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.


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