Taking the lao wai home

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March 29th 2011
Published: March 29th 2011
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The teaching gig has ended, for me anyway.

The language school (henceforth to be referred to as “those rat bastards”) opted to end my contract just two weeks short of completion. This was a shock to my co-workers but especially to me. Abrupt, early termination is quite common among the language mills: end the contract and then they don't have to pay the agreed-upon airfare home. The language mill franchise is a “for profit” business after all and they don't teach kids out of the goodness of their hearts. I am out nearly $1000, and for that, I am bummed big time. Of course, I am also saddened, bewitched, bothered and bewildered , though I know that it was strictly an issue of money, not my teaching. My students love me, the parents were happy and their feedback was, overall, quite good.

Towards the end though, Weishan itself had worn out its welcome with me. After the Aussie had fled China and gone back to his Uni, I was the only foreigner left in Weishan. I was left with nobody to talk to, was often the object of unwanted staring by rubes and I was getting pretty close to running out of butter.

After living in China for six months, I can't honestly say that I know much of anything about it. I was isolated in a small, gray, flat town in a rural area miles from anywhere of importance and didn't have contact at all with the rest of China. I can only tell you about Weishan. It is, in my eyes, a town with little to offer the portly foreigner and besides, finding Mexican food in Weishan is impossible.

On the other hand, the people of Weishan are happy with Weishan: there is no crime to speak of, it has a cheap cost of living and comparatively little traffic. There are groups of middle-aged women in the park who do synchronized exercise to the bleats coming out of a tinny boombox, there's free ballroom dancing under the streetlamps for couples in the evening, elderly men who bring their caged birds out for a walk in the park every morning. Weishan is, in general, a slow, family-centric community. One with way too many firecrackers, but not a bad place except for that tiny language mill owned by “those rat bastards”. Overall, the people of Weishan were nice to me and I will miss my students. I know that I made a difference in their lives.

I packed up my stuff, got on the night train to Beijing and checked into a very nice hostel.

I spent the first few days enjoying the clean sheets, hot showers and didn't really go outside all that much. After sufficient decompressing, I went out to explore by Beijing subway (wonderful, clean, modern, efficient and quiet), shop the markets, eat Peking Duck and even shopped for a turtle. (One turtle: ¥ 5). I also committed tourism and went on an organized tour: as I write this, my feet, my calves and the rest of my cattle are sore from hiking a steep section of the Great Wall. The turtle is busy making new friends here in the hostel's Koi pond. I fly home shortly.

Will I teach again? Most likely so, and I'll probably teach again in China too.

Just not in Weishan. They eat turtles.


29th March 2011

Would you be interested in teaching in Mongolia?
29th March 2011

enjoy your tour
good luck
29th March 2011

The End?
As a 33 year old, in the middle of contemplating a life change and moving overseas to get certified in TEFL, I've been following your journey since the beginning. I'm sad to see it's come to an abrupt end. You said you'd like to teach again, but have you begun your search for the next gig? Are you excited to come back to the states? So what's next? My biggest fear is making the leap into ESL, only to have the rug pulled out from under me and having nothing to come back to.
30th March 2011

contract end
Wow, sucks that they cut you loose like that! I have enjoyed these glimpses into small-town China and the life of an itinerant English teacher. Safe travels home.
31st March 2011

Karma Bank
Joe, you deserve better treatment. And you may be pleased to know that you get extra interest in your Karma Bank account for not letting the rat bastards get you down (OK, a little, but we're human). My suspicion is that there are better jobs in better ESL places for an experienced teacher. With my list of amazingly real titles and cool letterhead, I am ready to support your applications. Now get the hell back to California -- the wildflowers and waterfalls are going crazy. Oh, and you are a great travel writer. May you walk your bird in peace some day...
7th April 2011

Rat bastards! Enjoy the Peking duck and hot showers, and safe travels home.
10th April 2011

finally...GOOD Mexican food?
So where are you now? And are you actively looking for job openings in Asia? By the way, my uncle Charles has been teaching English in Korea for at least 20 years. He had been a college professor in his native state of Oklahoma....and then left; to the consternation of his 7 brothers and sisters who are very conservative and probably scared of....oh....Peking duck and good Mexican food. My father, for example, went to Senor Fish here the other day. A very well known family-run restaurant, with lots of great seafood. The scallop burrito is my favorite. And he ordered, drum roll please, a cheese enchilada. But uncle Charles? He broke the mold. We see him maybe once every two years. He likes Korea and he's stayin'. A camping trip to Tecate with 'the guys' is planned for the last weekend of this month. You would certainly be welcome. Adios.
20th September 2011

I'm glad
You came home.

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