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.


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