TIME IS FLYING
I’ve been in China for 50 days. Fifty. That’s half of 100. That’s a lot. It doesn’t feel like a lot though. It feels like I’ve been in China a few weeks. Like three. Yeah, three weeks. Everything still feels new, but the same, yet different. It’s confusing. But understandable. I’m confusing, but okay. Okay? On the whole, I’m doing well.
The past few days I’ve been exploring the internet reading the blogs of other teachers teaching English as a foreign language. Compared to them, or rather — how those teachers chose to describe their experiences working in China — I feel blessed.
My students are good kids. Sure they can be loud and fail to do their homework, or run in the halls and write in an improper tense… But they’re kids. In my heart I know they’re good kids. They’re also very clever. I find that I learn quite a great deal from my students. Either through their writing, words, or actions, they’re always teaching me something.
The school I work for is really wonderful. They’ve provided me a living wage along with a large, clean, well-furnished apartment. My schedule isn’t crazy; I’m only teaching 21 classes a week. Yes, that sounds like a lot, but again: my students are good kids.
I feel like I’m doing something. Yes, I know that sounds weird. Yes, I know I am doing something. What I mean is that sure — I’m teaching English to a couple hundred Chinese students and that’s something — but it’s the stuff that happens between the lessons in the book and on the page where I feel like I’m really doing something important.
Mr. Rogers is my hero. Mr. Rogers is an inspiration. He is a man I feel made (and makes) the world a better place. He was kind, creative, compassionate, curious, patient, understanding, knowledgable, encouraging… He was the kind of man that I want to be to my students. I want the students to know that I am going to be patient with them as they struggle and learn English, just as they are going to (hopefully) be patient as I learn Chinese.
It is important to me to teach the students that what they think and feel matters. That what they have to say matters. That who they are and who they will become matters.
A seventh grader in class today was struggling with the word “liked.” Some of the other students snickered. I said:
“Please do not laugh. We do not need to laugh because we know we WILL say words wrong. We are learning together. We need to encourage each other.
When I am speaking in Chinese, students laugh and sometimes adults laugh too. That makes me feel sad. That makes me feel like I am not smart. That makes me feel like maybe I do not want to speak in Chinese. I will not give up though.
The only way I will get better at speaking in Chinese and the only way you will get better at speaking in English is if we keep speaking. Keep trying. We will get better together. We are learning together. We need to encourage each other.”
Just as I wrote here,
“If I’m asking them a question it’s because I genuinely want to know. I want them to learn that they’re important; as individuals, they are so very special — each and every one of them, flaws and all. Because that’s what makes them unique!”
So yeah, I feel like I’m doing something. It feels important.
In early summer I had already made plans on touring again with the National Theatre for Children. I love working for NTC because again, I feel like the work is important. However, while I was in Washington, D.C., touring “Thumbs Up!” my friend contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in teaching in China for a year. How could I say no to this opportunity?
Like most things I do, there’s never really a plan. Things just kinda happen. It’s always last minute and off-the-cuff. China is no exception. It wasn’t until the day I was scheduled to leave the United States — literally 3 hours before my flight — that I received my passport and Visa to China. Up to that moment I wasn’t even certain I was really going to China…
Those of you that know me know I know things happen for reasons. Whatever reason or reasons there may be, I don’t know. But in my heart, I know there’s a reason I’m here in China. Apparently, this is where I am supposed to be because this is where I’ve been called.
In other words, I’m like Cosmo Kramer from Seinfeld. There is a specific scene I keep replaying in my head because I feel like it somehow describes some aspects of my life. George is talking about Kramer living in fantasy camp and says:
“Kramer goes to a fantasy camp. His whole life is a fantasy camp. People should plunk down $2,000 to live like him for a week. Do nothing, fall ass-backwards into money, mooch food off your neighbors, and have sex without dating. That’s a fantasy camp.”
Isn’t that what life’s all about though? I digress.
So I’ve been in China for 50 days. Things are going well. I’m
healthy not sick. I haven’t been stabbed or arrested or hit by guys riding ‘San Francisco-style…‘ I’m continuing to learn the language and grow accustomed to the customs in this Communist society.
(Speaking of which, apparently God doesn’t exist in China. Specifically in the Communist party. This came as a shock to me on Saturday night. I’ll write more about this at a later time…)
This weekend was good! I experienced a great meta-moment when I went to a Chinese buffet in China! This wasn’t just any ol’ Chinese buffet though… It was a German-themed Chinese buffet! After sampling all the food and careful consideration I can report that the offerings are the buffet in China are better than the offerings at the 98 Pound Buffet in Bloomington. (Sorry, Lora!)
However, not all the food was good. Liver aside, the corn on the cob wasn’t sweetcorn. I’m not even sure livestock should eat the stuff they were serving… But all the servers walked around giant chunks of slow roasted meat on spears! It was like Fogo de Chao at a fraction of the cost!
I finally found myself at a KTV which is… Um… It’s karaoke, but in a small swanky room that you rent in 30 or 60 minute increments. Karaoke is a booming business! You can buy food and liquor and sing all the songs you kinda know! I regret not taking a picture of the room and hallway leading to the room because it was really cool, but I didn’t want to be that guy with the camera and stuff. I’m looking forward to returning at some point in the next 7 months. In the mean time, here’s a picture I found on the internet of a smililar KTV room:
There have been other adventures in China…
I went camping in the mountains.
Stumbled into this huge ass spider’s web.
Played Duck, Duck, Grey Duck*
It’s pretty quiet for me at home because I can’t watch TV as it’s all Chinese programming. So I’m doing exactly what I set out to do when I committed to this adventure: I’m writing. Multiple pages, every day. Letters, notes, ideas, dreams, journal entries, scripts. I’m looking forward to filling up all the nine journals I brought with me to China!
Oh, and I’ve sent my first batch of letters! According to the China Post office, the individuals I sent should receive their care packages sometime before December. Assuming the government doesn’t intercept them. Which could happen… But assuming it doesn’t, December.
At any rate, I’m well. I hope you’re well. I hope your family is well. Please keep in touch!
* = I know it’s Duck, Duck, Goose; it just doesn’t feel right to say anything but Duck, Duck, Grey Duck. Blame Minnesota.
MICHAEL VENSKE is an expert mistake-maker whose faith and enthusiasm cause him to leap without looking. One such jump landed him in China where he’s currently teaching kindness, compassion, and the fine art of physical comedy.
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