For the past year, my official job title has been: English Teacher. My official location has been: Shenzhen, China. However, my ideal job title and location would read: Entrepreneur. Sydney, Australia. Thus the life I have been living represents almost the polar opposite of the life I aspire to live. Yet there are no complaints from this corner. The past year was always going to be a springboard for me. Having achieved take-off, I now inhabit the mid-air section of my journey. But before I let you in on the ups and downs of starting my business in China (so that I can one day move to Australia , I really should wrap up the first chapter of my journey: being a Teacher and being in China.
No, I am not peeing on Australia. I am just crap with graphics!
Teachers can manhandle kids in China
At first I was shocked by the heavy-handed ways of Chinese kindergarten teachers. Not shocked because I thought the kids were suffering particularly from the odd clip round the ear, but because it’s so frowned upon back home, that you just don’t do it. However what goes on in the state-run kindergartens and schools, doesn’t necessarily occur in private education centres (where I mostly worked). As the Chinese strive to adopt a more and more Western way of life, they are beginning to eschew the ways of old. So whilst what Amy Chua has to say in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is very interesting, the ethos is largely being eroded in her homeland. Further proof of changes taking place in Asian education: Beating Ban stirs debate in South Korean Schools
All the kids were smiling, none of them had been beaten that day
Chinese kids are getting fatter and fatter…
One day, I was teaching that age old favourite: Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes to a class of 4 year olds. To aid the process, I decided to go to each kid, one by one, and point out the head, shoulder, knees and toes that belonged to their own bodies. This was a great idea. Candy, Apple, Angel, Tiger and New all seemed to have light-bulb moments. Then I arrived at Phillip, he was wearing shorts… but where was his knee?!? No knee. This kid was so overweight that his knee was indecipherable from the rest of his leg.
Eat some sandwishes, and maybe getting fat will come true.
(All) Kids respond well to discipline and boundaries
Phillip was a bit of a handful in the beginning. Unlike in the UK, where bigger kids might be teased, leading to shyness, in China there is no such discrimination. This means that you can, nine times out of ten, assume that bigger kids in China have been given whatever they want, whenever they want it, and are not used to hearing the word “NO”. So when I say that Phillip was a handful, I mean that he was naughty and difficult to control in the classroom. But after weeks and weeks of putting him in the corner, kicking him out of the classroom and having stern words with his grandmother, he turned a corner. As evidenced by numerous other cases I came across, if you set the boundaries and stick to them, usually the kids respond. Without a shadow of a doubt, the kids I will remember most fondly will be the naughty kids that came good.
The Chinese do not own up to mistakes they have made.
The topic of one of my Winter Camp courses was “Amazing Buildings”. The course was to last fourteen days, and I decided that we would spend five or ten minutes at the end of each day, doing a puzzle – The Leaning Tower of Pisa. The puzzle was laid out on a table and after the first day, we had completed the majority of the edges. I carried the whole table into the Teachers office, expecting to take it back into the classroom the next day. You can imagine my shock when I arrived at the school the next morning, to find all the pieces back in the box, all progress gained had been lost!! Who would do that? WHY would they do that? I went out to the Chinese teachers and staff and asked “Who destroyed my puzzle?” Silence. I asked again. “Maybe it was one of the kids” offered one girl. It wasn’t, the puzzle was intact when I left, and I left after the kids. There were only about six staff, not one would own up. So for the entire day, I kept posing the question: “who destroyed my puzzle?” After lunch, I was still asking and finally one of the girls (Jenny) said “Ohhh, the puzzle? Yes, I tidied it away”. Tidied it? You tidied the puzzle? WHY? “…because I thought it was messy”. At this point Vivian chipped in “puzzles aren’t very common in China, maybe Jenny has never done one, and didn’t realise what is was for”. So I turn to Jenny “Jenny, have you ever done a puzzle before?” Jenny: “Yes, of course!”
In China, there is a sociological system of Face (read more) at work. Chinese people would rather lose money than lose face. Rather do something they hate to do, than lose face. And indeed, rather not tell the truth than admit to a mistake – because if you have made a mistake then you are deemed to have lost face. Phd theses have been written about this, if you want to know more, I suggest you seek them out. In the meanwhile, I hope my little anecdote has given you some small insight to living/working with the Chinese.
Smile, deny everything.
Celebrate Everything. (As long as it involves presents)
Nowadays, it seems that every Christmas, Chanukah or Wedding that comes around, someone will complain that the true meaning of the event has been forgotten, and it is now nothing more than a materialistic exercise in gift receiving and excess. I would suggest that this person doesn’t visit China anytime soon. The Chinese seem eager to celebrate anything with great enthusiasm. Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, you name it, they do it. (Ok, maybe they don’t do Chanukah However, ask them who Jesus or St. Valentine was, and you’ll get a blank face. Ask them how much a Christmas Tree or a dozen red roses cost, and you’ll get a full market appraisal.
The most I have ever participated in Halloween!
Finally, a small disclaimer: I am aware that sweeping generalisations have been made in this post. Of course, these observations do not apply to every single one of the 1.4billion people living in China. Actually, the observations probably don’t apply to the people living in the countryside at all. However, I live in a city and if the government has its way, within the next 10-15years, so will everyone else in China. I hope you can accept that just because I have made these observations, it does not mean I dislike, frown upon or have a lack of respect for the people of China. I am an alien, living in a foreign land, and what you’ve read is simply what I’ve seen.