We were sitting around before dinner chit-chatting when one of the Sichuan teachers said he was getting a house with three storeys built. K was the same person who said on our first day in Sichuan that his goal for the near future was to get rich.
In reality, no one was much interested in what he was saying, but K was obviously intent on showing his fellow teachers what a smart money-manager he was and that he wasn’t anything like them — being paid very little as a rural teacher and, horror of horrors, being content with their lot.
He had a tea house, he told us. His wife was nominally the owner but he made sure that his bosses, the other teachers at the school and, most important of all, the parents of the students were aware that it was his tea house. The business was very successful, he said, and was bringing in profits several times what he was making as a teacher.
I asked why didn’t he just give up teaching and focus on his business since he seemed to enjoy entrepreneurship much more than the hard grind of teaching. “Oh no, “he said. “I would never do that. When I no longer teach their children, the parents will not have a reason to go to my tea house.”
If K was to be believed, then almost everyone at his school had some kind of money-making side line. S, a teacher from the same school whom we also knew, had a home renovation business which his wife was running. To keep it all in the family, S had his brother-in-law as the main contractor so that any profit, be it from selling the materials or providing the service, would go back to S. Apparently, in this day and age of rapid growth and land development, S had found the best business to be in. “He’s the one that I try to emulate,” K told us with pride. “Teaching will never make us rich. We’ve got to be doing something else.”
My only thought was “Why did I spend the day talking to them about being effective in the classroom when their hearts were not in it at all?” But then again, there, sitting right next to K was M, who had just told me that he was paid 1,200 yuan a month and that his main interest was writing. Earlier in the day, he had shown me a collection of his essays, stories and poetry that he had had printed and bound in a volume. It was his wish that one day he would be published author.
So, maybe there’s still hope after all.