HOME AGAIN: SELF-CENSORED NO MORE

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The school could accurately be described as "down-at-heel." Among other issues, there were clumsily patched holes in the walls.





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One of my little princesses. To left and below: "The Book of Teddy." Either Teddy's parents want him to go into modeling, or they are so proud of their kid that they had photographed and bound in hardcover a book full only of photos of Teddy in various garb. Maybe I'm inexperienced, but I have never seen the like.

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Not a complete waste of time

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The kids are wonderful. This is my lovely Lynnie on the occasion of her birthday. The day I left, she said she wanted to be renamed "Snow White" or "Princess." Tony wanted to be called "Queenie" and his good friend Mika wanted to be called "King."


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I adored the kids and they were the reason that deciding to leave was so hard. Also, I wrote most of my next novel--my 16th complete manuscript--while I was in Luoyang. More kid pix below!!!


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The stucco was crumbling off the walls. One day the handyman was poking at a joint with a bamboo stick and concrete was raining down. I  went home and did a little internet research, learning that Henan  Province is an active earthquake zone. To the left see a dry fountain, which any kid could fall into headfirst and suffer a severe injury.

China's One Child Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences

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The People's Republic of China has long evidenced a desire to control its population, beginning in the 1950s. Their efforts to distribute contraceptive devices were successful but not as far-reaching as the government desired. The PRC's one-child policy, instituted in 1979, has prevented about 250 million live births, significant even in a population of about 1.3 billion and counting.

Positive Results

The one-child policy may have curtailed expansionism, protected resources and contributed to the dramatic rise of the middle class, if not its very creation.

The Negatives

Draconian measures have been taken to ensure that the largest ethnic group in China, the Hans, have no more than one child per couple (the policy does not apply to ethnic minorities or rural families). Though some monetary incentives have been offered, fines are common and rumors linger of forced abortions and sterilizations.

A reversal of the policy is anticipated because the smaller age cohorts will be unable to support China's expanding number of retirees.

But on a more personal level, observation indicates that China's one-child policy has spawned a nation of spoiled brats. Sting hoped that "The Russians love their children too." And though the Chinese have been repeatedly stigmatized in books, TV and films as the twenty-first century's great threat, along with Muslim extremists, they do love their children--to excess.

It's worth noticing that everyone has good and bad days, and the vast majority of middle-class Chinese kids are great most of the time. But to paraphrase Longfellow, when they're good, they're very very good, but when they're bad, they're rotten. Spoiled rotten, to be exact.

The Best of Everything

Each Chinese baby from day one is doted on and spoiled by two attentive parents and four grandparents. Middle class Chinese kids have the best of everything: American designer clothes (or high-quality knock-offs). Their parents pay a fortune (in Chinese terms) to send their toddlers to private preschools and kindergartens (education in China isn't compulsory until age six--first grade). To be sure, two child families are common. In my classroom, a group of about twenty-five children, there are four students with siblings.

The toddlers hit, kick, punch and head-butt their teachers, who are not allowed to punish them, not even give them "time-outs." Butt slapping is common. Kids talk back to their teachers and argue with them. When they're naughty, the cheeky grins are a signal that their parents and grandparents think that their acting-out is cute.

They can do no wrong. A common name for a little Chinese girl means "Princess," and the girls often come to school in party clothes with tiaras perched in their elaborately dressed hair.

It's hard to predict where this will all lead, but there's at least a sizable cohort of Chinese growing up with a vast sense of entitlement, believing that the world owes them everything.

Sound familiar?

The adult children of the system are equally overindulged. Unlike American teens, who often get "hairnet" jobs or other retail employment in order to pay for clothes, movies and other treats, most middle class Chinese aren't employed at all until after college graduation. Many in their twenties still live in their parents' home, in a state of unnaturally prolonged childhood. They remain sexually, emotionally and socially immature. Because of the attention lavished upon them throughout their lives, many have an exaggerated sense of their accomplishments, abilities and importance.

What these bizarre creations of vast social engineering will do to their country when they get into power remains to be seen.

And What About the Chinese?

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This object greeted me from the shelf of my local supermarket. Welcome to China!

Self-censored no more: the real truth about Bei Bei School and China

This is primarily addressed to anyone foolish enough to consider working here.

About Luoyang: The city is located in the middle of China's industrial heartland. The air is grossly polluted and the water undrinkable. Few locals speak English; in fact, there's no doctor or dentist who's English-speaking. If you need care, you have to go to Shanghai or Beijing. Another option is to take a Chinese friend with you to the doctor. At the women's hospital at the top of Nan Chang Lu, there's a worker who speaks a little English who can interpret for you if you need to talk to a doctor.


Outside of the major cities, the character of the Chinese and their culture can't be described as anything but utterly mad. If I paint with a broad brush I can state that many Chinese are arrogant, loud, disrespectful, rude and thoughtless. 

If I draw with a sharpened charcoal I can say that I've met lovely people here who I'm proud to call "friend" or "colleague." Many people here are incredibly kind and will often go out of their way to help you.

However….

 Arrogant: how about Chinese teachers of English who will never consult a dictionary or the internet, instead preferring to create signage for our school that's blatantly incorrect. A lot of folks aren't merely ignorant, but they don't know how much they don't know, and are sure that they do know.

Heck, I'm a native English speaker and a multi-published writer. If I'm unsure about an aspect of grammar, I'll check it on the internet and/or with MS Word's grammar checker. I have critique partners who are better writers than I am (and bless them for making my writing better!).

Loud: Asia in general is a very loud place and China is deafening. People think nothing of shouting instead of speaking, even indoors. Worse, Mandarin is an ugly language in which people sound as though they want to kill each other regardless of what they're saying.

I was sitting on a bus once and a woman came on with a friend. With many seats filled, they couldn't sit together. One took a seat behind me and proceeded to shout at her friend, directly into my ear. I turned and said, "Dude, you're shouting in my ear."

To her credit, she immediately backed off, looking apologetic. And that's what's so maddening. The thoughtlessness. She is probably a very kind person but didn't think ahead to realize that shouting at her friend would bother someone else. I see this thoughtlessness over and over again, have discussed it with other Westerners and have noted general agreement.

But back to the noise level. The klaxons on the private buses are deafening. 90% of the drivers toodle down the road with their hands on the horn even if it isn't necessary. When a new store wants to advertise opening, they shoot off firecrackers all day—not so bad—but they may also hire people to sing Chinese opera, horrible at best, but intolerable when amplified to a gazillion decibel level and going on for hours.

I have to admit that Luoyang is worse than other Chinese cities—people are pretty uncultured and provincial here. My classroom can be loud to the point of mega-stressful. They teachers shout even if the students are behaving OK. There's always kiddie music blaring or some insipid Chinese pop—two of the teachers in my room like someone called "Super Junior." Don't ask.

 To me, thoughtlessness and disrespect go hand in hand. But what else can you expect of a culture whose language lacks words such as she and he? Everyone's an "it," reduced to the level of a dog or a doormat.

For months I had noticed a small bus parked outside our school for several minutes every morning with the motor running, belching exhaust—Chinese pollution laws are notoriously lax and unenforced. I had to breathe it in every morning when I came to school, to say nothing for the scores of toddlers whose lungs were becoming fouled.

One day I had had enough and shouted at the driver to get his attention. I pointed at his bus's tailpipe and then at my throat, and coughed. I didn't have to feign a cough—I had a cough for all of December and January.


The driver looked apologetic and immediately switched off his vehicle. I only had to do this one more time for his change to become permanent.

So people aren't unkind—they just don't think ahead to how their actions may affect others.


Rude: Oh, man. I could go on and on about this. People who spit on the sidewalk. (Again, less in Beijing and Shanghai). People—mostly women—who think nothing of shoving in front of others in a grocery store line…a daily occurrence. On one shopping trip, people tried to shove in front of me in three different checkout lines three times in the space of 35 minutes. Because Luoyang is provincial—there's fewer than 100 foreigners here—I often felt like a white-skinned, blue eyed freak because people stared at me as though I was the big gold mask in the King Tut Exhibit.


Here's another couple of examples of Chinese rudeness: I went to a foot massage place in my apartment complex, where, after your feet soak and they're massaged, you get a pretty good upper body massage—all for 48 RMB, about seven bucks. One evening I'm in there and the woman getting a massage is making all sorts of noises—not surprising because sometimes the masseurs can get pretty brutal on the acupressure points. After my foot massage is finished I get onto the table next to hers (this is a clothes-on place) and my masseur starts the torture. 

Get this: the woman on the next table starts imitating my moans and groans. Never mind that she's been even more vocal than I have.

What kind of rude b*tch does that?

Another evening, I'm face down but look up during my massage and an elderly couple is standing there watching me.

I shooed them away but honestly. As my mother would ask: where were these people raised? In a barn?

No, in China. Though given that this is Luoyang, there is a good chance that the folks were indeed raised in a barn. Many people here migrated from rural areas roundabout.


What burns me is that I noticed that I was becoming ruder, louder and even more of a b*tch than before—and believe me, I'm not the kindest person even on my best days. What can I say—my mom was known as "The Witch of Wortser Avenue," the street where we grew up.

In March, I emailed my brother, who's a counselor, and told him I'd need therapy for my anger addiction when I leave China.


If you're a female over 40, like me, forget about sex. The male expats are married or are banging Chinese girls, and the Chinese males in our age group never learned about dental care. Couple that with the local habit of eating raw garlic with their noodles and you end up celibate.

If you don't believe me, check out this commentary describing Louyang as an armpit.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1371313
 
However, there are many good things about this place. The public transport, though comprised of smog-belching old buses, is good and cheap. Taxis start at 5 yuen, about 75 cents. You can get most places in Luoyang for less than five bucks. 

Many parts of Luoyang are pretty. There are wide, tree-lined roads. The winter is awful, dry and cold, but the spring is lovely.

More Chinese madness:

Almost every morning in the winter I'd walk past my classroom in weather varying from freezing to fifty degrees F and notice that the windows would be wide open. I remember my days as an advocate for parents trying to reclaim their children from the juvenile foster care system at dependency hearings, recalling that one social worker described such behavior as aberrant and recommending a psych evaluation.

 I was sick for about a third of the time I lived in Luoyang due to the appalling winter weather and the poorly heated classroom. Note that Luoyang is in China's industrial heartland and the air is polluted. During the dry, cold winter people burn charcoal to cook food and stay warm. Luoyang sits in a river valley and there's an inversion layer. No precipitation fell between early November and early March, so the cr*p in the air stayed around, resulting in a respiratory ailment and a cough that didn't go away until I returned to California in February. There, I encountered lovely cool, damp weather, and my cough cleared up within days.

More about the school:

I rent my apartment from them, and they rent it from its owner. When I arrived it was dirty—filthy walls, clogged drains and the kitchen…layers of chicken grease atop cupboards,  a smelly, foul refrigerator which was in the dining room (?!). No part of the apartment had been cleaned for quite some time if at all. The school promised that they'd have the apartment cleaned within a few days. Never happened. They didn't help me find a housekeeper to clean.


The previous tenants' child had scribbled on the walls. I wanted to have the apartment painted at my expense and the school trotted out a variety of unbelievable excuses as to why that couldn’t happen. Later after pressuring from me they at least promised to have the walls washed…never happened.

There were numerous holes in the walls, missing or burned out light bulbs, and almost every window had a crack or a leak. The winter weather is severe—temps are often below freezing and it snows—the latest snow was on April 13!!! The heating lasts only from November 15 until March 15 and there are many weeks of chilly weather in excess of that period.

In January, my electricity was cut off. Did silly Suzie forget to pay the bill? No, actually, I went by the bank to pay it not once but twice, the second time with a Chinese friend to find out what was going on. Both times I was told I couldn't pay the bill and should return later. Then I got a notice just minutes before the electricity was cut off.

What had happened was that the bank's connection to the internet was down, which would have prevented the bank from electronically recording my payment with the electric company. But the cashier didn't tell my interpreter that, which might have helped. Nor did the bank record the account numbers of people who tried to pay and couldn’t. Instead, my electricity was cut off through no fault of my own.

Madness.

The school itself could be accurately described as "down at heel," with crumbling walls and inadequate heating. People wear their ski jackets indoors. I wore four layers of clothing in the winter…indoors. I wore more clothes in my classroom than I wear to go skiing.


Most of my colleagues are twenty-nothing arrogant airheads. On several occasions they attempted to manipulate me into teaching additional lessons by any means that they could, including lying about what my superiors had asked of me. One falsely told me that my team leader had ordered me to teach two more lessons every week. When I declined, they pouted because they didn't get their way. And they retaliated: because I don't speak Chinese, I'm dependent upon them to keep order amongst the toddlers I teach. When the teachers don't get their way, my lessons suffer.

In any event, their main method of keeping the kids in line is to scream at them.  However, they avoid working as much as they can, preferring to stand around, gossip and put on makeup when they aren't downloading awful Chinese pop off the internet and trading clothes.


If you don't speak Chinese they will discuss you and gossip about you right in front of you (I have been in the same room and heard my name spoken amidst the guttural utterances in their appalling, ugly language). If you do speak Chinese it's an easy guess that they'll shaft you verbally behind your back.

The Christmas pageant was illiterate, reflecting the teachers' arrogance. The Chinese teachers wrote it instead of calling on the native English speakers for help or using the internet. They also taught the lines to the kids, resulting in highly accented and poorly pronounced English that was almost incomprehensible.

Expect your employer to ignore aspects of your contract that he finds expensive or inconvenient, such as your private affairs leave. You will have frequent disputes with the numbwits in the accounting office over the correct amount of your salary. We have disagreed about my salary every month but one since I've been here. 

The administrators will find every excuse in the book to put their hand into your pocket. For example, one day I received a notification written in Chinese on my apartment door. I asked an acquaintance to translate it for me. He kindly did so, enlisting the help of friends and making a couple of phone calls to get help. We discovered that it was a note from the property manager stating that additional money was owed.

I took the note to my school and an administrator told me that I had to pay it. I said no way, not until I know it's something for which I'm responsible, i.e., utilities. I pointed out that the note was from the property manager and maybe the owner of the property, not me or the school is responsible. The administrator, incidentally, was rude and interrupted me constantly when I was trying to make my case.  I finally had to put my foot down and say that the point was non-negotiable; for a number of months the school had tried to get me to pay more than the agreed-upon amount of rent and I was fed up with it. 

The headmaster was consulted and the argument fell my way, but the way the administrator jumped to the conclusion that I was responsible rather than the school or the apartment's owner was absurd.


Most of the kids are great, but like many toddlers, they're often difficult. China's one-child policy has produced a nation of overindulged, spoiled brats. They, like many people here, will treat you like an object. I have been hit, pinched, punched, kicked and slapped on the ass more times than I can count. I have been socked on the breast numerous times as well as pinched on the nipple. The little boys like to head-butt me in the belly; the girls are the ass-slappers. One child decided it would be fun to ram my shins with a chair. Another double punched me from behind in the kidneys. Yet another threw a toy at my eye; if I hadn't blinked just before it hit it would have nailed me in the eyeball. They like to hurl their little bodies into mine after they've gotten some speed on by running across the room. One kid coughed in my face minutes after a lecture about germs. And only after months of training, most of my students know not to pick their noses in my presence. Most of them, that is.


On the plus side: they are very affectionate and generally intelligent. They appear to adore me and I have to admit that I love them dearly. They're one of two reasons I didn't ditch this crappy gig and gotten another in February, when I returned to California for a vacation. The other is that I signed a contract and I like to keep my word, despite my employer's tendency to play with its clauses.

 

Each semester, there was a huge controversy about whether the employer should get me copies of the texts I was supposed to teach. I was told to take a copy out of a child's backpack, which I refused to do. Despite the head-butting and slaps on the ass, I won't steal from a child. However, some of the people you will work with have no such scruples. One time, a teacher named Echo took a book from a child's pack and gave it to me without telling me or the child. The day came when I asked the children to take their books from their packs to use for a lesson. Little Kenny couldn't find his book and became hysterical…that was when both Kenny and I learned that I had his book. Needless to say Echo did not last long in my classroom.

 

By the beginning of May I still did not have spring semester teaching materials for the 4-5 year olds.

 

Communications breakdowns are common. At one point the afternoon schedule changed, necessitating that I arrive at school at 3 p.m. rather than 3:30. I was told about this change at 2:45. Another time we had a Friday afternoon off. I was informed at 2:20. As this was prior to a three-day weekend I would have made different plans had I known of the free afternoon. 


Bottom line: these are not the most intelligent, thoughtful or well-organized people you are likely to encounter. Far from it.

Push came to shove in late April, when the hot water in my apartment went out. I asked the school—my landlord—to get it fixed. My team leader, Candy, told me that she would see if the handyman had time to get over to my apartment and look at it.


I was later informed that the handyman had been told to go to my home at 2:30 in Friday afternoon, when I would be there. He didn't show up and when I told Candy, she did…nothing, apparently willing for me to go without hot water for the weekend. What was worse, she had one of her underlings talk to me about it, someone she knew couldn't help me. I texted Candy and asked her to get someone else. The next day she tried to do so, but her failure to do so on a Friday afternoon, when she could have conceivably gotten an electrician out to look at the wiring (as opposed to Saturday morning), was ridiculous. The tenor of her texts was that their handyman wasn't available, so what was she to do? Her failure to think outside the box and hire someone else is typical of the regimented thinking many Chinese exhibit.


By this time I was completely fed up with the whole clusterf*ck and decided to go home. Interestingly enough, the school personnel sensed my exasperation and everyone was peachy for about another week, but of course, eventually everyone's true personality will come out, and Leona started being a b*tch again to the kids. I can't tolerate watching verbal abuse—even when I don't understand exactly what's being said, I could tell what's going on by the tone of voice, the loudness and the kids' reactions.

 A woman I spoke with put it in a nutshell. She'd taught at Luoyang College of Science and Technology for eight weeks before leaving. She was leaving, she said, due to the lack of support and the poor accommodations. We didn't talk long but she had some of the same experiences I had: lazy Chinese teachers and appalling living situations.

 Caveats: there are people here who love Luoyang and who stay for years. Most of them are male and quickly acquired Chinese girlfriends. Others work for more supportive schools. One teacher who works for Joy School loves it. But she was put up in a nicer apartment with English-speaking Chinese roommates, which really helped her adjust. 

In brief: go somewhere else.



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The kids in my Wuhan Lu class performing on Parents' Day. That's Coco in the foreground.


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Tony, who I think looks oddly like Robert Downey Jr.


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A jacket Daniel was wearing... one letter away from being really interesting.

Final notes

I did make it to see Xi'an to see the famous terracotta warriors and other sights. Regrettably no photos because yet another phone was stolen (I was using it as a camera). The total number of phones stolen from me in China was three, far mare than have been stolen anywhere else. In fact, nothing of mine has ever been stolen anywhere else.

I felt that the terracotta warriors were a waste of time. It's a long bus ride outside of the city, and when you get there, you have to brave the gauntlet of tourist shops and then walk through a park to get to three or four structures that are sort of like airplane hangars or hockey rinks. Inside are the archaeological sites with the warriors and horses with desks at one end--these are working sites and many artifacts have not yet been uncovered.

But one can't get very close at all, and the lighting is quite poor. Really very disappointing.

Maybe my view of Xi'an was tinctured by the theft of my phone but I thought the place was, if not a total waste of time, certainly more famous than it deserves to be. The Drum Tower is pretty at night. There's OTT excellent shopping. The bullet train from Luoyang to Xi'an was cool.

And that's about it.

Needless to say I have no plans to ever return to China.

More cute kid pix!!!

 


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Eric :)