Since coming to China, health issues have been a steady source of concern. From coughing up grotesque amounts of phlegm on a daily basis, to showing my pen*s to half of Benxi’s qualified doctors during a hypochondriac moment, I don‘t think I have ever suffered so many complaints. I think the majority of these issues can be blamed on the huge plumes of smoke belched out by resident factories.
The last thing I really needed though was for ‘China Fatigue’ to rear its ugly head. Although not a proven medical condition, I’ve heard this phrase mentioned on several occasions by other English teachers. With personal space non-existent, and at times receiving looks even Joseph Merrick would feel uncomfortable with, it’s easy to see why living in China can sometimes become too much. High levels of never-ending attention can be unbearable at times and lead even an exhibitionist to attempt to find solitude in their own thoughts, mentally drained of any expendable energy.
Of course I’d be lying to say these feelings are the norm, but at times it‘s impossible not to suffer from them. Who could ever grow tired of being stopped in the streets by giggling inhabitants hoping to sneak a picture with the resident laowai (foreigner)? Or the ‘fitness’ playgrounds full of exercising elderly ladies, who stop in a mesmerised trance as you walk past, waving in unison like confused babies. But being constantly judged and critiqued on everything you wear, own, do and say is the type of materialistic, superficial culture I never envisaged being so prominent in the ‘Middle Kingdom.’ Taking the elevator down from the my 31st floor apartment, you can see the fake ‘Buffberry’ and ‘Kakka’ wearing mothers eyeing you up and down to make sure they are better dressed than you. If they aren’t, they will invest in their appearance until they are. Your masculinity and ‘woman pleasing potential’ is also judged on the quality of the phone you own. I should remember this the next time I decide to buy the cheapest phone on the market!
With students returning back to their respective public schools and the summer holidays now ended, it means an end to the extra summer classes I’ve had the pleasure of teaching. Normally teaching young children, I was excited to be teaching teenagers for the first time, and hopefully holding a conversation in English that went further than, "do you like chicken?"
Exiting my apartment building on my first day of extra summer classes, my sense of optimism quickly vanished. A wet, sticky splodge, launched out of a window high above me, landed on my head. It didn’t take a genius to realise it wasn’t the droppings of a passing bird, but the thick green phlegm hawked up from someone’s lungs. Believe me, after wiping this from my hair, I’d happily choose being splattered by seagull sh*t any day of the week.
Things didn’t get any better when I reached school and met my new adolescent students for the summer months. Imagine my shock when I walked in to the classroom to hear the phrases, " teacher, you are gay," "you are a transgender," and "your jeans make you look like you have fat ass," shouted in excellently pronounced English. Normally I would applaud such intriguing use of the English language, but after being likened to Ellen DeGeneres in the past, this struck a raw nerve.
The pouting boy who’d shouted these comments looked like he’d rather be anywhere else but in an English classroom and he was going to make sure everyone knew this fact. With the one-child policy comes a pubescent population full of ‘little emperors,’ children spoilt and mothered beyond their necessities.
Brushing off the abuse as successfully as a sponge dropped in water, I continued the lesson, only to be hit with another road block by this little menace minutes later. Annoyingly this was the only demon in a class full of angels. As I started to elaborate on the class’s topic of discussion, "embarrassing moments," the same student barked out, "shut up, shut up teacher, I’m going to talk to my friend." Upon saying this he pulled out his mobile phone and started his call.
Bemused that a student could have so little respect for their teacher, this struck an even rawer nerve. I decided to take action. I approached the student in question, just as his friend answered his call. Noticing that I was approaching, he waved me away like he was royalty and I was a begging pauper. There’s only one successful method to deal with such behaviour; break the notion that foreign teachers are soft pushovers compared to their native counterparts.
I’m definitely against any physical punishments aimed at children, especially the clenched-fist variety on show at some of the public schools. But in a culture where such punishments are the only ones that reap the rewards of respect and class control, there’s nothing wrong with a few ‘shock’ tactics to remain on top. A quick arm twist later and the confiscation of his phone, and he was the model student for the rest of the summer.
Duanwu Festival, or Dragon Boat Festival also took place recently and allowed the novelty of an extra day’s holiday. The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the life and death of the famous Chinese scholar Qu Yuan, who reportedly drowned himself in the Miluo River. To remember him people eat zhongzi, sticky balls of rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. Apparently similar rice balls were thrown in to the same river after Qu Yuan had perished to sacrificially feed their lost hero, and to stop fish eating the scholar’s corpse. With no dragon boat racing on Benxi’s Taizu River combined with the blandness of the zhongzi, my wife and I decided both the cinema and Pizza Hut were needed to help with our entertainment and nutritional requirements.