Thursday, August 31, 2006

But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas

This is what happens. This is why I get frustrated. This is why I want to Mao it on back to the States. This is why I am not overly friendly to the gathering of people that sit in lawn chairs outside my apartment door. Most of the time, I do not mind showing them what is in my shopping bag, what I am eating for supper, the DVDs I have purchased; but today I am in a bit of a foul frustrated mood.

School starts Friday. All of the sudden, it has hit me that I have to have a game plan for the year which I do have somewhat but everything seems to happen at the last moment no matter how much I plan beforehand.

With minimal guidance, for the last few months, I have developed the syllabi - four subjects, three grade levels – for the coming semester. Without a doubt, I want to start the semester with a bang. Since I no longer drink, I have time on my hands to devote to tasks as unglamorous as syllabi development, by no means is this as decadently beautiful as hitting the Viper Room after a show at the Roxy with the Kittens, or an MTV music video awards after-party or the Virgin Suicides Premiere party.

No, my new self is not steeped in glamour nor, fortunately is my new self steeped in vomit. But that is as it is and so it is. I am not complaining. Waking up in the morning without a hangover is somewhat glorious.Actually, just waking up and not drowning in my own vomit in the night is somewhat monumental. Today, as I was writing an email, I realized yesterday was my one year anniversary of sobriety. I do not mean to brag but I am somewhat amazed with myself. I absolutely thought that not drinking would be impossible. Nevertheless, that is not important now.

As I mentioned, I have been given minimal guidance - as in no guidance - in regards to my syllabi. With the lit class which will be two grades (I was just told that both grades will be during the same period), I have asked friends with kids (Thank you Christy) to give me an idea what their kids are studying. At the same time, I have spent countless hours surfing the net trying to build a curriculum that would be entertaining yet educational with a focus on classic literature. My mind has been saturated with the International Baccalaureate Organization mantra. Furthermore, I have done all of this research and writing for NO pay. I get summers off sure but here I do not get paid for them.

With the design class, I was at odds until a light bulb popped in my head. I stumbled upon a design book at one of the two foreign language bookstores that inspired me. This is all very hard to explain if you have only lived in the West. The person that I report to has told me I needed to find a design book to assign to the students. Yes, I would love to have the Auer design book but it is not available here in the People’s Republic.

Okay, this is a world city. That should not be difficult. Guess again. I should add plenty of design books are actually available here. I am sure they have a ton of design books all over the city. However, I do not read Chinese so the selection dwindles.

Here there are two book stores from which to choose. These two book stores I would say have fewer design books than a bookstore in somewhere out of the way like Winfield, Kansas. As a matter of fact, I would almost bet you can find more design books in Winfield. And, I am not knocking Winfield. I may even say ‘SCREW IT’ and move there very soon.

At one of the two bookstores, there is a locked display case holding the design books. I ask a worker to unlock the case. I start perusing the titles. Most of the books deal with computer design. A few cover landscape and public area design. Okay, so I find this book that I really like What is Design Today by George H. Marcus. I thumb through it. It seems like it would be really good but I hesitate to pay the $30. (Later, I get online and find it for $4.00 that is of course $4.00 if I am in America.)

I look through the book and it is really what I think of when I think of design and it is fairly simplistic and it does not look like some boring textbook. Unless things have changed, I was never that excited by textbooks and when it comes to a class like design, I feel as if the book should be somewhat aesthetically pleasing. However, the price tag throws me off because I have been told I would be reimbursed for items which sometimes this means I may get the money in payments in like 6 months which I will go into in detail in a moment.

Okay, I have that book as the failsafe incase I do not find another text. Fortunately, the other bookstore is across the street. This bookstore has a whole floor of art books. Here at this bookstore, I do not have much faith I will find something because I have looked here several times already.

After I wander around the floor for thirty minutes or so, a clerk asks if I need help. He knows Basic English. I tell him I am looking for a book on basic design. He does not know what I mean. He points out the different sections – architecture, photography, computer graphics. I tell him I am looking for something that encompasses all of that. He does not understand. I thank him. I keep looking. At this point, I realize there is no design section. Somewhat crestfallen, I keep pointlessly looking.

And then, I stumble upon a design book - the only design book. I do not jump for joy but I know it will work. It is a nice book. Taschen is the publisher and it is simply titled Design Handbook. This will work. The price comes out to roughly $10 which seems reasonable. As I said, this will work. The language may be a bit advanced but since this is the only choice I have, this is the only choice I have. I buy it.

Finding this is like having a weight lifted off of my shoulder. As soon as I get home I email my contact and tell her that I have found the design book. She is relieved I know. I tell her I will come to give her the receipts for the books tomorrow.


10 am, after drinking a cup of instant coffee, I go to see my boss. Here, I should add that I really do like her. She is a very kind person. She is not intimidating. She is definitely not the Ningbo Dragon Lady. She is very supportive. She means well.

I show her the books that I have bought for the classes, the books I have bought with absolutely no guidance whatsoever. The literature books, I have chosen because they are very popular choices in the middle school curriculum I have been researching. My literature students are Language A which means that English is their first language. Wizard of Oz, A Christmas Carol, and H. G Wells’ Time Machine are a few of my choices. She tells me they may be a bit advanced.

I show her the design book. With the design book, there were no other choices. Basically, that was the only choice I had. She looks through it and she says it may be hard for them to understand. I tell her that I will simplify it for them. If there was a design book for children I would have nabbed it so fast that it would have made _______________ (pretend this is Matchgame ’74 and fill in the blank). Would she like me to pull a design book out of my lily white ass I wonder? I do really like her. She is very kind.

I then produce the receipts which I have exhaustively collected everywhere I have purchased anything that I will be using. She tells me they are not receipts. I tell her they are in fact receipts in the rest of the world. When the cash register prints out a piece of paper, this is a receipt, not in fucking China. The receipts are something you ask for special.

I tell her I do not speak Chinese. I cannot ask for anything ‘special.’ If I could ask for something fucking special, many of my fucking problems would be solved in this fucking place where you have to ask for special fucking receipts. Immediately, I am in a bad mood.

She tells me to go back to get the real receipts. At this point, I do not explode but I nicely explain to her with that edge that I get in my voice, I tell her that I have worked for two months very hard to do everything right and be ready and now this. I am really angry. With a brief meeting, I have been told all of my work this summer has been a waste.

She is still very nice about it all which is good. She says that she will get the receipts. I tell her that most of these cashiers barely know any English. Sometimes they know absolutely no English.

I know I have chosen this path. I am not complaining. If you have not lived in the East, you do not and cannot understand. I do love it here. I love the people but when I am told something like “Oh how could you not know that?” I get angry.

When I leave the office, I am still angry. As I write this, I am still angry. For the last two months, I have put a lot of time into trying to come up with some sort of curriculum for this semester and I have had no help, zilch. For most of the summer, my boss was in Japan so none of my questions were answered while I was writing my syllabi for the semester. Another reason I am so angry is because I do want to be a really good teacher. Sure, I could have taken a much easier route but that does not seem worth it. This is something I really care about.

There are just so many things that are perturbing to the point of making you want to scream. She tells me I will be reimbursed in three weeks or so. I tell her when I was told to buy all of the supplies I was not told it would take so long. From now on, anything that is needed, someone who speaks the language and knows the procedure will have to do it. I am done.

Yesterday, I went to the company who employs me to get half of my flight reimbursement; at the same time, I wanted to take care of getting my expenses from six months ago when I bought dishes and stuff for my apartment. It has been 6 months. I was told by the man who owns the company that they still have to itemize it and they will take care of that next time with me. Before, when I have asked, they told me I had already been paid. They would show me the receipt. No, I have not already been paid. So all of this builds and builds and it makes me crazy. Now, I am told the next time I go into the office this will be handled. It just builds and builds.

This evening, I went to the bookstore in the mall by my apartment that has a few English literature titles. That is where I bought Wizard of Oz and a few other books. I had my receipt - or what I call a receipt; the paper that comes out of the cash register that lists what you purchased and what you need if you want to return said items. I had told my boss at school that I could go back there and get the proper receipt. When I told the girl at the register what I wanted, she had no idea what I was saying. She did not understand. Yeah, I can just ask for the receipt. I finally pulled an invoice out of my wallet and then she knew but this is not just something that they know, that the sales clerks learn in Sales to English Foreigners 101. Yes, I felt somewhat vindicated but still in a rotten mood. Tomorrow is the first day of class. I wish I had a bit of positive reinforcement.

Nevertheless, if you want to find the Rolling Stones The Stones in the Park – the 1969 concert they performed in Hyde Park two days after Brian Jones was found floating face down in his swimming pool - here on DVD for one dollar, that is no problem. Fuck the design book. I make myself a Hyde Park sort of supper – French bread, grapes, apples, CHEESE, shrimps – and I watch Mick and the gang in Hyde Park. Jumping Jack Flash – It’s a gas, gas, gas.


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