Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Meet Tony Xu

Yes, I have now started my next adventure. However, the school that I am at now, I really like and I do not have that much to report. Today, I taught two writing classes. Now, the most classes I ever have on one day is four and that is on Monday.

The first class today, at a most lovely time of 10:15 in the morning, was quite noisy. A group of boys in the back kept talking to each other. At one point, I went back to investigate and saw that they were doing work for another class. After that, every time, I had a question, I would call on one of the boys in the back – the chatterbox boys. This class was my first really bad class so far. This is only the second week. I could feel my self starting to fume.

The rest of the class was unresponsive to questions. At the moment, we are discussing descriptive sentences. To do this properly I brought a stack of books and read some English and American lit examples. The first example I used was the description of Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. Yesterday, I taught this same lesson four times to my Monday classes. In each lesson at least one or two people (or, usually, more) had heard of Scrooge or Dickens. In today’s morning class, I ask and I get blank stares. I am flabbergasted. I read the description:

“Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”

When I read the word ‘scraping,’ I ran my nails hard and slow down the chalk board. Everyone moaned and covered their ears. To really make a point, I did it twice. I enjoy this part of teaching.

My 11:10 class that follows the 10:45 class was one of the best classes I think I have ever taught. I read from A Christmas Carol, A Moveable Feast, The Great Gatsby, Dracula. When I read the description of Dracula a few of the girls had that look of mock fright on their faces. When I read from Hemingway, the students seemed to really understand. I explained that Hemingway wrote simply and beautifully on purpose. He knew big words but he chose not to write them. I read them the passage - from A Moveable Feast - in which he writes about meeting F. Scott Fitzgerald for the first time.

“Scott was a man then who looked like a boy with a face between handsome and pretty.”

On the board I write '…with a face between handsome and pretty.' I ask them who they would say is handsome and who is pretty. A few of them mumble. I then make it a closed question and ask them if they would call a man handsome or a woman. They tell me ‘man’. I say – ‘good.’ Beside the phrase, I write ‘ying/yang’. Everyone perks up. I tell them that this is a cool trick which Hemingway has pulled off. He has used simple words - simple words that all of them know – to make a specific point. They are impressed.

With this class, I get to Fitzgerald and the bell rings. I have to quickly write his four word descriptive sentence on the board. ‘She was incurably dishonest.’ I explain it to them. Most of the class is listening. This is an achievement. So starts my life in my new school. This semester will have a handful of wondrous moments I am sure and it will have a handful of disastrous moments too, but I am ready for the ying/yang of it, for the pagoda temple roller coaster ride of it.

Okay, so I know you want to hear about my moving adventure. (Oh before I go into that, my new school has a coffee bar on campus. The coffee is free and delicious...and free! I think my jaw dropped when the really sweet link teacher told me. There is a server who actually brings the coffee to the tables, the tables that are flanked with sofas. Am I in a coma? Is this really happening?)

Okay on with the moving story. The agent (who is a total sweetheart - and, afterward, I went and bought him an expensive Paul Smith tie as a 'thank you') lined up the movers for me for $160 yuan (20 smacks) which is a little less than I have paid in the past but before I basically moved from a different town into Shanghai proper and that is why that time they charged more (different movers) and they let me know up front.

This time, after the movers moved all of my stuff into my flat, I started to hand the guy the agreed upon 160 and he shook his head no. He then wrote a figure - 1,500. To this, I replied 'Ni feng le' which means ' You are crazy.' I called Michael, the agent, and he told me to not pay it. And, he came straight over and argued with them as in screaming and a little pushing and shoving. I was unpacking as this was happening – putting Patti Smith Horses, Sparks Kimono My House and David Bowie Diamond Dogs next to the DVD player for easy access.

The next thing I know, Michael (the sweetheart) is calling my name - one of the movers is trying to drag him outside to beat him up of which brawny me (ha ha) gets in the middle and stops. Michael calls the police. The police come and they decide I should pay 260 rmb which is fine; I had no qualms about that. After the whole thing, Michael told me the movers were trying to take advantage of me since I am a foreigner. I think the police may have told them that they are crazy as well.

My new place is fabulous. I pay twice what I paid for my old place but that is fine. I am the first tenant in a flat that has been gutted and then outfitted with fantastic new appliances and fixtures. I am still getting the hang of the concept of a soap-less dishwasher. It basically cooks the dishes clean. I love that I have a big tiled garden almost as big as my flat. I am on the ground floor of the building. More about the apartment later.


Yesterday, a student wanted to speak to me after class. The matter seemed urgent. I told him I had one more class and then I could speak to him. All of these students are very bright. I have told them that I will help them in any way I can and I hope that they will call on me when they need me. Well, this student took me up on the offer.

After my last class, he met me and we walked back to my office. Most of the other teachers had left for the day so we both sat at my desk. My desk is placed by an old Dr Jekyll era picture window which looks down upon a neighborhood of old red tile roof houses. Beyond that is the expressway. Beyond the expressway is a glass wall background of new high rises.

The student had a hard time explaining his problem but then he was finally able to blurt it out. He does not have an English name. He had one last semester but he forgot it. To come up with a name should be easy; unfortunately, it is not easy. A lot of the guys like basketball but they do not want to name themselves after basketball stars.

I then wrote my name down. He was not sure what each name meant. I had to try to explain the difference between a first and a middle name. I told him that most people do not use their middle name unless they have a first name that they do not like and then they go by the middle name and keep the first initial as an example. A copy of The Great Gatsby was sitting on my desk. I used F. Scott Fitzgerald as an example.

Eventually, I believe that I cleared this up for him but I am not sure. He wondered if he needed a first, middle and last name. I told him he could use his family name as his last name which in China is the first name. His family name is Xu (pronounced ‘Shue’).

This inspired me. I told him Tony or Tommy Xu has a nice ring to it. The woman across and behind me exclaimed –“Tony where?”
“Tony where?” I asked.
The future Tony or Tommy Xu told me it is a famous clothing line.
“Oh, Tony Wear!’ I then understood. “Do you like Tony?” – I asked. I then explained the formal name is usually Antony or Anthony.
He told me he does like it.
I told him it is a good name for such a handsome boy. He beamed. Everyone meet Tony Xu.


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