How Kind are Chinese Students?

Just How Kind Your Students Can Be

by Professor Fury

Again, as always, I refer to public university students in general and English majors in particular.

Whether you are new to the game or a seasoned veteran, it matters not, for it is your students – not the administration or faculty – who will (or at least should) be your prime source of information. You will rapidly begin to realise that the school will feed you things which are germane to them but the important things which affect you will be completely overlooked. And even things that affect the school may often be notified at ten minutes notice and they expect you to just drop everything.

This is where using the students comes in. You want to know which days off you have for mid-autumn or qing ming festivals and whether you have make-up weekends? Ask the students! As likely as not, the school will only alert you to the fact you should be in class at 1020 one Saturday morning when you are 300 miles away sightseeing. Your students (particularly the class monitors) are your eyes and ears. Use them. Many westerners are amazed at the respect Chinese undergraduates accord their university teachers. In the likes of the UK and USA the teacher is possibly (certainly in inner-city high schools) more likely to have his/her nose broken than having their books carried to class. In China however, they will do anything for you except not play with their iPhones in class!

I started very early on confiscating phones from students caught transgressing and only on two occasion (with rather strong boys I should add) did I meet with resistance rather than mortification. Both boys backed down under threat of banishment from my classroom. Equally, both boys never did it again and made a point of apologising to me afterwards. You see, I held myself up as an exemplar because I would not answer my phone in class even if it was my Mother calling from the UK. Inadvertently one time I pressed “red” three times on my Dean because she called from a different phone and I never knew the number. This resulted in her marching to my class, knocking on the door and beckoning me to come out. “Why aren’t you in class?” she demanded. “I am” I replied, “what do you think I am doing now?” Hilariously, there were other students two doors down also expecting me. A hiccup with the rotas and sure enough, behind the Dean stood one very embarrassed secretary. But at least the Dean knew I never used my phone in class. Chalk one up for me.

So you can pump your students for information from anything to do with holidays, local restaurants, train tickets – whatever. You can also befriend one to do your shopping on Taobao. I use it a lot but never actually order myself, no idea how to. I get a student to tell me how much the bill is, pay them and they order for me and tell me when it arrives. A good student will even search to see if they can find it cheaper than you did.

If you are strict but fair and show a genuine concern for your charges they will do absolutely anything for you as long as you don’t take advantage. I have until now had students doing my housework (I hate it) but I paid them to come once a week for 50 yuan each time regardless of how long it took them. It never took long for them to get it down to a mere 30 minutes per visit, meaning 100 yuan per hour. Given that supermarkets pay them 15 yuan per hour and private schools 25 yuan per hour to teach, was I taking advantage? A student can feed themselves for 300 yuan a month on campus (I know because that’s what I paid a student every month for two years because it was either that or she had to discontinue her studies after her parents split up and stopped sending money – and I couldn’t sack my cleaner so it was free for her) and for about 2 hours work a month they earnt 67% of their subsistence.

I in return never had to put hand to mop.

But it can go much further than that.

St George’s day (bad coincidence for an Englishman!) 2011 on my way home on my e-bike I was left sprawling slap-bang in the middle of a (thankfully not too busy) 6 lane road, having been wiped out by an articulated lorry.

Covered in blood, nobody would stop for me after I abandoned my bike in the middle of the road and gained the safety of the grass verge. I knew I was in trouble. My left pinkie was all but detached and bleeding heavily. Worse, my left shoulder was increasingly becoming agonising. Eventually a taxi approached and I flagged it down in the dark. One look at the blood everywhere and he refused to take me to hospital. Bless him, he did call an ambulance though – I knew the number but had no way of explaining where I was, it was my first year and out in the country.

I arrived at the hospital at around 2230 (it was a Saturday) and was immediately asked for a contact number for the school. Thinking I would be home in a couple of hours, I gave a number and asked them not to contact anyone. X-rays, CAT scan etc were carried out and when I emerged to be taken back to A&E a posse awaited. The school had alerted my English colleague and ordered three of my  male students to come too.

At this point I was convinced they would either reattach my finger or lop it off, stick a cast on my shoulder and send me home  so I could feed my dog and cats.

Er, no. They want you to stay in. How long? Three weeks. Three weeks????

They stitched my finger back on as everyone observed (my colleagues female friend apparently kept telling him she couldn’t watch because she could see bones but she watched anyway!) and it must be said although it works after a fashion I really should have it broken and reset,  and I was then admitted to a ward with the diagnosis that the head of my humerus (or the ball that goes into the shoulder socket) was like a smashed Terry’s Chocolate Orange and needed intervention, which ultimately resulted in a steel plate and seven pins being inserted some time later.

For anyone with 27 minutes to waste, this is life at a university in China after three years

Next on Prof Fury: Just How Kind Your Students Can Be Part II

About the Author 

He is in his early sixties and has been teaching in universities in China for seven years. He has been a ships officer, salesman, manager, company director, engineer and truck driver in the past  and so has a wealth of stories and experience to impart to his students.

He has been to 47 countries so far and visited more than 400 cities around the globe. Antarctica is the only continent he has yet to experience but there is still time!

He has so far volunteered at every school level in China, appeared on television several times (including taking part in a Spring Festival Gala show) and his ambition is to be allowed to retire in China when the time comes. His latest party piece is playing Santa for whoever asks!

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