Over this long hot summer it was tempting to think that coming to this city would be a universally positive thing for any ‘foreigner’, but as the autumn term arrived so did two new teachers from Australia who showed us that there are some people who should really never travel. They were a married couple from Australia in their early twenties. On the first day they arrived in their company apartment. It wasn’t good enough for her so she cried until they moved her to a better place.
The next day they left one of the most luxurious and expensive flats in the city and came out to lunch with all the other teachers. The food was put in the middle of the table and shared, as usual. She was freaked out by this and wouldn’t eat anything at all, describing the practice as “feral”. Eventually she agreed to eat a bowl of rice, so long as it was just hers. He at least tried some vegetables. Afterwards I took them to the “wet market” for some reason. He got a phonecall while we were walking around and I could hear him spitting the words “absolutely disgusting” down the receiver from a good ten yards away.
The next two weeks they never for a second stopped complaining. The food was “feral”, the people were “feral”, the entire city was “feral”. She especially had no qualms at all at ignorantly criticising everything about China, often so tactlessly that she offended most of the Chinese people she met. Though I didn’t particularly warm to her husband I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him – every second she wasn’t complaining she spent her energies bullying him and generally ordering him about in an openly contemptuous way.
After they had been here a week or so we had the official pre-term staff lunch. Once again we helped ourselves from dishes in the middle of the table while she sat there fuming. By now everyone knew that she would want a bowl of rice to herself, so one was brought. She picked up the red vinegar, thinking it was soy sauce, doused the rice in it, took one taste and pushed it away. Instead of getting another bowl she left (with her husband trailing behind her) and spent the next two days complaining about the food to anyone who would listen. By this point it wasn’t really worth pointing out that if she had just asked for her own meal she would’ve been given one.
Then they announced they were leaving. I met them in the entrance to the school the day before they went. They were beaming with joy. She went off to annoy the reception staff and I stayed to chat to him.
“So I heard you’re going.”
“Yeah, I can’t wait.”
“You’re be glad to be going home, then?”
“Yeah, so happy to be leaving this dump.”
I don’t think the city is a dump. I love it here. Even in a good mood he couldn’t help but be generally offensive.
Then they went. Nobody was very sorry.
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