This is the third time I’ve tried to write this post, and hopefully it’ll come out right this time. Both times I’ve gone horribly off topic, writing basically whatever nonsense came out of my stream of conscious at the time. The second time I had writer’s block and forced out a thousand words anyway. It was terribly convoluted and I ended up talking as much about the intention of design as I did about “no why!”.
Anyway, to the topic at hand.
One of the things I find particularly frustrating about living in China is the response “no why!” to lots of questions I ask. I consider myself a fairly curious person. I like to know about and understand the world around me, especially when I’m in a new place with a different culture and way of life. Consequently, I used to ask “why?” questions a lot. “Used to” being the operative words.
When planning on coming to China, I started thinking of “why” questions, and when I finally arrived everything was new and interesting so my number of “why” questions went up dramatically. But then I’d so often get the response “no why” that I sort of gave up and my “why” question count has gone down a lot. I’m still a curious person, I still want to find out about the world around me, but it’s just so frustrating trying to do so here that I’ve temporarily put “why” on hold. At work a while ago I drew a version of the chart below to illustrate the point.
“No why” is used whenever a person a) doesn’t know the answer, b) doesn’t have the inclination or ability to explain the answer, or c) when there simply is no answer. Without generalising too much, I think a) and c) and the predominant reasons.
Remember that China is still a communist country where access to knowledge is highly controlled. The education system here is very much geared to learning approved facts. There is much less emphasis on applying that knowledge to form original thoughts. Some of my students boast that the education system in China is better because students learn more. I retort that the value of facts without the ability to use them is greatly reduced. This approach to education is understandable in an undemocratic country with an undercurrent of private disgruntlement at the Government – you don’t want the citizenry to figure out too much about the Government.
This is all to say that the Chinese I have encountered seem less able to piece together the knowledge they do have to answer a “why” question about something they haven’t been explicitly told the answer to.
Often I think there really is no answer. Because China is developing so fast and cities are being built so quickly, sometimes there literally is “no why”. When I ask about urban design, the reality is that a lot of it has been haphazardly cobbled together at such breakneck speed that there wasn’t time for any thought about “why” in the first place.
I expect I would find the same answers and so frustration living in any country where I don’t speak the language, and I know that I’ve been guilty of this back home, sometimes fobbing off questions from curious foreigners with the answer “because it just is”, but I still find it frustrating to be on the other end of it. It’s also a little bit annoying that the Chinglish phrase is so much clearer than what we might use in the English speaking world. “No why!” sounds far better than “because it just is” or one of its variants.
Anyway, on to other things I’ve done this week. At school my Chinese lesson yesterday was cancelled due to staff training. Of course, I only found out after arriving at school expecting a lesson. In the 37 weeks I’ve been here, I’m supposed to have had 37 Chinese lessons. Alas, I’ve only managed to have five even with a lot of pestering of the powers that be.
But on a brighter note, yesterday me and Sarah went out for another photo safari. This time we went to Da Yanta, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and managed to walk over five miles in the course of the day. The grounds are splendid, with fountains and sculptures, and a very nice relaxing park to the east. We stayed long enough to practice our night photography, with everyone looking very curiously at my super mini tripod. I’ll definitely be going there again when I want to escape the rigours of life.
At work we’ve all been following the olympics as best we can with 8,000km and seven time zones in the way. I gather that Team GB (and Northern Ireland) is doing rather well, and with the things I’m reading on Facebook and Twitter, I quite wish I was in London right now. It’s typical, I was cycling across Europe four years ago so didn’t see any of the Beijing olympics, and now I’m in China during the London olympics. I managed to download the opening ceremony, and a few of us watched it with the Brits explaining the weird quirks to the Americans.
With 37 weeks gone, I’ve only got 15 weeks remaining. I’ve still got six days of annual leave that I haven’t used, plus there’s a week long national holiday in October, and, touch wood, now the summer classes have died down we’ll have three quieter weeks before we resume our normal busy schedule. That means I only have around ten proper weeks left.
I’ll miss Xi’an when I leave, especially the friends I’ve made here and how, after nine months, it genuinely feels as much like home as anywhere else in the world. I never thought I’d say this, especially with how much I complain about it, but I actually think that I’ll even miss my school when I go. But I know I won’t be signing a second year contract. One of the main reasons I got into TEFL is to see more of the world, so my next job will be somewhere else, hopefully starting in January. Plus, I already have my flight booked. I’ll be landing back at London Heathrow at 5:40pm on Tuesday the 27th of November. If anyone has a couch available for a night or two, that’d be grand…