One of the great joys of living in northern Europe is that life more often than not is predictable. Punctuality is generally considered to be a virtue and planning is a necessity. That sort of living is highly civilised. Even when plans change or things take a different course more often than not outcomes are still predictable. In China, in contrast, is as reliable as a Mexican jalopy maintained by an amateur African mechanic.
I received an email just over a week ago by a company employee asking me if I was free. My work schedule was finally finalised and he wanted to, at long last, give it to me. After showing up over an hour late he handed me two sheets. My schedule alternated on a weekly basis (bloody nuisance) and that my first class was the following morning at 8:40. “Tomorrow, innit”? I asked. “Yes, tomorrow. Please meet me at 8:15”. Grumble, grumble, grumble.
I dragged my carcass to work giving the distinct impression of a poorly done-up zombie. Naturally, said company employee turned up fifteen minutes late. With no warning, no books and no ability to prepare I was thrown in front of forty Chinese six-year-olds. I took a liking to this lot. Their regular teacher is an elegant, classy lady and the children are generally sweet and well-behaved. The next class was a bit worse. Hordes of children covered me in slobber and germs. Another class was absolutely impossible to deal with and the teacher, after she showed up ten minutes late, could barely keep control of them. Another class, this time with older children, were slightly rowdy but good fun. One of the lads, a Hong Konger, turned cheek into a fine art form. I took an instant liking to him and aim to take the micky out of him at every opportunity.
The Chinese are not the most discreet people on earth. On several occasions I was mobbed. I was poked, prodded, had my hair pulled and my arms caressed. Those of European extraction generally have more body hair than East Asians. A few children also saw it fit to comment on my nose. No, it is not big – it is merely not as flat as an East Asian’s. I was also tempted to, but refrained from, mentioning how slitty their eyes were. Little monsters!
I survived the first few classes only to have to suffer formerly mentioned company employee yet again. He wanted to give me copies of one of the textbooks I will have to use. This time, he came two hours late. He is also responsible for delivering packages to me – including my textbooks for the courses I am taking. They were posted nearly a month ago and are still to be delivered. More insulting yet, they have since 18 August been in a city twenty minutes away. Supposedly they are now in Huzhou but this has not been confirmed. I was also asked to take over another teacher’s shifts as he went on a week’s holiday.
The poor man was unprepared for what was to befall him – a traditional German lecture. Fifteen minutes of unending, unerring criticism and rebuke. His lack of punctuality, constant shifting of my schedule, lack of communication, general lack of competence and inability to keep track of his responsibilities were all discussed in thorough detail. “Saving face” plays no role in these Germanic exercises; no, none at all. The entire purpose is to force improvement by shredding anything that resembles pride, dignity and self-respect.
I wanted to slap him after seeing his vacuous, bovine expression. His incompetence is the reason why I’ve failed one examination and am poised to fail another. He waits until the evening before classes begin to give me a schedule and then, at the last minute, tells me that the schedule is incorrect. I will have no choice but to book a three-week holiday starting in late January to Japan and Taiwan. He will have to base his schedule on that.
At a later point I may be inclined to point out that China might well have an economy more than twice the size of any European country, including the economic behemoth that is Germany, but they also have fifteen times as many people as Germany.