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.