Sue meets China - a battle of wills

[EDITOR'S NOTE - Sue's blog is sent via email direct from China and therefore includes any grammatical errors caused by character set incompatibility and/or Chinese government censoring]

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Hi everyone, so here it is the final email from China!!

Cant believe that its here that I have done the whole contracted time here. its 4/5 months but actually feels longer!! In some ways I just cant wait and in other ways I just know Im going to miss it so, so much°  This morning, after the cold water agitator known as the washing machine here ate my linen shirt, I thought oh Iíll bin it, but no then I thought Iíll take into town and see the sewing ladies.

The sewing ladies squat on very low stools, moving into the shade as the sun reaches its peak, and shout something in very loud but rhythmic voices. what they do is attend to all your mending and altering needs. They hold burberry handbags stuffed with lots of different colour threads and scraps of fabric and they look terrifying! Hanging around in groups of 8 or 10 I feel reluctant to take them on! However, I went down clasping my plastic bag with my shirt in it and began the negotiation without any problems. a man was having something mended too and he helped me out  so we agreed a price and she started. I went to sit down next to her smoothing out my plastic bag but she immediately grabbed a piece of newspaper to sit on herself and gave me the little stool!!

So I sat next to her watching the world go by and then the melon man turns up. Its very hot so I get a slice of melon on a stick to be going on with, and then a couple engage the man behind me who turns out to be a fortune teller.

So there I am having my mending done, squatting 3inches off the floor, eating a melon and watching the fortune teller. Its not the Harlequin is it?! And thatís what Im going to miss, when its great, its really really great and when its not its just so so boring. I think itís the school & the old apparatus of social control that drives me crazy. Everyone is really really nice but for example I rushed back from town twice this week to do my lessons only to find that they had been cancelled. Oh Sue you can have a nice rest. Well actually with a 2 and half hour lunch hour I donít need extra rest time!

And its been National Exam week. This is clearly the educational event of the academic year, actually in reality its crucial to the kids to get into uni. But in true Xian middle school fashion it becomes a real, real drama. They know that this is coming up every year and as the school is an exam center they clearly have the dates sorted but they only gave me 36 hours notice that in fact the two days the exams would be in the process needed to reschedule my lesson. So work the whole weekend.  Then on Monday the event starts & all lessons are moved forward by 30 mins (or it might be 20 no one is really sure) and then during the morning all the desks are scrubbed, before the lunch break men in blue coats are outside (blue collar workers(!)) the classroom ready to rearrange all the desks and suddenly its mayhem while everything is moved. Pictures on the classroom walls of inspiring leaders are covered with brown paper and desks are labeled with numbers, pink notices go up and classrooms are locked with cycle locks (lots and lots of things here are locked with cycle locks°≠).

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Then Tuesday comes, security is out with police tape (literally) zoning off the no go area. Chalk goes down to reinforce the area and very large Chinese characters are written on the floor just in case you hadnít grasped the idea! Then as the hour approaches everything is still, no alarms, no flag raising, no basketball. Parents gather outside the gate, the ambulance with lights flashing is waiting just in case and there is a heavy police presence!!! Itís 5 mins before go and guess who wants to walk through the area! (Well Im clearly not going to slink upstairs and tell the answers to anyone and in any case it°Įs a 15 min walk to go all the way round to the back entrance). So as I ran past the parents, past dumbfounded security men, I was nodded through by chief of security, hurdle number one, and then as I approached the chalk line thereís the deputy head and she smiles and lets me go to run across the 30 foot wide area to my apartment!

So quite an event but then as its so very important may be itís a good idea to take security seriously. However, the teachers set the paper, they invigilate the exam, not that they would have a vested interest in helping Xian Middle School maintain its Number 2 status. Actually, this week I was talking to some of the kids about contrasting their lives with that of their parents and a couple of kids said my dad got a place at university but then he had to go out to the countryside because it was the Cultural Revolution and someone else said there was Chairman Mao then, so it was very different. I was getting really defensive about British students but if your life was changed through political situation youíd make damn sure you did everything to make sure your one child got as good a chance as you could manage.

Which reminds me, since I arrived there has been the promise of the hospitable parents taking the foreign teacher out. Of course it hasnít happened and then two weeks ago Madam says oh some students want to take you to TaiBei, a local beauty spot. I was staggered. The day dawned chucking it down for a 6.30 am start. Tom (the other teacher) says as the parents roll up in the clearly brand new car ďIm not goingĒ and so I get whipped off on my own. I thought it was really nice of them and they give me bottles of water, snacks, then we draw up on the motorway slip way and Madam arrives in another car. Theres me, Madam, Madamís daughter, daughterís friend, daughterís friends dad (who had the other car), student (girl) and father, student (boy) and his mum and dad. Quite an entourage.

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Off we go to Taibai. First hurdle getting in. dangerous, I need my passport. Many men in uniform engage in lots of conversation with Madam, father, lots of showing of ID finally Im allowed in. So the day continued..everytime I commented on something the dad got out his wallet and paid for me. Hire a coat for the top of the mountain, let me pay, noodles (cos itís nearly 10oclock) Iíll pay., cable car, No, No Iíll pay. So up to the top, all of us staggering up the vertical steps, and Madam and parents carrying yet more snacks in case we become hungry while more than 10 mins from a snack man, and finally we sit down to eat, again. And Madam tilts her head in that coy way she has. ďHow can I put this, my English is not good, Sue. Missi and David are going to America for an educational exchange.Ē Thatís nice. ďCan you write them a reference?Ē Yes, Sharyn and you neednít have made us all climb up this mountain, you could have just asked. So I was out all day, they clearly spent a fortune on me. All for a half page reference which I would have been quite happy to write in any case. But I then realized that if you life opportunities may be few and far between then you are going to grab the chance to make your kids opportunities more certain. How many British parents move heaven and earth to get the right school?

So what I wont miss is the inequalities. I thought I was going to teach kids whoís life chances would be changed by learning English. These kids are privileged and will do well regardless. Also theyíre not tested in English so its irrelevant what I teach them, theyíd rather do their homework °≠or if they do ask me something they only want to know whether itís an infinitive thatís being modified! I donít know I only know that you canít say ďI quickly sat down for restingĒ! I believe that me and other English teachers (or foreigners) are brought in to be photographed, videoed and generally displayed so that the school maintains its status.

What I will miss is that on the street there is lots and lots and lots going on. Everyone is nice to me. If I smile Iím in there having a good body language chat, smiles and comments, out come my photos, the whole bit. In contrast to the Western tourists who do everything to avoid your eye. The only westerners Iíve talked to work here too. Iíll miss the way I get to have 5 waitresses ready to take my order 5 seconds after Iíve been handed the Chinese only menu, stopping to examine every ice cream fridge that I pass, and having small children and their grannies (all the grannies mind the baby while the parents work) smile, nod and say ďneehowĒ. Anyway its back to Britain and how long before Iím bored with JLs (actually never!). Well, Im off to photograph my apartment so everyone will experience that loo and kitchen by proxy!
lots of love Sue

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