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Don't ask, don't tell

I was tidying up my desk today when I came across one of the letters written by my students for the 'Secret Box', a somewhat crude feedback mechanism I tried out in a lesson last semester. It was uncommonly witty.

Dear James:

Ehh....It's a good day, isn't it? Actually, I think your teaching methods are very nice, and I like it. So I have nothing want to write. I'm sorry for wasting your time to read my letters. [sic]

However, other students had something to say, good and bad.

Next semester I will adopt a more scientific approach and give the students a form devised by another teacher called James, sent to me recently. But I'll put the Secret Box away and pull it out before next semester - if I'm still teaching somewhere- so I can study its sobering advice more carefully.

I had some good classes yesterday, Claire sent me this message:

please prepare the key of 206 i will go to fetch it soon

I had the key but this was awkward timing because I was on the way to a lesson. I rang her back, she didn't answer her phone but she called me half way through the lesson, wondering why I wasn't in my room. Claire has done this once or twice before and I remain puzzled as to why it doesn't occur to her that I might be teaching, shopping, up town etc. But puzzles have solutions and I guess it's something to do with the synapses.

So she asked where I was, I told her North Building, room 404. She asked me if I could meet her outside the classroom, I said no problem. Then she texted me.

north building?

I texted back.


She rang me to say she'd gone to the South Building. Could I come down? So I left my class, ran down from the 4th floor, walked half way to the south building. When I got down there she asked if I was still teaching, I had just told her I was in class.

I know the whole experience of meeting Claire is probably karma. I do see her in myself sometimes. Maybe I'm just looking at my own reflection. If so, I am a tall and slim woman with brown wavy hair.

But seriously, I see parallels. I understand her being student-phobic, I am too. There is not a day that goes by- NOT A DAY- where I can walk across the campus without being the object of another student's amusement. The double take, nudge a friend, make a comment and laugh routine. The gang of students who wouldn't say boo to a goose as individuals, but are enboldened by being in a group, spot the foreigner, make a joke about him and all laugh uproariously. And the ever present hello that is not said to your face.

Earlier in the say as I was going up the stairs and I heard 'Hello, how are you today?" Was it being said to me, or to my face? No, but by a student just a few steps in front to her friend and laughing and then glancing back at me. To her, this is an original joke, but it's the same one that occurs to all her compatriots. I must say, I don't remember the laugh at the foreigner thing being quite so bad in Hailar, although the spitting was much worse there, so you can't have everything. In fact, it was impossible to venture out my apartment block in Hailar without hearing someone expectorate, here one is not so blessed.

Though it was in Hailar that a teacher asked me why I didn't say hello to students. I replied that they often didn't do it my face and it's clear to me that if a greeting is not done in front of one, then one is losing face.

I'm talking about this because it's just constant background noise here and one of the things that you have to contend with. But of course, we are in China because there are many silver linings. This semester we're supposed to be doing English corner but so far, students and staff alike have all quietly forgotten about it. We're not going to push the matter.

Posted by safemouse 20:36 Archived in China

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I know exactly what you mean about the spitting. Here in Wuhan there are countless gobs on the pavement and I have to keep my head down or I'll trip on something. Still get the 'hellos' from behind though.

by Jo2012

Thanks for dropping in and feeling my pain! I try not to moan too much about stuff like this but sometimes I talk about it because it's an integral part of life in China.

by safemouse

No problem, I've been reading your blog for quite a while. Helps me get through my time here.

by Jo2012

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