Meet Zhu Laoshi — A Blessed Life

The Chinese editor at the magazine keeps complaining about the Regular Zhou‘s I’ve been choosing to profile, which include a bike repairman, a sidewalk barber, a parking attendant, a fried noodle vendor and a student. They don’t like the photos of my apparently-not-dressed-well-enough neighbours either. These aren’t the kind of people the boss/censor/overly-sensitive locals (not sure who, exactly) wants shown between the advertisements in a free monthly expat magazine in Tianjin. I’m supposed to find yuppies (“小资“, formerly called “petty bourgeoisie“), or at least wealthy “success” stories. Instead for May’s issue I found this guy, who, it turns out, had a bunch of sensitive stuff to say that normally wouldn’t get published in this city.

I self-censored a lot out before submitting the final draft, but even still none of the people involved on my end had much hope that the magazine would actually print it. In the past the censors have been extremely strict about anything related to Christianity in China — as if they have orders to publicly pretend it isn’t here. Below is what they eventually printed, except for a couple of things:

  1. Although they left most of the Christian content in, a couple lines were removed. I added them back in in red below. There were some other odd (to me) editing decisions that seemed to characterize parts of his story in unnecessary ways, but I’ve left most of those alone.
  2. I’ve altered the spelling on potentially sensitive words just to avoid triggering any automatic word filters or whatever. I know that’s paranoid, but since censorship enforcement is inconsistent and this is just a personal blog, I’d rather not unduly tempt fate.
  3. I replaced their title with my original title (they substituted “Ask and you shall receive”, which I though was lame).

At the end I’ve also included the text and (bad) translation of the Chinese summary that they added, which contains some interesting vocab. Without further ado, here’s May’s Regular Zhou.

A Blessed Life

…one young Tianjin professional discovers something more powerful than fate and more valuable than success

Maybe you’ve seen the aerial photos of Chinese job fairs, the only events whose sprawling, densely-packed crowds could possibly rival those of a Spring Festival train station. China’s alarmingly over-saturated job market is especially tough on males, who first need to establish financial self-sufficiency for themselves and their parents and buy an apartment in the inflated housing market before they’ll be considered marriageable.

Employers benefit from the claustrophobic rat-race; millions of college graduates struggle to find their feet in spite of it. This is one young Tianjiner’s success story, though it’s not merely about transitioning between college and career in modern day Tianjin. This particular Tianjiner, whose Chinese name could be translated as “cultivate hope”, is passionately convinced of something he’s discovered along the way – there’s much more to life than salaries, promotions and apartments.

Sink or Swim
Zhū Lǎoshī (朱老师 / ‘Teacher Zhu’), as he’s known to students and coworkers, was born twenty-five years ago near Long Rainbow Park in Nánkāi (南开). He grew up in the Dàgǎng oil fields (大港油田) before studying teaching Chinese as a foreign language at the Tianjin Foreign Languages University. After four relaxed college years, the pressure was on.

“After graduating I found a part-time job teaching Chinese to foreigners at a private language center,” he says. “I worked there for one and half years. It was hard at first. I was a new teacher with no experience and in class I didn’t teach that well. But the students were really patient and encouraging and my coworkers helped me prepare lessons. They gave me lots of help and basically taught me how to teach.

“At the time my parents still lived in Dàgǎng but my job was in Héxī (河西). My part-time income wasn’t enough to rent an apartment, but my bosses provided a free place to stay for two months. Eventually I rented a small two-bedroom with five roommates. Every weekend I’d go home to Dàgǎng and my mom would make enough food for the whole week plus some to share with my friends.

“Working at the language center really gave me a lot of help. I made a lot of friends, I learned how to teach and work, and gained experience. Yet, while I was happy to begin with, during the third semester things got really difficult. With my lack of experience I was still only part-time and wasn’t making much money. I hated the idea of leaving because my students and coworkers were really great. But I couldn’t see my future there; that last semester was pretty painful. It was sad, but I stopped working there in February 2009.”

An Open Door
“I considered starting my own small business, but within one month of leaving the language center, one of my friends who works at a private school in town mentioned they were looking for a Chinese teacher. At first I wasn’t that interested, but when I found out there were Christians working at this school I became really interested. I’d heard the Gospe! for the first time over a year before and I’d continued studying the B!ble. I wasn’t a Christian then, but I’d started to believe. I believed there was a God and I’d had some really moving experiences, so I really hoped I could have some Christian coworkers. I started preparing my application the very next day. I also started thinking a lot about how I’d come to believe in God.

“The interview went really well. On April 12 I moved out of my crowded apartment and moved my parents out of the oil fields into an apartment in HéxÄ« where we live together. Two days later I received the call from the school and started working part-time on the 16th. I was extremely happy.”

Deep Impressions
“When I’d just started at my new job I saw the students’ art work and heard their songs – they were beautiful. They did science experiments and studied happily – they all had happy smiling faces. They were all really obedient, so different from the 90’s kids at my Chinese school. I could see it’s because this school provides a good environment. The school also held fun relationship-building activities for the teachers, students and parents. I really wanted to work there full-time.

“At the end of April I heard that two of my former students were having complications with their pregnancy. I was worried, but they’d returned to Canada to have the baby and I was in Tianjin. I wasn’t married, I couldn’t really understand, so I thought: All I can do is pray.

“I asked my coworkers to pray for them, too. At that time I’d just started working there; none of these coworkers knew who I was yet and they definitely didn’t know who my former students were. But when they heard about the situation, they wrote down their names and the details and promised to pray for them. Other coworkers prayed right away with me right there. I was deeply moved.

“I also discovered that many of my Western coworkers had adopted Chinese children. My coworkers aren’t really rich, so I don’t think it’s the same as rich people adopting kids. Adopting kids gives them lots of stress, but that doesn’t stop them. They do things the way God does; their love comes from God. Those kids were pitiful, no parents, but because they were adopted they have parents and brothers and sisters and an education. Their fate has been changed. I deeply respect these coworkers. They’re like this because they have God’s love.”

An Altered Destiny
“My students gave my supervisors positive feedback about my classes, and this really gave me hope that I’d be able to work full-time. The next semester I prayed about it a lot. Friends also prayed with me. Soon became a full-time teacher.

“I’ve worked there for almost a full year now. I really love this place and this job. It’s a good environment; they really care about people and give you lots of support. Sometimes coworkers ask me, “How are you?” I always tell them “Excellent!” because that’s really how I feel. Now that I have steady work that covers my rent, my family can live together and I don’t need to worry about them.”

It’s no surprise that some of Zhū Lǎoshī’s favourite B!ble verses are in Psalm 23, about how God is like a good shepherd who provides His sheep with everything they need.

“I was bapt!zed on Christmas Eve 2009. I’m so thankful I have new life. Now everyday in the evening I pray together with Chinese a friend. This makes me closer and closer to God, and He refreshes me and gives me peace. I share the Gospe! with my parents and I hope they will believe, and stay in good health. I think God led me to this school. I want to continue working here for a long, long time.”


Seeking a Life Buoy
Zhu Laoshi comes from Dagang, Tianjin, and in the few years since graduating has held consecutive Chinese teaching jobs. From being part of the “ant tribe” at first, to nowadays being able to bring his parents to live together in the city, Zhu Laoshi has untiringly studied and worked hard. Now he’s been bapt!zed and become a Christian, and this made his heart change to become softer, and uses even more love and care to treat the people around him. After a year of great effort, Zhu Laoshi finally became a full-time teacher. He has gratitude in his heart for his new life. Every day he will devoutly pray, thanking God for bringing him to this school, and also hopes that he can always continue in this kind of job.

[You can read about China’s “ant tribe” (蚁族) here, here, here, here, or here.]

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