Sunday, August 3, 2014

Part C - Culture and comfort food while teaching in China.

For people coming from mono-cultures, the experience of being the only foreigner, the odd one out, can be unsettling, and travelling with a little bit of home can make the difference between feeling completely at sea, or grounded. Coming from Melbourne, Australia, I’m used to being surrounded by different cultures, foods, languages and ideas. I’ve worked in a variety of settings with people from a huge number of countries over the years. But I’ve rarely worked with one single group of “foreigners” it’s mostly been mixed groups, so for me to work with only Chinese people was unusual. They were all able to speak with each other, and many had well formed work and friendship groups, whereas in a class with multiple nationalities, English is often the only common language. 

Travel to China can be exhilarating, the country is steeped in a rich history going back many centuries, but it’s also draining, can be confronting, and the smells, noise, heat and humidity, traffic and sense of being “full on” can be utterly exhausting. People who’ve never experienced an Asian country can be overwhelmed and usually find they need to escape, not only to the secure cave of the hotel room, but also with comfort foods. Most of us tend to work better when we’re in control, and as teachers being in control is integral to the job!

The music in the shops is different, the voices are different, the oily food is likely to upset your digestive system. Even familiar outlets have a distinctly local flavour. At first, the traffic seems erratic and unpredictable. If you’re thinking of working overseas, even for a short time, think carefully about what you like to have to soothe you when times get tough. Is it a special breakfast cereal to start the day on a good note? Muesli? Oatmeal? Is it perfume? A particular bar of soap to soothe the senses? Your own music carefully selected and securely loaded onto your favourite device? (Don't forget the correct cables and adaptors!) Paper, or ebooks?

For me it’s tea. Preferably Earl Grey with a dash of milk. I also enjoy English tea, but unfortunately hot tea with milk isn’t readily available in all countries. Usually it’s possible to buy long life milk as refrigeration isn’t always possible. Next time (and I hope there will be a next time!) I’ll pack some of those tiny motel style pods of long life milk just to be sure! I’d counted my tea bags carefully before I left home, but hadn’t allowed for extra reviving cups of tea after work. Thankfully I was able to replenish my stash of Earl Grey tea in Shanghai – hooray!
A passable drink of coffee was welcome mid morning. It's worth finding a local brand rather than imported items where possible. The long-life bottles weren't bad at all. The juju berries were a delicious gift.

Packing comfort items might seem silly to some, but it can make the difference between feeling out of sorts and tense, or relatively relaxed. 

Relaxed is my preferred option!

My previous posts about Teaching in China were our Arrival, Banquets and this one is followed by Driving.



Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue - I admire your ability to travel ... I do feel not so comfortable away from the routine of England or home ... I hate routine though, but find that I need to settle fairly quickly ...

However - what a tremendous experience being able to travel and teach in China - must be amazing ... and so life changing for you.

I'll pop back and read your other posts ... thanks for calling in at PL! Cheers Hilary

Sue Travers said...

I've been extremely fortunate to travel Hilary and I don't take it for granted. I do find travel stressful, but also get tired of routine - I don't always find the right balance... but there's little that a good cup of tea can't cure!