A Mystery and a Wonder Called China

Sometimes, they express their worries about their future, saying how difficult it is for them to find jobs. They are still only in grade three and have another year and a half to go before they graduate, but some of their joie de vivre is already buried under furrows of concern. I tell them they belong to the luckiest generation ever to have lived in China and that their future is brighter than their parents, grandparents and, indeed, all other generations before them. They give me an 'unblieving' look. Some students in Guangdong used to tell me how their grandparents and parents lived through periods of starvation, surviving on less than a bowl of rice a day, and at times, days.'Some of my students from a three-year college in Zhanjiang, Guangdong are already employed in jobs that pay them three, four and sometimes, even five thousand a month.

And, they don't even have degrees. All they have is a diploma. If they can find jobs that pay so well, you all, with university degrees under your belts, are sure to do better,' I try to reassure them.'But, that is in Guangdong!' some protest.'Sure! But, what stops you from finding a job in Guangdong, Zhejiang or even Shanghai,' I persist.

They fall silent, perhaps, reassured for the moment.That things have changed, and are continuing to change in China, is no great news. It's been happening for some decades now and the effects of the changes are evident everywhere, including some of the less developed regions, like Anhui Province. Anhui is where my university is located and where I, providentially, have been for the last couple of years of my employment as a university teacher.

'Foreign Expert' is the title bestowed upon me. I know I am not an expert, nowhere near! In fact, I know very little grammar and sometimes find myself caught on the wrong foot even in class, in the presence of dozens of students. Students in China are usually quiet and disciplined and speak very little in class unless asked to. However, they have an uncanny ability to pick out their teachers' mistakes and can, sometimes, be extremely forthright about it, especially when it comes to foreign teachers.

I doubt, however, they would do that in the presence of their local teachers. 'Face' is an important concept in Chinese society. There is no greater ignominy in China than to 'lose face' and therefore, every effort is made to ensure that one doesn't lose it oneself or cause another to lose it. Foreign teachers understand little about it and when they do, pay little heed to it, generally.

I, shamelessly, admit my failing with regard to grammar and lose face. I, also, don't let that come in my way of correcting their mistakes, thus making them lose face and creating some enemies, for sure, albeit silent ones.I know I am a fool and even four years in China haven't made me a lesser fool. 'We live only once,' I tell myself each time I realize I am a fool, 'better to be a happy fool than an unhappy sage.

'.Many students have the notion that foreign teachers are irresponsible and they are paid unfairly higher wages than their local counterparts. Perhaps, that is one reason why they, sometimes, tend to be scathing in their judgements towards FT's. The truth, however, is buried safely away and a myth that was created a long time ago, continues to persist. Many employers and recruiters continue to post job ads, tomtomming how they are offering a salary of 3,000-5,000 to foreign teachers while local teachers are paid in the region of just a thousand. They conveniently ignore the question of hours taught by local teachers vis-a-vis the foreign teachers, how local teachers are paid a salary even while they pursue higher education, earn hefty bonuses, extra money for every class taught in addition to their base salary (this subject is covered in greater detail in another article, 'ESL Teaching in China - Fact and Fiction About Teachers') and numerous other benefits, including pension.

I have often fought the urge to educate my students on this fact of a foreign teacher's life since they 'accuse' me of being one of the best teachers they have had. I would love to believe them but I know these are compliments reserved for teachers, especially foreign teachers, before grading time. Teachers can alter the destinies of students and most are acutely aware of this. Once a foreign teacher stops teaching a class, most students will forget about him like one would a ball of used, soiled and discarded tissue paper. He can no longer affect their destinies and therefore, doesn't even deserve a nod when he passes one by.

That hurts!.To be fair, not all students fit this mould, for there are some who continue to keep in touch long after they have ceased being students and are well-settled in jobs that probably earn them better salaries than their erstwhile teachers. However, it still leaves me rather withered when a former student passes by, avoiding eye-contact and pretending not to have noticed me. The first time it happened a few years ago, I remember feeling very offended.

Now, I have learnt to pretend I didn't notice or recognize the student either. Perhaps, I lose less face thisaway!.Despite all the games played, all the farces enacted and all the pretensions faced, there are things about teaching in China that leave one feeling very warm and welcomed - like the unexpected call from a student from years ago who has gone to great lengths to locate one's new telephone number to inform how she has landed a new job that pays 'more than five thousand a month' and to wish one a 'Happy everyday'!.China is a mystery that cannot be understood in four years. It is a wonder that cannot be experienced even in ten years.

And, if one were to live a lifetime here, one would, perhaps, only realize that it is a mystery and a wonder whose threads cannot be separated even in generations.In my four years here, the one thing I have learnt about this wonderful country is - that which is, does not show and that which shows, is not!.

.Rajesh Kanoi (Jack) is a published writer, now living and working in China. Many of his short-stories, poems and articles have been published, including a book of short-stories, 'From China With Love' (Lipstick Publishing).http://www.


By: Rajesh Kanoi

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