For those of us who work at universities in China, we have just had seven consecutive days off from classes in celebration of National Day (October 1st). To be perfectly honest about it, I still haven’t fully recovered from the marathon of classes I had to teach the week prior for this privilege.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Golden Week holiday, National Day is celebrated in China over a period of five days with the expectation that employees will make-up the work that will be missed on the first two days of the holiday—so, in essence, the holiday is only three days in duration. In my case, I had to teach the classes that were scheduled for Monday, September 29th and Tuesday, September 30th on the prior Saturday and Sunday (September 27th and 28th, respectively). This amounted to a workload increase of 75% over a two-day period for the week of September 22nd.
To make matters worse, my students weren’t any happier about this than I was. Many of them, at the International School, are not Chinese nationals so, like me, they had no experience with this system until moving to China. I received several phone calls from students begging me to postpone the classes that were scheduled for Sunday, September 28th as: 1) They were exhausted and; 2) Half of them had already left school to return to their hometowns for the holidays on Saturday night. I empathized with them entirely but, in the end, decided to hold classes anyway and simply conduct a review of past material. Of the half who attended my class on Sunday afternoon, from 3:00 to 4:50 pm, I’d say about one-third were asleep (and, in all fairness, the vast majority do usually stay awake for my classes under normal circumstances—smile).
Although I understand that the point of the Golden Week holiday is to encourage domestic tourism, I think it comes at too high a personal price for Chinese nationals, not to mention foreign teachers and other expats working in China. In addition, who in their right mind travels during Golden Week holiday anyway? Anyone who has lived through one of these knows all too well that Golden Week is the worst possible time of the year to travel: The trains and buses are terribly overcrowded, plane fares and hotel rates are jacked up by as much as 100% over the usual prices, and the pickpockets are out in full force. About the nicest thing I can say about the Golden Week Holiday is that, effective 2009, the government won’t be imposing it on us for the May 1st holiday: Next year, May Day will only be celebrated on May 1st. Thank you Lord.
The ability to stretch personal endurance to the limit is highly valued in China. University students are expected to attend classes from 7:40 in the morning until 9:40 at night (with a 2½ hour break for lunch from 12:00 to 2:30pm), up to six days per week. Employees are expected to work overtime whenever needed with a smile and without extra pay. Nevertheless, and in a manner that completely defies the imagination, it appears that no one in a position of power in China has ever considered that the human body and brain can only absorb so much and then one quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns. What possible academic value could there be in asking students and teachers to commit to as much as a 75% increase in classes over the course of a single week? And I shudder to think what the cumulative effects of this insane marathon Golden Week holiday work schedule must be like on mission critical positions such air traffic controllers in China (yet another excellent reason not to fly during Golden Week). Perhaps they supply them with amphetamines or move them from tea to coffee for the holidays?
From a Western perspective, a holiday is only a holiday if you don’t have to work on a day you normally would and you get paid for it anyway. I think China will be much healthier place for all of us to live and work in when a holiday is really a holiday and not just a mandatory rescheduled workday.