Things finally clicked with my Thursday and Friday co-teacher when I asked her for help figuring out a character while we sat around waiting for our class to finish their test. The classroom has a border of phrases and proverbs in English and Chinese, and since I had no homework to grade or anything to prep, I decided to get a head start on character practice. The font was really weird though, so I asked Ariel to help me out, and after she cleared up my question, she asked if I was studying Chinese. I told her I’d be starting Tuesday at Fu Da, and she was immediately more animated (not hard for this woman; she’s a bit laconic). As it turns out, she did her undergrad there, and now we’ve got a bond of sorts. School-tribalism for the win!
We’ll never be like sisters, nor do I think that’s a good idea, but it’s nice to have a rapport with my immediate coworkers, and Ariel was the last hold-out. This phrasing makes it sound more intentional and exclusionary on her part, but the fact of the matter is there are many barriers in the workplace that neither group (English teachers and Chinese teachers and staff) throw up out of spite. The first is language, because even though they teach English or at least have the beginnings of a foundation in the secretaries’ case, there are at best two people I would consider fluent. On the other hand, the English teachers don’t generally make impressive or even token efforts with Chinese either.
There’s also an economic and labor divide: I haven’t personally seen the numbers at my branch or at my company, but the Chinese teachers are paid about half the NSTs’ rate and often have the job of breaking in new NSTs in addition to their actual teaching duties. The last barrier is age, which isn’t often the work relationship killer, but does work to compound the other barriers.
The first big steps were about a month ago, when I went to Costco with one of the secretaries at my branch. She’s the same age as me, which I believe makes us the babies of the branch (except for, obviously, the actual babies) and means we have a fair bit in common in terms of just entering the work force and uncertainty about further higher education. She invited me, which at that point was very welcome, and I didn’t think saying no was a good idea. It turned out to be very pleasant, and after we got the goods, we went back to her parents’ house because she had ice cream in the trunk and she didn’t want it to melt while she helped me find a kettle and a few other things. I met her dad and saw the shop her family runs (underthings and such, which could come in handy!), and we waited for her mom to get back and direct us to a good place for a kettle.
As it turned out, we didn’t need to go anywhere, since when her mom got home, she pulled out a kettle, a coffee mug, some bowls, and a few spoons, which was generous and just so welcoming. She was a really funny woman, too, making me drink cocoa and talking to me like such a mother! She spoke very clearly because Mandarin is not her first language either, and I hope to be able to practice Taiwanese with her eventually.
I haven’t hung out with Belle since the Costco run, but I hope that as my Chinese gets better, we can do more outside of work and both really benefit from language exchange and friendship. It would be nice to have a friend in my immediate area, especially someone who really knows the place!
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