One of the biggest advantages of working in education over other areas is the working schedule. Today marks the beginning of the end of my time teaching here and I know I shall miss the holidays, and not having to be in one place from 8-5. In previous times I have kept myself extremely busy, doing many types of work all over the city, on top of my regular contract.
This has allowed me to experience much, much more than if I was stranded behind a desk all day, but it also is quite a lone-wolf profession in that I work by myself and seldom have opportunities to network on the job. For the next few weeks- and for the first time in a long time -I am only doing my regular job, Monday to Friday. My schedule is perfect for me to be able to study full time without it interrupting with my other activities. I currently only work in the evenings, therefore I can comfortably study in the morning and do things I want to do in the afternoon. Furthermore, I only live 2 minutes from where I work! （actually its 1 minute 40 seconds from door to door, beat that for a commute!)
In a vein hope to shake off my bad stomach (still feeling the milk 🙁 ), this afternoon I donned my shades (more to stop the dust than the sun) , picked up my camera and umbrella and spent the afternoon exploring. The weather today has been a little wet and windy -very much like the UK in April- most people here don’t like this kind of weather but I think its good to have rain once in a while, as it really does a good job of clearing the air. Since I live in the centre of town (and I am easily amused) there is much to see.
There’s something about doing things on your own, be it at the market, the post-office, on the bus or any public place really, whereby other people are much more inclined to start up conversations with you. I’m still trying to work out why this is, perhaps it is that most foreigners do things with others (friends, translators etc), though sometimes I get the vibe that people think that because I am doing something alone (and in a foreign country) it means that I have no friends and need to be talked to!! :).
When you are by yourself you are much more likely to be approached and get into converations with people – It has to be the best way of improving your conversational Chinese by far.
I’ve lost count the amount of times people have tried to help me, wishing to offer assistance for something or other. Sure, there are idiots (as there are in any country) that make stupid ‘haaallloooos‘ and those that swear and say bad things behind your back, but this is a tiny proportion and thses type of people can be avoided if you keep aware of your surroundings.
A good example is the very old lady who stood behind me whilst I was taking a photo of a building being demolished. She must have been about 4 foot tall and in her 80s, wearing a blue mao-style suit buttoned to the top. She was looking at me very curiously and then rather surprisingly asked me what I was taking a picture of? I told her that this was a good example of old and new contrasts and that in my country I can’t see this. She seemingly understood and said the usual superlatives about my Chinese (this is nothing to do with my Chinese, which is no more than average for someone that has lived here for 2.5 years, it’s just that most Chinese here believe that for a foreigner to speak their language, however bad, is amazing – even more so for those that have never spoken to a foreigner before as I think this lady was.)
Whilst walking down a small hutong I decided that I visit the one of the hundreds of small markets that are dotted all over Changchun and would try a bit of bargaining -since I haven’t done this for a while. Of course, as any foreigner that has travelled here knows, at times it is frustrating, but also I believe, rewarding. When you’re Just trying to buy something, often a crowd of people stand around watching the you bargain, knowing full well that they are seeing what kind of price the laowai can get so they can try and come back later and get a cheaper deal! 😀
Often if this happens I won’t buy the goods because the shopkeeper won’t lower the price to the amount I wish to pay (even tough he/she could) as lots of people are watching and giving away a decent bargained price is a little bit like giving away a state secret.
I used to find bargaining incredibly annoying and chaotic, the ‘Why can’t he just tell me the price and I pay’ attitude. For me now, there is no doubt in my mind that bargaining is a huge skill, something that can be used in other areas of life, yet it’s something that we don’t really have to think about in the west.
Bargaining is like a vein that runs through the very fabric of Chinese society, someone once told me that, ‘in China everything is negotiable’ and that is probably true.
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