Beijing Diary

As the more perspicacious of you may have noticed, I have not updated my blog in some time. Things on my end have been less than ideal, so I shall attempt to catch us all up, and attempt to henceforth maintain at least monthly updates with tales of my adventures and endeavors.

In April or May of last year, my agent had called me with news of a new position at another school, with the promise of a far greater salary than my current school could afford to pay me. Now, at first, I resisted; I was comfortable where I was, and my comfort and convenience are more important to me than money. However, I was worn down by her pleading. She went on about how good I was, and that she promised I would at least do the interview. And, she said that a young man is supposed to be ambitious, and if I passed up the chance to improve my position, I would lose respect, and so on. –Never mind that I am no longer a “young man.” So, I felt bad about it and accepted.

The initial school she had found for me was a start-up with which she herself was involved. The interview went well enough; the owner was a former principal who dealt with other schools both here and in New England back home, and he even made a number of bullshit promises about pay and position, and assisting to run the business—Er, I mean, “school.” Of course, I could at least still remain in Dongcheng District, in the middle of town. There was enough in the deal that I liked that I decided to accept. Especially with my agent urging me on.

Alas, that arrangement fell through, when even after the contract was signed, it had been decided that the project was not sufficiently “stable.” But, not to worry—my agent insisted on continuing to try to find another situation for me. There were a couple of interviews, but the offer that I ended up accepting was one offered by a school in Shunyi District. Accepting that deal was one of the worst mistakes I have made over the past two or three years.

Now, to briefly recap–
Last year (2020), what with the Pandemic, there were very few jobs available to foreign teachers. The lockdown was lifting, and many schools were reluctant to hire American teachers, noting the devastation being wrought by the virus in the United States, and the general resistance to sound medical and scientific advice. There had been a modest opportunity available near Dengfeng, a few thousand miles inland from Beijing. I did not want to go, but had resigned myself to it when I was contacted with an offer from what would become my present (well, next to last) school in Dongcheng District in the Fensiting Hutong.
The pay was adequate, but not great; though the post also came with two meals a day at the school, and free accommodation at the teachers’ dorms which included utilities, and free WiFi. Another nice thing about the teachers’ dormitory was that it was not on the actual school grounds; It was a pleasant ten-minute walk through the hutong that made me feel as though I were not actually living at the school. The environs were pleasant, and within walking distance of most of Beijing’s tourist attractions. The school itself was pleasant as well; a small campus, almost intimate, especially by Chinese standards. And, after working at a large school like Liangxiang High School in Fangshan, with forty pupils in a single class, this new school, Beijing International Vocational Educational School, was a wonderful change. With an average of ten students per class, allowing me to see each class thrice weekly, I was able to get to know my students and give them each a measure of personal attention. I came to love this comfortable little niche I had found for myself.

Against this comfortable, if not wildly lucrative gig was then the promised post, noted above, that would pay me at nearly twice as much, and include a small allowance to rent an apartment, plus an eight thousand yuan bonus toward airfare after the completion of the contract for the year. My current school’s counter-offer could not quite match the offer from the new school; thirty-five thousand yuan plus a three and a half thousand housing allowance seemed a lot of money to me. I did feel bad about leaving my pupils behind, but what finally sold me on accepting the new offer was the type of position. I was asked to be a homeroom teacher in addition to assisting in developing English language-based curriculum. I was also asked to assist with administrative duties and admissions activities.
When I began my teaching career in East Asia, it seemed that any foreigner could pick up a “white monkey” job teaching English. In those days, you needed little more than native fluency. And being an “English Teacher” once had a certain stigma, especially in Taiwan, because of young Americans and Brits who would backpack around Asia, stop off to teach for a few months and fill their pockets and then disappear into the night, leaving classes and students untended. There was a time I used to dread being known as an English teacher in Asia.
However, I was now being asked to work as a homeroom teacher. Of course, my subject area teaching would be ESL, and I was supposed to have been given administrative responsibility that I did not enjoy then. It made me feel more “legitimate” as a teacher.

Ahhhh, but so often there are large gaps between one’s expectations and reality.
O had already felt uneasy leaving my then current position, as I dislike being uprooted every year to move elsewhere. Reminds me too much of my unsettled and poverty-stricken childhood. But foolishly, I accepted the new position, and made ready to make the transition in July of last year.

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a high school ESOL teacher, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in Beijing's Dongcheng district
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