I often wondered about the person who arranged for me to go to China. He is in some ways a remarkably kind person. He’s a loyal, patient and forgiving person who tries to do the best he can. At the same time he can be almost unbelievably dense. Some people grasp subtle points, some people need to be spoken to bluntly. This particular chap needs to have points beaten into his thick skull brutally, painfully and for extended periods of time. Tone and rhetoric so violent that it would prove insufferable to a rational person for 2 minutes barely makes an impression after an hour with him. This hard-won impression, much to my regular chagrin, often proves fleeting. For the longest time I thought that this was simply a sign that he had a mild form of autism and should be, in that context, forgiven. I can now conclusively say that this has less to do with any sort of spectral disorder and more to do with being Mainland Chinese.
The only Asian language I can speak is Japanese. The people I have grown closest to, worked the most with are Japanese. The culture I am most familiar with is Japanese. As a result, I judge China by the standard of Japan rather than accept China entirely on its own merits. This explains why I like Taiwan a great deal more. Taiwan has many of China’s good sides – frank, direct people who are often pleasant and gregarious. The Japanese are often so painfully reserved that it proves impossible to know if they are being hones or reciting a polite fiction. At the same time, the Taiwanese are often considerate of others, far cleaner and better-mannered than Chinese. They learnt much from Japan from 1895 to 1945 and almost all of it was positive. In a similar vein, Hong Kong Chinese learnt much from the British. They kept much of what was good about China but eschewed the vulgar and base for the best of non-Oikistani British culture. Hong Kong is only becoming more British with time.
With this in mind I find it slightly easier to survive China. One simply cannot be subtle here or concerned about others’ sensibilities or space. Last week I returned to work and was subjected to another round of ruddy cheek. I gave my opinion to the highest-ranking Chinese teacher there. If she wished to have classes taught like their American teacher teaches them I’d be more than happy to let him teach the bloody things and fly back to Frankfurt. Her face looked like someone threw a bucket of water over her head. After a moment of stunned silence she regained her composure and started making sensible suggestions admitting that perhaps it simply wasn’t realistic for me to teach like someone else.
Since then, that’s how it’s been in China. The threat to simply leave was enough to shock them into behaving rationally. They already lost one teacher; they can’t afford to lose another. My Chinese assistant, a young but intelligent, talented and dedicated young man has helped me immeasurably with the technical aspects of presentations and lessons. I will miss him when he leaves at the end of the month to start university in Shanghai. I trust that he will go far in life.
Another redeeming part of life in China is said Chinese contact’s parents. Both are well-educated, well-mannered and eminently civilised people. They’re both busy but have made time for me. Last Sunday they took me to dinner again. This time, the food was excellent. There was a good selection of salt water fish, crab, meats and, praise be to heaven, roast! The restaurant employed to musicians to provide live entertainment. Ironically, they were Malaysian. I say “ironically” because Malaysia practises legally-sanctioned discrimination against their Chinese minority who pay 90pc of the country’s taxes but are often forced to work at jobs well beneath their level so that a less-qualified Muslim Malay can feel good about him-or-herself while receiving benefits paid for, of course, by the taxes taken from Chinese who are largely barred from receiving same.
I will soon learn my work schedule for the term. I hope that my obvious inability to connect with children has led the powers that be to re-assign me to teaching older students. Somehow I doubt this is the case, although one hopes that they don’t force me to only work with very young children. I also hope that the implied 3-4 week winter holiday remains 3-4 weeks, not 2 weeks like they threatened. I am expected in both Taiwan and Japan and really can’t be asked to deal with even a portion of the month’s festivities. A billion people setting off firecrackers at once is an experience I could well do without.