Uncommon Sense: A Farewell

After three years and thirty-eight columns, Uncommon Sense is coming to an end. You would be forgiven for assuming it is because I am leaving the country. While this is not true, over the past month the temptation to pack it all in and get myself out has been worryingly strong.

The truth is that life here is great. I am my own boss, I live in a comfortable apartment with everything I need, I’m staying fit, playing sports and eating healthier than I ever have and I finally have a girlfriend I really like. So can someone please explain to me why last week I sat up at four in the morning looking online for jobs back home in England?

And don’t try to tell me it’s what a close friend with a knowing smile suggested to me over dinner; turning 30 next month has nothing to do with anything, thank you very much. Ever since I turned 26 (officially closer to 30 than to 20) I’ve came to terms with the fact that my youth was well behind me. But as quickly and suddenly as the urge to get out of China came, so it went, and I was left with the question: Why did it even happen?

It started when my best friend of 17 years announced if I didn’t come home soon he was going to have to forget about me. This set off a longing for London; the music concerts, the talk of football and the feeling of home I get when I drive up the road where I grew up to see my parents. But this wasn’t the reason.

My Dad has reached 80 and the years have brought illness. Phone calls home now mostly consist of my mother giving me a detailed account of the seven vascular surgeon and four dermatologist appointments she has already made this month. A call home can only do so much and I do wish I was around more to help. But this wasn’t the reason, either.

The reason also didn’t have anything to do with the frustrations I have with China; the lack of a please and thank you, the loud hawk that serves as a warning for the phlegm that’s about to be spat onto the pavement and rarely being able to find a taxi during the peak hours from 5 to 7p.m. I assumed the longer I stayed here the more I would get used to these annoyances. I didn’t, they just got worse.

The real reason, which came to me the following morning, was whether or not my business would succeed. Last summer I quit my job as a class teacher at a local international school, found a new apartment with space for a classroom and started working as a full time private tutor. I still teach children who come after school for lessons in English, Mathematics and guitar, but now I also teach foreigners Mandarin.

It was over a beer with a friend that I first had the idea to teach Mandarin. What began as a casual suggestion soon snowballed into plans to open my own Mandarin school. A year later, with over ten students and my own course book on the way, those plans are showing signs of becoming a reality. I am approaching the time when I will need to fully commit myself to the business, not only with my time and energy, but also financially. I don’t worry that the business might fail, however, I worry it might succeed.

Success means further immersing myself in the Chinese language. It means putting all my creative energies into planning lessons, devising techniques and writing my own course book, and then still finding the energy to find a teaching space, hire staff, advertise, manage finances and navigate the politics of getting a teaching license in China. Most importantly of all, success means staying in China far longer than I ever imagined.

Which brings me to this column, and why it is stopping. I can no longer justify spending the time indulging myself in self reflections when my energies are needed elsewhere. I also feel after three years I’ve said enough. It is time to give someone else a voice. I’d like to thank my editor-in-chief, Ziv, for giving me the opportunity to grow as a writer. I’d like to thank my two managing editors; Michael and Stephen. Not only for their wonderful editing but also for their support and understanding when I’d routinely miss a deadline or be staring at the unforgiving blank page.

And I’d like to thank you, the reader. Thank you for reading and if you’ve ever told me you’ve enjoyed a column then thanks again for that, I’ve really appreciated it. I will still be here in Dongguan and I will still be a contributor to this magazine with Model Mandarin. And if anyone catches me making a sudden dash to the airport, slap me, and remind that the fear often comes when you are doing something right, and that it is ok, and that I can do it.