At 7 pm, Jennie drops back by the hotel. She and I go for a walk. She tells me the town is too small. She has lived here all her life. As we are walking down a street dotted with clothing stores and not much else, she tells me her sister lives on the corner. I ask “Oh you have a sister?” This is a bit of a surprise to me because I am sure that Jennie was born after the one child rule went into place. Then she tells me the person is not really a sister but a cousin. We walk to the town square. Since it is a nice night, and possibly because it is the last day of school, all of the benches are taken by families. A peddler peddling shiny flashy things has a crowd of children and parents surrounding him. We find a bench but Jennie is wearing shorts and repeatedly gets bitten by mosquitoes. I ask her if she is ready to walk back.
As we are walking back, I tell her that I would like a coke with ice. She tells me she knows where to go. Ice is rare. Not many places have ice. I hope that she understands me. I hope. While we are walking, her phone rings. One of the other teachers is on the line. Jennie tells me the teacher is going to come meet us for a coke.
We make our way to what looks like a fast food joint, or what looks like a combination of a movie theater snack bar and a fast food joint with porch swing seating – plastic vines winding up the chains of the swings. The place has that look like a fast food joint back in the dawn of fast food. There is a community center quality to it as well. It has many different levels and cubby holes. It has faux brick wall paper. The place is packed. Jennie tells me it is quite popular.
We order our cokes and run into friends of hers, a couple with a son. They are leaving. We take their booth which they have decimated. Food shrapnel is everywhere. No one comes to clean it. We sit and sit. At this point, I would rather be reading in my hotel room or watching Chinese television and inventing plots. Needless to say, I get fussy. After waiting for fifteen or twenty minutes, I tell Jennie I am ready to go back to the hotel. I am tired. Her friend never shows up.
We go to the counter. She complains to the counter girl. The counter girl yells back to the kitchen. One of the servers opens the door to the kitchen as we are standing there. I see our cokes being poured out of a two liter bottle. The counter girl gives them to us. There is no ice. We hand them back to her and she yells back to the kitchen. They put ice in them after they rip the top off of the cup which has been hermetically sealed like a milk tea drink.
We take our cokes and go. Jennie tells me that she has a meeting at 8 am in the morning at school. I tell her that is fine but I am not going early. I was told I would be picked up at 8:15 every morning and that is when I want to be picked up. She says tomorrow I will be picked up at 8 but from now on I will meet my rickshaw driver at 8:15 in front of my hotel. I tell her that is fine. Here, often, I am told one thing by one person and something else by someone else. This is very annoying. I feel like a dick but I have to stand up for myself. I have to learn to stand up for myself.
Next to the hotel is a medium sized grocery store. I decide to get some bubble bath. The store seems to be closing when I walk in. All of the garage doors to the entrance are shut except for one. Most of the lights are off. I peak my head in. The cashier motions for me to come in. I go to the health and beauty section which is a bit smaller than at a CVS or Rite Aid. I find the aisle of shampoo, the aisle of soap, and the aisle of bath gel. I find no bubble bath. A few workers, as always, gather around me. I go into my pantomime. I sit on the floor and act like I am filling up the tub and pouring something in the tub.
One of the workers knows. He leads me to another part of the store. This makes me happy. I assume there is a section where they have the nice bathing supplies. We come upon the spot. He pools out a kid’s tub for me. I shake my head and laugh. He and his friend laugh too. We go back to the bath gel section. I point to the gel and act as if I am pouring it into the water. They nod their head yes in recognition but then they nod their head no because they do not have it. I buy a few bottles of tea and go back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel, I whiz through the Robert Cormier book. The stories are strangely perfect for my stay at a hotel during a summer camp in China. Moby Dick may be my winter read. I may be done with whales for the time being. I will check in with Ishmael in a few months.
Oddly, I get tired after lunch here and I desperately need to take a short nap at that point. However, when the night rolls upon us, I become wide awake and do not seem to need sleep. When I do finally drift off to sleep, I feel as if I am only asleep a few minutes when I hear bells ringing and my name being called, wrong accents withstanding. I go to the door. There is that cigarette smoke of a voice in the guise of a woman. She hands me the baggie which holds two Chinese sausage biscuits. I say thank you and shut the door. I lay down for five more minutes. I get up, eat my Chinese breakfast, brush my teeth, get dressed and head down to the lobby where my rickshaw is waiting to take me to school.
Today, I am part of a carpool – with no car of course. I am sharing the ride with four other passengers which seems like it would be crowded but it is not. They sit between my legs in a box. They are quite well behaved these little chicks clucking around back and forth.
In class, we talk more about the family. I ask the students what they do for fun with their parents. Some of them say they go to places such as Shanghai. We then talk about picnics and the park. I write ‘picnic’ ‘vacation’ and ‘holiday’ on the board. Jennie explains this to them in Chinese. This - and offshoots of this - takes care of the morning.
Lunch is better today than yesterday. We have chicken, rice and a side of tomato and egg soup. I skip the soup. We sit in the vice principal’s office after we eat. Not as many teachers are in the office today as yesterday. The few teachers there talk and surf on laptop computers as they chain smoke.
After lunch, I pull out my guitar. I tell the students we are going to learn a song. I write the words to ‘From Me to You’ on the board. Jennie downloads the song from the internet. We play the song for the students. She tells me it is too difficult. I tell her I think they can learn it. She is no help. I tell the students we will tackle one line at a time. We try the first line with no success. I tell them we will take it a few words at a time. We try this which is difficult at first but they start to understand. I tell them they are much cleverer than students much older. This makes them smile.
When we come to the part ‘I got lips that long to kiss you,’ I do a string of funny mock kisses. This makes all of them laugh. We spend an hour and a half learning to sing it. At the end of the class, I tell Jennie I would like to show them the Beatles performing the song. I try to find the song on the DVD but on the computer this is difficult. I show the Beatles performing ‘All My Loving.’ This absolutely does not impress them. A clip from the Beatles in 1964 is meaningless to the country youth in China in 2006.
At 3:25, as they yell ‘sports,’ Ed and Tom bolt out of the classroom. I look at Jennie. She tells me they are off to do sports. Five minutes later, I hear the sound of a large dying animal. I run to the window. I see Ed and Tom across the courtyard in a classroom on the fourth floor. They are playing horns. In China, band is sports.
In the rickshaw, I mull over last semester at Songjiang High School. Looking back, I realize I may have been overambitious. A few days before class started, Elizabeth gave me the subjects I was to teach - Oral English, English and Conversation, Geography and Culture, and Introduction to Art. She gave these to me with no attached curriculum. Within a few days, I was to put together a curriculum for the class which is possible I suppose, but not very wise.
Now, I realize, the whole semester I was struggling, trying to get a grip on what I was doing. Since I had put the film class curriculum together for John Jay, I thought I would be able to do the same with the subjects given to me at the international school. The film class, I was given a few months to put together the curriculum. As I said, Elizabeth gave me a few days to put the curriculum together for the international school.
Without a doubt, the students did learn and I did the best I could for the short time I was given to prepare. With the added distraction of Bird Flu ready to report any indiscretion, I was definitely put through the fire. At the time, I did not realize how difficult the semester truly was. Now I do.