It’s no secret that in China is a bit of a police state.More than 2 million people monitor online activity and block all mention of sensitive topics and forbidden language. People who speak out against the government are silenced, and foreigners are warned to not discuss “the three T’s.” (Tibet, Taiwan, Tiananmen Square.) This fear, of big brother watching our every move, has led to many rumors in the foreign community. Rumors of phones being tapped, hidden cameras in apartments and a “party monitor” in every class (a student who reports directly to The Party Director any inappropriate behavior done by the teacher.)
I know this isn’t true. I’ve talked about Tibet independence, shown “tank man” and spent two weeks talking about sex with hundreds of students and never got in trouble. China is a huge country. Even with 2 million workers trying to control just the internet, information still gets out.
But there is a dark sinister force watching my every move. A million eyes in the alleys and dark corners watching and reporting on everything I do. That force? Students.
Here’s an example. The other day, on my 30 minute break between classes, I went outside to munch an apple and read a book. Nothing thrilling. And then I got a picture sent to me some student student took, it was far away and slightly blurry like a new paparazzi learning the ropes.
Foreigners stick out in China. And student love to see us, and tell us what they have seen other teachers doing. I used to get updates of all the activities of my former co-workers. When they were seen at McDonalds, Walmart, eating outside the school gate I heard all the gory details.”She was eating a hamburger!” “He was with a sexy girl,” and “She buys the same shampoo as I.”
And no embarrassing moment is spared. The “excitement” of seeing a foreigner out in the wild, overrides propriety.
“I just saw Angus at the cafeteria,” one student wrote to me. “The workers weren’t paying attention to him and he was too shy to say anything so he was just standing there.”
“Did you help him?” I asked.
Because I’m so connected to Chinese social media, I see a lot of what students write. I see what the other foreign teachers are doing, even seeing their blackboards in some instances, and I know way too much from haircuts to outfits.
“He is much more handsome!” said several students every time my co-worker Iain got his hair cut. (Now Iain is growing his hair out and several students also remark on how it is not as handsome as before, ha!)
And not only is our every action being reported to our students, but a wider audience pays attention as well.
“Long xiao bing?” a boy said to me while we both got off a bus. I looked at him and he was definitely not a student. And he called me by my chinese name. How did he know that?
“Wo zhi dao le ne?” I asked. Do I know you?
“No,” he said. “But I know you!”
It’s creepy for sure. But after all this time it’s a creepy I’m used to. No one means the spying and gossip maliciously. They don’t mean to embarrass us or make us feel stupid. (That’s an unintended affect.) They are just genuinely curious and interested in our behavior inside and outside the classroom. Like seeing a panda in the wild after only seeing them in zoo’s before.