Yesterday I received a phone call from Mr. Yang, head of the Office of International Education, which happens to occupy the second floor of our apartment building.  He’s Lara’s Foreign Affairs Officer, and our primary institutional contact at the University.  He said he wanted to see me in his office right away.  I didn’t know what this was about, but in the back of my head I thought ok, someone in the government has taken exception to something I wrote and now I’m going to hear about it.  This is a background preoccupation of mine here, not knowing the degree of surveillance and thus always wondering what exactly is going on. I never quite know where the lines are, what’s tolerated, what’s not, and if they even care all that much. I went downstairs ready for anything.

Mr. Yang is a well-meaning bureaucrat, who speaks in halting English, considering every word before he says anything.  He does translation work in addition to heading up the office which overseas the foreign teachers.   From time to time I help him with this.  He’ll call me into his office, sounding all official and serious, then show me something on his computer about “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” or proper procedures for washing gem stones, wondering how best to translate the Chinese into English.

After helping him with an awkward phrase on the document on his computer, he told me the reason he had summoned me.  It turns out an American English teacher who we know had to go back suddenly to the United States because his father is ill.  He teaches seven English classes to graduate students.  I looked at him, knowing where this was going.

He told me there are three two hour classes on Monday, two on Tuesday, and two on Wednesday.  It’s a group of 150 students, from several different colleges, all taking English because it’s required, and none of them are English majors. They need a teacher for the rest of the term.  He said he thought I could do it.

I said, You know, I’m not a teacher, I have no experience teaching.  You asked me to teach three classes starting in February and I am planning on doing that. This gives me two months to learn as much as possible how to teach English from Lara and plan my classes.  Mr. Yang now wanted me to start not next February, but next week, first thing Monday morning.  I told him I’d think about it and tell him the next day.

We met some of the students this morning, and they are very friendly and made me feel at ease.  It seems like it would be a fun experience to work with them, plus it’ll be a kind of trial run for my classes in February.  They are very eager to learn and seemed so happy to met me.  How could I say no?

It turns out the class only has three weeks to go, so I’ll be done before New Years. This will be an interesting way to interact with a large group of grad students, learning more about China in the process.  So no interrogations about my blog or anything else.  Just a request for help, and an opportunity to immerse myself deeper into China.