What do you think of this brand?
“No explain. No explain.” Danny repeats over and over.
This is what happened. I came into the classroom a minute before class. The class bell had not yet sounded. Nevertheless, the students always look as if they are caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing when I come into class, no matter how early I arrive. May was thumbing through a Chinese pop magazine. She tells me that it belongs to Danny.
“No explain, May. No explain.” Correct Danny, that's what I should do, but I can't because his inventive use of the language has me spitting and coughing in a giggling fit. All I can do is reprimand May for reading such celebrity trash.
“Danny would never be caught with such a thing,” I say with mock authority.
“No explain. No explain,” Danny continues. “May, no explain.”
Why I am in such a giddy mood, I don’t know. Today is one of those days where the students make me laugh at every turn. Maybe this is because we are getting dangerously close to the end of the term. We are studying pre-American history. They have a list of questions to answer and some words to identify – words like, Inca, Maya, Aztec.
Approximately twenty minutes into the class, Danny comes to my desk bringing his history book with his answers underlined. The first answer to the Olmec question is correct. However, from there, there is a sharp decline in the quality of his answers.
“Although the Olmec civilization was the first in the Americas, more is known about the Maya city-states of Central America,” Danny reads from the book to me in his herky-jerky way, emphasizing the wrong syllables while he does this. This is his complete answer identifying the Maya.
“That is not an answer,” I tell him and then I make a buzzer sound denoting a wrong answer. “I want to know the differences between the Maya and the Aztecs and the Incas. What sets each of them apart? Go back to your desk and come back when you have the correct answers.”
Kevin comes over to my desk 10 minutes after Danny. There is a self congratulatory look about him. I tell him his answers better be better than Danny’s. Again, he answered the Olmec question but when we get to the Maya his answer again is not an answer. To this, I feign exasperation.
“Head broken,” Elliot says from across the room.
“Head super broken!” I add. This sends Danny into one of those crazy Danny laughing fits. I smirk and shake my head.
Later there is suddenly a commotion. I look up.
“He look my book,” May tells me pointing to Danny who is holding a cute girlie journal, the kind with flowers printed all over the outside. Everyone has moved from their own desks. The girls are grouped together. The boys are grouped together. I encourage them to work together because the girls who are at higher levels in their English help Lillian and the boys help each other. Although the boys usually take the easy way, they do usually help each other.
“She, she sit on my..” Danny looks for the word as he tries to come up with a defense.
“So,” I conclude, “since she is sitting in your chair, you can look through her private diary?”
“Yes,” Danny tells me as he emphatically shakes his head up and down.
“No,” I reply shaking my head side to side.
“No,” he replies to my reply shaking his head side to side.
“What’s this word mean?” Elliot asked me when were in the computer room as he was doing his research on white tigers. I went over to look at the word - ‘f-u-r-r’.
“Elliot, you have caught a misspelling,” I told him. “The word is f-u-r.”
“Oh, this,” he said after he translated it with an online translator and rubs his hairless arm.
“Yeah, or this,” I said as I mussed Kevin’s hair.
To this Kevin responded with a shocked “Huh?!” in that patented Kevin via Archie comic book way.
“Oh, sorry,” I replied. “I thought you were a white tiger.”
Okay, Ed one of the Chinese English teachers always wants to know 'what do you think of this brand?' as he shows me whatever shirt or pants - if we are talking pants he points to the label above his butt and this might be my imagination but I swear he wiggles it a bit - he is wearing that he has just bought. I always ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ like they are the most famous which sometimes they are; Levi's, Northface, Polo, Nautica. But this time, he is wearing Paul and the Shark which I had never seen until I moved to China. I just let him take the lead and explain how famous and good Paul and the Shark are to Sharon who has wandered up to the desk at this point.
Terry is in hospital. A few weeks ago, he went for a physical in order to get his visa to go study in the USA. He did not pass the physical. Something is wrong with his heart.
“Not serious,” Sharon told me when I first asked about this.
“A little serious,” Sharon told me the next time I asked.
Now Terry is in hospital. This is more than a little worrisome. Now, after the fact I can see his fragility, his doomed springtime.
“Ah, swine flu-uh” Danny says after I nearly blow my head off with a sneeze in the computer room.
At the moment, I am trying to keep my cool. This should be no big deal but it could be the straw; it could seriously be the very last one. This is the deal. On Wednesday mornings, I do current events with the students. I give them a stack of newspapers from the last week and I let them pick an article to translate. After the article is translated, they tell me what the article is about. They seem to enjoy doing this and I think that it is a good exercise. As I said, we do it every Wednesday morning.
Okay, now let me give the back-story. At the first of the year, I had a bit of a problem because Chinese English teacher (we will call him ) M always grabbed the papers before I got to them. The papers are paid for by my placement company for my class. I explained this to the teacher and there was no further problem until a few weeks ago when I decided it was a bit greedy of me to hoard these papers for just one class when others could be enjoying them as well.
I spoke to the teacher. I told him that really I only use the papers once a week on Wednesday morning so if he would like to read them and then put them on my desk that would be fine. His English is good so I assumed there was no problem. Silly me!
Last week, I found the papers on his desk after I had searched for them in the mailroom. This week, they are nowhere to be found and neither is the English teacher. Ed says that he has a lesson and he will be back shortly, not to worry. That is easy to say when someone has not stolen your lesson from you.
Nevertheless, in the scheme of things, things could be worse. I could not have a job or I could be working at some job that I really hate so things could be worse, much worse.
Eventually, a few minutes before class is to start, M comes into the teachers’ office with a student. I don’t want to interrupt but I do need to know if he has the papers since they were on his desk last week. Naturally, I assume he took them. He did not take them and he seems to be a bit shocked that I would accuse him. When I asked him, I asked him oh so nicely so he has no excuse to think me rude. I wanted to jump to conclusions but I didn't.
At this point, I am more than a little annoyed but I know it does no good to throw a fit because that is looked upon as foreigner having a tantrum. So, when Sharon comes into the office, I explain the situation and again I am very calm about it.
“Someone has taken the newspapers which I use for my lessons,” I tell her.
“You sure?” she asks which she pronounces ‘U shoe-er?’
“Yes,” I reply. “I use them every Wednesday.”
“Sometimes, maybe May collects them,” she tells me.
This is completely out of left field. May to my knowledge has never ever collected the newspapers from the mail room. May has never ever even been in the mailroom to my knowledge.
“May, the student?” is my only response. This was such an out of the blue answer that I thought that maybe there was some hidden secret May of whom I was not aware.
“Yes, she collects them.”
“You sure?” I ask.
Sharon goes to the classroom with me to ask May about this because I am not sure how to do it. I am armed with one lone newspaper as if newspaper locusts had eaten the rest.
As we are walking to the classroom, Sharon comes up with some other solutions for the current events. She suggests we go to the library and Xerox articles and do it that way. This seems like an awful waste of paper to me. These days I am trying to be somewhat green. Sharon then suggests we go to the computer room which is a good idea I tell her. But, how fond will the computer room gatekeeper be of us barging into the computer room at the last minute. These things are to be scheduled in advance. Nevertheless, if that is what is to be done, that is what is to be done.
Once we are in the classroom, Sharon questions the students about the missing newspapers.
“Someone steal our newspaper!” Kevin exclaims. “So foolish someone is!”
“Yeah!” I tell him feeding the frenzy as I hold up the one newspaper.
“We give them 10 reasons to not steal newspaper!” Danny says passionately as he holds up both fists.
“We give them 100 reasons!” Kevin adds, adding his fists with Danny’s and calling the rest of the class to arms.
“Yeah!” I add to that and then I grab my chest as if it is too much for me to take and I fall down on the floor in a mock heart attack.
“Ambulance call!” Sharon announces in mock panic.
Everyone laughs. Some of them have never seen me have a heart attack. Sharon takes Danny with her to talk to the computer room gatekeeper.
“I will bake you many cakes!” I tell Sharon as she and Danny leave the classroom.
“Oh, no need,” She tells me as she smiles and leaves the room.
I tell the rest of the students I will be right back. I must go to the teachers’ office to collect my grade book and other assorted teacherly things that I need for the class. Quickly, I gather my tools and head back to the class. The bell rings while I am en route.
“We have to stay in the classroom,” Danny tells me as I walk into class.
“Really?” I ask more surprised that he has put together a grammatically correct sentence than the fact that we cannot go to the computer room.
“Student joke,” he tells me which makes me laugh because I really thought that he was telling the truth. His eyes wrinkle up and he laughs. En masse, we head to the computer room. Since I am walking quickly, I get there before the rest of the class.
Sharon is waiting there for us.
“So late,” she tells me jokingly.
We have a day’s holiday. I decide to go see Terry.
The train to see Terry was uneventful, only eight stops from People’s Square. On the train, a family with a young boy, stood. An old lady with her old husband scooted over to make room on the bench for the young boy. From the bench across from them, I watched. Gladly, I would have offered my bench but I did not know how to get their attention.
Nevertheless, this dilemma was solved when a few people got up from my side of the train. The father and the boy sat down next to me. The boy looked up at me and said hello. I said “Hello, how are you?” He laughed and repeated, more as an answer than a question - “How are you!”
The mother stood leaning on a pole. Seeing this, I felt guilty and offered my seat. The mother refused. Again, I offered. Again, she refused. Finally, I got up and made it very clear that I was not going to not let her take the seat. She sat with a fluster of ‘thank you’s’. The old couple looked upon this scene and smiled.
At this point, I was standing by the door on the same side as the old couple. The old lady was sitting closest to me. She tugged on my shirt to let me know that another seat was vacant a little farther down. Someone closer to the seat nabbed it. I thanked the old woman and smiled. She gave me a toothless smile in return.
Eventually, a few stations before my station, the family got up and motioned for me to take the seat. I thanked them and sat down.
Now, I was sitting across from the old couple once again. They noticed the bag I carried with a stuffed bull’s head sticking out. In broken Chinese, I told them that my friend is sick. Not knowing the word for sick, I let out a mock cough.
They then asked if I was going to Xin Hua Hospital. I told them yes and they nodded their heads in approval. At this point, I was at the stop. I told the old couple goodbye and exited the train. Outside exit 2, stood the hospital, big imposing and Chinese.
I followed the throng of people through the street construction – there is always street construction – into the 12 story hospital in search of the 14th floor. This could prove difficult.
The first floor of the newly opened building was dissected in the middle by an escalator. People were going every which way. I looked at my watch and I was on time. I had told Terry that I would come to see him in between 10:30 and 10:45. The time was now 10:28. This pleased me.
I went to the elevator banks assuming that I had judged wrong on the number of floors. I hadn’t; there were only 12 floors in the building. My worst fears were grounded.
Since I had a note with all of the information in Chinese, I figured I could blunder my way through a conversation at the information counter. This sort of scene is always a psyche-out sort of scene for the locals simply because I am always looked upon by the mass population as some sort of elephant man. This time was no different. The women at the information desk looked at me with a certain mystified horror.
To the lady at information, I pointed to the information - the floor and Terry’s Chinese name - that Sharon had written in Chinese. She made a phone call. The prognosis did not seem to be positive. She hung up the phone. She looked at the information written on the sheet, crossed it out and put in her own information which was not exactly what I suspected but was not surprised really. After she marked out Terry’s name with the rest of the information, she shook her head no. This was slightly unnerving.
“Meiyo,” she stated.
“Meiyo?” I asked surprised. A few minutes before, I had received a text from Terry. I knew he was at the hospital and the lady at information desk was telling me he was not.
“Meiyo?” I asked again.
“Meiyo (don’t have, not here),” she confirmed after she had marked through the information on the paper.
Since I had just heard from Terry, I assumed there was another taller building on the hospital grounds, though no one had thought to tell me this when they gave me the directions. Behind the main new building, there was a taller older building. I made my way there which involved going through a side door and following a breezeway to the back entrance of this taller building.
This building seemed abandoned. Inside, hardly anyone stirred. There were a few nurses wandering the hallways. This was a drastic contrast to the building in front. There was something slightly sinister about the building, like a building stuck in another time, a time of polio and syphilis.
Although I was in what seemed to be a grand entryway, I could find no elevator banks. Finally, after wandering around, I did find one elevator which was odd since the building was so tall. I then saw a nurse who had a kind face. I showed her the information. She shook her head ‘No’. I followed her. She went down a long hallway. At the end of the hallway was another elevator. I got in with her. I pushed the button for the 14th floor. Again, she shook her head no. I assumed she was looking at the room number which was 825. I shook my head yes. We rode in the elevator in silence.
We got out of the elevator and both walked in the same direction. We walked past a nurses’ station. I was looking at the room numbers this whole time. They were clearly marked.
I found the room. I walked in.
In the bed where Terry should have been was a man who was clearly not Terry. Yes, he was Chinese but he was not Terry. This man in Terry’s bed was probably in his late 50s. The room full of patients and visitors – there were 4 beds crowded into a two-bed (hospital) room – all stared at me. I apologized and went back to the nurse’s station. At this point, I did not know what to do. I called Terry and gave the phone to the nurse. Why I did this I am not sure because they could not explain to me where to go once Terry got off the phone with them. By this time, it was nearly 11. I walked around the floor thinking that I might find some sort of Chinese clue to Terry’s whereabouts. At this point, I found the main elevator bank. There I waited.
A minute or so later, the elevator opened and a crowd of Chinese visitors were inside though there was still plenty of room for more passengers. A woman stood with a bag that basically blocked anyone from getting in. I basically had to kick the bag out of the way to gain admittance. She did not seem to notice. The elevator stopped at every floor on the way down. More people got in. By the time we reached the 1st floor the elevator was packed.
The elevator opened to what was the grand entrance to the building. This grand entrance spilled out onto a large circle drive. There were other buildings along the circle drive. All of these buildings were squat. None of them were anywhere close to having 14 floors.
At this point, I was frustrated. It was 11:15 and I had still not located Terry. There had to be a building with 14 floors. There had to be.
For lack of any other ideas, I wandered around the hospital grounds with hopes of finding someone who spoke English. I knew he was here somewhere. I just did not know where. This was becoming somewhat Hitchcockian. Maybe he was locked in a chapel or in a basement or in a bell-tower.
I made my way back to the building where I first entered. I saw a young nurse who looked as if she might know English. Actually, there was no way of telling if she knew English or not but I thought I had nothing to lose.
“Duibuqi,” I said as I pointed to my sheet of marked through information pointing to the marked through information. “Jigga.” (Translated as ‘Excuse me, this.”)
“I will show you,” she told me.
“Thank you, xie xie, thank you, xie xie!” I said as a mantra of international thank you.
She took me to a building connected by a breezeway to the side of the first building where I had entered. This building did not look as if it had 14 floors. Nevertheless, when we got to the elevator, I saw that there were indeed 14 floors – the 14th floor being the top floor.
I thanked the nurse as I got into the elevator which I shared with an orderly and a gurney. A few other people got into the elevator with us. The nurse said her goodbyes and went back the way she came.
Back in the States....
My cousin asked me if I remember the woman who lived across the street from her house. I am not sure. The man, I somewhat remember. My cousin talks to the couple in passing or rather talked to them in passing. A family bought the house. A young family with two kids and a couple of dogs and a few work trucks live there now. Before, last summer, the house always looked somewhat vacant. Occasionally someone would drive onto the driveway, a teenage girl, a woman, the man that I somewhat remember.
Last summer, there was this story about the teenage girl. She and a girlfriend decided to try X or some other such drug. My cousin was not sure what the drug was they tried. They found a boy to deal it. The boy was happy to deal it. The parents were out of town. The girls did the drugs. The boy showed up with a few other boys. The boys took turns. Maybe this went on all weekend. In China, the boys would be executed. In America, no one says anything.
The mom is a drunk. She drinks and fights with the man. He is not the girls father. Or maybe she is not the girl's mother and he is the girl's father. I am not sure which. Nevertheless, the woman is a drunk. This is not blatant, only her close friends know. Only those in the know know. When she gets drunk, she fights with the man.
Before the happy family with the two kids and the dogs and the work trucks moved into the house, the woman went on one of her drinking binges; she fought with the man. He stormed out and drove away. She decided to show him. She did it in the garage. Some people think it was an accident that she just wanted to scare him. The chair broke.