You say that you love rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains.
What do you do with people who are just impossible to love?
—Jar Of Hearts
Who do you think you are
running around leaving scars
collecting your jar of hearts
and tearing love apart…
Something’s wrong with my calendar, or with my computer perhaps. Yesterday, it was only October 21st. But today, for some odd reason, it’s telling me it’s already the 28th. I need to go get my computer fixed. Time does not go by this quickly. And don’t tell me it’s going to be November in couple days; I still haven’t lived out my October.
It’s already been more than two months since I came back to China. By now, it seems like my life back in the States was all a dream. My memory of it is starting to get a little hazy and everything seems to blur together. The good thing is, I only remember the happy moments. The bad thing? I’m becoming way too nostalgic. Nostalgic for the friendships, the freedom, the things I used to have, and even for the things I never had. I keep thinking everything would have been much better if I stayed in the States, and it almost seems like I might have the American Dream syndrome. Well, an altered version at least.
I’ve gotten into the routine of taking Chinese classes in the morning and teaching English in the afternoons, and sometimes I wonder if the rest of my life will look like this. Dull and monotonous. Days come and go, but it seems like nothing is really changing. There are no long-term goals nor the need to think long-term. I wonder whether everything I learned in college has any real application to the real world. Maybe the intellectually stimulating conversations, the epiphanies, and the desire to change the world really only belong in the academia.
Long gone are the days when a mere thought of the future excited me. Long gone are the days when my heart really broke when I saw injustice and inequalities in the world. Long gone are the days when I believed dreams could come true.
Long gone are the days.
O ME! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring-What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here-that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel
I lay in bed for an hour, but couldn’t fall asleep, and I don’t think I’ll be able to unless I tell someone (or at least write) about this.
So when I boarded the plane last Saturday to come back to China, I had no idea what I was going to be doing here. My only plan was to relearn my Chinese and be as fluent as a native speaker. Well, since last Saturday, a lot of things have happened, and now I’m teaching English conversation at a university here while auditing business management classes in Chinese. Everything happened all of a sudden, especially the quasi-job offer at the university (I say “quasi” because yes, it is a job, but no, it’s not a job that pays).
Three days ago, my dad talked to his friend in the English Conversation Department, who talked to the department chair, about how I was back in China with no particular plans. The department chair apparently said something along the lines of, “if she wanted to teach, I don’t know why she didn’t come to me earlier,” which pissed me off because just a few months earlier, I had emailed him asking for job openings and all I got was a “I’m sorry the application deadline has already passed.” My dad was keen on the idea of me working at the English Conversation Department, and so I called the department chair, and set up an appointment with him the next morning at 9am.
I waited thirty minutes, and his first question for me was, “So, do you really want to teach here? I mean, why?” And I had to remind him of the email I sent him and his reply, which apparently he had no recollection of. He insisted when he received my email, he didn’t know it was me (which I know was just an excuse because he had forwarded my email to another recruiting personnel, who had said something along the lines of, “The department chair told me about you and how you used to live in Yanji. I must have met you at one point or another.”) I think he started feeling bad, and he changed the subject quickly and started talking about the class he wanted to offer me. One of the professors had to teach four classes on top of an online class he was taking, and he wanted to lighten his workload. The class had begun the day before, and the department chair said he wanted me to start that day. At 4pm, just eight hours later. I couldn’t give him an answer right away, although I might as well have because when I got home after the meeting, I took a nap. Of course, I prayed about it too, but I couldn’t really tell. So I said yes.
My first class was amazing. I had nineteen students, who were all either my age or a year or two younger than me. I stole my colleague’s lesson plan, and went in, just looking to get to know the students and have a good time (I wouldn’t have been this chill if it weren’t for the two English camps this summer. When I asked him a lot of questions about the schedule, the students’ level of proficiency, and my responsibilities as a teacher, all I got was: “just go with the flow.” I hated his seemingly indifferent attitude, but it stuck. Now I just wanted to go with the flow and have fun with the students, which is exactly what I did). I basically introduced myself, got everyone to go around the room and introduce themselves, played couple ice-breaker games, and spent most of the time teasing the students, complimenting them, and largely talking by myself and laughing at my own jokes. I have a very mixed class, and those who were more fluent understood what I said and laughed with me, but I knew there were some who didn’t understand a thing I said. Not a problem, I told myself. Even though they don’t understand now, soon they will, with more exposure to the English language.
I was so energized and so hyped up that I started looking forward to my next class, although I didn’t bother planning for it. I looked through the textbook, and decided I would just teach them a bit of grammar and call it a day. When I got to my classroom, I could sense that something was definitely wrong.
The department chair was waiting for me in front of my classroom, and the professor who was originally supposed to teach the class was in there, teaching. “Well, Sharon, I was really frustrated because I couldn’t reach you. I was hoping you would come into the office,” he started. I was so ticked off (and understand that “ticked off” is an understatement here). Two days ago, he had asked me what my expectations of the job was, and I told him in the most clear, unambiguous way possible, that I wanted to teach, but not be bogged down with office work. I told him I would do class prep at my own time, and come into the office when I needed to. And now he was complaining as if I had been at fault when clearly I had no obligation to stop by the office. He should not have expected things he had not communicated with me beforehand.
“I tried calling your home and even your dad’s office. Where were you this morning? Well, I wanted to talk to you because two students came up to me yesterday and said they didn’t understand a word you said in class. You really have to pay attention to the lower level students in your class and make sure they understand.”
Things he said wasn’t unreasonable, but I was too preoccupied with the fact that he was frustrated at me when I had done nothing wrong, and it bothered me. It bothered me up to the point I couldn’t take his advise rationally. I said a word of thanks, and went in. Felix, the professor who was originally supposed to teach the class, was already talking to the students, asking them how they were doing as if he was taking over. When I came in, he looked at me with a blank face, and I returned the look. “So what did the department chair say?” he asked.
“He told me to focus on the low level students.”
“Oh, I see.” “Were you planning to teach today?”
“Oh no, I was getting ready to start if you didn’t show up. See, we weren’t sure if you were coming or not.”
That pushed me over the edge. Yes, I was new, and yes, we did not share the same teaching philosophies, and yes, I already had two students complaining about me after the first class. But no, they can’t assume I’m some irresponsible prick who doesn’t show up for class. It is a judgment on my personal character, and I felt disparaged and patronized. I immediately regretted signing up to teach the class, and although I know I shouldn’t have let my own feelings interfere with teaching, I couldn’t help but appear especially stern and even grim.
I met with the department chair after class, and we discussed everything else (including what is the best way to reach out to all the different levels in the same classroom) except for how I felt so mistreated by their assumption that I won’t show up to class. On the most part, I came to accept that this is a learning experience and that I should conform to the organization’s goals and standards and find my own teaching style while working within the system. But I still can’t get over how they overlooked my dedication and my sincerity toward the job. They decided I wasn’t coming, because somewhere along the line, they had decided not to give me their trust.
I’m not particularly keen on gaining their trust back (because frankly I have not done anything that would cause them to lose their trust), but I just hate that these thoughts keep me up at night.
Ever since New York Times introduced the idea of digital subscription and allowed only twenty free articles each month for unsubscribed members, I’ve started finding alternative news sources and The Economist has been my favorite lately. This is an article from The Economist about the growing number of businesswomen and female executives, especially in the emerging world aka China, Brazil and India. I have to say, this article definitely inspires and motivates me to study Chinese and be like Zhang Yin one of these days.