I’ve never felt like such a Laowai as I did last Friday when I went to an outside public school to teach a couple of English classes for some local kids. The school was about a 15 minute walk from where I teach, and it seemed to be nestled in an apartment complex and shopping compound. The school was typically quite a bit rundown, and the day was hot and sticky due to rain and 90 degree weather. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was excited and relieved to teach a new batch of students. My regular classes are the same students week in and week out, and most of the time I am more of an entertainer than a teacher, trying to keep the students engaged so the the kids will be happy and the parents will sign them up for a new semester. That’s one life lesson I have learned here. It is always better to provide a service to the person paying. Here, I’m providing a service, teaching, to the kids. The parents are paying, but they are more of a middle man. If at all possible always provide the service directly to the person paying, that way both sides expect production. In my case, the kids could really care less about English. Lesson learned, lesson learned. I’ll have to write a whole post about that. At least at the public school, where I was essentially putting on an infomercial, there was no expectation of learning since I’m only there for 40 minutes a class every 2 months.
So the school is set up in a big square with an empty courtyard where the students play. We got there about 5 minutes before the bell sounded between classes, so we were kinda just standing around waiting. Then the bell rang. About 100 students come pouring out of the classroom and straight to see me. You would have thought an alien had landed. The kids all circled around me, wanted to touch my arms and just me in general, and treated me as though I was some strange creature that landed from a distant planet. It was rather disconcerting, but I was told to expect it.
The classroom was austere and spartan. Oh yeah, it was also brutally hot and I had a couple of 40 minute infomercials to put on.
All of the kids were incredibly excited as I entered and started teaching. I had two teaching assistants with me, one of them being my friend Jack, who has very good English. Here is a picture of Jack and I at shane, he has his desk by me:
All and all I really enjoyed the lesson because the kids were fun. I really liked the class size; even if a couple of kids weren’t paying attention, so what, there are 40 others. I guess I just am tired of seeing my same kids every week, trying to find new ways to keep them entertained. With the outside locations, I won’t see these kids for 2 months. I’ll be hitting a different school every week, not at all unlike a traveling circus. The TA’s passed out a lot of brochures and hopefully the school will pick up some new students.
The school has really been advertising intensely, handing out fliers at various campuses and giving free demos like mine to several nearby locations. We foreign teachers are left out of the business side of the school, but my impression of the operation and of the neighborhood in general is that everybody is beginning to feel the effects of a slowing economy. Parents are less willing to pay for more than one semester at a time and are bargaining much harder with prices. If there are siblings taking classes together they share or copy a book, whereas I didn’t see this when I first came in. This all points to a larger issues facing the country as whole.
China’s economy is experiencing significant headwinds as it tries to transition into a more sustainable economic model. When I first got here cranes were building non stop. Now construction sites lay abandoned, with the cranes frozen as gigantic monuments to a construction boom that may have run its course. Gee, a massive construction boom backed by government loans leads to a risky and dangerous economic situation. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The historic 20 year run as the world’s factory is coming to an end, and with that will come enormous economic and social pressures.
The legitimacy of the Communist Party for the past two decades has been tied to economic growth, with the belief that the rising tide lifts all ships. Now, however, China has to take that next step in building a domestic consumer economy. Never before has such a transition happened with so many people and in as a compressed time frame like China faces. Growth is slowing and China needs to transition to a more diversified consumer based economy before it gets caught in the middle-income trap like so many hopeful states before it. There is a reason this is happening. A soft landing is the best that the world can hope for.
On an unrelated note, due to the paucity of anything in Wuxi worth seeing, I’m using my free time constructively by taking several online classes on Coursera. They are rather enjoyable, I have taken everything from Metabolism in Athletes to Creative Problem Solving. Right now I am taking a Rhetorical Writing course from Ohio State University. Papers will be peer reviewed and graded by TA’s, so I’ll actually have stuff to turn in. It sounds fun and will involve a lot of writing over the next 8-10 weeks and I’m pretty enthused about it. All free of course, I just have to get around the sensors to watch the video lectures. So is life in Red China.