China does not do things the way you expect them to. As an expatriate, and an English-speaking expatriate to boot, we are given many perks. However, I’m not just an English-speaking expatriate. I am an English-speaking expatriate of Chinese descent. To put it quite bluntly, I am not white. This means that if I walk out on the streets, I blend in, and do not get pounced on by random mothers wanting their babies’ pictures taken with the Token White Person. It means that people are not shocked when I use chopsticks to eat a bowl of noodles. This also means that I am subject to a lot of reverse racism as well, because I am of Chinese descent. This odd combination leads to a lot of interesting interactions in China.
Mr Wang: I’ve found you a great job teaching a middle school student English! The mother wants a female teacher from America.
Me: Great! English is my mother tongue, and I’ve lived in America for over a decade, pretty sure I can tutor her in English.
Mr Wang: If she asks, tell her you’re an ABC (American-Born Chinese) though.
Me: (not about to let pesky things like lies get in the way of sweet, sweet cash) All right!
Mother: (once greetings are over) Where’s the American English teacher you were telling me about?
Mr Wang: (pointing to me) She…
Mother: (interrupting) No, I don’t want her.
Mr Wang: What? Why not? You haven’t even spoken with her yet!
Mother: She can’t speak English! She’s not even blonde!
English Teacher Friend: Hey, my university is looking for an economics lecturer who can give lectures to sophomores in English. I told them you had a degree in economics, and they were interested. You should call them.
Me: Uh… they know I only have a BA right…?
English Teacher Friend: Yeah. You should just call and see if they are interested.
I called. They were interested, and asked me to show up at their office to pick up the textbook.
Me: (knocking on office door) Hi, I’m here about the economics lecturer position.
Head Teacher: (flustered) You’re not white!
Me: Yes, I know.
Head Teacher: (flummoxed) You’re a girl!
Me: Yes, I am.
Head Teacher: (hesitates) Please wait a minute. (disappears into office to have a mini conference with the other teachers about my ethnicity and gender and how they might affect my ability to teach economics, not realising I can understand everything they are saying.) Well… I guess it’s okay then. Here’s the textbook. By the way, we looked at your resume. Can you also teach accounting and finance?
Me: Uh… no? (thinking to myself: what the hell did they read in my resume?!) I only took the beginning classes for each course. I don’t even have a degree in it!
Head Teacher: Are you sure???
Me: Yes, yes, I am.
Only in China could the fact that I am a Chinese girl get in the way of lecturing a university course on microeconomics, but apparently not enough for people to try to get me to teach other business-related courses once that particular issue was resolved.