When I’m not actually teaching, I try to spend as little of my free time in the office as I possibly can. My coworkers, as nice as they are, have no concept of a quiet, communal work space; whenever they’re not actively working they’re yelling into their phones, shouting out what I’m usually sure are friendly debates, and playing music and movies at full blast. Lunch breaks are two and a half hours long, and the first half is spent eating, chain smoking and having what I can only imagine are screaming contests, while the second half is spent sleeping wherever they’d happened to be when it hit the halfway mark. Tables, desks, multiple chair beds, wheel barrows… I’m convinced that the Chinese can sleep anywhere.
But not me… No, I barely even sleep at night, and I’ve come to view these long afternoon siestas as an invaluable opportunity to lesson plan, explore and write. The streets are packed with people running errands, stretching their legs and grabbing something to eat, and it’s the perfect opportunity for some mid-day culture shock. Lunch breaks in my school’s area, which is one of the older and therefore slummier parts of the city, are practically guaranteed to deliver on this too; street food vendors brandishing bamboo sticks at each other over territory, a restaurant bill dispute that was solved by throwing dishes at the management, as well as a guy who’d been in such a hurry that he’d felt the need to take a hammer to the cars blocking his in, resulting in a massive brawl. Even if my office was a productive and relaxing environment, I’d still be out in the streets every day hoping to stumble onto one of these ridiculous situations.
Even in early March, Shenzhen afternoons are already 80 degrees, and it’s the perfect weather for gambling in parks, strapping over-sized objects to your bike, and of course… selling pig carcasses out of the back of a pick up truck. Call me crazy, but I’ve always been under the impression that meat and hot sun were a bad combo. Maybe I’m wrong though, or maybe I just don’t have the entrepreneurial spirit that these guys have, to sit in front of a shopping mall with a scale and attempt to sell half of a pig to anybody passing by. Guts and entrails would spill out onto the pavement whenever they’d found a customer who values a good price over food poisoning, leaving puddles of rusty brown scattered all across the sidewalk. I’d only witnessed one sale, and after the hacked up torso had been weighed and paid for, some kitchen worker casually walked away with it slung over his shoulder, headed back to a restaurant that I’ve decided I should avoid like the plague. Just another day out and about on my lunch break, and just another reason why I avoid pork in China.