At the moment, I am slightly overwhelmed. Within a month, I need to have a curriculum set for the classes that I am teaching at this international middle school next year. A period a day, five days a week, I will be teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th graders English Lit. In America, I could go browse the bookstores and I would have a multitude of choices. Here, although Shanghai is a major city, a world city, the choices are limited. There are two international bookstores here I know of. If there are more, I have not heard about them.
At the international bookstore that I prefer, there is one big table when you come into the store that contains English lit choices. The choices are what you would imagine – Dickens, Poe, Hemmingway, Twain, Hardy, Shakespeare.
The problem that I am having is the selections which are lacking. I would like to assign The Indian in the Cupboard, James and the Giant Peach, Harriet the Spy. Unfortunately, these titles are not available. The other bookstore carries the Lemony Snicket books which I think are fun but should they be assigned for a lit class? Ah, why the hell not. They will also set me back about 230 yuan a book which is crazy expensive. Supposedly, I am getting reimbursed money I spend. However I do not know if I get reimbursed the cost of a 230 yuan book which brings me to the next problem.
Why don’t I just ask my liaison with the school? That is a marvelous idea, truly it is. In fact, it is such a good idea that I have emailed her. I have emailed her twice with no response. Should some red flags be raised in my head? Probably, but I am optimistic. I have questions. I am not getting answers. This is very frustrating.
I go to Shanghai to look around and get some ideas for the classes. I browse the bookstores. For some reason, I want to teach the students Macbeth. In junior high, I studied Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar. For some reason, Macbeth seems a bit more hip in my mind. Why, I do not know. At both bookstores, I look for the film versions on DVD. The Roman Polanski version may be a bit of a long shot but the Orson Welles version seems like it would be a possibility. Both stores have Sir Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet. Macbeth to me does not seem to be a stretch.
At the international bookstore that I do not go to as often, a clerk asks if she can help me. She is Chinese. Her English is okay but she is by no means fluent. I am in the English language DVD section on the 7th floor. I tell her I would like to find a film version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. She asks me if she is an actress. I tell her Shakespeare is a famous writer, maybe the most famous English writer, ever. This means nothing to her. She is Chinese. I find Hamlet and Julius Caesar and show her.
She then asks me what I do. I tell her I teach English. She then gives me a brochure for Chinese lessons. At the international bookstores, the clerks always give you brochures for Chinese lessons. She tells me she can take me to meet with someone for more information. They get a commission from this I am certain. At the moment, I tell her I am a little preoccupied. She goes to sell her language to another customer.
At this point, the guard decides to give me a hand with my DVD selections. He hands me a random Russian language film. The table where I am parked has a few Russian language films. I try not to laugh. This would be the same as if I found a Korean movie and handed it to him assuming it to be Chinese.
Shakespeare is still on my mind. At the other bookstore, I found a book of abridged adaptations which I think could be interesting for young readers. In this book, Macbeth has been rewritten into a short story, a short story which I believe my students would understand.
However, again, there is a problem. I have been given a few hints about these students but I do not know where they truly are in their reading skills. If I come up with a curriculum, I have the possibility of going in the first day and realizing all my work is for nothing because I have designed a curriculum that is over their heads.
Part of me is telling me, I am making this much too hard, choose some books and be done with it. The other part of me is telling me, I want to be a really good teacher. I want them to say later that I was a really good teacher. Whether they like me or not, that is one thing but I want them to actually take away something from this. I want them to remember me the way I remember some of my better English teachers.
For the last few weeks, I have been surfing sites looking at curriculum overviews. I would like to know what sort of time I should spend on each book. Most of the sites I have found, give a list of suggested readings but they do not say whether they spend a week, two weeks or a month on each book. Obviously, since this is my first time doing this, I am a bit gun shy. Many other people have done this before me; that is what I need to keep telling myself.
At the bookstore, my imagination goes into overdrive. I have all of these ideas and my thoughts crystallize. I know exactly how to plan the class. And then, as soon as the solution comes to me; it leaves. This is maddening.
Time for lunch, I decide go to an American area of which I know. I believe there is a Tony Roma’s there. I am not sure exactly where it is but I know I found it with Sailor a week ago so I should be able to find it again. While I am in that area, I will look at cheap compact discs and pirated DVDs.
As with most of my walks in Shanghai, some areas look familiar some do not. I walk past the giant Coca-Cola bottle. I am in the huge tourist shopping plaza. A young woman in shorts and a tank top approaches me. This is not unusual here. She starts talking to me. I talk to her for a bit but I am really hungry and I do not feel like getting into a long winded conversation. She asks if I would like to go get some coffee or tea somewhere. I tell her I am in a hurry. Otherwise, I would love to have coffee with her. She storms off. I am a bit taken aback that she leaves in a huff.
I continue my trek to an American eatery. In the same area, another young lady comes up to me. Again, this one has on shorts but is wearing a tube top instead of a tank top. She is instantly very friendly. I tell her I am not interested because I finally am aware what is going on with these two women. Naïve, silly me; I finally realize they are hookers.
The funny thing is I can usually spot hookers but I am completely taken off my guard by these two women. They look average, almost plain. If I was in New York or Hollywood or even Cleveland, I would not be surprised but here I am surprised. Before I moved here, if somebody told me he was approached by a hooker in Shanghai, I would have not batted an eye. As a matter of fact, I probably would have been surprised that he was surprised that he was approached by a hooker. But since I have been here, this does not hit me as a hooker place, oddly enough.
As I am walking away, I wonder if I look like the typical smarmy foreign businessman looking for a Tuesday afternoon hooker ride. Then I wonder what the average smarmy foreign businessman looks like. I have on my pink LaGuardia Community College t-shirt and my Blue Cult jeans (and yellow Nikes). Am I wearing the latest in smarmy foreign businessman attire?
As I am walking, I pass a Taco Bell Grande, not just a Taco Bell but a Taco Bell Grande. This is sit-down service. I am tempted to have lunch. I have not had Mexican Food in six months. I prefer the mom and pop places in the Southwest but I will settle for Taco Bell if that is the only Mexican Food available, especially after I have just about overdosed on noodles and dumplings. I peak in the door. Inside, it looks like El Chico or a vintage Monterey House. The waitresses are all wearing sombreros that come to a weird point on the top. Maybe they are Mexican witches and wizards. Of course, for no apparent reason, I start thinking of the Uriah Heap Demons and Wizards album. ‘Easy Livin’ starts playing in my head like a bad church hymm.
The set price to eat at Taco Bell is about $8.00. Realizing I am not that desperate, I laugh and keep moving. A Pizza Hut is next to the Taco Bell Grande. Actually, it is on the floor above the Taco Bell Grande. A swanky circular stair case at the entrance is the invitation to come in and taste the deliciousness that is Pizza Hut. Unfortunately, I am much too familiar with Pizza Hut these days. I move on down the sidewalk past the Ferrari and Mercedes Benz dealerships. They stare each other down from opposite sides of the street.
Again, some of my walk is familiar; some of my walk is not. Eventually, I come upon the mall that contained the Armani stores where Sailor and I browsed and drooled. In this mall, I remember, there was a Kenny Rogers’ Roasters. Last time, I had this, and maybe the only time I have had this was in Alabama with Steve and his family during his brother’s high school golf tournament. (His brother graduated from college a few years ago now.) There is something strangely comforting about the gambler having a franchise restaurant in Shanghai.
As I think about this, for some strange reason the soundtrack in my head continues which should be a Kenny Rogers song but of course in my world it is not Kenny Rogers and it is not motor city Bob Seger. Instead, a song by the other gambler, the gambler in pills plays in my head - Nick Drake’s ‘Northern Sky.’
Today, maybe I will not eat at Tony Roma’s; maybe I will eat with the Gambler. Actually, physically, he is not here. Like that song ‘Superstar,’ he’s not here, it’s just the Kenny Rogers radio. When I am seated ‘Lucille’ is playing which is followed by ‘Lady.’
Again, this is a sit-down table-service restaurant. The one in Alabama was a move through a line, that mix of cafeteria meets fast food. I look over the menu. The club sandwich looks really tasty. I order it. The lunch special comes with a coke. The waitress brings my coke first. Then she brings me a saucer of cut melon which tastes like onion. Oh, Kenny, sometimes you disappoint me.
I would get up and do a strip tease if ‘52 Girls’ by the B52s played at this point. Fortunately, for the wait-staff and the patrons, this does not happen. Lady’ is followed by ‘Coward of the County.’
My club sandwich comes with strange boiled potato spears and coleslaw. Everything is not what you expect here. The club sandwich is not layered. Sliced cucumbers are substituted for bacon. The whole sandwich is swimming in what I suppose is supposed to be mayonnaise. The nice touch is that the crust is cut from around the bread’s edges. I was never one of those kids who demanded his crust cut. By the time I knew about crust cut, I was too old to demand it anyway. Nevertheless, today it is a nice touch.
Lunch with Kenny was a bit of a disappointment. ‘Islands in the Stream’ comes on as I am paying the check. I wander around buy some movies and CDs from street venders. The best find is a two CD set of Smiley Smile, Wild Honey, and Pet Sounds for what equals $2.50. This is not a bootleg, this is the real thing.
Tomorrow, I am to meet Michael Wang to look at the apartment that my company has rented near the school where I will be teaching. I have been told it has a small yard which is unusual here. If it turns out that it is nice, I will take it. This is the apartment where the teacher lived whom I am replacing.