Sunday, 16 November 2008

A Day in the Life of a Wenzhou Web Teacher

Today -- being the first day of my working week -- began on a bad note. I was almost run over by a motorbike while I walked to work. The road was clear, so I crossed. Then, out of nowhere a bike came directly at me. There was probably a horn used, but considering so many drivers use their horns all of the time, it serves no function anymore. I have completely stopped listening to it. The bike braked right at my leg making a minor impact. It hurts a little as I sit down now, but it is almost nothing. The whole event was like hitting your leg against a cupboard as you walk out of a room. I was standing in the middle of the road with the bike directly to my left, the driver -- a man -- just starred at me with no emotion. I was waiting for him to say "dui bu qi" (sorry), but nothing came. A lack of common decency is one of the few things that can really get to me. I spoke a couple of expletives (in English), and walked onwards to the hotel.

The road in question, with a similar looking bike making its way towards me again

When I arrieved at Web I was shown my timetable for the day. It displayed six classes, with one of those being the "demo class" for students of Wenzhou University. Again, I wasn't happy. I could not believe they were giving me the responsibility of this demo, and then giving me five classes on top of it. How could they expect me to do a good job when they don't give me any time to prepare anything?

I started to think that the day could not get anyworse, when somehow my luck began to change. My first two classes were really enjoyable and we had a good chat, my mood was totally reversed. When I finished my second class I was told that the time of the demo was wrong on my timeteble, so another teacher would have to take my class. Even better (not for poor Johann though). Afterwards, I had a nice lunch with Kimi, and returned to the hotel to prepare my demo class. They had given me a topic that I had to talk about: "How to improve English". I found some websites and made a simple power point presentation. Just as I finished the lot, it was time to go into the English Corner room to start.

I expected the level of the students in this class to be generally better than what I am used to. Also, because they were all university students I hoped that they would be much more talkative as a group. I stood on the small stage in the English Corner room, introduced myself, and after ten minutes found out that they were just the same kind of audience I have become accustomed to. It was me talking a lot while I tried to retrieve a conversation from them, the words 'blood' and 'stone' came to mind. Thankfully three students in the room were asking questions and joining in. The rest just didn't understand a thing I was saying or were too embarrassed to say anything. It was tough, but after forty minutes we got something going and they started to relax with me a bit. I wrapped up the class, said goodbye, and continued to my next one, an "Ice Breaker", the lowest level at Web.

An example of what it is like teaching in the English Corner room -- with me and Johann

Somehow a class about "Time" became quite enjoyable, well I had fun anyway. We practised saying the "th" sound as in "three" for about ten minutes. One woman just couldn't get it and kept pronouncing it as an "s" sound, so "thank you" turns into "sank you" -- a common mispronunciation in China. Also, in my final class we had a nice conversation about travelling too.

I walked home feeling that I had actually had an enjoyable working day at Web. Recently I have become to tire of the routine of each class, the topics coming around again and again and again (if I get the planets one more time I am going to go insane). The working day starting at 1pm and finishing at 9pm is starting to grate, and the fact that so many students have no desire whatsoever to learn English is wasting my time. Thankfully, today was a good one, I hope tomorrow is too.


大眼睛熊 said...

Hey baby,i had a bad feeling when u called me right after u left home for work,thank god u werent hurt! Some chinese bikers just never look when they're on the road,they think they're blessed by god so they can ride their bikes any way they want and never get hurt or hurt anybody!!! You really need to be more careful now!! xxx

Wayne Chao said...

wow,sorry for hearing u got a bad day though u still try to be upbeat, i really have no idea with the terrible traffic of wenzhou,just take care!
btw,sorry for your disappointment to the students in wenzhou university as well,even if i am of them,i have to admit that some of my schoolfellows' english level can be really really low,but there are also some better mates,then maybe they needn't going to Web^_^

Mabel Poon said...

Oh Chris! Be careful when u cross the road. It's not worth to get hurt in that way! Are u ok now?

I know teaching without preparation is scary, but u have done a great job!

Chris said...

Thank you for the comments guys. I'm completely OK, there was very little pain involved at all. It was a minor minor accident really. I do agree that most of the motorists think they are completely invincible! I will be more careful from now on (even though I'm usually too careful anyway because I'm so clumsy ;)).

No need to say sorry Wayne for the students of your university. I think most of them were studying other subjects than English, and probably struggled to understand most of what I was saying. It's usually like that in the beginning anyway. You're right, the ones that are great at English don't even need to come!!

Anonymous said...

I often feel teaching english is a waste of time, so I get how you feel.

My biggest concern is the longer we do it, what does it help qualify us for working in the UK? I've done a summer teaching in England,three years in China at various levels and a couple of months here since leaving Uni. I can't afford to do further study in the UK for a year, economic reality. And living in some crummy bedsit doesn't appeal either.

Sorry for having a moan. Could you see yourself staying in Wenzhou forever? I certainly wouldnt come back to Oman again!!


Chris said...

I've been worrying about exactly the same thing for a while now Alex. I have my plans for the future but I just don't know how to put them in action. For some reason I just ended up writing a blog entry about the very same thing which is a coincidence.

The truth is, I would hate to go back to living in England right now, but I am worried about the future. I don't know what I am going to do. I definitely do not see my self staying in Wenzhou forever, I'm going to see how things go next year and go from there.....!

Anonymous said...


I hear ya, I also considered taking an old chinese gf back to Europe, but how the hell can one chinese person get a schengen visa? And what job could she do, which means all the onus would be on me to provide and support for her.

Sure, that is a mans burden, but financially its not an option for me. Teachers dont make donald trump money, do they?

Wayne Chao said...

I really amdire your guys' patience!!i have some english-speaker friends who teach in language school or uni,so i know exaclty what their work is about!and i talked one of them once,i said how can u be tolerant of those students who act so badly in class,some of them are totally have no desire to english well,and they didn't respect the teacher at all.then my friend told me he just imagine there must be someone who doesnt like his teaching style,or maybe they're not so smart as he is,so they cannot understand him...
^_^i know this is kind of weird,but my friend think it worked.and even if u go for another kind of job,u still need to deal with stupid people,cos they're all around.

Chris said...

Good point Wayne. I think wherever we go we will stumble upon the same kinds of people.

I hate the travel restrictions in China. It's totally not fair now, especially because a Hong Kong citizen can easily travel anywhere, but the mainland still get stuck with all of these problems.