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.