Oh, hi there! Long time, no see.
You don’t remember me?
No, no need to apologize. I completely understand. I mean, from your point of view, I pretty much dropped off the face of the internet (does the internet have a face? It does now) for three months. And let’s face it, attention spans these days are pretty darned short, so I get why you’re struggling to place me.
Ok, this is taking a really long time and I’m feeling kind of awkward just waiting here while you search the darkest corners of your brain. Let me help you out. I’m that Canadian girl who married a Chinese guy and wrote a blog about all the funny things that happen to me while I’m living here.
Ringing a bell? No??
Um, maybe this will help – I’m probably related to you (I mean, I don’t have that many readers, do I?).
Oh, there you go! I saw the lightbulb go on. Whew, that’s a load off my mind.
Now that we’re past all that, we can get back down to business again.
Oh, you want to know where I’ve been all this time? Why didn’t I post anything?
Well, the truth is, that after my last post back in October, I basically laid in bed for three weeks. Well that’s no excuse, you’re thinking, you had so much time to write and blog.
Ah, no. Because although I had the time, I was pretty much stuck lying flat on my back trying to fix that pesky back problem that’s been hounding me for a very long time (spoiler alert: It nearly worked, but recently is acting up again, I’ve visited another doctor, and have a pile of medications I’m taking to try to fix it). And it’s really uncomfortable to try to type when you’re lying down. Try it. Not easy. Plus, I wasn’t getting out of the house, so nothing that funny really happened to report.
And then, when I was finally released into the wild again, people I work with started taking holidays to visit their families (the nerve of some people!), meaning I had to work extra and different hours than usual.
And then, well, December happened.
What’s wrong with December? you ask.
December was insane.
You see, China observes Volunteer’s Day on December 5, and in the past, this has meant that our bosses have volunteered us to do our job (teaching English) for free that day, conducting promotions to recruit new students at various state-run schools around the city. But this year, our local city government decided to declare the entire month of December “Volunteer Month”, which gave management the impetus to continue these promotions throughout the entire month. In case you’re wondering, this meant, “Goodbye, free time.”
Hence the lack of blogging.
But, moving on, I am back now and hoping to be back into a regular schedule of posting. Cue the applause!
What’s that? You want to hear more about those wonderful promotional classes and just what it’s like to be a foreigner here in small-town China?
Well, I don’t normally write about work, but since you twisted my arm…
I’ve said before that living here is a weird combination of being completely anonymous and being a celebrity. I should also add that it is also a lot like being an animal caged at the zoo – everyone stares at you and expects you to “do something” to entertain them.
Let me give you an example of just what I mean.
On the first day that we conducted these promotions, the plan was as follows: we were to teach four lessons lasting 20 minutes each, introducing ourselves, teaching a handful of words for different toys (a football, a yo-yo, a doll, a teddy bear, etc.) and the sentence “I want a ___” (Christmas-related content, of course). I was prepared for all this.
This is what actually happened.
We arrived at the school, met their teachers in the conference room, and headed out to begin the lessons. During my first lesson, in addition to one of the office workers from our school taking photos, there were also a videographer and reporter filming, and a newspaper photographer attempting to take some artsy photos with a student’s face in the foreground and me teaching the lesson in the background. In order to achieve this look, he was practically laying on the floor amongst the desks. Also, he switched the student he was focusing on three times (I guess the first two weren’t pretty enough) – no, he didn’t move from his position, he just made the students switch seats.
As we moved to the next classroom, my entourage followed, and the second lesson began the same as the first, though towards the end, they did leave to go and bother another teacher’s class.
A ten minute break followed the second class, so we headed back up to the conference room to warm up (I should mention that they had some heat on in that room, but the classrooms were [as they generally are at every school here] unheated). Upon entering the room, our head Chinese teacher called my name excitedly.
HCT: You have to come over here so they can interview you.
Me (stupidly): Why?
HCT: Because you’re foreign.
Ah, of course. I made my way across the room.
HCT: No, take off your coat.
I remove my coat. The camera guy and reporter look me up and down and say something.
HCT: Take off your scarf too. Put mine on. My purple one looks nicer than your black one.
I remove my scarf and allow her to style me.
Me: Is this OK now?
HCT: Yes, now go over there by the window. Oh, and speak Chinese.
This is a favourite game of people here in China – to put foreigners on the spot and demand that they speak Mandarin. And while some people can do it, I am not one of those people.
I give her a look.
HCT: It’s OK. Just say whatever and if it is not good, they can edit it out.
The interview commences with some basic questions about where I am from, why I came to China, why we were at the school that day, and what I like to do in my free time. I thought I was home free. And then…
HCT (to the reporter): She has a Chinese husband. Make her talk about that!
And so we did. Shivering, I finally finished and put my coat and scarf back on (by the way, the footage was edited and a piece aired on the local evening news that day).
On to the third lesson. I was pleasantly surprised to only have one newspaper photographer hovering in the classroom for this one, albeit a completely different guy than the first lessons. But he had apparently studied at the same school, because he proceeded to attempt to take the exact same kind of shots as the other guy had done.
All was going well, until…the door opened and one of the other foreign teachers was pushed into the room with a confused look on his face. From behind him, our head Chinese teacher again.
HCT: They want pictures of the two of you teaching together. (Never mind that we never do this) Oh, and take off your coats – it looks nicer.
So, in he came, and down into the middle of the classroom we went (because that’s a natural place to teach from), so that we could be surrounded by students in the photo and it would be more “interesting.”
Obediently, we did the actions for the various toys we were teaching as part of this Christmas content, smiling and looking as happy as we could be. After nearly three minutes of us saying and the students repeating the same words over and over, the photographer still wasn’t satisfied.
Our head Chinese teacher: He wants you to do some other, bigger actions.
Us: Like what?
HCT: Um, do…happy (with arms extended and the ubiquitous two-fingered victory sign)!
After a full minute of that, he was still shaking his head.
HCT: Uh, now do a scary monster.
We did, and by this time, we could see the students wondering what in the world any of this had to do with Christmas. Still not good enough for our photographer. Even our head Chinese teacher was struggling by this point.
HCT: Do something else. Like…uh…like…a bird (with arms flapping)!
That, combined with the fact that our time for that lesson was up, finally seemed sufficient and we left a sea of children thoroughly confused about Christmas behind.
“I think he may have been drunk,” our head Chinese teacher whispered to me in the hallway. My fourth lesson was entirely undisturbed, thankfully.
Oh, and if you think for a second that this was a one-time thing, you are sorely mistaken. Later in the month, at another school, I went had almost the exact experience again (nearly word-for-word, I promise you)…
…Only this time, they also made me dress up in a Santa outfit.