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.”