A Complaint, Some Good News, and Being Left in the Air

Living here in China is hard. More accurately, I do not have convenient access to the things I miss at home, and this vexes me. I miss visiting my best friend on a weekend. I miss a good corned beef on rye with mustard. I miss not having to watch what opinions I might express aloud. I miss the convenience of the U.S. Postal Service. I miss the ambience of coffee houses, bookshops, and record stores.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always had the idea that I would just be in China “for a while.” That at some point, I would return to the United States, to my home in Philadelphia or thereabouts. I’d have a serviceable apartment or condominium in which I would hide away with my books and records, reading and writing away the last few years of my life.

I do try to do what I can to make this happen, of course. Or, at least to make it likely. Or possible. I send home as much money each month as I can. But, alas, I cannot send more than RMB 100k per year, even if I earned enough money to do so. That is due to Chinese law. So, I don’t know whether or not I’ll be able to lay up sufficient stores for my eventual retirement. (In fact, I do not expect to be able to retire at all; but eventually, I know, my body will betray me, and so I must perforce one day retire.)

I have had the errant thought now and then of returning to America after a set number of years, regardless. But then, I am over fifty, and I do not have the skills to find anything more remunerative than entry level work. I am not likely to be hired if I return, even now. The costs of healthcare, medicine, rent, food, and so on- It would all be quite prohibitive.

My mindset really must change. I must learn to say to myself, “I live in China, now.” To say it to myself, to accept it, and to believe it. Perhaps if I can achieve this, I can settle down and stop being so anxious about my circumstances all the time.

Living in the Mystic East is not the adventure it was when I was young. Now, it is forced upon me by necessity. And I resent that.

IN good news, however, I have been informed that we will be back in the classroom on June 1st. It has been roughly four months since I was last in the school. Our “vacation” for the Spring Festival just extended from February onward.

Just two weeks ago, the third year students returned, as this year is to be their graduation year, and they’re preparing for university entrance exams. I was a bit disappointed that my classes were not yet returning. But it seems I will at least have one more month in harness before my contract expires in July.

Now, as I may have described before, the company for which I work is in the business of contracting teachers out to schools here in China. I had an interview, presumably arranged through my company, on Zoom on the 16th at 14:00 regarding a position with Haidian Kaiwen Academy in Beijing. I believe in Daxing district (Or, it might be Chaoyang). They require teachers for History, Literature, and Social Studies. They apparently use American style common core curriculum, and roughly half of their faculty comprises foreign teachers. It seems to be an “International School,” in which students are preparing to go overseas for advanced study. I was told that most of the students hold more than one passport, which means that these kids are the children of Party Members.

I am extremely ambivalent about the interview. It went more like an American-style corporate interview for an entry-level position than an interview for a school– Right down to the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question. It was conducted by an American. Probably lead foreign teacher. He called himself the Principal. Two Chinese staff stood by, one of whom introduced herself as a vice-principal. The other of whom, spoke not at all, but both Chinese teachers seemed both amused and impressed that I spoke Mandarin so well.

I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Mind you, I am a natural pessimist. Still.

In answering the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question, I simply said it was my plan to stay in China long term as a schoolteacher.

I felt it was a weird question; cos in a company, you have to bullshit about climbing the corporate ladder, or “finding a niche” in the company, and shit like that. In fact, I was tempted to reply, “The same place I see myself now; in the bathroom mirror above the sink.” But this kind of question in an interview for a position as a schoolteacher? It caught me flat-footed.


I don’t know if I projected much confidence during the interview. I constantly paused to think before giving my answers, and got no facial cues from any of them. I spoke with more pauses than a Pinter play. The interview was certainly not what I was expecting, and certainly not what I’d prepared for.

I was told that they’d let me know “next week.” So I suppose we’ll see. I reported back to the supervisor at my company; I have no idea what she will think about all this.

I’ll keep everyone posted.

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Fangshan district
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