Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Taking the apple from Jack.

Yeah, I know. This is like playing Russian roulette or like kicking the map in the creek in that movie Blair Witch.

My first class is at 11:20 on Tuesdays. I sleep in until 8:30. When I get up, I do my usual routine. I put the water on to boil. I let the grounds sit in the press for 4 minutes. I shave. I write some correspondence. I make my bed. I gather up some cardboard for the design class. I make sure I have my phone. I walk to school.

Of course, I do not know if there will be the little paper of death on my desk, the schedule change. I take my chances because I am not doing anything wrong. I have been contracted to teach kids not sit around in the teachers’ office all day twiddling my thumbs listening to Chinese conversation. The teachers’ office is always noisy. It is impossible to get work done.

The teachers’ office is heated. The rest of the building is not. When I get to the fourth floor, the teachers’ office is full of Chinese teachers. The door is locked. An Anne opens the door for me. Everyone greets me, so much for being incognito in my arrival. There is no new piece of paper on my desk. I am safe. The time is 9:40.

Nevertheless, five minutes after my arrival, Michelle, my link teacher, arrives. I realize no one cares when I arrive, no one is taking notes. I do my job that is the important thing.

An Anne comes screaming into the teachers’ office. I ask Michelle what happened. She tells me a cock roach is swimming in the red bucket – the bucket which catches the overspill water from the water cooler. I go out and look. Indeed, a big water bug is swimming – maybe drowning – in the bucket.

Anne asks me how I say it. I tell her cockroach or simply roach. I do not say simply. My first class is the 7th grade readers. We are doing independent research in this class still. Neisha finished her paper a few days ago. The other students are still working on their papers. Jacky sits at the computer and looks up Chinese words and finds the English word for them. As I am looking over Venus’ paper, I tell Jacky to get busy on his paper and then I tell him he is retarded which makes him laugh. Venus did not write a bad paper. Her main problem is her sentences either are missing linking verbs or subjects. Fortunately, when I ask her to spot the problems with the sentences, she can spot them fairly quickly.

Fifteen minutes in to class, my boss comes in to tell me that in ten minutes I am to take the students to room 412 to have their photos taken. Jacky asks me what she wanted. I tell him it is none of his business and then of course I add retard. Again, he laughs. Fifteen minutes passes, I escort the four students to room 412. Jacky hands me his nylon sports jacket to hold while he takes his picture. He crosses his eyes for me and tells me he is going to take the picture like a retard. I laugh and cross my eyes and say “Like this?!” He laughs. My boss is in the room with the photographer. I tell Jacky to smile when his photo is taken. He doesn’t. My boss and I both laugh. Really, I do like these kids. The next thing I know someone has smacked me on the ass. I turn around and look down. Will the Beast is standing there. He is a bad kid but I do like him. The bell rings or rather the circus music plays. I ruffle his hair and head to lunch.

After lunch - actually, I am not mad. Disappointed, maybe, I don’t know. The moment I realized I cannot let this get to me is the moment this enormous metaphysical weight lifted off of me. Now, in many ways, I am free from the burden that being a caring teacher imposes.

This is what happened. Of course, it would happen with the 7th graders, the nightmares - Laura, the nightmare; Will, the beast; Jacky, the retard. Today, the students were to build a mobile home model. This was to happen with cardboard which they were instructed to bring from home.

But first, let me rewind for a minute. Last week, when my boss took me to buy supplies, we bought a box of cheap X-acto knives. Granted, both of us knew at the time how dangerous these are and we were hesitant but we bought them because the 7th graders do need them to do this project or at least for the project to truly be a success. Now, flash forward to today.

When I get to class, of course no one brought cardboard for their project which I knew when I was in the teachers’ office because Laura, the nightmare and her troll friends asked if they could have some of my cardboard as they told me that no one brought any. Actually, this did not upset me in the least. This is what I have come to expect. This was no big deal. My plan was to let people work in groups if they wanted.

Knowing no one brought cardboard, I walk into class armed with a bag of cardboard, enough rulers for everyone one, the substandard student drawings (from Friday)of the mobile homes, my pockets full of little bottles of glue and the X-acto knives. As I hand out the X-acto knives, I explain to the students they must be careful, they must be very careful with these. This, I say over and over almost as a chant, a glue mantra. Okay, in hindsight, I know it is stupid to give 7th graders who act like kindergarteners X-acto knives.

Within a minute of handing them out, before all of them have been handed out, Reina – whom I sometimes get confused with Shiny in the 6th grade - points to someone behind me. I turn around. Will the Beast is wielding his X-acto like a switchblade, slicing the air. Reprimanding him is pointless because after I scold him the rest of the boys and a few of the girls do the same thing. Jacky tells me he is going to carve up my ass. With little fanfare, I go back around the room and collect all of the X-acto knives. Nothing needs to be said, so I do not say anything.

Now, I stand at the head of the class with my box of X-acto knives, rulers, and the rest of the supplies that I brought to class. Eric, who looks more and more like a little cartoon animal of some sort each day with his chipmunk two front teeth and those glasses that cover half of his face, asks why they cannot have the knives. Like I am talking to a four year old, I tell him that they act like babies; they are not old enough to have these sorts of tools. What are we going to do now he asks? Nothing I tell him because I am leaving. With that, I gather up the supplies and walk back to the teachers’ office. Eric tells me not to leave. The whole class is quiet.

I decide whether to bother my link teacher Michelle – their homeroom teacher – with this or not. I decide not. Part of me - 90% of me – seriously considers leaving the school. I don’t. I walk back to the classroom and stand outside the door.

Everyone is really quiet which is surprising. After what seems like an eternity but in fact is probably only a few minutes. I walk back into the classroom. The supplies I left in the office. Some of the students are working on homework for other classes. Some of the students are doing nothing. Funny, the most problematic students are doing nothing as if they are powerless to do anything. The self-directed students - the students like Noam, Venus, and Keisha whom are the only good students in the class - are the ones who do work for their other classes.

At my desk, I open my notebook. I sit and write. Outside in the hallway, a sound breaks the silence, the sound of an elephant or an air horn. Everyone looks up. Jacky and I at the same time say ‘Oscar.” Everyone laughs. Who else could it be I ask? I walk out into the hall. Oscar is loudly blowing his nose. “Oscar” I say, not mad but loud enough for the 7th graders to hear me.

“She made me come out into the hall,” he says this and points into his classroom. Really, I do not have to think about which teacher may have made him come out into the hall but I look through the backdoor classroom window anyway. At the head of the class teaching, I see Athena.

Taking the apple from Jack.
The last period of the day is my lecture (geography, culture, BS, whatever) with the 8th graders. Today, I will talk about Nevada which is lumped into the Southwestern states though in no way is it southern. I have the same information that I gave the 7th graders with a list of questions. I go to the copy room to make copies. The copy machine does not behave. To myself, I say ‘screw it.’

I go to class. My boss is there. She yells at the students in Chinese. She is telling them to be seated I assume. Everyone sits down. Maybe she will be sitting through the whole class, I do not know. In my head, I plan my attack. Sure, I could not make copies. I will group everyone together in teams and proceed. As I get ready to do this, my boss leaves the room. Maybe she assumes I am in control or maybe she has more important things to do.

As soon as she leaves the room, I tell the class we have choices. Kevin asks if we can play basketball. I say we are going to play a game. Jack is holding a big red apple. He is about to bite into it. Of course, they are not to have food in class. I ignore this rule for the most part or maybe they ignore it in my class. To me, this is not really that big of a deal except for there is a pool of something that looks like fruit punch on my desk. Maybe I should put my foot down. I don’t.

I do, however, take the apple from Jack. I tell him it is very beautiful. It is the perfect big apple. Since I am holding it, I decide to take a bite out of it so I bite into it. He is mortified, mortified. As he watches mortified, I take another bite. Accidentally, though he probably thinks I did it on purpose, my nose brushes against the apple when I take the second bite which I am sure he did not miss seeing. At this point, I ask him if he would like to have it back. Really, I have only taken two bites.
“No that is okay. I give it to you.”

“Okay,” I say. “We are going to play a game.”
“What will we do after that?” Joker asks.
“We will play another game.”
“I knew you were going to say that.”
“No, after we play the geography game,” I say. “You can play basketball.”
This makes them happy. Now, Joker and Jack shush everyone and explain in Chinese what is going down.

Maybe I should not be such a pushover but if they do learn a little bit my boss says that is enough. She wants me to give them a pleasant experience with a foreign teacher. That is exactly what I am trying to do.

Since I do not have copies for everyone, I tell them to get into teams of three and four. As I am instructing, I am rudely eating Jack’s apple the whole time. And, I am really enjoying his apple. I almost feel bad. Actually, I really just chuckle to myself about it.

In how many professions can you take someone’s apple and just start eating it with no reprimands? Sometimes I do really love my job. Of course, the students are laughing at every bite I take because Jack keeps wincing. Jack is a good sport. Secretly, he wanted me to take his apple I know he did the way he was flaunting it and teasing me with it. At this point, he decides the loser has to finish the apple. This is one of the best ideas ever. I tell him that is brilliant and, of course, I go around the room holding it in front of Cathy, Alice, Judy, Mika, Eric and ask them if they would like a bite. This seems to properly disgust them. When I laugh maniacally everyone just seems a bit frightened.

The teams seem to be Kevin, Joker and Jack against Alexandra, Mika, Diana with Rebecca seemingly helping both teams. The rest of the students do their homework. Again, I should be a hard ass about this but then does it really matter if they know facts about Nevada? I didn’t until I looked them up.

The questions are along these lines...“Who invented slot machines?” “In what year did gambling become legal in Nevada?” “For what project were hard hats invented?”

The teams are evenly matched for the most part. Alexandra and Jack are the most vocal. Before I even say anything on the True / False questions, Jack answers false. The girls get the points for all of these because each one is true. True. True. True. All True. Now, I have decided after thinking about it. Now, I have decided this. Everything is true.

At the end of class, to William I yell head's up. He looks up. I throw him the apple core. He looks puzzled.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I look like a rooster that was drowned and raised again...

Today is one of those days in which I am a total goof ball. For some reason, I cannot take this serious. No matter how I try, I just cannot do it. Yes, this is a serious matter on which I cannot bestow seriousness. Maybe I am officially losing my mind.

This morning, for the sixth graders, instead of taking away the books they were looking at when class started and arguing about it, I told them to keep the books and ask and answer themselves questions about their reading. Sooham was reading a book on plants. This absorbed him. The rest of the period I did not have to worry. He had ten questions written and answered by the end of class.

Sumran looked through a book on Japanese customs and dress. On her sheet, she asked questions, answered questions and drew pictures to illustrate. This was exactly what I wanted to happen. She knew exactly what to do.

Lillian is very unhealthy. Her mother came and got her. She is really a sweet little girl but she has intestinal problems. This is very sad. Kevin picked a book on animals.

As you may have guessed, Oscar was my one problem this morning. He told me the assignment was too easy. Oscar shoots himself in the foot every day. He does not seem to know that telling me this just alerts me that he is going to be lazy about the assignment which actually makes it easier for me because now I know he is not going to put any effort into the work. Since I knew he would try to do something easy, I found a book for him. He will be discussing Robert Cormier’s Tunes for Bears.

Kevin has problems with his English. He always has lots of questions. Oscar does not have problems with his English. He asks questions to get out of reading or writing. Every time he asked me a question, I told him to write it down. That is why I asked him to write down questions. Yes, this assignment was brilliant on my part. The students seemed to really enjoy doing the assignment. The period quickly passed.

After the 6th graders I had the 7th grade readers. Today, just before the bell rang at the beginning of class, I remembered I was to give Eric the mid-term again since he scored 25% the first time around. Fortunately, the printer had no problems printing. Smoothly, I glided in to class. While Eric took his test, Neisha, Jacky, Venus and I talked. I told them since Eric was taking his midterm exam over, the three of us would have a free day.

We talked about astrology and the Chinese calendar. Jacky is a monkey. I am a tiger. He told me Eric is a pig. I tell him that Eric looks a bit like a little pig and I make an oinking sound. Occasionally, I walk over to the table where Eric is taking the exam to ask him if he is doing okay and to make sure that he does not have a cheat sheet since he has been known to be a bit of a cheater.

Back at the table with the other three, we talk about movies. Jacky gets bored with this. One of his new favorite pastimes is to look up Chinese words and translate them into English via computer. These words that he looks up are usually names that he can call me like ‘retarded,’ ‘idiotic,’ ‘abnormal.’ Today, he added more abstract words to the list. The one – or two rather – which resonated with me was when he called me a ‘water purifier.’ Yes, he really got me on that one.

After class, I do my time with the horrendous 7th graders. This is our performing arts class. At this point, I know that they will not behave. Laura the nightmare will disrupt class. Will will act like a beast. I know this. Oscar, small 7th grade Oscar will throw things at Eric the 25 percenter and act like he does not. Trevor and Sam will just laugh and be loud the whole time. Yes, yes, I know this already.

However, today I am in one of those ‘screw it’ moods. This morning, at the last minute, as I was leaving my apartment, I threw the Mammoth sampler DVD in my bag. This has a few Kittens videos and some Machines of Loving Grace, Blake Babies, etc. On Friday, I had promised obnoxious 6th grade Oscar that I would bring a song on Monday. As I was leaving the apartment, I remember that promise. You said something will change...We were all dressed up...Somewhere to go...No sign of rain But something will change...You promised.

In the 7th grade classroom once everyone has calmed down which usually takes a few minutes after the circus/ horse race music plays, I explain that I am going to play a video by my band. How quickly this gets their attention is amusing. For once, maybe the first time this whole semester, everyone is listening to me. Of course, the speakers are somewhat shorted out so Jacky has to come up to the computer to rig them so that they will not short out.

Once everything is situated, I hit play on the computer. The video for Pop Heiress Dies hits the screen. At first, the class is ho-hum about the viewing until I come upon the screen. A few students ask a few times if it is me with the long hair. Some of them laugh but at the same time their eyes are completely glued to the screen. This has to be a shock to them, their teacher fronting a rock and roll band.

After the video is over, everyone claps. They are all very enthusiastic. They want to see more. I tell them that is all. They do not believe me. I tell them there is no more. They still do not believe me. Finally, I succumb to their request. I play Angel on the Range. I explain that it takes place in Oklahoma. I tell them about oil wells. I would like to tell them about Midway Market but I am sure they would not understand but then again maybe Midway is transcendent.

After I play Angel on the Range, the students want me to play more videos from the sampler. The girls seem to really like the Blake Babies. The boys really dig the Machines of Loving Grace. All of them are amused by the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

My next class is the eighth graders. I decide to repeat the performance. When I walk into the room, Jack asks if they can play basketball today. Kevin asks if they can play cards. I tell them we are going to watch a video. Joker asks if we are watching a movie. I tell him no we are watching a short video of my band. His eyes light up.

Before class starts, my boss comes in and settles everyone. Everyone takes their seat. She has to scold Kevin. He likes to pace around the class and hit a few of his classmates while those of us in authority are not looking. I tell the class we are going to watch my band’s video. This seems to be exciting news to them.

I hit play. The video comes on. Everyone is stunned. This, I know must be a shock, because they see me as this goofy teachers not a pop singer. Everyone is completely focused on the video. This is such a surprise to them. This time after the video all of them clap uproariously. I smile. My boss is in the back of the class beaming.

I ask them if they have any questions. William asks me how long ago the video was shot. When I reply 12 years ago, there is an audible gasp in the room. He tells me I was much more handsome then. "I was much more handsome then?!" I respond in mock exasperation. "Then?!" I repeat again for emphasis.
"Now, now your are much more handsome now, much younger."
"I look younger now?!"
"You look younger then."
"I looked younger then?"
"Uh, yes, uh, then, nega nega hair very long handsome."
"So I looked better with my hair long."
"Uh, nega, yes."

My boss is the 8th grade homeroom teacher. William - I am certain - is as endearing to her as he is to me. Of course, most of the time I do not understand what he is trying to tell me.

Joker asks me why I stopped. I explain excess and alcoholism. I try to do this in a cautionary way. I am not sure what may be a taboo subject here for the middle school children. However, in my heart, I know that if I can stop anyone from drinking, I probably should, not that I am on some anti-drinking bandwagon but I know how dangerous it is. I know if I had never started I would not have the constant battle that I have now but I am by no means complaining. Everyone must make his or her own decision.

My boss tells me many of them probably have questions but they do not know how to ask them in English. She notices a dozing Eric. Eric loves to sleep in the back of the class. This is 8th grade Eric not to be confused with the Eric who made a 25% on his midterm. This is smart math Eric. She wakes him up. He lifts his head and tells her he is thinking of a question. I laugh. He always makes me laugh. He is harmless. Really, all of them are harmless.

Again, they want to see another video, I play them Angel on the Range. Again, they are rapt. This must really be blowing their minds. I cannot even imagine if I would have had a teacher in middle school who had been in a successful rock and roll band. I cannot even imagine it.

After the video is over, I write $5,000 on the board. I tell them this is how much one of the videos cost. They are awed. I then write $25,000 on the board. I tell them this is how much the other video cost. This completely stuns them. I ask them which one they think cost $25,000. Most of them guess right except for Joker and William, they guess that Angel on the Range cost $25,000 to make.

At this point, I explain video budgets and what they consist of. Everyone wants to know how much I made on the video. I tell them nothing. This makes absolutely no sense to them. I tell them I know. While I am talking about budgets, I mention to my boss offhand that this is very MYP, I am mixing other subjects like math in to the performing arts subject.

Again, I ask if there are any questions. William asks me when I am getting married. He tells me that I need someone to clean my apartment. I agree with him about the cleaning but I think I would rather hire a cleaning lady.

After lunch, I have my geography lecture class. At this time, I have stopped putting much energy into this because I know no matter how much time I put into it, the students will just talk and misbehave and make me crazy.

However, they do like answering questions. I prepared a list of information on one sheet and questions on the next. I hand that out to them. Laura the nightmare is her usual nightmare self in the back of the class. Will is a bit of a nightmare at first but then he settles down. Although his English is bad, he really makes an effort to answer the questions, I tell him he is doing such a good job. This class, I cannot let make me crazy.

After class, I go to the office and decompress. My next class is the sixth graders. Yes, I will show them the video.

Athena –the bad ass who is also their homeroom teacher – is in the classroom when I walk in. Kevin knows that I am going to show the video and he is beside himself. He is trying to talk really fast and because of his bad English he sounds like a broken robot stuck in overdrive impersonating Peter Lorre. He tells me to not start the video until everyone is there. Of course, that is what I had planned to do anyway but I let him run the show. He is so excited. He is the classroom master of ceremonies.

We get everything set up. I invite Athena to stay. She goes back to the back of the classroom and sits. For good measure, she pops Oscar a few times. Whether he deserves it or not, I am not sure.

There is this strange anticipation in the air. Once the video starts, the whole class is transfixed; they cannot take their eyes away. When the video is over, everyone claps and claps. As were the other classes, they too are stunned.

Now, they are uncontrollable; they are so excited by what they just saw. It is much like a really miniature version of Beatlemania. Athena tries to quiet them down but she cannot. They are talking amongst themselves and are totally and completely star struck. I am flattered and embarrassed.

With Athena translating, I tell them a bit about the music business. I try to be kind and not jaded and callous. Each time I say something in English, Athena expounds upon it in Chinese. I say expound because she takes much longer to explain it than I do initially. They ask me how much money I got for the video. I tell them I got no money for making the video

Sooham tells me ithe music business is an evil mean business. He is so right. Whether he had prior knowledge or whether his introduction and knowledge of the business is what I have talked about for the last 20 or 30 minutes, I do not know. Nevertheless, he has come up with this conclusion after I have not even tried to paint a bad picture. He was saddened that I did not make anything from the video. I am not sure how to tell him how it works.

He then asks if he can have an autograph and runs up to the front of the room with a pen and paper. I sign it. Now everyone wants one. Athena tells them to sit down and to wait until after class. Everyone sits down.

Class is over in five minutes. Athena leaves. The minute she walks out the door, the whole class bum rushes me with pens and paper. How can I not be touched? This makes all of the nasty days less nasty. The purity of the sixth graders melts whatever ice has been hardening inside of me. Really, to them, I am huge – Elvis, Bing, Jim Reeves.

For the last few minutes of class, I sign multiple autographs. These little cataclysms of energy act as if they will never see me again. At any one point, there are at least five sheets of paper held up in my face as they chant “Me! Me Tyson! Me next!”

And then, suddenly, something dawns on me as I am walking to the Quik in the greyness of late November; maybe life itself hits me for the first time unguarded and real; I realize how lucky I am in an indescribable way. The way that someone is told: I like your child, that is how I feel about my past as a Kitten.

In the class, while I was watching the videos for Pop Heiress Dies especially, I have this surge of emotion. Part of the emotion is the gratitude to be able to communicate to others what I was able to communicate in some small way. The other part of the emotion comes for the people that were there to help communicate that emotion. On the screen, I see Trent doing the wonderfully innocent guitar windmills; I see Eric slamming the drums with all of his being and looking so dashing as he does it; I see Matt with a shaved head bouncing around and loving and living the moment and then I see myself, myself 12 years ago, another me, a me who would have never dreamed of the current me, the me who could not see the now me, the future me. Yes, I am lucky. I am alive.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

And this song will fade out...

Friday, I wake up at 7 am. Today is the big day. Usually, automatically, I wake up at 6:30. When I see the time, I do not think about it, I jump up out of bed and start my morning routine. To prepare my coffee, I put water in my luxurious electric Chinese kettle – for which I paid a whopping $25.

Finally, I did some research and found out how long to keep coffee in a French coffee press before pouring it into the cup – 4 minutes. You must stir the coffee grounds too. From what I read in a few different places, the press is the best way for the coffee bean to release the oil from which the coffee comes. When did I become one of those people who research the best way to make coffee?

That, however, is not important now. In order to help this day go smoothly, I have to really move. By the time I have made my bed, cleaned out yesterday’s grounds from the press and various other morning chores, the water has boiled. Can I shave in four minutes? I decide I cannot. After the four minutes has lapsed and I pour my fresh coffee into my thermal cup, I shave. What the coffee snobs have to say about thermal cups, I am not sure.

Okay, shaving is fast and haphazard. (Later at school, I notice missed facial hair on my cleft.) I use the last of the crazy expensive Billy Jealousy shaving cream that Jacqui gave me a year ago. Oh for some of those crazy expensive products of yore. Soon, I will probably have to subject my face to some off the shelf shaving crème.

Quickly, I put on the new Hermes dress shirt (that I found for cheap), my Saks Fifth Avenue wool brown black and grey hound’s tooth suit, my brown Romeo Gigli tie, and, of course, my Miu Miu black dress shoes. I am ready to conquer the day. I pump a few pumps of Cavalli cologne on and I head out the door.

My first class is not until 8:45. The time is now close to 7:30. The new sober me has the luxury of an hour and fifteen minutes to prepare. I typed up some questions involving descriptions for the 6th graders. For some reason, I am really not that nervous.

At my apartment complex crossroads, I run into Jacky. It is impossible to do justice to his broken English so I won’t try. He tells me he did not think I came early on Friday. He thinks my early days are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I tell him no my early days are Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. He then tells me he cannot believe we got here at the same time. He tells me he is late today.

I ask him where his box is. The 7th graders were to bring shoe boxes. We are going to make mobile home models. They will draw them first. Then we will do the models. He did not bring a box. I give him one. I brought two. This is probably a sign of what is to come. I predict no one brought boxes.

An hour and a half later, I am sitting with the 6th graders in the library. First, Oscar’s parents come in to observe how I teach. They introduce themselves. They are very nice. I start my lesson. Oscar behaves somewhat good; he does not behave perfectly. His parents must know he is a problem. His very kind dad gently shushes Oscar when Oscar interrupts me.

Kevin’s mother comes in too. She sits across the table from us. She is nice too. This is a bit surprising to me, so everyone is nice. Does no one pull swords and swordfight these days? What is China becoming? A non-sword fighting country? Anyway, Kevin’s mother tells me that Kevin says nice things about me.

Midway through the class, Sumran’s and Sooham’s mother shows. She starts to pull up a chair at the end of the table where she would not be involved with the lesson. To be proactive, I direct her to sit next to Sumran (much to Sumran’s horror I am sure). At this point, I have them all write descriptive sentences. Sooham and Sumran take time to really think about what they write. Kevin’s English skills are impeded so he has a few problems. I try to guide him a long. I tell him he must change ‘The weight lifter has muscular.’

Oscar within five minutes finishes. His sentences are crap. Ordinarily, I would smack him in the back of the head and tell him to do better but today I let it slide. His parents are so nice.

The circus music plays. Class is over. Class flew by. I ask the students if they want to stay 20 more minutes. Sumran gently tells me that they have to go to their next class. I understand I tell her. The parents smile. They like me.

Kevin’s mom is the first to talk to me. She tells me she wants me to assign Kevin more reading. He has fallen behind in his English because they lived away from Shanghai the last few years. At his old school, there was no English program. She would like me to assign him reading every night. I tell her I will.

After she finishes talking to me, Oscar’s parents talk to me. Wrongly, I assumed Oscar’s dad would be a severe man. He is a kind man with gentle ways. I did not have the heart to tell him that he should take Oscar out to the river and drown him. Nor did I tell them, often, I think Oscar may have an extra chromosome. No, I did not have the heart to tell him this. I did tell him Oscar is very smart. Some days he is good; some days he is bad. If he is not engaged, Oscar has problems.

Then, for the next thirty minutes - until I tell her I have to go so I can prepare for my next lessons – I talk to Sumran’s and Sooham’s mom. She is a very concerned mother. I should appreciate this. Sometimes I feel as if I am in the hot seat with her but that is okay. I need to be challenged. She tells me that she has noticed that their English has improved, that they have picked up some slang (which embarrasses me a little). She asks me where they stand. I tell her they are advanced readers. If they can understand a story like the Tell Tale Heart, they are close to high school level. This makes her smile. Again, she is another kind parent. Now, she would like for me to focus on their writing. As I said, after we talk for nearly thirty minutes, I tell her I must prepare for my other lessons. My design lesson is next.

For design class, I will show them a slide show of some examples of mobile homes and recreational vehicles. After that, I will have them draw up sketches and plans. The 7th graders are a bit of a nightmare, with the exception of a few. Again, I have decided to not put pressure on myself. If they misbehave, they misbehave. That will be their problem, not mine.

Into the classroom, I walk with tons of supplies. Last night, my boss and I went to the art store for lots of different kinds of paper and cardboard. Some of it looks like corrugated stainless steel. This will be very cool for our models.

Three parents are in attendance, Alice’s mom, Howard’s mom, and Venus’s mom. Briefly, I meet all of them. During the slide show, the students are very vocal about which mobile homes they like. Most of them do not seem to like Airstreams. They say they are ugly. I tell them I think they are beautiful.

After the slide show, I hand out graph paper to draw the mobile home plans. With this, I hand each student a Xeroxed mobile home blueprint and a ruler – I would like straight lines drawn. The usual ones take their time drawing, and the other usual ones do not take their time drawing. Howard - this is surprising because his mother is there - hands me something that looks like he scratched it out in five minutes. I tell him to make the lines straighter. He looks at me as if I am insane. Maybe I am. The bell rings. I do not hand out any of the cool paper because I have decided they must hand me in cool drawing before they get any sort of handout, the little shits.

One more class and I can breathe easy. This is the drama class. Now, I am not worried. I refuse to be pressured. The students and parents gather in the classroom and then we make our way to the first floor to the performance room.

I sit a desk with two chairs in front. The class wanders in. once the bell rings. I ask for a volunteer. No one volunteers. I pick Vincent first. We do our breakfast monologue that we practiced yesterday. We do it twice. After we finish, I tell him he must pick someone as his partner. He picks Sean. They do it twice. Vincent sits down. Sean picks someone.

We go through the whole class like this. This was brilliant on my end because they have to pick students who have not gone. Vivienne is last. Instead of picking someone, she and I do the routine together. We do it twice. The parents seem to enjoy this. Yes, I did pull this right out of my ass. Now, I tell them we are all going to do it again but this time to be more active in the part. Most of them stand up to do it. Jump back James Lipton, move aside Charles Nelson Reilly.

After my dog and pony show, I take the bus (712, thanks Andrea for the information) to Carre Four – the two level retail and grocery mega-mart in the South Brilliance Mall. My assumption, the store will not be crowded on a Friday afternoon.

The bus ride is nice. The ride is mellow with my fellow afternoon riders - teenagers and housewives, all of them Chinese. The bus lets us off in front of the mall.

Unfortunately, the Carre Four is crowded. Many people are taking advantage of Friday afternoon as a shopping day. Initially, I do not get a cart. I just meander through the store locating items I am interested in purchasing. Since the school is not heated, I look for more pairs of long underwear. At the moment, I only have two pairs. I would like to purchase one more pair. I find a pair right away for 39 yuan which is really a bit more than I was hoping to pay. In NYC, I found long underwear for $4 a pair. Here, I may have to spend $5 a pair. Oh, well, I grab them. I will get a basket later.

Okay, I located the long underwear. Now, I look at the kitchen utensils and such. Always, I am on the lookout for cool trays. I have gone a bit tray mad. Trays, for a single guy, are so handy. For afternoon tea, I can put my tea cup, milk, sugar, biscuits…whatever on the tray. Maybe I am becoming one of those coddling old men. Actually, that is not what I mean, I really am not cooking an egg gently. I do not like to cook eggs gently. Maybe I am not a coddling old man. Oh what turns you on now your animal’s gone?

I find some mod trays. One tray particularly draws my attention, a bit like Mondrian. The colors are bright, squares in circles. I grab it. At the same time, I spot a ‘water drop ladle (with handle)’. The yellow is nice and bright for my kitchen. I have navy blue cabinets. (I love my kitchen; I love my apartment.) I grab the ‘water drop ladle (with handle)’. I head upstairs to the grocery department.

Here, let me explain something about the grocery stores which maybe I have mentioned before. There are two things, one: aisles and aisles are devoted to noodles and soy sauce. This is not an exaggeration. Other aisles are devoted to dried items such as fish, all sorts of dried fish and octopi, duck parts and chicken parts, vacuum packed chicken feet and such.

The frozen food section consists of tons of dumplings and unmentionables. Say goodbye to any sort of TV dinner, bean burrito, sausage biscuit, potpie, cream pie, minced meat pie; there is none of that. In this mega-mart, there are two small floor-to-chest aisles devoted to international products. This is where I find non-instant coffee, English breakfast tea, mustard, corn niblets, and - for $3 – Old El Paso refried beans. I grab them. There also is no name salsa for $4. I grab it. Then for 15 or 20 minutes, I look for tortilla chips or tortillas or taco shells. Since they are not here in the international section, I know more than likely there are no tortilla chips or tortillas or taco shells to be had.

Let me explain another small detail, the stores may have something in stock like refried beans or salsa but that does not guarantee they will stock the other things necessary to make it a meal. At this point, I have to decide if I put the refried beans and salsa in the basket that I have now procured or if I put them back. If there are no tortilla chips or tortillas or taco shells to be had, do I torture myself with the ingredients. Do I put them in my cabinet to taunt me? Oh, if you only had tortilla chips or tortillas or taco shells, if only, if only, if only, - this is what they will say to me late night like some forgotten episode of the Night Gallery (the Shanghai Years). This is as if I am a junky without junk. Yes, this is maddening. Fuck it, I will go on a search in Shanghai for the other ingredients. For the hell of it, I throw a bottle of horseradish in my basket. You really never know when you might need it.

After I buy Canadian bacon (to find anything like this is a coup), maple bacon, and two kinds of cheese, I cart my stuff back to the first level. This was a good move on my part because on an end display, I see thermal top and bottom sets for 19 yuan. Through my exquisite, accomplished use of pantomime and pig-Chinese, a clerk helps me find the right size set. In China, I am a large.

Now that I have everything, I make my way to the counter. The line is not as long as I thought it might be but still it is a five minute wait. A boy who is buying two cans of Pepsi, I motion to him to cut in front of me. He does. He then looks and sees the line next to us seems to be moving faster. He goes over there. A chatty Chinese ingénue incessantly chats on her cell phone behind me. Even though I would like to hit her, I do not.

My line moves faster than Pepsi boy’s. I try to get his attention to wave him back over but I cannot. The cashier talks animatedly to me until she realizes I am not responding. When she looks up for the first time, she has a look of shock on her face. She sees a foreigner standing at her register. I smile. After a few seconds that seem like a minute, she smiles back sheepishly. She will tell her boyfriend about this later, I predict.

And this song will fade out, and this song will fade out, and this song will fade out, I predict.

Okay, once I am through the line. I grab my things and leave the mall. Hailing a cab outside of the mall is always a chore. At one spot, just outside the side doors, there is always a lot of Chinese milling about. This is where you can catch a free bus to various locales courtesy of Carre Four. Although taxis sometimes drive by here, I walk past with my arm load of swag and try to locate the best place to grab a taxi. This is much different than American malls. There is only one road into the mall. Since most people do not drive, there is not that much parking. The parking is comparable to one major store like JC Penny perhaps. The parking is only on one side of the building. It is not like in America where the parking goes all the way around the building.

To get a taxi, there is no line. Others are waiting for a taxi as well. The rule seems to be the first one to jump into a taxi which is being vacated gets the taxi. Finally, I blindly jump into a blue taxi.

One of the teachers wrote down my address in Chinese characters. I show the taxi the address. He nods. We take off back to my apartment. Now I must find tortilla chips or tortillas or taco shells. First, though, I will go home and decide where to look for these tortillas of mystery, these taco shells of crunchy intrigue, these tortilla chips of crackling suspense. Yes, my Mexican pretties I will find you.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

And the executioner’s face is always well hidden

Okay, my lessons for parents’ day are coming together. For drama, I will have two students at a time do a short simple scene. This seems easy. Vincent is microwaving rice. The microwave is here in the teachers’ office I tell him to sit in the chair next to me. We face each other in our chairs. I tell him we are going to do a scene together. I have the dialogue on my computer screen. I go first.

Me - Good morning.
Vincent -Good morning.
Me - Please pass me the milk.
Vincent - I'm afraid we've run out.
Me - Has the paper come?
Vincent - It's right in front of you.
The way he does it in his herky-jerky English as a second language way is brilliant. I tell him he is very good. I will call my movie friends and tell them about him. At the moment, I have no movie friends tell him. Nevertheless, if I make some movie friends I will tell them about him.
The next student to stumble by my desk is Kevin. I tell him to come over.
“What do teacher?”
“We are going to do a scene.”
“Yes, right now.”
We hobble through the scene. Surprisingly, Vincent was much better than Kevin. This is surprising because Kevin is in my Language A class, Vincent is in English as Language B. For all intents and purposes, Kevin should be better than Vincent in his reading skills.

At this point, I have completely stopped worrying about my hobby group. Last week, we catastrophically tried to learn ‘She loves you.’ This was everything but pretty. This week we will tackle ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.’ The way we will learn it, the entire introduction will be in C and the last word of the introduction we will walk to G. Today, there is a possibility that we might be able to learn the first part of this song.

Armed with the song, I go to class. Actually, I am looking forward to today. Sure, I do not expect much these days but that is probably okay.

Parent’s day is tomorrow but at the moment I am not worrying ‘A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall’ occupies my mind. And the executioner’s face is always well hidden. Strangely, Dylan means more to me now than he ever has. As a youngster, I was not really a fan just ask Todd Walker. But now – with love from China – he means something to me. Yes, I always loved the idea of Dylan, his presence in the 60s, his unkempt hair, his impossible eyes but his music escaped me unless of course Joe Cocker or Nico was covering a song.

In class, I tell the students we are going to learn a song, a famous song. The way we will learn this song will only involve three chords. This seems to make everyone happy. Kevin tells me his mom has agreed to let him take private guitar lessons. This really is good news. He seems to be embarrassed to tell me. How can I tell him that I am flattered? I am not really sure. He explains it with the gentleness of a parent. He tells me, we only meet once a week. He wants to devote more time to it. I tell him that is really great. He will learn faster now. This is the reason I am teaching this class. It is just an introduction.

I plug in the ghetto blaster in the plug that Xiao Ma pointed out to me last week. Out of the pocket of my gigbag, I pull out the pirated Dylan CD. Jacky looks at the cover. He pronounces Dylan - Die-lin. How odd I believe it is that he does not know how the name is pronounced. Bob Dylan is not the household name as he is elsewhere in the world. Maybe this is just me, maybe in the United States middle school children would not know who he is, how to pronounce his name.

Before I play the song and after I hand out the lyrics to everyone, I tell the students they will enjoy playing this song because it only has three chords and it is six minutes long. I press play. A few of the students pay attention, most of them do not. Sabrina and Kevin are the only ones that truly read the lyrics as the song plays. If two students are paying attention, maybe that is enough.

After the song is over, Kevin looks at his watch.
“Teacher, you right,” he says, “the song six minutes.”
“It’s six minutes?” I ask surprised that I am right.
“Yes, yes, Teacher.” This, of course, he says as if he is Peter Lorre. Sometimes, when he speaks, I have to stifle my laughter because his voice reminds me so much of Lorre’s.

Now, I play a bit of the song on my guitar. I play it up past the first and it’s a hard, hard, hard, hard, it’s a hard rains a-gonna fall. I ask the students if they are ready to learn to play the song. Incidentally, a few of the students conveniently forgot to bring their guitars. I tell them to go to the library. Maybe I should be more of an authoritarian but I have decided this will be as pleasant – in its hopeless misery – for me as I can make it. The last thing I want are kids mucking around the class who do not even have their guitars with them.

Jacky’s clique is playing chess. I tell them to go to the library to play. He tells me he wants to stay and listen. This is flattering in a really pain in the ass sort of way. Yes, I know I will regret letting him hang out but I let him stay. Eric forgot his guitar so he plays chess with Jacky. Max and Ken watch Eric and Jacky play chess.

Now, we are starting to learn the song. The way we will learn it will start in C. I ask if anyone remembers how to play a C. Well I just had to laugh. I saw the photograph. All of these darlings show me the chord. None of them are correct. One by one, I go around the room and place their fingers in the correct positions. This I do not do gently. I do tend to stretch the fingers within legal limits. While I am doing this I sing mock-opera which entertains only me and seems to annoy all of them. By the time I start toward Jacqueline (who looks and seems a bit older – and cooler – than the others) she holds her hand up to stop me.
“I remember. I remember,” she says stopping me from coming any closer. The others laugh.
Now that everyone knows the chord, of course most of them are not in tune. Sean hits the first chord and I hit the first chord. Sean is more advanced than the others. He gives me a sour face. Jacky has tired of playing chess. He has come over to where we are. Sean says something under his breath. Jacky tells me Sean says I am not right. Sean says he is. I am a bit offended. I am in tune I say. I hit a C. And, of course, I do the stupid Martin Short bouncy C routine. Again, this is just to entertain myself. The students look at me with a bit of a worried look. I have to admit it’s getting better it’s getting better all the time.

So the first forty minutes, some of the students can almost, almost play a C. This is like Groundhog Day. Every day is Groundhog Day. I am Bill Murray. I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in. It stops my mind from wondering where it will go.

During the break, I screw around on my guitar. I tune Kevin’s guitar again. Students from other classes wander into the room. I yell at them to get back in their cage. My students look at me; again, they look worried. I smile and laugh maniacally.
The second period of our hobby class, I spend in the back of the auditorium with Max and Kevin working on the song. I tell the others if they want to sit around in a circle with us and try to play the song they can. They do not have to. No one else joins us. That is completely okay with me. Two students out of sixteen, I am not complaining.

Headway is made with Kevin and Max. We are almost jamming in a really stunted sense of the word. We make progress when I realize we should just stay on the C for awhile. I decide to count off in waltz time – 1-2-3-2-2-3-3-2-3-4-2-3-C. I continue the count as we play. When we have played a few measures, I count us into G. By the end of the class, they can almost go to G. Baby steps, we are taking baby steps.

Those beautiful clear days are gone. Now the rain, the spitting rain, is here. Maybe it is here for the duration of the winter. From the dumpling shop, I watch the rain as I try to ignore the smell, the urine smell that wafts from the wet mat. The odor, I pretend is bacon cooking.

The young chef’s helper keeps smiling at me, showing off and smiling. He reminds me of Paul – no, not 28ifPaul, the other Paul from Songjiang, small Paul with the dancing, smiling eyes. These Chinese guys with dancing smiling eyes, these Chinese guys with dancing smiling eyes make me happy to be alive. Yeah, I don’t worry about the executioner’s face.
In a 1000 words or less...

Class starts at 7:55 am. My meltdown comes at 8:05 am. The assignment, I tell the students, is to write the meaning of the descriptive words. Oscar tells me he knows all of the descriptive words. I ask him the meaning of the first word ‘lanky.’ He does not know. I ask him the meaning of the second word ‘stout.’ Again, he does not know. At this point, I tell him to grab a dictionary and look them up. Sooham is doodling on his paper. I smack him and ask him if he would like to go talk to Athena. He tells me no.

I then give the definition for ‘stout.’ I ask Oscar the definition. He was not listening. He does not know. Sooham says he’s stupid. I agree which I know is wrong.
“I am not,” Oscar counters. For the first time today, he is listening.
Am I slowly becoming Darth Vader, the personification of evil?
When I look over a few minutes later, Oscar –the little fatty – is looking at pictures of food in the dictionary. Rather soundly, I smack him in the back of the head with the text book.
“What are you doing?” I scold as I scowl.

Thirty minutes into class, the students have settled into working. Oscar asks me if ‘listless’ is not listening or listening closely. I tell him neither.

Okay, I cannot even believe I will soon be teaching the students mime. Saying the word ‘mime’ makes me want to hit someone. With that said, I now must decide what exercise to do, something fun which does not involve being trapped in a box or being carried away by a balloon or some other sort of show choir for the singing impaired. . The old standard, bacon frying, is a good one. However, most of the students do not know what bacon is. Oh, yes, and popcorn popping, again, these students are not familiar with popcorn.

Okay, so now, as I am trying to prepare this fucking lesson plan in drama class, my link teacher suddenly wants to know – two weeks or more after the fact – why Eric made a 26% on his midterm in the English Language A class. Well, he did not do his book report. We talked about this. And now it has been brought up again. While this is happening, I am supposed to pull some drama idea out of my ass. Maybe something will come to me. It does not. I am truly stuck.

My boss comes in to discuss the Language A midterm on which Eric made a 26%. I tell her that he was the only student who scored badly. He just did not study. He did not do his book report. Michelle asks me if he can take it over. I tell her sure. I did not know taking midterms over was an option.

My boss tells me maybe my class is too difficult for Eric. I tell her he is just lazy. He does not put any time into the class. She seems to think it is too difficult. Perhaps I should give him different assignments than I give Neisha who is truly Language A and makes 100% on everything. This would be great I tell her if there were five of me but at the moment I have no time to prepare separate lessons.

Now, I have to think about drama. Now, I am not in the mood to think about drama. Now, I wanna run away from home. Now I wanna be on my own.
I have some games planned for the drama class. When I go into the class to plan the games, the students who volunteer chicken out, others do not listen to me. I ask them if they know what bacon is. No one seems to know. But then some of them know but are not sure. Sooham draws a ham steak on the board. That is not bacon I tell him. Of course, Oscar, the little fatty knows. He draws bacon on the board. I tell him that is correct. I get down on the floor and tell everyone to act like bacon. No one does anything. Most of the students are just talking to each other. Finally, I just sit at the desk and do nothing. Vivienne asks me why I am not doing anything. I tell her they do not deserve a teacher. Thus, I am going to just sit. She tells me this is terrible. I tell her yes but that is what they deserve.

At first everyone runs around and does nothing. Sumran asks me to get up and teach. I tell her this is not worth it. I stay seated. The boys come over and apologize the ways that boys do. This makes me laugh. At this point, I tell everyone they have to apologize in an interesting way. Vincent salutes me to apologize. Sumran turns into a robot to apologize. Sooham stands on his head to apologize. Again, this makes me laugh.

Once again, I start to try to speak but they will not let me. Everyone is out of control. At this point, I feel as if I am in some adventure movie and I have no means of escape. Outside I am looking at myself and I wonder how I am going to pull off any sort of drama class on Friday. This will be interesting.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Beatles are eating hamburgers.

Two hard boiled eggs - vacuum sealed for my protection - are on my desk. One of the teachers had a baby. I am not sure who it was. I have not seen a pregnant Chinese teacher waddling around while I have been at school. From what I am told, this is good luck. These eggs are the Chinese cigars.

At the moment, the 7th graders are doing a research paper. Neisha is doing hers on equestrian. Venus is doing hers on some crap Taiwanese boy band. Jacky is doing his on basketball with an emphasis on Kobe Bryant. Eric is doing his on Houdini. Originally, he told me he was going to do it on magic. While he was doing a search, he came across Houdini’s name. I persuaded him to do his paper on Houdini.

No matter what I say, for them writing a paper is copying and pasting paragraphs someone else has already written. Of course, I try to tell them this is plagiarism but that is a word that rings hollow. After all, I do buy any movie I want here in the People’s Republic for less than a dollar. Intellectual property, there is no such thing.

Okay, so I have got used to the fact that in China, when it comes to teaching, there is no on the job training. Or, actually, on the job training is the constant feeling that you are being swept into some sort of Niagara whirlpool that is about to plunge you - like a love-struck honeymooner - in a barrel off of the falls. Looming ahead like Dorothy’s twister is parents’ day. Yesterday consultants came to hear our English lesson plans for parents’ day.

This is something that I have been dreading. Part of me says ‘bring it on.’ The other part of me is like ‘what the f…?!’ The part of me that is not worried has become somewhat lackadaisical. Actually, that is not accurate. I have decided to stop being overwhelmed by this whole thing. At the end of the day, I am a teacher; it is important but I cannot sweat it. I have to ride it like the Himalaya at Bells’ Amusement Park in Tulsa.

The other part of me really would like some help. Falsely, I was under the impression that Doug who we conferred with on Friday would be the consultant we would talk to on Monday. I was going to put a few of my cards on the table at that time and tell him I was not really sure what to do for parents’ day.

Yesterday, when I showed up to meet with the consultant who I thought would be Doug. There was no Doug. Staring back at me were three Chinese people –two men, and a woman. Needless to say, I was shocked. My plan had been foiled. The only thing I could say was – “I thought I was meeting with an English speaker.”

To that, the more imposing of the two men said “We understand English. You can talk to us.”

“Well, I am very confused,” I started but I knew they would not be as sympathetic as a non-Chinese person so I did not goad them for sympathy. (Chinese people, as kind as they are, do not understand how difficult the language barrier is in the classroom. They always tell me to talk more simply.)
“My classes keep changing for parents’ day,” I continued. “First I was teaching with Celia now I am not. I am not sure what I am to do.”

Michelle my link teacher and my boss seemed to both give me disapproving looks. This may have been my imagination. The man, the imposing man, told me to just show me the lesson. This seemed very much like the sort of thing that an unwilling participant in a sword fight is told before swords are drawn. I looked to see if he had a sword. I did not see one, not one showing anyway. And, I am sure he looked to see if I had a sword. If I did perhaps have a sword on my person, I did not have it where he could see it.

Instead of drawing a sword, he told me the three principles of a lesson:
Pre – task, While –task, and Post –task. He was very kind. There was no sword, not even a knife or a straight razor.

Suddenly, I felt more relaxed. I told him we are currently reading descriptive essays in the text book. Friday will be the last day for this chapter. I would like to sum up what we have learned then. He told me that would be a good idea. Now, I felt much better.

After I decided what I was going to do, Celia gave her presentation. She had a slide show prepared. This was good but not that informative. He did not seem very impressed with it. Mary went last. She had the best attitude. She told him what she was going to do. She was very together. I was wiped out. She then showed him what she was going to do for her math class. He is just the consultant for the English classes. She did not hear him say he did not consult for math. She blazed on through.

Back at the teachers’ office, I told Mary her presentation was really fantastic. I thought she did an amazing job. She teaches the non-native speakers English. She told me she got her lesson plan out of the box. Her lesson plan was basically the Hamburger Helper of lesson plans. I laughed and told her the consultants were really impressed.

Now today, my boss has just told me, I have another lesson added for parents’ day. This is what I hate about this school. They do not do anything in advance. What would have been nice? What would have been nice is if I would have had a few weeks to prepare the drama kids for parents’ day. The powers that be have not afforded me that luxury.

She tells me this as I am retrieving the idea from the printer – cutting out a dog vest and sewing it - the idea that I have for the design class that is now not happening. Instead I have a design class on parents’ day with the 7th graders and I have not got anything prepared for them that day. In the 6th grade class, we have been talking about clothes. In the 7th grade class, we have not. My sixth grade reading class is starting as she is telling me this information. I do not lose my cool. I do not even flinch. I will make the best of it I decide. What I hate about parents’ day is the fact that it is just for looks. There is no substance involved.

Okay, I decide once I have left the classroom to talk to the 6th graders about what they want to do for parents’ day.

“Shut up for five minutes!” I yell at Oscar almost immediately. A few seconds later when I try to talk, Sooham says something stupid so I grab him by the neck and take him to the teachers’ office to talk to Athena. I tell her that he will not shut up. He is not being serious. I will not stand for it. She lets him have it, in a kind way, not the way she does with Oscar when she just hauls off and hits him like she did yesterday when she was walking by my drama class. I was in the back watching the boys present their play in the front. This involved kicking and hitting each other. Athena I saw looking in the room perplexed and slightly nervous. I walked up to the front of the class and opened the door and said one word.
“Oh,” She said and shook her head in understanding. As she was turning to leave, Oscar slammed the door. Of course, I yelled at Oscar and opened the door. At that time, Athena slugged him. Really, he needs to be beaten repeatedly each day and even that is really not enough.

Sooham and I come back class. He hangs his head as if he has been given 20 swats. All of the others look at him with pity and a slight bit of reverence. Oscar asks what happened. I tell Oscar I thought I told him to shut up.

He tells me I told him to shut up for five seconds I tell him I told him to shut up for five minutes. Now, everyone has settled down. We start to talk about parents’ day. I tell them we need to come up with some ideas. I say that maybe we could write a play. They are no help whatsoever. They do not want to be anything or do anything. Any idea I have they do not want to do. When I ask them what they want to do, they tell me they do not know. Sumran then decides she wants to be a farmer. Lilian will be the farmer’s helper. Kevin will be the narrator. Sooham will be a lynx. Oscar will be the hunter. Then Sumran decides she wants to be the narrator. We start writing the story which seems to involve Oscar killing a lot of things during the course of the play. Sumran now does not want to be the farmer. I ask her what she wants to be. She tells me she does not know.

This is such a mess. Sure, I could probably do some exercises or something with them but I have started down this road. Of course, I am sorry to say, I have one of my meltdowns while poor Sumran is being a typical whiny sixth grader. I ask her if she is trying to make it difficult or easier on me. I tell her I would rather be in the United States than sitting at a table with her. Sumran, I like, I swear I do, I do not know what comes over me.

Celia teaches the Language B English speakers while I am teaching the Language A. After class, I go ask Athena if she will tell the students we are going to write a play for parents’ day which is a few days a way. Athena goes into the classroom and explains it. Celia asks if she can stay in the classroom and watch.

After Athena explains what we are going to do for parents’ day, the students seem to be good sports about it. I ask them what kind of play they want to do. Lin wants it to be interesting. Sean wants it to be funny. I tell them this is good. We need to think of phrases to say in the play.

Vincent says “KFC.”
“Kentucky Fried Chicken,” Sean adds.
Teddy has his electronic translator out. He says something and then he shows it to me because he is very quiet. “Dripping acid.”

“I am a farmer,” Sumran says “not a businessman.”

During this whole exchange, I know that Celia is wondering what in the hell is going on.

“Queen Elizabeth is laying eggs,” Oscar shouts.

“We are not saying anything derogatory about the Queen in our play,” I say.

“The president is chasing chickens in the White House,” Sean says.

“Wow, that is really good” I tell him.

“Why does the cow have mud for milk?” Sumran asks.

“Oh, that is really good,” I tell her. “This can be a play about the environment.”

Secretly, I am thinking, I have this strange class of Becketts ready to be born

“The Beatles are eating hamburgers!” Sean shouts as if he is shouting Viva La France.

“That is perfect. That is the name of the play.” And I think to myself that is the name of this chapter of my life because, yes, I am the hamburger man.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bad for boys

While my guitar gently weeps and breaks and JohnLennon and GeorgeHarrison and Jimi Jimi bo bimmy banna nanna fo fimmy Hendrix and Fred Sonic Smith and all of the other guitarists and songwriters and lifelong soundtrack providers…now all of them gone…gone on to that guitar stack in the sky…gone in vomit and bullets and needles and age…all of them… Mick Ronson, James Honeyman Scott and Pete Farndon (bass) and now I’m walking like I’m ten foot tall, a workingclass hero is somethingtobe….with brass in pocket…I’m an alligator…

Jacky meets me by the trash garage. We walk to class together. He tells me he goes to bed after supper. He wakes at 10 pm to take a bath and goes back to sleep. This is very comfortable he tells me.

At my desk in the teacher’s office, a group of boys gather around me. William with the ‘you know what kind of eyes he got’ seems to be the leader. He asks me what I am drinking. I tell him I am drinking coffee. He tells me the girls like milk tea. 8th grade Kevin brings a bag of milk tea to school – a big bag – everyday, he says. I ask him if Kevin shares it. He tells me know. I ask him what sort of drink he likes.

“Soft-uh Drink-uh.”
“My mother tell me Coke is bad for boys.”
“Bad for boys?” I ask.
“Yes, it (insert Chinese words). What is word?”
Sean, 6th grade Kevin and Vincent are standing beside him trying to think of the word.
“Bad for boys?” I ask again, intrigued.
“Yes, bad for their health,” William tells me again. “It kills…uh, nega nega…”
“What does it kill?” I ask.
“It kills the sperm,” He says. With this he and his cronies exit stage left and I start my morning.

Next week, we will have parents’ day. Parents’ day is a day when parents (and grandparents) will come to observe classes. This will be a major pain in the ass I already know. The reason, at this point, the parents expect a dog and pony show because the school makes such a fuss about it which is fine but it absolutely has nothing whatsoever to do with teaching, nothing whatsoever.

Also, the plan keeps changing. The classes have been rearranged on that day. At first, I was to teach a class with Celia but now that has been switched, I am teaching a class on my own. Of course, Celia and I got together and started planning what we would do for this class and now we are told we are not teaching the class together.

At 11:20, the English teachers go to the East Campus to talk to an English exchange teacher. None of this is fully explained to me ever. Any information I am given is usually at the last minute. From what I can ascertain, the teacher is here from America. His name is Doug. The Chinese teachers kept calling him Doog when they were talking about him. I then saw his name spelled on a document and corrected them. I would hate for them to call him Doog to his face.

It seems winter is here. Really, I shouldn’t complain. The weather has been beautiful since April. The summer was hot but I had air conditioning and I was able to deal. With my shabby umbrella, I walk to the East Campus in the Shanghai drizzle. Walking ahead of me are two English teachers that I do not know. They left the West campus just ahead of me. Since I do not know the layout of the East Campus that well, I consider this a godsend. I can follow them to the meeting.

At the gate of the East Campus, they see me behind them.
“You are Tyson,” one of them says to me.
“Yes,” I reply. “What is your name?”
“And I am Evelyn.”
“Are you going to the meeting?” I ask.
“Yes, how did you know about it?” Doreen asks, or maybe it is Evelyn. I am confused which is which.

I follow them up the stairs and into the meeting. I am glad that I did follow them because we are the last ones to make the meeting. Everyone else is sitting. Doug, a round kind little man, is sitting at the couch giving his English spiel. For the first time, I am actually learning something, something of value. Doug, I can tell, has been teaching a long time. He is someone who I need as a mentor. If I had someone like him to ask questions, my life would be much easier at the moment. I would not be applying for jobs in Cairo….Panama….Saudi. Midway through his pep talk, he reaches into his bag and says “Oh and Tyson…” as he brings out a package.

“You had requested the Lemony Snickett books.” He hands me the first three Lemony Snickett books. I tell him the students will really enjoy them. Actually, okay, I am lying, I am going to really enjoy them and then the students will really enjoy them.

Doug wraps the meeting up by telling us that he will be around for a little longer and
Mary and I leave. We walk back to the West Campus.

The Korean – the jury is still out whether she has an extra chromosome or not – comes to my desk with Noam (the angel) and Laura (the nightmare). Students often come to my desk to borrow things. She wants to borrow my headphones – the expensive Grado ones that Steve gave me as a groomsman present. For a moment, I actually think about lending them to her. Then, I get a visual, the visual involves various 7th graders stomping on a pair of defenseless headphones left in the aisle of the 7th grade classroom. I tell her no they are expensive. She cannot borrow them. Why I even debated loaning them to her, I do not know. Maybe because I am still not sure how many chromosomes she has.

I would like to say that teaching guitar has become more of a pleasure. Finally, I am rewarded by seeing the progress of these budding Kotkes, these endearing Cooders, these Mahavishnu-fied McLaughlins. I would like to say all of them can play open chords perfectly at this point. The guitars ring out, ring out beautifully. Yes, I would like to say this but I cannot. These are still two excruciating hours in my week.

Today, I have decided to tackle ‘She Loves You.’ We will play it Em to A to C to G, the G should be a G6 into a G but we will be simplifying it. Yes. Fortunately, I actually have the song on CD. I will take it and play it for the kids. Some may like it. Some may not.

When the time comes for class, I do my death march down to the auditorium. As I am walking there, I pray that another teacher needs the classroom like last week. Last week, we had the class outside. If we had to do that this week, I could cancel because it is raining.

In class, everyone is spread around the room as usual. At this point, I could care less. A few weeks ago, I told my boss I needed an assistant in the class, someone to translate. She told me that she would ask about it. Later she told me she asked and it is agreed I do need an assistant but no one is free at the moment to assist. I am on my own.

Maybe on purpose, maybe not, I forget to bring the ghetto blaster from the teachers’ office on the 4th floor. Once everyone is in class, I tell them we are learning another song, this time I have the CD. With that, I leave the room and go get the ghetto blaster.

This probably does not kill as much time as I would like but oh well. Okay, the next order of business is to find a plug to plug in the player. At the back of the auditorium is a plug. In order to hear the song, I tell everyone to move back to the back. En masse, everyone moves to the back of the room.

On closer inspection, the plug is not for the common electrical appliance. It has four strange holes. Max says it will work. I let him try. He realizes it will not work. It is shaped like a Swastika with the lines in the middle missing, not really your average plug.

We search all over the room for somewhere to plug in the player. On the sides of the room, there are plugs half way up the wall. Jacky is tall enough that he can plug it in. There is no power to these plugs. Now, I am killing some time.

I go out into the hall and see if I can find anyone who is familiar with the plugs in the auditorium. There he is like a vision, walking in the hall. Never do I see him on the second floor but then I am only on the second floor once a week. Maybe he is often down here doing second floor chores, science club shenanigans, the IT cha cha. Yes, it is. Yes, it is. It is Xiao Ma.
“Xiao Ma,” in a pleading tone I say. He reminds me of my old friend Max from the Shanghai 90210. He does not talk much. Once when I saw him on the stairs, all he said to me was “My English is not very good.”
In the movie, I have the CD player in my hand. In reality, maybe I do not. Maybe I am miming the player. Miming Player on the player “Baby come back any other fool can see I was wrong and I just can’t live without you.”

Maybe, just maybe why none of us could find a hot plug is because the plugs are hidden in the floor. You have to have a key like device to open them. Xiao Ma plugs me in and leaves.

I play ‘She Loves You.’ A few students are straggled around the player. Kevin is right by me. Jacky is sleeping in the back. Eric - who made a 26% on his midterm, due to laziness more than outright stupidity – makes a face when I put on the song. I tell him he may certainly leave, the little four eyed chipmunk. Nevertheless, after we listen to it once, he wants to hear it two more times. Sean says it is a famous song. From what I can tell he is the only one who has ever heard it.

After the song is over, I play through part of it once and then I start to try to teach them the song. Always, this is truly trying. Some students give up and do homework. Other students endlessly say “Teacher, like this? Like this?” as they demonstrate how not to play a chord otherwise known as the extra chromosome chord technique.

Finally the break comes. I hear the music. Jacky comes and sits as close to me as he can. He grabs my hand. He tells me it is warm. His hands are always cold. He is at that age where he wants to be cool but he is still this kid lost in the world of kids. Sometimes, sometimes I miss that age.

Some local students from other classes wander in to the room. In my best overbearing adult voice – as realized by Mr. C. from Happy Days – I yell that it is not monkey hour and they need to go back to the zoo, no one laughs but me.

When the break is over, I try to show Kevin, Eric, and Sean the beginning chords to the song. They really do seem to be trying, until they lose interest that is. Then, I decide to approach the quiet girls, Jacqueline and Sabrina, to see if they need help. This is what I do the last 20 minutes of the class.

This, this is the one positive. When the class first began, many of the students did not understand what I was saying. Now, they seem to understand a good deal of what I say. Whether this is me or them, I don’t know. After I show them, the first four chord changes, Jacqueline tells me to play the song slower. I tell her thank you that is a good idea. I play it slower and there is this really strange chance, that when we were going through the song and I am not losing my patience, up above us, there with the angels and Warhol, Lennon says to Harrison “Man I feel sorry for that guy!”

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sailor tells me I drink too much...

Sailor keeps asking me if this is like an American wedding. In many ways it is similar but I do not know how to tell him American weddings usually, for the most part take place in churches and are not very much like game shows.

Sailor, as you may remember, talks like Yoda. He is a senior 2. I met him when I emceed the speech contest last spring. Lately, I have been helping him. He wants to go to college in America. He has SAT questions for me. We read through the study booklet together. Actually, that is not right. He brings me the problems that he cannot understand. Sometimes, I tell him some of them are very difficult. He is very smart. I tell him this. He says thank you and he sounds like Yoda. This is my own piece of Star Wars.

After one of these study sessions, he asked me if I would go to his brother’s wedding party with him. I was surprised. No one here has siblings, none of the young people that is. This is like The Twilight Zone or Star Trek, the Shatner variety, the planet of no siblings with the Theremin and ethereal voices in the background, maybe a harp and piccolo, Terry Garr guests.

He tells me it is his cousin who is getting married. Here cousins are siblings in many ways, I suppose. I tell him I will let him know if I can go.

When he text messaged me a few days ago, I told him I could go.

This evening at 5:15 I met him at the Orient Shopping Plaza, where we always meet if we are going somewhere together. From there, we board the metro. We take it to the Shanxi station. I do not pay attention. He is in command.

Sadly, I have not been all over the city. Every metro stop is a new adventure. Sometimes, I have been there, most of the time I have not. At the station, I see a sign for the City Market, the grocery store that sells American food. I have been here or at least I have been in the area. The exit we take to go to the wedding is new territory. This is always nice. Once we are on the street, I look around at my surroundings.

Shanghai constantly surprises me. Here, there are more shops, more of those urban renewal shops sprawling along the landscape with huge television screens advertising Lancôme, Clinique, Gucci, Samsung, whatever.

Sailor tells me he does not know where we are. He asks a passerby directions. He nods to them. We start walking. We walk a block and stop. He does not know where we are. This is all foreign to me naturally.

The whole time I am trying to imagine a Chinese wedding. Without a doubt, I assume there will be dancing dragons and fighting tigers, a band playing traditional Chinese instruments. The bride will be in some kimono type gown. The groom will wear a sarong. Maybe I am getting mixed up, that may be a Malaysian custom.

As we are walking, Sailor has a question. When he was reading he saw men’s apparel and women’s apparel. What is apparel he wants to know; is this the same as clothes? The best way I can explain apparel to him is that this is a word that he will absolutely never use. I try to explain it is more of a retail term.

At the street corner, he asks another passerby. She gives him directions. From her body language, the directions seem vague. We walk across the street and ask someone else. The two men we ask seem to know exactly where the place is. They seem to be giving Sailor explicit instructions.

We walk down the street, a narrow street, past a hotel, a very posh hotel. He tells me the wedding is at a hotel. We walk past this hotel. We walk into a gate. Sailor wants to know the difference between a door and a gate. Most of the time, I tell him, a gate opens to an outdoor space or separates outdoors spaces, a gate would be on a fence. He does come up with the best questions. He asks if I have a door or a gate at my apartment. This is tricky. Some people might call my back gate a door and others may call it a gate. Depending on how urbane I feel, I may call it both.

The gate opens into what looks like a country club, the sort of country club which Hyacinth from Keeping Up Appearances might try to sneak a dinner with a duke or earl, the sort of place where Edina might pick up the tab for Lulu, where Harrison might let his guitar gently weep.

We stroll the grounds in search of the wedding. We come to a large dining room with a sign welcoming wedding guests. I assume this is it. It is not. This is for another Friday night wedding. I ask Sailor if this is popular time for weddings. He tells me according to the lunar calendar this is a popular year for weddings. Weddings are good luck this year.

The grounds remind me somewhat of those bungalows in Hollywood for writers, those bungalows in those lavish old Hollywood movies about Hollywood.

Sailor asks me if this is Athens style architecture. I tell him it does have a Greek look to it but it is architecture which the British took as their own. Maybe we could call it mid-century. Really, I am not sure what to call it. The grounds are quite grand.

Frequently, Sailor asks the staff for directions to the wedding. We are told many different directions. The lane which we start to walk down several times but then we turn back each time turns out to be the lane that leads us to the wedding.

Finally, we arrive at the wedding. The wedding is on the backside of the lot which is another entrance from a different street. In the foyer is a magazine rack. Sailor grabs the Chinese Vogue. He asks about Chanel and Dior, the first two adverts in the magazine. He puts the magazine back. He tells me he will look at it again later.

Off of the foyer are two doorways that lead to two separate weddings. The wedding we will be attending is to our left. We walk down a short hallway to the table where the guests are signing in; we sign in. As we walk to the right, the bride and groom are placed in front of an arbor with a photographer on the ready. Sailor greets his cousin. Obviously, I think he will take a photo alone with them. They get into position. Sailor asks me to get into the photo. I am holding the gift I brought for the bride and groom – Casablanca on DVD with Chinese subtitles.

After we take the picture, one of the bride’s friends takes the gift from me to wherever gifts go. Maybe I should care that I did not sign the card or put anything on the card. Maybe they will know the gift is from the random foreign guest who came with Sailor.

As we walk into the hall, I am still puzzled by my surroundings. The bride and groom, dressed like bride and groom, were there to meet the guests. The Chinese must not know that it is bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her wedding gown before the wedding. This is odd. Why I thought this was a universal superstition, I do not know.

The banquet hall is the size of a Golden Corral Steakhouse and Smorgasbord. Most of the tables in room are not yet filled. Hardly anyone has arrived yet. We walk the length of the room to where the ceremony will be. Actually, I am not sure if we stay in the banquet hall for the ceremony. I ask Sailor. Yes, we stay here for the ceremony. The ceremony is first and then we will be served dinner.

We make our way to a table. Various relatives are sitting at the table. Sailor introduces me to his cousin. I assume this is a second cousin because he is quite a bit older than Sailor. He looks as if he is Sailor’s parents’ age. Sailor tells me his mom and dad have not made it yet.

Two bottles of Heineken, random appetizers, a liter of Sprite, a liter of Coke, two packs of cigarettes – Chunghwa (Chinese) and Davidoff (German), a pack of wooden matches, and two pint cartons of milk are on the table. Sailor and I sit for a few moments in silence.

“Would you like to walk around outside?” Sailor asks me channeling Yoda as he speaks.
“Yeah,” I jump at the chance like a kid at church.

We walk back to the foyer. Sailor again picks up the Chinese Vogue. He tells me he will look at it more in depth when we come back in. I tell him that is a good idea.

As we are going out the door, his mother is coming in the door. His mother is young. She thanks me for helping Sailor study for the SAT. She tells me her English is not very good. Sailor has to translate what she says to me.

She asks me if I think it is a good idea for Sailor to go to America to study. I tell her he should if that is what he wants to do. Why should he go now? Why? At this, I am at a loss. I tell her there is no time like the present. He should do it while he has the opportunity. I think he is mature enough to handle it. She nods her head but I do not know if she agrees.

While we are talking, Sailor’s father arrives. The four of us go back into the banquet hall. As we pass the magazine rack Sailor takes the Vogue into the banquet hall. Again, we take our seats. I sit in a chair in between Sailor and his mother. Again, I am introduced to some of the same relatives.

Sailor asks if I would like something to drink. He pours me a Coke. He pours himself a Sprite. His dad pours himself a half of a glass of milk. His cousins and mother pour Sprites.

Sailor asks me about the designers in Vogue. Armani is Italian he asks? Yes, I tell him and Christian Dior is French. Dunhill is English Sailor tells me; so is Burberry I add. After we discuss designer geographic locations, bored, Sailor takes the magazine back to the magazine rack in the foyer which is at least a five minute walk away.

As the only foreigner in this wedding party of over 100 guests, I try not to attract attention. Sailor’s cousin, who is really sweet, talks to me in broken English. I tell him I am fine about five times in a row. Yes, Shanghai women are very beautiful I tell him.

When Sailor returns, the ceremony begins. In a traditional Chinese wedding, or at least in this traditional Chinese wedding, the bride and groom walk through the cluster of tables together with an entourage following them shooting graffiti out of graffiti guns.

The minister has a microphone at the front. He tells jokes in Chinese as the couple approaches. The crowd laughs. Yes, this is like no American wedding that I have been. Sailor tells me the ceremony will last about fifteen minutes.

Once the bride and groom make it to the front, the minister leads them through the vows. After each of them say the Chinese equivalent to I do, the entourage shoot the graffiti guns. In the background soft Chinese pop plays with gangsta rappers calling ‘niggaz in the house’ in the background. Yes, this is not like weddings in America. The Baptists would be appalled.

Then, there are 99 roses. This is for the ring exchange.

Sailor has his phone out. I ask why. Now, there is a text message raffle. Five people are called to the podium. Sailor is one of them. Everyone called says something. Sailor says something when it is his turn. He returns to the table with a gift that he won in the raffle. The gift is a necklace and earring set. This reminds me of something that would have been a possible daughter stocking stuffer in 1972 - in the time of Kress, Woolworth, Ben Franklin’s.

After the raffle, the single women are called to the front by the reverend emcee. Now it is time for the bridal bouquet to be thrown. The single women, and a few little boys, and one older man (NO NOT ME!) leave with one red ribbon each. Sailor tells me they will raffle the bouquet. Oh.

The ceremony is over. Dinner is served. Sailor tells me I drink too much. He is probably right. This is perhaps the 4th or 5th highball glass of Coke that I have drunk this evening. It would taste even better if it had some of my surly friend Evan Williams lining it but we know how that goes.

This evening, really, the only arrival that makes me pause is what looks like grilled dismembered baby chicks. Other than that, all is well. Nevertheless, at one point, I scoop out some rice from a rice dish with some unknown element that looks like bone, cartilage, tissue, membrane. I ask Sailor if this is edible or if it is bone. He tells me yes it is edible. It is a cousin to the turtle.
“Snail?” – I ask.
“No, like a turtle,” he tells me
I decide to not try it. This looks less appetizing than the squirrel stew that my huntsman brother Bill served to me in his trailer park days.

After dinner, Sailor discusses something with his parents. They will walk me back to the metro. I tell him I think I will just take a cab back to my apartment. If he could help me get a cab and make sure the cab knows where I live I would appreciate that.

We all get up from the table. I tell the cousins it was nice to meet them. We make our way through the crowd to the foyer. In the foyer, Sailor’s dad shakes my hand. He goes back into the ceremony. Sailor and his mom and I walk through the grounds to get a cab. A concierge gets a cab for us. Sailor puts me into the cab and explains to the cab where to take me. Although, I am sober, this is like my drunken days in that I do not know where I am.

The cab weaves in and out of traffic in the Shanghai night. We wind through the brightly lit commercial section of Shanghai. Sometimes, yes, sometimes, life offers us – if we let it – intangible magic.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Monday I sleep…I take my bag of drugs and leave…

On Friday, Jacky coughed on me. “Make you sick,” he said like in Thinner when the couple ran over the old Indian woman - or “Red Indian” as Sooham would say – and the old Indian man touched the man and said “Thinner.” Well, the way Jacky said “Make you sick” was like the buzz phrase from a movie - "I'll be back." "Make my day." "Make you sick." Of course, Jacky is certainly not a Red Indian and I was not making out with my wife while driving a car in a random small American town, most likely in New England, and I am not fat but Jacky did say it with a bit of cryptic future folklore authority.

Later that day, the staff had one of those meetings, those meetings where I just want to do harm to the world. Meetings, meetings, meetings, I realize I am not a meeting sort of guy. If they were conducted in English I am sure I would still hate them but since they are in Chinese, they are beyond pointless. I am Charlie Brown, Linus, Sally, Lucy; my Chinese cohorts are the teacher. “Wah wa Wah wa wa wa.”

During the meeting, I learned at the end of November there would be a parents’ day. This is a day when the parents will come and sit in on classes. Yes, this will be interesting. Lord, do not let me have a meltdown. Give me the strength to not smack anyone.

In affect, this means the teachers will be teaching in the style we have advertised we are teaching. This is the whole International Baccalaureate MYP pony show. At this point in the meeting, I realized no one is teaching in the MYP style. No one seems to know what it is. Everyone has just been talking about it. At the end of the meeting, a cake was brought in for Mary’s birthday, the second birthday cake for her in one week at a school function and her third birthday function in one week. But, as she says, she really doesn't like to celebrate her birthday.

After the meeting, there was a barbeque to celebrate hers and Will’s birthdays.
The meeting ran until it was time for the barbeque. The barbeque was held near the sports field on campus.

When I got there, everything was just beginning. Andrea was passing around wine. Everyone was drinking wine or beer. At that moment, that strange moment, the moment when I arrive somewhere, this weird synapse – would I call it a synapse? – happened in my brain or some faltering synapse. This has not happened in awhile. And when it is over, it is hard to describe. It is as if wolves are baying at the door, the bottom is dropping out of the floor. It is this weird mental freefall but it only lasts for a split second, or half a minute. It is as if I am given a hint of hell, like this dark uncertainty and blackness passes over me.

To shake it, I walked over to the coach. He is one of those guys, one of those guys who radiate positive energy; he is full of life in this amazing calm way. He was turning the kabobs. I could not think of what to say. I told him he was doing a good job. He knows how to use the grill because it is his is what he told me. The grill looks like the Chinese deluxe grill that some old Chinaman made in his metal shop. The grill was a long trough, maybe two and a half feet long, five inches wide and seven inches deep with a smoke stack on one end where I believe the wood was put to smoke the meat. This was quite impressive.

If you ever need a grill, ask a coach. That is something that transcends cultures. Coaches always have the best grills.

The barbeque was a smattering of Chinese teachers and then quite a few of the people that Will and Laura know from the British Council. People kept offering me beer. I kept declining. Of course, later, as I always do, I went into my whole rock and roll life babelogue, that I was in a rock band, I drank too much, I did drugs, now I am a teacher. One of the Chinese teachers was surprised when I told her teaching was more unpredictable than rock and roll. I did not tell her I used to host nude parties during the height of my rock and roll reign. I told Laura from the British Council a vomit story. She seemed pleased by this. Bonzo goes to Washington. Caligula teaches in China.

Saturday evening after dinner when I started feeling a cold coming on; “Make you sick” haunted me.

By Monday morning, I felt lousy. When I woke up, I decided to call in sick which I never do. I never call in sick as a teacher. In other jobs, I didn’t mind calling in but as a teacher I feel as if the students and staff depend upon me. I really hate to call in sick but I knew I did not have the energy to teach 5 classes.

Of course, once I decided to call in sick, I thought I would just call my boss on her cell phone. Unfortunately, I thought I had her number in my phone. I didn’t. I knew I had it in an email from the summer. I did an email search. The number has been lost in virtual space somewhere. At this point, I tried to call my link teacher. She did not answer her cell phone.

Yes, I was in a ridiculous predicament. I was not sure how to call in sick. I did not want to email her because that seemed like I was shirking duties like I was not really sick, just acting. I was legitimately sick. I did not want anyone to think that I was just faking. I wanted to actually talk to someone.

In the signature of an email from my boss, I spotted a phone number / fax number. I thought I would try it. I assumed she would not answer, why I thought she would not answer, I am not sure. The phone rang a few times. On approximately the fifth ring, someone picked up. Yes, it was my boss. I told her I was feeling really rotten, that I would email her the reading for the students. She told me to rest and drink water and tea. I told her I would.

Monday I sleep.

Tuesday, my classes start at 11:20.Today, there are no afternoon classes. The students have the afternoon off to study for their midterms. My sixth grade readers will be displaced. Anticipating a schedule change, I arrive early. I am at school by 8:30. In the afternoon, I will nap if I need a rest.

Everyone asks how I am. They all know that I was sick - not faking - and that I am actually very responsible. When did I become responsible I ask myself? Michelle asks if I am better. I tell her yes but I would like to buy some codeine so that I can sleep (and my one vice - a future vice perhaps - you can get codeine over the counter here I assume.) She translates ‘codeine’ into Chinese on her computer and writes it down. She writes a little note in Chinese. If the pharmacy does not have codeine I would like to buy something that will help me sleep. When I have a cold, I hate not being able to sleep at night due to coughing and that whole aching head, stopped up nose thing.

The pharmacy is across the street. I walk past it everyday. I leave the school and go to the pharmacy. At least, I thought the pharmacy was across the street at ground level. However, when I walk up to the door, what I thought was a pharmacy looks as if it is a cigarette store.

At the end of the storefront, I see a first aid sign. I go in to the door by the sign which leads into a foyer with a flight of stairs. Unsure, I climb the flight of stairs to the second floor. Kafka in China. Bonzo goes to Iraq. At the top of the stairs is a double door that leads into what looks as if it is a doctor’s office.

Since I am unfamiliar with the whole pharmacy setup in the People’s Republic, I assume the pharmacy is in the doctor’s office. I see a window with a woman standing behind it. That must be where I score my drugs. A woman dressed like a nurse approaches me. I hand her the note. This is like an early 1970s hammer horror. She points to down below. Will I be sent down below? Maybe what I thought was the cigarette store is indeed the pharmacy. Or maybe it is the gate to hell, who knows?!

At this point, this is a moot point. She leads me into an examining room. Perhaps I need a prescription to take codeine. The doctor has me do the universal things that doctors make you do. I say ‘Aaaah.’ By this time, a woman has wandered into the examining room. She is not part of the staff. A thermometer is wedged in my arm pit. The strange new woman speaks English, beautiful broken English.

She tells me the doctor says I am not that sick. I tell her I know I am not that sick. I did not realize I had come into a doctor's office. I just wanted to have some codeine, something to help me sleep. I thought this was the pharmacy. I did not want a checkup. I just wanted drugs, hard ones. I don’t say all of this, just part of it. She does not understand me. That is okay. I keep saying I do not feel that sick. I just do not want to get sicker. I am doing preventive maintenance. "Make you sick."

The doctor starts writing a list on a pad. He gives it to the woman behind the window. She is fumbling with a calculator, computer and cash register. My translator, who I realize is now with her mother or mother-in-law for a doctor’s visit, tells me the doctor has prescribed 4 types of medicine for me. Of course, I am perplexed that I need 4 different kinds of medicine when I am not that sick. I’m a good sport. I go with it.

As the woman is putting the medicine together, I am hoping that I am not going to be paying a ton of money for medicine. I do not even know how much the doctor’s visit is costing. There is really no easy way to find out. The woman behind the window has to change the tape in the calculator. The suspense is killing me. I hope this is under 100 yuan ($12.50).

Finally, the tape has been replaced. The figures have been added. All is right with the world. She writes the figure and hands it to me. I hold me breath - 76.5 yuan, under ten dollars. For four kinds of medicine and a doctor’s visit, that seems more than fair. I take my bag of drugs and leave.

Back in the teachers’ office, Athena asks me if I went to the pharmacy. Somehow, what I think is a humorous chuckle worthy story is not funny to my colleagues. I tell them (Athena and the Annes) I thought I was at the pharmacy but I was really at the doctor’s office and I accidentally got a check up. Maybe it’s the language, cultural differences, whatever, but I would think this is funny if a friend told me they went to Eckerd but then mistakenly wandered into a doctor’s office. I would think this was really funny. I would laugh. I would let loose one of those ‘that looks like it hurt’ laughs. TMy colleagues just looked at me with concern and pity “I am not an animal!”

Athena then looks at my medicine. I ask if any of it will help me sleep. She looks at all of it and tells me no, none of it will help me sleep. That is what I went there for in the first place. I wanted something to help me sleep. None of it will help me sleep she says.

Two of the packages of drugs are antibiotics. She tells me these might be too strong. I don’t want to take antibiotics I tell her. I am not that bad. This is just a cold that I want to get rid of immediately.

She then asks if I have had, and then she translates the word on the computer that she does not know in English, there is a pregnant pause.
“Do I have diarrhea?” she asks.

This is one of those moments, one of those moments when I am at a loss. Do I lie? Am I a prude? Everyone at one time or another has had diarrhea, it should not be such a difficult thing to admit. I need to admit this. Sure, I cannot say publicly that I am an alcoholic but this I can admit.
“Yes, I have had diarrhea,” I proudly admit.
“Then you should take the antibiotics.”