The astonishing level of hospitality accorded to even minimally friendly foreign teachers can be a little overwhelming. Take yesterday for example. Yesterday was of course Christmas Day. Originally Carol and I were going to have a quiet meal in our favourite restaurant and a couple of beers in our favourite bar. That was the plan as it stood at the end of 23rd December. On 24th of December it changed because some teachers from Carole's school invited her, Jess and me (I used to teach there, Jess still does) to eat with them on Christmas Eve. But then I got to one of my two schools on Christmas Day to find an invitation to eat with my department. I felt obliged to accept that one as I haven't had much chance to go out with them this year - and they had already booked the restaurant, in anticipation of my saying yes.
On my way home to change, my other school rang to ask if I wanted to go with them. Arriving at home, my next door neighbour asked if I wanted to eat with them. In my email in-box one of my private students was inviting me to eat with his family. Before I had reached the bathroom my administrator was ringing up to ask if I wanted to go out to dinner.
To finish it all off, while I was already having dinner with my school, someone I have met exactly once, rang me up inviting me to come over right away to a party. (I didn't go, I was too full and too tired.)
Now all this is wonderful but, as I said, a bit overwhelming, and the biggest problem of all is that of the eight possible evenings I could have spent, six of the invitations came at less than a couple of hours notice, four of those at less than twenty minutes notice and the one while I was eating at less than no notice as the party had already started.
This is entirely typical in China. Arrangements are made on the day, invitations made mere hours before events. I explained to one of my colleagues that if I am making dinner arrangements for a group in the UK I will start checking availability weeks in advance. She told me that in China you might, only might, start telling people two weeks in advance for something as big as a wedding. For less formal occasions it's completely normal to just do it on the day.
Anyway I had a good meal with my colleagues (which, again in typically Chinese fashion, started at 5:30 and went on till about 9:00 - explaining why I was too full to go to the party) and an excellent night out, but I do sometimes wish they would arrange things a bit less spontaneously.
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