China in the Eyes of Foreign Teachers
CAN I TAKE A PHOTO?
China has been a very interesting experience for me and my family. I named this article “Can I take a
photo?” because this is a question that I hear at least once each time I go outside for an extended
period. The photo above is from “Flower Sea” near Changde City. Notice the two Chinese people to my
left; they just wanted to take a photo. This is flattering and strange. It amazes me that people want to
take photos all the time. Even when I am with other foreigners, Chinese strangers will ask me to take a
Outside of taking a lot of photos, I have seen and experienced many things in China that I have never
seen before or have never seen this close. I am from Flint, Michigan which is where the Buick car
company started, therefore, cars interest me. This red “box car” I took home from the qiao nan
shopping market is a motocycle with a “car” shell. Absolutely as amazing as it was uncomfortable.
I love nature, one aspect of China that I was not expecting is how close you can get to live animals.
These pictures below are the few times where I had a chance to take out a camera and document the
closeness to nature I have experienced in China. In Changde, a man was walking a monkey in the street
and no one looked amazed. This is amazing to me. In Hanshou, I was able to walk within 2 feet of a cow,
WOW! To be honest, I was a little scared. I have also seen camels, donkeys, and bats walking the street.
This is not a common site in New York City or the other American Cities in which I have lived. I have also
seen turtles and rabbits being sold as pets. This is not unusual, but the rabbits are so cute here, almost
like a perfect sphere. My son was amazed as well.
Hunan University of Arts and Science is a great place to teach. I love the students and teaching. The
biggest difference between our culture and China is that, teachers interact with students socially. I have
been invited to many events and occasions. I have highlighted a couple here.
The international college has a Christmas party, a couple students asked me to join and do something. I
love Micheal Jackson, so we did Thiller. This was no small task, to teach Chinese students a complicated
choreographed dance number, but it turned out really well. I also gained several friendships from the
weeks we spent together practicing. This is something that I value from all of these experiences.
The following semester, I was invited to participate in the “broadcast gymnastics”. I always wondered
what the “yi-er-san-si…” was for after each teaching period. I was about to find out. The movements
seemed simple enough, but why was is called “gymnastics” I understood that when it was all put
together at the proper speed. This was a workout! We didn’t get first place, but we had fun and that is
The next thing that is very different here in China that I hear often is “hen gao a!”. I wonder some times,
am I the tallest person they have ever seen? Maybe? I am tall 1.95m or 6’4”, but to be compared to
every basketball player is really funny to me. This is funny to me because compared to a NBA player, I
am short. Now I observe things that are taller than me or that stand out. While at “Flower sea” I noticed
a sunflower that was taller than all the others. I turned to Huang Yi, a student friend of mine, and said,
this is how I feel in China. She immediately knew what I meant.
Also near Hanshou, there are giant transformer robots on display, now when I see this I think “hen gao
a!” Now this is tall.
It’s very odd for me but in China, sometimes I like to feel small. When I visited Beijing’s Great Wall, it
was a majestic site. For me it was nice, because compared to the wall, I am small.
I think this might also have to do with the fact, that a lot of Chinese people want to test their strength
against me. I know that I am taller than most, but I usually don’t try to prove my strength or lack there
of. The photo below has happened on many occassions. This was a student at a school in Hanshou, he
wanted to show that he was as strong as me. It was fun. I am starting to loose count as to how many
times I have arm wrestled in China.
Finally, I am here with my lovely family, my wife Andy and son Alan II (小 Alan). They have also been
welcomed to China very nicely by all the friends I have made here.
It was evident that family is very importatnt to Chinese people as well. When I visited a friend’s family’s
house, I was very intrigrued by my friends grandfather. They have books on their ancestery dating back
centeries. The books shown in the photo, date back to the first dynasty of China. This AMAZES me. I
have traced my ancestors back, but it all stops/starts around 1865. This is significant since this is when
slavery ended and African Americans were counted as people not just as property. I will never be able to
trace my acestors before this date, this is why I was facinated by how well Chinese keep their records.
My family has adjusted well. We have traveled to “Sun Mountain” where it can be very peaceful while
walking in up the trail and being close to nature. My son was tired of “walking” at the top of the
There can be a downside to being an African-American family in China. Playtime may not always be
playtime. The photo below was in Bai Ma Hu park in Changde. It was a nice day so we wanted to go to
the park and play. The moment we sat down, we were surrounded by people. Eventually, there were 29
chinese people standing and looking at my wife and child. This was in a matter of 5 minutes. My son was
not happy when we had to leave to gain a little privacy. We were also followed out of the park and
down the street by at least 5-10 people just looking and taking photos. This was stressful.
The wonderful thing about children is that they want to just have fun. My son is now attending
kindergarten. This is a great experience for him to interact with other kids as well as learn the language.
When he first started, he was running and needed to be held most times, now after the structure of the
chinese school, he sits in class which can be hard for a two year old. It also amazes me that he is learning
math before he can speak. Now he can speak two languages and knows when to use English or Chinese.
But everything can’t be fun and rosey for him. The pollution and other bacteria and viruses has landed
him in the hospitial on many occasions. This one below, was a serious one. He had infantile diahrrea
which lead him to be severely dehydrated and need 3 bags of IV fluids just to rehydrate him as well as
one bag of IV medication. As a father it is scary for your child to be sick. It makes it much harder when
you can’t speak to the doctor or have things explained to you directly. Additionally, there are other sick
children in the hospital and they want to shake hands with my son or ask for a kiss. This is not the best
part about China. There is a lack of privacy when there needs to be, such as a hospital.
China in the eyes of this foreign teacher is great for the most part, 95% of the time. I feel like a celebrity
here which has both positives and negatives. There is a lack of privacy but at the same time, everyone
wants to know you and become friends with you. That is fun. I have gained many friends here and I have
a couple friends that I think will be life long friends. Therefore, China in my eyes is a growing country
with wonderful friendly people. I am enjoying my stay here… and one more thing… CAN I TAKE A
Hunan University of Arts of Science
Dr. Alan A Arnold