Monday, October 09, 2006

Woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head

At this point, we are desperate for a taxi. We do not negotiate; we agree to the 60 yuan fare. We pile into the taxi van. Sometimes, this happens. When you are on holiday, blocking out reality, blocking out reality, you just can’t let these sorts of things get you down. It's only castles burning…Find someone who's turning…And you will come around.

In the van, we drive past the spot where we were originally trying to hail a cab. We drive past the hotel that I thought was possibly the Mexican restaurant. The van winds up a hill past stores selling silk and souvenirs. Approximately a kilometer from where we were trying to hail the cab, we come upon an area of middle class bars and restaurants.

Our driver does not know where the restaurant is located. Andrea points the address out to her in the magazine in which we spotted the restaurant. The driver slows the van down so that she can see the addresses more clearly. Andrea spots the restaurant – Maya. The driver pulls the van over.

We pay the 60 yuan and get out. Yes, we were fleeced. The ride should have been 11 yuan. We do not mind. This is okay.

Of course, before we walk into the restaurant, I am curious what I will find in a Mexican restaurant in Hangzhou, China. Yes, I have been to the Taco Bell Grande on Nanjing Road in Shanghai but this is different. This restaurant is privately owned. This is curious, yes.

The three of us walk into what resembles a lake bar, a lake bar that happens to serve Mexican food. Yes, I can imagine a similar place at Grand Lake or Tenkiller. Sometimes, bar food is the best food. Sometimes. The restaurant is split up into two rooms.

One room houses the bar and a small stage where I suppose ex-pats with Chinese girlfiends play Jimmy Buffet and Oasis.

The other room is a small informal dining room with two small corner tables that do not seem to be for people who are eating but for a group with drinks only. We sit in the middle of the room at a somewhat long narrow bar table.

A Chinese waiter brings us a menu which does not take long to look over because there are only three items to choose from – the chicken burrito, chicken nachos, or the chicken salad. Okay, I am in China. If I have three choices, well, uh, I have three choices. Someone, somewhere along the way must have stolen my two tickets to paradise.

Nachos do sound good but the choice is fairly simple for me. When the waiter comes, I order the chicken burrito. For a little extra, they will add avocado and/or sour cream on the side. I opt for both. After all, I am so excited to have this burrito. I will bathe it in all of the finer sides. Andrea orders the salad. Sarah orders the nachos. They both order a beer, Chinese beers. I request a coke.

While we wait for our food, we talk. Our talk stays lively. This time we do not talk about heroin or our parents. Andrea tells us sometimes she feels handicapped here. I tell her I know what she means. I would sometimes like to eavesdrop on the Chinese but I do not know the language so it is not possible. Although, it is a struggle, I am starting to get more acclimated to this.

Actually, that was not what she meant. Since her first language is German, sometimes she has problems trying to think of the right words in English. She feels like she sometimes responds much too slow when we wait on her to answer. Believe it or not, I forget her first language is German sometimes. I tell her I never notice her language handicap. She seems to talk as fast and think in English as fast as Sarah and I do. I do sympathize with her. She has no one to converse with in German.

As we are talking, four people wander over to the corner booth and sit down. They are foreigners like us. I hear an American accent and I hear a French accent. Everyone at the table is speaking in English. The French person and the American are the two loudest people in the new arrivals at the table in the corner.

Andrea says that she would like to go to North Korea but that might make it difficult for her to get a visa to come to America if she ever wants to visit America. She came to America while she was in high school. She has no burning desire to come back but she would like to have the option. This is a weird sting of reality to me. My assumption is that everyone, no matter how much they talk badly about it, wants to come to America. Andrea really does not care one way or the other. This is not an insult; this is reality.

The beers arrive. They are not Chinese. Two bottles of Budweiser are plopped down on the table. Sometimes, I am a bit tempted to order a beer. When I see the two Budweiser, my temptation to drink quickly dissipates. Budweiser absolutely never sounds good to me.

Sarah and Andrea are disappointed. I do not blame them. I ask Andrea if she would ever drink Budweiser in Germany. I anticipate how she will answer. Never, she tells me. That is what I assumed. I did not think it was a beer she would usually order. Both of them tentatively sip on their beers.

The food arrives. The burrito is actually more like a soft taco but I am absolutely not complaining. The ingredients look fresh. On the burrito (which I would actually call a soft taco) is lettuce, tomato, cheese and a nice amount of white meat chicken. On the side, I have a dollop of sour cream. There is no avocado. This is okay. I will not make a fuss. Our waiter is Chinese, avocado would be nice but it really is not worth the language barrier interchange.

As I am eating my burrito, I eavesdrop on the table of internationals in the corner. The young French girl complains about her burrito. She ordered it with avocado. The waiter tells her they are out of avocado. She tells him she no longer wants it. Could she have something else? I wonder what this ‘something else’ might turn out to be since there are only 3 items on the menu.

Woke up got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head…

But Hangzhou, Hangzhou is washed out of my memory now…I am awake again; I am back among the little demons. Now, I am back in Shanghai, back at school, trying once again, to cope, to not have those meltdowns. This is now a losing battle. Maybe it was never a winning battle.

Kim, the Korean student who looks a bit like a mongoloid (and I say this not as an insult to mongoloids) is practicing her Chinese writing while I am giving the presentation. I grab the book and throw it on my desk. As soon as I go back to the presentation, she gets out another book and starts writing again. Why I am stupefied, I do not know. This one I rip out of her hands as she tries to keep it and in the process it gets a little mangled (oops) again, I throw it on the desk. It slides across the desk and lands crumpled on the floor.

After the fact, I try to remember what breaks me. After the fact, I try to think of how I might handle the situation different. Today, the students' disinterest gets to be too much. Giving them the silent treatment doesn’t work, they keep yakking.

Before I have even finished the slide show, I give them the quiz. Do I feel as if I am trapped? Do I dislike what I do? That is the dilemma; I think that for the most part I really like this. This is not easy but I still really like it. Why can I not get accustomed to the bad attitudes? I know that I gave some of my teachers a really hard time. Now, as a teacher, do I not deserve the same? The ghosts of teachers’ past I am sure would agree. They would more than likely like for the return to be brought on tenfold.

And then somebody spoke and I went into a dream

Maybe the Prada bag at the night market was a dream. As Andrea and Sarah were looking at native wind instruments, I stepped into the next booth that had a plethora of bags, nice fakes. I spotted a Prada briefcase. It looked really nice. The merchant told me 300 yuan (almost 40 smacks). I said no no no like I was Ringo Starr or Lou Reed singing about Lady Day.

(At one point, Sarah asks me if I like Lou Reed. I tell her I really like two of his albums but then the rest I can take them or leave them. When I was in college, I worked at a used record store. At that time, I got all of the ones I did not have. Each time I got one, I was disappointed. She tells me she knows that he sings a song about Coney Island. “Coney Island Baby?” I ask.)

The Prada hawker then came down to 250. At this point, I went to the other booth to fetch Sarah. I needed the advice of a Brit. The hawker tried to tell me that part of the bag was leather. I asked Sarah. It did not look like leather to me. She told me it was certainly not leather. At this point, the hawker came down to 200. I was not moved. At 180, I was still not moved. At 150 and 120, I was closer. Andrea walks over to us with her just purchased native wind instrument. As I was walking away, his final price was 80 ($10).

His English was poor, he did not understand when I told him I was going to walk around and come back. At one time, I would have jumped on the deal. Sarah gave me some advice. If I did not mind having a fake Prada which was not made from leather, the bag would be fine. At that point, I decided I am really not the fakes sort of guy. Why buy a fake, I was not that wild about the bag. When I saw the exact same bag at several other stalls, I was appeased.

Later, however, I did spot some D&G sneakers that I quite liked and I do like D&G, maybe I could deal with the fact that they were probably fakes. The guy started at 260 yuan. “You must be on drugs,” I replied and walked away.
Sarah asked me if I would have said that to someone in America. After I thought about it for a second, I told her I probably would.

Made the bus in seconds flat…

But now, I am in the 8th grade art class. The computer needs the start-up disc to reboot. I have the slideshow to show them. We will have a slide show and a quiz. This is my art class regimen.

I fetch Xiao Ma. Maybe he can help. He is Billy Swan. He messes around with the computer for a bit. He turns if off. He switches it back on. When the computer comes back on, the screen is filled with Chinese commands. Xiao Ma scratches his head. He punches a few keys. I have faith in Xiao Ma. He is the cyber witchdoctor.

Riddle me this Xiao Ma. I know he will make it work. Everything works if you let it, if you let it in your heart. He turns the computer on and off again. Perhaps the computer can sense the wrath that escaped from my aura earlier. Maybe my aura is red. The computer reads my aura. The computer wore tennis shoes. The computer knows all. Hal is here, alive in well in a international foreign language school.

The computer comes back on. I really would not be surprised if Hal, the computer, spoke. It does not. The Chinese commands come back up. Xiao Ma gives me the diagnosis. “Computer no work,” he tells me like that is a solution.
“Thank you Xiao Ma.”
Xiao Ma leaves the room.

Okay, most teachers at this point would give the students some bullshit busywork. I do not. Yes, this is frustrating. The computer is the one thing that I can rely upon. I have no textbook. Giving an art lesson where I am writing explanations on the board is futile. I give the students a free period to catch up on homework. I tell them they must be quiet though, famous last words.

Alexandra immediately tells me she has no homework. This is unbelievable. I give them a free period and they complain. I tell her I can certainly think of something for the class to do if they in fact do not have homework. At this point, William with the.. (oh,you know what kind of eyes he’s got) tells me they have a lot of homework.

Jack and Kevin ask me if they can play chess. No, I tell them I want everyone to be quiet and to work on their homework. As usual, some students take advantage of this and some students do not. Jack and Kevin sit in the back and talk. Jack progressively gets louder and louder. Joker asks if he can go get his math homework from his teacher. I tell him he has to be quick about it. He tells me he will be back in 90 seconds. William asks if he can go to the toilet. I tell him he has to be quick about it. William goes and comes back. Joker leaves and does not come back. After awhile, I peek into the teachers’ office. Joker is still conferencing with the math teacher.

By this time, Jack and Kevin have involved themselves in a sinograph contest. They are both scribbling madly. They are very noisy about this. I shush them. Jack is one of those people who when he is shushed charmingly brings the shusher into the conversation which is quite transparent but I completely fall for it. He asks me who has the more beautiful scribble. By this time, William has joined the contest. On purpose, I pick the ugliest one. I have picked William’s. He tells me thank you which is more like ‘sank you.’

Since he is not doing his homework, I ask William why he is not doing his homework. He tells me if he does it in class then his mother will think that he does not have enough homework at home. To me, this makes sense. Then, he tells me I am fat which stings. I promptly hit him as hard as I can in the arm. He then feels my muscles. Then, I ask Diana if I am fat. She tells me that William is fat. I tell her, I agree and I grab where there would be love handles at William’s side and I twist. He howls. Then of course, I ask him if he has ever had a horse bite.
“Horse bite? What is horse bite?”
Naturally, I do not have to say what comes next except that now Kevin wants into the action. Kevin, I ask him if he knows who Charlie Horse is. Unfortunately for Kevin, he has never met Charlie Horse. I introduce them.

Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall…


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