Friday, September 05, 2008

Fist Sandwich

“Not my students!” I exclaimed with dramatic affect. “They’re angels!”
Sharon, who runs the international department at Gezhi was talking about the naughty boys in the class. And then she held up her hand and made the peace sign -
“And after only two days!”
It seems that she had to come back to the school at 10 pm because as she said the boys were ‘fighting’ which I took to actually mean roughhousing.
“I think you might need to give each one a fist sandwich,” I said, with this she gave me a look of bafflement.
“You know sandwich,” I started, “like you eat.” I pantomimed eating a sandwich and then I made a fist as if to shove it in my mouth.
“Oh, oh, fist sandwich,” she laughed. “I give them fist sandwich.”
“Yes, fist sandwich,” I confirmed.

Sharon is okay. At first, I was not sure because she is playfully confrontational. On the day before, a few representatives came from my company to meet with the teachers while I was at my bank trying – yes, trying – to pay my rent. Yes, Sharon had said something about them coming but I was not sure what she was trying to say because of the communication barrier.

Later, when I came back to the office, and the representatives had gone; Sharon told me that I misunderstood because of her ‘poor English.’ I told her that even native speakers misunderstand each other. This seemed to make her feel better.
“You need learn more Chinese words!” Sharon then told me, as if learning Chinese is something that I could do overnight and those words that I learned overnight would be in fact the words I would need to know every time I needed to know a Chinese phrase.
“What am I to do?” She asked me in resignation after I did not respond to her previous exclamation.
“Well,” as I said this, I looked over the class schedule, “it looks to me as if the students only have PE a few times a week.” I pointed this out to her for emphasis.
“Yeah, a few times a week,” she repeated.
“That is not enough exercise,” I said, “especially for boys. Boys need much more exercise than that. That is not enough.”
“No, that is not enough,” she agreed.
I then looked over my countless classes with the students.
“I could, perhaps,” and I paused and then continued as if I was solving a case like I was Hercule Poirot or Columbo, “ turn some of my language classes into PE classes.”
“Oh, yes,” she agreed, “give English words for sports they like at same time.”
“You will have to clear it with boss.”
“Sure.” I guess I must admit here that I thought Sharon is my boss. I assume she means the owner of the placement company that places me. “I will do that.”

Mid-morning I went to XiangMing, my old school to return my food-card and my key to the teachers’ office. At the gate, I saw one of the guards that I knew. He smiled in recognition as I walked past.

Here and there, I saw students studying in hallways and stairways, standing studying in the hallways, sitting studying on the stairways. I made my way to the teachers’ office like a ghost, or an outsider. I felt as if I no longer belonged.

When I opened the door to the teachers’ office, Qi Min and Geoffrey looked as if they, in fact, were seeing a ghost. Qi Min, as I think I have said before, reminds me a bit of a Chinese Mary Tyler Moore. Geoffrey is a little harder to describe. His thinning stringy hair conveys its own emotions, a little bit Bryan Ferry, a little bit Don Knotts.
“But you, you are in America!” Geoffrey stated, stunned. A few strands of hair fell past his eyes almost to his nostrils.
“You did not return to China.” Qi Min added.
“Two girls came from your company with the new teacher,” Qi Min explained. “They told us you did not return to China. We thought you must have good job in America.”
“No,” I told them perplexed. “I am back. My company put me at another school.”
“I will call the school authorities!” Qi Min barked.
Needless to say, my company had put me in an awkward situation. I was not sure what to tell Qi Min and Geoffrey. They are both friends, really good friends. I really cannot lie to them. Honesty is the best policy probably and avoiding the subject of my physical whereabouts is an even better policy.
“Yusseff is a good teacher,” I started.
“Joseph.” Qi Min corrected. “Is he American?”
I had no idea. I had never met Joseph who I thought was named Yusseff.
“He says he is,” Geoffrey said in doubt, one of his stringy hairs curlingaround his brow at this point, “ but he is dark. He looks like no American I know.”
Both of them discussed this for a minute in Chinese while I stood with my mouth agape.
“Well, uh,” I stammered, “I am sure Joseph will do a good job. If you do not like him, let me know and I will come back.”
“Perhaps your company moved you to this new school because you are teaching more subjects,” Geoffrey suggested, his hair falling back into a Don Knotts’ disaster.
“Yes, I am teaching more subjects at Gezhi.”
“It is the best school in Shanghai,” Qi Min confirmed.
“I would still like to go on outings and lunches and such with you,” I added.
This made them both smile. I had averted a small catastrophe.
“Do you think your maid would come and clean my flat again?” I asked Qi Min. Sure I was upset to know that my company had been dishonest but at the same time I have always believed in that bit about cleanliness next to godliness or godlessness or whatever.
“I will ask her.”
“Do you mind, I don’t want to be a bother.”
“Oh, not a bother, you are a friend.”
After promising to visit when I have time and go to school lunches, I made my exit and made my way back to my school – the school established in 1874, the school where I am preparing the students for military school in America.

Later, as I was leaving the cafeteria, I saw Bill, Kevin and Frank enter from another door. They did not see me. They are boys. I am the teacher. We occupy two different worlds. In a year, they will be at military academy in America.
Already, they are under my wing. I have promised field trips, picnics and song. So far, I have come through with song. Maybe, this makes them happy. They do not know how happy they should be at this point in their life. They are all becoming friends. They are all new friends.
The geography teacher has been sitting in on several of my classes. At first, I thought this is because she might have a small crush but then Edward told me about her wonderful wedding. Now, I realize she wants to improve her English.
She told me that maybe the students should not speak Chinese in my class, which is a common problem that to me is not a problem. Anything that helps them learn English is fine with me. I know that when I try to learn Chinese, I must have the language explained to me in English. Why should it be different for them?
Now that I see both sides of the argument – if in fact it is an argument; I am more empathetic toward the student than I once was. The geography teacher is nice. She smiled the whole time that I explained my position. I went on to tell her that I want to be the one person, teacher, whatever, that the students can come to for help. That is just the way I am. I am not an authoritarian or a disciplinarian. That is not me. At points, I have apologized for this, but now that I am on my fifth year as a teacher, I am more confidant than I was when I first came to China and was sabotaged by Birdflu and the Old Twat.
Sure, the geography teacher meant well but she is a Chinese speaker teaching them in Chinese. She has not empathy for my situation with them. Before, I would have taken offense to what she was telling me but now I know that she is only trying to help but she is trying to help only seeing how she sees it, not how I see it.

Maybe there is something depressing about the corridors in a school at lunchtime when everyone is elsewhere. Time adjusts your wristwatch to remind you that he is passing. Dark clouds gather for a moment and then disperse. All is happy again.
“Did you have your lunch?” Sharon asked as she walked back into the office.
“Yes, I did, thank you.”
“What will you do with the students this afternoon?”
“This.” I pointed to the oral English book, which I have used for most of the lessons so far. “Until I get a computer, I have limited resources.”
This seemed to be a catalyst. Sharon, posthaste, rushed to the phone and made a call. She left a message for someone.
“Thank you,” I told her when she hung up the phone.
“You understand what I say?”
“A little,” I lied.
This made her smile.
“So now you don’t know what I understand and what I don’t understand.”
She looked at me, raised her fist, and said “Fist Sandwich!”


Blogger We didn't? said...

glad you're back. missed those posts from another planet.

4:46 AM  
Blogger Frances said...

Those kids who'd soon be entering one of those the military prep schools ought to be prepared for the worst. Then again, they'd be receiving traditional education anchored on discipline so it still is a win-win situation.

1:50 PM  

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