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 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.”


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