I think I have to say, along with you, we are actually in fundamental agreement. Our terminology perhaps is different, and, in a real sense as well as in a more personal sense, as in our former private discussion — which again a flood of work got in the way of being able to continue — we live in different cultures.
Most people who come here find it difficult to assimilate into the culture; I find it difficult to understand and assimilate, in this case, to a culture where everything is reduced to its economic value. You fight and kick against the system in which you find yourself; I …
Well let me put it this way, back in early 2000 when I told a friend in England that I was coming here, she said I was just running away from my problems. I assured her and meant it, that I was not; I was coming here because it had been, not a plan, but a seed there in my mind from the age of around 14 when I’d decided to do my degree in Chinese … a seed that then fell on the desert sand of the “Great Cultural Revolution”. For over 20 years, I did what I could in life, thinking I’d never come here. It finally happened unexpectedly, in 1995 for 3 weeks, and by the end of those three weeks I had promised a young colleague on the project that one day I’d come back here to live and work … no idea how to make it happen, and too many impediments at the time, but a lovely, warming dream. That dream came true in 2000 and I came here for a year … and here I am nearly 10 years later, knowing I will have to return home to the UK soon, but not knowing how I’m going to manage that either, with all my ties here.
So what have I done? I’ve moved into a different system and culture which allows me to be a benign alien … if you like, to live my idealist dream as nearly as is possible. I am not part of the system — my friends are and they have to cope with it, but I’m outside it. Many years ago, a friend said to me when I was outraged at something she had said and pointed out that it didn’t apply to me, “Well, everyone knows you’re an alien!” It is as if I have finally managed to find somewhere where I can be the benign alien that she told me I am.
Yes, I’m paid for my work, currently roughly USD 600 per month … I do need food, drink and a roof over my head. And yes, out of that money I can save enough to buy myself an MBP and an MBA, external disk drives, a scanner, an inkjet printer and a laser printer, a small recording set-up, external DVD drives … and take friends out to meals, fly off to New Zealand — I hope for the next holiday. But to me, if I had only half of that money, I would still have a roof over my head and food and drink on my table, and my friends … and what is most important to me, the chance to give intellectual and personal support to my friends, students and colleagues. It is those latter things that matter, not the money.
And yes, my education did cost money … mostly to the state. My father working abroad for the British Council, I believe my school fees were largely met by the Council. At Cambridge, my parents’ required contributions, thanks to the state scholarship scheme that existed, amounted to GBP10 per month, about GBP30 per month, plus fees being paid by the state. In my last two years, I had a college scholarship which raised my living by about 80%, so I was pretty wealthy I felt. My daughter ended up going to a private girl’s school … it took half my salary as a university lecturer, and then at Cambridge we had to give her our, pretty modest, contribution to her living. But in none of this, not my costs to my parents, nor our daughter’s costs to us, nor my income as a teacher, has the money been an end. It’s been a necessary evil, if you like. We all have to live … sadly, much of the world, much of the system is geared, and yes, has been for centuries, geared to making the end money, the creation of wealth, and also power. And you are right to be angry, because from what I gather, you seem fundamentally to have been a victim of that, where I have not.
If money were an object for me, I’d be doing like Chinese teachers and charging students for writing references for them … in some cases, also saying to the student, “You write the reference, and I’ll edit it and sign it”! I’d have made over a month’s salary extra in the last 6 weeks! And if I were like the vast majority of foreign teachers, I’d be complaining about my pay, and doing the absolute minimum that I could get away with.
Earlier this year, in summer while I was in England, a colleague — actually, the same colleague to whom I’d originally promised that I’d come back here — went to a conference on interpreting in Shanghai. She was to give a paper on a topic we’d been working on together for some time, on cognition and translating/interpreting. She wrote me an email at the first opportunity after her presentation. Apart from congratulating her on the paper, apparently the most common comment from those who’d been present was, “I wish we had foreign experts like that at our university.” Their foreign experts, and most of those here, are selling what expertise they have, and as they’re not paid much, they don’t sell much.
And yes, too, all this gives me influence and authority, and perhaps power that I don’t recognise, in the eyes of my colleagues and friends and acquaintances … and I find that very hard to accept. I don’t want it, it frightens me, it burdens me with too much responsibility, responsibility that I don’t think I’m capable of carrying.
Idealist … yes; alien … yes; idiot … probably. But fundamentally happy and at peace with myself.