Longtime readers may remember this post from August where I promised to keep the blog going with all sorts of things, including retroactive uploads of posts I wrote (or partially wrote) but never got around to cleaning and publishing; they may have also noticed that I followed this declaration up by not posting any content for a full three months.
But tonight, I thought I’d throw one on here. As is so often the case on the China Match, I’m doing this instead of going to sleep. Today, this is due to my having turned off the gas when I went grocery shopping this afternoon, and not remembering to turn it on until just now. You guys ever heard of the boiling frog myth? Replace the frog with me, and the slow boiling with a gradual cooling of my house; I didn’t realize until like, just now that I’m freezing. Mind you I am sitting here in a Northface® and even wearing those silly looking typing gloves (shoutout to my little brother Jack for the unexpectedly useful Christmas preset); it occured to me to put on these things far before I realized I should just, you know, turn my heater back on. I’m smart, I promise.
Anyway as a quick spoiler alert, most of you have probably heard this story before; it is one of my favorites and one that I never blogged so I told it several times. I like it so much because it is so patently ridiculous that it’s clear I couldn’t have made it up. But yeah, thankfully before the details of these two days escaped me I typed out a rough version in an email, all I have to do tonight is clean it up a little bit. I’m still going to leave it in the like, I-am-reeling-from-the-strangeness-of-this, stream of consciousness style though. New reflections and clarifications appear in parenthesis.

Ok China, what the hell.
This is too weird.
The scenario in which I was initially recruited to be an English teacher: last night Dan and I had to kill about an hour and a half before meeting our friend Cameron. (It occurs to me that I am very much doing what Cameron did this summer — namely assuming the role of an outsider breaking in on a coherent group of friends via a highschool connection). We knew Cameron would want to go to a bar but we also were both rapidly running low on funding and aren’t looking to drop 200+ kuai on getting drunk. So we came up with a solution, namely to get a bottle of good ol’ baijiu from the supermarket and drink it on the street. (Baijiu, incidentally, is a common Chinese liquor. It’s sorta like rice-based vodka, smells like gasoline, and doesn’t taste much better. Bottles can run anywhere from ten to ten thousand RMB. I’ll let you guess which end of that spectrum we were shopping in).
Dan’s stomach couldn’t take that for some reason (for some reason = we each took down a whole bottle while watching “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” the night before) so we went to the cheap beer store and we camped outside of it. (Said store, in a bid to outdo the destruction of the Korean alley for most-disappointing-part-of-Wudaokou, no longer offers the big 3 kuai Yanjings consumed by NU students all summer).
Literally sat on the street, drinkin’, people watching. I have Dan’s first empty beer bottle, a bottle of gatorade (best chaser ever), and an empty bottle of baijiu in front of me when this lady comes up with fliers. We automatically wave her away, but then realize she’s speaking in English and asking us if we’re interested in being teachers. After incredulously determining that she’s not just messing with us, we fill out her survey and concede that we have no real teaching experience. She isn’t phased in the slightest and invites us to come officially interview at the language center based on the edge of Qinghua’s campus. Takes our numbers but doesn’t give us one to call; says if the language center likes it then it’ll call us.

To their credit, I actually didn’t get called, but Dan did (he said he had a bit of experience teaching some English to little kids in the DR. Apparently this is close enough to tutoring what turned out to be PHD students for them to consider him qualified). Dan didn’t want to go, but before he hung up on them I had him ask them if I could go interview, just to see what the process was like. They say sure and Dan gives me their number. I call them later that day and they told me to be at the east gate of the school by 3:15 or something.

The 731. These were supposed to run one every 15 minutes. Several times a day though, they'd just send 3 at once every 45 minutes. This picture has two; one of them has already driven past me. Not particularly helpful.

Helpfully I mishear them and think they say Northeast gate. I get there at 3:20 or so because the 431 is the worst bus to ever exist. I call them and it turns out that I waited for the bus for nothing, because I’m supposed to be at the east gate, which is helpfully pretty much where the bus left from. I decide to hike it back down on foot, which turns out to be a poor decision because it’s the middle of August and Qinghua’s campus is gigantic. Takes fifteen, twenty minutes.

I eventually get to the office. They take me in, have me sit awkwardly for fifteen or so minutes, have me fill out another little sheet which asks again: “have you ever taught before?” I don’t lie (against all my instincts), I just put no. Zero experience. They ask me for what I want to be paid, I say 15 kuai, they ask if I mean 15 usd. They laugh at me when I say kuai. I asked way too low apparently. Anyway then they take this chick that’s been sitting in the room with me the whole time and they’re like “here’s your student. Go teach her a lesson.”

I mean, I’m wearing a t shirt and flip flops, sweating a lot because I’ve been walking around in 90 degree heat for a while. I have a backpack but it only has a laptop that can’t get on the internet on campus anymore and some other random crap in there; i’m clearly not prepared to actually teach anybody anything. I thought that I was coming to just fill out some paperwork and then maybe talk about what the potential job would entail in some sort of interview setting.

So I’m understandably pretty confused when they put me in a conference room with this girl and just say “teach English.”

I’m like well ok girl what do you even want to learn? How’s your English level, what do you need help with?

Her response is basically ‘hey fuck if I know just teach me some English.’ In perfect English. I get to know her for a second, talk to her about what she’s studying, how old she is. I quickly realize I have basically nothing to teach this girl. Tells me her English level is higher than most students, so I shouldn’t be worried about that. But yet she’s like yeah, so lets hear a lesson. So I tell her I don’t know how because that’s vague as hell and I have nothing to help me. She keeps telling me to relax, and just teach her stuff. Grammar? Pronunciation? Do you just want to talk? Role play? Everything’s ok apparently. So out of desperation at this point and I write a bunch of words that start with TH on the board because I know Chinese people are bad at making that sound (read: Pat Wang is bad at making this sound, and he is the best Chinese person, so if he can’t then nobody should be able to. I wish that this was further from being my real thought process than it was). Tried some “V” sounds too, because that’s a letter that Chinese doesn’t have, and the reason my name has to be KeWen here. She did both just fine. I had no idea what to do. She spoke English pretty dang well. I was like, do you want to do some work with the past tense and verb conjugations? (Chinese doesn’t have either of these, really, so this was as good a guess as any). And she’s like I already know all that…. super disconcerting. I mean she makes all the little mistakes that Chinese people always make; she omits little words and stuff but it’s hard to describe the scenario in which one would appropriately use awkward-to-translate words like “does.” (When pressed to translate it more fully than I was doing, I was like “how bout you translate 就 clearly for me first”. Not only is this a horribly childish way to act as a potential tutor, it was also somewhat of a cheap shot, because there’s no way in hell one can concisely define a word like that. Just look)

So what the hell am I supposed to be doing, yeah?

I wind up just talk to her about her Qinghua PHD program that she’s starting up soon. (To get into the Qinghua graduate school, you have to score exceptionally highly on an examination where one of the components is English, turns out.) Then they take me back out into this waiting room and they ask if I can come back tomorrow and teach people in half hour sessions for five hours? And I’m like, no – hey p.s. I am hella not qualified for this did you not just watch me fail miserably – and she wont hear a word of either. I tell her I’m just checking this out so I can come back and maybe do it in winter (I do not have time to do it this winter) and they clearly don’t give even one damn. They’re like come teach for five hours tomorrow and we’ll pay you and give you dinner. Which would be kinda tempting, but this was two days before my flight back to the states and I had better things to do.

In my best Chinese, I attempt to communicate that a) I dont understand this process at all b) we now both know I can’t teach English, particularly with zero preparation. Like, isn’t that apparent now? And they say something along the lines of “we’ll teach you how to teach” but first make a demo for these ten kids tomorrow. No matter that you don’t know them or their Chinese level. Just make some lessons and spit ‘em out for five hours and then we’ll start telling you how to stop sucking at it.

“Um lady I dont know how to make lessons why are you asking me for this i’ve already told you I can’t”

“Oh its fine you can just talk to them about whatever”

“The hell does that mean? What are they even looking to learn?”
“We’ll give you a list of topics and you just chat with them about them.” Oh.

I mean ok you liar you’ve said this whole time I was going to be teaching lessons not just chatting about random topics but I still am not coming to help you for five hours on my last day in china.

Long story short they are truly, truly desperate for anyone who can coherently assemble an English sentence or something because otherwise this doesn’t make any goddamn sense at all.

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