Andi has just turned four-years-old. She likes Barbie, Hello Kitty and rabbits. I teach her at her home twice a week for two hours. Dinner is included.
I somehow knew January would be the month I’d find a job. January has been a buzzy one, as Januarys tend to be. Bowie died. Rickman died. The dude from The Eagles died. Taiwan elected a pro-independent Prime Minister. It’s really fucking cold. Air pollution and construction is rampant. And I’ve been scuttling about absorbing the vacated classes of Chengdu’s white teachers.
You gotta start somewhere in China, and 9 times out of 10, that start is English teaching. Cash money.
“I’m from New Zealand and majored in English Literature at university!” I thought, scrolling the WeChat haunts of Chengdu’s unemployed foreigners, “this will be sweeeeeet.”
Native speakers wanted, experience preferred – send your CV and photo.*
It’s the photo that ends it.
*(for Asians, a quick rundown of your family bloodline and immigration history may also be a requirement.)
So I knew January would be the month I’d find a job. Because the white people have gone home. Lol.
Teaching a kindergartener English was not the line of work I was looking for. In fact, besides waitressing at Jellyfish (the Estab of Chengdu), it was the last thing I wanted to do.
Bowie had just died, I hadn’t worn real clothes in at least a week, and I needed money to fuel my Taobao addiction. (check out this article by Zaomengshe about how to set up an Alipay, then say goodbye to your expendable income forever).
A friend sent me a contact of someone looking specifically for a New Zealander – so I had to follow it up.
Andi turned four last November. Her father does business in Shanghai. Her mother works in investment. Her grandparents are retired and live with her in the south of the city (the glam end). Her parents have big dreams for her, she is going to go to Stanford one day. In fact, she’s already visited the campus.
I was originally led to believe there was a lady wanting to learn English because she was immigrating to New Zealand. Upon arrival at the designated meeting spot (next to the grand piano in a five-star hotel), it became clear the parents were just looking for an in-house English tutor for their kid. The New Zealand link became more and more tenuous and I was getting nervous beneath my guise a supremely likeable, sensible person.
“She miiiight attend high school in New Zealand,” the father mentioned, discussing Andi’s future like a twenty year business plan, “before going to the US for university.”
“Oh,” I managed, realising my entrapment, “I see.”
Andi giggled, clambering about on the sofa like a drunk starfish and tugging at her mum’s hair.
Seen as the vast amount of revenue earned at Kiwese HQ has not yet satisfied my ability to pay rent, I took the job at the offered rate of 300RMB for two hours. Realising it is a little low for private tutoring on the other side of town, I tried to angle for more using my bumbling, still-trying-to-be-polite-and-likeable Mandarin. Chinese businesspeople 1, fresh out of university language student 0.
Their four-story villa is in a gated community, home to dozens of other wealthy families and their only-child offspring. The household employs an Ayi to cook their dinner every night. She is a friendly lady that cooks damn good Sichuan-style food. She sometimes gives me a ride on her e-bike to the subway station after doing the dishes. Her name on WeChat is 开心就好 (Happy Enough.)
Meal time happens at 6pm on the dot, coinciding with the end of Andi’s two hour lesson, a.k.a. bouncing around the lounge pretending to be rabbits and singing ABCs with a ukulele.
As the guest and honoured teacher, both grandparents chopstick endless supplies of meat (not vegetables) into my rice bowl with Chinese New Year like intensity.
- Twice fried pork 火锅肉
- Shredded fried potato 土豆丝
- Husband and wife lung slices 夫妻肺片
- Spicy pork sausage 麻辣麻辣
- Guangdong pork sausage 广味香肠
- Stir fried cabbage 炒白菜
- Meatball soup w/ tomato, vermicelli 圆子汤
- Lamb and radish soup 羊肉萝卜汤
- Steamed fish 蒸鱼
- Dried tofu and chives 韭菜豆腐干
- Stir-fried prawns 炒虾
- Pork sausage 香肠
- Twice fried pork 火锅肉
- Steamed fish 蒸鱼
- Red braised beef 红烧牛肉
- Tomato and egg 番茄炒蛋
- Stir fried spinach 炒菠菜
- Lamb and yam soup 羊肉山药汤
- Sweet skin roast duck 甜皮鸭
- Braised beef 红烧牛肉
- Twice fried pork 回锅肉
- Meatball soup 圆子汤
- Fried cabbage 炒白菜
- Dried tofu 豆腐干
Dinner time is interesting.
“吃多一点” (eat more), everyone tells me.
Ayi – who has just cooked the food, sits in front of the vegetable dishes and barely eats a thing. The meat and fish is placed at my end of the table, or pronged directly into my bowl. Grandpa, healthy and fit at 82 years old, used to work as a P.E. teacher at a university in Chongqing. He enthusiastically educates me about the role of the teacher according to Confucius and Mengzi, flecks of rice flying from his mouth. I nod politely. Grandma, a tiny grey-haired woman, shovels rice into Andi’s mouth while chanting “要不要肉 要不要肉 要不要肉?” (do you want meat? do you want meat? do you want meat?) with automated precision. Mum takes business calls with one hand and chopsticks slices of meat into my bowl with the other.
“吃饱了！” (I’m full!) I entreat. Ayi has already discreetly refilled my bowl with rice.
I’m gonna need to move up a dress size. Oh wait, already have. We’re two weeks in now, let’s see how it plays out.