Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Yes, I shouldn't be up at 2:30am when I have a gazillion and two things to do at work tomorrow.

I'm in a funk again. I'm reading some newly discovered weblogs by colleagues of mine that I don't/didn't really know very well. You know, sorta fleshing them out. One of them left mid-year because of strong disagreements with the way the school is run, the mismatch between what he was told when recruited and the reality of the school, because he wouldn't play a part in the school/company's unspoken evangelical mission. He also had lots of grumps about Shanghai, about living in a developing country, about the stress of being in a place where he didn't fit in. Other colleagues write about the same thing, about how hard life is here sometimes because of the inconveniences and inefficiencies of this place. Both "my" school and "my" country come off looking pretty bad, and I doubt myself: if these people, undeniably smarter and more experienced than me, condemn this place, am I dumb for staying here? Is my conscience, my critical thought, my ability to evaluate good and bad, dead? Should I be speaking, acting out? I know about the pollution, about the scams and disorganization, about the racism and ignorance, about the compromises made in "my" school, city and country; I know about them better than they do because I'm reading about them in the newspaper every day, I'm eavesdropping on unsuspecting conversations and being privy to otherwise impenetrable cultural moments. Am I stupid for not leaving? If I was back in the US I could get certified and be a better teacher, work at a more prestigious and well-funded private school, have the support of an extended family, enjoy the diversity and abundance that American offers... but I don't. Is this acceptable? Am I crazy, stupid, blind?

Instead, I live in a country where I worry about my kid being the nail that gets pounded down at school. I despair of being able to buy a house erected without sub-standard building materials. I bemoan the lack of long-term planning at all levels of society and government that causes waste on a gigantic scale affecting the health and well-being of my family and peers. I struggle at my job, taking more responsibility than I am trained for on less resources than I require, hobbled by a lack of competent professional mentors. I am constantly on my guard, fumbling between two languages, frustrated by my inability to communicate at the level of an adult to my society, and to be seen as one. And I sit here needing to associate and be accepted by people I respect, but listening as they grow frustrated, weakened, disgusted and ultimately reject the environment that I choose to inhabit. I've made this choice, I make this choice every day.

How can everybody be so sure of themselves? I push against the grain, wondering if this choice is worth it. Or am I just pushing against myself.

I'll be happier tomorrow.


At Apr 3, 2007, 10:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said:

Relax, Micah, there's nothing wrong with you. Or if there is, I have the same disease, so at least you have company. Guys like us make our compromises and settle in, people like them never do. You and your school are better off without them, and you and your school would be better off with more people like yourself. Yeah, life in China is hard and there's a lot of shit we have to deal with. I have the same worries as you. But let's face it, that's half the reason we're here. It's such an awesome ride precisely because it's so imperfect. Well, that's how I see things, anyway. Also, I think it's long-termers like us who settle down here who make the biggest long-term impact for good on this society, and I can't see what these short-timers who pack up and leave cos they can't handle it actually contribute. Don't want to sound like a missionary, cos I'm not, I just mean we're in a better position to have a lasting positive impact on our students than the short-timers, and that's a good thing, that's what teachers are supposed to do.

Relax, mate, I'm sure you're doing fine.

At Apr 3, 2007, 11:30:00 AM, Blogger Jeff Rutsch said:

Interesting, interesting. Maybe there's some factor I'm not considering, but I don't think you have to commit yourself as a Shanghai lifer, and look at it as if you're making a long-term commitment to the city. You're building experience as a teacher, and speaking Chinese is a generally useful skill. Once your wife gets a passport, you could move to the US without skipping a beat.

I don't think accepting or rejecting Shanghai life is a measure of intelligence - Shanghai living has its own characteristics and perhaps even a sense of novelty, some people will respond to it entirely differently than others. As a pessimistic person I view it from a negative opinion - for me, all the negatives of living on the US mainland were getting to be a major drag!

As far as teaching goes, from the blog, you seem a lot more enthusiastic and qualified and generally suitable than any of my friends who are teachers, back in the US.

At Apr 3, 2007, 2:02:00 PM, Blogger Larry Sittig said:

Good reflections. How can there be a right or wrong answer? Keep digging deep, and count on grace.
Don't compare yourself unfavorably to others, though. You've got a lot of resources you're working with. An exceptionally strong mind, an exceptionally good heart, an exceptionally deep soul, some exceptionally high level training, an exceptionally broad experience, the hand of God on you, an exceptionally precious wife.
Not to mention good genes.
Love, Dad

At Apr 3, 2007, 7:25:00 PM, Blogger Sensei Michael said:

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Apr 3, 2007, 7:28:00 PM, Blogger Sensei Michael said:

I think many of us can identify with the questions raised, but have chosen to stay on with our organisations because we can see the difference.

I'd like to present a quote to cheer you up (now I know why it kept ringing in my head - perhaps it's meant to be an encouragement for you).

We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.
We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.
Mother Teresa

At Apr 8, 2007, 10:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said:

Great post! I have similar thoughts a lot lately.


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