Today, I started the day landlord free. Now, I don’t mean to pick on the landlord. That would not be nice. He is a nice man. He likes to show me the proper way of putting the institutional sized dish liquid into the domestic empty dish liquid container. He likes to polish my pewter kettle. He is a good man. Nevertheless, this good man, I do not want to see first thing in the morning. There are not many people that I want to see first thing in the morning.
The landlord is part of a long list, the list of people I would not want to see first thing in the morning. I would not want to see Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Harrison Ford, Tom Hanks the first thing in the morning. Preferably, I would rather not see these bozos at all. In that respect, the landlord is ahead of the pack. I do not mind seeing him later in the day. If I was still a boozer, I would not mind seeing him at cocktail hour.
The seventh graders like games. I give them sentences to correct, fix the verbs I tell them. I used the holocaust interviews for this exercise. Neisha finishes the first page while the eye exercises are going. We do not recognize the eye exercises during these reading groups. I have three pages worth of exercises to give them. This is a bit distressing that she can finish in 5 minutes. At this rate we will be done with half of the class left to twiddle our thumbs. This exercise takes the others a good ten minutes which is somewhat reassuring. As the others are finishing, I look over Neisha’s. All of the sentences are correct. She is an Australian who likes to read. In English, she is ahead of the pack.
While we are waiting to Venus to finish - who pronounces her name ‘Win-us’ but I cannot bring myself to call her that. I call her Venus; I tell Jacky he needs a noogie. His reaction surprises me. As I am administering the noogie, he tells me it feels good. I then ask him if he has ever had a wedgie. He asks “What is that is?”
I tell him it is when someone grabs his underwear and pulls the band as hard as they can up his back, an atomic wedgie is when the band is pulled over his head. He tells me that this is impossible; it cannot go over the head. I tell him usually the waist band rips.
About halfway through class, Mary walks into class. Usually this class is very quiet, or at least quieter than the other classes. Today, they are more boisterous. Since I am afraid we will have more time than we need, I tell the students to replace the verbs in the sentences with other words. ‘Talks’ could be replaced with ‘Laughs.’
Jacky loves this. He reminds me of myself at this age. He changes ‘speaks with a Hungarian accent’ to ‘kills with a Hungarian’ accent. I tell him this is brilliant, poetic. This lights him up. With each sentence, he tries to outdo himself. Jacky and Eric love the exercise. Today is much better than yesterday, much better. No longer do I feel as if I am stuck. My tires are gripping; I’m driving out of the mud or middle school.
At the end of the class, Jacky tells me he is going to give me a nuggie. He then asks me what that thing is where you pull the underwear over someone’s head. I tell him that is an atomic wedgie. He tells me he is going to give his classmate and atomic wedgie. I tell him this is a good idea.
At home for lunch, I fix Cajun rice. Kim sent me a care package of trail mix (of sorts), almond cookies, and this really yummy Cajun rice that actually has the meat mixed in with it. When I first tried it I was surprised by how good it is.
In my refrigerator, I have iced tea in a pitcher. Quite a few things in my fridge are somewhat questionable at this point. I have a few leftover mooncakes that were given to me by the school before I left for Hangzhou. The holiday is also known as mooncake festival. The mooncakes the school gave me are something akin to sausage biscuits. The mooncake that Sarah gave me on the way to Hangzhou was different. It was more like pecan pie filling in the middle of a pressed pastry.
Later, I hear that both of these are mooncakes. At the same time, I hear people re-gift mooncakes. The true mooncakes look like sinographed hockey pucks. They have a sort of fruitcake tradition; only the old people seem to enjoy them.
The other item in my fridge that I soon should deal with is what looks as if perhaps it could be either beef knees or calf face. Before we left for the holiday, the teachers were given beef and chicken wings. The chicken wings did not excite me. The beef excited me until I opened the package and I could absolutely not tell what part of the cow I had been given. This was enough to make me go veggie. Andrea told me she thought it looked like the legs. I told her it strangely looked like a big fish head. Both of us were perplexed by this. In my day, I have looked at plenty of beef and this time I was stumped.
In 30 minutes, I have a design class. Yes, I am curious. Will I have a meltdown today? Will I have a meltdown? This is quickly becoming some Bertolt Brecht play without the whiskey bar. Laura, from the British council, has the 8th graders at the moment. There voices, Jack’s in particular, echo through the hallway. Now and then, I hear door slams.
What I have ascertained – if a Chinese teacher is not teaching them, the students are out of control. My design class does not matter which is maybe in a way what I have wished. You get what you wish. Maybe I am getting what I wish. Laura is teaching them oral English at the moment. Oral English does not matter. Maybe none of this really matters. Sometimes, I wonder how I learned anything in school. Maybe I was every bit as bad, if not worse, than these students. I do not think I was that bad. Granted, some of these students are okay. The bad ones do make up for the good ones in the overall scheme of being a pain in my ass.
Things weigh and weigh and weigh, they weigh upon me. At the first of the semester which was not that long ago, I had a cleaning lady. Now, I seem to not have a cleaning lady. At one point, a few weeks before the holiday, she stopped showing. Again, this is China. You have a cleaning lady one day, you do not the next.
Yeah, I know I could clean my own place. However, I was not told I would not have a cleaning lady. On Wednesdays, I camp out at my house and wait. She is a no show. She has been a no show for more than a month now. There are certain areas that are better left to cleaning ladies. Those areas are now suffering. Maybe my landlord came over yesterday morning to tell me sad cleaning lady news.
The meltdown does not happen. Maybe I am becoming accustomed to the attitude and the constant chatter. Maybe I do not set myself up. Maybe I went and gave myself a metaphysical lobotomy.
Yesterday, the students drew designs – with two perspectives – of chairs, chaises, sofas, beds. Will drew a computer desk. Alice drew a school desk. The Korean girl (who I will not call a mongoloid) drew a video game.
Today, I tell them to draw these items within the framework of a room. Will does not understand. I explain or try to explain it to him. The students switched desks after the holiday. Will now sits by Eric. Eric explains it to him. Will tells me he still does not understand. I try to explain the assignment to the whole class. Trevor, Sam, and Charles are gabba gabba gabbing. Last week, this is when I would have had a meltdown but now the new me, with the metaphysical lobotomy, just slightly snaps.
Sharply, I ask them if I am talking. They tell me yes. At this, I tell them, rather tersely, to shut up. They are quiet while I explain the assignment. After I have explained the assignment and I am passing out grid papers for them to use for their drawings, Jacky asks me what we are doing. I tell him I just explained the assignment. Since his English is fine, I do not explain it again.
Again, some of the students start to work. Some of them do not. Noam (from Israel) is maybe my best student. She is very quiet. She immediately starts working. She is someone who I think probably likes to draw. Her designs always seem to have a lot of detail.
Jacky keeps whining. I tell him I am not explaining the assignment to him, to some degree because he is such a major pain. He does become nicer. After I look at his initial design again – and he does some explaining, it actually makes sense. Then, I explain the assignment. He actually gets busy drawing.
Once he is occupied, I walk around the room. Laura and Alice are both busy drawing a room. Laura has put the shelf she has drawn into the context of a room. Alice is drawing the school room desk with a rug around it. Both of them are actually spending time on their drawings.
Then, I come upon Trevor drawing poorly executed classroom lockers. None of the lines are straight. I tell him I want straight lines. There are some rulers on the shelf in the corner, I grab a few. I smack him with one and tell him to draw straight lines.
When I get back to Will, he still does not understand what we are doing. I have Eric explain it again. He still does not seem to understand. Jacky tells me he can translate. He comes up to the front of the class where Will is sitting and starts to translate. Before Jacky says anything, Will exclaims, “I know. I know.”
Most of the boys that like to joke and disrupt seem to need rulers whether they really do or not. I walk around the room and pass out rulers to these boys. Before I give them the rulers, I give them quick little flicks on the arm with the rulers. Of course, I pretend this is normal.
Out the window, on the track that goes around the sports field, the local section is practicing their high jumps. The high jump apparatus is two poles with a rope strung across. The rope is a little less than waist high for the students. They do not land in a sandpit after the jump. They land on a wooden platform that is roughly the size of a twin bed. This is China. Today is much better.