Saturday, 10 July 2010

Bleak house

After much deliberation on where to go I finally arrived in Northern China to begin teaching. That was several weeks ago.

Now I feel numb with the cold realization of what lies ahead. It is a bleak prospect. Nothing is as I expected it. I was too keen to return to teaching and made far too many assumptions. Not a sensible way to choose a job that I am contracted to- the contract is about 25,000 words – until March 2011.

On the upside it is no longer -20c although I must admit that extreme weather can appeal as long as it doesn’t result in complete chaos. The people I work with are collectively the best bunch of teachers I have met.

Fragile ego’s and power games do not appear to register as an everyday concern for the teachers here. Everyone is far too busy getting on with what they have to do. Or, heading off for a nearby bar when time allows.

But that is in a city thirty or forty miles away from where I am. There is another teacher who lives with his wife nearby but they seem to live a private existence.

My first day teaching was a shock. The forty miles commute beginning at 7.00am then four two hour lessons until after 5.00pm. Five lessons the next day. Students are aged from about five years old – I never expected this – to adult. I am trained for teenage and adult classes but they are a rarity.

Salary is fair and I am amazed to find so many teachers content with their lot. Although, my temporary commute is longer than most I find the challenge almost overwhelming since each lesson must be planned using unfamiliar material which I find largely uninspiring.

But most children seem to enjoy it especially if games can be introduced into the learning experience and I know that this is where all future focus must now be.

Where I live is typical of many Chinese towns or cities on the East coast of China. Concrete and cars prevail amongst mainly uninspiring architecture. Noise and opportunities for shopping compete for attention on almost every street except where the very poorest live. At night, however, neon is king lighting up anything that doesn’t move from office blocks to KTV. Entertainment can come at a price; it usually does.

As many here on MyT might know I have not taught for almost a year due to pneumonia which I caught while teaching in northern Thailand. I became very ill and eventually had to return to England where I attempted for the rest of the year to get back insurance money from AIA. They never paid.

And yet I would not have it any other way. I have found a spiritual strength inside me that I never knew existed. The bleakness of it all has focused my mind on what is essential to life. It is not atheistic materialism. It is not capitalist consumerism. It is not Communism. It is the peace of the spirit which has nowhere else to go.

I stare into the face of failure but in all this I have discovered my soul.

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