I traveled to China in 2002 to take up the position as Head of English at the School of Administration at Wuhan University in the Hubei Province of China. The University was a massive campus where students lived in dormitories and studied in class rooms along the stairways of the Dormitory Buildings.
Meals were available through the student canteen and restaurants on the campus, as well as street vendors, at very reasonable costs and one could live at the University for a very small amount of money. I had an apartment decorated in Western Style just for me and it was rather sumptuous and expensively decorated and very comfortable indeed. My Chinese boss was very generous and treated me and the students very well.
…How well I remember the Golden Seal. It signifies my first Teaching English Role in China.
It was 2003, and an Australian company was sending a teacher to Wuhan University to set up an English School in China, and I was the lucky teacher to go there to teach 20 University students at Wuhan University Campus in a new building which was being built as the classes started.
I was housed in a dormitory in the grounds where there were foreign students and teachers. They were from Russia and a couple from Germany as a company was in Wuhan teaching the Chinese how to make beer. That was the extent of the foreigners in China in 2003. I could walk the streets of the shopping centre and never meet a westerner. They were all Chinese and I was one of the first westerners to be here.
My superior and Boss was Mr Wuhan, who was a very kind Chinese gentleman who had plans to add me to his household. As part of this invitation or wooing, he presented me with many gifts, which I happily accepted not knowing where it was all heading. One of my prized gifts was the Golden Seal of the University, which he also had engraved with my name in both Chinese and English. The engraver did my name exactly as is which means it printed out a mirror image. I tried to redo it but its still in the process of being done. It was easy to simply turn the stone backwards and have a new space. The Golden Seal is one of my prized possessions and I still smile every time I see it on my table.
He was building me an apartment and when it was completed, I discovered to my dismay that he intended to share it with me. I was stunned with the huge TV in the master Bedroom with the heart shaped pillows and carved turtle doves over the bed. I did move in there..alone…and moved the TV to the Lounge where it became a focus for my students invited to share dinner with me and also watch English Movies on the huge screen. I eventually lost Mr Wuhan, but still keep in touch with a few of the students and teachers. Olia was my Assistant Teacher and Becky was my pet student who is now living and working in Australia.
I had a translator who only had a smattering of English and she got everything wrong. It wasn’t until I taught Becky enough English to translate for me that I discovered my translator had very little English. She actually knew more than Mr Wuhan and the others whose only English was a smile, so was able to smartly translate what I said into Chinese with her own embellishments. That is how I had Mr Wuhan arriving at my room with wine and a big smile one night thinking I had invited him to a rendezvous and ended up getting strange gifts like a golden ear pick and a pink phone because she thought I would like these things. I think she may have helped decorate the love nest too as the original plan was that she share it with us. That was sad. I did not mean to lead him astray at all.
It was in this period that I dined on dog until Becky was able to tell me what the menu items actually were. I did become a vegetarian for a while but my love of snake and steamed pork made me change back to carnivore.
It was a wonderful period of my life, being dined out in style every night by Mr Wuhan or other University dignitaries who all wanted to meet the English professor despite not being able to speak with me, and I had some wonderful meals with dinner guests who had impeccable manners who showered me with numerous delicacies including frogs, turtles, and even a huge sea crab that must have been over a 100 years old and had lived in this tank at the restaurant forever. I commented on his barnacles and my translator fed him to me as my main course.
I read English Texts for Wuhan Publishers and proofread and composed English Texts for Exam Training. That actually paid more than my monthly wage as an English Professor and I was very sad to leave that lucrative part time position as the English Voice. I read with another older guy who had the monopoly of English here until I came with my British Accent and blonde hair. Yes, that blonde hair was useful as the Chinese were amazed by my hair and would come to touch me and stare.
I went to karaoke and swung on flower studded swings in small rooms whilst singing karaoke, and played numerous games of bowls anguishing over my 3 inch finger nails being slowly destroyed because somehow I had given the impression that this happened in Australia after every meal, dressed in heels and short tight skirts wondering why I was here at midnight breaking my nails.
If I could have any part of my life back, I would ask to go back to Wuhan for just one season. It was a wonderful experience.