China – observations #1


This is something different… These aren’t MY posts– but my aunt’s.

See, my aunt is living/teaching in China. She was born in Philadelphia and has lived in BFE Minnesota for a really long time.

Read: China is WAY different than BFE Minnesota. 

She started writing down all her observations (read: hoops that she is going through). Below is the first installment.

They are funny, sad, and frustrating- but they give a really good idea of what “being thrown into the deep end” is like.

I’m hoping that, by the end of the school year, we will all learn from this great experience on what to expect when everything is (literally) foreign.


My adventure with China began before I even left home. However, let me begin nearer to the beginning.

Jim, my husband, was offered the Headmaster position at a new, international, $400,000,000 school in Shanghai. I wasn’t ecstatically happy that he readily accepted it, but my choices were few: he goes alone, or, I go with him.

I’ve had six full months to adjust to this change-of-life plan. I made a trip to Philadelphia to visit my aging folks. I convinced my niece to house-sit, cat-sit, lawn- sit, and snow-sit while we are gone. And I learned how to pay my bills on line and cancel services my niece doesn’t want and won’t use (she never watches TV – poof – cable TV will disappear). I also gave up a part-time job I adored: directing school children in plays through the Chisago Lakes Community Ed.   Adios Barry and children. I don’t know what I will do without you.

But then Jim’s school offered me a job as well! I would teach drama and speech in Shanghai to the school’s internationally recruited students. They all speak English! This will be a snap! I happily signed my contract in April. It took the Chinese government another month to read my contract and paperwork, and that’s when they discovered a fly in the ointment.

They discovered that I am (YOIKES) 60 years old. Retirement is MANDATORY at 60 in China. For everyone. No exceptions. NONE. The Shanghai government would not be granting me a “Foreign Expert Certificate” to teach. Instead, I would need a tourist visa and would need to exit and re-enter the country every 90 days.

Suddenly, I needed to reconsider my reasons for going! What would I do all day? I’d be on the outskirts of an enormous, crowded city I wasn’t familiar with, and wouldn’t be able to read signs or (possibly) ask for directions. This was going to be a challenging mid-life change at best. At worst, it seemed it was turning into a nightmare.

I decided to make lemonade out of my lemons. I would be living on or near a campus with hundreds of Chinese students. Surely some of them (and / or their wealthy parents) would need help with their English language skills. I could tutor English and make some fairly easy spending money. My fantasy ignored the fact that I was not yet in China, and didn’t have any students lined up. But I convinced myself that this was going to be a more flexible and profitable way to spend my days on Chinese soil.

A month after that new plan of attack was decided upon, another email from China arrived. The government decided to raise the mandatory retirement age for FOREIGNERS from 60 to 65. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Suddenly I was back to writing lesson plans and buying more How-To-Teach books from Amazon.

Today I put Jim on his Delta flight to Seattle, and it then left for Shanghai. In another twenty-six days I will be on a flight of my own. Traveling the world is, by its nature, an adventure. I just never imagined it would begin before I left home.

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