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.


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