Turks and Their Rugs

Imagine a Sultan from your history classes, with the poufy clothes and that large headpiece, seated in a domed throne room. Amongst the huge marble pillars that hold up the chamber, just how many rugs and how many colors have you imagined rolled out along the floor and covering the walls? That elegance transcends the Ottoman Empire to daily life in Turkey, and there isn’t a single craft that Turks take more pride in than their rugs. Turkish apartments are adorned with rugs that have been passed down generations, and the quality of Turkish rugs is unmatched when it comes to the intricacy of their patterned weaves and the level of effort put into producing each one.

The modern day version

When I’d moved into my first apartment in Izmir, I’d needed to wait an extra day for the rugs to be properly cleaned and ready. While they weren’t the Hereke rugs that foreign leaders are given when they first visit Turkey, it’d still been worth the wait as I’d watched my landlord decorate the bare apartment with rugs of every shape and color. Over a year later, I’ve gotten lucky enough to tour one of the government subsidized rug Corps in Cappadocia, and to even buy one of my own! Well, my family had bought it, but a major and awkward part of the sales pitch had been that it would eventually become mine… morbid implications intended.

The finest

The Turkish rug industry is still very much a cottage industry in that rugs of all kinds are made in villages at the homes of families dedicated to the craft. These rugs make their way to major cities to be sold by either middle man, or what’s called a Corp (we’ll get to that later). Those middle men are the carpet sellers on the streets of downtown Istanbul who will try lead you to one of their shops. They line the corridors of the Grand Bazaar, approach you outside of whichever monument you’re near, and heckle you as you pass by their small shops in the tourist area of Sultanahmet. You can count on at least several approaching you every day, and don’t be surprised if they’re pushy as hell.

Death of a carpet salesman

When a carpet seller approaches you as you’re sightseeing, it’s all so obvious from the get-go that they’re only out to make a sale. They’ll try to break down your defensiveness with small talk or compliments, and some will even offer to give you a free tour of whichever museum or mosque you’re nearby. Expect them to chide you if you’re not being open enough to a casual conversation, because damn are they persistent. They’ll say or offer just about anything to eventually get you into one of their shops. Carpet sellers are essentially the used car salesmen of the rug industry, and with that comes lemons and suckers. It’s not that their rugs aren’t necessarily good, it’s just that that who knows what you’re actually buying, or how much it had originally been purchased for. It’s for this reason that carpet sellers are listed among the common tourist scams of Turkey.

Wanna make a rug look old and ornate? Lay it out in the harsh sun and let tourists walk over it before one eventually buys it for quadruple its worth

This is where the aforementioned Corps come in. Corps are the rug wholesaler institutions which the Turkish government have subsidized in an effort to curb the migration of village people to major cities in Turkey. This migration is fueled by the desire for better jobs and the comforts of city life, but more often than not results in poverty and struggle for the villagers that move. As the refugee crisis continues to worsen and further stretch the Turkish welfare networks thin, Ankara has begun to take a financial interest in the rug industry. Weaving co-ops have been established in villages with modern looms and equipment, and master weavers have been employed to provide vocational training and ensure quality. Wages are subsidized and materials are provided for the production of these rugs. The Corps are the outlets at which these village rugs get sold, and overall this social welfare program has created artisan opportunities for village people that allow them a chance at prosperity without ever having to move. And for the savvy buyer, they offer trustworthy and quality rugs at an equitable price. It’s the crop sharing of textiles, sans carpet-baggers (heh).

The master weavers

The Corps

And the subsidized silk

Silk, wool, or cotton, it’s the material as well as the level of stitching that affect a rug’s price. One that could cover your living room floor might be a fraction of the price of one that could only barely cover your laptop, and it all comes down to the intricacy of the patterns and how many knots are in each square inch. They’re graded from level 1 to level 10, and a level 10 the size of your table could take several years to complete by a master weaver. A level 4 is your standard village quality, while anything finer than a level 7 must have been knitted by hand. You very much get what you pay for, and if you’re looking for the perfect souvenir from Turkey, then a rug will be well worth your money and carry-on room. Just remember to haggle no matter where you’re shopping! And be patient, if one of your parents is purchasing it…

A Grand Bazaar rug merchant; “Half the price? Still a 500% profit”

Moving in with a Bang

When some people buy a house, they open a bottle of champagne and celebrate. Others aggravate everybody within a one mile radius with way more than just a pop.

Get ’em while they’re hot

In 2016, I’d been living in a ghost town that had barely had enough residents to fill 10% of its available apartments. Huangmei’s Jurong Country Garden was 20 miles from the outskirts of Nanjing city, and had been built in anticipation of a subway line that’s still over 5 years away from being completed. Speculation has been rapidly on the rise despite the lack of current infrastructure, and real estate development companies have already built acres of apartment complexes that have yet to be inhabited. There were 1000’s of apartments in this small town, but barely enough residents to even warrant a fully stocked supermarket. Among the empty store fronts and plazas, down the highway from a desolate 6 floor shopping mall waiting for a community to shop at it, was the massive boarding school that had brought me to this barren wasteland.

It would’ve otherwise been silent if it weren’t for the fireworks

Cookie cutter communities

Coming up

Ghost towns like this aren’t exactly new in China, and cities of anticipation have made world news before with the famous example of Ordos Kangbashi. Some turn out to be huge mistakes and financial sinkholes, but Huangmei had seemed to be catching on. I could hear it loud and fucking clear. Lighting off a salvo of fireworks after purchasing a home is something of a custom in China, and new residents were announcing their prosperity at all hours of the day. Who needs a deed when you have a box mortars.

A typical evening

And a typical day

Jurong Country Garden

Sometimes I’d been in class when I’d heard what sounded like demolition, and other times I’d just crawled into bed when some brand new home-owner had decided to make everybody aware of it. Convenient stores in the area had been sparse and not even close to convenient, but if there was one business that you could count on in Huangmei’s vacant streets, it had been fireworks retailers. Burnt mortar boxes were mixed into the construction debris along the streets, and the booming could be heard from wherever you were in the area. It was like Mad Max meets the Beverly Hillbillies. Let’s just say, I’m not regretting my recent move to Shanghai. But hey, the more you see, right?

Give it a couple more years of explosions first though

Mobikes Mo’ Problems

Overnight, they appeared in major cities. Within a week, there was a pallet of competing colors along sidewalks. And in under a month, the streets were cluttered by kick stands. Bike sharing has become the latest craze in China, piggybacking off of companies like Uber and Didi to give urbanites a new and health-fueled option for short distance commuting or recreation. There’s just one key exception that sets these bike-sharing companies apart from the ones you’re familiar with back home; there aren’t any standardized docking stations. All it takes is a phone app.

Ofo, Mobike, Bluegogo, Geenbike; they’re loose on the streets. These various bike companies have monochromatically branded themselves, creating a rainbow of options scattered across every city that they’ve launched in. All a rider needs to do to access a bike is scan its QR code with the GPS-linked app and get on, and once they’ve finished they can hop off, lock it and walk away. The bikes are anywhere pedestrians might be coming and going, getting dropped off or picked up wherever as people go about their days. “China’s billion-dollar bike-sharing revolution has already transformed the look and feel of cities around the country, with more than 100 million apps downloaded and billions of rides taken on many millions of bikes”- The Washington Post

Anywhere, anytime

Any color

Mobike has positioned itself as the most popular option among foreigners due to their acceptance of foreign identity cards and passports, and to mobike has become as common of a verb as to google among the expat community. For all of the convenience and fun that these bikes have created, the eighth plague of two-wheeled locusts is also causing problems in the cities that they’ve invaded.

A block of Mobikes

5. Two-wheeled mayhem

They mean well and just want to have fun, but there’s a certain etiquette to city cycling that won’t be followed by your average mobiker. Meandering and weaving, clogging bike lanes with sheer numbers, riding on sidewalks or against traffic… It stands to reason that somebody who rarely bikes isn’t all that good at it. Streets can already get pretty hectic here in China, and this multi-colored flood of bikers has created a haphazard environment on the streets for both other bikers and pedestrians.

4. Unexpected costs

1RMB a ride is a pretty good deal, and the deposit of 300RMB makes sense. These apps rely on you topping up your account with a minimum amount of credit, and then working off of that. But if you drop below that minimum or park your bike inside of a residential area… expect huge fees!

A 100 ride fee for one ride too many

3. Broken parts

Wear and tear comes with the territory, and months after the launch, shared bikes have become hit or miss due to broken locks and faulty equipment. It’s a no-brainer that a service based on convenience and accessibility will begin to be relied upon, and nothing is more frustrating than when every bike on your block has been temporarily locked down due to maintenance issues. Or worse yet, if a bike doesn’t unlock when scanned, you can’t relock it to end your ride… often resulting in your account being temporarily frozen after you’ve been forced to report the malfunction. But hey, at least the bikes have only been breaking when I’m running late and not while I’m riding one!

2. Vandalism

While not so much of an issue for the rider, it is funny to see these bikes plastered with ads. As they overwhelm the sidewalks, people are making use of them in every way possible. Then comes the less innocent instances of vandalism, as everybody from disgruntled residents to artistic provocateurs (LINK) do what they please with the surplus of bikes. And let’s not forget the company Wukong, which went bankrupt after 90% of their 16,000 bikes simply disappeared in under 5 months.

When I’d said anywhere…

1. Cluttering and graveyards

There are just simply too many damn bikes. “These days, the key to winning the battle for market share, building brand loyalty, and attracting outside investment isn’t satisfying customer demand. Instead, the focus has shifted to overwhelming the competition” – Sixth Tone’s Why China’s Shared Bikes Are Locked in a Race to the Bottom.  Vandalism hasn’t been the only public response to the flood of bikes on China’s streets, and I’d been shocked to witness first hand the Shenzhen city police piling them into heaps on busy street corners. Amidst the night life were graveyards of bikes tangled atop each other, waiting to be confiscated and impounded. When the business model has shifted from meeting a need to flooding the streets, the backlash amounts to mountains.

When this

Becomes this



Bike sharing; China’s latest craze, and nuisance


Subsidized Sailing

This isn’t the first time I’ve wrote about this, and it won’t be the last… Last week, the novelty of being a foreigner in Mainland China got me special treatment. The foreign price is a double edged sword; sometimes you get charged more by a repairman because he assumes you don’t know any better, and sometimes a gym practically harasses you to work out there at a discounted price because your presence will make it seem more international. And do I even need to mention the ESL industry as a whole? This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, and it’s not that I’m actually surprised to have competed in a 5 day sailing competition at a remote lake resort for only 50USD with all expenses paid… it’s just that this is by far the strangest example of the foreign price that I’ve seen here yet.

The foreign price can get you far

It all started when an obscenely rich factory owner’s 3 daughters each got accepted into high schools and a university abroad. Schooling abroad probably sounds like the rich part of this scenario, but the number of kids is what had really jumped out at me, because holy shit is that pertinent in the only country in the world where multiple children is a determinant of extreme wealth. Their mother felt that they needed to get as much international experience as possible beforehand to prepare them for living abroad, and so she did what anybody with loads of money would do; she threw cash around. After enrolling the girls in the Gaochun Lake Sailing Competition, she’d rented 3 sailboats, 3 captains, 3 crews of foreigners. A boat for each girl, a captain to sail it, and a bunch of expats to “acclimate” them throughout those 5 days, because why not?

Crew 1: Rich Chinese girl, yours truly and the crew, and our captain

Crew 2 of 3

“Mate, have you ever sailed before? The National Week Holiday is coming up and there’s this event outside the city that’s at a 90% discount if you’re a foreign passport holder,” asked the British guy who shared an office with me. Having spent most of my middle and high school summers sailing around Lake Champlain (LINK), and having had no issues whatsoever with milking my novelty as much as possible, I’d been down.

Like riding a bike

Gaochun Lake, Jiangsu Province

What a way to spend Golden Week

What a week it had been. We’d arrived at a lake resort with the agent who’d found us all to check into extravagant rooms at an upscale lakeside hotel, and our incoming meal was an all you can eat crab buffet. The sailing competition began with several days of sailing classes, and every day out on the lake was ended with a nice dinner at some fancy restaurant. The last day of the trip consisted of a 10 boat race veering through a buoy course, and culminated in an awards ceremony with a massive buffet and all you can drink craft beer, thanks to the sponsorship of Nanjing’s very own Master Gao Craft Brewery. Local news stations were there with cameras and naturally they’d bee-lined for us to get an interview. Fame, IPAs, and medals for all of us, as they’d paraded us up onto the stage to bow and get photographed.

Crab feasts

Interviews with local news stations


The Gaochun Concert Hall that hosted our end of race gala

Craft beer and a feast

Up on stage representing the American Speed

Out of all of the motivating factors that had led to us standing up in front of the crowds, in the concert hall that had hosted our end of race gala, we’d never really been aware of the main reason for which we’d even been there. Free promotion with international faces had been the obvious push for the sailing club, but those teenage girls on each boat had been more or less an overlooked mystery to us until the final night. The agent who had found us had touted her role as part of Jiangsu Province’s international cultural exchange program, and so we’d just assumed this whole trip had been government funded. Little did we know that those timid girls we’d mostly ignored at every dinner and their discerning mother with the designer hand bags had been the real force behind our presence. To save face on behalf of the mother, it hadn’t been until the final night that the agent told us about the mother having paid for all of us, and wow had she paid a lot! I guess I would’ve been more friendly and helpful if I’d known what the foreign price had actually been buying.

The American Speed… aptly named


Running is Less Dangerous than Fire

During a fire drill, I guess there are two rules; exit in an orderly fashion, and don’t panic. Now imagine what not to do… Does it look anything like this?

Women and children first, right?

Instructed to cover their mouths and run as fast as they could, I’d nearly been knocked over by an avalanche of screaming first grades as they’d bolted towards the stairs. Nobody had informed me of the fire drill, so I’d already been bewildered by the sudden sirens echoing through the halls. The cacophony of panic only added to it. Not at all worried, I’d watched in awe as the courtyard flooded with children running like chickens with their heads cut off. Some knocked into each other, some tripped and fell, and the fittest made their way to the front of the pack. Lord of the flies, Jurong Country Garden School edition.

Head count time, still all riled up

The children bounced and fidgeted as their teachers took head counts, and I took the opportunity to ask my manager if this panic was really what the school had intended and encourages. She gave me an equally baffled look and said, Of course, safety is important and we need the children to exit as quickly as possible. I brought up the sprinting and screaming, and touched upon the multiple incidents I’d witnessed in which a kid almost got trampled… her response? Running is less dangerous than fire. Well, that clears it up.

Rest in Pastry

For myself, this Saturday had been just a typical day of enjoying Izmir’s amazing weather and seaside parks, but for several local Turkish families, it’d been a time of mourning. And how had I found this out? Well, the families were giving away delicious fried dough to honor their losses.

An otherwise happy day on the Aegean Sea

Roaming the neighborhoods of Izmir

Friends and I had been cutting through some residential side streets when we’d come across a food cart frying this doughy dessert called Lokma. Street food is pretty common here on the pedestrian streets, but never directly outside of an apartment building like this unless it were a private gathering, and I would’ve just kept on going if Soner and Sezgin hadn’t stopped to get some. Unable to understand what was being said in Turkish, I’d naturally went for my wallet until one of my friends stopped me. Soner gave me a reproachful look even as he’d motioned for me to put my wallet away, pointing to the pictures of an older man on the cart and instructing me to say what I would later learn means Take him to Heaven. Confused yet conscious of a cultural gap, I’d listened with curiousity as Sezgin went on to explain that the old man in these photos had recently passed away, adding in that these people were that man’s relatives as the female relative had handed him several of these churro-like pastries as a means of remembrance. In between mouthfuls as we’d made our way to the seaside, Soner and Sezgin took turns telling me more about this Izmir tradition that was just so perfectly befitting of everything I’d experienced in Turkey so far.

Comfort food?

Lokma is a common dessert across all of Turkey, but here in Izmir it holds a deeper symbolism. Lokma celebrates life and death, and when a relative passes away or a baby is born, families in Izmir rent a cart to prepare this food for their community as a means of good fortune. The families set up their carts either outside of their homes or in parks nearby, and both neighbors and passers-by are presented with lokma after having paid their respects to the relatives (whether in the form of condolences or congratulations, depending). Several companies are dedicated to lokma cart rentals for families whose numbers have changed for better or worse, and it’s commonplace in the workplace that on such an occasion a colleague might purchase a batch Lokma for their office as well. Several weeks after I’d first learned about this tradition in the context of grieving, two different coworkers had stopped by my office carrying plates of pastry drizzled in honey, and I’d sheepishly hesitated to accept mine before it had become clear to me whether to come off happy or sad. Thankfully both offerings of lokma had been prepared for the birth of a niece or nephew, and the pastries were celebratory as opposed to comfort food.

Rest in pastry, Mustafa and Ruhuna

Kicked off the Grid

I’d always thought I was so slick for having bought an unlocked iPhone that could be used anywhere in the world, but little did I know, that phone would later become the most expensive paperweight ever within Turkey’s borders.  The day I’d landed in Istanbul was the day the clock began ticking; I’d only had 4 months to register the foreign device before it would be blocked on any and all telecommunication services. Uninformed and already overwhelmed with every other aspect of moving to a foreign country, it wasn’t hard to overlook trivial issues like tariffs and censorship measures as I’d instead focused on researching the amazing things to see and do in my new home.


Fuck tariffs, visit mosques

Like clockwork, exactly 120 days from my first day in Istanbul and in the middle of a phone conversation, one evening in May my phone suddenly lost all service whatsoever. No service found was displayed at the top corner of my screen where bars normally would’ve been, and every attempt to log into my city’s public Wi-Fi had failed without explanation. Restarting my phone had had no effect either, and after almost an hour of frustration, I’d given up and set out for the nearest Turk Telekom shop.

The clerk kept asking me whether or not my phone was foreign, and I kept telling her it didn’t matter as I’d insisted on just adding more money to my account. The manager spoke decent English, and it was only once he’d gotten involved that I’d realized this wasn’t a problem I could just throw money at. He explained to me that foreign phones get blocked after 120 days, and that if I’d known this in advance, I could’ve paid a tax and registered it. The damage was done he told me, because if my phone was already useless, it would stay that way. At least I hadn’t been too late to get in on whatever sale they’d been having on domestic phones that week, but I wasn’t about to so readily trust a guy who would make commission off of my negligence. A visit to the tax office the next day confirmed that I really was too late though, as they’d pointed at the entry stamp in my passport and yet again mentioned 120 days. I’d left empty handed, with a past due passport and a 600 dollar brick in my pocket.

Inconvenienced to the point of asking everybody I could and revisiting both the tax office and several other Turk Telekom branches, I eventually came up with several options. The most obvious option was to buy a domestic phone, while the most inconvenient was to leave the country in order to get a fresh entry stamp in my passport and reset the 120 day clock. The shadier options were paying a friend who had recently returned to Turkey to register the phone under their name, giving it to some agency in order to reset the IME and essentially make it a fresh phone, or hiring one of the Russian students that a Turk Telekom manager happened to know for just such an occasion in order to register a locked phone. I still find it really weird that he’d felt the need to explicitly mention they were Russian during his pitch. Gotta love jingoism.

None of these options came without a price, and while beggars can’t choosers, each would be inconvenient in its own way. Any friend who might register the phone on my behalf would no longer be able to register another for 2 years, agencies that reset IME numbers have a sordid reputation for swapping out parts or overall fucking up a phone permanently, and hiring one of the Russian shills would have cost me close to a quarter of my monthly salary. Eventually though, I was able to find a friend who was both able and willing to help out. And all it ended up costing me was a steak plus several rounds of Tuborg beers. After almost a week of hassle, I was back on the grid.

What you need to register your phone

  • An entry stamp dated within 120 days
  • Your phone’s IME number
  • Roughly 140 Turkish Lira
  • A Turkish residency permit (your kimlik card)
  • Foresight

Steps for registering a phone purchased abroad

  1. Buy a SIM card at any Turkish telecom company, which you’ll need your passport for
  2. Wait for your employer to finish your residency permit and give you your kimlik card
  3. Go to your local Turkish government tax office (Vergi Dairesi) with the phone, your passport, and your kimlik card
  4. Pay the fee in order to register your sim card to your kimlik card, and receive a print out of the receipt that includes an important identification number for your SIM card
  5. Pay a minor registration fee at any post office to make that identification number viable
  6. Either go to the website of the Office of Information Technologies and Communications Organization (BTİ), or call them directly at 0 312 294 94 94, to officially register your SIM card’s identification number
  7. Viola, you’re all set

If you used this guide to register your phone instead of just laugh at my negligence, let me know how these directions worked out for you in the comment section!

Eliciting a Slap in the Mouth

I’m gonna blow your mind with this one, but the ironic thing about unforeseen problems is that you never realize you’ve got one until you’re too deep to turn back. Deep right? Not as deep as I’d been. I’d already been feeling some pressure as the Vice Principal of my school stared at me from the back of the room, but thankfully up until this point, everything had been going smoothly. It was a lesson on modals, teaching the word should in the context of good and bad behaviors during school, and even though this was by far my worst 6th grade class in terms of both English and behavior, the kids had been keeping up with the materials and getting it smoothly enough. That was actually the reason our Vice Principal had felt the need to be there in the first place; these kids could go full-asshole in a matter of seconds over nothing, and had almost as little regard for their foreign teachers as they did learning English in general. Things had been going uncharacteristically smooth though as they nailed every example that I’d pantomimed for them or shown pictures of, and it had really seemed like their enthusiastic participation was going to impress my boss who otherwise couldn’t understand a single word of my lesson… until we got to the PowerPoint slide You Shouldn’t Say Curse Words. It was only then that I’d realized my lesson planning had suddenly put me between a rock and a hard place.

The lesson became like playing a game of taboo in front of your boss when the answer could get you fired

I’m pretty sure one of the first things a teenager learns in a foreign language is how to insult somebody’s mother or combine the word fuck with a pronoun, but how many people would expect anybody but someone who’s fluent to know what “curse words” means out of context. I’ve already mentioned that these kids were enthusiastic but not exactly the brightest, and while I’m sure that they could’ve completed the sentence “My teacher is _____” in 20 different offensive ways, there was no way that any of them had a clue what a “curse word” was without being given examples. Explaining its meaning by giving examples would’ve been effortless if it weren’t for the simple fact that dropping the F-bomb in front of your students is wildly inappropriate, and so the lesson became like playing a game of taboo in front of your boss when the answer could get you fired. I’d tried category diagrams, as well as defining it with terms like bad words and words your teachers don’t like, and I’d even went so far as to fake stub my toe and literally yell BLEEP, but the more I jumped all over the place grasping for context and beating around the bush, the more I just confused the shit out of them and lost their attention. A game of hangman would be my final attempt, and I’d prefaced my last stand with Do. Not. Shout. Out. The. Answer. before proceeding to draw out the gallows and write the capitol F that would be their first and only clue towards guessing this four letter example of a curse word.


Uhhhhh, Fish?

Could I actually be mad that almost half the class shouted fuck, some even gleefully? The most powerful method of teaching is leading the students to figure out the answer on their own, and I‘d just led a class of kids who weren’t used to being successful in English, and who loved cursing, to do just that as loud as they could… right in front of their Vice Principal. I’m pretty sure the goal for eliciting is limited to curriculum materials only, and to the vice principal who had only understood that F-bomb without any of the context that’d been meant to go with it, curriculum materials were probably the last thing he would’ve guessed as he’d lunged for the nearest grinning boy to smack the smile off his face. I couldn’t exactly blame him either, since he’d originally been there to keep a consistently misbehaving class in line, and so I’d been forced to sit back and watch powerlessly as kids who’d merely been following my lead got slapped and screamed at for acting at face value how they’d been expected to act.

It was a Shakespearean tragedy of mouth slapping before one of the girls finally managed get the principal to pause and hear her out. In all of his years in education, this was probably the only situation he’d ever encountered where yelling Fuck in the classroom could be justifiable, and all he could do was stare at me disapprovingly before exiting the classroom without ever uttering a single word. He didn’t come around too often after that, and I’d been pretty much on my own after that as far as disciplinary assistance went. The kids were beyond unruly and defiant for at least a week and a half after that lesson, and I’d just let it ride. I’d figured I owed them some leniency for accidentally leading them into corporeal punishment for the second time that year.

And since this is also the second time I’ve written about flagrant beatings in the classroom setting, I guess I should take a moment to explain that at the beginning of each school year, along with all of the health forms and registration paperwork that we would expect, a standard waiver for corporeal punishment also gets sent home for parents to fill out. The waiver gives educators legal permission to issue a five across the eyes whenever a student needs a study reminder, and most parents aren’t at all opposed to signing it so long as their kids stay on track with their studies.

Still though, could’ve went worse for all parties.

What do you think of this policy? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

New Man New Land Syndrome

Nobody knows you and you’re a novelty. You’re one of a few representatives, if any, of where you grew up, and the locals treat you like a C list celebrity for coming from New York. Your personality flaws are forgiven because that’s just your culture. You’re not actually rude, that’s just how Americans act they all assume. You played some ball back in high school but always wanted to have been more? Fuck it, you were great at it. The MVP of senior year even. Playing up the passport at a club gets you dances with girls who’d never talk to you back home. Even the unwanted attention at a Starbucks for being the only white guy there inflates your ego. Your white skin doesn’t make you stick out like a sore thumb, it makes you shine bright like a star. Jobs you’re unqualified for are flung at you left and right because your status as a foreigner means more than your résumé, and the political science degree that you’ll never follow through with has gotten you starring roles in commercials and teaching positions at top level schools. You make more than most of the locals and you live like a king. You can be whoever you want to be over here.

Thousands of expats a year suffer from a complex known as new man new land syndrome. If you’re living abroad, you’ve most definitely met several. They’ve been here awhile and aren’t planning to leave, because the more they set themselves up here and the more connected they get, the easier their lives become. They’re the self-proclaimed kings of their fiefdoms, the regulars of the local Irish pub and the all-knowing settlers of this foreign culture. Unsolicited advice and condescension layer your conversations with them. They’ve been here longer, and when you’ve eventually been here as long as they have, it will all hopefully make sense to you too. It doesn’t matter who they were back home, because there are no social anchors to ground them back to reality. They just better hope they don’t ever run into anybody they once knew.

Unexpected Asswhoopings

With great power comes great responsibility. As a foreign teacher in China, we don’t always have the most power considering the responsibilities we have to the education in our classrooms. We’re often seen as an additional recess by the students; a time when they get to play games and sing songs with the foreigner rather than crack the books and study relentlessly. A regular ESL class is meant to reinforce what they’re already learning rather than factor into their grades, and that lack of testing and academic pressure, along with the foreign teacher’s segregation from the school’s discipline system due to both language and position, more often than not transform our lessons into a play period for the kids to release the pressure from their other classes. A good foreign teacher knows how to work within these constraints and control their lesson with interesting content and good management, but there will inevitably be times where outside factors creep into the classroom and make our lessons impossible to control. Whether it’s a major upcoming exam, the days right before a vacation, or a full moon, there are going to be times when the students just aren’t going to cooperate no matter how alert and well prepared we are, forcing us to call on their head teachers for help in order to keep the class running even semi-smoothly. I’ve learned the hard way that using this power has a responsibility of its own, because it could very well result in several crying kids and some minor bruising.

It had been my first semester teaching in the Shenzhen public school system, and my Mandarin wasn’t anywhere near as effective as it is now. I’m not sure what had been going on outside of the classroom, but whatever it had been had transformed 6A into a circus that day. No matter what I’d done I couldn’t get the kids to stay on task, and the group work they’d been assigned had devolved into yelling and bickering. Instead of rounding the room providing feedback while the kids worked, I’d been hustling back and forth, barely keeping them in their seats as they threw things at other groups or tried to chat with friends on the other side of the room. They called my bluff when I’d threatened to get their class teacher, and I’d been left with no other choice but to actually send for him.


The calm before the storm

The short stocky science teacher had arrived at the perfect time for my language barrier and the worst time for several boys; there’d been no need to explain what was going on when they were caught red-handed trying to run back to their seats after knocking the books off of another group’s desks. He’d come prepared too, holding a flexible plastic rod similar to what people put on their lawns to organize parking without damaging the vehicles. But damn could it damage a 6th grader, and he didn’t waste any time with words or figuring out what was happening when he’d used it on them. He straight up descended on the group of boys, moving between the desks as he wailed them in their arms or backs, challenging them to stand up and run around again. Only one of the three boys didn’t cry immediately, glaring at the man defiantly before getting struck several more times and lowering his head to sob. Having accomplished what he’d come to do, their head teacher barked out a short command before giving me a nod to continue and walking out casually. I’d been left there dumb struck and slack-jawed, standing at the front of a classroom that was either sitting still as stone or sobbing silently.

There are reminders within the classrooms as well

Ehhh, it could’ve been worse

Uhhh, I didn’t know he was going to do that. Seriously, I didn’t ask him to hit you. I mean, you guys weren’t THAT bad. I’d sheepishly tried to continue with the lesson, and it would’ve been hard for an onlooker to tell who was more embarrassed and shaken up by what had just went down. The kids were understandably responding like they were walking on eggshells, and go figure, the class was about as unproductive as it had been before due to their uncomfortable silence. So, uhhh, that’s why we do group work right? And with that, I awkwardly told them we’d continue the lesson next time before giving up to put a movie on. That was the last time I ever called on a male head teacher for help, continuing my teaching career with a deeper understanding of the decision Harry Truman had been forced to make.

Operation_Upshot-Knothole_-_Badger_001 (1)

I’d won the war, but at what cost?