Tuesday, October 13, 2009

China Survival Skill #1: Flexibility

Yesterday I taught a morning writing class and got back to my apartment at about 10:00. I was hoping to spend a bit of time cramming for my 10:30 Chinese lesson, but... Surprise! The school is installing new cupboards and counters in all of the foreign teachers' apartments. We also received a surprise installation of new furniture this past weekend, so I finally have a table and chairs. Hooray!

I went to work in the kitchen, emptying my cupboards of pots, pans, and dishes. I finished just in time, as the kitchen helpers arrived to remove my old cupboards. I had my Chinese lesson in the other room as the pounding and sawing continued in the kitchen.

After a 2-hour lesson, I was ready for a quick lunch (just PB&J, since my kitchen was in disarray). Then I sat down at my computer to do some much-needed lesson planning when... Surprise! A gaggle of freshmen showed up at my door. We had previously had a free talk on a Monday afternoon, so they must have assumed we would have Monday afternoon free talks until the end of time. I didn't want to turn them away, so we had an impromptu 2-hour free talk in my office, since my living room was filled with kitchen stuff and my kitchen filled with workers.

The freshmen left at 5, and the counters were finished soon after. I checked my phone: 2 messages. One was a girl asking me to come up with a theme for a composition contest, and another was a friend who wanted to meet for a meal tomorrow. Just then, a freshmen called me. It was her birthday, and could I please join her for dinner now?

Fortunately, it's completely acceptable in China to say, "Oh, I'm sorry. I have something else." For me, "something else" meant grabbing some cheap street food and coming back to my apartment to put the kitchen back in order. My hectic day ended with a quiet evening of lesson planning, and, thankfully, no more surprises.

Here is what I have decided: In America, flexibility is a nice quality, but not essential. Here, you must be flexible or China will eat you alive.

(Photos are of the NEW kitchen counters on the left side of the kitchen, and the NEW table and desk I received this weekend.)


  1. I love the image of China eating you alive, Alison! I'm glad you're being flexible so that doesn't have to happen :)

  2. your place is beautiful Alison!