China...I lived there for over eight years
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to travel. However this was not meant to be on any grand scale. Eventually my four children become adults and I became single again. Always there was the thought of travel...but how could I do this on limited funds?
I kept myself busy with any interesting activity that came my way. But the urge to downsize was strong. This continued for a few years till I only had things that I felt were necessary for daily life. Through all this I realised that lots of things were only 'stuff' and were in no way going to make me feel content. Much of this 'stuff' was necessary when I had mine and other children living with me, but they had now moved on.
While attending a wedding I chatted with a woman whom I vaguely knew. She needed a ride home as she had sold her car. As she lived in my area I offered to help out. On the way home I asked her why had she sold her car.
"I'm going to China to teach English".
"How wonderful" I replied.
"You can do it too" she said
"But unlike you I'm not a teacher and you are younger than me" I informed her.
I was 58yrs at the time.
She gave me an agent’s contact details to whom I promptly sent off an enquiry. Back came the answer.
"Can you be in China by the 3rd of Jan 03?"
It was the 3rd of Dec 02.
I could not believe it was this easy, but I moved into high gear and got organised. With my credit card I bought a one way ticket to Shanghai. Xmas gave me a chance to say goodbye to family and friends and on the evening of 2nd of Jan 03 I was on my way to China.
I knew nothing about China. I had read several books set in China, but as I was to find out they taught me very little. I had no idea about the language, culture or how to use chop sticks. My inability to use chop sticks proved to be quite embarrassing as my first meal upon arrival was with the headmaster and staff to welcome me.
I gave little thought to what I was actually going to do when I arrived at my school as I had been in sales and marketing for many years and latterly as a toastmaster, so speaking or teaching was not an issue for me. The agent had neglected to tell me where I was going exactly, only that someone would meet me at the airport.
I went outside to the waiting area in the airport where many people were standing around holding names, some not clearly visible as they were distracted chatting. I walked around and inspected all the names. No-one wanted to meet me.
What now? I asked the policeman standing nearby if he spoke English. "Yes I do". Wonderful relief! I told him my dilemma. He asked for the agent's details, got out his mobile phone and called him.
"Someone will arrive to pick you up in two hours" he told me.
I later discovered that the agent had forgotten to tell the school I was arriving. It was a two hour drive to the school and exactly two hours later two young guys raced towards me.
"Are you Jeanie?" Relief all round with lots of apologies. So began my adventurous life in China.
Before my first year's contract was over I knew that I didn't want to return home. China is such a huge, diverse, interesting country and I wanted to see more of it and by moving to another area, I could see much more than I would just by traveling. I’m not a very good tourist. I was very sad to leave my first school as I loved it there.
I made the decision to relocate somewhere to the south of China where I thought the winters would be warmer. Once you know how the system works it's very easy to get a job.
I’ve had many different teaching experiences. Kindergarten (not my favorite) a privately owned primary school, private tuition, primary middle school, secondary schools, English training college for mature age students and company staff.
I realised I don't have an ear for languages, though I have learnt many Chinese words. I can manage to do most things, but always when in a dilemma, someone appears at my side asking if I want some help. My body language skills are very good. My English skills have improved big time. I had never realised how bad they were.
Every day something unexpected happens. I experience something new or see something happen that is so common here, but would never be accepted in our culture. Just because it's different does that make it wrong?
I have happily adopted the Chinese eating habits that would be frowned upon by my mother. But I can't quite bring myself to eat with my mouth open. I watch as the Chinese Government tries so hard to catch up with the rest of the world while still retaining Chinese characteristics. Western culture is being accepted here very rapidly as the children have to learn English at school and Western companies like KFC, McDonald's, Starbucks and Walmart and other European supermarkets establish their businesses here in all major cities. I feel very sad when a Chinese child tells me their favorite food is hamburgers.
Things are changing rapidly in China and it's so interesting to be on the sidelines watching it all happen. The laws are now getting stricter for teachers so I'm pleased I came when I did. It's now sometimes necessary to have a degree. I have no official qualifications, but I now have experience which makes me very employable.
But age is becoming an issue. Chinese women retire at age 56 so Government officials have trouble accepting that a western woman in her 60s still wants to work and is very capable of doing so. Headmasters love me, but Government officials don't always see it that way. However the Chinese have a wonderful ability to color the truth!
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