May 23rd, 2010
Knock on wood, I have almost bounced back from the flue like illness that I had this past week. As a consequence I had a chance to catch up on Prison Break and finish reading “Love in the Time of Cholera”, which was beautiful, though a bit long in the middle.
In other news, this week we have found a new hang out. A western inspired pub/bar called Helen’s. The menu even features veggie burgers and a vegetarian lasagne, which though they don’t taste exactly right, also don’t taste that bad and so after nearly five months of living here I am satisfied that they will do. And last night, Lucy celebrated her birthday there.
Who is Lucy? Well, Lucy is a great girl, from the American south. She has a darling accent and the most classic lines. When I hang out with her, I wish that I had brought a paper and pen to write down the things she says. Lucy’s been here three years and knows most of the ins and outs of living life as a foreigner in Wuhan. But she says “someone who lives in China for a month can write a book about what they saw, after two months living here it becomes a chapter, after six months a few paragraphs and after a year they don’t even know where to begin.”I love hanging out with Lucy. I have always been someone who loved the sound of my own voice; but around her I feel perfectly satisfied to say nothing, and to hear her talk about her life and her perspective. In fact, I have noticed I am getting better at that in general. Is this what growing up is? Loosening the childish self-absorption and realizing others may actually have more interesting things to say?
I got to try my new found interest in others on Anney. She is the first new AIESEC intern who arrived four days ago in Wuhan to work here for the summer. Soon she will be joined by fifty more. So AIESEC parties should in no time meet the high standard I became accustomed to in Ottawa.
In regards to work, well tonight I teach a group of students that I like to nickname the Canadians. They are students at Maple Leaf, the Canadian style school fully staffed by Canucks from BC. I love teaching these students. They are the only people I have met in China that seem genuinely interested in talking about the Official Languages Act and actually know who Stephen Harper is.
Students really are a mixed bag. Most of my students fully intend on studying abroad and admit that afterwards they will strive for green cards. So they are interested in talking about culture and language until the cows come home. I had one student named Chris that I nicknamed the American. He is a high school student who just returned from a year abroad studying in America. He had a near flawless accent and seemed completely culturally assimilated. Unlike the other students, he would interrupt me and say “why do we have to do this, can’t we do ___.” Other Chinese students just do what the teacher says, but Chris liked what he saw in America and what he saw was people who talked back. Also the other students would always laugh and clap and get a kick out of it when I showed them the Chinese I had learned. But Chris would just guffaw and correct me with a sarcastic air. At first I think he had a little crush on me and he was behaving to try and impress me. But that faded and now he’s shown his true colours; red, white and blue. And though, in terms of ability to thrive in America, I have more confidence in him than in any of my other students, for the time being it’s annoying.
Other students come in terrified that I will talk to them and ask them to speak (remember I teach speaking so they all have to speak.) But it is wonderful to see these students bloom with time. I have one student Senti, who is slowly getting more and more confident and it’s wonderful to watch his progression.
Then there are the spoiled brats, sons and daughters of the ultra rich, who are mostly passionless and bored. I currently have a VIP student called Jeremy. (A VIP is a student that pays a ridiculous amount of money for the privilege of having some one-on-one lessons with a foreign teacher and getting to attend whichever classes they want.) He is always decked in designer clothing from top to bottom. Jeremy loves to tell me about the luxury hotels he stays in and on our first lesson he showed me his credit cards. After our lessons he gets his chauffeur to drive me home, and sometimes he treats me to expensive dinners at the ritziest restaurants. Jeremy’s always very nice to me, but sometimes I feel like just another Prada bag. I am another show piece of his wealth, as if he’s saying “look world I have my very own foreigner.”
It’s really shocking how in a country with so many people stuck in abject poverty, the rich are so ostentatious and proud of their wealth and feel absolutely no obligation to help. It gets worse; most of the ultra rich here have connections to the government. They got their ridiculous wealth under the veil of supposedly working for the “people” and raise vapid and self-interested children. But I guess that’s enough preaching. To be fair, I have never been in the right circles to meet the ultra rich in Canada. I imagine they may be just as vapid and self-interested.