Celebrating Teachers’ Day in China.

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Some days I really like China… Okay, I admit, those days are few and far between… I have not really shared many of these thoughts, trying to put a positive spin on things, ironing out the frustrations and exasperation.  But last Saturday I genuinely appreciated being here.

I have been a teacher in the UK and have been on the receiving end of kids’ whims, ingratitude and sheer bad behaviour.  It pretty much goes with the territory of being a supply teacher.  In return for putting up with noisy children, talking children, fighting children, I was let of the hook on the paperwork side.  A fair exchange, I believed.. But I never had the privilege of experiencing Teachers’ Day…

According to the Bible that is Wikipedia, the United Kingdom duly takes note of  ‘World Teachers’ Day’, but does not waste time nor energy on observing a proper ‘Teachers’ Day’, a special day in recognition of teachers and their formidable task of , over an extended period of many years, turning little ‘hooligans’ into useful, productive human beings.  Anyway,  I first heard about the existence of such a thing as ‘Teacher’s Day’  in a blog post from a fellow ESL teacher in Vietnam… There were no details about how the day unfolded, but clearly Vietnam is a country where teachers enjoy the high regard they deserve.  It is entirely possible that India reserves a similar respect for its teachers, but as its ‘Teachers’ Day’ celebration last year fell at the beginning of September when I was tackling the Himalayas in Nepal , I clearly missed it …

Back in China, after a long and well-deserved break, I (and my fellow foreign teachers at the school) received an invitation from the Head of English to a meal out…  Great, free food!  Of course, we were not going to decline; there is no such thing here as being paid during the holidays and next payday is not until Mid-October, so any freebies are gratefully accepted.   It was not until we arrived at the venue that we realised this was one of these Chinese formal dinners, with a million different courses and far too much booze and bottoms-up toasting…  The grand occasion: Teachers Day!  We shared our table not with the teachers from the  English department, whose skills include speaking English, but were seated with the P.E. teachers whose English amounted to just a nod and a smile…  On the upside, we all received presents and I am sure my thermos flask and two cups will come in handy someday…

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And then, on Saturday, it was the actual Teachers’ Day!!  Students – or their parents –  showered their teachers with flowers and gifts.  Fragrant lilies perfumed my flat, and rosy carnations added a splash of colour…  I brightened up an empty shelf with some of the greeting cards, although I am not entirely convinced that all the cards were intended for Teachers’ Day…  I have not yet dared to wash the canary yellow towel and flannel set just in case the colour runs…  But I am definitely cherishing my Wal-Mart gift card: every little helps to make ends meet until payday!

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But this is China… and every gift comes tagged with expectations.  Whereas Western teachers might interpret a gift as a token of thanks, not so in China.  When enquiring about the etiquette after receiving such a gift, my assistant put us in the picture, ‘Oh no, you do not need to thank them.  Parents expect that you will give their children special or preferential treatment in return… Just don’t tell anyone or make it obvious.’

In my case, they’ll be disappointed then.  I have long since forgotten which child brought flowers or a present, and I only ever remember the names of the naughty ones..and I sure as hell will not let those of the hook, no matter how big the gift!!!

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