I have somehow ended up in China. The question that has been permanently on my mind is ‘what is happening?’
From my experiences over the last month I have composed a survival guide for a newbie in China. This is also a means of ranting/venting. It’s been a rollar coaster folks
*** please note that these are just my own experiences, while others may have experienced similar things everyone’s experience will be different. This is not gospel. Don’t go getting your panties in a twist.
- Forget everything you have previously heard about China.
Seriously forget everything you thought you knew about China. I have been to China before, I thought I knew a bit about this huge and interesting country. I was wrong. All the myths you are told. All the stories and rumours. All the things you thought you knew about life in China. Forget it.
Firstly forget it because China is soooooo big that life in one province can be completely different to life in another.
I have ended up in a rural area in the arse end of nowhere. So the rumour that China is ahead of other countries etc, forget that. The British council advertised this year by saying ‘spend a year at the heart of the 21st century’. Well I can guarantee you I am not living at the heart of the 21st century. Cassette players are a popular device for teaching and chalk boards are still used #throwback. Trains are not a thing in this city unless you are getting the sleeper train out of here. Mopeds, bikes and buses are the main form of transport. Helmets are unessential. Capacity is not an issue. Now I am not saying that is a bad thing. I am merely commenting on the discrepancy between rich areas and poor areas. In only the month I have been in china I have noticed the difference between a city such as Beijing and a city like Jiujiang. It is vast.
Furthermore, that rumour that Chinese students are so obedient and so well behaved. That they really respect their teachers. Yes that is indeed not true. I’ve had swearing, refusing to do the work, kids walking out, kids mimicking me, kids shouting over me, a lot. It is very hard to control 60 kids at once. So when they start talking chaos can quickly descend. Oh yeah that’s another thing classes range between 60-70 students. The students are either asleep in your lesson or doing their homework. To be honest who can blame them!? They are in school around 7 every morning, they have exercises and drills to do in the morning, and they have four lessons before lunch. Then four lessons after lunch, including some eye exercises (one of the weirdest things to witness if you aren’t expecting it or if you are expecting it actually). They go home for dinner then come back for homework 7-10pm. They also have school on Saturday and often on a Sunday too. They have so much homework and are so tired. It is not hard to see why half of them are asleep.
Have you heard that rumour that the Chinese education system is so incredible, well the brilliance of it has not been revealed to me yet. As of yet I see students who are exhausted. The students in the year are put into sets, which is common in most countries. However, the students are also individually ranked according to how well they do and how clever they are. Each student knows their place. If you are the worst in the year you know it. Teachers will say point blank in front the kids that they are terrible at English and they are in the worst set. Something that really grates on me. Hardly positive reinforcement. If you are in a poorly ranked school (yep the schools are ranked) then only a few of the students will end up going to university. The students know this. If you are at a bad school in a poorer area you also know that your parents would not be able to afford an alternative for your further education and you know you could very well end up living in the same province the rest of your life. So many of my 16 year old students have already given up. I hate this and it makes me very sad to see a young person be told they are not good at something. (I don’t know if this is true everywhere but this is what I have been told and I what I have seen in my job so far).
Also the rumour that you cannot get tampons, hair conditioner, mint toothpaste and shower gel. Total bollocks. Of course you can get all that stuff.
So forget all the shit you have been told and go figure it out for yourself. Just remember you will have a completely different experience depending on the city you go to.
- Always carry tissues with you.
So toilets in china are squat toilets. For me this is no big deal. In fact I actually quite like it. Popping a squat is wonderful for you bowels. Although, if you are wearing a playsuit or long trousers things become a bit harder. Always look at your feet and don’t step in urine, shit or sanitary products that may be lying about. Oh and you might want to hold your nose and avoid looking in the bin (if there is one).
It is a very rare occurrence to find toilet roll in the squatters. Sometimes there is some but every toilet I have visited here in Jiujiang lacks the proper wiping equipment. Therefore, you must carry some with you. Of course you can always go for the drip dry technique but if your bowels are as unpredictable as mine have been of late you may be caught short. So take it from me that is an awkward experience. So carry some with you. Ok?
- Don’t drink tap water
Any idiot will know this.
- Don’t put your belongings or your being on the floor
Cleaning products are not used as liberally as they are in England. The main method of cleaning the floor is throwing water on to it and pushing it about with a mop. The same mop is often used to clean the toilets and the classrooms. Is it sanitary? Is it effective? I don’t know but I do know that the floors remain pretty dirty. Your bag will leave the floor accompanied by suspicious stains. The students all know not to put their stuff on the floor. ‘teacher, teacher move your bag!!!’ cry the students as one rushes up to move my bag off the floor.
Also while we are on the subject of floors, do not get your students to sit on the floor to play a game. They don’t like that either. Unaware that the floors were not clean I tried to get my students to sit in a circle on the floor. Staring blankly at me they proceeded to get out brooms and begin sweeping around me while I sat stupidly on the dirty floor.
We have already discussed the floor situations. The use of a mop and water is the method in practice as a whole. Bleach and floor cleaner are not a staple. This does not please me. Now anyone who knows me will know that I am a bit of a grimey gremlin. I’ve heard my own bedroom referred to as the troll cave, gremlin grotto and other various names. Yes it is true I’m not the neatest gal. However, I have found my limit. When I moved in to my new apartment I thought at first glance I had hit the jackpot. It seemed clean and spacious.
Oh how naïve I was. After a week I started to notice I had a few housemates. Yep the cockroaches are having illegal house parties in my abode. Occasionally they are joined by some spiders and, keeping slightly to the edge of the scene, is an ants nest. Oh Brill. I love hosting parties. Especially for Arogog, Shelob and the cretinous cockroaches from hell. I hate creepy crawlies. I am the woman who screams at a spider and fetches someone else to dispose of it. (Although don’t kill them because I’m pretty sure they will then somehow come back for you, or their families will). For those of you unaware cockroaches are robust and sturdy, they are hard to kill. They can live for a month without their heads. Stamping on them releases their spawn all over the place. They also carry every germ going. Oh and they are omnivores so would quite happily eat a human.
No thanks. Tap me out. Not interested. Party over. Please leave.
So death traps have been set all over my house.
I have been going ape shit crazy cleaning like I have never cleaned before. To my horror when I mopped the floor with bleach I discovered the water turned black with dirt. When I wiped the walls of the bathroom the cloth too was turned black with dirt. The cupboards were full of dirt, debris and the carcasses of various breeds of flies. So now my messy habits are being squashed out by the fear of cockroaches. Any food is safely sealed in a Tupperware box. All surfaces are wiped multiple times daily. The floor is hoovered and mopped on the regular. My mother would be so proud.
So yes there is a positive to living among the beasts. I am becoming a cleaner human. However, I also sleep in fear paranoid they are plotting my take down. My body will be found in months to come nibbled by cockroaches.
The second point on hygiene concerns the experience I had while having my health check required for my visa. So every foreign person who works in china needs one of these. I had already had every one of these checks done before leaving as I was told I had to and had no choice. So I did it. Turns out many people didn’t get all the same checks. My province was clearly stricter. Anyway so my ‘mentor’ couldn’t be arsed to take me so dumped me on Sarah. Luckily Sarah’s mentor said there was space in the car so she could take me. We arrive and are presented with a checklist of impending procedures, including internal and surgery. Ermmmm what!? I am not having anyone cutting me open? Or going up my hoohaa thank you very much (yes that’s what I thought when I saw the word internal).
Bring on the medical. We enter into the first room. Ahh the blood room. My favourite. If you know me well you are probably aware that I have what they call white coat syndrome. Meaning i am a complete pussy and I faint when doctors come at me with needles. Or when they merely touch me (yes that’s happened). Or when the opticians tries to help me with contacts. Or when they dentist tried to fix my tooth. So yes I am a fainter. Its weird and I can’t control it. But when it happens I also have a fainting fit, occasionally emptying my bladder too. Super fun, not at all embarrassing. So that fear was prevalent in my head. In England I can sometimes avoid the fainting by lying down or having a nurse distract me. Sadly there was nowhere to lie down. There was no privacy. In fact the room where they take the blood is also the waiting room. There is a desk, behind which the nurse sits at a computer, a very rusty and dirty sink in the corner, and the floors are dirty too. On the desk sits the empty test tubes keenly awaiting my blood. There are also the full test tubes holding other people’s blood. Just sat there on full display staring at me. In the middle of these tubes is a pillow. A dirty blood stained pillow. Blood stained. Other people’s blood on the pillow they want me to put my arm on. So feeling pretty queasy already I sit on the stool. I lay my arm on the infected pillow and allow the nurse to tie the tube around my arm so she can start smacking my veins. Please note that I think this rubber tube may have been stolen from a heroin addict’s wet dream. The nurse is then trying to communicate with me but because I don’t speak Chinese and because I was determinedly looking at the ceiling and trying not to vomit or faint I have no idea what she was trying to say. It begins. Three tubes of blood were taken (as I later learnt). But towards the end I start retching and heaving. I then feel myself start to faint. I find myself lying on promptly vacated chairs with my head on Sarah’s lap. The nurse and Sarah’s mentor are staring at me like I am an alien. I am handed a sweetie as apparently I look very pale and my lips are blue. So yes it was a great experience. Feel free to drain me of my blood anytime yo.
Next we are given a small flimsy cup and directed to the toilets. Squatting and trying to piss in a cup is very hard. Especially as my balance was somewhat questionable after having fainted. Oh and the toilets smelt so awful that wasn’t helping. Spotting two already full cups on a tray by the sink we pop ours down next to them, hoping that’s what we are meant to do with them. Then I wash the piss off my hands. Without soup. Why would there be soup in a hospital? Beats me.
Next up is the ECG and Ultrasound. Sarah is in one room and I am in the other. They are conjoined. Nobody bothers to shut the door, so while Sarah gets her ultrasound I’m getting naked and having stuff clamped to my nipples. (yes they use strange clamps in china not the sticky tabs we use in England). Very kinky. Also did I mention there were a couple of random people flitting between the rooms to have a look at the strange English girls. Standard.
Thankfully there was no internal and no surgery. Although the eye test conducted in Chinese was interesting, reading Chinese symbols is impossible even with my glasses doc. Trying to explain about my lazy eye and tell them I am long sighted not short sighted was impossible so I gave up and allowed them to look and giggle at my wonky eyes.
- Prepare to be confused
You will be confused. A lot. All the time perhaps. ‘wtf is going on/ what is happening’ are fast becoming my new catch phrases.
Questions will remain unanswered. A common response to most questions will be along the lines of ‘I’ll tell you later’. Later never seems to arrive.
More often than not you will have people call you and tell you they will be with you in five minutes to do something. Sometimes you will not be told what this something is. Sometimes you will not be called and warned of the impending something.
You won’t know what you are eating. You won’t know what you are buying. You won’t know where you are. You won’t know what you are supposed to be doing tomorrow. You won’t actually know what you are supposed to teach. You probably won’t know when you are supposed to teach. You won’t know when holidays are. You won’t know how to buy medicine when you are sick. You won’t know much to be honest.
Solution: make it up.
- Last minute changes are common
Classes will be changed, timetables amended and holidays or extra days teaching will be sprung upon you without warning. Everyone loves a holiday but here it means working on the weekend to make up for the days missed during the holiday. I don’t know whether it is just because I am the outsider or whether things really are last minute and organisation is slightly lacking but whatever the reason I am told things very last minute. Sometimes not told at all. It is fast becoming a huge annoyance in my life.
- Just eat it
To really survive don’t have any allergies, dietary requirements or any food dislikes at all. Especially if you cannot speak Chinese this all becomes a lot harder. In many restaurants there will be no pictures and the owners will not speak English (obviously because we are in China). So there is a lot of guess work. I thought learning a few simple words such as rice, beef, beer, chicken, vegetables, would suffice but that still isn’t always sufficient. Often food turns up and remains unidentified. So I take the tactic of just eating it.
Unfortunately if you do have an allergy it is not easily guaranteed that you will be safe. Especially in the small local restaurants. Or street food. One of my friends is a vegetarian so learning how to say that and say no meet please is necessary.
- Be friendly
People will be excited to see you. Not all the time but often if you go into someone’s restaurant they will get pretty over excited. They will take pictures. They may even bring a friend or their grandma to come have a look at you. Just roll with it. Try to be friendly, even when you have a mouth full of unidentified meats and this random woman decides that’s when she wants a mug shot. Don’t give her the finger just try not to choke or show the camera the inside of your mouth.
- Get used to the daily assault on your senses.
There are strong smells. Smells of meat, dirt, fish, car fumes, poop, and urine. Where I live this is especially bad because it’s a more rural and poorer area. The smells can be quite overwhelming at times. At other times there are great smells. I live opposite a steamed bun shop. I have no idea what is inside the buns but they all taste great. Sometimes its meat, sometimes veg and onetime it looked like tiny little noodles shoved inside the bun. So yes there are very many smells. Some good some gag worthy.
Sounds. The horn of a car is a frequent sound. More than frequent. Constant. Everywhere you go there will be a car or bike horn. I have yet to work out where these are angry beeps or more of a ‘heyyyaaa i’m over here!’ type beep. It is very noisy. The bus ride to and from work is deafening.
Vocal sounds. There is a lot of shouting. Someone sitting next to you on their phone, shouting down it like they are trying to contact someone on mars. Someone shouting at you as though you are deaf. Conversation at dinner time, which of course you don’t understand, is very very loud. People are very vocal. However, you can get used to this by becoming deaf so fear not.
More sounds. Shops trying to lure people in by blasting very loud music. It is not enticing. Another tactic is to have someone stand outside with a microphone and sing. Or shout. Or a mixture of singing and shouting. Again, this tactic fails to spike my curiosity and lead me into the shop.
The worst sound. Spitting on the floor is inescapable. It happens everywhere. On the bus. On the street. In the doctors. Everywhere. (in the doctors it was into a cup not the floor). I hate spitting. The thought of someone else’s phlegm glob lying on the floor makes me want to send the contents of my stomach right down next to the pile of phlegm. But that is not the worst part of the spitting. The worst aspect is the noise. You now the phlegm is coming when you hear the loud hawking sound, throat grumbling rumbling revolting sound of someone preparing to send their army of germs out into the world. It is disgusting. That is not up for debate, it is grim.
Sight – there are many different sights, some good, some bad. But your eyeballs will be assaulted if you walk past shops with crazy bright flashing lights. Again some sort of means of attracting people to enter the shop. I am not a moth. Therefore, this tactic has failed to work on me yet. You will sometimes see kids pooping or pissing in the street. This is encouraged. In fact their clothes have flappy bits around their privates to make the task that much easier.
Taste. Now I have tasted some pretty wonderful things since being here. The food is great. A tad oily but tables with have boxes of tissues so you can wipe the greasy crap off your mouth. Or wipe the sweat from your brow (sweat can be caused both by the 34 degree heat and the level of spice in the food). I have had some great dumplings, hot pots, duck and pancakes, fish on a stick, meats, veg and buns buns buns. But sometimes things don’t taste so great. Only way to find out is to shove in your gob and give it a nibble. Although sometimes its pretty much all bone/claw so you can’t nibble. I am yet to work out what you do with those parts of the animal. Perhaps just suck it.
Feel – the floors feel weird. I don’t know why they just do. My shoes are extra squeaky these days. Oh and my bed is like lying on cement. Super comfortable.
- You will be stared at a lot. You will have photos taken of you.
People do stare. They do love to take a photo. This will not be subtle at all. Before you start to think omg people are staring at me, it must be because I’m so damn beautiful. No bitch its because you are not from around these parts and you stick out like a sore thumb. You look different, people stare. End of.
There is nothing subtle about it either. They can be very long and unblinking stares. So yes it is a bit uncomfortable at times. For instance when you trying to go to the toilet, squatting toilets with no doors on them. That would be a nice time not to be stared at.
Nothing you can do about this except change nationality. So just get used to it. You can find ways to make it more amusing for yourself. For instance I have taken to having staring contests with people. For example if I catch someone staring at me on the bus I now just stare back until they look away. Or you could just give a smile and wave. You may get a wave back which is always nice.
Get used to the photos. It will happen. I’ve experienced the sneak attack photos. I believe this is when people are trying and failing to be subtle when taking the photo. I’ve also had the full on approach of just walking up and taking the photo. Sometimes its nice to be asked if you will be in a photo. The worst time though is one you mentor decides that a really good time to start taking photos is in the police station when you are trying to sort out visa. What makes that situation even better is when she moves you into position, poking and shoving you and then afterwards tells you that you look very tired and in the next photo you should cover your eyes with sunglasses. Cheers mate, not like I hadn’t just got off a 13 hour train journey and been dragged around a new city by your crazy ass. Oh yeh my mentor is bat shit crazy. The other issue is that her English is very bad, so combined with my complete lack of ability to speak Chinese we are constantly suffering a communication breakdown.
- It can be very lonely.
I live on my own. I can’t speak to most people. I sit in an office by myself, sometimes for 5 hours in the day. The internet often doesn’t work. I am still unaware of how to actually get about the city or how to do simple tasks as there is often never anyone to ask. So I spend a lot of my time on my own with nobody to talk to. It is easy to go a bit crazy, (crazier than I previously was). Plus I now don’t have a cat to talk to, turns out being a crazy cat lady is actually what kept me sane all these years. Ironic.
- Perseverance is key
There have been times when I have wanted to quit. When I have no idea what I am doing here or why I am bothering. My tear ducts are permanently at the ready because I am cursed with being the type of person who cries when they are sad, angry, tired, annoyed, or basically feeling any emotion whatsoever. All the stuff that has been going on, how hard it truly has been, how isolated you can feel and all the other crap that comes with moving to a completely different country can sometimes make you want to stop and go home. And yet one thing will happen that will just make you keep going. Keep pushing through.
For me it is often the teaching. The strange thing is I don’t really want to be a teacher. When a class is naughty I want to cry or shout or swear and tell them to stop being little shits. Such as when they swear at you, or walk out your class or refuse to listen. Then refuse to talk when you actually want them to talk. However, when a class goes well and the students are interested and engaged, when you see them enjoying it and having fun or when a student is passionate about learning English and just wants to talk, it somehow makes it all worth it. Even if the next class is full of little shits.
Sometimes it is just walking around seeing a bunch of women dancing by the lake. Or a man in pyjamas strolling around blasting out some Chinese music. Or a man at a restaurant trying to ask what food we would like by miming, his impression of a frog was beautiful.
So yes its very tough, it is confusing, it is lonely, it is frustrating, it is infuriating and it is all so different from anything I have ever known. But my god it is going to make my memoirs bloody fantastic. Everyday something strange yet hilarious happens. Walking around and just seeing people in their own life’s which are so different from my own is really intriguing. So I stare, and they stare and we are staring at each other. We are both wondering ‘what on earth is this person up to?’
The answer: ‘I haven’t the foggiest mate. But at least there is tea.’
but hey if I’m ever in trouble at least there is a police station floating on the Yangtze river.