Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cats are lazy angels from another planet – Another Friday

I have my second dentist appointment today at 1:00 pm. At 12:30, I am to meet Qi Min at the school’s side entrance on Changle Road. Maybe this will be the last trip to the dentist for this tooth. Man, I hope so. Now, thinking about it, I am nervous. Monday the trip to the dentist was not even close to being a bad experience. Actually, my experience at the dentist on Monday was rather pleasant.

A few days ago, I got an email from the central office that classes are canceled today at the other school where I teach (AKA baby-sit) on Fridays. Because of this, I now call Friday – Black Hole Friday. At that school, I teach international students. After my last experience at an international school, I am a bit leery, to say the least, of the students at international schools and of international schools in general. Usually, at these schools, the parents pay the school to basically baby-sit their kids. Most of the students absolutely do not care to be there and would rather not be there. In addition, their parents have no control over them whatsoever. Some of the students, rumor has it, have been kicked out of the schools in their home countries. Many of the students have behavioral problems. The international schools here accept anyone who has money. Nothing else seems to matter.

This school where I teach on Friday is your typical international school situation where 35 students are put one class. These students vary in their English skill levels. I was trying to explain to Fairry that you cannot have students who do not understand a word that I am saying in a class with students who are nearly fluent especially when there are 35 students in one class. Add to this mix discipline problems. This makes teaching even more problematic. There is this girl that is a lot like Allen from the Shanghai 90210. Her and her friends have slap fights in the back of the room during class. Many of them listen to their i-pods or play their play stations. I do not even try to take them away. There is no point.

Fairry was quite understanding. I told her some of these students should not be in my class at all because they do not understand a word I say. It would be like sticking me in a Chinese class with a teacher who knew no English. I would be lost. I know I would. It just does not work. You can only go into an immersion class when you have graduated to a certain level of language skills. This is something that these principals at the schools don't seem to know or don't seem to want to know.

Last Friday, I talked to some of the other teachers at the school. They were empathetic and sympathetic (if you can be both) because they deal with these students all week. In America, these students would be in detention I said as I was discussing the students with the teachers.

Fortunately for me, as I stated before, I only go out there on Blackhole Friday. All I said, the teachers agreed with 100%. So I did not feel as if I was out on a limb or alone or whatever which made it better. There is a semblance of sanity. Victor, one of the Chinese English teachers, asked me if I taught at other international schools. I told him yes and none of them were any better. All of the international schools have the exact same problems. He was perplexed by this. He thought his school must be one of the worst. I told him all the schools are nearly the same.

The thing that is sad is that there are some good students but the bad ones ruin it for the good ones. I told Fairry these classes are too big because international classes are not like public school. In the public school, the students have more to lose if they do not try. These international kids have nothing to lose whatsoever. I suggested putting the ones that do not want to be there in a study hall.

Maybe I will have an assistant in the class in the future or maybe not. The ones who do not want to come do not have to come I will tell them. They can stay in their dorm rooms or whatever. At this point, I feel as if I have a duty to the good students. I am interested to see how this will all play out.

Sunday, I leave to go to Hong Kong for Golden Week, a Chinese holiday. Jeffrey booked the airline ticket for me yesterday. There is a mix-up. I had thought that the ticket is for Saturday but when I looked at the date, the ticket is for Sunday. Maybe Jeffrey can get on the phone and change it, or maybe not. He is quite articulate and persuasive.

On the way to school, the scooter boys sat idle; no scooters were in their scooter repair shop. From down the block, the more adorable of the two saw me coming. He smiled. This always brightens my day to see him smile. I showed my plane ticket to the scooter boy. His friend, the other scooter boy looked over it with him. Everything on the ticket is in English.

In Chinese, they asked me how much it costs but I thought they asked when I was going. I told them the 30th. They both looked at me baffled. Realizing, they were more interested to know the cost, I tried to tell them with my fingers.

To them, the ticket is magic. They kept studying it. The ticket itself is one of those tickets with the carbons in between. Each page of the ticket mesmerized the scooter boys.

“Mai guo (America)?” they asked.
“Hong Kong,” I replied. They probably did not understand. Maybe they think I am off to America again. To them, I appear and disappear.

Yesterday, when Jeffrey procured the ticket for me, a runner - or maybe the actual agent from the travel agency - delivered the ticket. At that point, Jeffrey told me to look it over to make sure everything was correct. For some reason, I did not look to make sure the date was correct. If I have to leave on Sunday, then I have to leave on Sunday.

Meg is currently working in Hong Kong. She has been temporarily transferred by Morgan Stanley. The company is putting her up in a corporate apartment.

Last night, she called me. It is odd and cool to have a friend from home living in the same time zone as me.

At the teachers’ office, Jeffrey rushes off to class as I am walking in. I mark papers and talk to the other teachers to kill time until my dentist appointment or until Jeffrey returns whichever comes first. I watch the sky go from being clear to being cloudy, a common occurence here.

I love basketball…so you adore me like Yao – Thus sayeth Riceman

In fact, I think you are not a good basketball player now, but you will be good at playing basketball id you let me be your individual basketball instructor.
Yes! I’m good at playing basketball. I play it almost everyday. And my team usually wins the game. I often play basketball with my friend who said you are a bad basketball player. We call him ‘Mushroom.’ We play basketball after class. I enjoy the sport. I often watch NBA games on weekends. Big Yao (Yao Ming) of the Houston Rockets is my favorite player. I dreamt that I’m as tall as Yao so I can put the ball into the basket without difficulty.
I’m proud of my basketball skills. And compared to you, I’m proud of my handwriting, too.
In addition, I won the basketball game in our class last term. How wonderful. So you adore me like Yao so call me ‘Coach!’….I’m daydreaming….ahaha …

At 12:23, Jeffrey returns from lunch. I assume he went to lunch because his class ended at 11:50. I tell him my dilemma with the ticket. He tells me he thought I wanted to leave on Sunday. I tell him no Saturday. Our discourse when he conducted the transaction was very haphazard and confusing. He will call the agency. He will try to change it. He asks me to wait. I tell him I must leave; Qi Min is waiting for me downstairs by the side door; I have a dentist’s appointment. Mary - who wipes out my emails inadvertently at times - walks into the teachers’ office. She tells me that Qi Min is waiting for me downstairs. I tell Jeffrey I will be back after I go to the dentist. I rush out the door.

On the first floor, I head toward the side door. From behind me, I hear my name being called. Qi Min stands in the middle of the foyer. She walks up to me. We walk out the side door together.

“We will go this way.” She points the way. “I know a shortcut.” We walk down Changle which is a backstreet. To get to the hospital where the dentist practices, we walk down backstreets, through alleyways and markets, and over a pedestrian footbridge. This is like the slow motion version of the chase scene in Raising Arizona.

At the hospital, we get into the elevator. I push the button once we are in.

“Wait for that woman.” Qi Min tells me. The elevator operator stepped out. She steps back in. Maybe she gives me a look. We proceed to the 4th floor. The appointment is for 1:00 pm. We arrive at 12:40.

“We are early,” Qi Min says.
“I guess it is better to be early than late,” I reply.

Really, this visit is another non-eventful visit. I ignore that the trays and such are unclean. The sharp dental instruments that go into my mouth, I assume, are sterile. That is the important thing.

At one point, the dentist puts what looks like a bunch of tacks into my tooth. She wants to X-ray it. She tries to put the plate with the X-ray film under my tongue. I respond by gagging. Every time she tries, I gag. She gives up. I tell Qi Min I am sorry. Qi Min tells me the dentist says it is no problem. The X-ray is not important. I return to my seat. I wonder how the X-ray can be unimportant. The dentist continues to work on the tooth. The dentist stops and goes to retrieve something.

Qi Min notices that I am wearing the school pin. She asks me who gave it to me. I tell her I noticed Jane - another Chinese English teacher whom I really like – wearing the pin. I complimented Jane on the pin. I asked where I could get one. Jane took if off of her jacket and gave it to me. She told me she had more. I told Qi Min that I tried to stop her. Qi Min tells me that this is the Chinese way. I ask if I should not have taken it. Qi Min tells me that I was right to take it. It was a gift. That is the Chinese way.

The dentist returns with more tools. She scrapes and digs to remove all of the remaining rot. As a grand finale, she inserts molten metal. Even this does not even hurt. The next time I visit will be the last time. I am told to not eat anything sticky. I cannot believe after over 3 years the saga with the tooth is coming to a close. I ask Qi Min if this means the dentist was able to save the tooth. Yes, the tooth is saved she tells me.

When she thinks that I am not looking, Qi Min hands the dentist an envelope. As we are leaving the office, I ask Qi Min if she gave the dentist money. She tells me yes. I tell Qi Min I should give someone money. She should not be giving money. She tells me that the other dentist was her friend but this dentist was the dentist’s friend. Qi Min does not know this dentist. Thus she must give her money. I tell Qi Min I must give money. Qi Min tells me not to worry. It is no problem. I feel guilty.

We walk back to the school taking the shortcut, through the market, across the foot bridge, down alleys and through backstreets. We talk about the international students. I was told I could cancel the international class this week because of the holiday. I did not mind canceling. The public school class I would never cancel I tell Qi Min but the international class is different.

Back at school, Jeffrey tells me the ticket cannot be changed. I thank him for trying. It is really no big deal.

Today, the Chinese teachers are to take pictures for the 105th anniversary of the school. Jeffrey tells me that he wishes I was wearing a suit like I had on yesterday so that I could be in the picture. If I would have known there were pictures being taken today I would have put on a suit. No one told me. They will all wear their school uniforms in the photo. If they had an extra uniform I could put it on.

This evening at 5:30, the teachers are having a dinner. Jeffrey tells me it is a custom to have a large feast on this day. Jeffrey asks me if I am going. I tell him I would like to and I ask how to get to the dinner. No one knows the address. Finally, they decide that I will go with Tatiana and Mary - the accidental email eraser. I go back to reading the personal essays while the teachers go off to take pictures.

I love to watch basketball matches. I only watch though I also dream of playing it as well as the players, running so fast, dunking so strongly, contacting others so well. It is too hard for me. So I just enjoy watching. It also relaxes and delights me. And Yao and Yi go to NBA. It attracts more.

P.S. I have seen you playing basketball too. To be honest, you played not too bad. And when you took part in it you really played hard. I was moved by it.
Thus sayeth 17.

Sometimes, when I read the students’ essays, I smile. A few days ago, I spent one class period with each class trying to teach them how to write more exciting action packed topic sentences. On the board, I wrote ‘Action’ and ‘Death Defying’. I wanted something more than “I love basketball.” or “I like music.” Some of the students understood, many did not. With the lesson, I had students come up and write exciting topic sentences on the blackboard. Many of them wrote the typical sort of “Basketball is my wife.” I told them this was fine. They could then write how they are married to basketball.

One student, a shy girl, wrote:
Cats are lazy angels from another planet.
I told her that this was a brilliant sentence. In fact it was so brilliant that I took the time to write it down in a notebook that I carry to class.

This is when I then told the class that I think that cats walk on their hind legs while we sleep, with this I did an enactment which made some of them laugh and some of them just gape. Cats read the newspaper and raid the refrigerator I continued. I have always thought that cats are spies from space. I did not tell them that I was stoned when I came to this conclusion.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The spit dish is blood stained

Life stands still and stares…

For awhile now, I have had this tooth, this rotten tooth in the back of my head. A filling fell out like 3 years ago, over 3 years ago now actually. I had a temporary replacement put in which fell out 4 months after it was put in which is probably 4 months longer than expected. It fell out during breakfast two and half years ago in the woods of Woodstock at my friend Paul’s and Amy’s. We were eating a bacon and egg breakfast. The temporary filling fell out and landed in my eggs, over easy.

For a few years now, I have sailed smoothly with this tooth rotting in my head. No problems arose until the beginning of summer when the tooth started to throb. I went to the local pharmacy and the pharmacist gave me a bottle of pills for the equivalent of $2.50 after I told him I had a toothache. This was actually fairly easy to do. I had my phrase book. The phrase was written in characters on the illness page.

Okay, so now and then during the summer the tooth throbbed which I was able to alleviate with Ibuprofen and these pills from the Chinese chemist. Last week, about mid-week, nothing helped. I think an infection had set in. My whole lower jaw was sore. I assumed I might have to have my jaw removed.

Really, I am a crybaby when it comes to discomfort. I have always had it pretty easy when it comes to that sort of thing. When I was a pre-teen, I had braces on my teeth. Those were uncomfortable but that is about the extent of my discomfort. Other than the flu here and there, I have had it easy, a comfortable existence.

So somehow, I had to figure out what to do about this tooth. In China, everything is different. Ordinary tasks sometimes prove difficult. I could not just waltz into a clinic and be sure that it would be taken care of. I really hate to bother the teachers at my school. I know they have busy lives. I do not want to be a fussy foreigner.

Nevertheless, last week, during my bout with this pain in my lower jaw due to this rotten tooth, Qi Min, who is one of the teachers at school who is very helpful, asked me if I had seen a dentist. I told her that I might ask a student to go with me.

At this point, the left side of my face was swollen. Pain is one thing but I really hate to be disfigured as well. People were not staring at my face but I felt as it they were. Qi Min asked if I was taking anything for the tooth. I showed her the bottle of pills. She read the Chinese characters.

“Gingivitis?” she asked. “This seems like the right medicine.”

Of course, hearing the word ‘gingivitis’ made me a bit woozy. When I think of gingivitis, I think of those commercials that list that as about the worst thing that you can get. Has my life come to this? A bout with gingivitis? Will I need my gums removed now? Do I have a gum disease? Oh, this is terrible.

Now, I do not remember exactly what happened but a few days passed and Qi Min asked me if I saw a dentist. I told her no. At that point, she volunteered to take me to see her friend who I assume is a dentist. I am to meet Qi Min in front of the school gates at 12:30 today.

I arrive at the school gates at 12:25. As I wait for Qi Min, I watch the people pass. Now and then, students go in and out of the gates. A few of them I recognize as students from this term or last spring. None of the students that pass are students that I know well; I recognize them but I do not know them well.

As I wait, I ponder what mode of transport Qi Min and I will take to the dentist. I assume she will not pedal me on a bike or pilot me on a scooter. A bus or the underground train is the obvious choices. If the dentist is fairly close, we will maybe hop in a taxi.

While I mull this over, I hear my name called. I look around and Qi Min is standing in the school gate. I am standing on the sidewalk near the street. She tells me to come on a car is waiting. A car? I follow her back and a black new model car is parked waiting inside the school gates.

“Come,” she says. “The car will take us.”
“Is this your car?” I ask
“No,” she laughs. “This is the school car for school business.”
I do not know why but this warms my heart to think that my sore tooth is school business. This could definitely choke me up. She says this as a matter of fact. This is the main reason that I love teaching at Xiang Ming. Everyone treats me as if I am important, part of the school and not some weird outsider.

She opens the back door. I scoot in. She scoots in after me. I tell her how much I appreciate what she is doing for me. She tells me it is no bother. As we weave in and out of traffic, I tell her how hard tasks like going to the dentist are for me, a foreigner. She is very sympathetic. She understands that some minor tasks are major obstacles here. She tells me it is no problem; she has a friend who works at a clinic, a small hospital. We pass a big new building.

She points to the building as we pass and tells me that the building we are passing is a new hospital. The one where her friend works is old. Maybe her friend will be able to treat me at the old hospital. If the friend is not able to treat me at the old hospital, then I will need to be treated at the new hospital where there is newer technology. I tell Qi Min I am grateful to her for taking me to her friend. I tell her that I may not be able to pay today, that I might have to come back. She tells me I needn’t worry about paying at this point. Maybe my treatment will be free. If it is not free, I might have to pay a little but that will be after the treatment.

The car drives out of the new clean downtown area into a typical chickens running around on the street Chinese neighborhood. The car pulls over to the curb. Across the street, I spy a non-descript building that looks like it could be the hospital.

I point to it. “Is that the hospital?”
“Yes,” Qi Min replies as we climb out of the car.

I follow Qi Min into the building. We do not stop at the reception; we walk past it up a flight of stairs to the second floor. The hospital is old. It looks as if it has not been remodeled in 25 or 30 year, if that.

Qi Min knocks on a door at the top of the stairs. The lights are off in the room. There is a small window in the door. I see someone stir. The door opens. A worker is sitting in a dental chair eating a banana. Another worker turns on the light.

Qi Min talks to the workers who happen to be the dentist and her assistant. Rapid fire Chinese is spoken. In the room, I am surrounded by Qi Min and three other women. The dentist and her assistant are wearing lab coats. The third woman is dressed in office attire. This office attired woman sits and watches as everything happens.

Qi Min is my interpreter. She seems to be the only one who speaks English. She tells me the assistant wants to put a clean cover on the dental chair. This seems like all standard procedure, what would take place in America. The only thing different is that though the office is clean, the office is not spotless. The spit dish is bloodstained. I try to not let this worry me. Gingivitis.

After the cover is changed on the chair, the dentist motions for me to sit. I sit. The dentist pokes around on my tooth with one of those sharp little dental instruments. This does not hurt. The dentist has Qi Min take a look. Qi Min takes a look. They assess and discuss the situation. Qi Min tells me there is a big hole in my tooth. They will need to X-ray to get a better idea of what needs to be done.

The dentist, dental assistant and Qi Min lead me into the X-Ray room down the hall. Maybe it is because I just saw Inland Empire or maybe it is because I often think of David Lynch but the whole set up has a Lynchian quality to it. At any moment, I feel as if Laura Dern might appear as an extra as Julee Cruise sings Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart in the background.

The woman who takes the X-ray of my tooth is young. She seems as if she is just out of high school. Maybe she just looks really young. She has a little piece of metal or film that is the size of a matchbook that she jams into the part of my mouth where the bad tooth resides. This smarts. She aims the X-ray gun at my mouth and leaves the room.

There is a flash. The young sadist returns. The dentist, dental assistant and Qi Min lead me back to the dental chair. They are all engrossed with the X-ray. Again, they chatter rapid fire in Chinese. I ask Qi Min what is being said.

She tells me there is nerve damage. The bone is infected. I assume the bone of which she speaks is the jaw bone. This does not sound good. Actually, this sounds bad as in the equivalent of a colostomy bag for the mouth. Will my jawbone be removed? Will I be jawbone-less? Will I drool like a mastiff? Will I need a permanent drool cup?

This is really bad, really bad, much worse than I thought, much worse. I am a bit shaken.

Now the questions come. Qi Min asks me how long my tooth has been this way. Should I tell her two careers ago? This really is embarrassing. I might as well be honest. I tell her two and a half or three years. Why did you not get this fixed in America? I tell her I had a friend that was a dentist and then the friend moved and I moved. I was not sure how to explain it. How do I explain this?

At this point, the dentist gets on the phone. She talks animatedly. Qi Min tells me the dentist is calling her friend over at the hospital that we passed on the way over. Qi Min gives me the X-ray to hold. I sit in a chair in the corner. The dentist gets off the phone. The dentist quickly discusses something with Qi Min. Qi Min asks me if I would like to save the tooth. Yes, if possible, I would like that. Qi Min tells me the place that we thought was an infection may just be flesh. That eases my mind. Maybe I will not have to have by jawbone removed after all. The dentist writes something down, directions for the doctor at the other hospital I assume.

Qi Min gets in the dental chair. She tells me she is going have her friend look at her teeth. Her gums bled this morning before school. As she is examined by her friend the dentist, I sit. Gingivitis, I think.

Ten minutes later, we are in a taxi heading to the new hospital. The driver of the school car had to leave. The principal had to be driven to a meeting.

The taxi pulls into the drive of the hospital. Here since the mass populace does not drive, there are not the huge parking lots like in America. As a matter of fact, I see only a few cars scattered here and there. I assume these cars belong to the doctors but of this I am not sure.

We enter the building. We do not check in at reception. Qi Min asks the lady something. As she asks, she is holding the directions from her friend the dentist behind her back. I think what we are doing is somewhat clandestine. We go to the elevator. Where we need to go is on the 5th floor. I do not say anything but there are only 4 floors in the building. We get into the elevator.

“The 3rd floor,” Qi Min corrects herself.

We get off on the 3rd floor and take a look around. This is not the right floor. Qi Min asks the woman at the reception desk. A woman in a nightgown limps past.

“The 4th floor,” Qi Min corrects herself once more.

We walk past the elevators to the stairwell. We walk up to the 4th floor. A sign says Stomatology.
“This is it,” Qi Min informs me.

We walk down a corridor past a queue of waiting patients. Now, I feel a bit like a spoiled foreigner but I do enjoy this. This is much cooler than being on the VIP list for some ridiculous rock show. I feel as if I am Robert Plant or Robert Conrad.

We walk through a set of double doors. A vacant desk sits on the other side of the doors. Qi Min tells me the person that sits at the vacated desk is whom she needs to see on my behalf. We stand there in limbo for less than a minute or two before a woman walks up. Qi Min tells her hi and hands her the paper that the dentist sent along with us.

The room is huge taking up a wing of the building and split up into cubicles. A dentist is in each cubicle. We are taken to a cubicle where a young woman is waiting for us. She motions for me to sit in the chair. She looks at the tiny X-ray. She then tells Qi Min something. I ask what she said.

“She needs to rip out the nerves,” Qi Min tells me.

Rip out the nerves? That does not sound good. I do not voice my fear. Thus far, I have been in capable hands. Earlier, I told Qi Min one of the reasons I am glad she came with me is because I would hate to go somewhere and not know if the person is capable or not.

“Like teachers,” I told her. “There are good dentists and there are bad dentists.”
“That is correct,” she replied nodding her head.

Now, however, the dentist standing over me as I sit helpless in the dentist’s chair wants to rip out the nerves. Okay, well, let’s rip out the nerves. Break it up. Do the Watusi. Kick out the jams.

This is when the serious poking, pulling, prodding and scraping commences. To my relief, this is not painful. After five minutes of this, Qi Min asks me if it is painful. I tell her no. she tells me that is because the nerves are dead. Thank God for dead nerves I think to myself. Kick out the jams.

“In America, dentists like to torture their patients,” I tell Qi Min. She laughs. She passes this on to the dentist. This does not garner the response that I thought it might. The dentist just shrugs as she puts a sharp dental instrument back into my mouth.

In between pokes and scrapes, the young dentist puts some cleaner on the tooth that may or may not be everyday household silver polish. It is not delicious. She motions to the spit dish. I spit. This spit dish is not bloodstained.

Fortunately, this whole scene is non eventful. There is never any pain or even any discomfort even as she is ripping out the nerves as if they were speaker wire that needed replacing. There is a smell of rot from the nerves but it is not overpowering. In fact, the smells are much worse on my daily trek back and forth to school.

After thirty minutes or so, the dentist leaves. She does not tell Qi Min where she was going or what she was doing. She is gone for what seems like 10 or 15 minutes. When she returns, Qi Min tells me that she is going to give me a shot. The dentist carries an enormous needle back to the cubicle. This is probably going to be painful I think to myself. So far, nothing has been painful. Joe Cocker can stand a little rain. I can stand a little pain.

What Qi Min and I thought was a needle was not a needle after all. This is an instrument to clean the tooth. This tooth will take a few visits. The dentist is cleaning it in preparation for the next time. After the cleaning is finished, she jams white stuff into the teeth which I assume is a temporary filling. The tooth has an antiseptic taste to it.

The dentist tells Qi Min something. Qi Min relays the information to me. I may suffer some discomfort for a few days because the piece of cotton the dentist wedged into the tooth. The white stuff is cotton. Who would have thought?

We schedule my follow up appointment for Friday. For the next few days, I will be going about my business with a piece of cotton jammed in my bad tooth. That is okay. I do not mind. The dentist could have removed my jawbone.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The classrooms are hotter than the hallways…or the Koreans could be anywhere.

My class this morning is my 7:45 am class. Again, at 6 am, I wake with a start. I lay in bed until a little before 7. When I get up, I quickly shower and make a quick pot of coffee and then head to school.

At this point, I have estimated the walk to school to be approximately 20 minutes, more or less. As I walk by the scooter repair shop, the scooter repair boys are already hard at work on a scooter. The scooter owner squats and watches as one of the scooter repair boys bangs on a scooter part. All of the attention of the scooter owner, the scooter part banger and the other scooter repair boy, is focused on this scooter. They do not notice me when I pass.

The man who has the fruit stand, next door with a small alley in between, is talking to his wife. He has some empty fruit baskets in his arm. Their conversation seems to be an important beginning of the day conversation. Neither of them notices me as I pass. Maybe I am invisible this morning. Maybe I am a ghost. Maybe I am a shape shifter and they do not know me because I have shape shifted into Christopher Cross or Grand Funk Railroad’s Mark Farner or Uriah Heep’s Mick Box.

As I ponder this, I keep walking. All around me is the bustle of the Shanghai morning. Taxis honk. Scooters beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. A mother puts shoes on her young son who sits in a lawn chair on the sidewalk. This is not going well. He complains as she shoes him. His voice is that of a small bird, a squawk.

At school, I go to the teachers’ office to gather a few things for my class. There are no other teachers in the office. Two students are in the office leaving a note on a teacher’s desk. I say hello though I do not know them. I grab the letters that class 3 wrote to me last week and take them to class.

Fur Elise is playing as I hit the stairs. Fur Elise is the one minute warning. The baby’s crib mobile music box Davy Crockett plays as I walk into class. I tell the class I read their letters. I start to pass out the composition books or actually I hand them to JD and he looks at them. He tells me these are not the class’s letters. This stumps me. This has got to be them. I tell them that this is very early for me. I am not accustomed to using my brain this early in the morning. Their reaction is blank stares.

Then, I realize that I brought the essays that class 1 wrote yesterday. The composition books for class 3 are on my desk in the teachers’ office.

“Shoot!” I say drawing out the sh sound.
This makes the class laugh. I write shoot on the board.
I then add to the word to make a sentence.


I explain expletive to the class.

I then ask the class it I can go get their letters in my office real fast. Do not kill each other. Do not throw anyone out of the window while I am gone. They just stare at me again. A student in the front row suggests I have the class monitor go get the books. I tell him that is a good idea. I ask him if he would like to be the teacher. He says no and laughs. JD goes and gets the composition books. I walk out into the hallway. The classroom is hotter than the hallway.

I walk back into the classroom. I tell the class that sometimes I will write words on the board. If they want to improve their vocabulary they can look up the words that I write on the board because these are good words for them to know.

JD comes back. I riff from what some of them wrote in their letters to me. They want to know about American culture. American culture or teenage American culture in the Southwest, rather, really revolves around Sonic and Taco Bell. For some reason, my lessons seem to always devolve into discussions about tacos. I try to explain Sonic-culture to them. They know about drive-thrus but they do not comprehend drive-ins, America’s drive-in - Sonic.

I tell them about Camaros and Firebirds. I forget to mention Mustangs and GTOs. I tell them about Steve Phelan who rammed his souped up Dodge Dart with a Hemi into an electric pole and knocked out the electricity in the whole of Colonial Estates when he was in high school. I did not think it appropriate to mention that he was drunk on a bottle or two of wine probably Gallo, back in the days of cheap liquor and low alcohol tolerance.

After I talk about 15 or 20 minutes about teenage life in America, I ask them to write a composition on being a teenager in China. Several students simultaneously tell me their lives are boring.

“You mean, I will fall asleep while I am reading your compositions because they are so boring?”
“Okay, well” I hesitate while I think of an alternate plan. “Tell me about your favorite activity. What do you like to do the most? Sleep? Eat? Play computer games? Listen to music”

This, somewhat, perks them up. JD, with the help of his deskmate, throws the composition books back to each book’s rightful owner. They are quite accomplished at this. None of the books land on the floor. The ones that do not land on the desk, land on the book’s owner’s chair. Once each student has his book, the writing begins. I write some guidelines on the board. Some students immediately start writing. Others mull over what they might write. Still others turn around and talk to the classmate behind them. For a minute or two I allow this. I then give these students the evil eye. The evil eye prompts them to begin the composition.

The only other class I have today is late in the afternoon I have my international class which is all Korean students. Bridget, the teacher who taught at Xiang Ming before me told me that the international class was the black hole of her week. In defense of the students, I like them. They are fine people. They have no interest in learning English whatsoever. This makes teaching them a tad difficult. I have no expectations for this class whatsoever.

At my desk, I look over more of the letters from students. A student named Lucifer writes:

I am glad to know you are our teacher this year. I have heard you are an interesting teacher. I think you will be friends with our class.

In this term, I’d like to learn how to write the English compositions. And more skills about English writing. I want to know about music and sports.

Afternoon in the teachers’ office is quiet. The mornings are usually noisy but the afternoons are always quiet. By 2:30 pm, most of the teachers have taught their lessons and have gone home or are teaching their last lesson of the day and are in class. At this time of the day, all I hear is the faint rumble and whoosh of the traffic on the street below.

My international class starts at 2:45. The classroom is in another building next to the main building. At 2:35, I head toward class. Down four flights of stairs from the teachers’ office I walk and then into the next building where I walk up five flights of stairs to the classroom which is empty. As a matter of fact, the chairs and desks are moved up against the walk like it has not been inhabited all semester. Maybe I should panic but I do not. I walk down the five flights of steps and back over to the teachers’ office up the four flights of stairs. Next door to the teachers’ office is Fang’s office. I go to her office. She is not there. There are three others teachers there. I explain my problem. Their English is poor. This is when I have to play that game, again, that I have not had to play in awhile called ‘Guess what my problem is?”

“I am a teacher. I teach the international class. I am looking for my classroom,” I say to no response.
“The Koreans,” I add.
At this, I get quizzical looks from the women in the office that I think is Fang’s office or at least was Fang’s office last semester.
“I’m looking for Fang.”
With this, one of the women says Fang’s full name I assume. I tell her yes. She dials the phone. Someone is talking loudly to this teacher on the other end of the line. Maybe she actually found Fang. I do not know. This is a very confusing situation. The woman gets off the phone and tells me room 530. I ask her if that is in this building. She tells me next one. I tell her I was just there and the students were not.
“Students will be there,” she cryptically says.

By now, I know it is no good to ask more questions. I leave and walk down the four flights of stairs and walk up the five flights of stairs where there will supposedly be an international class of Korean students. By the time I get there, I am fairly winded. In the last 10 or 15 minutes, I have climbed up and down more flights of stairs than I would like to count.

Finally, I arrive at the classroom. No one is there. Probably, I should be annoyed but really this is more absurd than anything. Wherever the Koreans are, they are probably having a good time not having class. And, the exercise is good for me after all. And, the classrooms are hotter than the hallways anyway.

Maybe the woman meant that the students are in the building across the street. The campus stretches across Ruijin Road now. I walk across the street to the annexed campus. There are two buildings. I walk into the building that looks as if it houses classrooms and up five flights of steps. There are no Korean students. There is no room 530. There are only 7 classrooms on the fifth floor.

Maybe the woman told me numbers out of order. I look for room 305. At this point, I am a bit disheartened. As much of a rebel as I think I am, I hate to go against the flow. This is frustrating. I hate not being in class when I am supposed to be.

I go back to the building that houses the teachers’ office. At this point, I feel as if I am in the foreign teacher version of Spinal Tap, just trying to get to the class or the stage to put on my show. What would Joey Ramone do? I climb up to the fifth floor of the building that houses the teachers’ office. The smell of science rooms hits me at the top of the stairs. Classes are only in one side of the building and those from the top of the stairwell look abandoned. The Koreans could be anywhere.

When I was leaving the teachers’ office, Qi Min was walking into the office. She is always a great help to me. She asks me questions regarding the English lessons often. She is very kind. She is talking to the speech teacher when I walk into the office. I am embarrassed that I cannot find my classroom. I feel as if I am in junior high again. Every year, someone from the office had to show me how to open my locker. Every year! That same inept feeling creeps over me.

When I tell Qi Min my problem, she immediately drops everything and dials the phone. “Fang will come and escort you,” she says and then adds as an apology. “Some people are so disorganized.”
“That is okay,” I say. “I went to the classroom from last year and no one was there. I was not told that the class had been moved.”

Not much longer than a minute later, Fang appears in the doorway apologizing. She tells me there are only five students in the class because most of the students did not have the class listed on their timetable. I tell her that is okay. No one is upset. Everything is fine. we make our way up to the fifth floor and we go down a secret hallway into the older half of the building of which I was not aware. Fang has a Korean student in tow. The student tells me that she is here for class. I tell her she is my best student.
“Best student," she echoes as I realize there are only 6 minutes left of class, Spinal Tap indeed.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Please let us see your charming music…or the gift is as mysterious as the song.

It’s Monday. Slither down the greasy pipes.

Here, in school, there is no bell. Incidental music signals the beginning and ending of classes. Last term, the music was the Blue Danube. This term, the music is not as instantly identifiable. There is a music box quality to it or actually more like the music is like that of an infant’s mobile, the sort with animals such as zebras, giraffes and elephants, over a baby’s crib. At the chorus, the song is recognizable, though I have probably not heard it since I was in grammar school. The song is Davy Crockett.

At the school coffee bar, as I drink a coffee with powdered non-dairy creamer; I look over more of the letters that the students wrote. Many of them want me to talk about my band and rock and roll. Some want me to teach them jazz drums. At first, I am puzzled by this. I do not know where they get the idea that I am a drummer.

Never do I mention that I started taking drum lessons in the third grade; that I started out with a practice pad in order to learn the rudiments, that for Christmas in the 4th grade I got a cheap Japanese trap set (Torodor) from Service Merchandise along with the John Lennon Imagine album. Maybe because I am always drumming on the desk - Ricky Ricardo Babaloo style - is why they think I am a jazz drummer.

As I sip my coffee, I read but I do not think about Buddy Rich.

In this term, I think we can play some games in class. That is fun. If it’s okay, please show us your programs of playing rock and roll (only once is okay). Please let us see your charming music. Thank you!

After I read the rest, I go back to the teachers’ office to my desk. Mary who sits next to me is a desk hog. Many times when I go for coffee and come back, she has her English work book lopped on top of my mouse. At first, I was annoyed by this. Now I am not. Even when she inadvertently wiped out a long email I had written, I did not even mention it. There is really no use. She would probably be upset if she knew I was writing this. She is a kind woman. I absolutely have no gripe with her. No meltdowns for Tyson at this school; I am all smiles; I’m easygoing. I’m the Perry Como of Shanghai.

At lunch - as we eat greens, chicken on a stick, scrambled eggs and tomatoes, and rice - Jeffrey tells me that the Chinese stock market has fallen. He has lost about 2,000 rmb in the last few days. Just last Thursday, he told me how strong and stable the stock market is in China. I guess now would be the time for me to invest was the only thing that I could think to say in response to his loss.

Maybe I have mentioned Jeffrey in the past. He teaches grammar to senior one students. He is in love with the English language. During Mao’s reign, Jeffrey went to this very high school. Mao sent him to a country school to teach. He was made to learn to be a carpenter before he could study to become a teacher. Jeffrey tells me these experiences were good. He is a proponent of Mao. Maybe I have mentioned all of this. My memory is not that good these days. He is happy to be a teacher at Xiang Ming High School many years later.

Jeffrey has a 25 year old daughter. She has a wealthy boyfriend with a flat and a car courtesy of his parents. Jeffrey thinks the boy is a good match. Jeffrey’s wife tells her daughter the boy is a good boy; he is a polite boy, kind. The daughter does not want to marry him. Jeffrey and his wife cannot figure out why. She tells her parents that he never talks. She wants someone who will talk to her. She tells her parents even if the boy’s flat was made of solid gold it would not matter because she does not want to be locked in a fortress of silence.

Maybe this is none of my business. Maybe Jeffrey is telling Marcus - the only other foreign teacher; he is from the Reading area of Great Britain - and me this for no specific reason. We listen. Marcus says maybe Jeffrey’s daughter and her boyfriend are not meant for each other. Maybe so, Jeffrey says.

In America, I tell him, many young people wait until they are older to marry. These people usually have more stable marriages. He ponders this for a moment.

From the second story window of the dining room, I look out at the trees. On the Pomegranate tree, the fruit hangs ripe and ready to be picked. I wonder if anyone will pick the fruit or if it will rot on the tree.

After lunch, on the stairwell on my way back to the teachers’ office, I see Agboh. He was my student last term who loves music. Last term, he discovered Bowie. He tells me he will come to my desk and talk to me after class. He saw on YouTube that I played shows during the summer. He wants to know more about the shows. Did I have a band? How do I explain this to him?

Today is teacher’s day. Since this is the second week of classes, I do not expect anything. I see students in the hallway with single roses carrying them to those special teachers in their lives.
At my desk, I browse CDs on This is a Chinese site with cheap CDs. There are a couple of Bowie CDs that I feel as if I need every minute of every day – Heroes and Low. Yes, of course, I have the Rykco copies in storage in America but then I do not feel buying them again is an extravagance because I think I can find them cheap. And,besides, I do not have the Virgin reissues. Beauty and the Beast, Joe the Lion, Always Crashing in the Same Car, and Breaking Glass often play on repeat in that queer jukebox in my head.

I was going round and round the hotel garageMust have been touching close to 94
Oh, but I'm always crashing in the same car.

In between browsing, I rest my eyes and focus on the activities around me. Students come and go in and out of the teachers’ office. Two girls come in whom I do not recognize. They come to my desk. They have a small box. They hand it to me. Naturally, I am touched. They tell me it is a gift to me for teachers’ day. They enjoyed my lesson last week they say. I ask if I can open the box. They say yes. Inside the box is a baby blue glitter resin frame which has the words Angel Baby stamped at the top.

How strange, maybe they surmised from my rock and roll lecture that I liked glitter which is a stretch but how would anyone know that I have a soft spot for the Helen Reddy hit Angie Baby? These students are invading my psyche. They are reading my thoughts next week today. The gift is as mysterious as the song. Helen Reddy, that Australian chanteuse, haunts my dreams on Wednesday, lights my long hard climb on Thursday.

Agboh comes to say hello. He stands silent while the girls are giving me this gift, this gift which sends me into that strange world, that strange Helen Reddy, Neil Sedaka Midnight Special (on the lame nights) world, the nights when I was hoping for Sparks or the Dolls or a Spiritual Greeting from White Witch and, instead, I get Ace or Exile or Paper Lace or Pablo Cruise; Helen hosts this top forty world.

Agboh sees that I am looking at a Captain Beefheart CD. In my head, Helen Reddy is singing Clear Spot with the same sort of gusto that she gave Delta Dawn or Ruby Red Dress. Agboh tells me he just bought Zig Zag Wanderer. Naturally, I am impressed –and intrigued - that he has stumbled upon the Captain.

I have to run so far to find a clear spot
Sun's all hottin' and a rottin' hot.

I ask him if he found the CD on the internet and if it was expensive. No, he bought it at a store which turns out to be a flea market (after an explanation of what kind of store it was) for 20 rmb. I ask him where this is. He writes the name of the place and the name of the street in Chinese characters on a sheet of paper. He tells me he does not know the English name. Maybe I could have a Chinese friend help me find it. I tell him that should be no problem. I go to Jeffrey’s desk and ask him to help me figure out where it is. He pulls up a Chinese map on his computer. He looks at the address written by Agboh. He points to the spot where I should go. Everything is in Chinese characters on the map at which we are looking. These Chinese characters, naturally, are chicken scratches to me. He tells me I can take Bus 24 or that I can take a cab for 11 rmb. From across the office, Ali (another Chinese English teacher) pipes up “It will be more than 11 rmb.” Jeffrey then writes the street in Pinyin. "Maybe more than 11 rmb," he says while he writes.

This I can look up on my own map. Back at my desk, I look for the street on the English version on my computer. I decide that it is actually close enough that I can walk it. I will walk there after school. Really, I do not even have to be here at school today. The truth is I am just here for appearances; or maybe I am hoping that I will get a rose. Maybe this is just wishful thinking.

While I am thinking about students and roses, Jeffrey asks me if I am going to buy electronics at this store. He says it is a big store. Anyone in the area should know it. I take the bus 8 stops. He wants to make sure I do not get lost, lost in Shanghai looking for cheap foreign CDs. He asks me why I would go there for CDs instead of a nice shop. At this point, I try to explain that I want official CDs and not bootlegged ones. Maybe he does not realize that even at the nice shops the CDs are bootlegged. I am not sure how I explain this. I try. He tells me many of them if they are cheap are pirate copies. I tell him that I think I can spot the difference.

“You will take a friend with you,” he says as possibly a question but I am not sure.

I just tell him yes in order to halt the discussion.

JD who is a drummer comes into the teachers’ office. He is in class three (I think); he introduced himself last Wednesday; he is the class monitor. He is carrying a rose and a carnation. He hands them to me. I thank him. Now, I have my rose for teacher’s day.

I gather my stuff and leave the office. As I am walking past the rows and rows of basketball courts, some of the students wave and call out my name. I wave back. At the last basketball court, Young Young runs up and asks if I got the note he left on my desk. I tell him I did. As he is talking to me, Agboh who was playing basketball with Young Young and Franchise and some other boys runs up to me.

He is sweatier than anyone else. He is soaking wet in sweat. He tells me to wait one minute. He runs off. I wait. While he is gone, I talk to Young Young and some other boys. Agboh comes back. He wants to take me to a CD store close to the school. I tell him that sounds great. He has a Leonard Cohen CD in his hand. He tells me he likes the song Suzanne. I tell him that is a great song.

He sees the flowers and asks if there is teachers’ day in America. I tell him in America on teachers’ day, the students bring guns to school and shoot the teachers. This makes him laugh. “Oh, that is terrible,’ he says.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Let’s get Physical

Next to me, a young German woman is weeping uncontrollably. This is unnerving. To see a child crying is heart-wrenching, to see a young adult crying is even worse. I look away and take a deep breath because I am next.

My foreign expert certificate expired in July. Before I went back to the USA, Fairry -whom really I adore; she is the office manager at the company that places me - suggested I cut my trip short to two weeks so that I could renew the certificate before the end of July. This would be impossible I told her. At that time, I had already bought two sets of plane tickets; a set to the USA landing in NYC, and a set from NYC to OKC. These tickets were all non-refundable. And, I had already booked several rock shows which I did not want to back out of. Not to mention, I would not be able to see much if I shortened my trip to two weeks instead of five. Eventually, for $100, I got a tourist visa in NYC good for a year.

Now that I am back in Shanghai, my company wants me to have the proper documents in order to teach legally. Everyday, I get an email from Emily at my company. She has been orchestrating my physical examination and the procurement of my renewed foreign expert certificate. In one email, she told me I would need to bring three passport photos with me to the physical examination. In the next email, she told me I would need five.

Last night, I ransacked my apartment looking for leftover passport photos from previous passport photo shoots. I found a set of three. I needed two more.

I thought screw it, I will just take a few more at a passport photo booth. I went to the Jing’an Metro station to the passport photo booth there. For 20 rmb, I could get 4 passport photos. I put 10 rmb into the machine which it gladly accepted. However, the next 10 rmb it would not accept. I tried two different 10 rmb bills. The machine suddenly became finicky.

Aggravated, I started to sweat. No matter what I did, the machine would not take another bill. I did not know what to do. I had even put on a tie so that I would be wearing a tie in the picture. As the minutes passed, I got more irritated with the stupid machine. I had the curtain pulled Oz-like. On the other side of the curtain, I saw a pair of man’s black shoes attached to feet and legs.

I opened the curtain. A Chinese man was standing there alone, waiting to use the photo booth. I told him the problem. His English was okay. He tried to stick his 10 rmb bill into the machine. The machine would not take it. He then tried to stick a 20 rmb bill into the machine. The machine would not take it. At this point, the machine was fed up. It gave us 30 seconds to stick another 10 rmb in. The seconds crept along. This Chinese man and I kept trying different bills. The machine would not accept any of our bills at this point. Obviously, the machine would spit my money out when the time was up I assumed. This did not happen. The machine just took my 10 rmb.

This Chinese man called the number on the machine. He talked to someone on the phone about the machine. The conversation did not seem heated. When he got of the phone, he told me that someone would be here in fifteen minutes. He left and I waited.

Then I thought about it. Is the fifteen minute wait worth roughly the equivalent of $1.25? And, even if someone did show up, since a Chinese man had talked on the phone, had made the complaint; would they realize the foreigner standing by the booth was the one who had lost the 10 rmb to the machine? Would this be a ‘Stranger than Paradise’ moment? Yes, maybe, I thought; I left.

This morning, I was to meet Emily at the front gates of the Shanghai Zoo at 8:30 am. I could take bus 911 there. At 7 am, I woke with a start. Often, I wake with a start these days, as if I always, always over-sleep when actually I never do.

In three different emails, Emily had told me to not have breakfast so I did not though I did wake up hungry. I washed the sleep out of my eyes, had no coffee, and decided how I would go to the zoo. I could take bus 911. Instead, to be safe, I decided to take a taxi. I grabbed my backpack with the letters I had class 3 write telling me what they would like to learn this term. I thought I could examine them while I was waiting to be examined.

With my passport, three photos and my backpack; I headed out to catch a cab. So there was no misunderstandings with the driver, I took the Shanghai map with me. Soon after I got to the curb, a taxi pulled up. I pointed to the Shanghai Zoo on the map which is written in Chinese as well as English. The taxi driver said what I believe to be Shanghai Zoo in Chinese and pulled away. We pulled onto the elevated expressway and zipped toward the zoo.

After a few miles, we pulled off of the expressway and I recognized the area. We were in close proximity to the Moon River Diner which has the only decent non-fast-food cheeseburger that I have eaten in Shanghai. Obviously, Shanghai is not a cheeseburger town.

The taxi weaved in and out of traffic. Soon, he dropped me at the front gates of the zoo. The time was 8:00 am. I was thirty minutes early. Under the shade of the vines and tall shrubs, I pulled out the composition books in which the students had written the letters and I sat on a low retaining wall of sandstone.

Most of the letters were polite. Some were not. One writer told me that I write so much on the board that she cannot read it all. Another writer told me I have ugly handwriting. Another writer tolds me he saw me playing basketball last semester and I was not very good. That actually really hurt. I know I am not a good basketball player but I do not have to be told as much.

One letter intrigued me. This student I must meet. He seems mysterious; maybe even a literary Chinese danger, the Chinese Rushdie:

I like playing basketball. If I am playing basketball in a day, I will not feel tired. But I injured a day. I need to not play basketball until (crossed out phrase) I am healthy. But it is too long. It needs one month. I must stay at home. So I began to write. I feel writing make me feel happy. I built a blog. I put what I wrote in it. So many people can see my passage. But I don’t want to tell my family and friends. Because I have no brave to show me to someone know me. You will think that I am a bad boy. I think so.

His letter made me smile and contemplate. For a moment I ponder. I wonder what I would have written to a teacher if I was to write a letter as a junior in high school. Would I have written a paragraph? Would I have written two pages? Would I have been serious? Would I have preached the gospel of Iggy, Bowie, or the Dolls?

After I read through approximately half of the letters, Emily appeared. She hailed a taxi for us. The taxi careened through traffic and road construction. He dropped us at a ramshackle institutional building. This is the same building where I had an examination when I first arrived in China, March of 2006.

Emily paid the driver and led me like a child to the reception desk of the examination building. I stood silent as Emily talked in Chinese to the receptionist. Three young Germans, a female and two males, arrived just before us. Emily was given number 55. We went into a room armed with a questionnaire that listed about 100 diseases, none of which I have had.

We gave the questionnaire to the cashier and paid for the examination 700 rmb (nearly $100). As we waited for the number 55 to be called, I read through the rest of the letters. The last one, I commented on as number 52 was called out.

This time, the examination seemed to be organized in a better fashion than when I was here over a year and a half ago. Once my number was called, I went from room to room being poked and prodded with not much lag time in between each poke and prod.

Blood tests have never really been an issue with me. They are always uncomfortable but just a minor annoyance. This time, however, when I walked into the blood test room, I tried not to appear afraid. The sight of the weeping young German woman gave me a frightful pause. Her two German friends were in the room with her. The tears came uncontrollably from her face. In German, her friends tried to console her. She would not be consoled.

Adding to my fear was the unknowing. These friends of hers were trying to calm her in a language that I could not understand. Was she really so upset about giving a minute amount of blood. Suddenly, I felt as if I was six years old again, a little boy wanting his mother. I turned away and waited for my turn.

Maybe because I had just seen the young German girl crying, or maybe because here in China I have a heightened awareness of everything but when I saw the needle that they were going to stick into my arm, I nearly fainted. I swear the fucker looked like a knitting needle or something with which you would stitch leather furniture. No wonder that young German girl was bawling her eyes out. They probably ripped the vein right of her arm.

I sure hope this is my last physical examination for awhile.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Umbrellas line the hallway. For the last few days, off and on, the rain has come and gone and come again. The teachers leave their umbrellas open in the hallway to dry out.

Seven Hershey Kisses are on my desk. I ask Qi Min if someone got married. She tells me no, Ali brought them.

Yesterday, the woman who I assume is a food custodian, in charge of food cards and chocolate gift disbursements, left two miniature gift boxes on my desk that probably measured 1 inch by 2 inches. Here, as I may have said before, when someone gets married the betrothed gives everyone else chocolates. This time, a science teacher was the one who got married. All of the teachers in the school got chocolates in celebration of this. The ones passed around yesterday were tiny little rectangular soft chocolates.

Anytime someone has a baby, eggs are given.

Ali sits behind Qi Min. I tell Ali I love Hershey Kisses. She smiles. She went to America this summer. I wonder if she brought them back with her.

Jeffrey left a box of Twinings English Breakfast tea on my desk yesterday. He told me a colleague brought the box back from England. I believe the colleague of whom he speaks is this goofy funny Chinese man who always cracks jokes with me and looks a bit like a cartoon character, Deputy Dog’s Chinese friend. He has a soft sweetness in his face and eyes. I always observe him and am entertained by him when he comes into the teachers’ office. The Chinese teachers seem to be quite fond of him. They have told me he is the boss. I am not sure if they mean this literally or figuratively.

I love being back at the school. This school feels like home in this funny sunny sort of Chinese way. Friday, I came by to check in. when I opened the door, there was a departmental meeting in progress. I apologized profusely and started to shut the door.

Li Ping who is the liaison to the principal said, “Come in. you are one of us.” This gave me an overwhelmingly warm feeling.

I came in and sat down at my desk and pretended to listen to Qi Min who was conducting the meeting, conducting the meeting in Chinese. At one point, she embarrassedly laughed and stopped the meeting. She turned to me and said “So sorry, that was Shanghai dialect.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “It is all Chinese to me.”

Yesterday, Qi Min asked me if I had classes today. I told her I had three. She then told me the students are taking exams so I did not have any classes today. I told her at some point I would like to teach the students and then I laughed.

She told me a friend of hers is teaching Chinese in America, in Chicago. She told me that she does not think her friend is having the sort of experience that I am having. Since her friend is in one classroom all day she never sees any of her colleagues. Her friend is lonely because of this. I told her I like the Chinese way with the teachers’ office better than the American way in which the teachers are sequestered to one classroom.

Now, I sit and look out the big picture window that is beyond my monitor. I am only 4 stories up; yet still I can see over the tile rooftops of the neighborhood, the neighborhood that has not yet been demolished to pave the way for new construction. T-shirts and underwear hang in attic dormer windows. A worker gingerly steps down a steep roof that has no dormer window. In the rain, the tiles look like they would be especially slick.

Beyond the tile rooftops is the expressway. Beyond the expressway are high rises. Sometimes I walk to the neighborhood that houses the high rises. That is where I buy my DVDs. Movieworld is there. That is not where I buy my DVDs. Even Better than Movieworld is across the street from Movieworld. That is where I buy my DVDs.

Lunch is noodles with chopped greens and a flat round piece of tofu that is approximately the size of a McDonalds’ buttermilk pancake. I sit with a teacher whom I do not know that well. She is very nice. I learn her husband is a foreigner. They took a trip to Tibet during the summer. I tell her I had heard that it is expensive for foreigners to go to Tibet. She told me this is correct. He had to pay 1000 yuan for permission to go and then his bus ticket was five times more than hers. Any sort of ticket that they had to buy was much more expensive for him. She told me I should try to go if I have the chance. I told her I would love to go sometime.

The rain has subsided. It is simply misting now. Still, umbrellas line the hallway.