In the New School’s course on “Cross-Cultural Communication in English Language Teaching,” we were taught a maxim about living in a country not one’s own: “seven or eight small hassles add up to one major hassle” in emotional impact. That’s the wall I hit yesterday.
There’s the cold (now gone, but for how long? It’s March.) The rain (due back Saturday, but it should be warmer rain). The fact that the Chinese think it’s normal to have the windows wide open in the cold and the rain, in a building that has no heat. The fact that I’m not eating enough protein; the food is superb, but the meat-to-rice ratio is low and I feel it. The fact that I am a swimmer without a pool, not that even an indoor pool would be warm enough to use, since it would be in a building that had no heat. The fact that, every morning, I have to weigh the benefits of taking a shower against those of using the toilet, because it’s disgusting, not to mention dangerous, to use it when the floor is underwater from the shower. The fact that I have to use it anyway whenever I can because the Asian (read: squat) toilets in the classroom buildings are filthy — but more on this another time. The fact that the local security bureau, where the new foreign teachers were required to register this week for residence permits, is holding on to our passports for five business days, making it inadvisable to try checking into the bargain-priced five-star hotel with pool in Changsha for a night this weekend as I had planned. The fact that I am expected to teach a language-lab class with no explanation of how the equipment works, or exactly how I’m supposed to use it to teach argument and debate.
That’s already ten, by my count. Yesterday the big blow fell: I’ve lost my Fridays off. (Most of the foreign teachers seem to have a midweek day off; mine was Friday.) I knew I would be asked to teach a course in “Cultural Backgrounds of English-Speaking Nations,” which sounded like fun and a way to expand my repertoire, but it never occurred to me that it would be scheduled for the worst possible time slot, Friday evenings. What that means, essentially, is that I will not be able to travel anywhere that requires more than a Saturday-night stay, unless there happens to be a holiday weekend, in which case any attraction will be jam-packed with the Chinese.
So there will be no trip to western Hunan to see the mountains from “Avatar” as a student recommended this week, no chance to catch up with modernized Beijing, no cruise down the Yangtze to celebrate the end of the semester. For those of you who say you enjoy my travel photography: what you can expect to see this trip will be the road between South Campus and North. For me, to have come so far, only to find out how little of the country I’ll be able to see, is devastating.
On the brighter side, my first month’s pay dropped into my new Chinese bank account yesterday, right on schedule. I will be able to check into that five-star hotel in Changsha for a night, eventually – if I get my passport back.
And I just found a two-inch bug crawling toward my bedroom.