Our Man in Tianjin, Stuart Beaton, returns with an epic update of what’s been going on with him up in northern China. Be sure to check out Stu’s fabulous podcast author interviews at http://rastous.podomatic.com/. Here’s Stu:
It has been a busy couple of weeks for me.
Well, to be honest, it’s been a stressful couple of months, followed by almost a week of mammoth hauls to and from apartments – but instead of all that, let me just give you the drum instead.
I’ve got a new job.
Which comes with a significant pay rise, better working conditions and a new apartment. Now I’m a Professor of Literature at Tianjin University, in their Post Graduate English Department. Much nicer than being “Scumbag At Large at Tianjin Medical University”.
I secured the position at a very brief interview just shy of two months ago, and Ellen and I immediately agreed that we’d keep quiet about it to all but a very select group of people – she didn’t even tell her parents until last night (but I’ll talk more about that in a while).
Well, you know how Chinese bureaucracies work at the best of times, they’re very good at keeping information from each other… it seems that no one at TMU had bothered to tell the Dean of English that I was leaving until a month after she’d put together the class structures for the next academic year. When five staff members are either pushed out or leave your department, maybe you’re being sent a message, a pointed one if you’re not even told one’s leaving of their own volition.
She is not a happy camper, and is attempting to spread her misery to the remaining two “Foreign Experts” in her department. More power to her, as she might even have to teach classes. What a crying shame that would be.
Speaking of Foreign Experts, sometimes I have to just hang my head in shame at the levels of absolute ignorance displayed by some of them. Of course, there are a great many teachers here who spend time getting to know some of the major stumbling blocks involved with Chinese students, such as cultural differences, but yesterday I saw a monumental exhibition of incredible stupidity in action.
You’d think that after six months in a country, you might have a vague grasp of how strangers interact within a culture, and attempt to factor that in to how you’d treat a situation – especially in a final exam.
You’d think that, anyway.
I was dragged into an apartment and read an answer that, to me, sounded perfectly reasonable, given the nature of the question.
“Imagine you are at a bus stop in America. Make small talk with a stranger who is waiting there also.”
This person is meant to be teaching “Speaking & Listening” to Nursing students, so already I was fascinated by the fact that it was a long form written exam paper, in which the student had to detail both sides of the conversation.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t spend all day talking to myself, which was a bit of a dead giveaway as to how hard this task already was.
The student’s conversation centred around the other person’s watch, job, and income, and ended with them telling the other person that they were “going to the Hospital, I am very constipated.”
All of which was executed in flawless grammatical detail, devoid of spelling errors, and made perfect sense to me. Yet it was marked “FAIL”. When I queried this, I was told that it was disgusting and inappropriate.
“So, what, you’re teaching manners, tact and morality?”
Anyone who prefixes a statement with “As a Christian” in China automatically makes me want to slap them upside their heads, but I let her finish the sentence, “it’s my duty to instill a sense of right and wrong into these students.”
No, it isn’t. It never will be. This woman has failed miserably to understand several very key points about her role in China.
1. She’s not here to convert the heathens. The PSB takes a dim view of this. Very dim.
2. She’s here to teach English. Nothing else. Just to help the students improve their English.
3. She’s meant to be teaching “Speaking & Listening”, which doesn’t involve any sort of long answer exams. A test of the students’ ability to speak and listen is all that is required.
4. Morality doesn’t enter into it.
She has also missed the most important point: people in China do NOT make small talk with strangers. They would rather die than speak to someone at a bus stop. In lifts, eye contact is pointedly not made, let alone asking someone to push the button for the floor you want. My wife gets “thingy” about talking to bank tellers, and won’t unless is absolutely necessary. It’s a huge cultural hurdle to clear, and this teacher’s job is not to throw students over it.
When I pointed all this out to her, she exploded with “The exam paper says that they’re in America, so they should conform to American ideas.”
“Look, lady, you’re not even American yourself. It doesn’t say that the students are American, either. They’re just responding in a manner in accordance with their own cultural identity – and you’re penalizing them for it? Get a f**king life.”
And then the dam burst.
I was subjected to an attack on my marriage with a Chinese woman (I didn’t know I needed Jesus’ permission), my lack of Christian faith (which I haven’t had at the best of times), my obviously loose morals (where she was drawing this from is beyond me, I tell you…), and, above all, how dare I “desert the school when it needs you!”
The same school that the Dean of English hasn’t ever spoken to me once at, in the entire two and a half years I’ve been here? The one that’s given me no guidance at all in how or what I teach? The one that fired teachers rather than renew their contracts, and not appoint replacements? The one that told me that it wouldn’t renew my contract in January? The one that absolutely has earned my trust and respect for their overwhelming commitment to me personally?
Now, I hadn’t told this woman I was leaving. She’d been told by the Dean of English that morning, after the Dean had only just found out from the Foreign Affairs Office. Who’d known for two months anyway.
I just left at that point, closing the door behind me, and walked another load of stuff over to the new apartment. It’s a ninety minute round trip walk, including the time it takes to dump my pack out, and untie the boxes from the little two wheeled shopping trolley, but it’s better than sitting here and waiting for another round of abuse.
Speaking of abuse, that’s what Ellen got last night after she finally bit the bullet and told her parents we were moving.
“You’ve been letting Stu carry everything on his back, two or three trips a day, all that way, in this heat and humidity? We’ve got a CAR!”
Ellen didn’t want to tell them until it was a done deal, in case they worried about it. Now they’re worried that I’ll kill myself dragging stuff about.
I’ll tell you this for nothing:
China really is a whole ‘nother country.
Right, if you’ll excuse me, these Spongebobs won’t wash themselves…