A foreign affairs officer once said that to renew the contract “the teaching must be really excellent”.
If they wish to sing that particular song, then I’ll let them, as long as we understand something: your position here is not based on teaching ability, hiring you wasn’t based on it, and the continued renewal of your “working contract”, has little to do with how “really excellent” your teaching is.
Paul came to join us at the second school a year after I did. He was a professor, by which I mean a real professor, with a real PhD. A real PhD. Imagine that. Following his wife’s passing, he’d taken an early retirement and looked for a small teaching job in the country on whose literature he’d written his dissertation. He found us.
He should have kept looking.
He came here, ran the oral English classroom like a class back in America. Needless to say, that didn’t last very long. There are certain types fit for oral English at a low-ranking university. Paul was certainly not one of them.
That’s not to say he didn’t enjoy his time here. On the contrary, Paul started a chess club, had great relationships with all his students, and what do you know, he even found a Chinese girlfriend.
That she was half his age should be no surprise to anyone. I’m not the man to judge whether it was a “real” relationship or not–she didn’t speak English, so all their arguments were in the local language. I’ll say that he loved her. Age gaps being what they are, they did love each other, and that’s enough for me.
It wasn’t for our coworkers, men who didn’t have PhDs. Men who did not appreciate the “special privileges” to which Paul had access.
It took a week or so.
Then Jack was after him.
Jack had come the same time as Paul. A former lawyer, whenever women were around he became a worldwide adjudicator who’d help write the constitutions for newly democratic Eastern European countries after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Apparent witness to several historical events, as well as a former bodyguard for high society women, and whenever he said this to a woman, he leaned in towards her, grinned those blackened teeth and raised his eyebrows exactly once.
Had a million different opinions on America, did this Jack, not a one of them positive. And despite proudly boasting that he’d never once set foot on ‘American soil’, he could still tell you about American society inside and out, about all its problems, about what a horrible, dreadful place it was to live in and how both it and the rest of Western civilization was going down while China rose.
Somehow, somehow, he understood China in some deep way none of us ever could. Of course, he did not consider himself Chinese. When he wasn’t telling you about the women he’d slept with or the BMWs he’d given up to come here, he was declaring himself a “fucking barbarian”. And when he wasn’t doing that, he was regaling you with his stories.
Wei Wei was around him once–and only once.
We ran into him one morning and after some long spiel about a supermarket cashier who’d come on to him, he mentioned that he had seen a couple young teachers out at the mall but had avoided them because they are “American”.
“They’re ‘American’, you know…” and he rolled his eyes in an animated way, or rather, whatever he did that passed for animated movement.
“Why does their being American matter?” Wei Wei asked.
Jack mumbled something about ‘joking’ and changed the topic. From there, we got wrangled into having lunch with him.
He went on with his stories, all of which I had heard a million times before. When you meet someone like Jack–and in the ESL world you will–the best thing to do is just nod in the right spots and pray for the storm to pass.
Which it did, but then Wei Wei asked him if his country executed as many people as China.
“Well what else are they supposed to do with all these fucking pedophiles!?” he roared. “They had this incident in some province near here. I think it’s Fujian. It’s near here this kindergarten teacher was touching little girls and they just took him out back during recess and—” He pantomimed shooting a kneeling man—“BAM, put a bullet right in his mouth. What the fuck else are you supposed to do with these pedophiles?”
Wei Wei just smiled her best pass-the-time smile. Jack went on.
“What the fuck else are you supposed to do with these pedophiles? Why they had this case with this kindergarten teacher taking his students out back and touching them, so they just took HIM out back and shot him. That’s just so logical. What else are you going to do? Let them live in prison for fifty years? Just take em out back and shoot em.”
He’s a tough man to argue with, isn’t he?
He organized a group dinner once. His idea, as far as he had one, was for all of us to become friends. We needed to unify, because the foreign affairs office was out to get us. He based this on a story he had begun spreading about how one time they were “two weeks” late on his salary.
Somehow we all assembled at a little backstreet restaurant. They often put large groups in their own rooms because dinner in China can get loud, and though there was only one empty vessel in our group, he naturally made the most noise…so we got our own room.
He rehashed story after story after story. He liked to have never shut up, and when he finally did, I took the opportunity to ask a young man how he was doing with his freshman students.
“Freshman?” Jack said. “The first time I taught freshman English, all the girls came up to me after class and asked if they could come home and fuck me.”
and we never had another group dinner.
Here’s the thing though: I don’t think Jack was telling a deliberate lie. Let me explain. When you teach Chinese college freshman, you’re probably the first foreigner they’ve ever met. They’ll want pictures after class, and with most English majors being female combined with the sort of man Jack is, the sort of life he has…well, he could start out with ‘they must think I’m cute’ and work his way down from there.
Far down, in his case.
Now, the special privileges I mentioned earlier, according to Jack, included a much higher salary for less work. I checked. Paul taught the same amount of hours as the rest of us. He did have a higher salary; ours was 4,000 RMB, his was 4,500. I guess that 500 RMB buys a lot of cigarette cartons. Or something else, something only the other teachers could see.
Later Jack would claim that Paul liked to touch his female students. That he referred to them as ‘niggas’, and that he had even encouraged one young lady to come back to his apartment and share some wine.
Somehow, our foreign affairs office got the idea that Paul was dating one of his students and letting her live in his apartment. Indeed he was letting his girlfriend live there, but she was not one of his students. He told them all this, and they just stared at him with that a blank expression…and told him not to bring her over anymore.
He did. They kept bothering him about it, to the point where he finally told them he’d have whomever he wanted in his apartment and they could deal with it.
And when time came to renew contracts, Paul’s was not among them.
They didn’t tell Paul ahead of time. When he checked on renewal, they’d just smile and tell him ‘soon’. Contract was up on June 30.
They told him on June 20.
He was horrified, outright crying at the prospect of leaving. China was his home. There was nothing for him back in the States. Of course, Jack had a field day with this as you can probably imagine, and it began to drift into his repertoire of Paul stories, each one more asinine than the last.
I don’t know if Paul found another job or went back home. He was gone though, much hurrah among The West’s unheralded gifts to humanity.