The training centre where I coach young people and some adults towards success in their oral examinations; the pre-requisite to studying overseas, moved to a new building recently.
We’re in the same area, in case you wanted to find us, but now we’re nearer the main road, just behind the underground station and by the park, the one with the shaded benches where office workers hang out at lunch time.
We were told that the new place, essentially the Promised Land, has more rooms, more space, better facilities and so on. Great. More of anything is always good, right? Well, maybe not always.
Our New Address
Prior to the move I’d enquired several times about our new address, so I could turn up for work in the right building, only to be greeted with a vague and lazy hand gesture towards the outside world through the windows, along with a casually mumbled ‘we’re over there.’
Not surprisingly I didn’t take much comfort from this and even began to fret on D Day; Moving Day, the last day before we broke up before Chinese New Year. I pictured everyone else returning to work after the holiday easily knowing where to go, whilst I’d be wondering around outside like an idiot, somewhere in the same area, but never actually coming close to finding it.
So, when the staff became reluctant removal men and ferried boxes and bags, PCs and laptops to the new centre I saw my opportunity and grabbed an item.
That’s when things got really strange.
Every time I picked something up a member of staff appeared out of no-where and insisted (very nicely) that I put it back down. I replied that it wasn’t heavy and I wanted to help with the moving process, but my cries fell on deaf ears and whatever I was holding was taken from my hands and spirited away by one of my colleagues.
This was a case of treating the foreigner well, taken too far. It wasn’t that I particularly wanted to do any removal work, I just wanted to know where to go and also I did feel a tad guilty just chilling while they were all working. So this was an ideal way to kill two birds with one stone. I could help whilst getting the exact location of the new building. But they wouldn’t let me do anything!
Why not? Were they were fending off the possibility that I might suffer a costly injury resulting in them having to pay hospital fees. Or were they worried that I might receive an injury so bad I’d have to return to England causing them to lose their only foreign teacher? Who knew exactly what they were thinking? I certainly didn’t.
The First Clue
I’d thought it was odd earlier when I’d asked our ultra busy receptionist several times if I could help and he’d constantly brushed me off with a mumbled, ‘oh yeah, later.’ Later when? Moving Day had already arrived and he was up to his ears in it. Why didn’t he want my help when I was standing there doing nothing?
Eventually I stopped asking if they needed me and offering to help and sneakily grabbed a bag of office supplies. I followed some colleagues into the lift, holding the bag behind my back and trying not to spill anything as we made our way across the square to the new centre. I tried to be totally casual and inconspicuous, almost walking behind my workmates. Kind of like I was just out for an afternoon walk and headed in the same direction as them, whilst not actually moving anything, you know in case they took it out of my hands.
Once in the new building I couldn’t help but ooh and ahh at the shiny newness of it all. Now that I was actually there, no-one looked surprised to see me at all. They didn’t check that the hair on my head was out of place. Nobody squeezed my arm to make sure I hadn’t broken it from the effort of taking part in the transition, all of which makes me wonder why they wouldn’t let me help out in the first place?
So confusing, but as my best friend, Li Mingyang says; “Welcome to China!”
Outside of our new centre, Futian District
As foreigners we’re constantly and relentlessly trying to find our place in this land where we’re simultaneously welcomed and made to feel apart at the same. This leaves us with a feeling of instability and is probably one of the main reasons for those ’bad China days’ which occur from time to time.
Is it cultural? Is it deliberate? Do Chinese people even know that it’s happening? Would it occur less if they did.
I guess some questions have no answers but I’ve learnt to waste less time ‘offering’ which seems to be taken as an empty gesture and to instead to just jump in and help out alongside everyone else, because actions do indeed speak louder than words.