6. “It’s Fu*king Orange!”

As I post once weekly, I like to offer a brief ‘recap’ as to what happened in the last post, that way you can save time not having to go back and re-read everything. I know that last week’s poignant post was not easily forgettable, so I’ll avoid all the morbid malarkey and give you the gist of what I wrote about.

If you remember rightly, I had viewed many properties with Daisy (the Chinese member of staff), befriended the cool and confident Chinese Ralph, and signed a contract in some hellish dystopian, outlawed capital.

Once again, I will be recreating an uncomfortable and peevish memory, more specifically, of how I went from one failed lesson with Donatello (chapter 4), to being placed in a Chinese public school as the weekly treat for the children; aka, the funny ‘foreign clown’, that spoke western lies with protruding neck veins.

Today’s post covers a time span of six months, but will be illustrated, or ‘summed up’ in one typical day, a day that was no different to any other during that period of time. I’ll start this chapter from a month into my time teaching at this school, so at this stage, I was still vaguely new, but more confident than I was in my previous chapters, as by this time, I had been in China for two months (this means I won’t be talking about how I was nervous all the time.


As I showed pictures of my first apartment in China in my previous post, I suppose you can literally imagine me waking up and getting ready for work (strange), so I won’t do my job of creating that image for you with descriptive writing (you’re depriving me of my joy). So, let’s skip some potential award-winning ‘morning scene’ writing, and fast track to me heading out the front door and leaving my apartment for work, as this is where the action really begins.

As my hand extended out and away from my body, my shirt sleeve gathered at my elbow, leaving my wrist naked and cold. Cupping the doorknob, which was sat adjacent from the keyhole beneath it, I twisted the handle to the right, and then pulled hard, for the body of the door sat heavy within the large frame. I leant back as I pulled, and the sound of suctioned air left within the escaping draft, but no matter how hard I heaved, it wouldn’t open. I saw Mephistopheles, the agent of Lucifer, pushing back on the door from the other side, and in that moment, I knew I would never be free…”

No, I’m just kidding, my door isn’t that exciting (I can still win that award after all).

By this time, it was 6:30 am, and my first lesson began at 8:00 am, so you’re probably assuming I lived far from my school, well that’s not the case, the school was actually very close to Chigang (where I had slept on the sofa for two weeks). The reason I was starting my commute an hour and a half (sometimes two hours) before my first class, will become apparent shortly.

Turning to lock my front door behind me, I had felt as if someone was watching me, I remember freezing where I stood, and looking over my shoulder. To the end of the corridor, I saw an old woman, who had the head of a potato, lumpy and big, with just a few strands of oily clumped hair on top, as if someone had just glued a drain blockage to her head.

She was looking at me from across the corridor, with the most emptiness of expressions with her head leaning sideways at a slight angle, and I was looking at her, whilst paused in the moment of locking my door. After a thirty second stand-off of staring at one another, she had walked away. This thirty-second stand-off was a daily occurrence, and not once, over a period of one year did either of us ever say a word to one another. This morning routine or ritual, was like two deer nervously inspecting one another, but too scared to approach (except one deer was completely fu*king mad!).

Nonetheless, I locked my front door and had made my way to the elevator, which fortunately for me, was situated just outside of my door.

I pressed the button to the elevator and stood to wait, a process that in China can take on average of five minutes to reach you, and, more crucially, has a high risk of breaking whilst you’re in it and resulting in your death.

It is known”.

Skip a worryingly jolty descent, and I made my way out onto the busy morning street. Passing the morning breakfast stalls, that appeared to be just plastic buckets on the floor with food in, I reached ‘the rat’ stairs, and in front of me was a piss-poor attempt at a queue. Now, I say queue, because in this instance the commuters couldn’t do the usual spectacle of punching or kicking each other to the front, as there was no room at all to manoeuvre such fine displays of total mayhem, so they surprisingly stood in a ‘line’.

By this time, it was around 6:45 am, meaning I had an hour and fifteen minutes to get to school, set up my classroom, and give myself the usual shoulder rubbing ‘Rocky’ pep talk, “come on Lee, bloody smash it today”.

As my end of the queue shuffled ever so slightly forward, with the help of people pushing from behind, I could see through the glass walls of the metro entrance. What I saw inside baffled me, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, everyone was waiting in line to go down one single escalator, an escalator that sat to the left of an empty bloody staircase.

Madness”, I had thought to myself, completely clueless as to why no one was walking down the stairs instead.

The queue was outside of the metro, I wasn’t even underground yet, let alone near a train. It’s worth noting that at this time (before seven), it isn’t always that busy, but when seven o’clock comes ticking by, it becomes wholly manic, something London commuters couldn’t even begin to relate to. Unfortunately, when a train is delayed, there’s a back tail of angry, ‘more impatient than usual’ mass of germs… I mean people!

Fearing I would be late to work, I decided to opt out of this pointless ‘lazy’ queue and take the stairs instead. I essentially became the point of interest for everyone whom I zoomed past as I ran down the ‘peculiar and declining zigzag floor’; that everyone seemed too frightened to use.

A part of me began to worry that there was a reason as to why no one was taking the stairs, a notion that over time, became at ease as I realized that Chinese people just generally avoid using their own legs whenever, and wherever possible.

This moment of me running past a horde of slow, miserable, phlegm regurgitators, was as if I was illustrating a western psychology, independent and somewhat carefree, and they were illustrating a westerner’s ideology of Asian life, crowded, miserable, and old. In some ways, it was like a projection of an industrial race, as they slowly chugged away on their old clapped out metal steps, I ran past, clearly more efficient and economically friendly.

Although it may not seem it, there’s a lot to be said about the metro in China, and a lot to be seen, so I will devote an entire post, full of tips and pictures to show you. Because of this, I’ll save the usual underground metro commute for another time, and skip ahead to me leaving the underground and running for school.

Yes, running to school after getting off from the metro was a usual Olympic event that took place for me, mainly because the trains would usually suffer all kinds of spontaneous delays during the rush hour. Bear in mind, I was running in the usual high thirties to forty-degree heat, so by the time I got to work, I was more sweaty than usual, so much so, I could literally wring my clothes and still mop the floor with them.

Arriving at the school, flustered and out of breath, I would usually have no more than ten or so minutes before my first lesson would begin. I would head to the gate and prepare for the usual and predictable scrutiny from the ‘security guard’, pretending he didn’t know who I was. He would refuse to let me in, by shaking his head at me stupidly from side to side, like a child refusing to put his shoes on. I would stand there waiting for this tedious-ho hum of a scene to be over, as it would always end the same way.

After radioing in, or at least pretending to, he would eventually remember who I was, and unlock the gate at an astonishingly painful rate, moving as slowly as he could. This was a daily battle, one that I put down to him really not liking foreigners, a xenophobe so to speak; it was just a half-baked witless attempt to make my life more challenging than it already was.

This was a man that would keep me from arriving on time, preventing the students from learning. This was a man who was topless, daily, in a children’s school, yes you read that right, he was topless, shirtless, he didn’t wear clothes on his upper body. This was a man that I suspect had no intent to actually keep anyone safe, as he usually had his flip-flops kicked off, and his feet perched up on his desk, so I think it’s fair to say, he was a simpleton, a dunce, a man that had no courtesy nor care.

Before I take you into my classroom, take this moment to consider what you think you know about Chinese schools. You’re probably thinking it’s a regimented room of disciplined children, all sat back straight, and eager to learn. You’re probably thinking that they are extremely intelligent, glasses wearing multiskilled geniuses, well, come into my classroom, one that I assure you is not much different to the vast majority of schools in China.

Allow me to illustrate one lesson, in particular, one that was probably the worst of all days, but does not differ too much from others.

In front of me was a wildlife park, a wildlife park for children that have no concept of behaviour whatsoever. If I close my eyes, I can unfortunately and most sadly still see it vividly. To the left, situated at the back, there was a boy with his penis out, flobbing it onto student’s heads, students that were flinging their hands about trying to smack it away. In the middle of the class, there were two children fist fighting, literally punching each other to the face like in a back-alley brawl, and to the right side at the back, there was a child throwing classroom supplies out of the window (smashing the window on one occurrence). Jumping around the classroom, by leaping from desk to desk, was a girl shouting, “piss…piss…piss“, for a legitimate reason, I’m sure.   

To the front, the slightly well-behaved children sat, though more behaved, they still lacked manners as they drilled for nose gold and consumed whatever they found. On the back of every chair, was a sweat towel, a towel that they used to consistently wipe their little heads, and sometimes used to hit one another, resulting in perspiring particles to contaminate the already stuffy, unconditioned air.

Ah, you’re surprised, right? Well, you need to understand that your preconceived idea of what a Chinese school is, comes from the Chinese government, they only allow the very best schools to be filmed and shown outside of China, but I promise, it’s a façade, it is not like that at all.

I took my place on a type of plinth that stood at the front of the classroom, and behind me was a standard government issued Chinese flag above the board, accompanied by the usual depiction of Chairman Mao (the greatest mass murderer in world history). I put down my bag, set up the computer and braced myself for UFC’esque impact as the Chinese national anthem blared out to signify the start of the lesson.

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On seeing me, this chaotic fiasco turned all at once like a flock of flamingo, and squawked, flapping their arms about in hysterics as their favourite clown/entertainer was there to see them. I refer to myself as a clown, not because that’s how I behaved, in fact, I was quite a strict teacher, but I refer to myself this way because no matter how long you teach in China, you will never be accepted as a credible teacher.

In China, as a foreigner teacher, you will always be just the ‘method to draw in a crowd’. It’s also worth noting that Chinese children are told frequently that westerners are stupid and naïve, it’s true, if you were to ask me why I’d say, “propaganda”.

Before having the chance to raise my hand to silence and seat them (like the almighty Gandalf), I was completely overrun and tackled by all the children. To most, if not all teachers, their concern would lie with disciplining these children, so not to touch the teacher. Though my case was different, as my inability to react, came from my deep-seated fear as their nose picking, penis holding, sweaty hands touched me, even pulling on my clothes around my neck, ripping my shirt.

For those of you oblivious to germs, or not seeing the dilemma I was in because you’re not riddled with phobias, let me meet you on your ‘carefree’ bacteria breeding level.

You know that moment when you’re doing the washing up, and a floating piece of soggy string-like food touches your hand, and wraps around your finger? Or when you have to detangle the plug from other people’s hair?

Now, imagine yourself lying in a bathtub, with the water bobbing carelessly just under your chin. Floating around you is a number of coiled up lumps of foreign hair, matted in soggy food, and lightly dipped in old curdled drain-pipe soap. And as you attempt to splash it all away, the water returns from hitting the other end of the tub to curl towards your chin, and up into your mouth. Oh, and someone took a dump in the tub.

If you’ve read that thinking, “that wouldn’t bother me”, then you’re the kind of person that is happy to let others suffer your shit*ing mess! So, sort it out because nobody likes you!

If on the other hand, you vomited, retched, or screwed your face up in disgust, congratulations, we’ve bonded, as that’s what I felt when those flapping hooligans assaulted me.

I paint a picture of a weak teacher, but this is not a fair reflection of myself, my friends would agree that I was a strict teacher, and in different teaching environments I had top-notch classroom control, with the respect of every student (if I do say so myself). I fear that these children never respected me, primarily because the Chinese teachers never respected me, allow me to illustrate how they manifested this lack of mutual recognition.

As an English language teacher for this school, my role saw me act as more of a ‘second-place’ teacher, one who would come in to brush up on what the main English teacher had already taught them; essentially correcting pronunciation.

Now, the main English teacher is always Chinese. This teacher in my case, who I will name Helga for the sake of ease, would sometimes join my lesson, and actively get involved whenever I struggled to explain to the class something because of the language barrier.

Back in the class, I had finally managed to scare the children enough to get off me, and on taking their seats, Helga had walked in unannounced. I began the lesson, and in this case, I was teaching colours, “red, purple, green, orange…”, I was stopped at the colour orange by Helga raising her hand in the air and clicking her fingers at me.

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Emaciated from illness.

She shook her head, smirked and said self-assuredly, “orangeeeeee. What is ‘orange’?”

Sorry?” I replied, confused as to why she was saying the colour orange with an elongated ending.

I teach them it’s orangeeeeee, I always be teach that, that’s how to say in China”.

Baffled, I raised one eyebrow as I wasn’t quite sure as to what I was hearing, as she seemed to be correcting me on how to speak English, me, someone who comes from England and speaks the Queens English to-a-t! (yeah, big whoop, you wanna fight about it?)

This reinforced the ideology that westerners are stupid, and this constant interrupting to correct me was reinforcing the children to have no respect for me. I, of course, challenged her, “I assure you, it’s just simply ‘orange’, we don’t prolong the ending. I’m native”, I had added at the end, just in case, she wasn’t sure that English was my first language.

Refusing to accept that she was wrong for the fear of losing face, a common complex in China, she spoke over me and retaught what I had said, essentially erasing my work by putting a great big fu*king Chinese stamp on it.

Trying to remain an authoritative figure, I pushed through the interruptions and continued with trying to correct their pronunciations that they had learnt from Helga, a woman that really shouldn’t have been teaching English in the first place. I recall having one ‘full’ conversation with her, that ended abruptly when she asked me what I meant by the word, “breakfast”. If she didn’t know what ‘breakfast’ was, a word that children younger than my class knew, then she shouldn’t have been teaching English.

Now, this is where it went from a bad class to a weird ‘candid camera’ class.

As the children painfully attempted to sit still in their chairs for more than one minute, shaking with the restrictions I had set, they sat filling in worksheets that I had handed out. These worksheets were then being openly mocked by Helga, as she picked them up and shook her head smirking (I assume she didn’t understand, so instead acted as if it was wrong rather than her being wrong)

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As I tried to ignore her childish attempts to undermine me, the security guard stood in the doorway glaring at me. It seemed that he doubled up as the repairman too, or so I had thought, as he stood with a power drill in his hand.

Without notifying, or asking for my permission, he entered my classroom, still topless, and began drilling the wall. It was as if he was an ASBO child pulling up the carpet, or tearing at the wallpaper, as to what I could see, there was no method to his drilling.

He just seemed to be making holes in sporadic locations around the classroom, “drainage holes?”, I thought to myself, trying to justify what was happening.

I looked out to Helga and gestured confusion by raising my shoulders, and she, seeming unfazed, just smiled at me, as if to say, “as long as it annoys you“. At this point, I thought that it really couldn’t get any worse, but of course, it did.

With his breasts bouncing and his nipples vibrating as he drilled, beads of sweat ran down his fat torso. He then stopped, looked up at me, and reached into his tight jeans pocket. He took out a cigarette, and I kid you not, sparked it up and started puffing away, filling the classroom with a thick toxic cloud.

It was like a scene from a movie, whereby the parents show potential buyers around their family home, and the spoilt, usually deranged child makes every effort they can to put off anyone from buying it.

As the end of my lesson came ever closer, I once again braced myself for the ending tsunami of Chinese children. Yes, unfortunately at the end of every class, the squawking flamingos turned on me to say goodbye once again.

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Brave face. They smell fear.

During my six months working at the public school, my relationship with Dick deteriorated dramatically, this wasn’t due to any significant action of my own, it did, however, boil down to me having no trust in him. During my time in this school, I had spoken with Dick about my treatment on many occasions, requesting that he spoke with the school directly, because as my boss, it was his responsibility to ensure that his staff, i.e. me, are being treated with respect.

I had also discovered that this school was not favoured by other teachers and that even ‘Rex Kwon-Do’ had troubles. Dick responded to my complaints by unfortunately laughing, even going so far to say, “what’s wrong? You can’t handle a couple of kids?”

I responded with, “I welcome you to show me how it’s done.”

Of course, he never did.

Coupled with this, I had frequently received my pay late, and usually without any acknowledgement nor apology. I really began to take a disliking to Dick, a feeling that when talking to other members of staff, became apparent that it was a mutual feeling throughout the company.

Dick had the audacity to deduct our salary if we were sick, or late (even by five minutes), though when he would pay us late (sometimes up to three weeks late), he would suffer no penalty and offer no apology whatsoever. Being the fiery individual, I can be, I had told him in a meeting:

If you pay me late by one hour, that to you is insignificant, but if I am late by an hour, that is an entire lesson missed. If you pay me late by one hour again, I will be late by one hour.”

Of course, this seemed entirely fair, considering then that my time was clearly more valuable.

For the next few months, I was paid on time, though sadly my colleagues could not say the same. If anyone is considering travelling to China and working as a teacher, I will happily give you the details of this company to ensure that you avoid them at all costs

I refused to return to the public school and had requested a transfer to a language centre instead, where I, fortunately, worked closely with Ralph. And it’s here that I will continue on from next Thursday.

 

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