For the first time, I get homesick. When I walk into my Songjiang kitchen in the late evening, I am reminded of another place, a home to which I can not go back, a home perpetually perched on a 1970s summer’s eve bathed in the dull overhead kitchen light that gives the whole room a turquoise cast. The color before everyone turned onto avocado green. This home is a home in the Osage; a home where possums dug through trash on a front porch and apples ripened in the apple orchard and Sycamore limbs blew in the night breeze. Pop bottle rockets blasted in ears singeing hair. Roman candles - during sneak attacks – with their flamethrower firepower swept the hair off of shirtless cousins wearing overalls. Bull snakes kept the copperheads and rattlers away. This was at a happily ever after home; a home that existed before mastectomies, cycle accidents and irreparable marriage problems; a home blasting the Beatles, Bloodrock, Andy Williams, the Ventures, the Supremes. A home that smelt of burnt toast and growing boys. Yes, I am homesick for this home but this home is floating in space like the space capsule in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This home no longer exists in this world.
I am running late. I have class 3 and class 8 today. But first, I teach the Shanghai 90210. As I am leaving my apartment, I see the elusive cleaning lady. I point to my apartment door and I do not lock it so we have an agreement. She will clean it before I get back. We do not ballet today. I am in a hurry.
With the Shanghai 90210, I will practice ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘From me to You.’ These songs we will play for the students from San Diego. Class starts at 10:20. At 10:17, no one is in the classroom. Allen is sitting by herself in another classroom. Somewhere, the students from San Diego are wandering around on the campus. The Shanghai 90210 are wandering around with them. Elizabeth tells me of wandering sect when she walks by. She looks frazzled. I tell her their wanderings gives me more time to prepare for my other classes.
Allen walks into the class carrying a movie magazine. We thumb through the magazine together. From what I can tell, the magazine seems to be some sort of all encompassing film magazine with articles (in Chinese, of course) on Sidney Lumet, Clint Eastwood, Peter Jackson and pictures of screen legends such as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Sophia Loren.
She flips to a page that has a photo of the cast on the set of ‘Murder on the Orient Express.’ I ask her about this. I tell her I would like to some day take the Orient Express somewhere. She tells me there is no Orient Express. I tell her that in America we are taught that there is an Orient Express. She says there is no such thing. I have a hard time believing this. I am certain there is an Orient Express. I demand that we go ask Jessie about this. We march to the Sofa Negotiator’s office. She is not there. Soft spoken Annie - who looked for coffee like it was the grail when Edgar was in the office - is sitting at the desk. I tell Allen to ask Annie in Chinese. Annie starts laughing.
“There is no Orient Express,” she says with laughter.
At this point, I feel slightly embarrassed and American.
“We know of these movies you speak of,” she continues. “We have no train with knives and murder.”
“There is an express train to Russia” she says. I know about this one the Trans-Siberian Express. Allen and I walk back to the classroom with Allen singing “I was right. You wong” over and over in my ear.
Back in the classroom, I ask Allen if she knows the songs. She starts singing ‘From me to you.’ She sings it very sweetly. I join her. We then both sing ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’ The bell rings. I tell her I will see her later in the afternoon for our performance for the visiting students. I grab my guitar and head for class 3 which may be my favorite of the public school oral classes that I teach.
This seems to be one of the only classes in which students sit and do their eye exercises when it is time to do them. No one comes into class late. Everyone either listens or is asleep when I talk. No one seems to talk while I am talking. Killback, Ding Ding and Jacky are in this class.
I pass out the words to ‘A Day in the Life.’ Everyone seems interested. Again, I try to explain how important ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ is in an historical sense. I get the same blank stares. I tell them this song is the last song on the album, an album which changed popular music.
I pick up my guitar and play the first half of the song. There is a bit of a murmur in the classroom. I tell them we are going to take it one line at a time. I sing “I hear the news today, oh boy, about a lucky man who made the grade.” I sing it once with guitar and once without. I ask them to sing. I count it off. We start singing. They actually sound good. I tell them we are going to do it once more. They sound even better. I can tell some of the students are really singing. After we get through the first verse I tell them they are doing very good. I tell them they are learning this song faster than the other classes learned it. This is a very difficult song to sing.
We begin the second verse which the students quickly pick up. I tell them I am stunned and amazed. I orally spell stunned – S- T-U-N-N-E-D. I orally spell it again to make sure I spelled it right the first time. I do the ‘Nobody was really sure if he was from the House of Lords’ part for them a few times. When we sing it as a group, the first time sounds much better than I expected. The second time through stuns me. Again, I tell them how impressed I am.
We finish the first half of the song. We are at the “Woke up…” part. I tell them they are doing a fantastic job. We still have fifteen minutes of class. The other oral classes have not made it this far into the song. I tell them to give themselves a big hand. I am very proud of them. They give themselves a big hand.
We launch into the McCartney part of the song. I play it for them and then we learn it line by line. I tell them we will count “1-2-3-4-Woke Up”. We try it as a class. The first time is a bit rough but then this is orally un-chartered territory. We try it a couple of times more. They get it. It sounds amazing. We go line by line. I tell them I am getting goose bumps, shivers. I point to my arm. I try to explain goose bumps. They do not understand. We go into the ‘aaah’s after the McCartney part. This is fantastic. Maybe Lennon and Harrison are above us listening as Brian Epstein smiles.
The last part, I do not even have to sing for them once. They immediately jump in. Again, I am stunned. We have time to go through the whole song one time before class is over. I tell them they should be very proud of themselves. The other classes have not got this far. I know I should not say this but I tell them they could give class 11 oral English lessons. I do not think they quite understand what I am saying but they smile nonetheless. We go through the song one more time and it sounds quite majestic. I would love to have a recording of them singing. This gives the song a whole new meaning to me. The bell rings while we are debating whether to sing the song one more time. I tell them I will see them on Tuesday.
The students say bye as they leave to go to lunch. Jacky walks by while I am putting away my guitar. She tells me that she thinks that I may not have classes after this with them because they will be preparing for midterms next week. I tell her I do not know. No one tells me anything. She asks me if we do have more classes if we could learn ‘Hey Jude.’ I tell her if we have more classes I will teach them ‘Hey Jude.’ ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Love Me Do’ are two of the only Beatles songs that Chinese people know. Jacky smiles and leaves. In the 1970s, this would have been an Ozark Mountain Daredevils moment. I hope to god I never have a Pablo Cruise moment.
I go back to my apartment to fix lunch. When I open the door, I notice the floor is still wet from being freshly mopped. I realize I do not have money in my wallet to pay the cleaning lady. Before I fix lunch, I walk to the post office. There my bank has an ATM. After I withdraw 100 kuai, I go to the grocery to buy a few things so that I can change the 100 kuai that I withdrew. In between the post office and the grocery, I see Potato and Stella walking arm and arm. I tell them hi. Potato practices her English. At the grocery, I buy apples and milk. I then grab a little package of cookies from the bakery section to give to the cleaning lady. I walk back
At my apartment, I have tuna fish and sliced apples on a crescent. I am going to try to have a rice-free day. After I eat my lunch, I think that I have to hurry to get to class 8 but then I look at my clock and the time is 12:35. Afternoon classes start at 1:30. I take off my suit jacket, my shirt and my tie. I flip through China Today.
There is a knock at the door. Dong Qian is standing there. The timetable has changed today. She tells me lessons start at 1 PM. She assumed someone told me. No one told me I tell her. The time is 12:45. I am shirtless. I quickly put on my suit jacket, my shirt and tie and head to class 8. I know without a doubt that their version will not compare to class 3’s rendition of ‘A Day in the Life’.
Class 8 has no English stars. I teach them the song by rote. I am not expecting much. However, this time, I do not take as much time in developing the sound of the song. In some parts, I can hear quite a few students sing. In other parts, I can only hear my voice and guitar. We do get all the way through the song which I suppose is an accomplishment but I am still not impressed. They sense that I am not impressed. They do not care. I do not care.
At 2:45 pm, I am to be back at the international building to meet the American students. I see the cleaning woman. I pull out the 20 kuai from my wallet to give to her and I run into the apartment and grab the small package of cookies to give to her. She tells me xie xie. I then go over to the building next to the international building where I get my jug of water for the water cooler. I do not see the water cooler man in his office. A staff worker walks by. I say water in Chinese but that is as much as I know. Some of the office women walk by. He asks them something in Chinese.
“May I help you?” she asks.
“I need water for my apartment.”
“Let me ask the man in this office.”
She goes to the front of the building where there is supposed to be a man in an office. He is not there. She asks me what apartment. I tell her 202. I say 202 twice. She says don’t worry she will tell the right person. I do not have much hope but maybe the man will bring me water. I go back to my apartment.
I finish doing the dishes. The cleaning lady has inspired me to clean. The cleaning lady sweeps and mops but that is about the extent of it but for 20 kuai ($2.50), I am not complaining. There is a knock on the door. I open the door and there stands my Chinese Culligan man. He shuffles past me with his big jug of water. He hoists it onto the water dispenser. I rush into the kitchen and grab a peach to give to him. He actually refuses to take it and looks at me like I am a bit off my rocker. I tell him xie xie and he leaves.
Somehow, time has crept up on me again. I brush my teeth, wash my face and run out the door with my guitar.
At the international building, the students are preparing for their puppet show. I round up the lyrics for the songs we are singing. Orange, King and Bizmark are walking in the hallway. I say hello to them and talk to them for a minute. The Sofa Negotiator asks me what they are doing here and I tell her I think perhaps Jennifer invited them. I am not sure why. I tell her maybe they could come in and meet the visiting students.
At the same time the cavalcade of American students come parading through the hallway with two chaperones and their Chinese teacher. The sofa negotiator asks me to entertain them with my guitar. I decide to come in and talk to them first to get a feel for what they are like.
Not to separate myself from the other teachers but…I tell them for many years I was a singer in a band but now I teach. I put out CDs on labels such as Atlantic and Mercury. This always seems to slightly blow minds.
Since I am somewhat familiar with San Diego, I ask them what part they are from. They tell me La Jolla. As a youngster that was the beach area that my cousins loved to go to. I ask them if it is still the place to be in San Diego. They tell me yes.
Bird Flu comes in to tell them that the international students will be done setting up for the puppet show soon. She then tells them their e-pals are here. I realize the e-pals must be Orange and the gang. I tell her to invite them in. At this point, I have everyone give introductions.
Bird Flu tells us the international students are ready to present their puppet show.
After this takes place, we go back into the room where the puppet show is taking place. I walk with the American students down the hall to where this puppet show will be performed. One of the American students asks me what my band was like. I tell him we were contemporaries with the Smashing Pumpkins. I tell him we toured with them; they were good friends of mine.
We walk into the room to see the puppet show. The puppets are paper cutouts taped to straightened wire clothes hangers. The Shanghai90210 each wrote a story that they are now going to present in English. The first is about a rich man who gets tricked into going to hell instead of heaven. The second story is about the boy who cried wolf too often. This makes me wonder if this story was originally Chinese. The third story is about why we shoot off fireworks every year which obviously has nothing to do with the American Revolution. The last story is Goddess of the Moon, about an angel who bored with heaven came down and married a boy.
After the puppet show, everyone starts to get up. I tell them the students and I are going to sing them a couple of songs. Everyone sits back down. We sing our songs. The students barely sing. I know they feel awkward. When we are finished, everyone claps.
I start to get up. Elizabeth asks me to sing a song on my own. Tess and Miko both say ‘You play, you play.’ I tell the group and their chaperones I was a singer for many years and this is one of the songs that my band used to play, a song I wrote. I play ‘Savior Boyfriend Collides.’
Everyone claps when I finish. I tell them that is the end of the performance. Elizabeth tells them that the people who need to exchange money should go to China Bank. Someone at the school is taking them, maybe the Sofa Negotiator.
The American student –from before - comes up to talk to me after I finish playing. I think his name is Ted. He looks like the typical American teenager, sandy hair, shorts, tennis shoes, a t-shirt. I ask him if he plays the guitar. He has been playing guitar for the last five years. He is in two bands, a reggae band and a rock band. He plays the drums in these bands not the guitar. He asks me why I stopped doing music. I tell him it is a hard life with a lot of temptations. I am happy to have gotten out alive. He keeps asking me questions, the questions that people always ask. I tell him yes, I am happy that I did it while I did. I had a blast in the band. However, reality is different in a band than in regular day to day life. I told him to be careful. I think I told him to be careful. I hope I told him to be careful.
At that point, King walks up and says that some of the guys are playing football would he like to play. He says sure. I tell him I will talk to him later. The student all head for the football field. The girls are going to play badminton.
The chaperones want to see our apartments. Bird Flu is going to show them her apartment first which makes me happy because she is your stereotypical adult. They will talk about adult things like how hot it is going to get this summer and the hottest summers they have ever lived through. They will come see my apartment second. They are nice but I can tell that Maureen is really enjoying them. I tend to enjoy teenagers more. I do not have that much in common with the adults. Adults make me nervous.
I walk back with the male chaperone who seems very nice. He has the California liberal sway. As we are passing the sports field, Miko and Tess wave to me. They want me to come and play. I am wearing my Dolce and Gabanna suit. Tess starts to walk toward me. The chaperone is talking to me about fruit or trains or something. I am in a bit of a daze. I tell him I will be right back. I go back to see what Tess wanted. She is standing with Miko on the badminton court. I decide to not bother them.
The male chaperone caught up with Maureen and the female chaperone. I hear them talking in Maureen’s apartment as I come up the stairs. I decide to go on into my apartment.
The chaperones stop by my apartment after they talk to Maureen for 45 minutes or so in her apartment. I give them the quick tour. They are on their way to supper with Maureen in the cafeteria. I tell them I am writing. I try to write at least 2,000 words a day about my China experience. The woman who looks like the stereo typical older liberal California school teacher tells me ‘That is dedication’ with the emphasis on ‘that’. I want to tell her I am doing it because I stopped drinking 9 months ago and I have to kill that time I spent drinking vodka, wine, whiskey, scotch, whatever with something. Instead I say thank you.
I boil a chicken breast – two chicken breasts cost less than a dollar here – and toast a piece of bread. I eat out on the balcony. The time is 5:35 pm.
After I eat, I walk to downtown Songjiang. I head for the alleys. That is where I have found the good stuff these days. The price is right - 5 yuan (three yuan less than a dollar). I find two dealers. I give each of them 5 yuan. From one dealer, I score ‘Sin City.’ From the other dealer, I score ‘Mirror Mask.’ I will turn on the two students I invited over tomorrow.
I stop by the grocery and get a liter container of the Suntory tea that I like and another liter of the Minute Maid orange juice that I picked up at Bai Ren Fa the other night. When I first drank the orange juice, I thought it was orange drink. I did not shake it up. Halfway through the liter container, I reached the pulp and a lot of it. For the two 1 liter bottles, the total is 11.30 yuan which is less than a dollar and a half.
The heat has arrived. Earlier, the male chaperone told me Shanghai is nicknamed the furnace. I have not yet turned on my air conditioner. Maybe I will turn on my air conditioner tonight.