Thursday, March 16, 2006

less than a month ago, i was shopping for the best deals on airline tickets from new york city to pudong international airport in shanghai. the problem, i soon encountered, to buy a two-way ticket with a return date a year later was over twice the price of a two-way ticket with a return date within a month. the question: should i buy a ticket with a return within a month in case i hated china so i could bail if i needed? should i pay a couple of hundred less for a oneway ticket? or, should i pay almost double for a ticket with a return date a year later for almost twice as much but on my favorite airline - virgin atlantic? yes, i am a bit of a miser. i hate spending money pointlessly. already, before i had even left the east village bedroom which had become my temporary home, i faced a dillema. i thought this over as i watched mindless tv on the flat screen, a new arrival to the apartment. dilemma!

fast forward three weeks: i am finishing my 1st week of classes at songjiang public high school no. 2 in the suburbs of shanghai. the high school is a gardened boarding school which houses china's brightest (and china's wealthiest) young minds. to gain admission to this school, you must be harvard smart or your parents must be swimming in money. the campus itself is - for someone who graded papers in new york's central park - one of the most scenic places i have ever been. we have a small wooded garden area with an L shaped koi pond, a few little hills - emphasis on little - to tromp around, and the whole campus is shrouded in sycamore and magnolia trees. at times i feel like i am in the south on a plantation. with mortar scars left by the chinese/japanese war on some of the buildings, i feel as if i am in savanah after the civil war. instead of rhett and scarlett, i hear the sound of seagulls which is actually the changing voices of chinese youngters.

the senior 1, senior 2 and senior 3 buildings (aka somphmores, juniors, seniors from what i have ascertained from those in the know...many things are still a bit of a mystery to me) run parallel with each other and have that southern feel. they are long two story brick buildings which are a classroom wide. the classrooms have an open feel with a long row of windows and two doors that face what i think is the east. these doors open onto balconies which serve as hallways and they run the length of the building.

and somedays, although they rapidly pass, seem as if they could be a week long. at the end of the day, i sometimes ask myself if certain events happened on that day, the day before or sometime last week.

english speakers seem to be a fantastic oddity to the natives. walking around on campus, students always smile and stare at me as if i am some new animal in the zoo which they have only heard about. they say 'hello' and 'hi' and then giggle with their friends like they cannot believe they actually talked to this alien. and that the alien even spoke back.

today, i taught two classes with fifty exciteable junior high students in each class. (as i said earlier, this is my first week of teaching class here) invariably, in class, when i tell them my name is tyson, they laugh as if it is the funniest thing they have ever heard. they think of the fighter which of course i look nothing like. each of my 6 classes (of 50 students) so far have asked me how old i am. a student in one class guessed 20. most students guess ages from 25 to 33. 28 seems to be the most guessed age. sometimes a wiseass will say '50.' when i say '43' there is an audible gasp of shock which makes me laugh and, in turn, sends them into another laughing fit.

the other thing that sends them into laughing fits is when my chalk breaks when i am writing on the board. sometimes i will break 5 pieces of chalk while trying to write one word. this makes them laugh so hard that they bang their desks. i have never taught junior high in the united states. i wonder if chalk breaking would produce the same response in poughkeepsie?

so far in each class, i have spent the class talking about myself and various careers i have seeminly accidentally encountered. when i tell them that i was a singer in a rock band for over ten years, i hear an audible 'aaaaahhhhh' sweep through the classroom. at this point, my new students start to realize i am quite different from the other teachers. later, i tell them i was in advertising for a bit (but i make sure i mention how much i hated it). i get another 'aaaahhhh' when i tell them that i was a dj on a modern rock station. i then start naming the bands that were the cornerstones of the station's playlist. i say 'strokes, smiths, yeah yeah yeahs.' when i say 'yeah yeah yeahs,' they repeat 'yeah yeah yeahs.' i ask 'you know the yeah yeah yeahs?' they shake their heads 'no.' they just like to say the name. funny american name. i then ask if they know 'depeche mode, flaming lips, cure.' again, i get vacant stares and some somewhat obligatory apologies. i then tell them, these are bands that university students listen to in the states.

at this point, i would like to contradict myself a bit (deconstructionist that i am). one student, yesterday, raised her hand and had heard of the smiths when i mentioned their name.

incidentals - yesterday after class, two students walked up to me from out of class 7. the class i had just taught. (each group of senior 1s, 2s and 3s are divided up into -from what i can tell 11 classes.) although, they have been studying english for the last few years, they are still bashful about speaking, especially to an english speaker. the first student handed me a piece of candy and told me he would like for me to have it. i looked at the piece of candy labeled 'white rabbit' and put it into my pocket. his friend, not to be outdone told me 'i would like to give you my hamburger.' and handed me somehing with mystery meat lurking between two sesame seed buns. it was before lunch. i wondered how long said burger had been incubating in his desk. i was touched.

as anyone will tell you, there are adjustments but so far i love it. everyday, i feel like i am in one of those movies where some interesting character mistakenly leads an army or accidentally starts a revolution. as the young troops march forward, the protaganist is yelling 'NO! NO! That's not what I MEANT!'

yes, i think i made the right decision about the ticket. i flew virgin atlantic which was almost empty on the leg from london's heathrow to shanghai's pudong international. i have a return flight for approximately a year from now. i don't really even mind that i have to take a card with me everywhere with my address to show taxi drivers printed in chinese characters.


Blogger Megan said...

Very proud of you for making the leap to Shanghai, TT. A year is going to fly by. Can't wait to read about all of your shenanigans! xoxo... Meg

10:44 PM  
Blogger Omar said...

reading this is certainly more interesting than working. keep us updated!

5:47 AM  
Blogger Farhana Haque said...

I knew you'd love it there!!!! And I will be coming to visit, so you better have the language down pat. No cards with addresses! : )

2:36 AM  

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