Breakneck pace and confusion add to frustrations for UDM grad teaching in China

UDM graduate Jon Krause is living and working in China. He is sharing his experiences through this column.

By Jon Krause


Exhausted. Confused. Cranky. Scared. After a series of transports adding up to 18 hours of travel, I stepped outside into a world very unlike my own.

The bus puttered away and I starting looking for my guide. My girlfriend and I had been told this guide would be waiting for us. Alas, we were completely alone.

Welcome to China: The land where nothing ever happens the way you plan it.

It was dark, and we were not in a very well developed area. The buildings loomed over me menacingly, while a cacophony of Chinese characters blared at me from all directions, almost as if they were teasing me with their unknowable interpretations.

What to do?

After about 10 minutes we started walking. Oh, how people stared at us!

We were not in a city that gets foreigners often. Dodging people trying to sell us trinkets, and ignoring people obviously taking pictures of us, we made our way down the road.

Asking for help in my almost completely illiterate Chinese led nowhere.

Was this the end for us – an adventure chopped down before it could even begin?

Just as all hope was finally lost, a red jeep came tearing up the sidewalk at us.

Great, I thought, I'm going to be run over by a drunk driver.

At the last second the car veered to our side, stopped and a tiny woman popped her head out.

“Are you Jon and Laura?” she asked in exasperatedly broken English.

Our guide, it turns out, had looked up the wrong flight, and thought we were going to be late. She had been waiting in the parking lot for three hours and then, after her hunger got the best of her, had left in search of late-night dumplings.

Why show up early if she thought we were going to be late?

This, in its purest essence, is China.

Never mind the language differences or the cultural differences. These factors combine into a total disconnect in Western and Eastern thinking. The result: things that are jaw-droppingly maddening every single day.

After seven months, I would like to tell you that you get used to it. But that would be an utter fabrication.

My teaching job is never predictable. I have had classes cancelled, moved, rescheduled and reversed, and kids moved to different rooms. Sometimes all in one day.

Recently, we were informed that we had to teach at a “winter camp.”

These days would include eight hours of straight teaching with no break – after being given 10 days to prepare.

We had to come into work, but not teach for 10 days. Ultimately, we only needed two lessons for the camp, so the 10 days were a waste.

I won’t lie. Confusions in China can be frustrating.

I admit that I’ve lost my cool more than once.

From the right frame of mind, though, the breakneck pace at which things change can be seen as an exciting and fast-paced style of life that is downright addicting.

Next time: Frog guts