“Why are you leaving? You work ten hours. Your students love you. You smoke a cigar every night. You get massages twice a week and you write when you want.”
It’s a fair question. He has a point. I suppose coming from his seat on the balcony it may look like that. It may look like my life in China is a vacation. It may look like being one of the few whites in a far off place in a far away city has all the makings of a dream. In truth, I do work a small number of hours in a job that is richly rewarding. I see students, thirsty and inquisitive, fed heaps of facts they’ve never heard. I teach them about recent Chinese history, a history that most people in China don’t know. I ask for their input. They tell me their opinions. I present them with the facts. Hong Kong becomes a headache. Tiananmen Square drops their jaw and Tibet blows their mind. I share with them the secrets of their civilization until they can’t bear to embrace either their lies (or my class) any longer.
I break them because they need to broken and then we start from scratch. What do you value? What do you esteem? Explain to me why if you became president the first thing you would do is hold an election that could very well bring an immediate end to your inauguration? Why would you embrace free speech when your audience consisted only of critics who didn’t know anything about this thing you like call enlightenment and could very well drown out your uncomfortable truth with their quite comfortable lies? Why don’t free countries call Hiroshima and Nagasaki “war crimes?” What makes this way “right” and that way “wrong?”
I crack into their minds until they’re open enough to absorb the light. I force them to defend positions which are indefensible. I applaud their efforts and encourage them to keep digging. I don’t answer my questions or tell them they’re right. Instead, I present them with even more questions. Often times, I don’t know the answer to these questions myself. I haven’t worked them out or I haven’t looked beyond my own arrogance long enough to see what is buried beneath. I offer them to consider that valor doesn’t come from having the answers but rather from asking the questions.
Is this rewarding? How could it not be? How could sending them on their way and watching them grow into minds of their own, sometimes minds that decide they no longer want my classes, be anything but paradise? It is and I don’t deny it.
How could massages be anything other than heavenly? How about when relaxing isn’t part of the process? How about when deep tissue, piercing and penetrating, is the only massage they offer even if they offer them at only $8.00 an hour?
Cigars every night? I can’t argue with that either but how healthy is it for me to isolate and climb into my cave at the rear of the bar because “me time” is more important than “them time?” How many people do I impact when I’m not participating in my game of life but rather sitting and smoking and writing words I hate writing that very few people will ever read? How is this called “contribution?”
These questions I don’t know the answers to, Dave’s I do. Because as wonderful as some of this life might sound, this life of imbalance I’m living beyond the wall, behind the curtain, is killing me. It’s putting me into an early grave. Just as you need your “time off”, I need more “time on”.