For people of pallor China is a paradise for finding employment. They’re not necessarily the best jobs they are jobs. Competition for candidates is so fierce that even defective candidates can easily be placed. In urban centres of any size Europeans, Antipodeans and North Americans under forty seemingly can’t walk for ten minutes without receiving at least three job offers. Huzhou being relatively small I’ve escaped this exercise in tedium. Then again, I’d actually need to leave my flat to be seen and in the past weeks that’s been too much to ask. Problems arise when the Chinese assume that they can treat Westerners in the same way they treat Chinese. In China, the massive population allows for employers to treat employees like rubbish and arbitrarily change their wages. It is not unheard of for employers to not pay all wages. An acquaintance, a Briton who teaches in another province, told me the story of an American he heard of who was not paid for the last two months he worked. They only finally paid him after he threatened to smash all the windows at their school.
My situation is not nearly that serious; despite the rapidly growing list of insufferable experiences I will spare you this time. Nor are the teachers I met especially defective. Two have experience teaching elsewhere and I am only marginally defective; at least on a good day. What this does, however, is allow us to compare out experiences with our current situations. All three of us have experience living and/or travelling in Asia. Sadly, all three of us compare China negatively to our past experiences. The most experienced of the teachers enjoyed his time in south-east Asia thoroughly, save for Singapore which he found sterile. He loved Malaysia and Thailand. He also spent a fair amount of time in India. Yes, I know that India is in South Asia. Their other teacher, as I mentioned before, worked in the Philippines for several years. Both say frequently that China is more expensive, that the people are far more conservative and possess a pride well in excess of their real circumstances. I, naturally, am to borrow a Chinese phrase, as close as lips and teeth to the Japanese. Strangely, the Chinese who know about the situation are least distressed by my negative comparison of China to Japan. They may not like Japan, but they have a grudging respect for the country. By any measure Japan has a vast economy and among the most sophisticated civilisations. The profundity of their achievements economically and culturally is only magnified by the fact that Japan has virtually no natural resources. The Chinese also admit that Japan is a far more modern, well-developed country. For the Chinese to be compared negatively to countries they consider simply inferior is too much.
The way we cope with frustrations is rather different and is seen differently by the Chinese. The most experienced teacher, before he quit, went to massage parlours and attempted to actively engage people. His idea of actively engaging people, inconveniently, is akin to spitting on Nan’s grave to the Chinese. He’d frequently put them in the spotlight; attract the attention of crowds in overwhelmingly awkward situations. In short, made them lose face. Their other teacher tends to putter about on his scooter and spend time with a handful of his mates. He’s known to be a bit of a whinger but he doesn’t make anyone look bad. Me? I usually close my eyes and think of England. I spend precious little time outside my flat. I fail to see the merits in making any effort. I’ve largely re-created a little Europe filled with classical music, operas, BBC Radio on the weekends and classics of Western and Japanese literature. To their annoyance, my excursions into the Oriental involve two-to-three Japanese lessons each week. I can scarcely deny having more than a little of the colonial mind-set. This grates the Chinese as much as it does the other teachers.
I find it amusing that the company president and other teachers encourage me to holiday in South-East Asia. Oh dear, could any of you imagine me happily wiling away the hours on a third world beach with cheap mixed drinks and beer? Egads! The food is often excellent but I’d much rather savour it in a country with proper health regulations. My holidays are planned out! In winter I am looking forward to visiting mates in Taiwan and Japan – and visiting one of Japan’s most beautiful historical towns, Kanazawa. Kanazawa is often referred to as “Little Kyoto” because of its wealth of heritage buildings and cultural richness. In summer I will visit mates in New Zealand and Australia. Do you think I’m too snobbish?