Wednesday, September 20, 2006

And when I’m sad, I slide.

By now, being observed by another teacher is not the traumatic experience that it was a year ago. In fact, when Michelle, my language link teacher, asked me if she could come to my geography, culture and history lecture class, I told her that would be fine. Actually, this was a good thing because on Sunday, I had prepared a killer slide show on the United States’ West Coast.

The slide show included maps and pictures of beaches, surfers, Hollywood Boulevard’s Hamburger Hamlet, Disneyland, the Hollywood sign, Crater Lake, Nirvana, logging trucks, and a lot of photos of Mexican food.

With the Mexican food, I wanted to stress the importance of Mexican culture Southern California and the Southern Mexican Border States in general. Of course, while I was showing the slides of the Mexican food, at times, I wanted to cry because it has been more than six months since I have had proper Mexican food as in Tex-Mex.

When I talked about San Francisco, I mentioned Chinatown and how people all over the world come to see Chinatown in San Fran. The students loved hearing about this. Michelle’s eyes lit up when I talk about this and the importance of the Chinese building the railroad. At one point, I mentioned Lake Tahoe and the Donner party starving and eating their dead to stay alive. As I was talking, I was really rolling and I believe most of what I said was somewhat close to being historically accurate.

With a map of the United States being projected, I was able to point out cities and landmarks. I asked the students if they could see the words ‘Death Valley.’ Most of them could. Then I went into why it was called Death Valley. The settlers who came to California to hit it rich as gold prospectors, some of them starved on the way.

I explained they did not have cars. There were not petrol stations, no rest stops, no Petro China. The settlers were thirsty. They had no Pepsi, no Suntory, and no water. This is when, I feign starvation and thirst. All I could say was ‘water’ ‘water’ ‘water’. I fell on the floor of the classroom. One of the English speakers in the class at that point said, “Is he dead?”

When I got up, I made no allusion to my Emmy Award worthy – not really Oscar worthy – soap opera star trapped in the desert performance. I know that I was a hit. This was my best observation yet which I was given no warning beforehand. Time ran out before I finished the lecture. As the circus music played, I started talking about grunge and Nirvana and Seattle.

After the class, Michelle told me she wants to go back to school. This has got her interested in studying the US. I am flattered. This is not really my area of expertise.

The next day, I give the eighth graders the same lecture. I bump into Grace another teacher in the hall. She asks if she can observe me. I tell her yes she can. This time, the lecture is not as seamless as when Michelle observed. Nevertheless, I do still feel good about it. The kids love the food photos. This makes them hungry. Can I fix Mexican food they ask? Of course I can is my response. I have had the Taco Bell Grande on Nanjing Road and it is a shameful showing. These kids need the real thing. Later, Grace tells me, she has eaten Taco Bell on Nanjing Road and in San Francisco and I am right about Nanjing Road’s Taco Bell. I do not have the heart to tell her Taco Bell is crap.

When I talk about the Chinese, and San Francisco, and the railroad and Chinatown, Grace smiles in the back of the room. She loves to hear me talk about her brethren. Am I kissing up? Is there anything wrong with kissing up to a culture?

This time when I do the dying of thirst reenactment it is pure Bugs Bunny high drama. I stumble around for a minute at least before I die. As soon as I hit the floor and stay there for twenty or thirty seconds giving my high drama the much needed dramatic pause, the classroom claps. This has got to be worth something for my observer. Do they give teachers any sort of dramatic classroom trophies or awards?

Maybe I was wrong about Percy, maybe. Monday night there was a dinner. My assumption, the dinner was a veiled way to get the English teachers together to lay down the law. From my days in advertising, I am not so keen to Gestapo tactics. During the day, I made a list of all of my grievances so far. After all, I had wowed them in the classroom with my Marlon Brando dying of thirst.

Before the dinner, I got a message from Andrea. We were to have dinner with visiting Australians. There was not a secret agenda. I could rest easy. Relieved, yes, I was relieved. Nevertheless, I was still on guard. In the movies (and in life), when the protagonist is relieved and feels as if he does not need his guard up, this is when he has to beware. This is when Michael Myers rises up from his death to attack yet once more with the butcher knife. This is when Nicholson receives the lobotomy, when he stays to fight instead of escapes out the window. Still, I was and am trying to decide if Percy is my Nurse Ratched. Yes, I was still on guard.

The dinner was nice. The principle and the British Council English language assistant did shots of the harsh Chinese rotgut rice wine together. Again, the old me would have been right there with them. I would have been able to easily drink them under the table. Of course, along the way, I would have no doubt tried to pull the principal’s pants off, but then that would have been what he deserved for unleashing the Tyson booze hound. The old me would have challenged everyone to shots. The new me has decided I do not have to impress anyone with my drinking ability. I know I can drink. I proved that for 15 or 20 years. No longer do I need to drink. These people do not know me. Furthermore, I do not need to prove anything to anyone. To wake up without a hangover, that is a splendid feeling, screw Chinese social convention.

“You don’t drink?!” the former principal (a woman) who was drinking wine said more as an accusation of my character than a question. Here, not drinking is not looked upon as a strength in character but as a weakness. They assume you are not mature enough to understand and appreciate the goodness of refrigerated red wine. I hate to spoil their cheese-less wine and cheese party but the Chinese have no fucking clue about the drinking of red wine, no fucking clue whatsoever.

I was fine with the watermelon juice followed by the sweet corn juice (imagine pureed cream corn and you get the picture).

Midway through the meal, Percy arrives. We were told she was not feeling well. She exchanges pleasantries with everyone as she sits. My boss sat between Percy and me. Her demeanor was completely neutral toward me. After dinner, I had this feeling that she would talk to me. No, that is not true. I had this feeling that the whole thing had blown over and she was not going to even say anything about our riff which was fine with me but I decided I would keep up my guard until I knew what was going on with her.

At one point, she got up and toasted the teachers around the table for the hard work. When we toasted out watermelon juices, she did not look at me in the eye. From this, I could not tell if she was embarrassed or if she still thought I had tried to out maneuver her. All through dinner, I was in a screw it sort of mood. Without a doubt, I have put lots of effort into this job. If it is not appreciated, I will shake my tail feathers somewhere else where said tail feathers will be appreciated.

My boss, who is really nice as I have mentioned, mentioned during dinner how I run from class to class sometimes. The principal told me he appreciates my hard work. I thanked him. Still, I was on my guard. My boss has been very nice. The principal has not gone out of his way to make me feel welcome. I know what I bring to the school and they are damned lucky to have me. Therefore, I will not be bullied by these junior varsity dragon ladies.

In china when dinner is over, dinner is over. Maybe this is because I do not speak the language but at the big dinners, the Chinese seem to just get up abruptly and leave the table at the end. This dinner was no different. I looked at Percy and said, I guess this is it. We both laughed. She walked out with me into the corridor. This is when she apologized. Yes, it was an honest to goodness apology. She told me she did not realize I was teaching 18 hours. I corrected her and told her some weeks I teach between 20 and 23.

She then told me that she hopes that I stay at the school for more than a year and that she knows that I am really working hard. This made me feel much better. At this point, I did let down my guard. I told her I do really like the school. I love the students. If possible, I would love to stay here.

So yes, I do feel much better at present. Now, I know that I am appreciated. They do realize that I am working really hard. The hard work I do not mind, I just it to be acknowledged in some way by the powers that be.

Mary, this is Mary. Mary was invited to eat tonight with some of the school officials and the Australians. In the mid-afternoon, Andrea messaged me. She wants to eat hotpot tonight. Andrea is really easy to be with. I told her I would love to go. Soon, the British Council were on board. Mary heard that we were all going to eat. She told me she thought she might not go out to eat with the school officials now. She may call and cancel, make up an excuse, tell them she is not feeling well.

This was not a spur of the moment arrangement. They asked her two days ago. I was a bit disappointed that I was not asked. Somehow, I thought I was the passionate one. She thinks she’s the passionate one. I was sitting in the teacher’s office when she was asked to go. They rang her up and invited her officially.

When she tells me she may cancel with them, I try to talk her out of it. She tries to tell me she is not feeling that great. Nevertheless, she is feeling healthy enough to go eat hotpot with us. I tell her she should go with the school officials. The woman who invited her comes into the office and tells her what time they are meeting. Mary tells her fine. Offhand, the woman invites me. I would not mind going but I had committed to the hotpot dinner and I think it is a bit rude to invite me as an afterthought. I tell her I have plans. Mary looks at me like she wants to kill me.

I try to put my desk in some sort of order. Mary leaves before me. I do not notice her leave but she is gone. I pass her on the second floor talking to the lady that had invited her to out to eat with the Australians. I hear the lady tell her to go home and rest.

At 7 pm, I show up at the gates to wait for my dining teacher’s. At the gate, Grace (who observed me and my fantastic death scene) comes back to dinner with the Australian. I have this strange feeling that Mary will walk up at any time. She really wanted to go eat with the teachers. At 7:05, Andrea walks out. She and the British Council were kicking around the football. British Council Will is washing his hands. He will be out in a minute.

I thought Mary ditched the other teachers to join us. She does not show. This is wise on her part. If she did join us, she would have arrived as Grace and the Australian were coming back from the restaurant.

The British Council, Andrea, and I walk to the bus. Another Brit meets us at the busstop. Her name is Sarah. We all head to the Little Sheep Hot-pot for dinner. The Hot-pot is delicious. Over dinner, we talk about where we are going for National Holiday, the first week of October. Will has plans to go to Thailand. We tell him with the current situation there, he should perhaps rethink that as a destination. Laura, the other British Council person is going to Beijing with friends. Andrea and I are going to Suzhou and some other places nearby by train. Sarah may go with us. That’s fine. Here, you meet someone and thirty minutes later, you are planning a trip together. This is life at its most lifelike.
This evening before dinner, I shaved. I was tired of dealing with whiskers and chopsticks and whiskers. On the way to dinner, British Council Will told me I look twenty. Now, I love him forever.

I have never never kissed
A car before It's like a door
I have always always
Grown my own before
All schools are strange
And when I'm sad
I slide.


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