Friday, June 02, 2006

When you’re a Boy…

Friday is my easy day. I have one class at 1 pm with the Shanghai90210. Yesterday, in our geography and culture class we were set to read through more of ‘Maus.’ Since the copy machine was broken…again, I had to change my plans at the last minute. We watched the first hour of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ instead.

My detractors may have an issue with me showing this as a film in geography and culture class. I have a few reasons I picked it. The first reason - the film gives the students an idea of the Caribbean which is, obviously, a geography lesson. The second reason - the students are shown a sample of Johnny Depp’s acting - and he at this point is one of the only living actors who I do not consider a ball bat candidate (obviously, ball bat candidates are actors you want to hit with a ball bat – Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Richard Gere,) . Johnny Depp represents Western Culture. And of course, Keith Richards is his role model for his portrayal of Captain Sparrow. So, no pun intended that is two cultural birds (so to speak) with one stone (Sharon Stone, another ball bat candidate). The third reason - the copier was broke. I needed copies of the Maus reading because the school is too cheap to actually buy the students copies.

Today, in our oral English and conversation class, we will finish ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ The importance of Keith Richards will escape the Shanghai90210. The importance of Johnny Depp may not.

At the Bai Ren Fa, I bought ground coffee and peach yoghurt the other day. I put on water to boil. While the water is boiling, I make my bed. Once the water has boiled, I pour it into the coffee press that I bought a few weeks ago. While I wait for the coffee to steep, I put a piece of raisin bread from Christine in the toaster. I drag the bistro table and two chairs back out onto the balcony. Yesterday was rainy. Because I had invited the two Senior 2 students who invited me to the community event last Saturday for supper last night, I had to move the table and chairs into the kitchen which was nice and cozy actually. I made pasta with chicken and bell peppers in tomato sauce.

While I am waiting for the toast and coffee, I put on my Juicy Couture jeans and the baby blue t-shirt - that I bought at a cool little shop in Wuhan during my Yangtze Cruise Vacation – which in distressed brown ink reads ‘Surf Yizhichun Sun Beach’ on the front. On the right side of the shirt (close to the shoulder) are stripes – yellow, green, orange. I then go back to the kitchen and pour myself a cup of coffee, butter my toast and go out onto the balcony and read the paper since I did not have a chance to read it thoroughly yesterday.

The two headlines: One - ‘China bans land deals for villa developments’ – this is to ‘help protect the nations dwindling reserves of farmland’, but also, it is to stop the booming property market because speculators seem to think that the booming market will soon bust. Two – ‘School kids learn from ancient poet’ - May 31st was Dragon Boat Festival Day. A quote from the article reads: “In today’s China many youngsters are more familiar with Western festivals such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day than with the history behind the Dragon Boat Festival.” Qu was a famous poet ‘and well liked official of the Chu Kingdom who drowned himself in the Miluo River…after the king refused to follow his advice on important military matters.’ Today, in honor of Qu, children race around in dragon boats and throw the very tasty sticky rice dumplings rapped in bamboo leaves into the river to keep fish away from Qu’s body. Of course, this makes about as much sense as Easter egg hunts on Easter – ‘Sorry about that crucifixion. Now let’s go hide some colored Eggs with Mickey Mouse or Spiderman stamped on them.’

To wash dishes here, I must boil water. My kitchen sink has only cold water. The water often when it comes out of the tap looks like it is coming straight from the polluted canal up the street. I put the kettle on to boil and go into the living room.

My landline rings. My phone seldom rings. When it does ring, usually the Sofa Negotiator is on the other end of the line and she has been asked by Elizabeth (my boss) to call me for some reason. Today, she is not on the other end of the line. Brain Transplant is on the other end of the line.

As you may remember, Brain Transplant is Sheldon. Sheldon is the person who originally recruited me to come teach at the school in Songjiang. While I was still negotiating with the school, I got an email from him which stated he was going to Thailand for a few weeks for a brain transplant. Granted, I do not stay current on medical breakthroughs but I thought this sounded a bit farfetched. I asked a few of my friends about this procedure which included leaving a voicemail for Meg which she more or less skimmed until she hears brain transplant which stopped her in her tracks. I now refer to him as Brain Transplant.

As a young man, he followed in Hemingway’s footsteps. He was an ex-pat in Paris in the early 60s. He directed a play based on one of Gertrude Stein’s pieces. She came to the play. He ate one of Alice B. Toklas’ famous brownies after the show when the all went back to Stein’s apartment.

He left the company before I arrived. He is a New York Jew which he tells you first thing when you meet him. The second thing he tells you is he divorced; he can eat breakfast when he damn well pleases.

A few weeks ago, he and I met for coffee. He understands my talents as a person and as a teacher. He wants me to land at a school where I can start a stage band, a newspaper, a radio station. He is on the phone today to ask what I have in store. We talk. He tells me I sound like I have been up for hours. The time is 11 am. He says as a performer, his phone call should wake me up. I am giving the performing arts a bad name and respectability. I like Sheldon. He is a Brain Transplant. We talk for what must be 30 minutes.

I walk back into the kitchen. The water has evaporated into steam out of the kettle. The kettle is now a piece of charred metal.

Tea kettles and my inborn bad luck with them: Back when my father thought he was Satan - which was during my formative years (approximately 11 years old through 17 years old), he would work on this book (which eventually took up the entire entry closet) at the kitchen table. He would drink instant coffee –Sanka - while he wrote. The stove was a few feet away from where he was doing his writing. He would put the water on to boil while he wrote. He was consumed by this book. He wrote feverishly longhand like a Woolaroc Woolf.
My bedroom was off the kitchen-family room combination. In my room, I would be listening to Devo, The Patti Smith Group, Aerosmith, Pavlov’s Dog, White Witch. Above the stream of consciousness of Patti, the de-evolution ministering of DEVO, the throaty screams of Steven Tyler, the Southern progressiveness of Pavlov’s Dog and the Southern boogie glam of White Witch; I would hear the kettle boiling. The kettle I would let whistle at least half-way through a song – or more if the song was ‘Come Back Jonee,’ ‘Slick Witch,’ ‘Kimberly,’ ‘Lick and a Promise.’ Finally, I would go out into the kitchen and tell him ‘Hey Dad, the kettle is whistling.’
He would reply (always) “Sorry Spottie (my nickname which I will explain at a later date maybe), I did not hear it.”
I would take the kettle off of the burner of our new avocado green GE stove and go back into my room.

Yes, maybe he was hard of hearing but if I had my stereo up past the 1 on the volume knob of my cheap Pioneer receiver, Dad would come in and tell me I was going to ruin my ears because the stereo was up so loud. His hearing was fine. Now I put the kettle on and forget. I have become my father.

In my Shanghai90210 oral English and conversation class, we put the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ back into the DVD player. Something is wrong with the disc. We are at an integral part of the film and the disc does not seem to want to play. The picture keeps freezing. We are teased a few times when the film seems to straighten out but then it keeps messing up.

I brought my guitar with me. I tell them I will teach them a song instead. I pop in the CD that contains the song we are going to learn – Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging.’ I printed the lyrics from the internet. I hand them the lyric sheet. I put the song on and we listen to it. After we hear the song, Miko tells me my voice is better. I try to explain Bowie. I tell her he is not trying to sing his best, he is playing a role. My voice is certainly not better than Bowie’s. She then asks if we can learn an Avril song instead. I simply say no.

After we listen to the CD once, I sing the song for them with a little help from my guitar. I ask them if they are ready to try. I tell them they must give it an eight count. I am not sure what I was expecting. I sing the first verse as they just stare at me. I then tell them maybe we will do it one line at a time. We sing ‘Heaven loves you’ four times before we can move on to ‘The clouds part for you.’ By the time we get ‘When you’re a boy,’ I am beginning to get a bit discouraged. However, that is when they start to get into the swing of things, so to speak. By the time we get to the chorus of ‘Boys…Boys…Boys keep swinging, Boys always work it out,’ my imagination is running away with me. I envision a teenage doo-wop group – the Shanghai90210hmymys – storming the People’s Republic.

At this point, I think a ‘From Me to You’ update would be appropriate and probably appreciated. Class 7 was the first class I taught the song. We did not make it to the chorus. Later, I realized most of my time was reprimanding Bill and his partner who I had delegated to lead the class. Their ass slapping, I think, may have detracted from others learning the song. Appointing them leaders was like if, America elected…. (oh that’s too easy…sorry). Lets just say electing them was a big mistake. The other two classes did much better. We cruised through the song with enough time to do the song all the way through quite a few times.

However, I should mention that I seriously had to suppress laughter. The students sing with everything they’ve got which is awesome but they pronounce ‘th’ as an ‘s’. ‘From me to you’ is full of the ‘th’ sound. “If there’s anything that you want, If there’s anything I can do….” So each time, I had to do all I could to suppress my laughter. I did tell them to give them selves a big hand. They did really great which I believe is true. I was very impressed at the outcome of their singing abilities.

Tomorrow is Saturday. We do not have the weekend. Here in China, if there is a holiday during the week, the students, teachers, whoever work on the weekend to make up for it. Next week, everything stops in order to administer college entrance exams. Since we are off Wednesday and Thursday, I have my 7:45 classes in the morning with the Shanghai 90210 three. Allen is not in that class. She has another class. Since I think it is a crock of crap, I told them they do not need to show. I have decided I will wake up, and go to the garden and write and drink coffee. If they show up, they show up.


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