Wednesday, 30 May 2018

A change of career

Ten years is a long time, from a certain perspective.

Ten years and six months ago, I deposited my ID and left the building with that unique relief that comes from freedom.

If you’ve ever spent six months in the twisting out-of-town lair of a multinational credit card company, sat with a thousand other nobodies in a gargantuan drone-hall that is merely a fraction of the corporate sprawl; wearily tabbing between PDF and ungainly in-house system as you enter the meagre figures from raw, humiliating debt repayment proposals so they can be summarily rejected by the algorithms that dance for your soulless masters; subject to the same endlessly-looping company radio in any room or corridor you enter, as your mind slowly devolves into gruel; watching exploited colleagues on temporary minimum-wage contracts delude themselves into machismotic displays of break-skipping self-sacrifice before being summarily laid off as backlogs clear; passing from inky autumn morning to clinical fluorescence and back to the darkness of early evenings; finding respite only in the nigh-religious ritual of breaking free each noon for an hour of honest air and tranquillity regardless of thundering rain or bone-chilling cold, and granting atrophying muscles a desolate circuit of the palace of Mammon; finally slipping free of the uncaring hand and striding out into the heady air of freedom – well, you’ll know what I mean.

Why no, I haven't slept more than two hours before writing this. Why do you ask, imaginary made-up person?

In that particular case, I was departing for a voluntary teaching placement in China. During a previous job I’d noticed an advert for volunteers willing to teach at universities in China, and having studied linguistics (amongst other things) and enjoyed the TEFL module I took, this seemed like an interesting opportunity. Expensive, like a lot of these things, but worth it. I did a lot of research and took the plunge, so thankfully the aforementioned six months was leavened by knowing I had an out.

So in March 2008 I nervously set off for Xi’an, Shaanxi, central China. Home of the Terracotta Warriors and, of more personal interest, one of the places my dad had visited in the late 1980s as an invited lecturer, when China was beginning to open up more to foreigners.

That particular trip is another story for another time. Suffice it to say: it happened, there were ups and downs, and moved on to my next job with the vague feeling that TEFL wasn’t something I desperately wanted to continue with.

Seven years and a bit later, in Sheffield, I signed up for a language exchange scheme at the Confucius Institute, where I was partnered with a lady who turned out to be from Xi’an.

A bit shy of three more years later, I am preparing to leave my job in Sheffield and move to Xi’an, where I’ve been offered a place as an English-and-associated-stuff teacher in Xidian University. This will involve a huge amount of time, effort, emotional exhaustion, and indeed money. On the other hand, I’ll be able to hug my girlfriend without using an emoji.

Plus, maybe I can finally get another bowl of 鸡汤刀削面…

P.S. September 1st: The last year or so have been a soup of repeated minor illness, family stuff, work stuff and the huge amount of time that this move has required. Hopefully this will explain the complete dearth of posts recently. Hope to get back to it now I've actually hit Xi'an, but I do have entire courses to write, so who knows?

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