Monday, December 8, 2008

Another day, another competition

It has been quite some time since I last wrote about my experiences in china, and really not much has happened. As has been mentioned before, we have settled into our routines here. My days follow roughly the same pattern—wake up, put water on to boil while I wash up, drink coffee, eat breakfast, teach class, go online, pretend to grade, lunch, nap, Chinese lesson or free talk with students, pretend to grade watch tv or a movie online, dinner, read, grade, go for a run, shower, watch tv or a movie, sleep. There is very little variation to these habits. I should also mention that frequently thrown into the pattern is “judge.” As a foreign teacher, I am asked to judge competitions on a near weekly basis. China is obsessed with competitions, an obsession that I am sure was not helped by this summers Olympic games. They use competitions to assess almost every single skill. Singing, acting, basketball playing, dancing, speaking, movie “voice-overing”.

Two weeks ago I began my morning sitting in the back of a police car and ended it by getting 600 yuan. A day that should have been filled with new and exciting experiences, really felt not too different. Granted I was judging a police officers speaking competition but still. Very little about China shocks me anymore. That it should be different and “shocking” has become almost expected. Of course they would drive me to the competition in a police car. Of course the police car would be a Mercedes. Of course it would have black leather interior. Of course a plastic pink comb would be sitting on the black leather back seat of the Mercedes cop car. Of course – I would expect nothing else than to be “shocked” by the strangeness of the experience.

This particular speech contest was a bit more of a to-do. It was a contest for all of Shandong province and a contest of government employees so a bit more ceremony existed. It was also not in a classroom but a rather plush hotel in Jining. The hotel was perhaps the nicest one I had been in a few years. I even got my own hotel room, complete with cushy bed, down pillows and duvet, and HBO, for naptime after lunch.
The competition itself was and English speech competition for the immigration bureau of Shandong. The participants could speech on any topic they wished for a length of up to 8 minutes. Most speeches had similar themes: duty, respect, responsibility, Olympics, service, etc. What I found most interesting was how many speeches gave examples of experiences in which the police officers had to put aside family for their job. Women in their mid 20s spoke about sobbing as they left their sick baby in the hospital to go to the office to expedite a visa for a foreign businessman. This was one of the few things about the day that actually did shock me. These women were not leaving to bust a drug lord or rescue a child from a kidnapper; they were leaving to issue a form. Further, this act was one that they deemed honorable and noteworthy enough to include in a speech, but then this type of act speech to the society in which they live and the government under which they live. And so, upon thinking about the speeches some more, I am no longer shock. I am in China—of course this would be the subject of a speech.

The competition also included some skits. This one was about Swedish athletes who were in Qingdao for the sailing competitions for the Olymics. Their visas were expiring the next day but they wanted to visit Beijing.

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