Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Things I Wish I could Take With Me When I Leave

The wardrobe is cleared and most of the winter clothes have been washed and packed. Kitchen stuff has been sorted and what I am taking has been set aside. The geegaws, knick-knacks, tchotchkes... all have their reserved space. All that remains is for my departure date to get here, and then I'm gone and my few selected things are going with me on the plane. Because shipping anything from China has become an exercise in frustration (see A Logistical Nightmare entry, posted in January of this year).

All that's left is to enjoy the last few sights, sounds and smells (good ones, not bad ones) that Wuhan has to offer. During my forays into town, now fewer than ever, I find myself anticipating missing things that are not so ubiquitous in the west.

Cantaloupe flavored gum:  Sure, you can buy Trident or Dentyne brand melon gum from Amazon, but can you find it on the grocer's shelf? Will it taste the same as the one I current am chomping on? I've gotten hooked on this tangy treat that has a kick of spearmint, and it does not stick to my teeth. Wonder if the other types have the same kick and non-stick quality.

Re Gan Mian: True, I've scaled back on eating at food vendor stalls but I can never say no to a heaping bowl of hot dry noodles, Wuhan's signature dish. While you can buy 'noodle packs' on Amazon (and probably in grocery stores, at least Asian food stores), they do not taste nearly as good as those from a food cart (Amazon sells the same brand available here, and I've tried them: they are not good). However, I know I can buy that fragrant and flavorful sesame paste and the correct type of noodles from Asian grocery stores, so I just might try to make it myself... if possible.

Maverick bacon: Unbeknownst to me till now, there is a music group called Maverick Bacon, but they are not who I am referring to as I sing the praises of a thick-slab breakfast meat: a joy to the senses. I have been buying it from Metro in 2-kilo packages almost as long as I've been here. Not that I'm obsessive; I did try other breakfast meats but this bacon is supreme! And now I have to give it up.   

Over-the-counter medicines – specifically antibiotics: by no means am I devaluing physicians, their education or their services. However, when you get to a certain age, you tend to know your body pretty well and, should you ail, you probably know exactly what you need to take to fix it, especially if it is a recurring condition.

For example: if you are prone to urinary tract infections, you would remember what medication and dosage the doc recommended the first time you were stricken, and could go to the pharmacy for another round (not a refill of an authorized prescription). If you've not been to the doc but know what a urinary tract infection feels like, a simple Internet check reveals what 'family' of antibiotics you need. Head to the local pharmacy and Presto! You have that infection whipped! 

Of course, I ponder this as a person without a criminal bone in her body. Seeing as nefarious people can manage to make illegal, deadly street drugs from medicines that are/were available over the counter (and also from Sharpie pens), who knows what they would do if antibiotics were sold rather than dispensed. And, I emphatically believe that some drugs need to stay behind the counter and only get dispensed with a prescription. But not antibiotics; surely not!

Farmer's Markets: From early morning until 8:00PM, seven days a week – except for the hallowed Chinese New Year celebration, local farmers hawk their wares. All over the city, every neighborhood provided for, one can head to the nong mao shi chang (农贸市场 – literally 'farmer's market') for fresh produce. My neighbors sometimes go twice daily for all manner of fresh: eggs, veggies, meat and fish. Some stalls within the arena offer condiments, cooking sauces and rice. One thing you will not find at the veg market is fruit: for that, any of the streetcorner vendors will do, and there could be more than one vendor on any street corner, all shouting their products' praises and urging you to trade with them.

I know there are farmer's markets in the west, but are they the same type of raucous outlet of produce so fresh the dirt on them is still moist that one can visit every day? Sadly, no.  

Alipay: in spite of the limits this system puts on me because I am not a Chinese national, I still rave about the ease and convenience of this electronic wallet. Online shopping is done by tapping a single button. The list of conveniences this app affords is ever-growing, from food delivery to clothes purchases. Order a chauffeured car (using the Didi app, China's Uber sytem)! Send money to family! Top off your mass transit card and your phone minutes, pay your utilities and buy plane tickets: all from one convenient system.

And what is especially bruising is that I have no idea how I will manage my money once I am gone. Considering I will most likely be in transit for the next 9 months and vagabonding for the next 5 years, it wouldn't make sense to open a physical bank account, so I have to investigate other ways to manage and legitimize my funds, hopefully online.

Mobike, Ofo and Hello Bike!: I know that Germany has a bike-sharing system but I don't know if there is such a program anywhere in the states, let alone where I plan to be. Although I've not yet officially tried renting any of China's bikes, I have downloaded all of the apps (because they were free and I was curious). I've ridden a Mobike, and I am excited to try an Ofo and a Hello Bike! because the seats are adjustable (Mobike seats are not).
Timed street lights: I've gotten so used to a timer next to the stop lights that indicates how long one must stay stopped (or how long the light will stay green) that, when I head west, I actually miss them. Chinese traffic nightmares aside, those timers are a wonder of civil planning. How often have you wished, when you're stuck at a red light, that the light would just hurry up and change? With these timers, you know exactly when they will. There are similar indicators for pedestrians.

Now, if we could only get Chinese drivers to reflect on and appreciate the forethought put into their driving amenities... 

Dancing women: after all the fuss I've made lately over the cacophony of this community's dancers (and the ones next door), you'd think that their pastime would be something I would be delighted to leave behind. In fact, I quite admire the idea of neighborhoods gathering to dance in the evening. When I think back to how quiet it was in other enclaves I've dwelt at, and how I never knew any of the other residents; on how sad it seems to me that people rush home, lock their doors and seldom mingle with their neighbors, nightly dancing takes on a whole new significance.

I still wish these women would not dance every night, but who am I to disparage their gathering and enjoying themselves? 

My New Job Nightmare

My last post talked all about this new job I've landed: online teaching. In spite of all the problems communicating with this company and coordinating schedules to arrange a teaching demonstration, problems that have gone on for months, I chose to accept their offer of a position, even though I worry that if they can't get their act together enough to hire teachers, who's to say they would manage to pay me correctly and on time?

And, because the MIT campus was on spring break and couldn't send me a contract at the time the Chinese contingent decided to hire me, I was afforded a bit of time to think about my options (they aren't good). And then, because of an email they sent after spring break was over, stating that their software was not up to snuff and I should expect a contract in the next few days, my misgivings grew. And then, when I finally received the contract and noticed a glaring discrepancy (and a few spelling errors), I got really leery of this program and company.

Specifically, the contract states that online teachers must fill out a tax form I-9 in case the law changes and independent contractors, of which I would be one, are considered employees from whom the company has to withhold taxes. A couple of paragraphs further down, it states that Independent contractors can never expect to be considered employees, will never receive benefits, insurance or incentives.

Clearly, somebody did not proofread this contract. And it makes me wonder about all of the independent contractors they currently have on staff. Could it be true that I am the only person who has noticed this contradiction?

I sent the support staff an email pointing out the contradiction in the contract. I pointed out the possible harm to the company – in the form of lawsuits that could result, and then made suggestions on how they could reword their contract to eliminate the discrepancy.

The support staff responded 2 days later: “Thanks for your letter. Any questions about the contract should be sent to ____.”

At least, they thanked me. Makes me wonder, though: why didn't they forward my email to the pertinent person? 

So, I forwarded it to the person they specified, and then waited 2 days. By now, that niggling feeling that this would not be a good gig has grown into major alarm bells and, on the second day after forwarding the email and not getting any response, I sent them another email, declining the position altogether.

Even though I need a job, I am not about to contractually bind myself to a company that, by all appearances does not have it all together and drafted their legal documents on (what seems like) an Internet document mill, with no actual legal input or certification (or proofreading). 

Three days later, I got an email from the person I was directed to about contract deficiencies: “If you have trouble downloading the contract, please open the attached link.”

I am now utterly confounded. Did he misunderstand my email? Did he not read my email? Is a contract deficiency meaningless to him in his avid search for teachers?
Does he expect me to sign a deficient contract???

And now I am worried that they will continue to email me, demanding that I sign a contract that most likely would withstand scrutiny – and certainly does nothing to protect me, and no matter what qualms I have about said contract, they will not be addressed.

And did he overlook my email declining the position?

Yes, I know I need a job, and I suppose it could be considered good/flattering that they are pursuing me with such ardor, but... doesn't that, in itself, make a statement?  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

My New Job

I've always told my kids that they should never quit a job unless they have one to go to. As I counsel them, so I hold myself: leaving this gig in less than three months means I have to secure something before I board the plane out of here.

Actually, I've been in the market for a new job since last December, and the growing trend of online education seems promising. Curmudgeon that I am becoming, I probably wouldn't mind not having to step into a classroom (or office or other workspace) in order to get paid. In fact, I've long been thinking of transitioning completely to an online persona in order to suit my desire to vagabond.

I have to wonder: am I becoming curmudgeonly because of the way things are here, or have I secretly been a curmudgeon all along, only now permitting that aspect of myself to emerge because it is more forgivable to be a crabby old woman than a crabby young woman?

I guess we'll see, when I leave here: will I still be ill-humored?

Quite frankly, the best and widest variety of teaching jobs, online or in a classroom, is in China. However, seeing as I cannot physically be here (and, at this point no longer want to be here), teaching Chinese students online will mean that I will have to adjust my schedule to Beijing time no matter where in the world I am. Online teaching hours are generally from 6 to 9PM.

Some places wouldn't be too bad, such as America's east coast, which is only twelve to thirteen hours behind China, depending on daylight saving time. However, at least for a time, I anticipate being on America's west coast, which means that I will have to be up and enthused at around 2AM. That's something to look forward to.


But I need a job. And, let's face it: jobs don't get easier to come by as you get older (I think I already mentioned that in a past entry). And here's another factor that might cause me problems on the job market: I am not the most highly educated person in the world, and the sad truth is that, it doesn't matter how talented, experienced and capable you are. If you don't have the right degree listed on your resume, you won't even be considered for a position.

And so you can imagine how giddy with relief I was when I nailed my online interview last December, with an upstarting company out of MIT – yes, that would be Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who are coordinating native English speakers for Chinese students. And then came trouble.

Apparently, the company embraces blue polo shirts as a uniform of sorts. I am to make a video and post a profile picture, wearing such a shirt. Furthermore, I should be so-clad when demonstrating my teaching skills online, prior to signing a contract. The problem is that my wardrobe is seriously lacking in blue shirts because blue is not my color. I am not going to refuse a job simply because the uniform is blue, so the hunt was on for a blue polo shirt.

Being much bigger than most Chinese, finding any type of clothing to fit me is a challenge, never mind a blue polo shirt in the middle of winter. It took me until March to find a suitable shirt, and that was right around the time the company emailed me: I hadn't scheduled my teaching demo yet (a necessary step prior to actual hire). What is the delay?

Communication seems to be lacking in this company (oh, the irony of an online company failing to communicate!). I had been keeping my recruiter up to date on my blue shirt search but she apparently hadn't informed the manager, who was asking me why I hadn't held my demo class. Upon hearing my shirt dilemma, he assured me I could demo without a blue shirt, and so I scheduled my mock class posthaste.

And failed it.

I did make the disclaimer at the outset of the venture that I could not view the training videos, as they are on YouTube, which is inaccessible here. When I had pointed that out to my recruiter (in the states), she forwarded my concern to the Chinese contingent, who made the videos available to me on their cloud storage. Baidu (pronounded 'by-do'), China's answer to Google, demanded that I download their cloud player in order to watch the videos. I choose to not download anything from Baidu as it is so intrusive: there is not so much as a popup blocker. Were I to download anything, I would be assailed with constant popups.

And who knows what else Baidu would install on my computer.

I should tell you that we went back and forth on the demo class scheduling. In all, I think we scheduled and rescheduled five times over the period of one month before we finally synced our calendars. After all of that effort, it was disappointing to have 'failed'. The evaluator assessed me at forty-seven points out of a possible sixty, and sent me a critique of my performance. He did note that I was not able to watch the training videos and that most likely impacted my score.

But I need a job!

Fortunately, the company invited me to try again. We back and forth'ed again, this time four reschedules, before getting together. And this time, it was a different evaluator. She sneezed, sniffed and coughed throughout my demo, so much so that I interrupted my 'show' to ask if she was OK. She averred it was only allergies but, ten minutes into my spiel, she ended the mock class by asking me to reschedule. The next day she sent me the evaluation form from my first mock class, with the exact same ratings and critiques, albeit with the date changed to reflect my latest effort.

By now I'd had enough of this monkey outfit. Sure, I need a job but if they can't get it together for a simple teaching demo, how could I be assured they would even pay me on time and correctly? I started combing the internet for other job possibilities that very night.

The next morning, bleary-eyed from having job searched past midnight, I logged into my email and saw: “So sorry... We are a start-up company... I was happy to let the software do the work... letting qualified teachers such as you slip through the cracks... changed assessment parameters to include scores between 40 and 60... If you'd still like the job...”

I will be in Oregon in 3 months, and essentially in transit for the next 6 to 9 months. No matter where I hang my hat for that time, I will have to be up at 1AM and blasting enthusiam to small Chinese children on the other side of the world. Whether I stay at my son's house or find a roommate arrangement, my anticipated solution to being transient, I will be bothering somebody in the middle of the night.

There are other jobs. Not necessarily teaching jobs, which I feel I am a bit burned out on. Jobs like translating and proofreading and editing of journals: things I've been doing, here and there, since I've been here. In fact, some of my edited work has been published in trade papers. Why not explore that?

But I need a job, and they are offering me a job. Why not take it and see how it works out?   

A Disturbing Trend

Looking over the past few months' entries and pondering what I should write about today, I notice a disturbing trend: overwhelming negativity.

What happened to the cheerful optimism I came here with? The amusement/astoundment at Chinese doings? Have I grown incapable of cultural observation and appreciation? Where is the carefree gallivanting of days past? It seems that all I've done since last summer is whine and complain. Where is the eager anticipation of the next adventure?

To be fair, I have good reason to whine and complain: things here have taken a dramatic turn. All of the freedom I had when I first came here has been severely curtailed, both by new regulations and by my full schedule. And, since my incontrovertible decision to leave China for good – and all of the implied questions of where to live and such, it is a bit difficult to be sunny and optimistic while being sullen and resentful.

Being subjected to noisome and uncomely behaviors has taken its toll. I recall, in my early days here, the delight at women dancing by the pond. These days I look forward to rainy evenings so that I don't have to hear the same songs, over and over again, again this night, from 7 to 9 PM.

Although I still think it is great the people gather to dance, do they have to do it every night? How about alternating nights, so that we can have a measure of peace?

And there I go, complaining. Again!

Truth is, there is not much to write about because I am not doing much of anything besides teaching and staying home these days. Among the myriad of aspects of living here that I have grown tired of, being stared at and talked about drive my current behavior. Stared at and talked about while doing the most mundane of things! Recalling the time when I was walking to the bus stop, and a man strove to catch up... so he could video me walking down the street.

I so long for anonymity!

With my departure imminent, my focus is on getting through these last three months and on what lies ahead. In light of all the uncertainties, surely I couldn't be blamed for not making the most of the time I have left here, could I? In fact, it seems a bit unreal that I am still here.

In my mind, I am already packed. A month ago I went through my cabinets, cleaning and purging and setting aside the few items I will take with me. Big cleaning projects: taking apart the kitchen vent hood and the stove. Clearing out the cabinets. Moving the fridge; the sofas, the desks, the bed. Scrubbing walls and windows. Calculating how many drop cloths I will need.

I refuse to leave this house as filthy as the concrete bunker was when I moved in!

I have written plenty of entries over the last few weeks, but none that I would be proud to publish: they are just too negative for my taste and style. What's really disturbing is that those are in fact my thoughts! I think that, being overwhelmed by eagerness for new horizons, the reality of still being here brings me down.

I have always been the type of person who, once a decision is made, cannot wait to get on with the new plan. Yet here I sit, with a flight out – (probably) never to return, a wedding (not mine!) and a new country to move to. I can barely wrap my head around still being in the same place and doing the same thing I've been doing for seven years. I feel like I am in limbo!   

And here is where I find  the eager anticipation of the next adventure. It isn't gone, just stifled under the day-to-day. There really is a keen desire to explore new realms, an expectancy and a soaring, roaring, burning desire to see what will come next. Not just where I will hang my hat but what I will do and how it will be when I am there. 

It is in these quiet times, with a sparkling clean kitchen, with rain falling outside, with silence from the pond that I can finally let my imagination run free, free to meet whatever will come my way.

Less than three months to go! 

Saturday, April 1, 2017


The first year I was here I wrote an article titled Don't Stop! about primary school children who, upon dismissal, trotted their little legs on home, all by themselves. Some of those tots had a grown up escort – a parent or grandparent, but most of them made their way out of school and into traffic on the main boulevard on their own, even catching the bus by themselves. Not school buses, either: public transportation, for which they had a pre-loaded fare card just like I have, albeit at discounted rates because they are students.

I found that remarkable, especially having come from America, where drivers are mandated to slow to a crawl in school zones, where large, yellow school buses determine traffic patterns twice a day – the busiest times of day!, where only parents or a person on that student's approved pick up list could take the child away from school premises.

Seven years ago, I was astounded at the amount of independence and autonomy little scholars in China had.

I've since learned to not be on a bus during school dismissal times. Even if I board the bus at its station of origin and score a seat, students piling on at subsequent stops make the bus loud and rowdy. They are kids, after all. Once released of the tyranny of academia, they want to let loose and shout and play and eat. In the confines of rolling metal cages, being subjected to such unrestrained behavior is not a pleasant experience.

If I do happen to be out during peak school dismissal time, I will usually wait an hour or so before boarding. By then,  the little bundles of energy have made it home to annoy their parents and grandparents, leaving us commuters in peace.

That's not what happened yesterday.

Yesterday was bitterly cold and rainy, at least in the morning. I figured that would be a perfect time to head to Ikea, to buy the rye crispbread that works so well with my digestive system. Because it was rainy and cold, I knew I would get a seat on all the buses I need to get there and back.

While at Ikea, on this cold and rainy day, why not enjoy lunch in the cafeteria? Thus my day was planned and I could hardly wait to get to it. I left the house before 10 AM and lingered in the climate controlled restaurant, toasty warm, until after 2 PM. And then I bought my crackers, and then I headed home.

As predicted, I had no problem finding a desirable seat on all the buses. Desirable seat: one toward the front of the bus, where the seats are not placed higher than the windows. All of the seats past the rear bus doors sit progressively higher. It makes me uncomfortable to have to slouch down to look out the window! Maybe, if I were more Chinese sized... 

The bus that would take me on the final leg of my journey home was a double-decker whose top deck always offers desirable seats, but I stayed on the lower platform because I would be getting off five stops later. Still, I got a nice seat and had just enough time to savor my luck when the bus stopped. Outside the window, I saw that traffic was tied up.

Wondering: an accident? More road construction? Is it just that time of day when the road gets too crowded?

None of the above.

Zhang Jia Wan Primary School had just let out for the day. The main road was clogged with cars, double- and triple-parked, of parents (or other responsible adult) awaiting their progeny. Only one lane was available for traffic. Not even a full lane, at that.

Our waddling bus, a standard-transmission double-decker, inched it way down the open lane and then nosed toward the curb, to its assigned stop. It didn't make it to the curb or the stop: a crowd of prospective passengers mobbed the road's right lane. They had to scoot out of the way as the bus crept forward, as far as it could go. Meanwhile, passengers who meant to get off at that station stood by the back doors, ready to get off.

The driver did not immediately open the back doors. He knew better.

When he finally did, the debarking passengers had to fight their way through a surge of hopefuls seeking to board the bus illicitly. A few succeeded before the driver activated the switch that closed the doors. One girl's face got caught in the closing panels. An elderly gent, perhaps her grandfather pulled her away from the hard rubber seams before the doors could fully seal. She was left on the street, rubbing her red cheek and crying.

One girl who had rushed on got separated from her mother, who was left on the pavement. She shrieked: “Open the door! Open the door!” to no avail, other than busting everyone's eardrums. She slid open the window immediately next to the rear exit. When her mother extended her hand the girl apparently tried to pull Mom onto the bus. Or maybe Mom was trying to pull her daughter off the bus.
A woman on the bus then cradled the girl, telling her Mom will come on the next bus and in the meantime, the shrieker could go home with her and her daughter.

By this time the bus was filled to capacity; I could no longer see out the rear doors, which were right across from me, giving me a front row seat to all of the drama. Actually, I could no longer see the rear doors for all of the bodies pressed together.  

One mother urged her charge to stand next to me and grab the handle on the back of my seat. “I don't want to. There is a foreigner!” the girl sobbed, and then buried her face into her mother's stomach.

Yes, I – and presumably other expats have that effect, even after all this time. In fact, throughout the day's adventures, people would only sit next to me if there were no other seat available, and then move as soon as another place to park themselves opened up. Do they not realize how hurtful and offensive that is?

Saddened, and because the bus was now so crowded I could only see a bunch of backsides if I faced right, I turned left to look out the window.

The bus was angled across all three lanes, effectively stopping what little traffic flow there already was due to all of the cars parked in front of the school. An angry cacophony of honking swelled, amplified by the flyover that shadows this road. 

“Absolute madness!” I thought, and wondered what happened to the autonomy and resilience of Chinese children, qualities that were so abundantly exhibited seven years ago.

There have been attacks on school children during that time: knife-wielding madmen entering school grounds, slashing all the way. Children have been taken – not kidnapped, as there was no ransom demand, never to be seen again.

Yes, even in China, such horrors happen. No wonder caring, responsible adults want to see their charges safely home. And teachers bear their share of the burden, too: class groups are organized on the sidewalk outside of school, marked by brightly colored placards so that parents can easier find their children.

Seven years ago, kids could walk home or take the bus by themselves. And then, there were attacks. Around five years ago, concerned care givers started coming to pick the kids up and they rode the bus home together, or they rode their electric scooter – even in the rain. That made for crowded sidewalks and maybe one lane of traffic. Now that cars are the new status symbol, one must be seen driving, even if riding the bus would be more convenient and cost effective.

Of course, there are still plenty that ride the bus. It's just that buses used to have an easier time when there weren't so many cars to navigate around/through.

And, I suppose that, with all of these cars – and drivers whose primary goal is to be first (in a lane, at the light, etc), it is no longer safe for little ones to walk unaccompanied at all. Especially with the example their elders are setting: it wasn't just rowdy kids boarding the bus incorrectly (and without paying). Their grandmothers were particularly gleeful to have beat the crowd at the front door. And they have no problem urging their little darlings to jaywalk across the street, either.

After 7 years here, I shake my head and wonder: how can Chinese civilization progress if this is how the children are still being taught???     

You Want Me to do What???

As foreign teacher, I am contractually obligated to participate in English club activities and other occasions, such as speech competitions, that pertain to English. As the only foreign teacher here, I am called on to participate in all activities that pertain to English. You might think that, above and beyond my already full schedule, attending such events is strenuous and time consuming, but it really isn't that bad, especially seeing as both of our English clubs have been fallow these past few years. And besides, I am only called on to participate or attend, never to coordinate or plan.

Of course, participating with no real knowledge of what is expected of me is problematic. Everything gets planned, and all instructions are given in Chinese, which has led to confusion and, sometimes, hilarity (See Exploding Students entry, posted December 2015). Still, I enjoy my students and relish any chance to mingle with them outside the classroom.

And then, Helen Wang started a club called Mr. E. She is an English teacher who instructs non-English majors, such as International Trade majors or Engineering majors; classes I don't teach. I can see where these students need  exposure to a native English speaker, but I don't like the way she runs her club: setting up activities, and then blindsiding me with an engraved invitation to speak to students too shy to use any English skills they might posess, at a moment's notice.

These instances, of mingling with students I do not know, tend to be awkward and uncomfortable because Helen devises activities – paltry activities that don't require a bunch of time!, and expects me to lead them with no help or input from her. Also, the students don't understand anything I say, which makes giving instructions difficult. And she expects a full hour and a half of my time, leaving other teachers to supervise while she disappears, presumably to ensure I do not disband the students before their allotted time is up.

Fortunately, she has not called on me to conduct activities this year. Yet.

And then, there is a fourth group. I don't know what their major is, but the clan is billed as The Morning Reading Group. As far as I know, they are not even a formal club.

Last November, a student named Steven contacted me about conducting an activity. He said he got my number from Ms. Wang, presumably the same Helen Wang that formerly coordinated uncomfortable activities.  However, she has not contacted me, so I have no idea what her motivation is for having this student make an appeal on her behalf.   

In Steven's initial message, he stated he had no idea what we should do, but an activity must be conducted and he hoped I could come up with some suggestions. I suggested a movie. Remembering how non-English major students act around me – too shy to say 'boo!' and balking at my - to them incomprehensible - instructions, a movie in English would fit the bill perfectly. And, if students were of a mind to do so, we could discuss it afterward. Except for some students walking out, the event went fairly well.

Last week, another message: another activity? Do I have any suggestions?

And here's the problem: these people don't understand me, and I have little patience for being put on the spot, required to coordinate and host events that leave people scratching their heads and giving me blank stares. Still, Steven is a good kid, and he tries hard to make the best of things, so I told him of my qualms and returned to a movie (with Chinese subtitles) as the best option. He agreed to discuss it with his group leader and get back with me. The group leader averred that a movie would not be sufficient. I should come up with something better. Oh, no! Echoes of last year, when the school leaders demanded better entertainment!

I am getting a little fed up with people demanding better entertainment from me.

And who is this leader, anyway? Why can't s/he manifest herself and plan, or at least coordinate with me? Keeping my temper in check, I messaged Steven to that effect. He then offered to let me meet their leader.

And so it came to be that Glen messaged me. He is a kid I met at our movie event last November. He wanted to come over and discuss the matter. I agreed to a meeting, but not at my house. After all, my house is supposed to be a sanctuary, not invaded by students wanting quality entertainment.

Imagine my ire when, on Sunday, a couple of students climbed onto my balcony and peered into my house as I was cleaning. At the same time, Glen calls to inform me that he and a few club members are right outside my door, could I please let them in?

It took my counting to 10 twice before I could stifle my rage enough to open my door.

All conversation I had had with Glen, both by text and by phone, was in Chinese. Furthermore, he and the other 2 students he showed up with could not/did not converse in English. We resorted to translation software to communicate until Steven showed up (sure! Why not? My house is already invaded!). At least Steven can communicate in English, so I was happy to see him. Besides, he really is a good kid.

The irony of students who cannot use English but want the school's foreign teacher to plan, coordinate and host an event in English apparently escaped them. And, as irony doesn't translate well into Chinese, I had no way of explaining the satire. 

For Steven's benefit, I came up with some suggestions: a cooking demonstration – provided he could arrange for us to use one of the campus cafeterias. It had been tried before, and didn't go well. A swap meet: get rid of clothes and books. A fashion show: Steven shot that one down, alleging students to be too shy. A blood drive: too contrary to Chinese culture. A cookout: the school will not allow club activities off-campus. Maybe on campus?

What about a bike ride? Nearly everyone has the Mobike app, a bike rental system (see Getting Around entry). We could have bike races, play bike polo. What about those who cannot ride? Hmmm.

Apparently my role is now club leader. I am to come up with activities and coordinate them and participate in them, all for students who do not use English?

I am contractually obligated to participate in activities of the English clubs. Nowhere does it say I am to participate or coordinate activities for any and all clubs.

I am here to teach my assigned students, but not to teach every student, or even every person in China. Several years ago, I drew the line in being accosted while out and about by anyone wishing to practice their English – I tell them (in Chinese) that I am French and speak no English, I am drawing the line in leading this group of students. Their attitude and rudeness (except for Steven) is a part of my decision, as well as the fact that they do not and apparently cannot use English, meaning they have no need for a native English speaker.

Maybe they will have better luck with the next foreign teacher.