Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Souvenir on his School Uniform Warm Up Jacket

My student Leon, whom maybe I have mentioned and whom I actually like quite a bit and who's English level is quite low in the scheme of things, tries and I think that he likes me so he tries harder. He made a 95% on the test over a few chapters of Catcher in the Rye yesterday. The test was open book and I gave the questions to the students beforehand. Yet, a few of them, Lillian in particular, did poorly. She came out with 26%.
Leon actually got a better mark than some of the other boys who are better in English than he is. I made the comment that he got such a high mark because he studied English all weekend and didn't goof off like the other boys do. This, of course, sent the other boys into a tirade. They proceeded to rail against him about how he just plays computer games and that he is dumb and all of that sort of stuff which was all somewhat priceless. Not to mention that the boys still insist on calling him Ricky which annoys him and makes me laugh and I have to consciously remember to call him Leon, though Ricky sometimes slips out of my mouth.

Honestly, since he made such a high mark, I assumed he cheated somehow. I am not sure how he could have cheated because the test was open book. He answered all 25 short answer questions. The only thing that I would count as cheating is if he copied off of someone else or if he copied from his study sheet which I caught him doing neither. Really, I am more than a little mystified by his achievement.

He could have went through the book and circled the answers beforehand, but that would not have been cheating. That would have just been forethought. Forethought is allowed. So, I do not know how he could have cheated. In as much, like I said, I really do not know how he was able to pull off such a high mark. I suppose that is neither here nor there when it comes right down to it.
At the moment, however, Leon is in somewhat deep crapola with Sharon. For the last few weeks, he has had a real problem coming to morning exercises and morning classes which has sent Sharon into a small fury. Of course, all of this is always slightly humorous to me because I know that she takes the students welfare sometimes a bit more serious than their parents do.

At this point, I have played this education game long enough to know which students have parents who seriously want them to learn and which students have parents that stick them in a private school because they know not what else to do with these children that they have been too busy to attend. Though I have not met Leon's parents, I put them in the category of being a bit lackadaisical about Leon's education.
This morning, Sharon called his phone and it was out of service. This renewed her fury. Not to goad Sharon but to humor her, I told her that Leon was going to be 'out of service' when I got a hold of him which gave her a huge belly laugh.
"Out of service, he will be," she emphatically agreed.
 "Have you called his parents?" I asked.
"Yes, his mother says he is sick, maybe. That is why he does not come."
"He is lazy. He is a lazy boy. He signed paper saying he would not miss anymore classes. Now, he is not here. He should not be allowed to attend class. I will call the center."
With a renewed fury, she called our employer. Maybe I have explained this in the past. I feel as if I should explain it again. I teach at a private school housed in a public school. This private school is expensive to attend. Nevertheless, some of the students are quite spoiled, spoiled to the point that their parents do not know quite what to do with them. Leon is not necessarily one of the spoiled boys. He is respectful and when he comes to class, I hardly ever catch him goofing off which means he is either really good at being sneaky about goofing off or he just does not do it. I am not sure which.
Thus Sharon called our employer to say that she was going to bar Leon from classes which I thought was quite ballsy of her. Most of the time, there is no sort of discipline because the students are paying and so they are more like clients than regular students. Nevertheless, I admired Sharon's tenacity in the matter. I told her I would stand behind her in whatever decision she made.
A week ago Sunday night at 2 am, I got back from Hainan. By the time I got back to my apartment and settled into bed, it was 3:00 am. Hainan was fantastic but not in the beach bum sort of way I would have expected but in a whole other way but I will talk about that more later.
A few days after I got back, I finally took the time to unpack the few things that I had packed in a small bag. After I unpacked, I realized that I was missing my journal. Since I was so tired when I slept walk into my apartment from the cab from the airport, I thought perhaps I had taken it out of my bag and not remembered. I did a quick search around my apartment and did not find it. Maybe, I had put it on my desk, by my bed, in the kitchen, in the fridge. I was so sleepy when I came in that I could have done anything with the journal.
Then, of course, it hit me in that sort of foggy mental memory that you have when you are slightly frazzled and sleep deprived. I seem to have remembered putting the journal in the seat pocket of the plane when I realized I was too tired to write anything. This memory was tentative at best but still what I seem to remember happened to the journal. When I did this, I told myself I must not forget the journal. However, I was half asleep when the plane landed and I do not remember grabbing the journal when Michael and I drowsily disembarked from the plane and stumbled to a taxi cab.
When I came to this realization, I called Michael and asked him if he could call the airline and see if anyone had found the journal. Since my journals are important - I write exclusively in Moleskins - these are somewhat expensive as well. So not only did I lose the writing which is important to me; I also lost the journal which is a bit of a double whammy I suppose. I tried to not get too upset. I tried to keep myself calm in the matter. Worse things could have happened.
That night, after checking with the airline, Michael called me back and told me the worker did not find the journal. He gave me the number to call to check myself. The next day, I called from school because I knew that I would be talking with someone who was not fluent in English. If they could not understand me, I could have Edward (the Chinese English teacher of whom I am fond) talk to them and he would be able to clear up any miscommunication.
This turned out to be a very good idea. Before I dialed the airline, I told Edward of the situation. When I dialed the number, I asked the woman who answered if she spoke English.
"A little," she told me.
Not wanting to get into a frustrating situation that could bring on a meltdown, I handed the phone to Edward. He explained the situation to her. They talked for a few minutes. He wrote down another number. When he got off the phone he told me they did not find my journal. He showed me the other number.
At this point, Sharon came into the office. Although, I was trying to find my journal, this was of no importance to her. She had a question for me concerning English. I answered it the best I could but I was somewhat preoccupied. Then, I started to copy the number down that Edward had written down on one of his student's exercises. He had put the exercise away. He did not know why I did not copy the number down when he wrote it down. I did not want to explain that Sharon had interrupted me. Really, I do like her quite a bit but there are sometimes when she can be quite the annoyance. Granted, this is becoming less frequent.
I then dialed the other number. A man answered. I asked him if he spoke English. He said maybe a bit. Once again, I handed the phone to Edward. He talked to the man briefly. He wrote down yet another number.
"That number is for international tickets," he told me. "Here is another number."
I looked at the number and realized it was the same number as the first number.
"I think your diary may be difficult to find," Edward told me.
With that, I gave the journal up for lost. Really, I never lose anything and I suppose in the scheme of things this is not that major but I kept thinking about how I had spent so much time documenting the Hainan getaway. And, I really hated losing the Moleskin. Now, I would have to buy a new Moleskin. The other thing that really chapped my buttocks was that I had told myself to not forget the journal when I put it in the seat pocket but then I had fallen asleep on the plane and I forgot it. That seems to always be the case when something like this happens. You tell yourself not to forget to do this or remember to do this and you inadvertently forget which makes it that much worse.
Nevertheless, I tried to accentuate the positive as the saying goes. As I said earlier, I hardly ever lose anything. I would just mark this down as a loss on my karma calendar and get on with it.
Of course, I did formulate a plan. I could make the pain in the ass trek out to the airport and look for the journal myself if I could locate the lost and found. I knew it had to be somewhere. I was pretty sure that it must be in some big warehouse under someone's vacuum packed boxed - ready to boil - boar's head. I decided to think about this for a day. Maybe, I would go to the airport to inquire about the journal over the weekend. That was a thought. Then I would know for sure and I could once and for all put the missing journal to rest. As I said before, something worse could have befallen me.
Speaking of something worse, when I came into my afternoon class, Danny promptly pointed to his temple. I looked and then I squinted and saw the flesh colored bandage that his hair covered.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Running," he replied.
"Running," he said once more with even more emphasis.
At this point, since his English is limited he had to pantomime the rest. He pantomimes running and looking back as he is running.
"Wall!" Kevin interjected.
"Wall? You ran into the wall?"
"Yes!" He said emphatically.
"You were looking back and you ran into the wall."
"Kevin hurt back of him head."
"Kevin?" I asked and somewhat exclaimed at the same time in what must of sounded a bit fatherly. At this, Kevin rubbed the back of his head. What happened.
“Pole,” he replied.
“You ran into a pole?”
“Yes,” he shook his head.
This is where Danny interjected, “I running, turn see Kevin.”
At this, Danny demonstrates more in depth what happened. He turned around and saw that Kevin who it seems had been chasing him ran into a pole which made Danny laugh and not watch where he was going. Not watching ahead, Danny then proceeded to run into a wall which I assume was probably the corner of the wall.
“Much bleed,” Danny tells me and with this he shows me the small droplet of blood - a souvenir on his school uniform warm up jacket.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

"The students want to take Coca Cola," Sharon told me. "I told them – 'No, they cannot bring.'"
"If it were me," I replied, "I would have just brought it in my bag and not said anything."
"I know."
Tomorrow, the students are going to camp for a few days. Some have told me this is military maneuvers but no one seems to have a clear picture of what it is. This is different than when the students go to the farm for a week from what I have gathered from the disparate information I have gathered.
Whatever the case, I have a few days off so Michael and I are going to fly down to Hainan which is commonly known as the Chinese Hawaii. This is the first Chinese adventure that I have been on in awhile. Really, I am quite excited about it. A few people have told me that Hainan is boring. All there is to do is sit on the beach. That is fine with me. I am ready for the beach especially since the weather forecast for Shanghai this weekend is to be below freezing.
The Hainan trip has been incubating for awhile. Michael wanted to go when the air tickets are reasonable, in the off season. Now is the off season because there are no holidays at this time.

A month ago, he asked me if I could get off on a Friday or a Monday. Fridays and Mondays are days when I have quite a few classes. Getting off on these days is next to impossible because I am the only full time teacher in the international department and I am the project manager of said department. Thus, getting off is very difficult.

But then going during the high season is very expensive so we were at an impasse in regards to the logistics of the trip. Both of us agreed that flying down on a Friday evening and coming back Sunday evening is pointless. We decided to put the trip on hold. Maybe we could go during our winter holiday.
But then a week or so ago, Sharon told me about this mandatory camping trip that the students would be taking. Actually, I even volunteered to go. She told me that as a foreigner I could not go. I was not upset. She told me I could have a short holiday instead. That is when I told her that I wanted to go to Hainan. She gave me the go. As soon as she told me yes, I called Michael and he started looking for cheap air tickets.

Michael has a wealthy uncle in Hainan with a house. He is very excited that we are coming. Michael is the golden boy in the family. He may be the only boy in the family. The uncle is putting Michael and me up at a hotel and he is going to let Michael have his car while we are there as well which is quite the elitist thing in China. Not many folks have wheels here, which are of the non-pedal variety.
At approximately the same time that Michael and I started talking of this trip to Hainan, I was enchanted by a luxury apartment in a high rise. This came about by complete accident. Anyone who knows me very well knows that I currently live in a fabulous 1st floor apartment with my own private walled garden, marble floors, and an open floor plan in a really good location.
Nevertheless, a month or so ago, I got a call from Qi Min who is the teacher whom I love so much at XiangMing, my old school. The teacher who replaced me was not working out. He moved out of the teachers' office into the library because he did not get along with any of the other teachers. She called me on a Sunday afternoon and asked me if I could come back. I told her that I would come by the school the next day and talk to her.
That Monday, I stopped by XiangMing during my mid-day break. Really, I have never felt so welcome in my life. There was an impromptu ticker tape parade of sorts for me. When I walked into the teachers' office, it was like out of a Capra film. All of the teachers rushed up to tell me how much they missed me. Needless to say, Qi Min and I had no privacy so we adjourned to the coffee shop.
There we had even less privacy because the woman who runs the coffee shop was ecstatic and she immediately called the women in the print shop and they called others whom came and filled me in with all of the gossip regarding this teacher whom they did not like in the least. Everyone, in Chinese and pantomime, told me how they missed me and how my replacement never smiled and was just all business. I am – I will be the first to admit – no business.
Finally, after everyone got everything off their chest, Qi Min got down to business with me.
"We really want you to come back," she told me.
"I would love to," I said, "I really would but I have started at this other school and I cannot leave. Maybe we can work something out though."
Really, I did want to go back because life at XiangMing is easy. I know the drill. I know what everyone expects. I was tempted.
Nevertheless, I am at this new school and there are bumps in the road but I would have a difficult time saying goodbye to the students at this point. Really, believe it or not, I always look forward to class at Gezhi, my current school. And, I have really grown to love Sharon as well which I would have never predicted at the start of the year. Edward told me the other day that Sharon's English has improved tremendously since the first of the year because of me which made me feel good.

Nevertheless, I felt I owed Qi Min because she did take me and sit with me at the dentist when I had to have a root canal. She was always helpful with my day to day dilemmas as was everyone else at XiangMing.
"Maybe," I started, "uh, I could teach part time. I have a full schedule but I would like to help out until you find someone permanent. Everyone here was so good to me while I taught here."
"Oh, yes, that is very kind," she agreed. "I will talk to the headmaster."
"Great, just let me know."
"Thank you. You are very kind," she replied.
"I would love to go to lunch sometime when you have time," I told her as I parted.
At that point, I left and mulled over the situation. Jennifer would be the perfect teacher for XiangMing – I thought. However, she moved back to America. In my heart, I thought that I could possibly talk her into moving back to Shanghai if she had the perfect job in downtown. With that light bulb lit in my head, I thought the next logical step would be to find her a flat. That is when I got enchanted and in trouble.
There were a few okay places when I searched online but then I found a really modern place for really cheap that happened to be somewhat close to my school. I knew there must be a catch. Would you walk away from a fool and his money?
I contacted the leasing agent and went to see the place the next day. The place was not as close to my school as I had hoped but it was maybe one of the most fabulous places I had ever seen especially for such a good price. At this point, I thought less and less about moving Jennifer and more and more about moving Tyson.
The first place that the leasing agent showed me was small and would be perfect for someone who was not setting down roots in Shanghai. Perhaps, it would be right for Jennifer if she wanted to move back.
However, I asked the agent if there were bigger places because I thought the building very luxurious. She showed me an end unit that was slightly bigger but with obnoxious closets. I was not impressed.
Then, as if the angels sang, she told me there were a few duplex apartments available.
"How much?" I asked.
"Furnished – 4, 500 rmb," she told me which is what I currently pay.
I was game. I wanted to see them.
She opened the door to the first one and it was love at first sight! The front door opened into a chic little kitchen and off of this chic little kitchen was the perfect cosy little bathroom tiled in a wonderful mocha with a wonderfully deep tub. At the moment, I have a shower in my current apartment. Granted, my shower is really nice but still I would love a tub. The bathroom was the perfect little compact bathroom. I loved it. Then we walked on into the apartment which had an ample sized living room with beautiful dark wood floors. Off of the living room was a balcony.

What made me completely gaga was the sleeping loft over the bathroom with a sleek little staircase leading up to it. The place was perhaps smaller than my current apartment but laid out perfectly. I was in love, not to mention that the building is a doorman building. After seeing the place on Jennifer's behalf, I was ready to move.

Of course, there are always negative aspects. The major downer about the place was the neighborhood, which is safe but not the sort of cool neighborhood like where I currently live. At my current location, I actually have a handful of coffee shops where I can go and little restaurants and it is very much a walking neighborhood. This new neighborhood would not be. Either I would have to take taxis, get a bike or get a scooter. No longer could I walk to the import grocery store or the sushi restaurant where everyone now knows me and they serve me my usual without me even asking. This would be a thing of the past. No longer would I walk by the scooter boys and try to have a conversation in my broken Chinese and their broken English. All of this, I had to consider.

As an accidental Taoist, I decided to just think about it, maybe mention it to Michael but really just think about it. Well, I think I had an out of body experience because the Taoist in me went out of my body. When I got home, I decided I wanted to move. I decided I wanted Michael to look at the place with me since he was a real estate agent when I met him. Sometimes, I know that I need a devil's advocate. This was one of those times. I asked Michael if he would look at the place with me and give me his opinion. He agreed to look at the place with me the following evening.

The next evening, Michael met me and he was all business, all business. The agent, English name Sophie, I thought was nice. Michael sized her up as a crook immediately. He asked her all sorts of questions in Chinese. She was more than a little intimidated by him. Although he was putting her through hell, I was glad I had him there. Sometimes, having a hard-ass on your side is not a bad thing. As he grumbled and combatted with Sophie, I took pictures. With Michael's help, I was able to get the rent lowered on the apartment by about 300 rmb a month.

Michael was not impressed by the apartment in the least. He detested the sleeping loft and its low ceiling.
“You cannot stand,” he announced as he stood un-stooped in the loft. I just looked at him and smiled.

That evening as I left, I told Sophie I would think about it. That is what I did; I thought about it. Over the next week or so, now and then I would look longingly at the photos that I took of the apartment. For some reason, I thought of this apartment as the amour that would cure any blues I might develop and it might solve all of my problems in general.

However, since I was still looking at over a year on my current lease - since I did sign a two year lease the last time so that my landlord would not raise the rent again; I did not see how I could move without losing my deposit. Granted if the apartment had been in a more desirable neighborhood, I would have considered losing my deposit and just going for it.

A few weeks went by and I really didn't think much about the apartment. Then, out of nowhere, Michael called me and told me a former colleague had found someone that wanted my apartment. I called Sophie to see if there were still duplexes left in the high rise. She told me yes. All of this was very exciting to me.

The next thing I know, this former colleague of Michael is showing the apartment to a young lady from Hong Kong. The young Hong Kong lady likes the apartment. I am completely honest about the apartment to her. One of the reasons that I have tired of the apartment is that I really would like to live in a high rise. I love my garden but I really never use it for entertaining since I am such a hermit. I would be completely fine with a balcony. The garden is somewhat wasted on me.

She went outside to talk to the agent, Michael's former colleague. The agent came back into the apartment to tell me that the young lady, the young lady from Hong Kong was set to come back tomorrow at 3 pm to sign the lease.

At that point, I called Sophie. Sophie told me some of the apartments were no longer available. Nevertheless, Michael and I went to look at the remaining apartments in the high rise. The first time -when I fell in love - I looked at one on the 8th floor and then one on the 20th floor. The view from the one on the 20th floor was amazing but the 20th floor apartment did not have a balcony. The living room was extended into the square footage that would have been the balcony.

At that time, the 8th floor was the one that I loved wholeheartedly. Though the layouts were the same in most of them, in some of them the landlords had added extras or had finished out the apartments with drapes and such.

On the phone, Sophie told me that the 8th floor apartment had been leased but that there was one on the 12th floor which excited me since I assumed the view would be much better than the 8th. An apartment was available on the 5th floor as well at a reduced rate. The reduced rate, in the end, did not amount to much of a savings.

We looked at the 5th floor apartment and I was underwhelmed to say the least. Friends of the landlord were living in the apartment temporarily and they had the apartment stacked to the ceiling, more of less, with crap. They also had two tiny little dogs. All of this bursted the dream that I had built around the apartment. This dose of reality made me see the space more realistically. Before, I saw beautiful untainted floor space. Now, I saw what the apartments
looked like lived in. This was good for me to see. No longer was I gaga. I now saw my amour the day after the honeymoon.

Nevertheless, I was excited about the apartment on the 12th floor. Good things come to those who wait.

However, the 12th floor apartment was not as breathtaking as I had imagined. The landlord had basically did every decorating no no starting with putting a large fridge in the living room. I have prayed that I never have to live in an apartment that has a fridge in the living room. This immediately set me off.

The next glaring eyesore were the curtains that looked as if they cost about $2 at Dollar General. They were not just cheap, they were ugly - ugly and cheap. And then the final straw was the balcony. The braniac landlord enclosed the balcony which is another pet peeve of mine. Then there were a few smaller things like the towel hooks in the bathroom that were cheap and ugly. The furniture, which was to be moved out of the apartment, was ugly.

The storage that went the width of the loft had not been finished out as it had been in the other apartments. And, since the landlord had already bought the atrocious Sooner Rents style furniture, he wanted the full price for the rent though, as I stated earlier, the furniture would be moved out of the place.

Since I had promised my apartment to the young Hong Kong lady, I decided that there was enough about the high rise that made it worth moving though I was now absolutely not excited to move. There was an 8th floor apartment with an enclosed balcony that I agreed I would take if I was not put off by it when I saw it. The landlord did not give the key to Sophie so I was not able to view it at that time.

I told Sophie if I liked the apartment I would reserve the apartment once the young Hong Kong lady gave me the deposit for mine.

The next day, at the designated time, Michael and his former colleague came to my apartment. We waited for the young Hong Kong lady. I made tea while we waited. The young Hong Kong lady did not show.