Monday, April 24, 2006

I keep telling myself I am lucky to be here. During the bad days, I tell myself there will be better days and I know there will be. I want to say the bad things are magnified here but they are not they are just different like the fried chicken is different like the way you eat fried chicken here is different. Even drumsticks you eat with chop sticks.

I start the day by giving the Shanghai 90210 a vocabulary quiz which I told them Friday I was going to give them today. None of them are prepared for it. None of them pass the quiz. When I sat it in front of them, they tried to look at their notes but I took those away and made them hunker down and do the quiz. Max kept saying “Let me look one minute!” He pointed to the notes. I told him no. Tess looked at it and wrote an answer but then laid her head down on the desk in defeat. Allen wrote one answer which was wrong.

After they agonized over the quiz for 30 minutes, I told them from now on if I ask them to study vocabulary over the weekend, I expect them to do it. I told them that if they did okay on the quizzes I give until the end of the semester, I would ignore the one I gave today. Tess was relieved.

After that I told them the grading scale for the rest of the semester: tests are 50% or their grade; in-class participation is 15% of their grade; quizzes are 15% of their grade; and homework is 20% of their grade. This is the system that I used in New York City. I have been very lenient with them which is my biggest problem as a teacher. If I am too lenient, they will learn nothing.

After class, we went to lunch and we were back to our old selves. On the way into the lunch room I said hello to Ding Ding, James, Robbie, Orange, and Bizmark.
Tess said “You know all of them.”
The Shanghai90210 (minus Miko) all sat at a table by the window. Tess and I both had the beef over rice which was really spicy today. Near the end of my course, I pulled a two inch wooden splinter out of my mouth.
Tess said “Must be toothpick.”
That was enough for me. I put my chop sticks down. Lunch was officially over. I then told them that it was maybe a splinter from someone’s peg leg - I have been trudging through ‘Moby Dick.’ Perhaps that is how they stirred the beef. I demonstrated a bit with my leg. The whole table went into a fit of laughter, Tess especially. She said the Chinese equivalent of ‘gross.’

I had Class 11 with Fred, Orange, James, Bizmark, Potato. As I looked at James, I told the class that I knew one or two of them snuck off last time. I asked them to put their names and numbers (1-50) on a sheet of paper first thing which none of them did. I then asked them again to do it. A few of them responded. I think their comprehension is much worse than I had first suspected. I then told them we would go back to the garden and write about everything we saw. Their eyes lit up when I told them we were going to do this. Orange - who was lethargic before - beamed.

I exited at the back of the room which is closer to the staircase and the school’s entrance. This time leaving the classroom was not as seamless as our other march to the garden. We were more like the Hooterville Volunteer Fire Department band this time. Out in the hall I look back and only 5 students are behind me. I wait a bit longer and more come. I march on ahead. This, as I have said before, is the only class of the fifty oral students that is in a building where we actually have to walk through the building to exit. Once I am out of the building and walking along the sidewalk outside - with a few stragglers behind me, but most of them still filing through the building - I see a Chinese teacher walk by who looks at me as if I am doing something wrong.
I say “Ni hao.”
He smiles and says “Ni hao.”
I feel much better. With the students trailing behind me, I walk on to the garden. I beat all of them there and go to my favorite spot by the pond and sit. A few minutes later, a mass of them are at the entrance to the garden where couple of steps lead down to a patio area. They wait at the entrance as if waiting for permission to come into my living room. I get up and walk toward them and they all pile into the garden. I sit down and try to write but my heart is really not in it.

28(if)Paul comes over and sits beside me. He doesn’t know what to write about. I tell him to write about anything, what he is thinking about.
“What if I am thinking about my girlfriend?”
“Well,” I start “You can write about her, but, please don’t make it to personal.”
“Oh, that okay,” he laughs “I only joking.” I laugh too.

I sit and think about where I am and who I am. This panic seizes me. The whole semester goes through my head, I feel like I am not accomplishing anything. I think I go through the same thing at the halfway point of every semester. The end of the semester rolls around and I am in a much better head space. I take a deep breath and enjoy the day with the exception of the dog crap smell that seems to be wafting through the air. When it comes to that sort of thing, I am always paranoid it is me that sat in some or got some on my clothes, big fear of mine. Every time the wind shifts, I smell it. The odd thing about this is that dogs here, unfortunately, if they do not have owners, they quickly become a family’s dinner or at least appetizer. As of yet, I have not had any but I have heard tales.

At the end of class, everyone hands me their papers except for the students like Fish who did not know they were supposed to write something. Fish just gave me a piece of paper with her name and number (1-50) on it.

After I tracked everyone down for their papers, I headed to the international building to prepare for my art class. Today I was going to talk about self portraits – Vincent Van Gogh, Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Frida Kahlo, John Singer Sargent, Francis Bacon. The classroom has no Power Point capabilities so I made prints of the self portraits from images I downloaded from the internet. The crappy LexMark halfway through printing decided to have printer teatime. I had half of the prints which made me angry at myself for not being prepared more in advance. I took half them to the classroom while the rested printed like molasses dripping from the Empire State Building.

I walk in and talk a bit about the ones I have. Tess is participating. Max is half asleep. Allen gets a text message or something and says something while I am lecturing. I get up and say I didn’t want to have to do this. I go to my office. I cannot find my grade book. I grab a notebook instead. I walk back to the classroom. Allen has her back to me. I slam the door hard. These are doors that sound like an explosion when you slam them. I sit down and I am not laughing, I am serious, very serious. I write Allen minus five in my book. Allen says something in Chinese. Max shushes her and he is roused out of his afternoon nap. He and Tess participate the rest of the class period. Allen pouts. Class ends. Allen does not go to the cafeteria with us for supper. Unfortunately, Max and Tess and I have a really nice, fun dinner where all three of us laugh a lot. There was nothing special about it other than Max and Tess are really sweet. Max is more outgoing when the whole group is not around.

I come back to my apartment. I paint. The painting had something emerging which I liked but then that something disappeared. I brought out the black paint. The painting is now no longer about me. Even drumsticks you eat with chop sticks.


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