They say when you get old, time goes by with a blink of an eye but for the noticeably young time moves at a snail’s pace. I am witnessing firsthand how fast time is moving especially here in China. It wasn’t that long ago May 2009 to be exact that I was invited to be a guest teacher for one semester. Now 11 years later I’m still in China and the semesters are racing by very quickly.
I get easily attached to my students especially the ones who participate in class, they make my classes more enjoyable with their unique brand of humor. Some of my students even comment that they wish my classes would continue when the semester comes to an end.
I enjoy entertaining my students with humorous stories about some of my experiences in life. When they ask me how old I am I tell them I am incredibly old with a youthful personality. A Buddhist student once said, “Mr. Tom you are an old soul that returns to teach and enjoy life with others.” The Buddhists have such a unique perspective on life and the subject of Buddhism intrigues me.
I like to tell my students that when you are enjoying life, time moves by quickly and that is certainly true for me. I suppose that is why I do not have any plans on moving back to the United States. But it is not that difficult to stay in touch with people due to the internet. I can post photos and videos on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I can also have video conference calls on Zoom, Skype, and Facebook to anywhere in the world. I enjoy staying in touch and reading about the happenings in the area I grew up (Shenandoah, PA) because a part of me never left my hometown.
I tell my students the world is a much smaller place now especially with our modern technology. Computers, cell phones, satellite television, and especially our internet technology are bringing the world closer together in ways our ancestors never would have imagined. The evolving technology has no end in sight, and it will only make our lives a bit easier as time progresses.
China’s culture here is progressing rapidly as well and my stay here is something, I value because of the beautiful people I encounter. I particularly enjoy the children here and I never find myself getting bored when they are around. I like playing games with them and they have a knack for making me laugh. I find that the Chinese children here are very trusting and open towards me.
Something that has always disturbed me is the people who harm young children. It happens everywhere because of people who are deeply disturbed, and parents must protect their children from predators.
I never watch Chinese television here even though you can pick up loads of western channels on satellite television. I get most of my news online by reading various newspapers and watching news programs via the internet. I like to recap some of the global events in my class and the students are always ready for questions and comments.
My students’ readiness to voice their opinions in my classes is something I enjoy. There are times when I disagree with their comments, especially, when their perceptions of America are based on what they see in popular western films.
One of my students felt that all Americans walk around with concealed weapons. I told him some Americans do but most do not.
The western media along with western music and movies greatly influence the Chinese culture. It also influences their perception of what America stands for. They see America as a land of immense wealth and greed. The sad thing about that is many here in China are ignorant of the millions of Americans struggling below the poverty line. The great divide between the haves and the have-nots is becoming wider in America. I tell my students that both the United States and China have an immense disparity between those who have plenty and those who have far less.
I am deeply troubled by the poverty in China and the US and perhaps because I witnessed it firsthand. I also have deep empathy for those who are impoverished but seeing homeless children is most disturbing of all. No innocent child should have to live on the street. It is so painful for me to see homeless children and some of them are forced to beg on the streets to all hours of the night out of despair and hunger. I tell my students that there are plenty of homeless in America too and some with serious mental health issues.
You can judge a nation by how well it reaches-out to the unseen the so-called downtrodden. They are the ones with the least influence, but some Americans will complain that the U.S. is using hard-earned tax dollars to help the down and out.
Those same people who complain about Government entitlements, derogatorily, call it ‘Socialism.’ Helping the homeless however is not ‘Socialism’ it’s just doing the common decent thing when common decency is called for. I suppose America and China both need to do a far better job in caring for the less fortunate.
One thing I enjoy doing here is visiting an elementary school near my apartment. I get various invitations to go there and when I visit the school the first thing the Chinese teacher does is hand me a cup of tea. It’s a sign of respect and hospitality and the children stand up and bow when they see me enter the room. Then they show their excitement for my being there. Some yell “Hello, Mr. Tom” and they practice their English with me. They keep me entertained and they bring out the child in me.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
The children here are also more disciplined than I was at their age and I enjoy the time I spend with them. I wish now I worked as hard as they do when I was a child especially when it came to my studies. The Chinese students are not smarter than American students they are simply better disciplined and far better prepared for their future academic challenges. China’s emphasis on education will enhance China’s overall wellbeing because education is vital for any nation to compete within the global economy.
Thomas F O’Neill