Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Getting a Job: a Chinese interview

The Chinese mom (who I think I'll refer to from here on as Mrs. Xiong) picked me up around noon and we started driving. Our conversation in the car was strained, but it was only because I had no idea how to talk about anything. I couldn't quite remember the word for lawyer, and I don't know how to say, "I have pretty much no idea what I'm going to do with my life," I was left for a few minutes trying to explain the concept of a lawyer without knowing the words for "crime," "jail," or "trial."

When we got to the school, it turned out that I was not the only one who was out for a job: five girls and one guy were also going to be interviewed to teach English. Mrs. Xiong's cousin, Tina, the one I played cards with during Chunjie and who speaks passable English, is apparently pretty high up in the school, because she was the one conducting the interview. We all sat in some teacher's office, found enough chairs, and then one by one the applicants had to stand up, hand in their resume, and be quizzed about their interests and abilities.

Tina, who is usually very friendly and easy to talk to, assumed an intimidating air of authority that even I as as American could understand. I followed the Chinese part of their interview pretty well. It helped that they all said about the same thing, so if I didn't understand what one person did after college, I might for the next one.

Then it came time for the English portion of their interview. The applicants' English seemed to be about the level of my Chinese, so they tensed up before answering a question, and sometimes got a blank look when they missed a word or two, and generally had pretty poor pronunciation. It made me feel uncomfortable to be there, because I wasn't the interviewer but had more knowledge about English than everyone else in the room put together.

What made me particularly unsettled was when Tina would ask questions in English. Her voice made it clear that she was still in charge, but she was questioning them in broken English. The only part I remember clearly was when she asked one girl why she applied for the job. The girl managed to say, "I like little childs. And, I think they are nice and so I want be a teacher." The girl, it seemed, had gone to college far away, or something like that, so Tina was interested in why she had chosen this school specifically. "Can you give me some excuses?" she demanded. I was alarmed that she was speaking wrong, but luckily no one looked at me. The girl didn't quite know how to answer, so Tina repeated herself. "Can you give me some exact excuses? About why you choose this school?" Finally she explained herself in Chinese and the girl said something.

It was agony to me to watch this process, but finally they all finished. I wanted to ease the mood a little, so I pretended to be the next one to be interviewed. They laughed, and said I could be if I wanted. I said sure, but for me the Chinese part would be harder than the English part. That was in English, though, and I don't think they understood what I meant. I started telling them why I was in Chengdu, and how long I was going to be there, and that while I was here I figured it'd be fun to get a job. With the high pressure of the interview, though, I forgot that they didn't actually speak English, and didn't slow down very much. They were all suitably impressed at my fluency and native accent, and were then herded off to take some kind of tour of the school.

Tina herself personally took me on a tour of all the classrooms for the little kids. She kept calling the school a kindergarten, but I think it was more like an elementary school. There were several stories, with maybe ten classrooms for each grade. We toured the pre-K age group, where each class had thirty or fourty grimy kids around short circular tables. The calmer kids were sitting down, but a large proportion of them were in the halls, or going to the bathroom, or something. I couldn't tell if this was organized, or was just a symptom of there being too many kids.

We toured the classes in the early afternoon, so most of the classes were watching a movie. Interestingly, the teacher was always combing girls' hair while they watched the movie.

When we came in, the kids were amazed to see a foreigner. I might have been the first one they had seen. They gasped, and giggled to each other, and pointed. Tina would introduce me and then when I said anything in Chinese or English, it was too much for them. Their giggles became uncontrollable laughter, and the classroom would look like it was about to erupt with discussion of everyone's impressions. We would leave then, followed by fascinated stares until we were out of sight into another classroom.

So much excitement, and I hadn't even done any teaching yet.

1 comment:

Mel said...

aw how cute :)