Motivations

A minor rant, enjoy or avoid at your own risk.

Why do I write? Why do I post my thoughts and adventures and scattered disconnected near-incoherent musings up here for others to see? Why not just keep them within myself or, even if I decided to write, simply save the writings on my computer or in a journal?

I’ve realized that I have a near-constant urge to share things about myself, an affliction common to those of my generation (witness the popularity of sites like Facebook and Twitter). This urge is unexplainable, almost primal as it manifests itself on my outpourings on this blog and to my friends here in Xining. It’s as if I have a strangely vital need for others’ viewpoints, or even at times their sympathy, to process what happens to me. I don’t always feel this way; while in college, at home, or really anywhere else in the states, I feel as if I can share more selectively. But the feeling of needing to share, needing to communicate these things really comes out here in Xining. I live alone. While some foreigners live nearby, they are few and far between – and often too busy to talk. There are many things that I simply can’t discuss with local friends, no matter how good our friendship. I truly enjoy living here in Xining, but there are times when, despite being the center of attention wherever you go, the loneliness of being a single foreigner really creeps into my bones and sits there, tingling incessantly like the porchsitting old man’s before a heavy storm.

This feeling of loneliness not only makes me want to communicate more of my life with others, but makes me feel each event in my life (no matter how small) more profoundly and personally. This is partially because I am not always able to fully process these events on my own, but also because in my isolation I feel a given moment, a certain event with all of its attached emotions, meanings, and resonances, more directly and ultimately fully than I otherwise would. In my isolation in front of a rowdy classroom, I feel a lack of support for what I’m doing which is absolutely total. Everyone – from the administrators to the other teachers to most of the kids – would be happier if I wasn’t there, and therefore try to ignore my presence. The administrators wish I could be displayed to the parents at the  beginning of the year, then hidden in a closet for the rest. The other teachers see me as teaching an unnecessary class which takes away from their class time. The majority of the students really don’t want to be in my class; their parents, after paying five thousand kuai in tuition per semester, made them come. If I’m so fully unsupported and unwanted, I often think, why don’t I just quit now?

These are the kinds of thoughts that make each classroom event (and things that happen outside the classroom; I’ve found that my classes greatly influence my overall mood) push my emotional buttons so directly. And, in turn, what motivates me to spill my emotional beans to my friends and write incoherent outbursts on this and other media.

This motivation to share everything with others was particularly strong for me this afternoon, in which I had several horrible classes back-to-back. My first class, the notorious senior 2 class 14, was so obnoxiously noisy (cell phones, singing, drinking games, etc) that, even after sending out the worst offenders and making several kids stand up at the back of the class, we still only got through one vocabulary word in the first fifteen minutes of class (after which I left to get their head teacher). My second class was rowdy but fine; the only thing about them that angers me is their predilection for doing homework for other classes instead of actually paying attention. I got really angry, however, about halfway through my third class, when I caught a girl listening to music on her cell phone through earplugs in both ears, despite which, she said, she could understand what I was saying with perfect clarity. I seized the girl’s cell phone, and during the brief struggle the phone’s back flap buckled and came off, partially cracked. She gave me a look of utter hatred as I moved my way cheerfully to the front of the class, where the other students heckled her – whether for listening to music during class or for being stupid enough to be caught, I’ll never know.

As I packed up my things at the end of class, I felt a hand grip my arm. I looked up; there was the girl.

“You broke my cell phone,” she said. “You have to give it back and buy me a new one.”

“I did not break your phone,” I said. “It was both of us. You know it’s against the rules to listen to music on your phone in class. And the back is only partly broken, you can fix that for five kuai.”

This, of course, made her angrier. She put both hands on my arm and squeezed as hard as she could with anger. “GIVE ME MY PHONE!” she yelled.

“You know my rules,” I said. “It’s the same for everyone in the class. I’m taking this to the teacher.”

And with that, the girl still gripping my arm, I picked up my bags and walked to the open door. Which slammed in my face: a cordon of four of the girl’s friends had blocked off the doorway and were holding the door shut.

The door, thankfully, opened outwards. I pushed as hard as I could and, though several of the girls tried their best, I managed to get out the door. The girl was still clutching my arm with a death grip and, as we sidled awkwardly down the hallway towards the teachers’ office, looked like she was about to hit me. But as soon as we neared the teachers office, she disappeared, afraid of her head teacher who was lurking inside.

I deposited the phone with the head teacher and went on my way in a severe funk. This would not have happened to any local teacher in the school; its only because I’m a foreigner, and teaching a “fake” class, that this treatment was even considered. Every day, my students treat me with what appears, from my perspective, to be enormous disrespect. They know that due to my position within the school and lack of connection with the sources of power, I can do little; they can get away with anything. And when they do, it sure feels like a personal attack.

These cell phone incidents are nothing new. A few weeks ago, I took away a phone from a senior 2 girl only to have her weep with classroom-shaking sobs for the rest of the 45-minute period, making teaching nearly impossible. I’ve received bribe offers and lies of every color for the early return of phones. But the incident today went beyond simply words, jumping to intense physical contact and attempts at physical coercion. I was shocked, and felt the attack personally. But as I had no one with whom to reason and process what had happened, I was motivated to write here instead.

Sometimes I write because I’ve had a mind-altering experience. Sometimes I’ve simply gone somewhere cool, or met a new friend, or found an obscure angle (e.g. bus stations) which helps me make sense of my life. Sometimes I write out of pure emotion, the result of which is usually a semi-analytic psychobabble verging on illucidity (which, of course, as this being one of those posts, is not a real word). But at least by processing my life and its events through writing, I can start to make sense of it, of the motivations and feelings of both myself and the ever-present ‘others’ in each story; I can break my shell, begin to clamber snaillike outside of myself, beyond the simple selfcentered me, the ubiquitous and typecast self-pitying isolated lonely foreigner, and really start to understand the other perspectives, other ideas and views and realities. For after all, a person is only isolated due to his self-created line of demarcation, because of the boundary he has – in complete, willing self-consciousness – drawn around himself.

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5 Responses to Motivations

  1. Deenah says:

    The lack of support is appalling and resorting to strength will not lead to resolution, as you know. It sounds horrible.

  2. sefrizell says:

    Thanks for continuing to post, man! Your writing is a pleasure to read. Sorry about the rough times in school. Keep on Keepin on. Sam.

  3. Kailah says:

    Use of physical force by a student… so totally crossing the line and beyond. I’ve had my students sob and plead for their cell phones, too, and to deny all wrongs (especially the obvious).
    Your teaching situation in Rebs next year is gonna be 100% opposite, it seems. If I were in your teaching situation I might’ve quit; it’s a testament to your character that you stayed.

  4. rosa van der wieken says:

    Hi Jonas,
    I got the link from your mam, because I am always curious how you are doing in the midst of the this enormous foreign country, with ( at least for me) such a foreign culture. Your blog reads as a chapter of a book, as it is hard to believe that kids really act like this, or should I say, feel free to act like this.
    The positive side is that it gives you an experience you will never forget, and many other jobs will feel like a piece of cake.
    About the task itself. Did you try to adjust to their level? ( I suppose you did). I mean like playing a popular song, and translating it with them and letting them guess the meaning of key words? How much longer do you have left in this job?
    I find it very couragious to move to a place you know so little about and (mentally) so far from home.
    By the way: tonight your aunt Barbara ( and Bruce) are coming to stay with us in Amsterdam, on their way back from Estonia. Staying in foreign places is clearly a streak in your family!!
    Much luck and wisdom
    love Rosa

  5. Kirsten says:

    Jonas,
    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and am enjoying your experiences and writing. Teaching sounds like a huge challenge and I commend you for handling as well as possible and sticking with it. You are not alone! You have all your blog friends supporting you around the world. Keep up the good work and don’t let those kids get you down.
    On another note, I am traveling to Shanghai next month for 10 days and am excited but nervous! Any tips or recommendations from you would be welcome. Thanks!

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