Rumor has it that European women do not want to have more than four children because every fifth person in the world is Chinese. In our western minds, we associate Zhōngguó with its huge population, the Great Wall, fake products and conical straw hats. But these opinions appear prominent among the White who have never visited the Middle Kingdom themselves and who base their philosophies of life on folk fairytales. In an attempt to eradicate my own ignorance, I drafted a blurred, but bold plan in my mind and I attended a short Chinese course. Soon after, I was overcome with the desire to visit this amazing country with a long and ceaseless history; and this desire never left me. This was why a year later I was packing my suitcase in front of my silent mother who could not believe my ‘insane’ decision. I promised that one day I would be back. Thirty hours later, I arrived in China and the adventure began. Now, sitting in a wooden armchair and breathing the warm and humid air of Guangdong, I can reconsider all information about this country. The humble and untarnished China, together with its magnificent history and culture, is an unquestionable paradise for a foreign teacher.
No sooner had I arrived at my target destination, Zhaoqing, than I experienced the legendary Chinese hospitability. Two ladies were waiting for me in a car and they began enthusiastically waving at me when they saw me get off the bus: the Caucasian that they had spotted must have been that new Polish teacher. The two women introduced themselves as the Foreign Affair Office worker and my student assistant (in hindsight, I should call the latter ‘the irreplaceable student assistant who is always willing and ready to help me). They gave me a ride to my double-room apartment and instructed me how to use the equipment. It was late. The bed welcomed my tired spine after 30-hour voyage and the exhaustion itself immediately sent me to the zone of Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. The next day my student assistant treated me to breakfast and we had a short trip around campus. It was the first time I met my potential students who all live in this enclosed area. Over 20,000 young and energetic souls gathered together was a promise that I would never get bored on campus. The students smiled at me, muttered shy ‘helloes’ and snapped unannounced pictures. Since my arrival two months ago, I have been invited to around 100 free Chinese courses and an innumerous lunches and dinners. My Chinese is not fluent enough to make sure that there is the word ‘no’ in the lexicon of this language but my students seem not to know this word. If I ask them about any little help, they always say ‘yes.’
The Chinese reaction to me cannot be described. I could not imagine that 183cm and 83kg of a white man could be that interesting for Asians. Curiosity killed the cat; the curiosity of the people here is killing my eyes. Even now I am squinting my eyes which have suffered over 500 flashes of the Chinese cameras. The people here find me as unique as the last dinosaur and sometimes being white is even enough to get a part-time job. This is why the Batman starring at you below is no one else than the humble author of these words. When I want to work out at the gym, there will always be a group of students encircling me and exclaiming jiāyóu. It is easy for me to find a free court to play basketball myself but at the same time it is impossible to enjoy the game alone as there are always students willing to play with me and I do love it. The canteen is yet another such mysterious place that makes my friends appear out of nowhere to sit at my table. It goes without saying: the Chinese always want to take care of me and they will never let me feel lonely and this support is appreciated.
Not only are the Chinese themselves a source of my excitement but also the local food and natural surroundings make me feel at home in a remote place. In Poland, the temperature today will not exceed 5°C whereas here, in Zhaoqing, I am enjoying blue skies and 23°C. Polish trees without any foliage are as scary as skeletons but here I can see the first dry palm leaf about to fall. My university lies in a valley between two close mountain chains towering above it. The town itself is cut by a river as if it supplied Zhaoqing with life-giving blood. A few lakes and ponds make the place an irrevocable paradise for the Polish newcomer who fancies fishing. When it comes to fish, the Chinese dietary habits are unusual for Europeans. It is said that in the Southern Chinese will eat anything that flies but airplanes. I do not agree; they would eat airplanes if they knew how to do it with kuài zi. Eating chicken claws or snakes may be a little disgusting but dogs or turtles as my potential lunch sound like a pure act of cannibalism as I used to keep the both species as my pets.
Finally, my teaching adventure here is almost nowhere to be found in Europe because, bizarre as it sounds, ‘the Chinese students study to study’. Most Polish students treat college as a perfect time and place for entertainment so I had to come back to the very etymology of the word ‘study’ to realize that this lexical term has a more serious meaning than ‘partying’ or ‘avoiding the army.’ Thus, instead of ‘study to have fun,’ the Chinese approach college in a mature way. Despite being overburdened by a lot of classes, usually over 30 periods a week, they find free time to study. What is more, they willingly join a great range of extracurricular activities, be it a dance or Polish class. Finally, they spend their little spare time with friends without alcohol, which I find refreshing as in Europe very often the words ‘alcohol,’ ‘free time,’ and ‘friends’ overlap and are never separated. There is probably no better epithet to describe my Chinese students than ‘pure hard-workers.’
It is time I finished my short line of thoughts. Again, my students invited me to play badminton and I cannot resist their charming offer. The China I know gave me a warm welcome and it wants me to be a small lever of its gigantic economy and an unnoticed dot in its world’s longest continuous history. But I promised to come back to Poland and I will. I will go to Poland to say ‘hello’ to my mom, pack more of my clothes and say ‘goodbye.’ Then, I will head towards China again.
By Filip Jacek Klak
Polish teacher teachingPolish, English oral and writing and miniature since Sep, 2013