Remember how I’ve been going on and on for months about being unemployed? How it felt weird to be so suddenly unstructured and aimless after decades of chronic employment? Yeah, well, I lied. Kind of.
I am unemployed, by the day-job definition of employment. At 6am most days, there is nowhere I need to be except my bed with a cup of coffee and a few choice web pages open. And this, my friends, is magnificent.
I’ve come to realize that although I’m by nature an early riser, I’m not an early worker. I can’t even begin to explain the relief I feel when I wake up and remember, yet again, that I don’t have to leap up, pour coffee into my somnambulant gullet, attempt a reasonable facsimile of breakfast, throw on hopefully clean clothes and dash out the door at an absurdly early hour when even the old t’ai chi octogenarians haven’t even emerged for their morning stretches. No more squeezing onto the metro with a thousand other sleepy commuters; no more attempting to cross the Zhongshan Bei Lu 8 lane highway in an exhausted 7am stupor; no more having to be extraverted and sharp in front of groups of exhausted, unfocused kids; no more long days in a grey, empty office in a grey empty building without colleagues or uncensored internet.
It’s wonderful. It’s a relief. I can’t really say I miss it at all (though I miss the kids).
I was absurdly lucky in that I quietly lost my job in the middle of a 2 year contract with my residence permit already renewed. I’m still technically employed. I just, um, don’t do anything. At least, I don’t do anything for the folks who are responsible for my legality here. I’m doing a ton of other stuff, however, and seem to be even busier than before. Sometimes.
The weird thing about my unemployment is that it comes in bursts. Some days will be spent wide open with almost nothing that needs to be done and I lie on my bed with my nth coffee, bemoaning my intrinsic laziness and fearing for my total lack of motivation.
I’ve learned in the past month or so that without an externally imposed structure (like a work schedule or other people’s deadlines), I’m an absurdly unfocused and unmotivated person. I’m slightly horrified by this discovery. I’m not a go-getter, it seems. Nor do I have any entrepreneurial urges. Left to my own devices, I’ll happily laze around the flat all day doing bugger all and feel perfectly fine about it. Money? What about it? I need another coffee! I’ll write my novel/ pitch an article/ write a blog post/ research job options, etc later.
I get the feeling that I’d make a terrible freelancer because, well, I’m easily distracted.
However, my unemployment really only applies to my day job, which was teaching. I’ve got a lot of other things going on on the side these days, which seem to fill many of my days in fits and spurts. Some involve money but others are just for the hell of it.
I’ve leapt head first into exam work, which used to be just a side line. I told them to give me whatever they had and, whoa, I’ve been doing a lot of speaking tests and essay marking and re-marking. I have dreams at night where I hear the scripts we have to follow for the speaking tests echoing in my head. That’s what happens when you say the same things over and over and over, weekend after weekend. I could recite a 15 minute interview verbatim (not that I’d want to). It’s like a mantra that I never asked for. I’m sure it has realigned my chakras in ways I can’t possibly ever fathom.
The same kind folk at the British Council who hand me over stacks of 100 essays to mark every Tuesday have also hired me to be one of their Language Experts (you may giggle at this, as I still do). I get paid to go to some of the top high schools in the region to give workshops and presentations to super-motivated teenagers about how to improve their English, how to prepare to study abroad, how to prepare for language exams. Blah blah blah.
Apparently this job is a big deal as I’ve been filmed, photographed and live-Tweeted on the Chinese version of Twitter, Weibo. In the past two days, I’ve had three standing ovations in Nanjing and Hangzhou. I used a cordless microphone on stage for the first time in my life. Have I ever mentioned how I used to literally faint from stage fright all the way through my school years and only stopped shaking in terror during my second year of teaching? I still don’t know how I ended up with a gig as a public speaker.
And you know what? Aside from the speaking stuff (and the super keen kids with their arms practically snapping from so much enthusiastic waving to be chosen to ask questions), I really like the travel. The past few days have been really, really long and I’m only getting paid for a fraction of it but I don’t care.
I get to ride on trains! I love train rides. I’ve been on 4 trains in 2 days this week. I travel with a wonderful, brilliant local woman that I totally clicked with immediately, who is the one who coordinates all these workshops. She’s a tough cookie and I love finally travelling with someone who is actually Chinese because I can see how much I’ve done right/wrong when travelling with Doug around China for the past few years. It turns out we’ve done quite well in our bumbling attempts at decoding Chinese transport.
I’ll give you an example.
It took Jasmine and I over half an hour in the pouring rain to finally flag down a taxi in Hangzhou yesterday afternoon after our workshop. Apparently 4:30 is taxi driver handover time. The rain only made matters worse. We didn’t know that when we threw our sodden selves into the first empty taxi we saw, four lanes across a rather busy, well-puddled road. The driver was rather surprised to see us jump in, as he had put a little cardboard sign on the dashboard of his taxi, visible to anyone in front of the car that said, quite plainly, that he was off duty, thank you very much. After a lot of very noisy and heated debate, of which I pretty much only understood the bribery process, he ended up taking us to the train station for 150rmb for a 25rmb journey. The taxi meter was discreetly turned off. He wrote us a little note that would hopefully be able to be used as a receipt for reimbursement back at the office. We missed the train by 10 minutes.
About two years ago in Nanjing on the way to an exam session, Doug and I had the same problem and we solved it the same way, by pretty much hijacking a taxi in the middle of a 10 lane freeway and refusing to get out, bribing him with 60rmb. Not bad for a pair of illiterate, barely functional foreigners.
When Jasmine and I finally made it to the Hangzhou train station, she declared that she felt very exhilarated and, with a sweeping arm movement that took in the whole crowded station full of squatting passengers with their enormous lumpen baggage waiting for their trains, peeing babies, mud puddles and fast food wrappers, honking taxis, shouting touts and vague queues masquerading as hordes, welcomed me to the other side of China.
To which I said, um, I’ve already been here a number of times, but thank you very much. Appreciated.
It was her first time, she said. She lives in Shanghai and Shanghai doesn’t really do this kind of chaos. She felt more out of place there than I did, even though it was her country, her language, her script. I spend most of my life being out of place, it seems, and my skin has been suitably thickened by it.
On the train back to Shanghai (re-booked as a later departure as we had missed ours), she turned to me and declared that she wanted to live a life as colourful as mine has been. That was a pretty amazing compliment as I frequently berate myself for being unbrave, dull, plodding, unmotivated, unexceptional… you name it, I’ve muttered it to myself.
But you know what? Even though my id, my ego, my super ego and all the others keep saying unkind things about me, I’m still going to plod along with things that are inspiring me. Remember how I said I had a lot going on, not just with work? I do!
As you’ve probably seen, I’m experimenting with wok-heavy cooking on my new blog, Wok With Me, Baby and it’s been an absolutely fascinating process so far. I’m also brainstorming for the upcoming Nanowrimo in November, in which I plan to actually give last year’s faux-novella an actual plot or something. And (this is kind of cool), I’ve been asked by Pocket Guides (a smart phone travel app company) to write a series of GPS-enabled walking tours for Shanghai.
For someone who is in theory unemployed, I’m up to my eyeballs in stuff to do.
Oh, and here are some random crappy phone photos from my Nanjing/Hangzhou Tour De Language Blathering.