Americans in China

I was listening to This American Life on NPR, which featured a segment on American expats in China.There are a lot of interesting topics covered in the program. There’s even an interview with Kaiser Kuo, a heavy metal musician in Beijing, who contributed to an issue of Terracotta Typewriter. The show is definitely worth a listen.

One line early on in the program stood out: “I’ve often felt like a performing monkey on stage.”

View from my first apartment in Nanshan district
View from my first apartment in Nanshan district

What’s interesting about that line is that it’s the same thing many foreign ESL teachers say about their jobs. Most schools hire foreigners to entertain children rather than to teach, which explains why most foreign teachers have absolutely no English education training.

At my first job, a fellow teacher and friend who had master’s degree in TESOL was told that he didn’t play enough games in class, despite the fact that his students performed the best during a speech competition. Yet, the most popular teacher by far was a young Canadian who spent most of his class time tossing a ball into the center of the room for students to fight over.shenzhen

Interestingly, I was never invited to appear on TV. That was probably because I didn’t speak Chinese fluently and didn’t hang out in the larger expat areas. I rarely went out to the coffee shops, restaurants, and bars of Futian and Luohu districts that catered to the expat crowd. That was also where most of the TV stations were located. I was happier having a few beers and barbecue with my friend at the Xinjiang restaurant across the street from my apartment — the staff was always friendly.

Sometimes I think that I had a different lifestyle than most expats in China. I wasn’t a backpacker like many of the foreign teachers who jumped from job to job in different countries. I also wasn’t there for business purposes, like the ones I often met when I went out to bars and coffee shops.

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