Teaching was going well. My new class was sweet and very bright. I had forty students and I kept them in check with candy. My other teaching job was on the west side of the river, puxi, where I lived. It was a mixed class of 3rd,4th and 5th graders. The first time I went there I had to go with another teacher who would also be teaching at that school. I came to the meeting place promptly, as did the company coordinator. The other teacher, May, was late. This in itself was a problem that was further complicated by the fact that she did not own a cell phone. Late is bad. Late without an explanation is worse. You get your pay docked and if you do it more than once you loose your job. Considering my recent working troubles I was livid. More than fifteen after the meeting time this fair foreigner meandered over us. She didn’t run, she wasn’t out of breath, she hadn’t even broken into a sweat or looked worried. She just sauntered over and joined our group.
“Where were you?” Were my first words to my new co-worker.
She exploded like an innocuous can of soda that you realize too late had been well shaken recently. “Where was I? I was at my last job, which didn’t get out until an hour ago and is on the other end of town. I had to eat lunch.” She turned to the short man who was supposed to be escorting us to the school. “This wasn’t enough time. I barely got here and I don’t appreciate your attitude.” Now she was addressing me. “Unlike you part time people I work a full schedule and I’m busy. I can’t afford to get here early.”
I thought about fighting back, but instead bit my tongue and apologized woodenly for my nasty opening comment. I think I added in a line I shouldn’t have about not liking to be insulted for working part time, but our guide cut us off. I’m all for a cozy working environment, but not at the expense of letting someone walk all over me.
This was not a promising beginning, but a bit prophetic. The job wasn’t what you’d call a frolic through the land of milk and honey, not unless we’re talking sour milk and crusty old honey. The kids were all at different learning levels and it was impossible to teach them with the same text book. There were some sweet kids in there, but also some bad ones and bored kids are never well behaved.
While the teaching problem had no simple solution, the punctuality one did. I simply chose to find my own way to work and let her have the taxi to herself. This was truly for the best. Waiting wasn’t the only problem I had with my coworker, we just didn’t have compatible personalities. I could say this for me dealing with most expats. I hold the majority of foreigners living in China with such contempt. Hardly any of them make the effort to learn the language and even fewer spend their time interacting with Chinese people. They eat their Western food, live in their Western neighborhoods and go to their expensive Western clubs. Expats make such generous wages that they could live like kings in China and treat the locals like servants. The first real conversation I had with May, I’m pretty sure I came off as a skinny elitist Chinese bitch. There was a little voice in the back of my head telling me to shut up, but my mouth kept going, so it was good for us to have some distance.
The way to that school by foot was extremely pleasant too. It was a nice trek up Eastern Nanjing road, the most luxurious street in down town Shanghai full of shops, neon signs and fancy buildings left over from the French and English concessions. From there I would turn left onto the waitan, the most famous waterfront in the city, observe the gorgeous sky line of pudong and wander through a maze of little streets in the old Japanese concession until I got to the school. There was a stationary shop across from it and a bakery. Both had lovely selections. It was a long walk though, and I ended up taking a taxi back to the subway with May. I didn’t like her, but I learned to get along with her and even enjoy our brief rides together, because while I’m by nature a fighter, I also appreciate the need of enjoying forced interactions.
The hours were not enough though. I was only working five hours a week. Not only was I worried about money for the long enforced vacation during Chinese new year, but I felt like I had no purpose to my days. First I tried tutoring, such as the daughter of he man in the pajamas who I met in the park. That was a real mistake.
Pan was out when he came, as she so frequently was. This was the first thing he noted. I sat him on the couch and offered him tea. He extolled my politeness, but declined. He wanted to know when my roommate would return and I shrugged and said I had no idea. I asked where his daughter was and he said he wanted to work out the details first. So we talked brass tacks, how would the classes run and such. Then we got down to payment. I told him standard pay was 150 RMB an hour. He took my hands in his. He started to rub them. I never thought there could be anything sexual about touching hands until that moment. He kept massaging them while saying that we were friends now and let’s not talk about such a huge sum as 150 RMB. He moved to embrace me and that’s when I pushed back, hard. Pretending like I didn’t know what he was trying, I politely told him that I think he had the wrong impression about Americans. Regardless of what he may have seen on TV, we don’t hug random people of the opposite sex. Hugging is for close friends and family ONLY. For that matter I thought it was time that he left. I ushered him out the door, shut it firmly and went to the bathroom to wash my hands a good half dozen times. I can’t say the hand thing was unpleasant per se, just wrong. Screw Rome, I was done with this sketchy ‘tutoring’ stuff for good now.
As I finally sit down to edit and post this, ten years after it actually happened and I recorded it on my computer, I find there is a lot of content I didn’t remember and quite frankly some of it horrifies me. Seriously, how could I have been so dumb to let my roommate talk me into meeting this guy at my house?? While there’s nothing really I can say in my defense, I would strongly suggest for any young woman starting out in the world that a strong martial arts background is essential. Being able to tell the difference between people who mean you real harm and those who are just trying to get you into bed is very important. Having the strength, confidence and skill to ameliorate any dumb situation you’ve landed yourself in is vital. While I may have gotten into scrapes that made me uncomfortable, I was never in actual danger and certainly none of it emotionally scarred me. I attribute that to my martial arts background.