It’s April, springtime, so that means junket time. Every year twice a year we have these large-scale seminar-slash-meetings that gather all of the partner schools participating in our program here at the Horrifyingly Egregious Crimes of Inhumane Education. This year we would meet in Zhuhai and Shenzhen.
Things were weird prior to this gathering. First, I had to sweet talk the Qitaihe principal and foreign teacher and prevent them from killing each other. Just a big cultural misunderstanding. Then, the foreign teacher from Hegang had no idea that there was a huge seminar convened for teacher training. Finally, I had a bit of a misunderstanding with the nice fellow teaching at Mudanjiang. Did he flee back to the USA? Was he in MDJ or not? He was, but he would not attend, which was a pity as I quite respect and like the man. Would the other teacher at MDJ be able to make it? No. Text my Chinese contact. Do you know if the teacher from the Experimental School in Harbin will come? No, not him either. I am seeing a pattern.
It turned out that despite my director’s stipulation that the foreign teachers be invited in order to receive training from me, none except for the generous Qitaihe Experimental School invited the foreign teachers to this lovely city by the sea. I would provide teacher training for only one single teacher. All my hard preparations for one person. Well, my job would be easy then. They actually took pictures (as they always do) since this was official training at an official venue and there had to be official records that the official training took place, officially. I held a microphone and spouted streams of official-sounding nonsense as if I were addressing a crowd instead of one ill-tempered and bored young Englishwoman. K (who was directed to take the photos) laughed and that was something, given our recent history.
The flight down to Zhuhai from Harbin was eventful as can be expected when flying Chinese domestic airlines. First, we were grounded in Hefei because of storms. The storms died down and we were released after two hours of sitting on the tarmac. As we were landing in Zhuhai, the pilot for some bizarre reason pitched and rolled and yawed the damn plane right before the wheels squealed on the runway. I thought for sure this was it. A story of my being the sole survivor flashed through my mind. No shit. As if I were that character from Unbreakable. We all know that’s not how it would go down, but for some reason I flash-fantasized that I would be the chosen one to survive. Nice of me to kill off the other passengers, huh? I should have fantasized that I was the only person killed and saved myself the aggravation that was to come.
We arrived quite exhausted at the hotel around 1 AM. No one gave us directives. I told the English teacher to meet me for breakfast around nine. Of course, everyone was waiting for us by the time we made it down to the buffet. Of course. They could have called. They could have knocked on our doors. No, they sat passive-aggressively in the hotel lounge. Waiting. Not how you want to look in front of all of the leaders. Unfortunately, the young foreign teacher did not care one iota. She was fed up with the lack of organization. I could empathize, but part of my job is to contain and resolve any “issues.” I tried to hustle her along and prevent any more feathers from being ruffled. That was the trip in a nutshell. Play pseudo-tour guide and babysitter for a very unsympathetic guest.
In between, I tried to do the one valuable thing on such trips: schmooze with the leaders. It’s disgusting, but I try to use whatever charm I possess to bend the ears of the various leaders and convince them to see reason about allocating the proper resources to insure the success of the program. Then, I also get their real perspectives about the foreign teachers’ work performance, our curriculum, et al. Apparently, some of the foreign teachers are not working out so well. It’s always fun to be the receiver of bad news. More fun when you’re the last to know at this late date in the academic year. It’s funny because when I ask the teachers via email for a report, most say, it’s fine, blah blah blah. As usual when I receive such curt email replies, I know it’s smoke up my excretory system. The teachers who reply that they’re having problems are telling the truth. I know from experience. The sad fact is that all sides are at fault. No one is living up to the standards set out at the beginning. Best laid plans, etc. I feel weary.
These trips are junkets and I suppose they are a staple of modern business. But, we are an educational organ. So, there’s a disconnect for me. It’s a kind of a SOE, but not really. As I tried to explain to the foreign teacher, though it seems like a vacation trip, it isn’t. It’s work in a pretty setting. Even if we are walking about like tourists and dining at fine eateries, we are working. She wasn’t interested and being shut out from the language I couldn’t blame her. I was working double-time to keep up with the language. I noticed this time that no one bothered to translate anything. Basically fuck us. This established a very bad dynamic. Yes, my Chinese is good, but I get bogged down in details when they start rattling off numbers and after so many hours of constant input, I get fatigued and start doing what my English cohort had already done. Tune out.
I really needed those figures too because I needed to know what they were saying was happening and what other people, other foreign people, were telling me was happening. Chinese officials misreport statistics: no big surprise. But I needed to know. I feel weary.
All right, so it was a junket. There were a few highlights, silver lining and all that. I will try to focus on the good. We arrived early morning as I said and after a rapid brekkie went to visit the New Yuan Ming Palace. Apparently it’s a reproduction built in Zhuhai to memorialize the old Summer Palace in Beijing. My Chinese colleagues felt slightly embarrassed with the English foreign teacher.
“The English were the ones who destroyed the original Summer Palace in Beijing.”
I laughed. “Well, don’t worry. She didn’t do it I’m pretty sure.”
The foreign teacher also laughed when I explained their chagrin. This curious reaction by the Chinese and the foreigners to this “memorial” speaks volumes. We don’t feel connected to the affairs of our governments in the near or far-flung past. The Chinese people do (in varying degrees). This is something that all non-Chinese have got to keep in mind. The Chinese are a proud (and relatively homogenous) people. It stings that they were bullied by so many (barbaric) foreign powers who took scant notice of their many wondrous and artistic achievements. To these several foreign powers, China was merely something to be exploited for material gain.
What did Plato say? “Money-makers are tiresome company, as they have no standard but cash value.” Hmm.
Okay, but, then the Chinese turn many of their natural and historical heritage sites into gaudy theme parks with blaring pop music and cheap nasty fast food stalls. Incongruous. I try, I try not to make judgments and remind myself over and over: I am a guest. Observe. Keep in mind there are cultural differences. After all, you won’t catch me making apologies for Western culture, especially crazy-ass cracker gun-crazy Uh-muhrr-kan culture. Yeah, I said it. So shoot me. No wait. That was meant figuratively. (Crazy-ass gun-totin’ crackers!)
Ah, but it was nice to pretend to walk back into history. Then, the foreign teacher and I rented a paddle boat and paddled out into the middle of the manmade lake. I was surprised how winded I got and she didn’t. She never exercises and I do. She’s a virtual cream puff and I do some serious cardio and weight-lifting. Admittedly, my legs haven’t done much for the past three months as I had a knee brace on my left leg because I sprained my MCL in a hockey game, but…wait a minute.
Waitaminute. You know,…she might not have been paddling all that hard. THAT LITTLE BEE-**&%$%$!!!
Boy am I stupid. All right. Whatever.
Afterwards, on the way to lunch, we walked past a fish market and being the pathetic city boy that I am, I am always interested in such things. Later we took a nice boat tour of the Zhujiang River estuary where we looked at all of the beautiful gambling parlors along the coast. Places more than likely I will never never visit. My newest mantra when I meditate is pen-yoo-ree…pen-yoo-ree…pen-yoo-ree.
That’s enough for now. I feel weary. I hope you enjoy the photos. They are not very good.