Tag Archives: Culture

Trophy Teacher

Kids running around at recess
Kids running around at recess

When I was looking for a job in China, I never thought I would be teaching elementary school. I was never one of those people that just loved children. I liked some kids and tolerated the rest. But teaching them turned out to be the most fun and rewarding job that I’ve ever had.

I taught at a public school in the suburbs of Dalian. I had about 14 classes a week and I taught grade 1, grade 2, and grade 6. I had about 40-60 kids for every class. Most of them were well behaved and eager to please and once I figured out the trick, it wasn’t too hard to control them. I’m really glad I paid attention in English class when we studied George Orwell though. I joke. (not really)

me and students
Taking a Selfie with my students

I had a lot of freedom with my classes. I wasn’t given a curriculum or a text book. When I started I had no experience with kids and very little time to prepare. I was offered the job on Sunday and asked if I could start on Monday. My first class was a mess. I went through what I thought was 40 minutes of material in 15 minutes. The children didn’t seem to understand anything thing I was saying. No one answered any of my questions. Half way through the class I was afraid they might boo me off the podium. Then I heard one boy whisper to his desk mate in Chinese “this foreigner is not funny”.

Thanks to the help of a Chinese teacher, I’m happy to say that my second class was better and by the end of the day I was tolerable. I quickly discovered that kids don’t seem to tire of repetition. They behave a lot better when I group them and made them compete with each other. I also made them police each other and rewarded them for snitching. Thanks for the tips Gorge Orwell.

I really didn’t need to worry about being horrible. The head of the English department and the principle weren’t very interested in what I was teaching. They were more interested in showing me off. I was their trophy “Spanish” teacher. As long as I looked and acted foreign, it was all good. On more than one occasion a herd of middle-aged men in suites would walk to the back of the class to watch me teach. They also put me in their school plays and introduced me to wealthy parents. Once I had to wait for around of more than an hour so the mayor of the city could get a glimpse of me as I pretended to guide the children to perform Mary had a Little Lamb. I didn’t even teach them that song or the dance moves. I hate that song. Then the principle introduced me as Spanish and from Australia. I have no idea where she got Australia.

For the most part, I didn’t really mind being their trophy. It was only a minor inconvenience. After all I was getting paid twice as much as a Chinese teacher and I could do whatever wanted in the classroom. I used my freedom to never give the kids any homework or tests. We also played a lot of games and watched a lot of cartoons. That doesn’t mean they didn’t learn anything. By the end of the semester most of them could answer my question in full sentences, sing a few English songs, greet me with “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?” and say “Guy! Stop it!” with no accent. Everything else I have taught them they pronounce with a Chinese accent. I used to snap my fingers and say “Guys! Stop it!” so much in class that all my students have learned to imitate me in uncanny perfection. Long after they have forgotten everything else I’ve taught them, surely this will be my legacy. This will be the one thing they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Free Lunch at School
Free Lunch at School



Impression of China

Chinese girl in Starbucks
Chinese girl in Starbucks

Almost every Chinese person I know talks about how much China has changed. It has been only 5 years since my last visit to
Dalian (in 2008) but I can’t help but be surprised at how little of it I recognized on my return. I saw condos, malls, offices sprout up at an alarming rate. And just as fast buildings deteriorated, were torn down, or abandoned.

In the six months that I stayed in Dalian, I witnessed at least three condos and a mall erected along with miles of coastline filled in for a highway all within walking distance from our apartment building. From dawn to dusk, I could hear the clamouring of steel and concrete. Walking from the bus station to our apartment I saw more flyers given out for condos than for supermarkets. Meanwhile, there are abandoned projects in every district of the city. The subway that was started in Dalian for the Olympics sits exposed and untouched along the main road for over 5 years. On my way to work, I could see skeletons of buildings with rusting scaffolding and tattered tarp that dances in the wind like ghosts. Neighbourhoods that were newly built in the beginning of the millennium look like the projects from the 60s. My parents’ building, shiny and brand new in 2008, is already falling apart. Only 1 (sometimes 2 if you are really lucky) out of the 4 elevators work. Most of the lights have gone out in the stairways making it difficult to avoid the sticky garbage water and abandoned appliances. The hallways are always dark and dirty. When it rains, the whole building smells like sewer. This is the same building that had 2 doormen, a security guard and 4 cleaning ladies just 5 years ago.

China is growing too fast, trying too hard, and cutting too many corners. Like a teenager trying to reinvent themselves, the country is fraught with an unique mix contradictions. Just like teenagers, Chinese people live with these contradictions without noticing them. It’s a country that understands the importance of a good foundation but not detail, appearance but not value, brands but not quality, fashion but not taste. There are ocean view housing developments worth millions of dollars with drawers that don’t close all the way and uneven floor boards. There are beautiful open tree-lined boulevards backstreets littered with plastic waste. There are big shiny shopping malls that sell cosmetics that turn your skin orange 30 minutes after application. There are fake everything you can imagine and things you can’t – like fake Apple electric scooters. There are women sporting dresses copied right off the runway of Paris with old sneakers and their mother’s purse.

Despite all of China’s efforts and money, there’s an unruliness to it that is not quite first-world and a shabbiness that’s difficult to sweep under the rug. Yet the Chinese people seem to be happy. People are grateful that they have more of what they used to. There’s a sense of optimism about the future that hasn’t been felt in the West since the 80s. For a country that looks so much forward to the future, it’s sure not building things that would last. Even with all its money, China can’t afford to build and rebuild forever.