Lisa McClure's China Diary

June 23, 2000

The other night I was awakened by a phone call. Bleary headed, I stumbled to the phone, and found myself in an all Chinese dialogue. Miraculously, the woman spoke slowly and clearly and used simple words, and I was able to understand her, and even give her simple replies.

Turns out she wants me to teach Oral English to kids at a local school. I don't remember the entire conversation, but I clearly remember that she asked me how much I charge, and I clearly answered her, '50 yuan/hour' in Chinese. I figured that they wanted to hire me to give a two hour dog and pony show for a few hundred middle school students.

Yesterday afternoon, I'd forgotten all about the phone call, when there was a knock on the door, and two strange men waiting to come in. The room was a total disaster, really gross, but they came in as though they belonged there. After a minute, they explained that they were from the school and had come to pick me up. Luckily, I had nothing else important to do, so out we went and piled into a fancy car, and drove across town to a private school I had never seen or heard of before.

To make a long story short, the school wants me to teach the kids Oral English. It's a small private school for grades 1 - 12, and all of the students study English, but as is typical in China, none of them can really say much in English. The kids seem very nice and likable, though I'm sort of lukewarm about teaching English at such a low level. On the other hand, my Daddy always told me not to ever burn bridges.

But the obsequious attitude makes me damned uncomfortable. They couldn't be nicer, and have been practically scraping and bowing in their efforts to make me happy. Still, not a word about the money, and how often I'll get paid, etc. Makes me nervous, and I rather expect that the whole deal will fall apart when it comes time to actually pay me.

In American culture, this would be a done deal. The person on the phone would have relayed my asking price, and the boss would have OK'ed it before calling me out and scheduling me for classes. Here, that's always a possibility, too. On the other hand, they may just be waiting until they think the hook is in before trying to bargain me down. We'll see.

They've promised to drive me out to the school and back, and even give me an office at the school. Today, they offered Lara a place in the school next year. (I assume at no charge) Lara's too young to go to first grade next fall, so I'm not interested in that offer, but we both know that if they don't drive me out there and back, I won't teach there. (It's too far to go on bicycle.) We'll see whether getting paid turns out to be a problem or not.

In any case, they're clearly getting value out of me now, because this is the time of the year when they are seriously recruiting students for the fall semester, and they've been marching me all over the school, introducing me to the students and telling them that now they have their very own foreign teacher. They tell me that they want me to teach 6 hours a week next fall, all grades, and they were snapping PR photos like crazy today, no doubt to include in their school brochures and other promotional materials. Looks to me that if they try to give me problems over my fee (which is entirely reasonable for this city, and cheap compared to what foreign teachers can charge in more prosperous parts of China) perhaps they'll be the ones to lose face. Still, ever suspicious, I wait for the other shoe to drop. If the pay for this job comes through, then I'll be even busier next semester, but my savings will benefit. I may actually come home from China with more money than I brought over.

In the meantime, I'm really glad that I'm getting on a train next Friday. (Lara and I are going to Beijing) The pressure's been really intense lately from folks wanting me to help them with their English, Between now and next Friday, I'm going to be teaching English every single evening, and probably out pressing the flesh and answering low level English questions (i.e. Do you like China?) at that school every single day.


Does it bother you when strangers treat you really, really nice, and you can't help feeling a bit uncomfortable and suspicious about it? (Actually, I feel sure that they are sincere. It's just that I'm still not used to being treated like a rock star.)

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