Tuesday, October 31, 2006

All is quiet on West Campus

All is quiet on West Campus. Everyday so much happens. Today, I forced myself to sleep in a bit. My first class is at 11:10. I forced myself to sleep in until 7:30. Who would have ever guessed that one day sleeping in until 7:30 am would be sleeping in for me? There was a time when I could have slept in until 7:30 pm. Those days are gone. Summer’s gone…summer’s over.

This week is my turn to give the lecture to the three classes. My subject is the macabre and unexplained. My subjects include the mothman, the bloody Bender family, the Winchester house, and the Bell Witch. With the seventh graders, I start with the Bell Witch. Some of the students are listening. Many of the students are not. I've got seven ways of going,seven wheres to be,
seven sweet disguises, seven ways of serving Thee.

The most disruptive students are Trevor, Charles, and Sam. Frequently, I stop talking to tell them to shut up. They do not listen. Finally, I tell them the next one that I catch talking has to talk to their classroom teacher Michelle about why they are talking. Again, Trevor talks. I tell him he must talk to Michelle. When the students are in trouble, they look at this as if this is big trouble and their eyes well up with tears. I tell him to go talk to Michelle. He does not want to. I tell him we will go together which I say forceful enough for him to know that I am really pissed. He walks out into the hall. I tell him to follow me. He does not.

I walk to the teachers’ office. I tell Michelle the problem. I tell her Trevor and Sam and Charles will not stop talking. After I told them to stop, Trevor kept talking. She tells me to bring him to her. She is not happy. Trevor is waiting outside the classroom. I tell him to come on. He does not want to come. Michelle is waiting for him I tell him. He looks as if he is about to cry. I tell him he must go talk to Michelle and explain why he talks during class. Back in class, the students are completely attentive. Sam and Charles are scared they will be next. For the rest of the class, the students actually listen to me as I talk about the Bender family and the Winchester mansion.

The sixth graders, yesterday, played Murder Winks – a game I came across on the web. This proved very difficult. In this game, the students sit in a circle with eyes closed. The teacher, me, goes around and taps four students –who are the murderers - on the shoulder. Those students kill other students by winking at them. The students they wink at die. The non-murderers are to guess who the murderers are. If they guess right the murderers are caught. If they guess wrong, they die.

Since we still have beautiful days here, I took the students outside. We were going to go onto the sports field but the coach had a class on the field. The students did not want to sit on the sidewalk because it is too dirty. Teddy pointed out a place to sit on the grass. Some of them still complained. I told them to shut up and sit down.

Once the students were sitting, I explained the game with the help of several translators. Sooham immediately piped up that he wanted to be a murderer. He tried to do this secretly but of course he was not able to. I told him he would be a murderer during one of the games but everyone would know if he was a murderer now. He kept saying “Please, please Teacher.”

We tried the game the first time and it did not really work out. We tried it again and it did not really work out. Sumran told me it is a boring game. She had another game we could play. I told her we are playing this game. She sat back down and sulked for half a second.

Finally, once the students understood the game better, they started to almost enjoy it. Some students still peeked to see who the murderers were when they were being picked. These students I could usually spot. After the students became more excited about the game, I let Oscar, Vivienne, Vincent, Sumran pick the murderers. This seemed to make them happy.

Sooham kept peeking. I kept throwing him out of the game. He wanted to pick the murderers. I told him cheaters do not get to pick. He asked me why I have bumps on my neck. Sumran told him they must be allergies. I had no idea I had bumps on my neck.

Finally, the students lost interest in the game. Some of the girls wandered over to the parallel bars where some boys from the public sector were standing. I told them class is not over. Kevin told me class ended five minutes ago. I told him no it didn’t. “Yes, Teacher,” he told me “Class is over.” At long last, I hear the circus music and go back to the building.

Once I got back to my desk, I realized the next class period had begun. I told an Anne that I kept telling the students class was not over when it was. She laughed.

Mary and I were set to pick up fruit on the East campus. She was in the library waiting. I told her I thought that class was still going on for the last ten minutes and that is why I am late getting to the library. She told me no big deal. We left for the East Campus. At the guard house, the friendly guard said something to us. We were not sure what he was talking about. Mary’s Chinese is probably better than mine. He pointed to something in the office. We looked. There were 12 bags of fruit –six bags of oranges, six bags of pears. Our fruit was brought to us. I stuffed my fruit in my backpack and walked home. Later I made a big pitcher of fruit tea. All is quiet on West campus.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

And, I almost get hit by a bus into the beginning of the film.

Friday, finally, but then actually, the week goes by really fast. Sitting at a desk all day crunching numbers, I could not imagine doing. The week goes by so fast because I can take breaks during the day. This is rough but still not what I imagine putting in 40 hours of menial work at some conglomerate would be like. This is in no way as excruciating as working at Grey Worldwide. At least, this does not steal your spirit. If anything, these students make me more spirited. This said I do not want to get up. I look at the clock. I have overslept. The time is 6:50 in bedroom clock time. I jump out of bed and begin to start my day.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have really let my apartment become disordered. Soon, I hope, the cleaning lady will come and put my life back in order. At this point, I have no clue what has become of her. The last time she came was in September. Where could she be? Has she been kidnapped by the opium drug trade? Kidnapped and sautéed by the Ningbo Dragon Lady?

Tonight, Percy has invited the foreign teachers to dinner. We are to meet at 7:30 in Xia Ja Hui. Everyone I have talked to has tried to get out of karaoke. No one wants to go to that. In this case, I am glad I made it known up front that I hate karaoke. Now, if anyone asks, I can always say no. It is known now that it is something I despise doing.

Coming into the school, on the stairs, I see the boy who introduced himself yesterday who told me I am handsome. He calls hello to me. I say hello. He did not tell me his name or if he did I do not remember it.

Today, I am reading the 6th graders the story about Blackbeard. We have not had a vocabulary test for a few weeks in the class. Before class, I skim the story again and type up a list of 14 vocabulary words. They have the Tell Tale Heart worksheet to hand in from yesterday. At this point, I can usually predict that Oscar will not have his homework done. These sorts of things I must let wash over me. I cannot let this bother me.

Joker and 8th grade Kevin walk into the teachers’ office. Joker has chewable grape Mentos. He gives Michelle and me one. He and Kevin talk to Michelle in Chinese and then go off to class.

With the 8th graders I have realized if I leave the room for a few minutes, they do not know if I have gone to get my boss their homeroom teacher. This is good to remember. Before class, they will not do their eye exercises. I cannot get them to settle down. Off I march to my boss’s office. I tell her the situation. She tells me they are excited because it is Friday which is fine but they will not settle down. She tells me one of them is in charge that student is to make sure the other students are doing their eye exercises.

Armed with this information, I go back to the classroom. As I am walking into the classroom, Kevin and Jack have run out into the hall. Kevin is about to throw a pencil at someone in the classroom I ask who is in charge. No one speaks up. Back to my bosses office I march. At this point, I am sure they know I have gone to get my boss. She follows me back to the classroom which I really hate doing because I know she is busy doing administrative chores in her office but I feel as if I have no choice. We come back to the room and now of course they are seated doing their eye exercises. My boss comes in and yells at them. She knows precisely who needs reprimanded. She yells mainly at Jack and Kevin. Naturally, she knows they are the ones who are the worst behaved.

Again, they have no reason whatsoever to listen to me. This class is not important. Once my boss goes back to her office, the students especially Jack and William and Kevin begin to talk but this is more than talking. The talking I do not mind. They yell. Jack actually yells. Kevin yells. They are loud.

At this point, I hand out the assignment, design an invention. Since they are so awful, I have decided not to talk to them. The instructions I have written on the board. Eric works on other homework which I do not mind as much. Of course, I will still give him a ‘0’ for the assignment but I do not mind that he does not do his work. He does not bother me.

A few of the students actually put some effort into their idea. A few have no clue what I have assigned. Ten minutes into the lesson, Jack blurts out that he is finished. I point to the board where I wrote – This should take the entire period.
“Peery ode?” Kevin asks. “What is peery ode?”
“Period,” I say, “the entire class time, 40 minutes.”
Again, Jack tells me he is finished. I tell him he will receive a ‘0’ which does not bother me if it does not bother him.

While class time creeps along, I make notes in my notebook. Parents’ day is coming soon. My boss wanted me to turn in a sheet of what text book I have been using in the English class. I almost laughed but I didn’t. Fortunately, I like her. Of course, I have no text book. There has never been a text book. If I had a few fucking text books, my life would be so much easier but I don’t so I have to make due with downloaded crap from the internet that I try to pass off as educational. While the 8th graders are being their shitty selves, I try to spin my text book or lack thereof into something positive to give to the parents on parents’ day.

I am back in the teachers’ office typing lesson plans. A man, whom I have never seen before, has two large water jugs balanced on each end of a bamboo pole. He is delivering our water. Occasionally, I can hear Joker talking in the 8th grade classroom. His droning voice carries through the hallway.

The 7th grade readers are working on a list of 25 vocabulary words from Masque of the Red Death. Out of nowhere, Jacky asks me about Oklahoma. Is Oklahoma fun? It can be I tell him. Is the food good there? Yes, the food is very good there. What sort of food is there? Hamburgers, chicken fried steak, barbeque, and steak mainly, I tell him. Are the hamburgers big? Very big I say. I then talk a bit about chicken fried steak. I tell him how it is made and how delicious it is. Of course, now I am hungry for a hamburger.

As soon as the bell rings, I drop my things at home and walk the back way to McDonalds. As I am walking, I think of where I would get hamburger if I was in New York City. For a cheap burger, I would probably go to Polonia on 1st Avenue or I might walk over for a Bistro burger on the West side. In Bartlesville, naturally, I would go to Murphy’s. However, if it happened to be on a Monday - when Murphy’s is closed - I would go to a Lot-A-Burger. In Oklahoma City, I would naturally go to the Hungry Frog. In Los Angeles, I would go to Hamburger Hamlet. As I am crossing the road, I am thinking about Ponca City and where I would get a burger in Ponca City. I will have to ask Aunt Connie, Aunt Genice, my friend Aaron.

As I am thinking about burgers, I am crossing the street. The light is green. Here vehicles turning right have the idea that they have the right away so not only should you look both ways but you should look behind too when you cross the street. Momentarily, I forget this. And, I almost get hit by a bus. However, it is not the 43.

And Death, as realized by Ingmar Bergman in The Seventh Veil, seems to be following me at a somewhat far away close distance as imagined by Wim Wenders. My quick thinking saves me, I duck into a gate and let Death pass but he sees me. He turns around and says something to me which should freak me out but strangely it doesn’t because the tone is not imposing; the tone is somewhat comforting. Nevertheless, I do not understand the words. The language does not seem to be Chinese. It has more of a European lilt to it. Oh, Death is talking to me in Swedish. I tell him to leave me alone; I have this life to lead. Death understands all languages. He gives me a shrug that is more Mel Brooks than Ingmar Bergman and he walks away.

As I am walking thinking about the near miss with the bus, I see a familiar face which is odd. I look twice and then thrice. The block that I have hit seems to be mechanic row with the oddity coffee shop that is not open when I want coffee – in the morning on weekends. Standing beside her silver Honda is my boss. She is about to have her car washed. This is not like an American carwash. This is like an old garage where your uncle might take his old ’66 Dart for a ring job.

This is an odd place to see her, Friday, before lunch. I am a bit surprised or even shocked to see her. I tell her hello. She looks up. Her English is poor but she is so nice. She tells me we should take advantage of these beautiful days. I tell her yes and that I am heading for McDonalds. I will see her later.

The film, the film version goes in and out of my head, so many cinematic thoughts fueled by Godard (Jean Luc), Bergman (Ingmar), Leone (Sergio). The opening sequence – I am being dangled by the legs over the side of a high-rise; no, make that a precipice or crag above a rocky surf; no, no, no, make it the top of a pagoda; yes, that’s it; no, no, no, no, no, no, it has to take place at the top, the top lookout point of the 500 meter Buddha in Wuxi. Start with a close up, roll back to a shot that reveals I am being dangled from Buddha.

Yes, that is perfect. Bumbling Chinese gangsters – one has a Fu Manchu – these gangsters are dangling me over the side; no, I have a better idea – a group of students have me gagged with my hands bound. This group - a real angry mob - of students is dangling me over the side. No, I think it should be more mysterious, more understated. A man and a woman are dangling me over the edge of the Buddha. One has each leg. They are shouting un-translated Chinese. This should somehow be reminiscent of the opening (?) sequence in the original Lolita when Peter Sellars gets offed. Or does that not happen until the last sequence? Doesn’t it start with him begging for his life?

As I am being dangled by my Prada clad feet, my Chinese life flashes before me. Or, more cinematically appropriate, my Chinese life unfolds in sequence in Technicolor splendor. The flashback starts with a shot of me on the plane. Or, even better, the flashback starts with Sina and me in her car on the way to JFK Airport.
When we turn into the airport, I tell her she can just drop me off at ticketing. The camera cuts between us as we are talking, sometimes, lingering on one of us while the other one is talking.
“Tyson, you need help with your bags. I can go with you to the ticket counter to check your bags. Really, I don’t mind.”
“Sina, really you don’t need to,” I say. “I can manage.”
“Really, Tyson, I don’t mind,” Sina says.
“Mom, I can see myself to the gate by myself. You can let me off here.”
At this point the camera cuts to my mom (with her kind wrinkled face) in the driver’s seat.
“Really, kiddo, I don’t mind,” she says. “I can wait for you to get on the plane. Really, I don’t mind.”
“Ahhh, Mom, I’m okay. You go ahead and drive home.”
“I don’t mind waiting. I really don’t.”
“No, Mom, really, that’s okay. I’ll call you when I get back to Atlanta.”
Cut to Sina and me walking into the airport with all of my bags that I am taking to China. The camera zooms in on my face, silent.

Montage – Younger Mom (with no wrinkles) and me as a preschooler. Together, we are dancing to the Supremes’ ‘Love is like an Itching in my Heart’ – Mom is singing along, most of the words are incorrect. Me, a bit older getting off the school bus -a typical April day - with a look of surprise, the camera follows my eyes to a bike – a red sparkle Schwinn with a banana seat; a big white bow is tied to the handlebars. I run to it dropping my school books and the jacket that I am carrying. Mom comes out of the house wiping flour off of her hands onto her apron. I run and hug her. Next, young middle school me starting to cry, Mom telling me she knows I don’t want to leave California; I have had a fun vacation but we must go back to Oklahoma; I am trying not to cry but I cannot help it; she then says “I tell you what, if you do good in school this next year, and you don’t run away from home; I’ll tell you what I’ll do, next year I will send you out to see your uncle on the train…by yourself.” The camera pans to a young me. “Is that a deal?” she says. I shake my head yes and smile. The camera cuts to a train pulling into Ponca City. Mom is running to the place where the passengers are disembarking from the train. Dad is strolling casually behind her, not a care in the world. Me, in California clothes - circa 1977 – I climb down the steps of the train. As soon as my feet touch the platform, Mom has her arms around me, she’s crying. In between sobs she tells me - “I never thought I’d see you again” Party scene, a band is playing. I am singing. 100 kids are stuffed into a large room. Mom, older with a few wrinkles, is bobbing her head to the music in the corner. “Feminism of Television” is the song being played. Mom and I at a restaurant, Murphy’s, she is talking - “Kiddo, I think that ‘Feminism on Television’ song is a hit. It is one of the catchiest songs I have ever heard. Why don’t you guys record that song?”
Me- “Well, to make a record, we would need money.”
Mom – “How much would you need?”
Me – “I don’t know, probably about $1,000.”
Mom – “I can loan you the $1,000.”
Me – “Mom, you don’t have that kind of money to loan, besides you need to get a newer car.”
Mom – “The car can wait. You need to make a record with that song and some of your other songs. People have got to hear them. You and Todd Walker have written some hits I tell you.”
The phone rings, Mom picks it up. She is sitting on the couch in her old ramshackle mobile home.
Mom – “Hello.”
Me – “Mom, Mom, our record is number 1 on a radio station in Los Angeles. My friend called me and told me they play it all of the time. One of the Djays said the name Defenestration sounds like a kind of pasta.”
Mom – “That is so exciting. I knew it all along. I knew it would be a hit. I told you it would be a hit. Oh, I am so proud of you.”

Cut to Sina and I, she is telling me goodbye. I hug her and walk off to the security check. I have tears in my eyes.

This next scene happens at a rapid clip. I am on the plane eating a meal with chopsticks. The plane is relatively empty. I am going through the Shanghai Pudong Airport. I am the only non-Chinese person in the long line going through the passport check. The room is a large open cavernous room the size of a fair building or a concert hall. Cut to me getting my bags and trying to negotiate my bags to the spot where my company representative picks me up. I am going through the line, herded like a cow through a human corral. On the other side of the corral, a mob holds signs with passengers’ names – Bob Smith, Harry Crump, Dan Johnson. I am searching for my sign holder, my connection, my Chinese guardian angel. I see my name. I shake hands. From behind me, another man comes and takes my other bag. I try to get it back. I half-heartedly wrestle with this man in a pink polo.
“It is okay,” my greeter tells me. “He is the driver.”
We are in the car driving the strange landscape away from the airport. We pass a Hooter’s. In the front, the driver and my greeter are carrying on an un-translated Chinese conversation. We drive. We pull into a tollgate, not that different than an American tollgate. We continue to drive. We pull into a police station, with a big open foyer with clerks behind bullet proof glass on both sides of the entrance.
“All foreigners must register their residence here with police,” my greeter tells me.
Cut to us driving into the school gates. This is cinematic. The school gates are imposing. There is a watch tower at the top. The gates are two massive wooden doors like you would see in a Chinese epic when the concubine in training is taken to the palace for the first time.
We pull up to an odd institutional building. The car is put into park. Both men get out of the car. I follow suit.

Then I snap out of the daydream, and I am hanging by my feet from the ledge of the 500 meter Buddha. Then, I snap out again and I am standing in front of a classroom of 25 students with my guitar. We are all singing ‘A Day in the Life.’ I love to turn you on.

Today is a beautiful day. Yesterday was cold and rainy. In my apartment, I shut my windows to prepare for winter. But today, today, the sky is blue and clear and definitely wonderful. Perhaps summer will last a bit longer.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Aural Torture

Maybe I should not have coffee with me in the library, but I do. I am trying to settle the 6th grade readers down so that we can finish reading the Tell Tale Heart. Sumran says that I drink too much coffee. This I could debate with her but I do not. These days, I usually drink iced coffee that is mainly milk anyway.

This is the second time I have brought coffee into the small reading group. The first time was yesterday. At that time, they told me their dad drinks instant. Gravely, I told them to not let their dad drink instant. Oscar, at the same time, as usual, while I was talking, asked how to make coffee. I told him first you had to grind the beans.

They pictured an old hand-crank grinder. No, I told them, an electric one. Oscar asks how much that costs. I tell him $1,000. He tells me “Wow.” No, I tell him, only ten dollars. Sumran laughs. I try to explain it. They would not let me finish. We then started reading Poe.

Today, I would like to finish the story with no interruptions if that is possible. Sooham shows me that he has finished his homework. I tell him he may go over to another table and look up the vocabulary.

Yesterday, we made it to the part where the narrator kills the old man. Now, I start where the narrator dismembers the body. Kevin, as soon as I read the last word of the short paragraph asks – “Teacher, what does this mean?”

I demonstrate on Kevin by pretending to cut him up. Sumran laughs. My boss walks by and pokes her head in. She points quizzically to Sooham. I tell her he is ahead of the other students. She nods her head in what I imagine to be relief and continues on her way down the corridor.

Poe is perfect. Poe is perfect for my dramatist aspirations. “I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber…” I read. I have to explain this to all of them. “Teacher, What is planks?” “Flooring?” “Chamber?”
This completely baffles the whole class. I tell them in some places like in the USA and England people have wood floors with crawl spaces underneath. I tell them to follow me. They follow me to the design room which has a wooden floor. The affect is lost because the floor is laid on a concrete slab. We go back to the industrial-carpet carpeted library. I draw a picture of a wood floor. Sumran understands. She draws a picture to help me explain more in depth. The others still do not understand. Oscar tells me they had a place in the floor in his house in Australia where you could hide things. I asked him if you could hide treasures there. “No, blankets” – he tells me.
Oscar, albeit smart, does not understand that the narrating murderer lived with the old man. He thought they were in a boarding house or hotel. In mock exasperation, I say - “No! No! No! The narrator was the old man’s caretaker.’
“Catacker?” Kevin asks – “Teacher what mean?”
“Care-tak-er,” I enunciate for Kevin.
“He is someone who cares for the old man. He takes cares of him. The old man probably pays him and gives him a room.”
“Kevin!” Sumran starts to get impatient.
She is fed up with me explaining and explaining and explaining. She starts slowly reading aloud herself. I let her.

Today, I have another hopeless guitar lesson to look forward to, an hour and a half of aural torture.

I cannot believe this. On Thursdays, I have an English lesson in the morning and then an English lesson in the afternoon and the guitar class. When I come back from my apartment at twenty past one, Jacky comes to my desk – “We are waiting for you in library.”
“Why are you waiting for me?”
“It is our English class.”
“Your English class is not until next period,” I tell him.
“No, English class is now,” he states as a matter of fact.
“No,” I say almost losing my patience, “next period.”
“Check your schedule,” he says.
I do. When I do, I realize I was looking at Wednesday afternoon not Thursday afternoon.
“Oh, I am sorry,” I say and add, “I will be right there.”
“That’s okay. We have had a free period for the last twenty minutes.”
“Well, I am sorry. I cannot believe I did that.”
“That is okay. We won’t tell anyone.”

Somewhere in the mist of words is an analogy – the guitar class is a bad marriage or a lover you loathe that waits for you for no other reason than to just taunt you and bully you and mock you and feed you self-loathing fuel. This is what the guitar class has become.

All of the tables and benches are back in place. I go to the front of the class and sit on a table with a piece of – my favorite invention – plywood covering the table top. Neisha, Noam and Alice wonder in. They go to the back tables. I tell them they will not be able to hear if they sit in back. I will not be able to help them much. They move up one table. Not that that helps much.

The local students wander in. More of the international students wander in. Jacky sits on a bench near the front. Why he is in the class at this point, I do not know. I think it is because he likes me. Jacky, as much of a pain in the ass as he is, I do really like him. He blow dries his hair so that it sticks up a bit in front in a very hip sort of non-hair-product way. Lately, I get a kick out of mussing his hair just to hear him yell at me for messing up his hair.

Now, I just say, “Hey let me fix that.” with those words his hands shoot to his head as an instant defense. “No, don’t mess up my hairstyle,” he tells me. Part of my job, I feel, is to familiarize them with sibling hazing. This builds morale and character, and really makes me laugh.

Once everyone is in the room, I try to get their attention. Today, I do not even start by tuning. The first thing I do is hand out a sheet with the names of the strings on it; this should have been the second lesson. It wasn’t. They have no clue why they might need to know the names of the strings. Kevin at this point is sitting right beside me. He starts mocking me. Already, I am not in the mood for any shit. I ask him if he would like to not be in this class because I could certainly arrange it. He straightens up quite fast.

Part of me, a really big part of me, thinks maybe my best course of action is to just bring a good book and read during this period. If they would like to ask me questions that would be fine but at this point, I am absolutely accomplishing nothing but making myself crazy.

Everyone has left the class, almost everyone. Eric and Sean are still hanging around. Eric asks me, begs me to play a song. No I tell him. Please, he insists. He keeps insisting. I start to play one. He gets distracted. He is not listening. I play a verse and pack. He asks me why I stopped. I do not want to explain. I tell him it was a short song. I may play for him again sometime. At this point, I seriously doubt I will.

Sean asks if I know how to play ‘The House of the Rising Sun.’ No, I tell him. How do I explain that I could never hear that song again and be okay? How do I say its okay to an answering machine? Sean then asks if I could play ‘Hotel California.’ Maybe, maybe I should start playing these little idiots Replacements’ songs as if they are the same sort of classics as 'Hotel California' or 'The House of the Rising Sun.' I could feign shock and disbelief when they say they have never heard these songs.

After guitar class is over, once again, I feel relief, the sort of relief you feel after you have inadvertently been dragged behind a car for a few miles and you live to tell about it. Mary is in the teachers’ office. She asks me how it went. Terrible I tell her. Between the language barrier and kids doing their homework in class this is the worst class I teach.
“But it is supposed to be fun,” she says.” You shouldn’t let them do their homework.”
I tell her it is the one class that I dread more than any of them and I just do not care at his point. I do not know what to do. It is like once the students realize this is not going to be easy like a video game, they lose interest. I absolutely do not know what to do. Maybe I just need to make it easier, easier on them, easier on myself. When I was 9 years old, I started taking drum lessons because I really wanted to play.
“9 years old? That is so young” - She says.
“Yeah,” I say, “at the time that is all I wanted to do. With these kids, they have no real desire to learn so it makes it that much more difficult. Oh well, at least it is over for this week.”
Mary is quite sympathetic which is nice. Mary can be really good at times.
“Well if they do not want to learn, you cannot force them. My mom made a deal with me, she gave me the same amount she gave my piano teacher if I learned piano,” Mary tells me. “I took for two years because I got sixty dollars every time I had a lesson.” I grab my backpack and guitar and leave the office and start home.

Going down the stairs, William and 8th grade Kevin are in front of me. I catch up with them on the 2nd floor. They are rowdy at the end of the day. William’s broken leg does not seem that bad. Although he does have crutches, he does not hobble the way he would if he had a bad break. He walks as if he has a bad sprain. A girl in the public section of the school is ahead of us.
“This is Jack’s girlfriend,” William says to me as we pass her.
She responds with some sort of ‘I am not’ response and proceeds to smack William quite a few times in a row and she lets loose a string of Chinese on him. Kevin laughs heartily which leads this girl to smack him a few times. As this is going on, a student, whom I have never seen before, walks up to me.
“You are a foreign teacher?” he asks.
“Yes,” I tell him.
“I do not know your name.”
“My name is Tyson,” I tell him.
He thinks for a minute and then he chuckles when he realizes my name is Tyson.
“You are very handsome,” he says and then walks into a classroom.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

This is China on Wednesday

Xiao Ma and I walk into the gates of the school at the same time. We both go into the guard house to mark our names off of the list of people who received their morning milk. We grab our milk.

Percy is at the entrance of the school when I arrive. William hobbles by with two other eighth grade boys – Kevin and Eric. I tell them all hello.

Percy asks me if I got her email. I tell her yes. Can I make it she asks? I ask her to what. There are several things that we have been invited to do. She has planned a surprise dinner for Mary on Friday night, karaoke before hand. Can I come? I tell her I will be at the dinner, not at the karaoke. She says that she really wants me to come to the karaoke. I tell her karaoke is excruciating for me. She wanted to hear me sing, maybe bring my guitar. I tell her I will do it another time. I will not be at the karaoke.

I am to meet them at the mall in Xiu Ja Hui. She has made reservations at a restaurant there. When I see Percy in person, she does not piss me off. Her emails piss me off because they are so forceful. She does not take in to account freewill. This must be a Chinese thing. I am not being singled out. Actually, I am near the top of the totem pole or the teacher food chain or whatever analogy fits.

I tell Percy I will see her Friday night and walk on into the school. When I get to the 3rd floor landing, I catch up with Eric, Kevin and William. Eric is using William’s crutches to walk up the stairs. William is using the railing as support to pull himself up the stairs. I ask him how much longer he will be hobbling. He tells me 3 weeks, 5 weeks until he can play basketball. He has to rest for two weeks after he gets the cast off before he can play. I tell him this is terrible that he has to wait so long to play basketball.
“Very terrible,” he replies.
“This is the best time of the year to play basketball,” I say.
“Best time of year,” he says in agreement.
“How horrible,” I say.
“Very horrible,” he replies.

At my desk, I drink my coffee and listen for the morning field routines. For some reason, they seem to start later than usual. Maybe this is my imagination. Finally, I hear the music, the Herb Albert 1960s sex-horn music. The student body is in a line to proceed on to the sports field where they will do their left right routine. I watch for a bit. Then, I realize that William is probably in the 8th grade classroom watching the proceedings alone.

Sure enough, when I stroll into the 8th grade classroom, William is looking out the window watching the proceedings on the sports field. He has a melancholy expression. His eyes light up when I walk into the room. I ask him what is being said on the loud speaker.
He tells me – “Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right.”
His class is not very good at the exercises he says. The other classes are much better. He tells me to look at Kevin -8th grade Kevin - who is in the very back. We both laugh as we watch Kevin because he is so bad. William usually leads the class but now with his broken leg he is not able to. He tells me he does not want to be the leader. The class wants him to be the leader. I tell him the best leaders are the leaders who do not want to be leaders. He does not understand me. He asks if Jacky is smart -Jacky from the 7th grade who is standing beside Kevin. Each class forms one line. Kevin and Jacky are in the back of their prospective grade’s lines.

I tell him Jacky is very smart. He just does not try much of the time. “He always sleep in class,” William tells me.

The rest of the exercises we watch together in silence. When the exit music begins to play, I excuse myself to go prepare for my first lesson.

Mary and I talk over this coming weekend. Her birthday is coming up at the first of November. She has a friend coming in from Beijing this weekend. She has just invited me to dinner with them. They are going to have Mexican food. My love for Mexican will carry me there. Yes, I am in.

While I am talking to her, Sooham wanders up. I tell him Mary and I are having a private conversation and little Soohams are not invited. He wants some paper. I go into the copy room and grab him a sheet of white paper. He wants color paper. I tell him I will give him color paper in class if he is a good boy which he was not in the reading class that I just taught.

But, now, Mary and I are talking. I tell her I am so pissed about this thing that we have to go to on Sunday morning. Admittedly, I do not have plans; I just do not want to get up on a Sunday for something I will not understand because it will be presented in Chinese. Mary has a good point. She is going out partying with friends the night before. She says we should just drink a liter of espresso and then show up and leave as soon as we get bored. That is a good idea. I agree. We should all sit together so that we can leave at once.

While I read the Tell Tale Heart in my best Vincent-Price-meets-Bela-Lugosi-at-Hooters’ voice, Sooham moans how the story is boring. This is one of my best performances ever, ever! Sumran keeps telling him to shut up. Sumran reads along. This sounds a bit like the double voice on Billion Dollar Babies. I am the Coop, Sumran is Donovan.

While I am at my desk preparing for the 7th grade reading lesson, I hear drumming, field drumming. The sports field is empty. An Anne, a math Anne looks out the window. Across the road from the school is the high school. She tells me there must be a sports meet there. While she is saying this, two dragons appear. She says they are lions. They fight each other. This is China on a Wednesday.

The 7th graders, as in Jacky actually, want to read. I gave them vocabulary words to look up. His hands are tired from writing definitions. He wants to read. I make copies of another Halloween tale, a ghost story – the 3 chaps in the Library. Jacky wants me to read it. He likes when I read stories to them. He likes how I read the stories. Sir Laurence Olivier has nothing on me when it comes to emoting and lending my garish thespian skills to oratory proceedings.

On Wednesday, as of last week, after my 7th grade reading class, Mary and I have our Chinese lesson. At the moment we are learning tones, alphabet pronunciation, and vowel sounds. There are four tones in the language which can be very confusing. For instance, ma can be a horse or mom depending on the tone of your voice. If you say it like you say ‘fa’ in ‘do-re-mi-fa’ it means mom. If you say it with a bend in the tone it means horse. This can become very confusing.

Mary and I spend thirty minutes each week being taught Chinese. Both of us stumble all over the language. An Anne teaches us. She tells me that I work very hard on my Chinese. I tell her it is very frustrating trying to learn. I then tell her she is the best teacher. This flatters her and embarrasses her.

Lunch, I decide to eat lunch at home. Today, lunch is not-quite-fully-cooked noodles with soy sauce – not spectacular, but not bad, really. Actually, they are rather disgusting.

Back in the office, I surf the web for more ghost stories to tell the kids. This seems like a worthwhile endeavor. After sitting for 30 minutes or so, I get up to stretch my legs. In the hallway, I pass Athena. We smile at each other. Athena is one of my favorite Chinese International teachers. Actually, I like all of them. When I am back at my desk, she asks me what scent I am wearing. I tell her Cavelli. She tells me she was telling the Annes who sit on each side of her that it smells very good. She thought it might be Calvin Klein.

Yesterday, we started designing pop-up Halloween cards in my 6th and 7th grade design classes. Today we finish those designs. These classes are often rough waters where at times I feel as if I am drowning. Sooham comes in to the teachers’ office to tell me he destroyed his card. I ask him why. He tells me he was not pleased with it. I tell him now he has no card. He does this often. I tell him he will now have to start from scratch. Mainly, I am just trying, with all of my might, to stay afloat, at times that is all I want to accomplish.

A few of the 7th graders really put thought into their cards. Many of them do not. Sam and Trevor just sit in the back and talk to Laura. Laura had a really good idea for pop up but now she, it seems, has lost interest. Will, as well, had a really good idea for a pop up that had teeth but now he runs all over class. Yesterday, I helped him engineer how the teeth would fit into the card and how he would then write ‘Happy Halloween.’ Maybe he was too ambitious. He would now rather run around the classroom.

That is the main problem with the 7th graders. They will not sit still. Laura actually goes out into the hall. She is probably the worst of everyone. Again, my class is not a core class so they do not feel as if they have to listen to me. Howard took the card he was working on home and left it there. Sometimes – actually, most of the time – I just want to scream. These kids are making me nuts.

Why the 6th graders are so much easier to handle I am not sure. Oscar, with whom I have had an enormous amount of trouble, has actually spent time to make a really cool design. His pop up has a few layers. When he tells me the idea, I am a little stunned. He is a smart kid. That is the disappointing thing most of the time with him. He seems to go out his way to alienate people. Today, though, I am really nothing short of amazed by his design.

Other trouble makers around the room have really put thought into their designs. Life is good after all. I am pleased.

Since it is Wednesday, I go to my DVD connection hoping that the DVDs are once again out on the shelves. This is so much - maybe too much – to ask. Something tells me, I should have bought that Almodovar box-set when I had the chance, same goes for the Truffaut, Bergman, Godard DVDs. The walk to the store is torturous, like waiting for test results and hoping you passed but really having no idea. That is what this feels like. All of those gems may now be gone forever. Why oh why did I not buy about 30 or 40 films when I had the chance.

Staying here could be intolerable if I no longer have my movies. Sure, on a walk a few nights ago, I found someone hiding a stash of movies under frozen dumplings, rice noodles and milk tea but there was not the sort of collection that my DVD store offers. Yes, yes, I am grateful to have another place to go, a place where I can find High Anxiety or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly but it is just not the same. I should have bought those Bergman films, the Godard film, that Truffaut film. Why did I not buy them?

Now, now is the moment of reckoning or - as the now departed Ron Goedert announces before ‘Slick Witch’ starts from the album Spiritual Greeting (White Witch’s sophomore southern boogie glam rock masterpiece) – “And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Oh Yeah!” Happy days are here again. I walk into the store and it has been returned to its former pirated DVD-store glory. Yes, this is a good life.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Some days, I get perfect apples

This sunday will be the 10th anniversary of the school and all the
teachers are invited to attend the ceremony. so sunday will be also a
workday(sunday morning). pls make sure you don't have any plans this sunday
(29th). pls postpone your plan if you do have another plan this sunday.

This is a snippet from an email I received this morning from the woman who is a liaison to the principal. Okay, where do I begin with this one? Maybe the best way to begin would be to say, this is typical. Obviously, this is an event that has been – oh, let me take a wild guess – ten years in the making!

At the beginning of the term, they could have let the teachers know that this was coming and to please mark it on calendars and such. This does not even cross the minds of the people in charge. Give us a little notice. Let us plan around it. Mary has friends coming in from Beijing this weekend. Andrea planned a trip to Suzhou.

Andrea is at the breaking point. She had a really bad week last week. She was legitimately sick with a fever. She had to miss a day, the day that she teaches 10 lessons in a row which is nuts anyway. She is being penalized for being sick. 460 yuan is to be deducted from her salary which is outrageous.

She lives in the dorms at the school which is another sore spot with her. She tells me she feels as if she is never away from the school. She is always there at school because she lives at school.

I go to talk to her after class. She tells me she had planned to go to Suzhou this weekend with Sarah. She decided if she was going to have a rough time at school she would try to improve her time when not at school. After the episode last week when she was told she would be penalized for being absent.

(Of course, I do not mention that Mary has been absent three times already and I do not believe she has been penalized. On Wednesday, Mary thought is was Tuesday and thought she was done with her lessons. She was not. She had one more. She went home. She got a call from our boss that she had another lesson. Our boss was not even that upset which is really great of our boss. Mary told me about it the next day. She felt horrible that she had forgot the class.)

And now Andrea gets this email. She tells me she is really homesick. She talked to her mother. Her mother told her to come home. I feel so sad for her. Andrea is my best friend at this school. She keeps apologizing for being so down. I tell her it is okay. I have no advice for her.

My contract is different than hers which means I could raise a bit of a stink about going to the meeting. My contract stipulates that I get two days off in a row. If I want to make an issue of this I can. I have not decided if I want to. I hate that I would have to get up Sunday. At this point, I really do look forward to my weekends. I do not mind classes that much but I really do like having my weekends. I could email Michael and ask him if they would prefer to give me Monday off but then that means I would not have two consecutive days off in a row.

Andrea has the same attitude toward the Chinese gatherings as I do, everything is done in Chinese and we sit there for 3 or 4 hours for nothing. We hate this. Everyone knows we do not speak Chinese we do not want to attend these ridiculous, self-congratulatory presentations. Our days off we want to be off. She had planned to go to Suzhou. Mary has friends coming in from Beijing. Maybe this is a Chinese thing. Actually, I am certain it is a Chinese thing. When you work for a company, they seem to think they own you.

Back to the email, the other issue, and this is my biggest issue with this transmission, is the glaring fact that it looks to be an invitation but then you realize after reading it that it is mandatory. . Note “all the teachers are invited to attend the ceremony” but then she writes “so Sunday will also be a workday…make sure you don’t have any plans this Sunday…postpone your plan (sic) if you do have another plan (again sic) this Sunday.”

This is like in some bad 1960s spy movie along the lines of James Bond in which the hero inadvertently finds himself in the villains lair captured by the villain’s henchman. He is put in a comfortable apartment in this strange other world, maybe inside a volcano. The villain requests his presence for dinner in which said villain will demonstrate how the villain’s invention can blow up the world. To the invitation, the secret agent confirms with the villain that he must actually attend. It is not really a request but a demand. This is the same sort of situation, except of course, I am not living in a volcano I don’t think.

But here I go again, bitching and moaning and not focusing on the good things. There are always good things. Like William - with the ‘You know what kind of eyes he got’ – telling me yesterday.
“Tyson, you even more handsome than last week.”
How can I not smile? How can I not smile when I hear something said so sweetly in broken English. Don’t say it in Russian. Don’t say it in German. Say it in Broken English.

William told me this in art class. We were reviewing for the midterm. The students were there natural rowdy eighth grade selves. I told them we were reviewing for the final. Of course, this does not faze Jack. He talks. He cannot shut up. A few times I told him, if he did not turn stop talking to Kevin who sits behind him he would have to come up and sit by me, sit in my chair at the teacher’s desk. Of course, he would not come up. Of course at that point, Alexandra pipes in that Kevin - big 8th grade Kevin, not Malaysian Kevin who talks like Peter Lorre - is actually the one who causes the problems and he should sit at the teacher’s desk. Given this information, my quick draw solution, the one I caught talking next would sit in the teacher’s desk. The next thing I know…

My boss walks into the room. In the next few weeks, we are to be observed randomly. Before this semester, I would have freaked out about this. Now, I figure if they do not think I am doing a good job. They are crazy. At this point, I know I am giving everything I’ve got. My boss is great. She is not the problem in the least. If anything, she is the reason I stay. (Actually, at times, I immeasurably love the students.)

Once my boss walks into the room, everyone is stone quiet. I ask questions and get short answers. Everyone sits statue still. When it comes right down to it, I think I prefer the noise. This is just weird.

After class, I talk to my boss out in the hall. This is the art class. She had thought the class was to be a performing arts class the whole year. I told her – because her English is probably not good enough to read the syllabus I submitted – that the class is divided into four parts. Next we will start doing music. She is happy to hear this.

She tells me I need to involve the students more. Make this more fun for them. In many of their other classes, they have to study, study, study, study. Make this more fun. Midterms are required in their core classes. Maybe they do not need to have a midterm in this class.

All of this is fine. Day to day, it seems like there is always something about to boil over. I guess I must keep my eye on things; I must keep them from boiling over within and without. At the same time, I must not take all of this too serious. Because this is a good life, I know it is. And these kids, as much as they drive me crazy and they cause me to sometimes meltdown, I love them.

After I leave Andrea’s dorm room, I walk to the Quik by my apartment complex gate and buy a Pepsi. Next door to the Quik is the renovated bakery that has really tasty miniature croissants. As I am walking next door to buy a bag of these croissants, a fruit vendor, selling fruit off of an old beat up three wheeler calls – “Hello! Hello.”

As I duck into the bakery, I smile at him and shake my head no. I grab a bag of 6 miniature croissants and go to the counter to pay. The bag is 7 yuan (87 cents). I only have 100 yuan bill. The cashier takes it and gives me my 93 yuan change. Outside, the fruit vender calls to me again – “Hello! Hello!” I shake my head no but then I realize that apples would be good with cheese, Pepsi and croissants – though I try not to eat all 6 croissants in one sitting, I usually do. Also, I have a pocket full of change which is good when paying street vendors. There are some who will rip off foreigners which I guess I cannot really blame them. I flash him the peace sign. He puts two apples in the bag and holds up three fingers. I pull out three yuan coins and pay him.

Later, I have an apple. Later still, I have the other apple. Never do I eat two apples back to back. These apples taste the way apples should taste, the way they tasted off the trees I climbed as a boy, the apples that funded my Bowie, Dolls, Iggy, Queen, Aerosmith, Sparks obsession. Some days, I get perfect apples.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Scripted by a different god

Saturday 10 am

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you…

As I walk down the lane through my apartment complex, a man sneezes; the sneeze sounds as if he is sneezing “Christine! Christine!” This is the sound of a Chinese sneeze.

Saturday 2 pm
This is fantastic. I am seated in Swensen’s on the 6th floor of the mall; the one at Fuzhou Road. I have never ventured this far up into the innards of the mall before. Down inside, you’re getting nervous. You’ve never been this high before.

This mall is a mixture of stores like Evisu, FCUK, Energie, G-Star, Nike and Chinese designers who desperately want to be accepted and even sought after by Westerners. One jean store has an advert for what are supposedly vintage denim jeans. A scruffy American guy that needs a haircut is standing with a pale thin blonde by a pickup truck. Imagine your typical Levi’s ad with the exception that the jeans look totally out of place in the ad. This is not on purpose. The scruffy unshaven guy is wearing fashion jeans with crazy pockets and funky stitching. They have a gay Versace look to them. (Okay that phrase was redundant.) The name of the brand is Texware. The whole mall is littered with these sorts of places.

As I was saying, Swensen’s is tucked in the corner of the food court of the sixth floor. Because I am here after the lunch rush, Swensen’s is somewhat empty and I am able to snag a seat by the window with a view of the People’s Park and Nanjing Road.

Naturally, I would love to say the view is breathtaking, spectacular, stupendous; but I cannot. People’s park is under construction, or rather the subway line under People’s Park is under construction. Due to this, two story pre-fabricated migrant housing sheds and shabby temporary tin fences plastered with pop music adverts spoil the view.

Of course, here at Swensens, which I did not previously know was here, I order a salsa cheeseburger and fries with a coca cola to drink. The cheeseburger is nothing special but it is much better than chicken feet…goose shins…pigeon. Dare-devil, she-devil, printer's-devil, evil, I love you like sin, but I won't be your pigeon.

The server brings me my check. I pull out my debit card to hand to her. She shakes her head no. This is not good. At my apartment, I keep cash on hand in case, just in case, I am not able to withdraw cash from the ATM. The server looks at my card and shakes her head no. She leads me up to the counter.

and I gotta tell the world that I make her mine make her mine, make her mine make her mine make her mine make her mine….

To a boy at the counter, I pantomime withdrawing cash with my card. He says “One floor.” He seems to mimic that the ATM is one floor below. I leave my phone with him as collateral and I go in search of an ATM. I take the escalator down one floor. I look around a bit but I do not see an ATM. Two floors down, on the sign that tells what is on that floor there is an ATM. I look for it. A young security guard walks by. My ATM card is in my hand.

The boy looked at Johnny, Johnny wanted to run,
but the movie kept moving as planned
The boy took Johnny, he pushed him against the locker,
He drove it in, he drove it home, he drove it deep in Johnny
The boy disappeared, Johnny fell on his knees,
started crashing his head against the locker,
started crashing his head against the locker,
started laughing hysterically…..

The young security guard looks. He looks where he thought the ATM might be, by the toilets, by the telephones, by the stairs. There is no ATM machine there…

but the movie kept moving as planned…

“1st floor,” he tells me.
I take the escalator the rest of the way down. I decide to not stop on the first floor. In the basement, the ATM is at the foot of the escalator, I go there to withdraw my cash. I hope this works. While I was eating, I thought about how ridiculous a scenario it would be if I had to call Andrea to come bring me money because I forgot to bring cash from home. I hold my breath that I can take out cash. I have withdrawn cash from this machine before. I’m hoping for lucky sevens, snake eyes.

As I am descending the escalator to the first floor, there is a stage. A throng of people surround the stage. Coming down the escalator, I watch the action. Three Chinese girls are doing some sort of pop rap pop, badly. Maybe, I hope, this is a contest and they are not actually hired. Granted, I dislike this sort of thing but I do know when there is talent – or at least a Svengali – present. The girls seem to have little vocal solos as I descend. These are embarrassingly bad. The boneheads watching do not seem to notice. It is free. It is at the mall.

I take the escalator on down to the basement. A young couple is ahead of me. They withdraw cash with no problem. Since I was able to get my balance the other night, I assume I will be able to withdraw cash but I am not going to get overly excited about the prospect.

The couple leaves. Finally, I am at the ATM machine. I put my card in and punch in my pin and punch in the amount of cash I want. The machine is silent as if it is thinking, as if it is a cop, Santa Claus, God. My heart starts to beat a little bit, a little bit faster. Sweating, I am not sweating I hope. Because it is a hot day, I am sweating because it is a hot day. Processing Request comes up on the screen. This is a good sign. Then I hear the sound, the sound of success, that sound of an ATM machine dispensing cash. Yes, the cash comes out. I grab it and run up the escalator to pay my check and grab my telephone.

Sunday 10 am

The other day, during a walk, an alternate route walk to Dairy Queen; I passed a coffee shop, on the infrequently walked road behind the apartment complex where I live. The coffee shop - small, modern and inviting – called to me.

Actually, it did not call to me but I thought I would try it on a random morning. Never ever would I throw over a Mr. Donut morning for a new coffee shop but a Sunday morning would be a fine morning to try a new coffee shop. On the way, I stop and get a small bag of croissants from the bakery just outside my apartment complex gates. When I passed the other day, I saw no baked items through the window of this promising coffee haven. The shop may serve coffee and tea only.

This, I suppose, is not that unusual. When I get to the shop, the huge metal door that slides in front of the shop is shut. The shop is not open. Of course, this particular coffee shop is not open on a Sunday morning. How silly of me to think it would be. Time for plan b.

An Egg McMuffin goes floating through my mind. This sounds really good. However, last time when I tried to get breakfast at this time of the morning, the only thing left was pancakes. The Egg McMuffin I will save for another time.

Last night on my walk, I noticed a large second floor coffee shop along Guilin Road. I will go here. These Chinese coffee shops are hard to describe. Most of the time, they have couches on each side of the table which are by the window. This seating area is elevated one step. Many times, the entry on the first floor is like the foyer of a nice hotel or ballroom with a sweeping staircase that goes up to the second floor. This coffee shop is no exception. The entrance is quite grand with a large fish tank and vases of flowers and marble everywhere.

On the second floor, I sit on a couch by the window. Drinking coffee does not seem to be a popular morning pastime here in the land of the rising sun. Over the public address, some sort of insipid Kenny G music plays. This sort of music just makes me angry. Why does this sort of music make me angry? I need to analyze this.

As I am sitting waiting for my coffee and toast, I try not to think about the fact that I am spending close to $10 for a pot of coffee and toast. The prices are enough to keep me away from this place. In a city where I can get a decent lunch for under a dollar, I do not know what has possessed me to spend $10 for coffee. Maybe from now on, I will just go to Starbucks.

And, as I am sitting waiting for my coffee, I try not to think about what is to come in the coming weeks at school. On Friday, as I was leaving, my boss told me that this next week the principal and various other staff members would be visiting my classes. This is because in a few weeks, we will have parent’s day. This is a day when the parents are invited to sit in on any of the classes they would like to observe.

If I had a textbook, if the IBO training was in English (and not Chinese), if I was teaching one subject as opposed to five; if I was teaching subjects that I had taught before, if I was teaching an age group which I had taught before; I would not mind being observed.

I have doubts because I am still learning and figuring out what I am doing. And, I am always, always overloaded and overwhelmed by the workload, under whelmed by the students. Undoubtedly, I am probably worrying for nothing. Nevertheless, this is a bit daunting. As I have said, I know this is a good experience but sometimes while you are living it, the experience part is excruciating.

As I am thinking about all of this, the server tells me something. I just agree and say “Xie Xie” (Thank you.) Embarrassed, she walks away laughing nervous laughter. In the next booth, a man is sitting with his wife eating. He asks the server something. She says something back to him. He asks me if I need help. I tell him I am not sure what the server told me. He said she gave me different choices of tastes meaning toast. Actually, I had thought maybe she had given me options on the toast.

He tells me the choices. The choices are queer. Incidentally, she has already set down condiment saucers with dabs of jams and jellies on them. Strawberry is the only jam I recognize by sight. The toast choices are chocolate (which I assume is a cake) milk (which I assume nothing) and strawberry which may be a bit like raisin bread or maybe even zucchini bread. Strawberry seems like a good choice I tell him I will have strawberry.

Next, she sets the small pot of coffee down on the table with no sugar or cream. I pantomime pouring and spooning. She disappears and brings back two sugar bowls and sets them down. If I am paying nearly ten dollars for coffee, no fucking way am I going to settle for creamer. This is an outrage. My impromptu interpreter asks me what is wrong. He can tell I am a bit annoyed. I ask if he could ask for milk for me. He does, the server comes back with one disposable milk thimble. I tell him to tell her I would like three. After all, I am paying close to ten dollars for this. Never am I rude during this, I am just frustrated. This really is a typical day at a restaurant. Most of the time, I just deal with it.

While I wait for my mysterious strawberry toast, my helpful new interpreter asks what I do. My automatic response is always “I teach English.” Although, that is not really what I do at all.
“English First?” his wife queries.
“No, I teach at the Shanghai World Foreign Language Middle School,” I say, and then I add “I am actually a school teacher.”
“Very good,” his wife says.
“Where are you from?” he asks
“England?” he guesses as an afterthought.
“America,” I say.
He says something. I agree but I do not understand what he said. He points out the window. I then understand.
“Yes,” I reply “It is the same where I am from as here. We do drive on the same side of the road. In England, they drive on the other side. You are right.”
“What state are you from?” he asks
“Oklahoma,” I say Oklahoma because I have a strange feeling he may know where it is.
“We know Oklahoma. We work with company near,” he says and then adds “in Alabama.”
“Yeah, that is about a 14 hour drive from me.”

My toast arrives. The look of shock and disbelief on my face I do not try to mask. Granted, I thought strawberry was a weird choice for bread. What is brought to me is quite beautiful but absolutely not what I thought I ordered.

The best way to describe the presentation of what I, albeit wrongly, assumed would be an average plate of toast with the condiments laid out on the side, the best way to describe this - off the mark - masterstroke is if you were to imagine the most garish whip-cream laden waffle tower at the International House of Pancakes, the kind of waffle plate that sounds good after a solid night of whiskey pounding. The plate that is now oozing with sugar, syrup and cream in front of me is the intimate kissing cousin to that.

At this point, I tell my spontaneous translator I had hoped for a plate of toast, plain toast. He says something to the server. The server says something back to him. He translates to me. The servers - and seemingly the whole staff – were concerned that the toast alone would not be enough for me.

Okay, so this is what makes this place – this country, these people – so endearing. Who writes this stuff? It as if they have a different god scripting their dialogue. In the states, on Madison Avenue, we would make this into a major add campaign for Chili’s, The Olive Garden, Sizzler like the pandering slogans ‘When You’re here you’re family;’ ‘Have it your way;’ ‘We’ll keep the light on;’ ‘You deserve a break today.’

In the sheets
there was a man
dancing around
to the simple
Rock & roll

Nevertheless, I tell him to tell the server I would prefer plain toast. The server takes my whipped cream toast colossus away. With no irony, my impromptu translator tells me - in a very kind, non-patronizing way – things are different here in China.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Not Break Your Heart

And the nurse will tell you lies of a kingdom beyond the skies…

The 8th graders should be doing their eye exercises. They never do their eye exercises. This, I half-heartedly try to enforce. Some of them lay their heads on the desk which is fine. Some of them do homework and talk which is not fine.

As I am making my way around the room, William is back. He did in fact break his leg playing basketball. This happened on Monday or Tuesday. On the day that it happened when I asked his classmates what happened they told me he broke his leg but I did not believe it. They told me that his head is too fat and that is why his leg broke. His head was too much weight for his legs to carry. I assumed he may have sprained it. It is broken thanks to a 7th grader. They do not know the 7th grader’s English name. He is a big kid. I try to think of who the seventh grader might be. The 7th grader was not Jacky they tell me, after I ask.

“William, do your eye exercises,” I tell him.
“I broke my leg so I cannot do my eye exercises.”

Jack and Kevin (8th grade Kevin, not Peter Lorre voiced/guitar class/ 6th grade Kevin) I have to whop their heads. They will not be quiet. I then give them both a Charlie horse. Outwardly, they act as if they do not like this but I know they really do. Half-heartedly (this is the day of half-heartedly), I talk about inventions through the ages. I brought a fill in the blank quiz to give them. I lose interest in telling them about the inventions before we even get to plywood. When I cannot get excited about plywood, I know my days may be numbered.

I hand out a sheet describing useless inventions. No one is really paying attention. I cannot seem to get them to pay attention. Jack is turned around talking to Kevin. I ask him if he would like to come up and sit with me. He tells me no but I cannot get him to turn around. We discuss chicken spectacles. On the board, I draw a chicken wearing sunglasses which I think is funny. A few of them appreciate this. Most of them do not.

Jack has turned around again. I go back to where he is. At this point, he is paranoid I will thump him on the head or bring out Charlie horse. He gets up and runs to the back of the classroom. Honestly, I do not beat these children. I take all of his books and pens from his desk and take them up to the front of the room and put them on my desk. Everyone laughs. He lets out a moan. He is quite attached to his books and pens. This will hit him where it hurts. (No it won’t).

The useless invention discussion lasts maybe fifteen minutes. At this point, I hand out the fill in the blank quiz. For the most part, everyone just stares at the paper that I just handed to them. Joker asks if this is a test. I tell him yes. With this, some of the students get busy working.

William sits and does nothing.
“William, you are breaking my heart,” I tell him. This makes him laugh.
“No, not break your heart,” and then he adds eyes wide and fluttering, “Your heart very important!”
William, how can I get angry at William? I do not think it is possible. He says this to me as a totally logical sentence. I can do nothing but write it down.

At this point, a few of the students nearly have the quiz completed. I explain to William that this is like a puzzle. He just completes the sentence I tell him. That is all he has to do. He just has to find the sentences that are complete and fill in the words with those same words. I show him a few example sentences. He just looks at me.
“I copy hers.” He points to Diana sitting in front of him.
“No, you must do it on your own.”
“You think I very clever,” he tells me, “but I not clever.”
“William, you broke your leg and now you are breaking my heart,” I tell him again.
“Oh, No, I not break your heart. No. No. No,” he says.

Today, we have the meeting, the meeting in Chinese. This is the worst ever. 17 people squeeze into leather furniture that comfortably seats 11. My boss talks. Michelle, my link teacher, translates to me infrequently. I doodle in the small size Shanghai emblazoned loose leaf notebook that the copy shop lady gave me. Michelle asks what I am doing. Sketching Xiao Ma I tell her. She giggles.

The impossibly young sports coach sits in the corner. As the meeting progresses, he moves seats and positions as late comers come until he is standing by the door. Michelle tells me he is ready to make his exit. I tell her I do not blame him. Everyone hates these meetings. For some inane reason, I thought I was the only one who did not see the point. The sports coach is wearing these really cool jogging pants. They are black brushed cotton that flare at the bottom. They make me think of incidental joggers jogging to The Streets of San Francisco theme music. I want to ask him where he got them but I have only talked to him a few times. This might seem odd, American and perverse.

The meeting drags on in Chinese for an hour. Finally, when I think the meeting is over, the meeting is not. Then, we are guided to the computer lab. We are to surf around on the IBO site. Michelle sits at the computer next to me. I tell her I need to find out where the closest branch of my bank is. Chances are, I need to get a different ATM card. I cannot withdraw money or check my balance. She does a search but has no luck.

She calls over the coach. The impossibly young coach is athletic, angular - a swoon inducer. At lunch a few times, I have sat at the same table but I have not talked to him very much. He seems really popular with everyone. He comes over. He is the kind of guy others follow, a few people –including Xiao Ma -follow him over. Within a few seconds, he has found the closest branch of my bank. His English is not great but I do understand him. He is exceedingly nice. As he is explaining this to me, Xiao Ma puts his hand on the coach’s head. The coach tells Xiao Ma to not touch him.

This seems like an odd reaction to me. Of course, I do not bring any attention to it. The reason it is odd is because he tells Xiao Ma in English. Why he would use English I do not know. I am not sitting very close to him so his personal space has not been invaded by me. This is a mystery. Maybe he just does not like to be touched which is understandable.

By the time he explains where the bank is, everyone else has left the lab with the exception of my boss and Mary. The coach starts to leave the room. As he is about to walk out the door, I yell after him. He turns around. I run up and ask him where he got his jogging pants. I tell him that I would really like a pair. He explains where he got them. He is really outgoing. His popularity, I understand.

Surprisingly, I know the area of which he speaks. We walk together toward the steps. He goes down. I go up. I thank him again for finding the address for the bank for me.

In the evening, I take a stroll for supper and to check my Chinese bank account or to see if I can check my bank account. That is why I got the address of my bank just in case my card does not work again at the ATM. This is frustrating to say the least. To add this to all of the other day to day frustrations makes this minor detail seem much bigger than it should. In the States, if I need to call the bank I am not excited about the prospect but it is not a daunting task. Here it is a daunting task because more than likely you will not find an English speaker. When you do find an English speaker, you count your blessings.

Payday was today. Payday is weird here, somewhat tentative almost. The money is put into our bank account with no pay stub. There is no way to check how much money is put into the account. This means the others that are employed by this company which farms us out to schools must know approximately how much money we have in our account before payday.

Since I spent the afternoon changing rmb to dollars the other day and then putting that money on my credit card; I know roughly how much should be in my account.

Nevertheless, when tasks are as easy as they should be, I tend to gloat a bit. At the ATM, I was able to check my balance. The balance seems to be in the ballpark of where it should. I am happy. My account balance is actually higher than I expected.

To celebrate, I go to buy some discounted Paul Smith boxers at Hotwind http://www.hotwind.net/ a hip little chain store close by. Boxers I know are not that exciting but when I find boxers for $6 here that are usually $25 in New York, I become excited. Embarrassingly enough, I spotted a Hotwind while Sarah, Andrea and I were in Hangzhou and I told them I really wanted to go in to see if there were cheap Paul Smith boxers within. There were. Two pairs. Sadly, there are no more Paul Smith boxers within the Hotwind where I am now browsing.

Disheartened, I walk down the street to the CD store. The CD store where I stumbled onto Cocteau Twins, Pink Floyd’s 1st, Beatles’ Abbey Road, P. J. Harvey, Birthday Party, for $1.50 apiece. This is dreamlike when you find these deals. Like dreams I had in junior high and high school when I listened to a lot of music and was first buying a lot of music on LP. I listened to and bought everything from Waylon to Klaatu to Patti to Brahms to Mott the Hoople.

I walk into the store. Something is amiss. The store is much more bare than usual. Lots of the CDs are missing. I try locate Lennon, Radiohead, Cocteau Twins.In the section where they were, DVDs that look like children’s DVDs have replaced them.

In this place, the people know no English. Although, I sometimes drop upward of $6 in the place, the women who work here are never overly nice to me. Once a few weeks ago, I almost boycotted the place because they seemed to think the 100 yuan bill I was passing was counterfeit. It certainly was not. They pantomimed debit card. I left the CDs at the counter and stormed out. Who’s sorry now? Well, I am. I don’t know into what dimension that stack of CDs disappeared.

The lady who is usually there when I go in and may smile about one in five walks by as I am looking perplexed. I point to the section which Lennon, Radiohead, Suede, Sonic Youth once inhabited. She shakes her head and says in the best Queen’s English:

“I am most definitely sorry sir but after all that is what you get for not just paying with your debit card…. YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!”

Embarrassed, I leave the store. Okay, I know. I am making that up. She said no such thing but she might as well have said it. As you may guess, I was stunned to go on my Friday night just got paid ZZ Top type shopping jaunt and be greeted with no prospect of a new cheap CD. What in the hell?

A few blocks away, my favorite movie stop waits the place where I go almost nightly to purchase movies. For the longest time I bought movies from the kid at the stall but then I found this other place with a crazy cool selection and now I go there almost nightly. Now, I head that way.

Today, as I was finishing up the day, I thought about what movies I would buy and watch this evening. There was a Hepburn and Tracy film I do not believe I have seen that I thought I would grab. There were a couple of Chinese movies that I thought looked interesting from some online reviews. Once I get there, I will not spend a lot of time looking. I will grab the DVDs and go.

As I walk in and head to DVD paradise, the owner says “No DVD.” I do a double take, one of those kinds of reactions that get the chuckles in Jack Lemmon movies. Yes, the DVD man is correct. There are no DVDs. The once crammed shelves are now somewhat vacant. The DVDs that are left are Chinese. Now, the shop looks like some crap hole-in-the-wall DVD rental shop in Purcell. This is distressing. Suddenly, I feel as if I have been cold cocked.

In shock, I wander around the store. The rows and rows of music DVDs are gone. The ones that I debated buying Woodstock, Radiohead Glastonbury, Marianne Faithful, Atom Heart Mother Dissected, the latest Dylan documentary.

As I am looking at the bare walls which were once crammed with Hitchcock, X-Files, Kubrick box-sets, I can do nothing but shake my head, the way a trailer-park magnate shakes his head after a trailer-park decimating tornado. Now, all of those I-should-haves flood my brain. Why did I not buy the original of Solaris (a favorite of mine)? Why did I not buy Les Amants Criminels? Why in the hell did I not buy that 14 disc Almovodar set for 99 yuan? Or, the Truffaut box? Now all of the movies that make this Chinese life bearable are gone. All I can do is ask myself - Why? Why? Why?

The man who owns the shop is always friendly to me. The mystery – a shipment of CDs arrived that he lets me peruse. There is nothing good. But he does not have the DVDs out. My understanding – if the DVDs are pirated, the CDs are pirated. Why can you buy one and not the other?

He tells me he will have more DVDs on Wednesday. I ask him if this is a law. He repeats “Law.”

As we are talking, I do stumble upon a small section of limited edition double DVDs. In this section I spot the reissue of Warhol’s Women in Revolt. This would be a nice one to have I decide. At this point, this man who is always so nice tells me the shop is closed.
“Then I cannot buy this CD?”
“The shop close,” he then adds one more time for dramatic affect “Wednesday.”

Thursday, October 19, 2006

In the time of Helen Wheels

Today is the guitar class. Last week, I taught only the local students which I thought would be a lot easier. They do not come from wealthy families. They are not spoiled like the international kids. Last week was no easier.

There is no way to get around that this is just a tough class. With the communication barrier, it is tough to lecture the class as a group. And, with 17 students it is very difficult to give the students any sort of individual attention.

All of the students went to the library in Shanghai this morning. I did not have to be at school until after lunch. I arrive for lunch and have lunch with Michelle and the public sector art teacher. They sit on each side of me in the office. Lunch –chicken and vegetables, head intact shrimp, bamboo, rice - was brought up to the teachers’ office today.

As soon as the students get back from the library, they storm into the teachers office yelling “Teacher! Teacher!” and running to my desk. Sumran wants me to help decorate the school for Halloween. I tell her this will be fun.

All of the hoopla, the hoopla concerning my hoped for demise, seems to have died or at least subsided, a villain one day, a hero the next. Sumran when asked if the students still want to kill Tyson, she tells me that was yesterday because they were bored by my boring presentation. I was bored by my boring presentation. This life is a roller coaster. I have up and down days with these kids but I do love them.

Before I have the 6th graders for the lecture class, the 7th grade English speakers have their reading class. Neisha and Venus are always pleasant. Jacky and Eric are often smart alecks. Today, we are going to talk about an article that I Xeroxed from the Guardian - Yahoo! profits drop as net veteran feels new stars' challenge.

Perhaps, this seems a bit over their heads since this is from the Guardian but I feel as if it is an interesting article. These kids need to be a little more aware. This seems to be partly my job. Assigning them an article from the business section does not exactly captivate them like Harry Potter but I feel this is important.

During class, they read the article. They do not really understand. In the questions, I ask them what an ‘evolving medium’ is. They have no clue. I try to explain it to them. They stare at me blankly. Neisha and Venus seem to be truly interested. Jacky and Eric are both disrespectful and rude. At one point, I ask Jacky if he would like to leave the class. He starts to behave. Everyday, this life is a struggle.

After they have read the article, I give them some questions to answer and then we talk about the article. I ask them how much time they spend on the internet. Eric spends an hour a week. Neisha and Venus spend an hour a day. Jacky never gets on because he would never get off.

After the readers, I have the geography lecture. Today, I lecture the 6th graders. Before I start the lecture I ask them if they want to talk about the design class. Half of the class immediately says no. Sumran says yes. She then tries to explain to the others why we should talk about the design class. Vincent helps her. I tell them they then must sign a contract. Before I pass the contract around the room, I explain the contract. Several students translate the stipulations to the others. I ask if this is okay with everyone. Everyone is in agreement. I pass around the contract for the students to sign.

Contract for Design Class: Instructor Tyson Meade

By signing this, you agree to the conditions set forth by the teacher (Tyson).
1. You will be respectful of your classmates and of me.
2. When you are in the design room, you will work on your design
3. You will take your design work serious.
4. After class, you will help tidy up the design room without being asked.
5. You will bring the supplies that I ask you to bring. If you do not bring these supplies you will discuss the reason you did not bring the supplies with your classroom teacher (Athena).

If you do not follow these rules, we will not design; we will only talk about design.

Sign your name below.

Sumran goes around the room. Everyone signs. I tell them if they break the contract I will be forced to go back to strictly lectures. Everyone is very agreeable. Maybe I should have done this in the beginning.

After we discuss this and I give them the list of the materials to bring for the next class – everything you need to make a construction paper Halloween card; I go into the lecture on Alaska. What I do like about the lectures, I learn more about the states than the students do. When I am doing research, I try to uncover the most interesting facts about a place. Sadly, we do not get all of the way through the lecture. Before we get to dog mushing and the Arctic Circle, the bell rings.

From here, I have to quickly grab my guitar and head to the auditorium to teach the guitar class. The guitar class is my albatross. At this point, I have no idea what to do. There is only one of me. There should be 5 or 6 or me to properly teach this class. All I can do is all I can do.

When I arrive at the auditorium, a choir practice rehearsal is happening. Jacky tells me maybe we are in the wrong room. I tell him this is the room where we are supposed to be. He is not completely satisfied with this information. I tell him he must go get his drum. That is his job. He asks me where his drum is kept. I tell him on the first floor where we got it before.

The choir actually sounds good unlike my band of ramshackle miscreants, my miscreants who I am trying to teach guitar but feel as if I am failing on a grand scale, a scale on the proportion of a Robert Stigwood flop.

As I stand near the door, more of my not-such-budding guitarists show. All of them look at me as if I have the answer. Jessifer and Angel – students from the local sector – arrive. Jessifer tells me that the choir will go as soon as our class starts. They must be running over.

Actually, I look forward to the day when my class runs over because that might mean that the students are actually learning something from me. I am actually teaching them something. Something is transpiring

Jessifer puts her guitar in the doorway and walks away for some reason. Of course, I do not notice this until the choir is dismissed and the students leave the way students leave and someone naturally bumps the guitar which knocks the guitar over. This happens as Jessifer is walking back. I tell her that was not the best place to put the guitar.

The students and I file into the auditorium. Before I walk in, I grab a bench from the stack of benches in the hall. Currently the auditorium is bare. My boss comes in with a student.

I tell the students who are at the back and middle of the auditorium to come to the front where they can hear me and where I can hear them. My boss smiles at me. I smile back. She is one of the nicest people I have ever met. My boss puts me at peace, even when the students are chanting “Kill Tyson!”

Neisha, Alice, and Noam come into the classroom. They do not have guitars. This is their first time in the guitar class. I tell them without guitars this will not be much fun. They do not seem to mind. They sit and listen. My boss listens as I have the students tune. This is always somewhat disastrous. No one seems to know how to pay attention. Some girls sitting beside me with poor English chat as I am trying to get everyone to tune. They do not seem to think this means them.

The whole concept of tuning seems to elude most of the class. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the guitar class. Kevin stands right beside me, points to his guitar and says “Teacher! Teacher! Tune! Tune!” My boss stands long enough to realize that we are probably not going to turn into an accomplished assemblage of guitarists while she is standing watching

I love Kevin. I tell him he sounds like Peter Lorre. Jacky laughs. Jacky of course does not know who Peter Lorre is. I try to imitate Lorre but I cannot get the voice right not that it matters know one knows who Peter Lorre is. With that being said, I do a perfect Peter Lorre imitation.

Although, I tell the students they have to tune the guitars, I seem to tune them when it becomes hopeless. This takes probably ten minutes but it seems like 30. For the next 30 minutes and the 40 minutes after that, I try to get the students to properly play a C chord. No one does. No one does except for Sean. Sean is a pain in the ass smart aleck who does seem to know how to play a little bit on the guitar. I tell him he must go around and show the other students. He acts like this is putting him out but I think he likes it.

As I make my way around to each student, I have each play a C chord for me. Each student is bloody awful. I have a year of this to look forward to. Now, I have the highest regard for music teachers everywhere. Junior High Band conductors I salute you. I could not even imagine dealing with brass.

Jacky at break tells me he is ready for the next lesson. I tell him he must learn to play faster. I have to show him how to hold the sticks again. He plays a little bit but then goes out into the hall. Other students wander in.

Jacky wanders back in and comes and sits next to me. “You monkeys get out of here.” I yell to the students who are not in the class. One of these students is Vincent. Vincent is a pain in the ass but I do like him. Jacky laughs.

He tells me he wants to sit by me while I teach. He wants me to play a song. I tell him I am not going to play a song. Again, he tells me to play a song. I tell him I am not going to play a song. I want the students to learn how to play a C chord.

Then, I launch in to “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Yes, I could never hear this song again but when I play it, it has this concrete meaning to me which is cliché to say the least. As a youngster, I confused this song with “The Letter” for some reason. Why, I do not know.

Jacky keeps asking me how to sing the first line. He tries to sing it. I give him a Xeroxed copy of the song. I play it again and sing it as he tries to sing along. He tells me I sing to loud. He then tells me can we sing it without the guitar. I tell him this is guitar class.
“This is not non-guitar class,” I say. “This is guitar class.”


In the time of Helen Wheels – before B.O.C. E.T.I., Patti Birdland, Distant Fingers; there was a boy, a boy who echoed future songs, a true Lonely Planet Boy who listened, on a green and white plastic General Electric Stereo, to Wings and he dreamt. He dreamt he would be taken away from the farm – the farm with the apple orchard, arguing siblings, the mulberry trees and the 44 non-working steam engine tractors – to a star or a galaxy – in science class, he had just read of the galaxies – somewhere in the distance. His parents sometimes talked of the cigar shaped UFOs that flew over their two story house. This made him ache to be taken away by one of these cigar shaped crafts.

Many years passed, he was no longer the Lonely Planet Boy. Now he was an adult in the middle of his life. Although, he did not still wish to be taken away a great distance from his family, that is where he found himself when he arose from a walking slumber. If pressed, if asked, yes, he would trade this for the farm with the apple orchard, the mulberry trees, arguing siblings, and the 44 non-working steam engine tractors. However, this was not to be.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

In Chinese – Translation Courtesy of Sooham

No longer do I battle with insomnia. Sometimes, I get home from school and I force myself to not fall asleep on the couch at 4:30. When I do this, I sleep until 8 pm which completely kills my evening. Last night, I tried to watch an Iranian movie but I kept nodding off. A movie about a couple traveling in the desert, and a group of abandoned children who had one teacher who was the village mechanic, the woman traveling taught them for a day while her photographer husband rode on the back of the village teacher’s cycle for parts to fix the Ford Bronco.

During the night, I dream of butter. Alarmed when I realized the butter I bought was not from New Zealand, I then realize I am dreaming. I did buy New Zealand butter.

Jacky, while I am preparing for my morning lessons, flies in to the teachers’ office with his thumb drive. He has his Harry Potter book report that he has been crowing about for the last two days. Neisha and Venus handed me theirs on Monday. Jacky did not seem to take it serious.

Not thinking much of it, after a meltdown lecture class where I kept each slide on the screen for a minute because the 7th graders had pissed me off, I tell Michelle (7th grade homeroom teacher) the sort of trouble I am having with the class after the class had told her I was pissed off. At this point, I was not planning on mentioning the hell that I am put through with these little monsters.

When Michelle, asks me about it later – the students must have told her I was pissed (I was in fact so pissed that halfway through class I stopped talking. I told them I was not going to talk the rest of the class. When they started to ask me questions, I mutely shook my head. This is when I let each slide project for a minute at a time which I timed on my watch); I told Michelle what I have been telling myself. They do not care. My class is not required. They talk the whole time. They do not pay attention. They make smart aleck remarks, and the worst thing is the smart aleck remarks are not funny, not even close to being funny.

She tells me maybe I make it too difficult. I tell her my slide show is mostly pictures. At the time, I did not think to tell her that the most obnoxious students happen to be my English speakers. I did tell her that I assigned book reports at the start of the year and I have been reminding the students about these reports. Now, the girls handed in their reports. The boys did not. The boys are Jacky and Eric.

Cut to design class yesterday, Jacky tells me he is almost finished with his book report. Before this, he had told me he could not possibly have it finished before next Monday. As he talked, I realized Michelle had talked to him. In some way, she must have threatened him because he told me he would have it the following day. This was good to hear. Now he is standing over me as I am trying to prepare for my first lesson, standing over me with a thumb drive that holds a Harry Potter book review.

From the thumb drive, I print Jacky’s book report. I do not expect much. He does not know how to construct sentences. Actually, I do not think he probably knows what a sentence is. He is actually not very smart.

When I go to retrieve the report from the printer, I am surprised. At first, I am pleasantly surprised but then I wonder when Jacky has had time to become a professional writer. The introduction is flawless.

Before I go off to class, I give the report to Michelle and tell her I think that he must have copied it from somewhere. There is no way he wrote it. She tells me she will make him do it over. If he does not, I should give him a zero.

When I come back from class, Jacky is at a desk intently writing the book report on a notepad. Since he is writing it freehand, I am fairly certain the report is truly his. No matter how bad it is, at least, I know, the work is his. I prepare my lessons. Occasionally, I look over at him. He is lost in the land of book reports and Harry Potter. After he has worked diligently for forty or forty five minutes, Jacky brings the report to me. Again, I am stunned. This time because the introduction is the exact same. How can this be?

Okay, sometimes, I may be a bit slow myself. I ask Jacky to let me see the book. He hands it to me. I look at the back cover. What he has written as the introduction is the word for word synopsis for the book. This is plagiarizing I tell him. In America, he could get expelled from school for this (maybe). The rest of the report is purely and exclusively his bad Chenglish. I tell him to write the introduction again….in his own words.

My last class of the day is the sixth grade design class. At this point, I expect absolutely nothing from this class. Now that I have a virtual literature textbook, the literature class is a breeze in comparison. Still, I struggle weekly with what I am to assign the little monsters to design in the design class. With no resources, no paints, no paper, no glue, nothing; I am not sure how I am to go about this.

And, if the students actually seemed to give any thought to the class. I would be more willing to foot the bill for the supplies. However, since the students are spoiled and lazy, I am not inclined to fork out any money for this class.

Today, we are looking at a timeline of inventions starting with the invention of calendar which the calendar’s invention has no official date. Before we look at the timeline, I ask for them to turn in their remake remodel projects. Out of 21 students, four projects are turned in to me. This does not even faze me. This is par for course with these kids. The only person who spent anytime at all on his project was Sooham. He made a bank that looks like a British Postal box out of a crisps’ tin. Lin, the second place, made a totem pole with a crisps’ tin and construction paper. Hers probably did not take longer than twenty minutes. This was a project in which I gave the students at least 3 class periods. They were to finish at home if they did not finish in class. Now I am at the desk in their homeroom looking at 4 and then 5 turned in projects. As the class progresses, a few more students hand in slapdash projects. None of them are even worth giving a comment. This is really pathetic.

I do not say anything. I am lecturing on calendars, how civilization adopted the current calendar. At one point, Sumran asks me why we are talking about calendars in a design class. This is a valid question. And, this just opened the door which I am sure she would have preferred to keep closed.

With the biggest smile I can muster, and in the most patronizing tone I can muster, I tell her if the class actually spent time on their designs and did not just hand me something that they spent no time on, we would do design but we are not going to design anything else because they do not care. Her design comes in third in effort and I ask her how long she took to make it. With no irony, she tells me twenty minutes. If they do not put effort into their work why should I put forth unappreciated effort?

A class that has not understood me for the last 6 weeks finally understands what I am saying. Funny, how English comprehension strikes students at the strangest times. Now, for once, every one is paying attention. I go on to mention how difficult it is to get them to clean up after class in the design room. I do not have to oversee the clean up after class because there is nothing to clean up if we talk about the invention of calendars and toothpaste. I tell them I quite like this arrangement.

With that explanation, I ask who has heard of plywood. Plywood - I assure the students - is very exciting. I draw a rectangle on the board with dimensions.

Oscar says “That looks like paper.”
“Oh no, this is plywood!” I exclaim like I am about to talk about the latest Harry Potter book. I then go into a long spiel what plywood is used for. The students look at me as if they want to cry. Oddly enough, I am enjoying myself.

At 5:30, I leave the apartment in search of supper. As I am thinking what I might buy at the grocer and baker, I practically, literally bump into Tanya (a Russian friend of Jennifer’s who teaches English to primary school kids and lives a few buildings a way from me).

Mistakenly, she asks me how it is going. This is the wrong question to ask me. She is carrying a small bag of groceries. I know she really just wants a ‘hi and bye’ conversation but…. I tell her my design dilemmas: the students put no effort into the work, they talk all of the time; they put no effort into the work; 6 of 21 students handed in the last project. When I am talking, I cannot even verbalize how frustrated I am. She is very sympathetic, empathetic actually. Last year was her first year to teach primary school. This year she tells me she has fewer battles. Last year, she spent most of the time crawling under desks picking up scissors. I tell her that at this point we are not even in the design room because the students are so hard to control.

Then, on top of everything else, I have no materials, no paper, no glue, nothing. At the first of the year, I was told I would be reimbursed for textbooks. I was never reimbursed. I am out over 400 yuan, out of my own pocket. Of course, if the children came from needy families and were not so blasted spoiled, I would not mind as much digging into my own pocket to help out. However, neither the school nor the students are needy. I am not spending money on the brainless, updated, vapid nouveau riche.

Tanya has a few ideas. Although, I was looking more for sympathy than ideas I listen. She has battled the same battle. Tanya is one of those really smart nice people. She gives me advice because she has been there. In my heart, I know that she will give me some really good advice. I try to cast my emotions aside as I listen. Sometimes, this is hard but I know this will be good for me. I need to listen.

The best piece of advice that she gives me – besides not taking anything they say personal: she tells me to put a sheet of poster board on the wall with their names on it. When they turn in projects, rate the projects 1 – 5 (0 for students who do not turn in anything). This is a way to put the projects into the students’ hands. With her classes, the students do not like to see their failures displayed publicly. I tell her this is good advice. Now, if I could figure out how to get some supplies without being out of pocket more money.

At 9 pm, Dad calls. He asks me how I am. He is sure all of my students like me. Sadly, I do not have the heart to tell them that they chanted (in Chinese – translation courtesy of Sooham) “Kill, Tyson!” today, after class.