This is just how Chinese people work. It’s just save face. This is how all businesses work in China. It seemed like culture was constantly taking the blame for all of China’s problems, and for all of the problems at work.
I had been wanting to throw out the nonsensical order of the lesson itinerary and start my new pre-k-1 class with colours and shapes, rather then “my face” (which involved memorizing answers to questions like “What does your face look like?” “My face is round/ oval,” and “What does your hair look like?” “My hair is black.”) I’d been bugging Candy about this possible change, and she’d been doing a good job of avoiding me, and coming up with some excuse to change the subject every time I did track her down.
I’d had a rocky relationship with Candy since the first month of work, when I’d received a particularly nasty letter degrading me as a teacher during the first few weeks of adjustment. I’d thought of leaving the school then, and several times after that (a big one being Christmas), but every time the topic came up Nate was there to talk me down. We’d settled into an awesome apartment. We’d made friends. The evils of our school were known evils and better then the horror stories we’d heard passed along. We didn’t have the money.
I don’t regret deciding to stay, and even without Nate’s calm voice of reason I may have stuck it out on my own, but the point is by this time I knew a little bit more about “save face” then I had when I’d first landed. Yes Candy was being save face, yes it was a cultural appropriate way to behave, but that doesn’t mean it was right. Candy was giving me a message that I was now capable of interpreting and it meant: I don’t want to be bothered explaining to the parent that we’re changing the order of the book. I don’t want to bother Sabrina (our boss) about this topic. I don’t care if the curriculum is terrible, you’re going to put on a happy face and tell the parents it’s amazing because our goal at Happy English isn’t to teach to the best of our ability, it is to get as many parents to pay out for as long as possible.
I don’t regret my decision to stay with Happy English, but looking back I think I was crazy not to leave. The pollution in Jinan had one of the worst recorded air pollution ranking averages in the country in 2013. That alone should have been enough of a reason to leave, never mind the shitty work situation. The freedom to travel, cash be damned, before settling down into a new job, would have been an unmatchable opportunity.
I want to make it abundantly clear that Chinese culture is not to blame for China’s problems. The way things worked there may have seemed different in almost every single way. Nothing seemed to make sense. Trying to understand “save face” just seemed to make it make even less sense. As different as it may seem on the surface, underlying it all was a system of beliefs, traditions, and extreme change, and a very good and complex historical narrative spanning 5000 years that drove it to be what it is today. Now that I’m back in Canada I think it’s our culture that makes no sense.
It is not the culture that is flawed but it is the people carrying the same “ambitions” that drives our own culture. Happy English was a for profit organization. End of story. It carried the same flaws as the for profit group home I’d worked at and left after a month when back at home. Realizing that didn’t make it any less of a shitty place to work, it just made it more real.
I would love to say, that after our exhaustion at the end of our trip, that it was great to be home, but that would be a lie. The smog in the air was not a pleasant welcome. We had maxed out our time off, so we were right back to work on Wednesday, and it was one of the days we were to spend partially at the Kindergarten. Sarah was supposed to take care of the planning while I was away, but she hadn’t, so I was left to throw something together last minute. I had 30 minutes to look over my lesson plan for that night’s class at my desk during lunch, and then I started my class with “my face”. I did have fun singing head and shoulders at a progressively faster pace, my group of kiddos getting more and more giggly every time the song was sung.
*Funny side note, notice the shape of one of the defining buildings of Jinan, capital of Shandong province.