In keeping with my new goal to deliver a post fortnightly, here I am again, hello! Thanks for coming back, you’re sound out. I couldn’t settle on what this post should be about, so I’ve decided to document a medley of ongoing themes and little observations that I’ve noticed in conversations and day to day activity in the past 2 weeks.
Highlights from the week:
I finally found the time (and means) to go to 南山Temple, to see the Guanyin statue (FYI, it’s the fourth tallest statue in the world). It’s about an hour by bus outside Sanya city, the bus route travels along the most shoddy excuse for a road system I have ever seen. There was actually a point where we were driving through a building site with scaffolding about us. When we arrived we pulled into a parking lot next to about 30 tour buses. Oh, super, I love Chinese tourists. Why does every one of them use a selfie stick to take pictures? They are not helpful in big crowds, not one bit. We bought tickets (150rmb each, jeeeeeeeeez…) and went through the turnstiles. As soon as we passed under the sign indicating we were entering the Buddhist Temple and garden area, we were confronted with another parking lot, this one with about 15 bright red Ferraris, all pulled up alongside each other revving their engines. Oh my, what would Buddha say…
The gardens themselves are beautiful, and the statue of Guanyin, out in the sea, only accessible by walkway, is extraordinary. Her face and hands that linger over a chord of prayer beads are exquisite, and very peaceful to be in the presence of. In typical China fashion, however, the experience is somewhat tarnished by the OTT commercialism. Even inside temple area they are flogging souvenirs. It’s unfortunate.
To my great excitement, and my bank account’s great disapproval, I finally discovered where the best clothes markets in Sanya are. And, ta-da! They are above KFC. Gotta love China. The markets have always been one of my favourite things about living here. It’s a great way of getting to know the locals, their mannerisms, and improving language skills. I recently felt like my linguistics was not where I wanted it to be. In my experience of learning Chinese, it takes long periods of feeling like I am not improving at all, until something clicks and I can suddenly communicate on a new level that had for so long eluded me. After spending a day in the markets I felt like I finally was able to ascend from the plateau I had been stuck on for so long. And on top of that, I got some amazing clothes!
I have always put great faith in Karma, and I’m happy to say that this week Karma did not disappoint. Following the misadventures I wrote about in my last post, I happened upon a bit of a lucky streak, which is particularly fortunate considering the magnitude of the fuck ups I made. To pick up where I left off in the last post, my bank account was acting rather mischievously, refusing transfers and the likes. I did manage to get my wages into my account, and got a new bank card. Which, despite what I thought I asked for, turned out not to be a debit card but an ATM card. Who the hell needs one of them in this day in age?! So when I went to book my flights to Shanghai online, I of course came across a spot of difficulty. As I’m watching the prices climbing up and up and up, whilst not being able to book the flight, panic started to set in. Thankfully, one of my friends from the school offered her credit card, if I could pay her in cash immediately. So I grabbed my purse, ran to the bank, jumped on a motorbike a sped over to her. She managed to book the flight for me just in time to get the last cheap ticket available. When I took out my purse to show her my card, and ask her if it could be used to make online purchases, I found that my card was not in my purse. “Well this is stupid, I was at the ATM 15 minutes ago, it has to be in here…”. Something I’m still not used to, Chinese ATMs keep your card until you press a button saying ‘return card’ at the end of the transaction. Which, in my haste to book the flight, I had forgotten. I had left my card logged into my account in the ATM in down town Sanya. With the remainder of my months wages inside. I was screwed. So I hopped back on another motorbike and zoomed back to the bank, where incredibly, my card was waiting for me behind the counter with every penny of my wages untouched in my account. I chastised myself as I walked back to my apartment, vowing I would not lose my head like that in future just because I’m over excited and not thinking clearly. This is the point where I realise that the keys to my apartment are not in my handbag. Oh, Grace, you have truly outdone yourself… “Ok, not to worry, I’ll just calmly go back up to my apartment and look to see if I dropped them somewhere…” Lo and behold there they are, still in the door of my undisturbed apartment. How is that even possible? Thank you Karma, I am your biggest fan.
Cultural Disparity and Cultural Relativity:
Every day I see how much easier it is to live here than Shanghai. Never in Shanghai could I leave the keys in my apartment and my card in an ATM and expect to see any of my belongings ever again! In fact there are many things about Hainan that make it such a welcoming new home, one of which is the language. Locals speak Hainanhua, one of the most difficult dialects of Chinese to understand, even for Chinese people. It barely follows the standard Mandarin (Putonghua) template. However the locals have gracefully acknowledged the ridiculously difficult nature of Hainanhua, so virtually everyone speaks Putonghua too. And they speak it beautifully. Women are referred to as 美女 (pretty lady) instead of the standard 小姐 (miss, or madam) of the mainland. Little differences like this reflect what I understand as a sort of looseness about society here. It definitely allows for wiggle room more than the regimental mainland. Everyone is just a little breezier and carefree here, it must be all the sunshine.
I have been in touch with a friend of a friend who was interested in coming to Hainan for work. I mentioned that my school has been struggling to find another foreign teacher, after a few email addresses were exchanged, and my principal asserted her interest, he applied for a position. The principal asked him to provide a video application, as he is Ukrainian; she wanted to check his accent and pronunciation. From my own experience with him, his English is immaculate so this should not have been an issue. He waited for a reply for over a week, and eventually asked me to get the ball rolling with her again. She had not, as it turned out, even looked at his application, let alone responded to him. It transpired that the school did not take him on because they feel the parents of students do not want a ‘Russian’ teaching their children. Now, this may or may not be the case, however the way in which this information was presented and moreover the manner in which this situation was dealt with made me question very deeply the motivations of institutions like my school.
Since I arrived the school has quite obviously been very understaffed re foreign language teachers. This has been voiced to me by several staff members including the principal on many occasions. I have been taking on more and more hours every week, which I don’t mind because the overtime pay is good, and I still have my contracted 2 days off every week. Now, however, I’m really starting to believe that the boys on top are trying to skimp out on hiring another teacher, because they know I am willing to shoulder enough extra students to make them a hell of a lot more money. Did I mention the proportion of money they take per class? Over half. Students are charged 200rmb/50 minute private class. I get about 85 of that. Yet, the demand for foreign English teachers here is incontestable. Just yesterday three people asked me to tutor them privately, just people I bumped into (one in the crappy elevator in my apartment, another in the clothes market, and the third was a woman who refused to pay the school 200rmb/class). So why are we treated in such a manner?
6 weeks ago I began to make plans to visit Shanghai for New Year’s Eve. I made my plans known to my principal, who informally agreed that we could make arrangements for me to take 2 or 3 days off at the end of December. I made sure these plans were reiterated every week or 2, just to be sure. I eventually got round to booking my flights on a Friday. I gave the dates to the school, who accepted. On the following Monday I received a phone call from the school asking me my availability to take on a new private student for one hour every other day for the next 3 weeks. I reminded them quite firmly that I have made plans to go to Shanghai for one week, and that the flights are already booked and that I absolutely will not be available for that time. And despite all of the conversations of the past few weeks, this information still seemed to take them aback. How can that be? Is it a respect issue? Have I been too accommodating by taking on so many hours outside my contract? Or is this just a cultural disparity issue that I don’t yet understand? Is it a money issue? If so, is that an issue that transcends cultures- still rude to value money over relationships (professional or otherwise) despite cultural relativity?? I’d be interested to hear some opinions on this. Please comment if you have any!
I took on the challenge of translating a short document I wrote to accompany my application to the Jameson Graduate Programme (which I am on absolute tenterhooks over, it’s my first time dabbling in a video medium, and I’m absolutely loving the possibilities already!). I asked one of my Chinese friends to help with some of the trickier bits, which proved almost impossible to translate even for her, because some things ‘just aren’t said’ in Chinese. What an insight into the culture, the reason people with linguistics have deeper insight. If a language has no way to describe something how can you communicate it? How can you discuss the colour blue if you have no word for it? Ah, the limitations of language. Presumably this is why many people are drawn to experiences that release you from the shackles of language, such as music, travel, or drugs.
Penultimately, here are some cool pictures of my trainer flying like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat in the last of the wind from the Philippine’s typhoon. Houhai last week.
Copyright: Grace Austin
Lastly, a short account of my day off:
Today was the first day off I have spent in Sanya. No kiting for me this week, I needed to take some time by myself, since I felt like things have been moving a little too quickly recently and I needed some time to catch up with myself. I woke up a little before noon, threw on shorts, a crop top, cardigan, scarf and headphones. Bag with a towel, camera, cigs. I strolled through streets down town in sun and light breeze considering proper etiquette for cigarette butt disposal, enjoying the luxury of having the time to consider such trivialities. I was somewhat detached from the real world, behind my sunglasses and noise cancelling headphones. What I’m sure is the best playlist in the world kept me distracted from the usual stares that being a foreigner in China attracts. The playlist is as follows:
There She Goes, My Beautiful World- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Who We R- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Broken- Depeche Mode
Personal Jesus- Depeche Mode
Hunger of the Pine- Alt-J
Crystallised- The XX
Cigarettes and Lonliness- Chet Faker
Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To- Kasabian
When music fades between songs I hear insane tinkly Christmas music coming from shops, and shouts of ‘Hello!’ from a group of lads on motorbikes smiling and waving. All the shop owners are wearing Santa hats, or ‘Christmas man’ hats, as my students would say. I am rescued and drawn back to into my bubble when the next song begins. Then I bought the most delicious creation to ever come out of a KFC- it’s an iced coffee with a big swirl of ice cream on top. Little observation number (? It must be at least a squillion by now): many more ‘Mccafe’ style kiosks here than I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. Interesting bit of adaptation for Asian markets, I wonder what it implies?
I was smoking cigarette outside the food hall where I was going to get sushi. A man walked up to me and asked if I can speak Chinese. He then said “I’d like to invite you to our free [something something something. No idea.]” “Sure, if you give me two tickets so my friend can come with me.” The ‘conversation’ continued in such a manner for a few minutes. ‘Do you understand what I’ve been saying?’ he asked me. ‘Oh, yeah!’ (No.) “How old are you? You have to be over 23 to go.” Well that solves that little episode of Lost in Translation.
When I went to buy sushi the lady in shop told me I had pretty eyes. I told her she was really pretty too. And then we laughed, and it was all awfully cute. I brought my sushi to the park, and sat in the sun for a while. Tonight we’ll go to rooftop bar at the Pullman to take some pictures of the sunset over the city. Tomorrow will go to Dadonghai beach to film some shots for my Jameson application video.
This fortnight has brought me a feeling of great contentment. I have been lucky enough to find the calm at the eye of the storm that is China, the order in the chaos.
Shanghai next week, stay tuned….
Watching: The Hours
Listening to: The BBC Radio 1 interview with Bombay Bicycle Club (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04t907h)
Reading: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance