For some reason, the last several days when 5:30 am rolls around and I wake, I do not go back to sleep. I start my day. This is something I would have never predicted.
I get up, shower, make coffee and toast, Bowie and Sparks have been my soundtrack. Often, I get on a kick where I must hear Bowie’s Berlin trilogy over and over. I am now once again on that Berlin trilogy kick.
Those kilometers and the red lights
I was always looking left and right
Oh, but Im always crashing in the same car…
Last semester, the first class started at 7:45 am. This term the timetable has changed. Now classes start at 8:00 am which is really nice but does not seem to matter for me now because, like I said, I am waking at 5:30 am these days.
At 7 am, I listen to what I the days of vinyl was side one from Bowie’s Low. I then have the urge to hear Time. I choose the version on the Ziggy live record. The second CD starts with Cracked Actor so I listen to that first. About halfway through Time, I look at the time and I panic because it is 7:36 am. I have a 25 minute walk to work. I rush out the door. I decide to hail a taxi. After much fidgeting at the corner, I spot a taxi. The taxi whisks me to work.
I look at my watch it says 9:25 and I think
"Oh God I'm still alive!"
In class, a girl who has never spoken to me asks me a question while I am walking around the room looking over the students’ writing. She tells me that her friends saw pictures of me on the internet at the Grammy Awards. She asks me if I won a Grammy. I tell her I do not remember. Sometimes, I think I am floating in and out of a Philip K. Dick novel. They must be mistaken.
I tell her that I did a lot of drinking when I was younger and my brain is half-rotten from alcohol abuse. She looks a bit shocked. Maybe this is actually some lost episode of Room 222 – The China Years, or Saved by the Bell in Shanghai. I then tap the boy who is sitting next to her who is listening to me in shock and I ask him if he drinks.
“Oh, uh, no, no, uh,” he tells me
“Good,” I say, “Keep it that way.” With this, I walk off.
Have I mentioned the view from my desk in the teachers' office? The teachers' office is located on the 4th floor. There is a south window that runs almost all the way across the office. My desk faces the window so while I type I look out over the tiled roof tops of the maze-like neighborhood across the street. Laundry hangs out of top floor dormers.
Not many residents, especially in older neighborhoods, have dryers here. They hang laundry from anything where laundry can be hung, tree branches, light poles, telephone poles, anything. The streets are sometimes lined with laundry. The police sometimes confiscate the laundry when the laundry engulfs the cityscape. Then later, the laundry reemerges.
The shops, houses and flats across the street from the school are mostly two story structures. One house in the middle of the maze is four stories. It stands above the rest like a monolithic guard. Six tall slender bare trees stand in front of this monolith.
Winter break ended a few days ago. School is back in session. I am happy to be back. I missed the students. At school, there is energy anew. Life! Life! Life! Chatter in the hallway sometimes carries into the teachers' office.
Here and there, I see students in the hallway. I ask them about their holidays. They invariable reply – 'So much homework.' I often reply – 'That's terrible.' Sometimes, I reply – 'That's criminal.'
This morning, I had one class. Their assignment was to write a comedic skit. I gave them some Monty Python sketches as examples. They did not quite understand the sketch 'Albatross' but they did seem to like 'Encyclopedia Salesman.' They especially appreciated the salesmen who were thrown from windows, defenestrated so to speak.
Next week, they will perform some of their skits for me. I am not sure what to expect. No matter how silly and sophomoric they are; I know, without a doubt, I will appreciate them.
On the stairwell, I bump into Roy. Roy is one of my favorites this semester. When his group sang the 12 days of Christmas – on Christmas – they did a rollicking version with some 'Oh Baby's' - or the Chinese equivalent – thrown in here and there. Roy looks like a cartoon, not necessarily Chinese, imagined by Matt Groenig. On the stairwell, he tells me he looks forward to my class. I smile. Roy is in class 5, senior 2.
For the winter holiday, I went to London to stay with my friends Brian and Audra. Brian's company is paying the rent on the townhouse in Kensington in which they live. Their three story townhouse is a few blocks from Hyde Park, the park where the Stones played a free concert soon after Brian Jones drowned – or some believe was drowned - in his swimming pool.
London was magnificent. The weather was perfect, sunny the whole time except for one slightly rainy day. This was the fifth time I have visited London so I didn't do much touristy stuff. Audra and I shopped and had salmon at Herrod's and had wonderful high tea at a few places with plates of sandwiches and pastries and shopped some more and bummed around Harvey Nichols' and tried on shoes at Shelly's and walked around Soho and Covent Garden and took the dogs to Hyde Park and bought painting supplies at a home improvement warehouse style store.
Audra ordered a canvas that we stretched in front of the house on a 10 ft x 6 ft frame which we built. I then holed up in the garage and painted a red goop dripping abstract painting which may owe as much to Donny Osmond and Keith Partridge as it does to Pollack and Rauschenberg.
On my return, Michael met me at the airport. I told him he needn't meet me since I was getting in so early in the morning. He insisted on meeting me which I thought was very sweet. When I went past immigration and passed through the gates where all of the people held up signs for strangers visiting, Michael whooped and catcalled louder than anyone. Actually, he was the only one who whooped and catcalled. I thought this was endearing. He brought me presents – candy and fish. The fish is boxed and un-refrigerated which is a bit unnerving, endearing but unnerving.
On the bus from the airport back to downtown Shanghai, Michael told me about his trip home to Hunan (or maybe he is from Wuhan, I always forget). He told me his mother and grandmother want to know when he is going to get married which would mean he would probably need a girlfriend first. He told me this makes him crazy. I laughed.
Girls love Michael. For awhile he had a girl, a stalker rather, who would just hang out outside his apartment. He and I would be shopping and he would get a call from her and he would ask her where she was and she would invariably be outside his apartment. This happened quite a few times. He later changed his phone number.
I love Michael. He has an innocence that seems impenetrable.
In April, I must go back to the USA, to Oklahoma, to Norman. There is to be a rock festival. My band the Chainsaw Kittens have been asked to perform. This is very exciting.
When I was first approached about this, I thought there was no way in heck that it could happen because I am in China and the rock festival is right in the middle of the semester and there is really no way that I thought the powers that be could afford to fly me back and pay the Kittens to come out of retirement. Fortunately, I was wrong.
Thus, now I must make the arrangements to get off work to play the festival. Let me say right here that I really love all of the people with whom I work. My boss, Li Ping, is young. She is very kind. Everyone with whom I work tells me that I am very kind. This always makes me smile. I try to be very kind.
However, I did not know how easy it would be to ask off to go back to Oklahoma. Since this is a foreign country, sometimes, this sort of thing is very difficult. Sometimes, it is not. I never know if it will be difficult or not. The worst case scenario, I figured, was that I could have my company send in a substitute to fill in for me while I was in America. I have never asked for time off from this school and I have never called in sick to this school where I have now taught for over a year.
Since the students were taking examinations the last two days, Li Ping was a bit hard to catch in her office. Every time I went by she was not there. I really wanted to get this settled. I hate for things to be hanging in the air. I just hate that.
Qi Min, my link teacher who took me to the dentist three times last semester, told me that getting the time off shouldn't be a problem when I told her that I needed to go to America in April. When she said this, I breathed my first sigh of relief.
Yesterday, I finally caught up with Li Ping in her office. In true stalling fashion, I did not ask right away for the time off. First, I asked her if she knew about my television show idea. With this, she looked at me blankly. Her English is good, I think she just did not understand what I was trying to convey, being a bit out of left field as it were. I have a bad habit of hitting others with non-sequiturs.
Once I got the Magic Red Monkey Television Show idea across, Li Ping approved. I am sure that there is a lot of talent at the school and I want to make all of these kids famous I told her. She told me they are very lucky to have me, in deed. I told her I love the school. I want to stay at the school indefinitely. (Actually, there have been a few job offers, of late, in America and I am not even remotely interested. I love shanghai; I want to stay here.)
After the television show discussion, I delved into the festival subject. Perhaps, I explained too much because she quickly told me it should not be a problem for me to go. This happened somewhat in a split second, very much like in those comedies with the kid and the mom and the kid is begging for something and the mom says yes and the kid keeps begging. Well, I was the kid in this instance.
Of course, the rest of the day, I walked through the hall singing. I would like to say that I sang 'Behind Closed Doors' by Charlie Rich, but I would be lying.