When I got back to Shenzhen for my second year of teaching English in China with CTLC I got into a school I wanted. Returning teachers have a lot more leeway in their choices, and they get paid a bit more. I got placed into the middle school that I had wanted my first year, and as I was being driven to the school I was informed that I’d have an off-campus apartment.
I couldn’t have been happier. My first year I lived in a single-room dorm. This year I’d be given an apartment! Things were already starting to look up.
When I moved into my apartment at the end of August, about a week before classes started, there were these rather dreary looking basketball courts off my balcony. I was located on the sixth floor, the same level I had been the previous year, and I quickly began to worry that I’d have that same soundtrack of basketball day and night. That proved not to be the case, however, as they started to rip them out about a week after school started. The reason for this, I learned soon thereafter, was that they were building a new addition to the school.
Perhaps it was because the apartment was one huge cement block with poor ventilation, few windows, and not in the face of the sun. Perhaps it was the construction outside that had something to do with it. Or maybe it was just the humid climate of the South China Sea. Whatever the case, I had ungodly amounts of mold in my apartment.
I had never had this problem my first year. I cleaned by apartment each week, but the mold continued to develop on the walls, ceilings, and other surfaces. It started to penetrate into my clothes and even my books began to show the tell-tale black spots, or spores. There’s a saying in China that you’d do best to learn quite quickly: Mei Banfa. This translates as ‘Nothing can be done’ or ‘No way.’ And that’s often exactly the case.
When Dr. William O’Donnell asked returners about their experiences at the end of that year, mainly in the hopes of ramping up support for their recruitment drives, I told him how horrendous the conditions in the apartment had been, mainly because of the mold. He never replied.
When I moved into the apartment the toilet ran. You had to jury rig it a certain way so that it would stop. Like my previous dorm room, this toilet had suffered some calamity in its past which prevented the flushing mechanism to work properly. Instead of a shoelace like my first year, I was able to fashion a string and a pen together so that I could flush it. I’d have to balance the pen a certain way so that the toilet would stop running.
One time I forgot and went to Hong Kong for the weekend. The toilet ran the whole time and the school was not happy about the large bill. Not once did they offer to fix the problem, however. Mei Banfa.
So I was quite surprised to see that the apartment had hot water, although only when it was hot outside. In the winter it was lukewarm at best, and often more frigid than the conditions outside. I once more relegated myself to cold showers, even though my contract specifically stipulated otherwise. Mei Banfa.