I wake up. My stomach feels a bit strange from the beef and onions over rice which I had at the Chinese Muslim hole in the wall last night at 8:30. In the last few days, they replaced the old poster on the wall of dishes they serve with a new poster on the wall with the dishes they serve. The pho type dish that I get was conspicuously missing from the new poster which annoyed me because it was good, filling and only 3 kuai (less than 50 cents). I had a dish from the new improved menu and it is making my stomach doing morning calisthenics.
The time is 8 AM. I get out of bed and go make my morning tea. I slice some raisin bread (from Christine) and put it in the toaster. I unwrap a slice of cake (also from Christine) and put it on a plate. I butter the toast when it pops up and put it on the plate. I take the whole thing out to the balcony and watch the construction. Something tells me they will pour the concrete for the third floor this evening. I wave at a couple of the guys who see me eating my breakfast (made up solely of the bread group). The sun is already warmed up the balcony. Today seems like it might be a wonderful sort of day (I hope).
I review with the international students for their art mid-term that is to take place at 3:15. The mid-term is over elemental art terms. This should be easy for them. In between reviewing, we talk about what we did over the weekend. Tess shopped. She has a new t-shirt on. Miko says Max stayed in the toilet all weekend. Max denies this. I am not sure what this is supposed to mean. Is this a veiled “Fast Times” reference?
I shopped a bit myself over the weekend. I quickly hop up and point to the new brown striped canvas belt I bought at the store (which seems to specialize in belts, socks, and Hello Kitty). I then put my foot on the desk and show off my fantastic new red nylon-lycra blend socks with a hound embroidered on the side. Miko says something. I ask what she said.
I repeat one of the words, “Bien? What is bien?” Tess starts laughing. Miko starts laughing. Max stays silent. “Meeshish Bien? What is that?”
Tess then says “Bean.”
“Bean,” I say, “Like green bean.”
At this point, Miko is laughing so hard she cannot say anything “Bien? Is that Chinese for bean?”
Miko barely able to speak, is able to spit out “Green Tyson.” She then falls back into a laughing fit.
She then says what she originally said again but this time I am able to ascertain what she said the first time – Mr. Bean. She was calling me Mr. Bean after I hopped up and showed off my belt and then stuck my foot on the desk. I see vcd’s of Mr. Bean all over. He is quite popular here I suppose.
Max, Tess and I go to lunch in the cafeteria. Miko goes back to the dorms. At noon, the cafeteria is a madhouse. Depending on the entree, the lines are long. Max gets in a long line for rice and fried chicken chunks. Tess and I get into the smaller line for beef and gravy over noodles. Max gets his food at the same time as Tess and I do. To Max, I say “That was fast.”
“Fast.” He repeats as he thinks about the word ‘fast.’
I teach class 11 at 1:30 PM. Everyone at Songjiang takes their mid-term exams Wednesday and Thursday of this week. I am telling them we are going to go outside since the weather is gorgeous. I am letting them study for their exams. I will warn them if anyone sneaks off, or gets busted by someone from the school for not being in class, I will be pissed. I am praying for good behavior. If they do not behave, I will be pissed.
When I walk into class, the students have that Monday dread look on their faces. James doesn’t. He is eating some sort of ice cream. I tell them I know their mid-terms are coming up. I ask them if they would like to go outside. Fish says we should go outside right now. I tell her and the class that is what I intend to do. I tell them we are going to go to the garden. They are concentrating. At first, I do not know how to read them. They look at me as if they do not understand me. For them, this may be too good to be true. Finally, they understand what I am saying. I tell them we are doing this but they must be on their “best behavior and all of that stuff” (exact words). I put Fish, Devil and Ayu in charge of one group of students. I put Bizmark, James, and Potato in charge of another group of students. I put Orange, King, and Fred in charge of another group of students. I put Cherry and Becky in charge of the last group of students.
I tell them we must exit the building quietly and in an orderly manner. Class 11 (this class) is the only oral English public school class I teach that is in the international building. In this class we have to walk down three flights of stairs to go out of the building. There are two doors into this classroom. The rear door is closer to the stairwell. They all stand up. I ask them if they have everything and are ready to go. James tells me he isn’t ready. I tell him to move it. He sucks down his ice cream and says “I’m ready. Let’s go.” He is a pain in the ass. He thinks he is such a bad boy. This is funny because he is certainly a brat but not really a bad boy, maybe just a bad hair boy. I am one of the only teacher’s who probably likes him. He reminds me of the delinquents I ran around with when I was that age.
I walk out of the front door of the classroom. Ayu is close at my heels. We walk down the hall and we are standing in the entrance of the rear door. Most of the class is still standing at their desks. I tell Ayu to tell them to come. She says something in Chinese and they bust a move like Young MC Chinese style. They are in their school uniforms (a Monday suggestion by the school) of dark blue with white stripes down the side. The uniforms look like warm-ups. We all file out of the building. I am in the lead, leading in brown Prada slacks (the first pair of Prada’s I bought five years ago), a John Varvatos brown striped tie, the Ted Baker shirt (white with red stripes), the aforementioned new red pooch socks, brown Miu Miu slips ons (with red piping) and a brown 3 button blazer from the Community Thrift in Oklahoma City (when I went with Ryan, DW and Tela over Christmas. Tela and I bought matching Polo golf shirts that same day at that same store). I am the drum major; the students are the band; remnants of the English language are their instruments. We silently, proudly march out of the building.
Ayu is still at me heels. She is Candace Bergen in the movie “Gandhi.” I am Ben Kingsley. Once we are out of the building, I tell her we can be noisy. She tells me it is a ‘most charming day.’ I tell her today is too beautiful to stay inside. She is Wendy. I am Peter Pan.
In the garden, the students disperse into their cliques. Orange and Bizmark and a few other boys sit at the round table (where I surprised the international students –Shanghai 90210- with Cokes a few weeks ago). They settle in to study; I head over to the pond which is my favorite spot. As I am walking to the pond, Stella walks beside me and says she ‘quite likes the pond.” She sits with Ayu and Fish and a few other girls on the pond’s bridge. They dangle their legs over the side.
Some of the boys cannot sit still. The day is too beautiful and too alive – with the whispering breeze, the splashing fountain, the crashing waterfall at the edge of the garden which empties into a small ditch which empties like a brook into the pond, the birds (oh the wonderful, happy, chatty birds) – are all much too alive for stillness. These boys know this. Devil and his boys know this, so they must walk. They must walk along the perimeter. Here and there, they walk. They do not sit. I wave to them when they pass by. Each time they pass by, I wave.
The mid-term does not belong to spring. The mid-term is a thousand miles away, or even a planet away. Today is too beautiful for equations and conjugations.
Potato likes to snooze. She snoozes like snoopy. I can practically see the ‘z’s. Her head is falling down. She looks up. She sees me. She starts writing something in her notebook. “zzzzzzzzzzzzz.”
A stricter instructor would patrol the grounds, make the garden into a prison. I am not that instructor. James, I assume, has snuck away, possibly to the shed canteen. He likes to think he is getting away with something. I like to let him.
Maureen tells Logan smoke was pouring out of her projector during her 7th class.
3:15 PM (with a flashback from mid morning)
Three of the international students are about to take their art mid-term. Allen is not here. She is taking some sort of state test for the next three days. I printed the test in red (with a green heading) because the black ink was making the papers I printed splotchy.
We might as well rewind to earlier in the day when this took place at approximately 10:30 AM. I finished typing up the term paper and I hit print. The printer for our office, by the way is one of those cheap ass LexMarks that were all the rage in about 1997. This is the printer that prints the documents in our world renowned international office. This scenario, also (by the way) involves the receptionist Nancy – sweet person, inept office assistant (I really do like her; she is just inept.) I tell her we need to change the cartridge in the printer. She looks at me like I asked her to bake a soufflé and crack the atom at the same time. I rethink this. Here, in China, if I did not think on my feet before, I do now. I tell her I will just print the mid-terms in red (because I know these printers always have a ton of color ink left when all the black has been used). She does not have to worry about changing the cartridge, I tell her.
Problem solved, I go back to my desk and I hit print. On the print option, I select 5 copies. A few seconds later, I hear quite a racket coming from the reception area where the cheap ass LexMark is stationed. Curious, I go to see what the racket is (pesky Chinese terrorists perhaps) only to walk in and see Nancy fighting with the printer. She is trying to change the cartridge while I am printing the tests. I know this could be fatal for the printer (and perhaps a few of Nancy’s fingers). What is fatal to the printer, is fatal to anything that I might need done involving the printer in the next semester or two. I yell or rather say very loudly “What in the hell are you doing? No!” I try to explain to her that I am printing the test anyway in red like I had just told her but I am speechless. She tells me she is replacing the cartridge so that I will have better looking print-outs or in her words “I fix it.”
At this point, I have to take a deep breath because I feel horrible when I get mad because the staff is so sweet and it is me that speaks the fricking strange language - not them. I go back to the sofa negotiator’s desk and I tell her to tell Nancy to stop and let the prints print. Jessie walks up to the reception area and says something to Nancy which I hope is not “Guess who’s being a dick again?” Nancy who could be a Carol Burnett character (I guess I would obviously be Tim Conway) sits down at her desk and goes back to surfing the Chinese internet.
Before I hand the three international students their mid-terms, I tell them “No Talking.”
They have scattered themselves about the room. I hand each of them a copy of the mid-term. Miko sighs audibly a few times. I shush her. She asks me how to spell ‘three.’
“T-h-r-e-e” I say.
“How do you spell Van Gogh?” asks Tess.
I start laughing and it is maybe funnier than it should be but I cannot help but laugh and I cannot stop laughing.
“Tess, you cannot say that, that is one of the answers.” And of course I keep laughing because I cannot be serious and if some authority figure spied on me, I would be in some heavy duty Chinese trouble but I don’t care because I cannot stop laughing. I know she did not do it on purpose. She did not want to spell the Flemish master’s name wrong. Who could blame her?
Max finishes first, then Miko. Tess brings up the rear. I had thought Tess was the smart one but Max is always the one to finish first. I ask Max if he wants me to look over his answers he says “No.” I go over to his desk and start looking at his answers. He has them all correct. I write “100” and draw a smiley face. He smiles his Chinese cartoon smile.
Miko says “me, me, me” and pushes her paper into my face and says “100” at the same time. I look it over and she is missing a few words on an answer. I tell her to correct it. I do not count off because I cannot stop laughing. I then look at Tess’s. Tess has one answer somewhat wrong. I give her a 99. As Miko is bent over the desk with her back to me, a devilish urge takes over and this is probably completely – willy nilly- inappropriate, I give her a nice hardy kick in the butt with the side of my foot. Max and Tess laugh for a good five minutes. Miko is quite surprised. That sort of behavior would probably be completely inappropriate in American Schools. Actually, that sort of behavior is probably completely inappropriate in Chinese schools. I’m changing rules one rule at a time and one school at a time.
I am back in the garden where I brought class 11 earlier today. This day, for no special reason, has been magic. The evening brings a different life to the garden. Dusk birds sing twilight songs. The fountain and fall have been stilled. The lighter breeze brings the evening chill. Footfalls of a few wanderers resound on the rock and mortar path. These wanderers must wander back to their evening mandatory study. Two women in business suits (modern China represented) stroll by and briefly stop to eye the koi. A teenage boy in a sweatshirt runs by swinging his arms like a girl as he runs.