Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Each day, I set a goal for myself….

Watermelons are everywhere. After I go to Christine for some pastries, I stop at a fruit and vegetable stand across the street. This is a nice big one which at nighttime is brightly lit. I look over the melons. Here, most of the melons I see are the small round ones. As I am looking over the melons, a worker – a young male – approaches me.

Our interaction is wordless. I hold up one finger and point to the melons. He knows melons. He turns over a few of them but none of them are good enough for the foreigner. He tells me this in body language. Finally he finds one that still has part of the stem attached. Proudly, he hands it to me. I smile and take it to the counter to buy it.


This is my last week in Songjiang. On Saturday, I will move to my new apartment in Shanghai proper. From that time on, I will be able to just hop on the metro to go where I want to go. I will not have to take the hour’s bus ride to the stadium to hop onto the metro from there. This is quite exciting for me. Now, I will properly be able to explore Shanghai, neighborhood to neighborhood.

However, I know that once I have moved to my new place I will miss the lazy day of Songjiang. I will miss the guards at the gate who often smile at me when I leave or enter the campus. Sometimes, they just look at me wearily. Sometimes in the evening, they offer me cigarettes. I am a bad smoker. Invariably, I cough like an amateur after taking like fifty attempts to light the cigarette. Yes, I will miss the guards. There is no way to really let them know I am going. How do I pantomime that I will be leaving?

Other than, they will know when they see me loaded up in CJ’s friend’s pickup with my couch, table and chairs, steamer trunks, appliances as we lumber past the gate. Of course, somehow in less than six months I have accrued what seems to be a year or two worth of crap. This week, I go through everything and decide what to keep and what not to keep. Unfortunately, like with most pack rats, I have a tendency to think that I can use the most unusable stuff. I will look at a scrap of paper and swear it has some Zen-like perfection that would go well in an art project. Instead of creating ‘Bed’ what if Rauschenberg threw away his old blankets and pillow, I ask myself. That is my constant dilemma.

Of course, there is always more stuff. I have to tell myself there is always more stuff. There are more scraps of paper that have Zen-like qualities to them everywhere. On the street, there are always discarded spade queens and diamond queens to add to my collection of random cards. They are everywhere. There is no shortage.

Tess sent me a message last night. Miko will not be back in the fall. Tess asked me if I was back from Inner Mongolia. The camp was cancelled I wrote her. I have not told the Shanghai 90210 that I will not be here in the fall. Maybe they will have forgotten my by then anyway. From what I have been told, Allen and Max are in Australia. Tess is preparing for her IELTs class. Miko, I hope, is still in love with America. Maybe by now, she listens to the Strokes, the Walkmen, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Sailor wrote me. He is about to take ‘SAT lessons’ as he put it. I told him he should do fine. He is very smart. He had told me at one point that the other students at his school are much better in English than him. I told him he is still a very bright young man.

My cleaning lady has stopped coming to clean. Occasionally, I will see her on her bike leaving campus. If I pointed her to my apartment, I am sure she would sweep and mop the place. However, I have just not had the energy. Sometimes, ridiculous endeavors take to much energy. Heat and energy are consuming me.

Energy, I need to muster up more energy. I have stopped spending anytime outdoors because it is so hot. If I walk to town, by the time I get back, I am dripping with sweat. A few days ago, I thought I was about to have a heatstroke. The heat is heavy here. I am used to the Oklahoma heat.

Actually, I spent a few years in Atlanta working as a gardener, which of course was outdoors. Perhaps, there, I got acclimated to the heat. Nevertheless, here, I do not want to leave the indoors and the air conditioning. Maybe I am just getting older. The Atlanta gardening days were 9 years ago now. Oh my, what happened to the time?

Like a hermit, I sit in my apartment and try to come up with the syllabi for the classes I am teaching next semester. At this point, I have emailed and text messaged my contact at my new school with no word back from her. Part of me is a little freaked about not being able to contact this person. The other part is strangely encouraging. Which part of me is right, I have no idea.

The school wants to be an International Baccalaureate Organization school. The last several weeks, I have read endless articles by and about IBO. The school gave me a 55 page middle school arts guide and a 55 page technology guide. With these two pieces of information, I am to synthesize what I read into a syllabus and a year of coursework.

With most jobs I have held, I prefer to not have a boss looking over my shoulder. Well, here, I have got what I wished for. I would like to ask some questions but I seem to have no one to ask. I seem to be stumbling in the dark looking for a light switch. Someday, this will be funny. At the moment, this is distressing.

Each day, I set a goal for myself. At the end of the day, I do not feel as if I have reached the goal that I set for the day. It seems like I am drifting to some extent. But I know, by the end of the month, I need to have these descriptions, course overview, aims, standards and such written for these courses that I will be teaching. They weigh me down like some sort of academic albatross.

Earlier, when I walked to Lotus, I asked myself what I am doing here. Am I running away from something? Why am I here in China? I am not accusing myself of running away I just would like to know why I came here. Do I have a clear idea in my head or was it just one of those odd decisions?

At Lotus, I wandered around. I did not buy too much because I am moving in a few days. While I was there, I went to the home section. A boy walked by and stared at me. He reminded me a bit of Ed from the camp at the beginning of summer. He had that same innocence and curiosity.

As he passed, I smiled and said ‘hello.’ This maybe made his day. He smiled and said hello and stood with me for a minute as I looked at sheets and pillowcases. He said something. I am not sure if it was directed at me or to himself; maybe he was too shy to say it very loud. I turned and smiled at him again. He smiled back. We stood there for a moment. He then ran off to another part of the store.

Ten minutes later, I saw him again. Actually I heard him before I saw him. By this time, I had moved over a few aisles, I was close to the electronics. He had a basketball that he was unsurely dribbling. The sound of the basketball was resonating through store like gunfire. The afternoon shoppers paid no attention to him. The shoppers and clerks are used to noise.

He saw me and smiled and started dribbling the basketball down the aisle toward me. The basketball had other ideas. It hit the side of a display shelf and went sailing down an aisle. The boy went after it. I did not see him again. At home, he will tell his parents about the foreigner who smiled.

Later in the evening, I go out walking, looking for more fruit. The air is still heavy and hot. I walk to the small new grocery store and the fruit stand that is in the opposite direction of the school from downtown. At the grocery store, I buy a couple of vacuum packed hard boiled eggs which are very popular here.

At the fruit stand, I go for the melons again. A woman working immediately comes up to assist me. I point to a melon and hold one finger up. She picks up a melon and takes it to the counter. A man starts to ring me up. I pantomime that I am still looking. The man walks up to me; he knows Basic English. I am standing by the grapes.

He tells me to help myself. ‘Help yourself’ is a popular English phrase here in China. I say thank you. These are smaller grapes at which I am looking. The man points to the large grapes next to them and says ‘Very Sweet.’ I tell him I would like some. He picks out a large bunch and takes them to the counter. I look at the peaches. He picks out a peach for me. The woman who initially helped me rings me up. My fruit purchase totals 30 yuan which is close to four dollars. Something tells me, I have been taken for a ride without a rickshaw. From now on, I will go to the fruit stand across the street from Christine.


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