David DeGeest was the Grinnell Corps Macao fellow for 2006-2007.
David DeGeest's Reports
Report 1David DeGeest
December 10th, 2006
Most of my conversations with friends in the past few weeks have gone something like this:
I say, "Hi, I'm back in the United States. Would you like to meet up for coffee?"
My friend says, "I thought you were in China. Didn't I read on your plan that you were in China?"
I respond, "Yeah...it's a long story. Coffee?"
And at some point on down the line, I meet up with my friend and I tell the story. First, I tell about how I was selected at the last minute to go to Macau, China to be an English teacher as a part of Grinnell Corps.
"Oh," my friend says. "So why are you here?"
I explain. "Well, I was waiting to get a work permit. They take four months in Macau. And you can't spent more than thirty days in Macau on a tourist visa. So I kept having to leave and come back to Macau. But ultimately it didn't work. The number of days I could stay dropped from thirty to twenty to ten to five to none. I finally had to return to the US to wait for my work permit to arrive."
My friend will usually say, "Oh, so it wasn't a big deal." They are relieved.
And then I explain more. "Well, it was a big deal. I kept getting detained at the border of Macau, and I would be sent to sit in these random offices for long periods of time and not know when or if I was going to be released. I found out later that I was working illegally in the country and that I could get in a lot of trouble for doing so. Whenever I tried to get help from the university I worked for, they just said I should tell the immigration officer that I had a Macanese girlfriend, which never worked. I had to beg them to send someone with me to the immigration office to help me speak with the workers there. I also got blacklisted as a potential illegal worker in Macau. And had I not left when I did, I would have been deported."
"Oh," my friend will say. "So it was a pretty bad situation."
"I wasn't happy," I reply. "But now I've returned to the States, and I'm going back."
"What?" my friend will ask.
"Yeah," I say. "I want to go back. I want to finish out the fellowship. I want to go back to that university and teach a full semester. And I want to feel like I can overcome this obstacle."
"I always knew you were crazy," my friend will say, and the conversation moves to other things. However, I have to admit that my favorite response was from a friend and fellow Grinnell Corps member who told me, "I hear you're heading back to Macau. Give em hell!" And I will.
So this is my story. Aside from the persistently annoying situation with my visa, Macau is a really wonderful place, and Grinnell Corps has been a really rewarding experience. And I want to say thank you to Doug Cutchins, Todd Armstrong, and Ming K. Chan for their help with my situation as well as to all of the friends, teachers, and family I've spoken to since I've been back.
The last portion of my report is an e-mail I wrote to Doug a few days after I'd been forced to leave Macau and was traveling in western China with the Grinnell Corps fellows from Nanjing. I've kept it as part of my report because it describes how I felt shortly after everything had occurred and about how I really came to love the experiences I was having in China, despite the difficulties of certain parts of that life.
November 15th, 2006
I know that I have a monthly report due to you in a few hours, but I am not sure how to go about writing it. I am still quite troubled by the events of my last week at MUST and by the events that continue to occur after my departure. This is my attempt.
In my eight short weeks in Macau, I came to know how much I enjoy teaching. I had a lot of wonderful students and was unbelievably glad to get a chance to be a part of their education, even if it was for just a short time. My students and I had a blast in class, they got to practice their English, and I got to learn a lot from them about what it means to be a student in China. They claim that I taught them many things about life. I claim that in one Thursday night class, they taught me more than I ever taught them. When I told them I was leaving and might not return, my students spent almost a half hour taking pictures with me, talking to me...and then they hugged me. And the Chinese do not hug. Young men jostle each other in the streets, young women will lead each other by the elbow, and some couples will holds in public, but open displays of affection like this are totally alien to them, especially for some silly gweilo (the Cantonese word for foreigner) that they've only known for a couple of months.
I also found myself falling in love with the Cantonese culture and with China during my trips to Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Zhuhai, and now Yunnan province. I've eaten pig intestines, frogs, pigeon, sweetened yak cheese and loved every minute of it. I want to come back. I want to make China a part of my life. And while Macau is in so many ways not China, Macau is an experience in an of itself in learning how to behave in an international setting. Every day, I meet people from a dozen different cultures and wildly different experiences. I have to deal with the prejudices that exist about Americans. And I have to ask a lot of myself every day to be open to the customs of the Portuguese, Chinese, Cantonese, Australian, German, Pilipino and other cultures and beliefs that make their way to Macau.
I don't regret going to Macau or MUST. I think it was a good thing for me to and made me ask questions of myself I'd never asked: can I really make it in a foreign country? How will I communicate with others? What if I get really sick? What if I get detained? What if something awful happens? I had to ask and answer all of these questions for myself as I got off the plane. I don't want to go into the details of all that happened, but I can say that I survived an eight-week trial by fire that left me drained and asked me to test and exceed my limits.
While I don't know right now if I will be returning to Macau for the next semester, I'm glad I've made it this far. China has not seen the last of me.
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