Monday, August 28, 2006

12xU Fly in the Ointment Wire Strange

6:30 AM – Afraid I have overslept, I wake in a panic. I look over at the clock and go back to sleep cherishing that I have an hour before the alarm sounds. Yes, the morning is good so far for a Monday.

7:15 AM – I stir again. The alarm has not yet sounded.

7:30 AM – The alarm sounds. Slowly, I stir, slowly, very slowly.

7:35 AM – I stir enough to crawl onto the couch in the living room and lay back down. I think of something to bribe myself to actually get up and start the day. Usually, I can bribe myself with early morning email. I get up and go over and turn on the computer. The time on the computer reads 7:33. My bedroom clock is ten minutes fast. I have thirty minutes more or less, depending on when I am supposed to be at orientation which is on the East Campus.

7:35 AM – Déjà vu, I feel as if it was 7:35 AM ten minutes ago. That was when I woke up in some strange one bedroom apartment in Shanghai. This strange apartment supposedly belonged to me. Strange. Wire Strange. Fly in the Ointment Wire Strange. 12xU Fly in the Ointment Wire Strange. The Shanghai-me puts water on to boil in my kettle, in my kettle that was recently shone by my landlord the kettle and steamer shiner. Sometimes I wonder if I have grown up to become Mean Mister Mustard. I ponder this. I check my email. I look at headlines. “Mean Mister Mustard sleeps in the park…”

Last night, I forgot to grab a little carton of milk at the store so I make instant cappuccino instead of French press coffee. I drink it as I wash my hair and face and prepare for the day. I throw a load of laundry in the washing machine which is new by the way.

7:50 AM – I give thanks that I am sober these days, happy that I am not waking up hung-over. Fortunately, nursing a hangover is passé for me.

7:55 AM – I call Mary to find out what time we are to go to orientation. She tells me that she is ready to go now. I tell her that I am finishing getting dressed. I will meet her in a bit. Since I do not know what the orientation entails or whom I might meet, I put on my pastel striped Yves St Laurent shirt (courtesy Bob V, by the way), my brown Prada slacks (my standard issue), and the brown striped John Varvatos tie that I found at a Salvation Army in Queens when I went to hang out with Farhana one drink filled weekend involving the Bolivians.

8:05 AM – I pour the rest of the cappuccino down the drain and head out the door. Mary calls to tell me she is waiting in front of the West Campus School gate. I am on my way I tell her. I am walking through the apartment complex.

8:13 AM – She and I walk to the orientation at the East Campus, sweating as we walk. As we are sweating and walking, I ask her how long it stays hot here in Shanghai. She tells me it will be hot until the end of October. I am a bit dumbfounded by this.

8:18 AM – Mary and I are stopped at the gate of the East Campus by the guard. This is like some Stalag 13 movie or something. Mary says teacher in Chinese and the guard lets us pass.

8:25 AM – At the international division office, we ask where the orientation is being held. A man who may or may not be a teacher tells us it is on the first floor in room 121, the auditorium, at 8:45.

8:30 AM – Mary and I are the first to arrive. The auditorium is much like a medium sized auditorium at a university.

8:35 AM – The teachers and staff start arriving. The place fills up fairly quickly.

8:45 AM – A man – who later I find out is the new principal – takes the stage. He gives what I assume is an introduction (the whole presentation is in Chinese) and then he introduces the new teachers. The only way we know we are being introduced is by listening for words that sound somewhat like our given names. There are 100 or so people in the auditorium who clap when each teacher stands and said teacher waves after these introductions.

8:55 AM – This man goes into a lecture which is completely and undeniably in Chinese.

9:15 AM – This man is just starting, just warming up; he has power point and projection capabilities. Nothing is going to stop him. He is as impenetrable and boring as the Jefferson Starship catalogue of hits. If any of those hits play in my head, I may have to go shoot someone. I mean it.

9:30 AM – Hare Kari, is that only popular in Japan? Does anyone have a filet-of-guts sword handy that I could impale myself with?

9:45 AM – Could I go into a coughing fit and leave, acting as if I am typhoid Tyson?

10:00 AM – The principal leaves the stage. Yes, I am so happy. Oh hell, some older woman – who is the retired principal I am later told – is now at the podium. This, I do not mean in an unflattering sense at all, but, she reminds me a bit of a Chinese version of Anthony Perkins when he is sporting that crazy wig in Psycho. Upon closer inspection, I realize, the hairstyle is the link that reminds me or Norman.

10:15 AM – My patience for rambling Chinese speak has abruptly ended. I lean over to Andrea who is sitting next to me and ask her if she has a gun.

10:25 AM – The female, female impersonator (actually the psychologist at the end of Psycho says Norman Bates was not a female impersonator but that is for the audience to decide.) exits the stage and – God Almighty – the new principal goes back on stage. Andrea leans over to me and tells me we are to meet for a meeting in the principal’s office after this. This is excruciating. A poison pen? A strychnine capsule?

At this point, I must have an out-of-body experience because at some point about three days later (or ten minutes later, space time continuum and all, who knows?) the principal stops speaking and we are excused. The auditorium captives burst into the hallway like a smashed tick.

Once the foreigners have regrouped, I meet the two new additions from the UK, William and Laura. They are English language assistants sponsored by the British Council. They have been in China for two weeks training.

Us foreign teachers go to the principal’s office to be briefed by Percy, who I believe is part of the English department but also handles some of the foreign teacher acclimation responsibilities. We talk about nothing important and then she shows us around the school which is somewhat pointless for me because I will not be at this campus. We end our tour in the English dept meeting room which is a nice big room with expensive modern (not the hideous overstuffed stuff) leather furniture and chic Lucite tables. I feel a bit as if I am in some sci-fi cocktail lounge courtesy of P.K. Dick’s or J.G. Ballard’s imagination.

Again, we have stumbled into a long excruciating meeting which we have to sit through before we are to be introduced. Of course, the meeting is being conducted in Chinese. At this point, I am getting perturbed because it is pointless to have six English speakers in a meeting conducted exclusively in Chinese. This is the second one that we have had the displeasure to attend today. Finally, forty five minutes later. We, the English speakers, introduce ourselves. After that, the rest of the English department follows suit. We then file out. I stop and talk to Celia who I met the other day at the other meeting. She is really sweet and has offered to help me in any way she can. I then talk to Michelle who is assigned to help me assimilate. Soon, I will be Chinese. I need to learn how to speak the language.

I get separated from Mary and the others. I duck my head into a classroom. Lunch is being served. Michelle walks up behind me and tells me it is time for lunch. I ask if I am invited. She accidentally said it in way that was non-committal. She tells me of course. She asks me if I like dumplings. I love them I tell her.

The dumplings are in a stainless steel covered tray. They are hot and delicious. During the meal, I talk to William. He is from the UK and Hong Kong. I cannot tell what ethnicity he is. He may be Malaysian; he could be Chinese. He does not speak Chinese. He just graduated from Kingston University. From what I gather, he just received his masters.

He is to go back for the graduation ceremony in January. He is not sure if the classes will be over by then. I tell him I want to go back and teach a film class in New York so I need to figure that out. He tells me he studied film at university. We talk a bit about Truffaut and Godard. Someday, maybe we could have a discourse over Godard's Sympathy for the Devil. Now, however, we will just eat dumplings.

1:05 PM – after lunch, I am on my couch resting - more or less watching a DVD. The landlord honks his scooter horn and calls my name. I am not in the mood. I wish I was given some sort of ten minute warning when he is going to pop in on me. He keeps banging and honking. As I am going to open the gate, I notice some renegade candle wax that has dripped on the shelf that I meant to clean last night. I hope he does not notice it, oh well. I go open the gate.
“Mr. Wang?”
This means call Michael. I call Michael and hand the phone to the landlord. The landlord talks to me and then flashes me the ‘x’ which means that Michael will come to my apartment in ten minutes. Ten minutes is an eternity to spend with an overactive Chinese man that you cannot understand.

As the landlord is sitting on the couch, I start to deal with the clothes that I put in to wash before the orientation this morning. I have no clothes dryer so I will have to hang them up. Something tells me the landlord will have to get involved with this domestic activity.

Yes, he is by my side conducting how the activity is to be done within a minute. I know he is only trying to help. While he is helping and driving me nuts at the same time, I try to tell myself this over and over. He is kind hearted. He is kind hearted. He is kind hearted.

Michael shows up. Michael is someone that works for the company whom I really like. He has been a big help. He has come by to figure out the bills with the landlord. As the landlord likes to do, he wanders around the apartment, he says something to Michael about the old television on the large windowsill in the bedroom. Michael tells me the landlord is going to bring a table over for it. At this point, I just don’t care. I tell him that is fine. I know the landlord probably thinks some hideous early American table is going to be perfect, oh well. Well well well, Oh well.

7:43 PM – I hear someone banging on my patio gate. If the music had not just stopped, I would not hear them. Probably this is the landlord with the table. Today, as sweet a guy as my landlord is, I have had my fill of landlords. I ignore the knocking. The knocking persists. I am not sure how long I can ignore it. The knocking does not seem like it will stop anytime soon. I put on a shirt and I go open the door.

My landlord is not standing at the door. A policeman – or a commercial airline pilot, the dress is similar here – is standing there amongst a gaggle of neighbors. This is like something out of Polanski’s The Tenant or Rosemary’s Baby. The policeman starts talking to me. Of course, I have no clue what he is saying. I had my stereo up but I did not think it was that loud.

The neighbors are either nosy or trying to help him communicate with me. The optimistic part of me thinks they are trying to help but realistically I think they might just be nosy. He pulls out his wallet and shows me his ID and says something. Okay, I assume he may want to seem my passport for a random foreigner check. I do not have my passport at the moment. My company is renewing my work visa. My passport is with Michael. He will have it back this next week for me.

All I can say – in Chinese - is that I do not understand. The neighbors all repeat my simple phrase to one another like I am solving one of life’s riddles. They nod as if this is coming from a sage, a punk Confucius. We have hit a snag. This is a stalemate in communication. There is actually not communication so it is not even a communication breakdown. I call Logan.

Embarrassed, I tell him a policeman is at my door and I do not know what he wants. I hand the phone to the policeman. He talks to Logan as if they are old friends. This is very bizarre. I am not sure exactly what is going down. Finally the policeman hands the phone back to me.

Logan tries to tell me what the problem is but the policeman says something at the same time which is annoying because there is no fucking way I can understand a fucking thing the policeman is fucking saying and I can barely fucking hear Logan. Needless to say, I give the policeman - who looks like he might have a kind heart - I give the policeman a dirty look. He steps out of the patio back into the back drive. I walk into the living room. Logan tells me the policeman has come around to check to see if I have registered at the local police station. Foreigners have to register each time they move. I tell him I registered the day that I signed the lease. He then tells me ‘No worries’ which makes me smile because Logan can make anyone smile. He has the purest of hearts. I thank him. We talk a bit about our jobs. We hang up. I am so happy I am registered. When I get off the phone, I wonder why I have a headache.


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