Adjusting has been interesting, occasionally stressful and definitely tiring but 99% immensely satisfying. For the first time in many years I got up and sang and danced in front of a bunch of colleagues and virtual strangers at Karaoke and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I did not feel self-conscious nor out of place. Karaoke rocks!
Add to that the amazing karaoke bars…your own private sound proof lounge room with food and drink served, four microphones, comfortable seating, two massive TV’s and computerised jukebox and they have turned karaoke into something fun and relaxing. Far from people being embarrassed and ridiculed in an Aussie pub, with a machine on stage in front of the whole pub; this was about fun and just enjoying yourself and not judging each other – but cheering each other on.
It’s interesting when I get to meet more of the westerners that come to live and teach in China. There is an easy camaraderie that occurs very quickly. Three of us were chatting before we went out to KTV (Karaoke) and I asked what my English and Welsh colleagues thought binds us together.
The answers were to do with lack of jobs we think are meaningful in our home countries and a desire to not live a mainstream life. Many of us are different in our own cultures because of the current politics (both personal and national) in our home countries. Some might label us misfits. But if this is what a misfit looks like, then I am happy to be a misfit. For me, experiences will always trump the accumulation of possessions or the appearance of status.
One of the common threads of some discussions about this matter has been in relation to what I will call the “mouse wheel” of western culture. The other is about how people perceive their realities and how heavily influenced that is by a very powerful western media.
Conversations in the staff room and at “foreigner functions” have all revealed just how little we all miss being saturated with Kim Kardashian bullshit. Most of us living here agree that people who aspire to fame and wealth are shallow. Almost all of us are passionately bored (ha!) with celebrity culture and working for a bigger house/car.
The team of people I work with (and socialise with) are very different yet we all make big efforts to take care of each other, both Chinese and foreign. Not in any intrusive or meddling way – but offers of “what do you need?”, “have you eaten today?”, “have you been to this place yet?” are never far away. No one hesitate s to say “you looked like you were not doing so well today, can I help?”
All of us have interesting life stories. I don’t feel like the odd one out here where often I do in Australia; all of us loath the conservatism becoming more prevalent in the world today and in western culture.
All of us don’t “sweat the small stuff” and just get on and do. The reality is that adjusting here is quite difficult (but highly rewarding) and you are like a baby for a long time (I’m going to be for a long time yet). If rapid change and very few English speakers will worry you, don’t come for a contract here.
One of my English colleagues commented the other day that the last place he would travel to is an English speaking country, that he finds this exceptionally boring. I agreed. That is the type of people in my office, always up for a challenge, easily bored with the comfort zone. We are Australian, English, Welsh, Irish, African (Ghana, Cameroon), American, Algerian-Canadian, Canadian and French.
The team of people here are a very non-judgemental bunch of people, if a comment is made about someone being difficult it is done with reference to their experiences not as a personal attack. Then it is about how to better support them.
I feel very home with this mad bunch of extrovert intellectuals. They have worked very hard to make me feel comfortable and at home and I am very grateful. We allow each other space to vent and support one another rather than judge.
We come from a range of backgrounds, but a lot come from disciplines like psychology, social and political science and all of them are clever (in my humble opinion). I am the only Australian in Guiyang (that I currently know of) and the only anthropologist but I am with like minds, very much so.
Despite the portrayal in the media, there are more personal freedoms visible here in Guiyang than I ever imagined and in some respect more progressive views than in my home country. I cannot stress this enough, just how limited the perspectives we get through the media are.
Take for instance the recent frozen berry scandal in Australia (hepatitis A in frozen imported berries). People were carrying on like China had the worst food standards in the world. Yet I have been in countries with dreadful food standards and where I currently am is NOT one of them. Even the street vendors can suffer big fines and/or imprisonment for unclean oil and food that makes people ill. This is monitored and policed more than I have seen in Australia.
Yet an isolated incident (out of billions of imports uncontaminated) was blown up by the Australian media and a whole range of indignant western vilification of Chinese food products covered the real issue. I am not saying that the people who suffered from this did not suffer, not at all. But the real issue was that Australia has totally neglected its local farmers and that a majority of people are slaves to just two or three large supermarkets.
Chinese imports are not the problem here, its Australian complacency about food security. In the streets here are dozens of grocers and suppliers of food. I don’t go to one place and I don’t expect one place to provide for all my needs. I wash my food before I eat it with clean water. If I am unhappy about a product, I simply go somewhere else –same as I did in Australia (part of the real food network and tried to avoid supermarkets when I could).
The interesting thing was that some people in Australia thought that me coming here to work and write part time was a step backwards for me (including myself at one point but only fleetingly). I wonder how much of this is because of the negative views constantly fed to us by the media about any other non-Anglo, non-English speaking countries?
Some people commented I would find it too easy. One individual commented that this was the kind of work people did when there was nothing left for people to do; whatever that was supposed to mean? Ironically, all of these people who said this did not have any experience doing what I am doing or have done anything outside of a limited range of experiences within their own culture. So that is their choice and not mine!
But all of these negatives couldn’t be further from the truth. I have been an adult educator for a long time (on and off). But teaching classes of children from ages three to sixteen in three action packed days is certainly challenging and difficult. On Sunday I taught six year olds, had a five minute break and then into a class with fifteen year olds with quite high level skills. I might teach two young groups, one pre-teen, then teenagers, then three year olds – with ten minute breaks in between for five hours then a brief lunch and an afternoon of the same.
It requires a huge amount of creativity and “thinking on your feet”. I’m doing okay, a lot of work to be done yet to feel I am good at this, but it’s going well for me and I am enjoying it and more motivated and enthusiastic than I have been for about six years.
I suppose, to sum up, nothing is as it seems; best to not judge or surmise and find out what is out there. Get away from the TV and the newspapers and open your eyes.