I've come to the conclusion that my students are better people than me. A few days ago some of my students came to my home because they wanted to cook dinner (a win-win situation, as they like to cook and I rather enjoy eating), and told me how they spent their day: by visiting an orphanage to see a small boy with mental problems. They heard he didn't have any money for art supplies, so they pooled together some money (of which I'm sure they have very little) to buy him art supplies. I truly enjoy spending time with my students - many of them converse quite easily in English, and seeing them outside of class feels more like spending time with Chinese friends than English students. I see them slightly more often since I decided to cancel my formal office hours and just give them all my phone number, and that evening I spent an enjoyable few hours watching Chinese cooking and being taught Chinese idioms. Art, one of my funniest male students, can be seen in the photo. On another day this past week, I watched The Wizard of Oz with a student, which had Chinese subtitles and the added benefit of learning useful phrases like "Toto, I think we're not in Kansas anymore".
Before arriving, I worried that my salary was low even for China (a trainer on my training course with China experience scoffed at me, said I was selling myself short, and declared he wouldn't work for less than 12,000 RMB/month, four times what I'm paid). My wage would actually be illegal at home, because translated into US dollars it is easily under minimum wage. However, upon living here I realize how over-paid I am by Chinese standards, and it's difficult not to feel guilty about it sometimes, especially when students tell me about their parents who work as teachers and make less than half as much as me, and are struggling with putting their kids through college. A friend of Andrew's, after graduating and making a long, unsuccessful attempt at getting a good job in Shanghai, has come back and settled for a job in a computer store that pays 400 RMB/month, or roughly $50. Many of my students wear the same clothes everyday, and one of my hardest-working students casually mentioned how she has to walk for miles to get to the nearest phone in her hometown. A bicycle at school is a luxury only some of my students can manage; I don't think even the President of the university has a personal car. This is one of the poorest provinces in China, where many live under the official poverty line of $86 per year (yes, per year; I've spend that much on concert tickets), and my students are so good-natured that it's easy to forget what kind of difficulties they and their families must face in life. The Chinese have an admirable life attitude and overcome difficulties without complaint that would drive most Americans into depression, or at least chronic complaining. A student I've come to know is an only child whose father has died from cancer, and whose mother has recently gone blind, but has to bribe doctors to get any treatment - sadly, not uncommon. And I only know this second-hand, not because the student has even mentioned it. Many shop-owners and vendors I know work roughly 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, and yet greet everyone with a supremely satifisfied smile day in and day out. A girl who was a friend last term when she was a senior, and has one of the highest levels of English I've seen in anyone at the school, now works 15 or 16 hours every day for a dishonestly run middle school. She was whispering over Skype because they aren't permitted to chat on the internet, and the phone cut off suddenly because a leader was walking by. Whatever "difficulties" I face in the future when I return to America, it's fair to say I don't have the right to complain about anything ever again.