Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Today is 666

Certain aspects of my day to day existence makes me think of Bill Murray in ‘Groundhog Day’ except – thank god – I don’t hear ‘I got you Babe’ when I wake up every morning. Again, my first class of the day is conversation and listening with the Shanghai 90210. As I stated previously, we are using the movie ‘Sunset Boulevard’ as a listening practice. We will be watching a scene or two of the movie. They will fill in the blanks with words such as ‘original,’ ‘apartment,’ ‘chances,’ ‘loaned.’

Before I leave the house, I try to load the exercise onto a disc. For some reason, I am not able to load it onto any of my discs. The one that I used yesterday is in my computer in my office. With hope that I can access my email account, I email myself the exercise. I am sure I give myself a good twenty minutes.

I get to the office. Just like yesterday, I cannot access my email account. I am Bill Murray. Maybe I should panda-nap a panda and ride a rickshaw bicycle off a cliff. Jennifer is sitting at her desk. I tell her my dilemma. She tells me I should keep trying to access my account. I tell her I am taking the disc from my work computer back to my apartment to load the exercise on it because I know that will work. (Yes I know I need to break down and buy a thumb drive.)

I have ten minutes until class starts. I rush to the elevator. The car is still on the 6th floor so I immediately jump in and make haste to the first floor. I walk briskly back to my apartment. I put the exercise on my disc and run back to the international building. A group of students are waiting for the elevator. They all say hello. I say hello about five times. The elevator finally gets there. We pile in. The students exit the elevator on the 5th floor. I ride it on up to the 6th. I run to my computer and slip in the disc. For some reason, I cannot pull it up. This is extremely frustrating. Class starts in 2 minutes. I run and tell the Shanghai90210 that I will be right back.

Jennifer and Bird Flu are sitting at their desks. I ask them if either of them have a copy of the Listening Extra book handy. Jennifer has the book. This is a book and CD that is available for our use and it is easy to use but I feel it is so easy that it is boring and if it is boring for me, I know that it must be boring for the students. Usually the assignments consist of identifying people or things in Xeroxed pictures (since the book is a Xerox copy) - people at work, people at parties, kinds of food, kinds of buildings.

Jennifer tells me there is an exercise which is interesting about Jackson Pollock which they have not used. I tell her this sounds interesting. She quickly leafs through the book to see if she can find the exercise. She finds it. I tell her thanks.

I go to get the CD player from Nancy the assistant who is the keeper of the CD player. She does not have it. I go to the classroom and ask the Shanghai90210 if they know who might have it. Tess tells me that Maureen used the CD player last. I go back to the office to ask Maureen if she has the CD player. She does have it. I do not say anything because she is in fact an idiot. I just take it and smile because I realize it is pointless to say anything. At some point, I say “I would really be in trouble if this were a real school.” Jennifer and I have had endless conversations about how the school is so disorganized. We actually don’t mind because we always look that much better. Now I have the CD player. I am ready to start the class. The students would rather watch the movie. I tell them I would rather watch the movie but this is what we are doing today. I probably say something about the poorly equipped school but of course they do not understand.

The exercise in the book shows a cartoon drawing of a man working on a painting. One of the pictures is him outside, another picture is him painting surrounded by cans of house paint, another picture is the man drawing big swirls on a canvas; the last is a copy of one of Pollock’s paintings. The audio, from a cassette loaned by MOMA, talks about how Pollock painted his paintings. Before we listen, I talk a little bit about Abstract Expressionism to the students. They are bored. They are bored and I am talking about Pollock. How I wish a high school teacher of mine would have talked about Pollock.

After we do the exercises from the book, I tell them I watched ‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ last night. They ask me what a were-rabbit is. I ask them if they have heard of werewolves. They say no. I tell them to punch it into their translators. Their eyes light up. I ask them if they have werewolves in China. I tell them we have werewolves in the States. I tell them they live in Oklahoma where I am from. Tess asks me if I have ever seen one. I tell her yes and I had to hide from it. Her eyes light up. I tell her they can only be killed with a silver bullet. I tell her I only had one silver bullet.

All four students are spellbound. Miko is busy punching in words to her translator. She is not paying attention to what I am doing. She is only listening. I stealthily approach her and growl ferociously. She jumps out of her chair. I then tell them I have never seen a werewolf. They may not even exist. I do not think they believe that they don’t exist and I think that they might still half believe that I have seen one.

The bell rings. I go to my office, grab my guitar, and head to class 3. We have yet to learn ‘From me to you.’ They have the eye exercises. I have decided that this is the most well behaved class. Jacky, who has her own guitar, is in this class. She brought her guitar a few weeks ago. At that time, I played a couple of songs. Today, we are going to learn the Beatles. The class is very excited. I play it through once for them and then we take it line by line.

Everyone seems to be putting a lot of effort into the singing. I tell them they are the best class yet. They are much better than class 11 - James, Potato, Devil, Becky, Fish, Cherry. (Class 11 and Class 12 are key classes in each grade. To be told you are better is highly regarded.) I then tell them we are going to sing sections of the songs in groups. I divide the class into four groups because that is how the rows are staggered vertically in the class. They sing nicely divided. We sing once more as a whole.

On the last verse, my A string snaps. Ten minutes are left of class. I tell them it is lunch time. They tell me we still have ten minutes left of class. I tell them I am a professional we can do the song without the stinking A string. We try to do the song again. Yes, it sounds like crap. I tell them (to buy time) we are going to learn another song. We are going to learn ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’ Fortunately, I still have the CD in my gig bag. As we listen to the CD, I write the words on the board. I get to the first refrain when the song ends. This is fine. There is now less than five minutes left of class. I sing the first verse as the guitar limps along. I sing the first verse twice and then they sing and then the bell rings. Saved by the bell. My 1:30 class – because it’s China – begins at 1 today. This is class 8.

If I hurry, I can quickly walk downtown and get guitar strings for my guitar before my next class. I drop my guitar off at my apartment and make haste to downtown. While I am walking, I realize I could have grabbed a cab for a buck but I have already started my jaunt and I realize it is only a fifteen minute walk to the bookstore / music store. As I am walking, I wonder what sort of delay may present itself. Some unseen delay always comes along here and makes everything that much more difficult. Whatever the problem is, I will handle it. As I am mulling this over, a woman walks out of a hair salon. I am taken aback by the Tammy Faye-ness of her hair, even in China. White Rain Forever!

I run up to the 2nd floor where the bookstore and music store are. I quickly walk to the counter in the music store. A man is sitting behind the counter. Acoustic guitar strings are in the display case. I point to them and then point to the calculator. This seems to be the standard sign language for how much.

He does not pick up the calculator. Instead he says “How much?” as if to ask if that is what I am asking. I tell him yes. He tells me 16 rmb. He then says that is because there are 6 strings to a package. I pull out my card. He nods yes. He tells me he will go with me to the cashier. I thank him. We walk to the cashier. The cashier swipes my card. The whole process was fluid and beautiful. I want to kiss them all but I don’t. I leave the store, grab a cab and head back to my apartment.

Back at my apartment, I put the new string on the guitar - this StarSun acoustic guitar which I have come to love. When the A popped, the rest of the guitar went a bit flat. I use the intro of ‘Under Pressure’ to tune the guitar.

With this done, I have 10 minutes to spare. I make a peanut butter sandwich with no jelly. Skippy is available here. Small things make me happy – a tuned guitar, a peanut butter sandwich. I put ice into a glass. I do not have conventional ice trays. Ice trays are hard to find here. I use the plastic packs in which my favorite muffins come packaged. I pour myself a glass of tea.

I grab my guitar and head for class 8. I start writing the words on the board. J comes up to talk to me. He is like a puppy. I do not want to be rude but I want to concentrate to write the words. I tell him I need to do this. He says ‘I understand’ and sits down. I tell myself I do not know what sort of life he has. I need to be extra nice to him. He seems a bit like he tries too hard. At sixteen, most of us tried too hard.

For class 8, I play a couple of songs – ‘Feel like a Drugstore’ and ‘Savior Boyfriend Collides’ – before we learn ‘From me to you.’ Again, as all the other classes have been, they are enraptured to hear the singing and guitar. After both songs they whoop and clap. This is very endearing.

We start learning ‘From me to you.’ Class 8 has none of the spunk which Class 3 had. Some of the students seem to really love learning the song. Some students put their heads down on their desks or do other homework. I get the feeling that is how oral English is. They do not get a grade so they are able to just do what they want. I try to not let it bother me. I think back to all of the lame opening spots my band had in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Albany. Absolutely, I am not saying anything derogatory about those cities just the bands that we opened for in those cities.

After class, J comes up to me while I am putting my guitar away and tells me how much he loved the class and how he loves to sing. I tell him that is nice. I am glad he enjoyed himself. I zip my guitar into the gig bag and leave the class. Outside of the classroom are a group of boys that I had not seen before. They seem to be loitering waiting for me to walk by so they can say hi but that may be my imagination.

I drop my guitar at my apartment and go to the guardhouse to get my paper. For the most part now, we have a system worked out. I walk up and they hand me the paper. I say ‘xie xie’ and leave. Today, the paper is not there. The older guard, who seems to be terminally grumpy in this cartoonish sort of way, looks at me with sad, sympathetic eyes. His character I cannot put my finger on. When I show up, all hell seems to break loose. He starts yelling at the others (to whom he may or may not be a superior). The young guard looks at me shrugs his shoulders and says ‘hello’. I say ‘Wayne Newton’ and turn my attention back to the disgruntled - postal candidate – guard. He leaves the guard house. I am not sure if I am supposed to follow. I keep a few car lengths behind him. He walks across the street and confers with the woman at the newsstand. He then comes back to me and says something which may or may not be “I decided to not wear underwear today.” He goes back into the guard house. The ‘hello’ guard looks at me again and smiles. I go back to my apartment.

For supper, I fix a chicken breast sautéed in butter with bell pepper and onion. I try the Minute Maid Orange Juice I bought at Bai Ren Fa which turns out to be actually orange drink. As I am eating my nice Western style dinner on my Chinese balcony I see something that looks suspiciously like a tick crawl out of my cooked onions. I decide to act like I didn’t see it. I try not to think of Shanghai District Spotted Fever.

The time is 7 pm. I walk to Christine for some bread. The shelves are bare when I get there – no bread, no crescents, no cream cheese pastries. When I get back to my apartment building, a gecko startles me as he crawls up the wall by the door.


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