This New Chapter
June 30, 2010 § 7 Comments
When I got a forward from my youth pastor about a summer volunteer/missionary program in China a few months ago, I skimmed over it without much thought. After being laid off and suffering the stress of eventually being kicked out of the student dorms, I started to consider the position more seriously, and decided to take it up as something useful to do with my life, a stark contrast to the sheer idleness of June.
I was accepted without much ado, and as my date of departure crawled closer, I tried not to think about how I was going to a strange place by myself where the strangers I was meeting might or might not kidnap me for ransom [stories fed to me by my cousin…]. The night before leaving, I slept for two hours because I was so busy packing and doing laundry and stressing about how I would stuff a whole semester’s worth of living into my suitcase.
The trip to Shenzhen airport went smoothly, as I had already taken that bus before. In line for customs, I stood in front of three middle-aged Chinese people who were speaking an unfamiliar dialect. The man kept inching in front of me as they were conversing, and even motioned for the two women to join him once he placed himself entirely in front of me. They didn’t move, and eventually he retreated behind me, letting me back in front of him with a gesture that made it seem like he was going me a favor. He didn’t even notice his rude behavior?
On the flight, I had the misfortune of sitting next to an asshole: He had the aisle seat, and his beady eyes looked up at me coldly when I motioned to the window seat and said, “Excuse me” in English. Shoot, I thought, and switched to Chinese, which doesn’t come naturally on two hours of sleep. “I’m sitting on the inside,” I mustered eventually. “So what?” he replied obnoxiously. My brain didn’t register his hostility in time to formulate anything other than a muttered “Well, could you stand up…” Thankfully, he roused his fat self from the seat wordlessly. The guy who sat between us didn’t even bother with an exchange and simply climbed over him, which I was definitely not willing to do. The mean one also stood up immediately when the plane landed and wouldn’t sit even when the flight attendants told him to. Seriously…what’s the rush?
The Yiwu airport is tiny; I saw no other planes when we landed, and there are a total of two baggage claim belts. Makes me miss O’hare. According to Wikipedia [which is blocked in China], Yiwu is “famous for its small commodity trade and vibrant free markets and is a regional tourist destination.” I’m not sure who edited the Wiki page because it also says “Yiwu’s early culture has given birth to many great figures in the fields of literature, art military, education, and engineering. Among these were … Wang Lee Hom, a very famous singer.” Not sure what that’s supposed to mean, since he’s Taiwanese-American… Another tidbit: “Yiwu is also known as the “sock town” as it produces over three billion pairs of socks for Wal-Mart, Pringles and Disney annually.” [That’s good news; I need some new socks.]
Mark, a polite young man with a goatie, picked me up from the airport with the church van and brought me back to the church building 15 minutes away. We climbed five [exhausting] flights of stairs up to my room, which was spacious and furnished with two queen-size beds and a private bathroom.
He also took me across the hall to meet Hannah, the coordinator [and apparently the only English speaker on the premises]. She tried to acquaint me with the situation — the students are mostly 20 to 30-year-olds studying mythology or theology at the local seminary. Hannah introduced me to a few of them at dinner, which takes place 3-4 hours earlier than I’ve become accustomed to eating in HK. They all refer to me as 老师 [teacher], which is off-putting because I’m younger than most of them.
From what I understand, the students take classes five days a week at another location; like, we actually have to move there for those five days, then come back on the weekends [wtf]. There was supposed to be a family coming to teach them English as well, but the mother fell ill in another city, so I will have to be teaching for an indeterminate number of days on my own for 5-6 hours a day. Lord help me…
In my recent memory, I’ve never taught English before, unless having a conversation partner counts; frankly, that kind of situation is more of what I was imagining this position to be, not having to stand at the front of a classroom for hours a day. I’m really not more qualified than these students in any way except for the fact that I’ve grown up speaking English, a skill I didn’t ask for that they all crave. I have the burden freedom of creating my own curriculum, and from the looks of their textbook, most of the students are still at level one. I’m straining to remember how I first learned French all those years ago…
The optimistic side of me wants to do my best to serve these people who are feeding and housing me. Three weeks can pass by very quickly if the past month is any hint. But I’m scared! And nervous! And I hate talking! Especially in front of groups! And I hate being the center of attention! And Youtube videos load really really really slowly on this wifi connection! Please pray for me and my spiritual well-being as I google ways to teach effectively :X