Tag Archives: China

Happenstance: Freedom vs. Fate

You know the saying, “It’s such a small world” when you meet someone you didn’t expect to meet again? Or, perhaps “What are the odds?” when something crazy happens? Well, I believe that our life may be composed of serendipitous, rather chance, opportunities falling in place. It makes me believe in this idea of fate and everything always happening for a reason.

Let me give you a few recent examples:

When I wrote my first novel, The Trials of the Core, the characters were individuals, yes, but, in the grand scheme of things, I did not see them as more. As I have finished writing the first draft of book three, and have plotted out how I will end the series in book four, I am starting to see unintentional symbolism arise in my writing.

The idea had first been planted by a fan of mine who, after reading my first book, had asked me if a certain main character was supposed to represent something. I told him he was no allegory. But, as I have revisited book two in preparing for its release later this year in June, and as I have a clear idea of how my series will now end, I can definitely say that this individual was correct. A few of my characters will be symbols to a very important event that happens in the book. Their actions will have coincided with the figures they are meant to represent. Now, of course, this is extremely vague to you as readers, but I don’t want to spoil anything so it is my intention to keep it vague.

The second surreal instance happening occurred on the 31st of January 2018. On this date,  there was an event known as a “Super Blue Blood Moon.” You can read more about it here. Now, why is this interesting?  Well, for one, this event hadn’t happened for 150 years. What’s more, it was a special sort of eclipse. As you will soon read in the second novel, The Curse of Pirini Lilapa, the event as described in the title, is a special event. Pirini Lilapa is also an eclipse and also occurs every 150 years in the universe that I have created. What are the odds of this occurring the year that I plan on releasing book two and on the year that I plan to go to Thailand to experience a Full-Moon Party? Well, to make a pun, the odds are astronomical. In Thailand, I wasn’t able to witness as good of a view as others were (especially those in Alaska or Canada), but I found some images of the moons online that show just how surreal the event was.

Super Blue Blood Moon 1
Super Blue Blood Moon 2

Just as it creates disorder and chaos in the book, I am sure this party will be no exception (as I have heard a great deal about this party). Of course, I’ll be safe. No worries there. But, I still cannot fathom how perfectly this has worked out for me.

And, to top all of this off, I have made a large life-changing decision for me and that is to move from my rather isolated and boring city of Yixing to Suzhou, a much more renowned and foreigner-friendly city here in China. Normally, this would not have been an option as Suzhou was on the brink of closing the doors to its Ambright Program, however, the specific location is reopening because of the new leadership of the Suzhou School which now wants to experience a better relationship with their international program. This propels me forward not only socially, as there will be more foreigners there, but also because there are more foreigners there is more of an opportunity to see my book (or books at this point). Two, because of my move I will be receiving a higher salary than I would have received back in my old city and will have more time on my hands as the duties weighing me down in Yixing will be non-existent in Suzhou. I will continue teaching English, just under less stress and a better environment. Hopefully, this means more consistency in my writing, but regardless, I am on pace for planning my releases when I want them to be released.

These three instances really bring to question in my mind freedom or fate. Although I think we make our own decisions, I do believe that every decision we make is some sort of greater purpose in our life and so we really can’t ever escape our destiny (to be poetic).

To say my stars are aligning is cliché, so I’ll use a phrase from book two that I crafted: “Some names are sung for sorrow, others are fit for fate, and yet some are given for greatness.” It seems that I truly am fit for fate.

Education In China

 

It has been officially two months here in China, and I finally decided to write a blog post on education over here in China. Why? Well, first and foremost, I’m an educator and these kinds of things interest me quite a bit. Secondly, I haven’t written a blog post for a while, so I figure I should write one haha.

china_education_of_children

Okay, so let’s do it.

Shocked. I think that is the one word that accurately describes my feelings for the education here in China. Shocked. But, I cannot say if this is in a bad way or a good way, it’s just, shocked. In many ways, it’s astounding what these students can do here, but at the same time, it’s horrifying and horrible.

First, let’s set the context for my school and surrounding schools. I am working through a company that has an agreement with a school to come in and teach classes only in English for students who want to go to the United States. So, my school, significantly smaller than the Site School, has its own goals to try and achieve. In a relatively small town in China, Yixing,  a population  of one million, the whole school consists of 2,000 students. My program consists of about 50 of those students. Here is what a schedule looks like for one of my students, Monday – Saturday. Yes, Saturday (although Saturday is only a half day.)

6:45 am – 7:20 am: Morning Reading = students are given a passage of text to read and memorize during the thirty-five minutes. My job is during the last five to ten minutes to quiz them to make sure they have memorized the material.

7:30 am – 9:00 am: Periods 1 + 2 = Each class is 40 minutes long, making it very difficult to achieve things in the course of the class.

9:00 am – 9:30 am: Running Period = Students are taken to the school track and they run, military style, around the track for two to four laps.

9:30 am – 11:10 am = Periods 3 + 4

11:10 am – 11:50 am = Lunch time.

11:50 am – 1:05 pm: Rest period = This is different for my school. The students get to rest so many of them sleep at their desks for the hour. Students at the Site School, however, are assigned another period of class and aren’t allowed to sleep.

1:05 pm – 2:35 pm = Periods 5+6

2:35 pm – 3:00 pm: Running period. Again, students report to the school track and made to run two to four laps.

3:00 pm – 5:20 pm = Periods 7 + 8 +9

5:20 pm – 6:00 pm = Dinnertime

6:10 pm – 9:00 pm = Regulated study time. Students remain in their classroom for three hours under the supervision of teachers and work on homework.

Then, they get to go home. They repeat this Monday through Friday. So, these students have a 14 hour day at school which involves nine class periods, two running periods that total at least one mile, and only one hour for rest. Again, that is for my school, the Site School doesn’t get that rest period.

On Saturday they have a half day starting at 7 am and ending by 11 am. In that regards, the Site School is the same. However, unlike the Site School, our students do not need to come back after noon on Sunday for a half day of schooling there. Yes, that’s right, they only get half a day Saturday and half a day Sunday to rest. It’s awful to see and no longer makes me complain about anything I’ve had in the States.

Because they are so test oriented in China, everything they do is memorization. Yes, this may sound like a generalization, but it’s not. They literally try and memorize everything, from the passages during morning reading to the passages on international tests such as the TOEFL. They memorize the latter just in case they experience the same TOEFL prompt on their actual test. It’s such a flawed system, it’s ridiculous, and it leads to Chinese students not really being able to think creatively or have any of their own thoughts. For a lack of better words or stronger comparison, they are simply machines. Many of the parents of these machines want their students to continue studying even after they are finished with school so teachers get chastised if we give too few homework. All of these things together leads some of the children here having more gray hairs than my grandma.

Also, in terms of schooling, there is even more interesting matters in how teachers are looked upon. So, in Asian culture teachers are actually very valued members of society, they rank right up there as equals to the parents for their children. Knowing that is essential if you are to command a classroom of Chinese students. But, also, I find the society very superficial. What do I mean by this? Well, they like to judge things aesthetically, meaning, if you are handsome you can do no wrong in their eyes. This is actually one of the first things people say to me all the time, “You’re so handsome.” I went to a parent teacher conference with students of a more disruptive class, Senior II, here one of my first weeks in Yixing. I introduced myself, my plan for the students, and asked for questions from any of the parents. None of the parents had any. But, for the Chinese teachers, there was a plethora of questions. Interesting, right?

Finally, another point about schooling: many of the students are arrogant. Really arrogant. This is rather harsh, I know, but let me explain. Students in our program specifically come from wealthier families who can afford to put their students in English-immersion high schools. Next, until just recently (maybe one or two years ago), China had a strict one-child-only policy, so many of these students don’t have only siblings. This, combined with the fact that they come from more prominent families, means they are spoiled beyond belief. Harsh, but true. Because of this, I found it rather difficult to command their attention at times earlier in the year, but now I am getting the hang of it, although it can be a constant power struggle all the time. And, for an English teacher, our subject is viewed as non-important in the eyes of the typical Chinese who usually complete math and science first. This is ironic as they are going to an English-immersion school and all of the tests that they have are based around knowing English, but it is what it is.

This is lengthy, but everything here is what I have experienced personally. No, it may not be similar to other schools, but my guess is that it is. The competition in China is so high for a job that this is the reason that schools go so late and are 6 days a week. If they aren’t, the Chinese fear that their child will get left behind. This predicament, sadly, leaves many of these students with no place to vent their struggles. There are no extra-curricular activities to build comradery and team-building functions with classmates. There is no time for a social life even as 14 hours of their day are in school. There is only time for Sleep. Memorize. School. Study. Repeat.

Teachers at the Site School have it bad as well as they are required to come 6 days a week to teach the students. They are responsible for class sizes of 40 – 50 students (my class sizes are 16-18). Many of them are paid 5,000 – 7,000 yuan per month, this equates to 750 dollars – 1000 dollars every month for the teachers there. My salary is significantly higher as are the salaries of the Chinese teachers in my department.

As a former educator in the States, this is disheartening to see, but it’s definitely given me a new perspective on our education there. If you want to come to China, I suggest to do it. I even suggest teaching in China, the benefits are fantastic, but just be prepared for a culture shock when you get here. It is unlike you have ever seen.

Michael E. Thies

P.S. One quick thing I forgot to mention is that Chinese don’t really believe in holidays. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s say that a Holiday is scheduled for Thursday and Friday during a week. Well, they will schedule the holiday in question for Thursday and Friday and then make students come to school on Saturday and Sunday to make up the classes that they missed on Thursday and Friday. It’s rather annoying as that means sometimes I need to teach on Saturdays and Sundays. It is what it is, like I said before. Shocked. Shocked. That is what I am constantly in whenever I think about the education system here.