Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dumplings and Frankenstein

Yesterday, we were supposed to go swimming in the school pool. After my last class, I came back to the teachers’ office to do such. Edward with whom I was to swim was missing. Edward had gone missing late in the day. Maybe he took the advice from You Tube and found a girl in his area to seduce.

Whatever had happened, he was not around. I thought about going home but I thought I would wait to see if he showed because I really like him and he is so nice to me always and I did not want to just leave without talking to him.

I busied myself on the computer doing lesson plans and filling out this teacher’s diary that my company gave me last week. At first, the diary seemed a bit like an albatross hanging around my neck with no mariner in sight. A man needs a mariner or something like that. But then, the diary became something that I deemed useful for myself, fairly easy to fill in data here and there. Thus if my company wanted to see the diary at the end of the term, I would have something fairly exhaustive to show them, something that would probably make no sense to anyone but me. Thus, I busied myself with this diary.

A short time later, Edward came into the office. Another man came in shortly after. They chattered in Chinese. Somehow I ascertained that they were talking about our upcoming swimming expedition.

Edward phoned someone. I tried to make out the Chinese words as he chatted but it was useless. I understood nothing.

He hung up the phone. We could swim the next period which was nearly an hour away. That was fine with me. I decided to wait.

Shortly before the period ended, the phone rang again. Edward answered it. Again, he chatted, it seemed, as he had had previously.

This time when he got off the phone, he picked up the phone again and dialed a number as he dialed he said – “No one seems to know when we can swim. I am calling some other person.”

Again he had what seemed to be the same phone conversation. When he hung up the phone he said “The Huangpu professional swim team is training now. The swimming pool manager will call me back and tell me when we can swim.”

At that point, I was no longer in the mood to swim.
“I think I will go home.”
“Do you have evening plans?”
“No, I am just really tired.”
“Yes, you are a hardworking man.”


Frankenstein has been a struggle, more of a struggle than I would have predicted. The vocabulary is much too advanced for these students. The students try but this seems to be an impossible task.

In the afternoon, we attempted to read the rest of the letters from Captain Robert Walton to his sister at the beginning of Frankenstein. As I read, I tried to explain the events taking place. I told the students to raise their hands if they had questions. Bill raised his hand at one point.
“Bill, do you not understand?”
“No, do not.”
“Okay, well, the ship is out where no man has ever been, right? That is what the captain thinks but they see a giant.” And with this, I try to pantomime giant. “This giant is in a sledge”- I explain sledge – “pulled by dogs.”

Bill nods like he might understand a little of what I say.
“Do you understand?”
“This man, this stranger, is out on the ice.” Bill and the rest of the boys stare at me blankly.
“Does anyone know what ‘ice’ is?”
Everyone shakes their heads NO except for Leta.
“Leta, do you know what ‘ice’ is?”
“Would you mind telling the rest of the class?”
With this, she turns around and addresses the boys in Chinese. They shake their heads vigorously in agreement.
“We know!” confirmed Bill.

At one point, Frank told me that this is boring.

“Frankenstein, boring? Boring for boys? Frankenstein?”

“We do not understand many words.”

“Well, I will try to explain it to you.” I told him. “And what I cannot explain, maybe Leta can explain.”

This appeased him somewhat. I really do not mind how they learn as long as they learn.
“Tonight, I would like you to try to read Chapter One,” I told them. “I know it is difficult but please try to look up the words and understand the general meaning. We will talk about it tomorrow.”
After class, Belial (which no one is really sure if Belial is actually a name or not) handed me a packet that looks as if it had some sort of ointment within.
“Sweet, like pudding,” she told me as she handed it to me.
Well, Sharon drives me totally crazy. I just have to grit my teeth. Fortunately, she is the only problem at the new school and I am learning to toughen up a little around her since I know that she is just a bit of an oaf to everyone. Maybe I should not be so hard on her. After my last school where I liked everyone so much, I think I might be a little spoiled by how good I had it there. I know that I had it good. But that is okay. Sharon is really the only problem at the new school.

In class, I asked the students if they read Chapter One last night. They shook their heads YES. I wanted to believe them but I am so accustomed to students not doing the homework that I thought they might be telling me they did it just to appease me.

I started with Leta. I asked her what happened. She told me the first major event that Frankenstein’s father married a friend’s daughter when the friend died and left the daughter alone. I told her this was good.

“Frankenstein adopted,” Bill, who can be a bit shy, told me.

“Yes, Bill, that is great; Maybe, the most important thing that happened is that Frankenstein was born, not adopted. If he was not born, we would not now have a story. Very good Bill!”

Bill may be my favorite. He shushes the other boys sometimes when I am trying to talk and he looks at me intently as if he is trying to decipher everything I am saying.

As Kevin and Jane told me what took place in Chapter One, I walked around the room. When I looked over their shoulders at their books, I saw Chinese translations written above several words in each sentence. I told them that I knew they worked really hard because translating Frankenstein into a story they can understand has got to be difficult.
The morning class was a good one. Maybe they can all be as good, or close to as good.

Next period, the students are going to make dumplings. I told Sharon that I would help which I am somewhat regretting now because I would like to spend less time rather than more time around her but I feel as if I do put in my time, I will, in the end, have something noteworthy to write.

But, forget about that now, more on Edward, we were on our way for our mid-morning coffee-break, as we were leaving the teachers’ office, the phone rang. Edward answered and talked briefly to someone.

“That was the principal,” he began, “he wants to talk to ME. He wants me to come meet the mayor.”

“That is great!”

Everyone loves Edward except he and Sharon seem to often have harsh words to each other in Chinese.

Believe it or not, the dumpling making went without incident which somewhat stunned me. Sometimes, Sharon is okay. The dumplings that I made were sad dumplings – too much filling, not enough filling, folded wrong – sad falling apart at the seams dumplings. I thought Sharon would scold but she did not. I relied on Frank (who I learned now wants to be called Ziv which Sharon asked me if it was a name and I told her not a name I know but he can choose it if he likes if that is, in fact, what he wants to be called.)

When the dumplings were ready, the boys were typical boys and swarmed around the dumpling pot like flies. The girls were not aggressive. Leta and Jane were the most polite. Of course, as soon as I started eating my dumplings, I thought about Jane and how she had missed a few days because of fever.

Psychosomatically, I started feeling as if my nose was clogged. This, I know, is because I got it into my head that Jane is infectious, that she is carrying some sort of rare strain of Birdflu which will stop me dead in my tracks, which will cover me in boils, which I will need some sort of Chinese medicine to cure, the Chinese medicine that you buy in some back alley thinking you are getting medicine but you are actually getting Gizmo the Gremlin. I must remember to not get him wet, to not feed him after midnight.

At one point, Jane came close to me and I did everything in my power to not visibly freak out. I really do not want to get sick. It seems I get sick often here in China. Naturally, I never enjoy it.

“Look like monster teeth!” she said of the dumpling that was floating in her bowl carrying another strain of Birdflu.
“Or an alien head,” I added knowing that the dumpling in question was one of the ones that I shoddily put together.

After I had four or five dumplings, I sat at the back of the classroom where the dumplings had been assembled and I watched the boys at the front of the classroom gathered around Sharon and the dumpling pot waiting for the next batch. The girls stood back behind somewhat uninterested. While I watched the activity – the boy’s rowdiness, Sharon’s zigging and zagging between dumpling pots, and the girls who were the center of the orbit of it all; I thought to myself- “Without a doubt, I really must eat some apples and drink some vitamin C energy drink when I get home. I certainly do not want to get sick.”


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