Last week a friend asked me what TV shows I liked to watch. We started naming shows (luckily they knew the English names, because everything has a Chinese name — which I kind of appreciate and kind of bemoan, a subject for much extended later discussion). I soon realized I was talking about American television with a Chinese person. “Do you like any Chinese shows?” I asked, and named a few I like. He scoffed. “Chinese shows are so childish”.
He’s not wrong. In Chinese television shows, known as c-dramas, everything follows a predictable pattern. Unbelievably soapy drama followed by a pat ending where every single character’s story arc is brought to a satisfying resolution. You are never left wondering what happened. Every question is answered and in only the most satisfying way. After years of unresolved, gritty American television, I love this. It’s like being on a diet for years and finally getting the ice cream cone you’ve been dreaming about.
Though, given the looks of my Chinese friend’s face, ice cream every night your whole life gets old. It makes me wonder what else my Chinese friends have been eating their whole lives that I undernourished in, and vice versa. No culture is a perfect and complete diet. For example, while China you have to follow a month long restrictive set of rules after you have a baby (坐月子）, in America it’s more common than not to give birth and pretty much have to go right back to work immediately. Not that I’m thinking about having a baby (if you’re reading this, dad).
Here, I’m going to recommend some of my favorite c-dramas. My favorite way to watch these is to search the name plus “English subs” on YouTube for a dual-subtitled experience (English and Chinese).
- Nothing But Thirty
- Cupid’s Kitchen
- The Princess WeiYoung (also on Netflix)
Anyway, I am currently convalescing from a nasty cold, getting over a mild breakup, and likely going to quit my job and skip out of my contract soon, so life is feeling a bit rough around the edges, and a bit of good TV sometimes helps in these situations.
I’ve been talking to a lot of people, and everyone either is someone or knows someone who has been shat on by my agency. The consensus is, my situation is modern day slavery. Even if I were to finish my contract and not renew, they have a track record of still not cooperating with visa transfers and not giving release papers up easily, dragging their feet for months, even forcing people to take them to court multiple times. I’ve now met a recruiter who is willing to set me up with a lawyer who can help me out of my contract. I’m not the first to do this, by far, and unfortunately won’t be the last.
I’m going to finish out the semester and perhaps take the summer to get paid to not work. Though my vacation pay is less than half my salary for the entire break so it may not financially smart, I am very much needing a break.
Where to go next, though? I have three options:
- Public schools (I must apply to the government agency of Shenzhen to work for public schools). Pros: easier work, lower stress. Cons: lower pay.
- Private schools. I can apply with another agency (hard no) or pay a recruiter to find me a job directly with a school (the smartest choice). Pros: higher pay. Cons: actually have to be a good teacher and make the parents happy.
- Not a school. Find a job at a Chinese company. Pros: get out of teaching, higher pay. Cons: basically no time off except national holidays.
I’ve been wracking my head over the decision. What to do? What to do? Other have asked me what I thought was the question: “What do you want to do for work? Teach or something else?” I struggle to answer this. I will say I’d rather copyedit, write, or proofread than teach, but when I apply to copywriting jobs where my sole responsibility is to write advertising copy for Amazon, my heart sinks. Teaching English, as much as I struggle with it, feels more meaningful than talking up the true-to-life bass notes and extended battery life on a cheap set of earbuds.
It wasn’t until today, talking to someone (my best realizations often come in conversation with another), that I realized I am asking the wrong question. It’s not about what I want to do for work. When I moved to China, I intentionally de-prioritized work. I came here to pursue a passion project. The mission was, is, and will remain the same: learn Chinese and see China. My job has to offer me the time and freedom to do these things. Plus a little extra time to interpret remotely and not lose my interpreting skills would be nice. So, I think today I finally have my answer. Public schools it is.
In fact, my initial interview for China was with the public school agency in Shenzhen. You are legally not allowed to work directly with the public school system, so this is the one case where an agency is unavoidable. I didn’t end up going with them at first because of the large class sizes and the very remote location they wanted me to work in, but now that I’m here and a bit more in the know, I believe I can negotiate for a better working environment.
I have a friend who works in the public schools who’s schedule and class sizes are lighter than mine, with zero office hours. If she can’t go to work, she still gets paid. During the quarantine, she still got paid. Several days a week, she goes in at 11am and leaves at 3pm. I work 7:40am to 5:40pm every day. Jesus take the wheel.
Now let’s circle back to the breakup shall we? Yes I am still thinking about him and no I am not letting myself text him. Here’s the loop that runs through my head:
- I find myself dreaming of a romantic reunion where I text him and he texts me back and we have both been thinking about each other this whole time isn’t it just so cute my god.
- I metaphorically slap myself awake.
- I remind myself that in our last conversation he said he had no romantic feelings for me and in fact belittled our intimacy by calling it “our little romance” with a definite lilt of disdain in his voice.
- I remind myself that during our last conversation I also took it too far by telling him in detail just how hurt I was, how I hadn’t eaten or slept well in days at that point, which led him to declare he needed to hang up. So, in his eyes, I am, in fact, insane.
- I remind myself that this is my one life and that I owe it to myself not to waste my own precious time on someone who wants me only as a convenience, who only wants physical intimacy but not emotional intimacy, a human fleshlight to masturbate into.
- I remind myself that though I also have sexual needs, I can fulfill them either on my own or with someone who respects me and can agree to mutually agreeable terms.
- I remind myself that that one YouTube video I watched of that biologist talking about love. She said romantic love differs from platonic love in that it has the element of obsession. Someone you think about a lot. I am obsessed with this boy. So I am romantically attracted to him. And until I am not, I cannot be friends with him platonically. So, I can’t text him yet. When I’m not thinking about him anymore, then I can text him. But, by then, I won’t text him because I won’t be thinking of him.
- I don’t text him.
I am going back to work tomorrow. I still feel very much half dead, my cold is raging, but the doctor’s note I had to get in order to take off work (which took one clinic visit and two hospital visits, plus a covid test) was for two days, and today is the last day of it, and the two days I took cost me 300yuan each, so not only am I not getting paid, I owe 600yuan for the two days off, so I have to go back. Games must be played. Flash cards must be flashed. Songs must be sung. I feel like I am going to lose my voice, though, so I am going to play it a bit safe and not talk as much. More pointing, gesturing, and mouthing and less talking.
Shhhh. Better days are coming.