Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Token White Guy

I know I haven't blogged in a while (seven weeks to be exact), but I have been very busy. For instance, since my last post I have moved to China.

Yes, China. Home of fried wontons, cheap electronics, tiny people and kung fu pandas. Seriously, that Jack Black Kung Fu panda is freaking everywhere. His face is on every ad. They love that guy here.

Since arriving here, Red and I have both started our jobs, gotten an apartment and started trying to learn our way around town using the public transportation system. Being from small-town Illinois (Waltonville, pop. 450), I have never been educated on how public transportation works. When I lived in Indianapolis (pop. 858,000), I had a car and never gave it a second thought. All the criss-crossing bus routes and subways have always been a bit intimidating to me. Much like beautiful women in my teens, but now I could get dumped in the wrong part of town and not know where I am. This happened with an Uber-type driver a few days ago. 

I need to go to the Balizhuang Primary School.
Which stop is that?
The name of the stop is Bei Ying Fen. Does that help?
As intimidating as I may find public transportation, it is twenty times worse in Beijing. Almost nothing is in English. Even if I do find English letters, it is often the English letters for a Chinese word, which helps with about 3.2% of the problem I have having. Quite often, if I have the English phonetic spelling of a Chinese word (in this case, the name of a bus stop) right in front of me, the way it is actually pronounced in Chinese is totally foreign to the American ear. The buses have a speaker which announces the next stop, but it is of no help until I start getting used to the Chinese dialect. I spend every bus ride counting the number of stops and frantically looking at the names of each bus stop we come to. If I get off at the wrong place, I will be lost forever.

Public transportation aside, we are also working in Chinese schools. It is a very unfamiliar system. I went to my new school one day to meet with the head of the English department (who speaks very little English) and get a tour of the school. They gave me a few textbooks and showed me out. The next day, I went in early to prepare in my office and no one came by to greet me. Now, I don't need to be greeted. I just found it odd. I did not speak to a single staff member before walking onto my first class an hour later. The teacher of that class walked out as soon as I arrived and I was on my own. I had five classes of first graders that day and no guidance as to what was expected of me other than "we are on Lesson Six".

This is the lunch that was served in the cafeteria on my first day.

I have learned that the Chinese mindset is that I am considered to be the expert. It even says that on my passport. FOREIGN EXPERT. As the person in the school who speaks the best English, they will not be intruding on my methods or style. In fact, I was told that the other teachers may come to observe occasionally. Not to critique me, but to learn from me and my methods. Talk about pressure.

In the meantime, Red and I are being taken to a sort of English conference this weekend to represent another school where neither of us has worked (Red will work there sometime next week). We really don't know what our function will be other than to be their token white people. Having a first-language English speaker on staff gives a school credibility for their English department. It should be an interesting day. Maybe we'll make some connections as well.

In the meantime, if you would like to send us a care package (I can't find Mt Dew here), send it to this address.

This is our actual address.
We don't know what this means and have no idea how to write it in English for our family stateside, but this is where we live. All we know is that it must be written in English for the American post office to get the process started of getting a letter to China, but then the address must also be in Chinese so the Chinese system knows what to do with it.

I love China.

Wallet I found in a shop in Nanluogu Xiang


  1. Man, I cannot tell you how impressed/envious I am after reading this post. I've read your blog for long enough that I've 'seen' you tell stories about your past, fall in love with your future, travel the world, and now MOVE TO CHINA. It's gotta be crazy intimidating but also, I feel like it has to make you feel so alive, what with having to be on your toes just to get from one place to another. I look forward to many tales of this ongoing adventure, and the best of luck to both of you.

    1. It has been an adventure the last several years, but this is a big one. We will try to keep the stories coming. I know there will be plenty happening that is worth writing about.

  2. This is a fantastic way to describe the confusion with humor. It's all true, but you don't get down about any of it, which is awesome.

    1. Thank you. As you know, we have definitely had our frustrations living here and there will be many more to come. But, I also know that things will get better as we slowly smooth things out and push through them. Our time here will be much more enjoyable if we can remember that these frustrations are only temporary.


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