"I've had a day here now: I've been approached by hawkers; eaten my first street food; smelt that funny "Please let that be anything other than sewage?" odour that wafts out of drains in the city; and been pushed in front of by little old ladies. Yes, if the sign after customs hadn't said it already, I'm indeed in China."
That was my first blog upon coming to China to work on November 15, 2009. I'd boarded my plane on the ominous day of Friday 13 November and the odd but now familiar time of 11:59pm, and landed on a cool, overcast day. The taxi driver that picked me up tried to talk me into teaching his son for 50 yuan an hour. Jetlagged and sleep deprived, I started to muse about teaching to help the less advantaged but remained wisely noncommital. Things have come a long way.
Two years have passed. I didn't celebrate it; someone else decided to randomly celebrate something else a day earlier and not wishing to detract from that randomness, I kept my own special day silent. Life also passed a stressful passage: the search for a new apartment. It ultimately ended in failure, we'll stay where we are but in some ways it cannot be regarded as a disappointment. It is only when you look at your other choices closely enough that you consider how lucky you are. Our apartment is wonderful (although a little far away), our rent comparatively cheap (we do want to save) and our landlord is fantastic (although too inclined to DIY repairs). Of course, it is when you re-sign your lease that the neighbours start renovating noisily from 8am every day. These walls make the scratching and hammering sound like they're in your room.
Work is attrition. Half the centres in my city are situation red, including my own. Our problems are two-fold: a historically struggling centre - students often don't come to class regularly or transfer out to the bigger centres; and it had been overstaffed to the eyeballs for most of the year and then shed almost all of its international staff... in fact, for a week in December and from early January, the international staff will be the boss and I. Staff deprivation unfortunately means that we cannot be picky about who we get, but students are. One of our soon to leave teachers is not appreciated by students by and large. He likes teaching but he doesn't have the skills to do it effectively or interestingly. He had got pressure from the boss to lift his game or face losing his job. He didn't like the pressure or the way his urgent need to improve was presented and resigned. When he leaves in early January, if no-one new comes, it'll be just the two of us. And then the students can have what they want: the two best teachers teaching continuously...
Part of my coming to the centre has been to help turn it around, not on the management side, but in terms of teaching quality, centre spirit, team spirit and innovation. I think the first three can still be delivered regardless of the red situation. It is great to be in the classroom and getting involved with students. But my plans for revitalising the centre academically (which have already been accepted by management) will be put on hold for at least two months. There is timing in these things. A season for holding steady, a winter perhaps, and a time to grow and get active: Let's hope I can spring in Spring!