlement because it was not that large, I still needed to earn money to pay bills of which the mortgage on my house in the UK was my largest money pit and I knew that I was not going to end up stacking shelves in my local supermarket. Coming to China, teaching English had been in the back of my mind for a while and as redundancy does focus ones mind it became clear that it was time to make that change in my life.
If you feel you need a change and the opportunity arises, do what I did, use the time when you are working out your notice to do the online TEFL course (on your computer at work, like I did, let the bastards pay for your time) and to get your life in order. I have to say, and I am aware it is a cliché, but redundancy was the best thing that ever happened to me. You will find online TEFL courses on www.groupon.co.uk on offer for around £49
Other ESL teacher colleagues faced similar challenges at home. One was a senior manager for a large retailer in the UK but for her enough was enough; she’s been teaching in China for five years too and has never looked back and now is working for the British Council as an IELTS examiner. The great American financial crash was the motivation for other friends to teach in China. Having lived the American Dream and been very successful the rug was pulled out from under them, their business collapsed and effectively the system made them redundant. They changed their lives and came to China, a husband and wife team who have made a great success of ESL teaching and who get to travel around SE Asia as a bonus during the long holidays.
Other teachers, friends, and colleagues I have met seem alienated from their own countries. Rootless, homeless, forever wandering the world, looking for what, I don’t know, maybe the travel is enough. China might be just another stop on their quests itinerary who knows where they will go next? They certainly don’t. What they are searching for in their travels is unknown. They are jobbing English teachers who go where the vagaries of the language takes them. Japan for a year – fantastic sushi, Korea as the head of a language school for two years, Former Eastern Europe for the craic and the top wages, South America for the beaches and the cocaine, the African grasslands for the students who want to be lawyers and doctors to help their own country if only they had a pencil, and finally to end up washed up and beached in China, propping up a bar sinking another chilly 10 kuai beer.
Some of these semi-itinerant teachers, the alienated RADicle, seem to have families, wives and children back in their home countries. They talk wistfully of them and show pictures around the bar. But for all the talk these families could be figments of a fevered imagination. Trips back home are never taken, wives and children never seem to appear on the scene and if they do its only for a week or two and then they are shipped back to whence they came to once again become out of sight and out of mind. A regular moan from the alienated RADicle in his cups, late at night, is that the bitch back home is bleeding him dry and that he needs to go to the bank again to send money, which means ramping up the teaching, finding another part time job to add to the hours already being taught.
Back-stories and personal histories are edited, fictionalised, re-written, boasted about, not mentioned much, spewed out after too many bottles of Bombay Blue. We create a whole web of lies we weave about ourselves, which make us who we are, or who we want to be. In China you can damn well be who you damn well want to be and who knows or cares a damn anyway?
You have to be self-reliant in China, you cannot be too needy or lack self-confidence or you will be lost. If you really don’t like yourself or your life, well then, just damn well be who you want to be. Who cares anyway, we damn well don’t. We are too busy managing our own lives to care too much about yours. In a transient population of English teachers many are here today and gone tomorrow to pastures and schools anew and there are always new friends to be made as they turn up at school or in the bar, fresh faced, eager to make friends, and needy for the inside line in respect of teaching here in China so don’t kid yourself you are the special one.
But they know their stuff these RAD teachers. They can teach a class at the drop of a hat. They have a lifetimes experience; they are raconteurs, fonts of ESL teaching knowledge. They have a practiced ease with new situations that makes them perfect bar flies however, in this case, it’s the shit that circles the fly as the shit tries to learn a thing or two or pick up a swift hint for tomorrows lesson that’s not been planned yet and it’s already 11pm and they’re six pints in, and the jagerbombs are starting to happen.
Thus the bar is a microcosm of life amongst the English Teacher fraternity, and over in the corner, face in his or her beer/laptop/tablet/phone/food not interacting with anyone at all is the dysfunctional RADicle. How they ever got this far, and actually organized a job in China, and the flights, and the visa’s, and actually teach is a mystery because they don’t seem to be able to organize their own existence.
These teachers have little or no social graces. They seem to be friendless in a society where friendships are solidly forged, and are maintained with almost religious zeal. A meeting in the bar after a week or so apart stuck on campus teaching is a love fest of manly hugs, jovial backslapping, inquisitions about ones health, and job status, round buying, food sharing, whispered sweet nothings between friends of similar, and opposite gender, shared experiences in the classroom, tips about good restaurants visited, queries about the family back home. and when and where will you be travelling this summer/spring break, jagerbombing, and the general chit chat of the kind one has heard a thousand times but are too polite to mention.
The dysfunctional RAD stands to one side watching uncomfortably as the bonhomie threatens to engulf him or her. Should someone notice him off to one side, and offer him or her welcoming hug or a handshake it’s a pretty stiff affair as if the very nature of the human contact is something to be avoided.
I have often walked into a bar and over in the corner is Johnny no-mates (we called him Dikipedia because he always new better than anyone – you can meet him in my memoir on kindle) staring resolutely into his, (I have to say this it is mainly a male disorder, maybe the females just stay in their apartment doing cross stitch, or marking or something that I cannot fathom) beer/laptop/tablet/phone/food. If, god forbid, the bar is empty, and you go over to their table for the company, because any company is better than no company, right? The dysfunctional teacher will share a few words, but in the main what’s on the laptop/table/phone is usually much more interesting that whatever it is you might have to say. So you spend your time looking at the door praying to Dionysus that someone, anyone, will step through entrance to give you a reason to leave the loser on his own.
When the dysfunctional teacher does join in with the band of happy fellows in the bar, often after being encouraged to do so, because if nothing else RADical English teachers are a generally a friendly, and welcoming bunch, then tend to go over the top and get thoroughly pissed. There is nothing wrong with getting pissed; I’ve been there myself after one or two too many pints, and Jagerbombs and/or Mr Jim Beams whiskey.
The dysfunctional teacher often gets the wrong end of the stick, and cannot endure the normal banter of inebriated teachers recoiling from, and diluting the stress of a heavy 10-hour working week. They seem to end up wanting to hit someone, or getting hit or coming on inappropriately to any female members of the group, and the whole evening goes tits up, again, such is their dysfunctional rage.
When one does get to have a real conversation with the dysfunctional teacher it seems that even at home they were just as uncomfortable as they are here in China. Like the alienated RADical they do seem to be looking for something, maybe its personal change maybe just something intangible like getting a personality. They didn’t seem to fit in at home. They seem to be introverted, the type of kid that never got the girl, so they retreated into the world of video games and study.
Maybe they feel that coming to China will challenge them, and eventually change them, and they will become different people. So we can give them kudos for actually getting off their arses and getting here. But it seems that once they are here they find it too difficult to give up those comforting OCD routines that makes us who we are, to throw off the mantle of introversion, for better or worse.
Even so some of the dysfunctional teachers I have met have managed to meet, and keep Chinese girlfriends, some of them have even married the poor unsuspecting girls. I suspect, however, this might be a good thing for the dysfunctional male foreigner who is probably missing his mum, and the easy life back home because Chinese women are generally the boss in any relationship. The epithet used for Chinese wives ‘Dragon lady’ is not a matter of whimsy; in China it is a reality. Forget having to get yourself a lifestyle guru or a life coach a Chinese wife does all this, and more, and is probably prettier.
Of course being a foreign teacher is a good catch for a Chinese girl dysfunctional or not. Our wages are often double or more than what the average Chinese teacher earns so it means that he can keep her in a manner to which she will quickly become accustomed too. One teacher I know had to hand over his monthly salary to his live in girlfriend, so she could manage the money by allowing him a monthly stipend (in his defence they were trying to run a business too).
However, all areas of ones life will soon be policed with a rigour that would bring a smile to the face of Mao Zedong and his Red Army cronies who infected this country with a military passion for order, and cleanliness that translates in the modern era into how things get done in the home. Take the washing up for example. Apparently it has to be washed three times. Once in hot soapy water, and then swilled off twice in running cold water. If these standards are not applied, then it’s the gulags for you comrade.
I had a response to an application from a school in China. A school in Shanghai was considering me for a September start. This was more than exciting – I felt that I was getting somewhere and despite my age I was still employable, at least by a school in China. Shanghai – who wouldn’t be entranced by the oriental mystery that is Shanghai?
It’s a name that conjures up a million images, mostly stereotyped and hackneyed images of pigtailed coolies pulling rickshaws, while beautiful black haired Chinese girls in qipao’s lounge in the seat smoking, and looking sexy and exotic while the sharp suited Westerner shouts at the locals. All in sepia tones, because for some reason, my daydreams of Shanghai were all set in the 1930’s.
But I was offered another option – Mongolia. My inner adventurer told me straight away to choose Mongolia. For me it was the place to go, I mean who wouldn’t want to choose Mongolia – Inner or Outer? The wide-open steppes and grasslands dotted with yurts and gers, Genghis Khan, men on horse back playing ‘polo’ with a decapitated goat.
JANUARY 21: Afghan horsemen compete in the traditional game of Buzkashi in Kabul, Afghanistan. Buzkashi, which translates to ‘goat grabbing,’ is the national sport of Afghanistan. During this team sport players try to grab a headless goat carcass from the ground and pitch it into a scoring area. (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
But first I had to start to think about the process of getting my Chinese Visa which meant a visit to the doctor to pay for a medical.