005 Conversations with China (The Teaching Edition, Part I)

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.


8 thoughts on “005 Conversations with China (The Teaching Edition, Part I)

  1. Great read! Since I have a weird “Asian sounding” first name I have had the opposite – lots of people assume I am Asian before they meet me. I have literally had people say to “but you’re not Asian” sometimes I’m tempted to act shocked, clutch at my face and say “Shit! Really??? I was when I woke up this morning!!” Most people are too polite to say anything but most of them will admit to being surprised I wasn’t Asian when they met me after I have known them for a while.


    1. It’s so interesting what first impressions people get of you based purely on a name or on what you look like. I think in a way, that judging somebody based on looks (at least at first) is just the best way we’ve got to figure out who somebody is if we don’t know anything else about them. I know I’ve definitely been guilty of doing the same!


  2. Much racism, waah! And gender discrimination too!

    The conversations are so funny, though! You know, when you leave the ugly part aside. (I myself am a unicorn, but from a whole different perspective. I would write about it, but—I’m not exactly sure how people would react to them, especially the ones involved, should they stumble upon my blog…)

    I’ve got a curiosity: is Joelle a pen-name or your real name? It’s really pretty~!


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