Sometimes we have those strange banner days when everything we have worked toward seems to converge. For once, everything comes together. On the morning of these days, we have no idea what is in store. We muddle through fixing coffee, making our bed, gathering our cleaning to take to the cleaners, checking our email. Some days are bumps on the head, some days are not.
I wake up. I go to All Days to get a package of the chocolate muffins that I love and a small carton of milk for my coffee. I have my coffee. I make my bed. I gather my cleaning to take to the cleaners - 5 shirts, 3 pairs of pants. I throw on a pair of jeans (Blue Cult) and my Imperial Teen T and I head out the door. From the window of the foyer of the apartment building, I see Jennifer walking back from class. I go downstairs to the front of the apartment building to meet her.
We have a few minutes of chit chat. I ask her if someone at the office has been trying to reach me. Earlier in the morning, my landline rang. I did not answer. The day before the phone rang three times in a row while I was at the grocer. I did not answer. Let me explain why – spur of the moment emergency meetings which cover nothing and last for at least an excruciating hour and a half. If we are not available, these ridiculous wastes of time do not take place.
“Oh, yeah, I forgot,” Jennifer says “Edgar is coming. He wants to talk to you.”
Edgar is the man who owns the company. He is Chinese but says he’s Australian. He is a millionaire and a very powerful man in education in China and Australia. Inherently, I have a weird fear of authority. For some reason, I do not like to meet with bosses. I like to do my own thing and not worry. Edgar is coming to the school and he wants to talk to me. This resonates in my soul like getting caught cutting class, defacing property, smoking in the john.
Jennifer then tells me that since she is going back to America for the summer, she has to sign the contract before she leaves to get her work visa renewed. She doesn’t know what to do because both of us had been looking around for other jobs. I tell her that I have been looking at other jobs and really there is not anything out there that is better than the situation we currently have. We do not have to stay in the office when we are not teaching. We are free to teach the way we feel is best. The students are unmotivated but good people who we like to be around. She tells me she is only signing for 6 months anyway. I tell her I feel like I just got here and my contract is almost up so 6 months is not that long. It goes really fast. This appeases her.
As soon as we finish this discussion, Edgar walks up from around the corner of the school driveway. The three of us say our hellos. Jennifer tells him she is on her way to get her photo taken for her visa and she will meet with him afterward. He asks me what I am doing. I tell him I was on the way to drop off my cleaning at the cleaners. He tells me to take it back upstairs to my apartment and meet him in the international building. I point to what I am wearing and tell him I am not properly dressed.
He says, “No matter.”
I tell him I will be right there. I take my cleaning back up to my apartment and take off my Imperial Teen T and put on my yellow Polo knit shirt. I rush over to the international building. Edgar is loitering in the foyer waiting for me. He asks me if I would like some coffee. I tell him I would love some. He asks Annie - who only works a few days a week at the office here – to get us some coffee. Annie looks at me as if I am nuts and looks at Edgar blankly. She tells him she does not think they have coffee in the office. Edgar says that’s ridiculous which seems to be saying if I say there is coffee there is coffee. The two of them start an all encompassing search for the mythical coffee. They search file cabinets, book shelves, desk drawers, and then more desk drawers, the book shelves (again) and the file cabinets (again).The coffee is the grail. In the file cabinet, they find a package of tea. Edgar rips it open. He smells it.
“Smells fresh,” He says. “Would you like some tea?” he says to me.
“I would love some,” I reply.
“Annie! Make us some tea!” he says to Annie with authority.
Annie puts the two tea bags into two flimsy plastic cups and pours out water into them from the dispenser and hands the cups to us. We go into the conference room.
Edgar cuts straight to the issue at hand. He heard from Elizabeth that I have been talking to Peter – Edgar’s ex-partner who is now Edgar’s adversary. Elizabeth would not know that I have met with Peter unless someone like Jo – the older semi-senile Australian who loves to gossip - told her. I have learned this about Jo so now I watch what I say around her.
With diplomacy, I tell Edgar that his company has treated me fairly and that is what is important to me. The relationship he has with disgruntled ex-employees is really not my business.
He then tells me that Hu Jintao himself has met with Edgar in regards to education in China. “He is like your Bush.” I want to say “He’s not my Bush. I am an ex-pat.,” but I do not.
Edgar is opening 4 more international schools within public schools in Shanghai in the fall. He needs 40 new teachers. The current teachers will be the headmasters at these schools. I will be bumped up to headmaster. I would move to a school that is closer to the center of Shanghai. This is exciting news.
I tell Edgar I would love to stay with the company. I then tell him why I have sent my resume out to other places. He is very busy I tell him. I appreciate that we do not have supervisors standing over us telling us how to teach. However, I am concerned about the fall. We had not heard if we would be asked back so I started making other arrangements. I do like the company, the students and the staff so I would like to stay.
He is pleased by this. He tells me I would be the headmaster at the Fong Hua International School. He tells me this school is near the Shanghai train station which seems like it could be a good thing. He wants to teach the curriculum that is taught in Australia. At some point, I would go to Australia to for training. This sounds very appealing and shockingly close to a job which comes with adult responsibility.
As we are brainstorming about the new school and what it would offer potential international students, I suggest we start a radio station since I have experience with the day to day operations of a radio station. He loves this idea. He is going to phone the headmaster of the Fong Hua public school division and tell her about the suggestion. As a precursor, he says he will ask the headmaster at Songjiang Public High School No 2 if I could djay on the school station (which is usually reserved for announcements) during lunch a couple of days a week. This sounds fantastic. He then tells me to write him a description of the radio station idea for Fong Hua. I tell him I will.
I see Max as I am leaving the building. I tell him I will see him this afternoon. He rubs my arm.
I see Jennifer as I am walking across the school campus to my apartment. I tell her the meeting with Edgar went well. He has a lot of things in store for us which sounds really exciting. I tell her she should not be afraid to sign for another 6 months. She heads off to meet Edgar.
When I get back to my apartment, I have two prospective job offers waiting for me. Both of the jobs are jobs that I am quite excited about and had thought when I sent off queries if either job responded I would take either. The first email I read is from a person who had advertised for a performer at a 5 star hotel in Ningbo (a sea town). The performer would live in the hotel and have his meals prepared in the hotel. Did I mention this is a 5 star hotel? The only question the prospective employer has is what kind of salary I expect. The email I initially sent was a short query letter which contained a link to my press from the days as a Kitten. This is very exciting. Did I mention I would be living in a 5 star hotel?
The other email is from a university in Hainan – China’s Hawaii. They would love for me to come teach. The pay is less but I would be put up in a two bedroom apartment which means I would have plenty of room for visitors. Teaching and spending my time away from class as a beach bum is inarguably appealing to me.
I then start to think how I should make my decision. Do I get out the magic eight ball? Do I have the tarot read to me? Do I flip a few coins? Read the I-Ching? No, I email my friends and ask then what they think I should do.
I decide to take a walk to think over my decision. The Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’ goes through my head for no clear reason. “He blew his mind out in a car…” I walk to downtown Songjiang to look at the bootleg DVDs for sale at stalls along the street. A vender hands me what looks like a Chinese soft-core porn. I shake my head no. I find a Russian film with English subtitles about two soldiers who are captured. I pay the 5 yuan (a little more than 50 cents) and continue my stroll.
I decide to get a chocolate vanilla swirl ice cream cone at a vender in front of a department store for 2 yuan (25 cents). As I am walking, two young men say hello. I tell them hello. On the way back from getting my cone, I see them again. They say something that sounds like ‘Sweet Pea Sheep.’ With a smile, I reply ‘I have a big penis,’ and I keep walking.
Later, Jennifer, Maureen, and I have supper. Maureen fixes us curry chicken. As much as I have razzed her, I now feel sorry for her once again. She met with Elizabeth the day before. For some reason, Elizabeth thought it necessary to tell Maureen she was making quite a bit less than Jennifer and I which naturally upset Maureen because she has the most teaching experience. Jennifer came from a publishing background. I came from teaching as a college professor for a year and a half and rock and roll the rest of my life. The company would like for Maureen to stay at Songjiang and run the international division here.
Jennifer tells us that Edgar offered her the head teacher position at another school in Shanghai. This is with the condition that she signs for a year. She only wants to sign for six months and then travel with her sister for three months in January. If she is only signing for six months, she would stay at Songjiang in her current position. She then tells us that at some point Edgar mentioned an exchange program they have going with Ireland and asked her if she would like to go to Ireland to visit.
“Maybe Annie would like to go too” he says as he walks into the assistants’ office where Annie is working.
“Annie would you like to go to Ireland?” Edgar asks
“Edgar, I am leaving the company at the end of the month,” Annie responds but she is Chinese so she responds in Broken English. This is all through Jennifer who says that Annie had told Elizabeth but maybe Edgar did not know yet.
In another life, at 7 pm, I would be drinking a martini and sitting with a bunch of drinkers and drunks at a table littered with cigarette packs and drawn-on napkins. Bowlegged, I might play a dart game. In this current life, I sit in a colleague’s apartment in a random suburb of Shanghai and plot my career course. No special cinnamon shots are involved. No pants are pulled down. No one sings Dio’s ‘Rainbow in the Dark.’
However, underneath all of this talk is the belief that something strange and wonderful is happening. Maybe this is the optimism that I perpetually have. Around the corner, something waits for me ready to metaphysically blow my mind. This time I am not sure what that something may be. Is this the beginning of my Mr. Chips phase?
I go home. I figure out how to play ‘A Day in the Life.’ Tomorrow I am taking Logan to lunch. We are meeting in the People’s Square area in Shanghai at 1:30.