Yesterday, when I was talking to the American student who is named Ted, he and I had a mini-discussion about the Beatles. The conversation started because he said he really thought the intro to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ is really cool. I agreed. However, I did not play the intro when the Shanghai 90210 and I sang the song because, well, I’m lazy when it comes to that sort of thing. I figured out the intro more or less but I did not want to spend that much time on it so we started with the vocals. I then mentioned how odd it is to me that the students here are not familiar with Sgt Pepper’s. On many critics’ list, Sgt. Pepper’s is most important pop record of all time. I know I have been harping on this but it really helps explain some of the strangeness associated with being here.
To the student’s, ‘Love Me Do’ and ‘Hey Jude’ have no gap between them. To the students, these two songs could have been released the same year. They don’t look at the songs as songs that span a career (more or less). Maybe this is because I am more or less from that era, more or less. If someone were to ask me how many years passed between Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life’ and ‘High Hopes,’ I would not know. I could not even tell them which song was released first. But to me, it seems like with the Beatles it is inherently different. With the Beatles, a youth movement – and a war - separated the two songs.
At the grocery store with the students a few days ago, when we were in the health and beauty section, Max asked me what kind of shampoo I use. I have started using a really cool Chinese green tea shampoo. I find the bottle in the specialty pseudo boutique area. He tells me this is no good. This shampoo is Chinese. The Chinese do not make good products. He points to an American brand.
“Clairol?” I ask.
“Much better,” he says.
A few aisles later, I see toothbrushes packaged in three packs. I see a three pack of Oral B for about a dollar. I tell Tess in America these would be much more expensive. She points to the Colgate packs which are a bit more expensive than the Oral B. I tell her Oral B is as good as or better than Colgate. She helps me find the soft bristle brushes since the writing is in Chinese.
28if Paul is learning how to play guitar. He emails me the sheet music to a Jay song which is fairly straight forward. I print it out. I told him I would meet him at noon on the 6th floor of the international building. I take the lyrics to ‘Hey Jude’ with me. I show him the D chord and the A chord. He is learning how to finger pick. I tell him I am not a very good fingerpicker. I play with a pick. I show him the one red Dunlop pick that I have left. I hope I can find more at a music store here.
He asks me how to tune the guitar. I try to explain it to him. He asks how to tune it when the whole guitar is out of tune. I tell him to round up ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen and David Bowie and tune to the intro. He does not understand. I knew he would not.
Isaac and his classmate / roommate come over for movies. I invited them the other day over lunch after I had the near meltdown in class. Isaac’s aunt has a company that makes those really good sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves that I love. Isaac brings me two. He pulls them out of his backpack. They are vacuum packed. He more or less pressures me to eat one in front of him right out of the package. He removes it from the vacuum packed package and undoes the string from around the bamboo leaves. I peel away the bamboo leaves and throw the leaves in the trash. He looks down at the trash and tells me in halting English that I am supposed to keep the leaves around the bottom of the dumpling to keep from getting my fingers all sticky. I start to dig the leaves back out of the trash. He says “Not now, rubbish bin.”
I let them pick whichever movie I have that they want to watch. Since I am buying them for 5 yuan apiece now I have amassed quite a collection. They ask me if they are mostly American movies. I say yes. They pick Wallace and Gromit (British of course), which surprises me a bit. I thought they might want to see Sin City or Better Luck Tomorrow something edgier. This attitude is prevalent among the Chinese teens. They want to watch something wholesome not blood and guts.
In America, I do not know when it went from teens watching movies like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes or The World’s Greatest Athlete to movies like American Pie and Scream. The two boys did not even seem to be tempted by the movies that might be somewhat sordid, not that I would show male Chinese teens movies I deemed inappropriate. Okay, maybe I would but that is not the point.
During the movie, I hear and love their laughter. They keep telling me “It is a very interesting movie.” Interesting is one of those all encompassing words for good, funny, enjoyable.
Isaac keeps apologizing for his English because he does not know the right words. I tell him his English is fine. I do not know how to tell him he should be proud that he can speak the little that he can speak of English. Jennifer and I talked about it the other night. I told her he is really shy because it seems like it takes all he can muster to talk to me. She told me he is not that shy because some of the students do not even try to say anything. She said at least he attempts to talk. I agreed with her. I had not thought of it that way. He is one of those kids who you can tell is a good person. He is one of those kids that make the China experience even better.
He asks me if I will be here next turn. I take ‘turn’ to mean ‘term.’ I tell him I do not know. I hope I am. He tells me he wants me to come back. He likes me. I tell him that makes me very happy. His roommate nods his head and says ‘Yes! Yes!’ during our discourse. They are both sweet boys. This is very touching.
Isaac tries to apologize for his classmates the other day; the day that I stared at the ‘A Day in the Life’ lyrics for ten minutes because the class had pissed me off. He tells me they were excited about football and the world cup. I tell him I had a bad day. I spell ‘bad’ – B-A-D. His roommate explains ‘bad’ to him. His roommate has a better understanding of English. Isaac nods his head yes.
After the movie, Isaac wants to ask me something. Sometimes, this can be excruciating. I admire that he tries. I try to be as patient as possible. I now know patience is a virtue. At first, I think that he wants to hear a song on the computer. I show him that my input jack is messed up so that I can not hook speakers into the computer. This is not what he is asking. I must be more patient. His question has something to do with the Beatles, John Lennon, homework, one song, the computer. Sometimes this is like some sort of strange Parker Brothers game.
Does Parker Brothers have a game where the person only has four or five words or phrases and his teammates have to guess the answer in like a minute? This could be a game.
He wants to do a paper on John Lennon. I start to help him figure this out. No, not John Lennon or the Beatles, he is doing a paper on a singer in a band like John Lennon, someone who is from England or America, someone who is known for one song. I do not have many CDs here. I do have the stuff loaded to my computer but we cannot hear it. He has an MP3 player with a USB.
On the street, I found the 2 CD best of David Bowie. David Bowie would be a good singer to do his paper on. He has to pick one song. I play him ‘Life on Mars.’ He nods his head. He does not understand but he nods his head. Is this like the old man playing the kid Hank Williams, Billie Holliday, Leadbelly hoping that the youngster will understand? He wants to do the paper as a power point presentation. He asks if he can come back tomorrow at 4 pm to work on his paper. I tell him he may.
Miko is missing. The Sofa Negotiator calls. She asks me if I have seen Miko. Is Miko hanging out with me? I tell her Miko probably went back to Ningbo her home town. The Shanghai90210 have a 4 day holiday. Did Miko tell me she was going home? No, I have not seen her. I assumed she went home. No she was not going home. The Sofa Negotiator is calling Miko’s father. I ask if she called Miko’s cell. Yes.
It is 10:30 pm. I am worried. I think of Miko who is probably not streetwise. I think of the Bruce Lee movie villains. I start to worry as I am talking to the Sofa Negotiator. I tell her I am calling Miko myself. Miko is the Jenny Garth character with a touch of Lucy at the chocolate factory. I dial Miko’s number. I have this panic. I imagine her Shanghaied. I then wonder if you can be Shanghaied in Shanghai or if you get Shanghaied and taken to Shanghai. I then wonder if being Shanghaied has anything to do with Shanghai. I then think I really do need to score a copy of Bruce Lee’s ‘Enter the Dragon.’
Miko’s cell rings and rings. Here in China no one seems to have voice mail. Phones just ring and ring. Her phone keeps ringing. This worries me even more. Where could she be? She is by herself. Strange men have her. I don’t know how to call the police. Then, I hear a voice. I thank god. The voice says:
”Are you okay?”
“Where are you? We were all worried something happened to you.”
“Oh, I get haircut. I change my style. It look awful. You make dumplings with us tomorrow? My hair look awful. I change style. Tomorrow you make dumplings with us?”
“Sure, Sure, we were all worried.”