Chapter 5 Once More into the Breach.
As I have stated, I only intended to be in China one year, but from the time I was given permission to hold Classes in my own classroom, and restrict the numbers of students in attendance, I began to discover that for the first time in a long time, I was enjoying working.
Class sizes were determined by nothing more than the willingness of students to learn English, therefore, class sizes varied. The smallest number of students I ever had in one class, was just one student, and the largest was Fifty-three. It all depended on the students themselves.
Now I have to confess here that I had not done a TESOL or similar course, and in fact, have never needed to teach a class using such methods. What I began to do with the students was quite simple. I simply made them talk. I commenced by teaching them how to take 15 simple questions and simple answers, and joining the answers to form informative answers. In 2006, I began putting my teaching series on the internet and if you are so inclined you can go read them. (Chinese Students ask: How Can I improve my Oral English|? )
Because I had already begun to hold English Corners during my first semester, and had already come to realise the many problems that students faced, I had worked out stradegies to get them into conversation. The usual custom in language classes is to have students do role plays, but the thing I quickly discovered was that the Chinese phenomenal ability to memorize, meant that whilst students could memorize a conversation, they could not actually take part in one. And so I began to introduce topics for the students to think about and discuss, and began to teach them some of the skills involved in conversation, particularly the skill of changing topics.
What I began to discover was that students really wanted to talk about a variety of issues, and once the initial fear subsided, did so enthusiastically. By the time I reached my last semester, (with a new group of students who would have me only for a short time), I had already began to streamline my teaching methods and fast track student participation.
For the very first 'group discussion' to be held that semester, I had warned the students that the topic question would be: 'What do you think about Taiwan?' To the very first class to participate that semester, came a teacher totally unknown to me. He, it appears, had been warned that the foreigner was teaching students about Taiwan. I guess he was there to make sure that I breached no Chinese Laws. However he may have prepared himself for that session, what transpired left him speechless.
One of the things I had taught students, was that how you answer a question is really up to yourself. The question about Taiwan was not political, therefore, the ensuing conversation would only become political if the students chose to make it political.
During the conversation, one of the students made the comment that if she were the President of China, and the Taiwan people wanted to be independent, she would just let them. The teacher immediately sat bolt upright and opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, another student said: "If you did that I would take a gun and shoot you!" I then asked the student if he was prepared to overthrow the government on such an issue and he said that he would.
That poor teacher! Caught between a rock and a hard place, he didn't know who to scold. But somehow I suspect that the whole discussion was 'a put up' for that specific purpose, because all the other classes did exactly as I had expected they would. They would take that innocuous question and turn it into a discussion about Taiwan's scenery, music scene and other equally interesting but non political topics.
What I learned from my students in Hong Hu was that given half the chance, they were able to make great strides in gaining confidence to enter usual (meaning not memorized) English conversation, and furthermore, greatly appreciated my personal efforts to equip them for that purpose, and loved me for it.
One day I was outside the classroom when a boy who was on his way into the classroom, blew me a kiss. I called him back and asked him if he knew what that signified and he said that he did and that he loved me. After a short discussion, he informed me that he really did 'love' me because I had taught him so much and he had made such wonderful improvement.
On another occasion, three girls approached me and told me that they wished to apologise to me for having hated me at the beginning of the semester. While aware of a number of students who did in fact hate me, of these three I had been unaware. They explained that before I became their teacher, they had hated foreigners, but after a year with me, had learned that not only was I a nice person, but that I loved China and had dedicated myself to helping them in their studies.
But while such experiences really did gave me a sense of achievement and self worth, they were merely the 'icing on the cake' of what I had been experiencing in my daily life.
Shortly after arriving at the school, one of the teachers came to visit me, and brought with him one of his students, who, he maintained, wanted to spend quality time with me so as to improve his English. The boy's name was Qinchao, but whom I usually refer to as QC. QC it turned out was in one of my classes, and although he never spoke in class, began making regular appearances at my home. At first he used to prearrange his visits, and later he just began dropping in, in the evenings after class.
One day he asked me why it was that everytime he visited me, I was either wearing just underwear, or was just wrapped in a towel. I told him that if he was going to come unnounced to my home at 10pm, then he could expect to find me dressed as I was. Thereafter, he began phoning me from the front gate of the residential complex to let me know he was on his way, and thereafter I would open the front door wearing trousers at least.
One day he came to me and said: 'You know that from 4pm today we have one day holiday, and I want to know if I can come to your house and play with you and sleep with you." That was my first introduction to 'real Chinglish'. After I had him repeat the question, and then asked him his meaning, he thought that I did not understand his English. I informed him that I did indeed understand his English, but that I didn't know his meaning.
Well to cut a long story short, he came over and stayed the night. When it was time to retire, I went to the bedroom to grab a duna and a pillow for him (thinking that he would sleep in the lounge), and as I turned around from picking them up, he was standing immediately behind me. I pushed the articles into his arms and said: 'You can sleep in the lounge room!' It was only the look of shock on his face that made me remember one of the customs explained to me by a teacher.
In China, when a good friend comes to visit and stay over, the custom is for the wife to sleep on her own, and the husband sleeps with his friend, often talking into the night.
Having made what I thought was a cultural faux pas, I decided to ignore it, and later that week spoke to a teacher about it. I subsequently spoke to QC and he said he didn't mind sleeping on the lounge room floor.
During my first semester I was using a computer supplied by the school, and QC on his frequent visits, often sat using it, usually typing messages to me rather than speaking to me directly. One night I fell asleep on top of the bed, which was next to the computer, and in the middle of the night woke up to find QC asleep beside me. Not wanting to wake him, I stripped to my jocks and climbed under the covers. In the morning, I found him under the covers beside me.
I jokingly said to my brother that morning (he lived in the adjacent apartment), that I had slept with a 17 year old boy last night. A little later in the day QC was showing me how strong he was by doing so many push ups. At one point he said: 'Lay on top of me!' I said: 'I beg your pardon!' He replied: 'I will show you how strong I am. You just lay on top of me in this same way I am, and I will lift us both up!.'
I burst out laughing and said: 'I just got through telling my brother that I slept with a 17 year old boy last night, I am not now going to tell him that I mounted you as well!' It did take a little explaining before he got my drift.
It became obvious over the following weeks (or at least obvious from a western viewpoint) that QC wanted to move in with me. I had a spare room, but no bed. I spoke to my co-ordinators about it, then spoke to QC, and during the summer holiday that year (2003) he moved into the spare room. It was to be the beginning of a long journey of understanding Chinese Culture. But this sudden change in my domestic living arrangements did not stop there.
One day not long after QC moved in, I was in town with one of my male students, when we were approached by two Chinese women. Now while you can read more on this topic at Magic City, the upshot was that it was arranged for them the next day to bring a boy to my apartment for 2 hours, so that he could practice his English. QC was there to act as translator when Mother, Grandmother and Aunty arrived with Zhan Yan. About an hour later the women took off leaving me to 'teach/talk' with Zhan Yan.
Five hours later when I expressed concern to QC that the women had not reappeared, he informed me that they would be back at 8pm with a change of clothes for Zhan Yan, as he was going to be staying the night. 'Twas news to me!' As recounted in the story at Magic City, come bed time that evening as I was arguing with QC over where the boy was to sleep, I saw Zhan Yan stripped to his jocks, climbing into my bed. Once again I found myself sleeping with a teenager I did not know. Thinking about all the headlines that would appear in a Western Newspaper under similar circumstances there, I found that I could not sleep.
To add insult to injury, his family did not come back to retrieve him for a whole week, and thereafter, he would turn up at my place every Friday night after school, and leave again Monday morning. This continued for one semester, until one day I realised that Friday night to Monday Morning had been extended to 24X7.
But the change in domestic circumstance did not stop there either. One of my organisers for English Corner, the same Mingxing who had made the original arrangements with Zhan Yan's family for his original visit, and who had begun to regularly turn up at my home after school, did not one night and every night thereafter, return to his dormitory. I now had three students living with me, and if that was not enough, another student who regularly visited, noting that there were three students living with me, decided that one more for the pot would be perfect, and I found myself living with four boys, which as any parent would know could be a handful, but I also had to contend with their culture.
Boys in China are basically waited on hand and foot by their parents, and in particular by their mothers. Additionally, mother's are always there to cook for you, wash your clothes, tidy your room, and pick up after you when you have thrown all your orange peels and other rubbish on the floor. Initially the boys expected me to do the same.
I remember one night having an argument over doing the dishes, and one of the boys said: 'But that is woman's work!' and I screamed: 'Yes! But I am not a woman and certainly not your mother!'
The 4th boy to move into my apartment only stayed a couple of months. That was because even though his English was the best and he was, generally speaking, a nice kid, we severely clashed on the issue of culture. Whilst I was happy to be accomodating in regards to all sorts of Chinese culture, there came that point one day when this camel had just one too many straws to carry, and I informed him that if he wanted to live like Chinese people live, then he should bloody well go live with Chinese people. So he Did!
The two issues to which I really took exception were the peeling of oranges and other fruits and throwing the peels on the floor, and the other, was urinating all over the toilet seat and not even bothering to hose it off. This may come as a shock to some westerners, but there are heaps of young boys in China who believe that to touch your penis is dirty. While we might understand the original meaning of this, for some it was taken so literally, that like this boy, they refuse to hold the damn thing and point it when urinating. Normally this is not a problem for a man, but when combined with a 'morning glory', the results are catastrophic.
Although I spelled out this next anecdote quite clearly in the submitted article at Magic City, the editor edited it out. One day I told this boy that if on the morrow he once again peed all over the toilet seat, then the next morning, I would escort him to the bathroom and hold it myself. Well he once again messed up the bathroom, and on the following morning when I heard his alarm go, I flew out of bed and blocked the doorway to the bathroom.
There we both stood in our underwear replete with our morning glories. I gave him a slow and deliberate look up and down, and then smiled. He looked at me with a dawning understanding that I had meant what I had said, and quickly about faced, opened the front door, and proceeded to urinate into the street. Thereafter he was routinely joined by Zhan Yan. I know you are laughing right now, and maybe don't even believe me, but believe me, it is not at all an uncommon sight.
Early one morning while travelling between Hong Hu and Wuhan, the bus rounded a bend in the road, and there, standing not 3 metres from the bus, was a kid about 14 years old, wearing nothing but a T-shit, urinating into the street. He just stood there looking at the bus go by. Not a problem! It is normal! It doesn't matter! You do in fact get used to it after a while.
I had merely come to China to kill time, but the longer I stayed the more reason I found to want to stay. In addition to the fact that I really did love living in a Rural setting, and in addition to finding my self worth increasing and having a worthwhile and valuable job, I found that my domestic situation filled a huge gaping hole in my emotional state.
Every person needs to be needed, as well as to have people who meet his/her own needs. Men need families, fathers, brothers, and friends, and if you are a man who has had children, your fatherly instinct and need for fatherhood remains with you, even if you currently are not in a position to be the father figure. It makes me absolutely sick to the stomach to hear the drivel that so often pours out of the mouths of those women who call themselves feminists, when in fact they are nothing more than feminazis.
Men have emotions, they do care, they do cry, they do feel the pain of others, and they do have fatherly instincts. This rubbish that one constantly hears that 'Children need their mother' is not only complete propaganda, but disproven by specialists in a variety of scientific fields. Ideally children should have two loving parents, and if not, then at least one. Moreover, all children need both feminine and masculine role models, the best of which are to be found in loving parents.
And just as children need their parents, parents, especially divorced fathers, need to have their children, and my life with those boys in Hong Hu met many of my emotional / spiritual needs, and not just those relating to fatherhood. To those boys I became sometimes a father figure, sometimes a brother figure, sometimes a friend, and sometimes just a complete pain in the ass. Likewise, they were to me, sons, brothers, friends and the most frustrating pains in the bum that you could imagine. But somehow we all got through it.
When I wrote this chapter Zhan Yan was in his last year at high school and QC and Mingxing were in University. Now however, 2010, QC works in Shenzhen; Mingxing works in Chengdu, and Zhan Yan is in university in Wuhan. We do stay in touch and visit with each other.
My relationship with the boys in Hong Hu went beyond the mere four walls of my apartment, for what it did was open up to me an opportunity to slip into Chinese culture, perhaps faster than the Average foreign worker living in China.
Hardcover Publishing inquiries welcomed!
R.P. BenDedek is the pseudonym of an Australian who has been teaching in China since 2003. He currently lives in Baotou in Inner Mongolia. In addition to contributing to Magic City Morning Star News as a columnist, he also is an assisting Editor for the Newspaper.
Additionally, BenDedek is the author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' at www.kingscalendar.com