Sunday, November 28, 2010


Holiday Special

Its the day after Thanksgiving - I am listening to my first ‘legitimate’ Christmas carols right now (granted... I busted them out a couple times around july...)

Yesterday (actual Thanksgiving) was wonderful. A friend and I went to the imports shop and totally did it up - buying a 5.7kg turkey (12.5 lbs?) - which we actually managed to fit inside a chinese oven, and roast more than properly. (Best turkey roasting of my life... and on my first try! hah - I think I might have even beaten my father out on this one ~ though his gravy making skills and multi-tasking for a large gathering still beat me out hands down. For now...)

It was a task and a half. Cooking in a chinese sized kitchen for Thanksgiving is certainly difficult. Fortunately my friend has an oven, but otherwise, there was a massive shortage of everything but ingredients. It was intense - using a pie pan, a cast Iron skillet (an awesome relic that my Oklahoman friend had delivered via parentals earlier on in his time in China), and a few miscellaneous oven-survivable bowls, we managed to put out the following magnificent spread.

- A 5.7kg Turkey roasted to sinful perfection with butter inserted between the skin and the breast just like all the youtube videos told me to. we trussed the turkey with tinfoil rope that we made.... it looked like we were trying to block out some aliens... but it totally worked - with no added ‘foil flavors’. OH... and the turkey came with not only the organs and the neck... but the head as well - with the tongue intact.
- Cornbread stuffing made from scratch courtesy of my Oklahoman friend - Phenomenal... and I dont particularly care for corn, or cornbread... This was a chore and no mistake. The first time was attempted with an evidently legendary Oklahoman brand... which failed to rise to the challenge (da dum tch). So I reminded him that cornbread from scratch was really easy to make... and there just happened to be a lot of corn-flour/meal in a bag at the back of the kitchen. After doing some... ‘math’... he adjusted the recipe to fit our solitary pie pan. Batch two finished cooking, and we sampled it... and promptly got cotton-mouth from how salty it was. Batch THREE! I was preparing my own something that I can’t exactly recall, and I look over and watch my Oklahoman friend pull out the salt dish and nonchalantly shake a ‘measure’ from the dish into the dry cornbread ingredients. I gave his action an odd look and decided to ask him... “hey buddy? I thought we decided that last time was salty?” He looked at me and said “Thats salt? oh NO! I thought that was the sugar” No wonder last time was so salty!” And cue bout of cursing. . .(...) . . . and close. Pitch that batch of dry mix, and BATCH FOUR! this time it was a smashing success - quite possibly the most delicious cornbread I've had in a long time (tragedy heightens taste I’m convinced). From this magnificent stock, the stuffing was made.

- A pumpkin pie made completely from scratch. That means... I took Chinese elongated pumpkin, and by degrees, turned it into puree because canned pumpkin is clearly impossible to achieve - even at the import store. I ground the cinnamon bark, whole cloves and ginger in my coffee grinder (for the future... just mince the ginger... its wet and so the other ingredients cake to the walls of the coffee grinder... making the grinding a much more time consuming effort). AND I made the pastry-crust myself. I think the only way I could have possibly been more thorough is if I grew the ingredients, milled the flour, milked the cow and churned the butter, and harvested the cinnamon bark from a tree with my teeth.
- Mashed potatoes
- Sweet potatoes (roasted by the local guys... and doctored up with sweetened condensed milk, sin, butter(same thing), and brown sugar)... not quite my father’s legendary sweet-potatoe souffle... but ridiculously popular none-the-less.
- Olives - both green and black
- Corn
- and some sort of stubborn gravy... oh well - who cares... Chinese dont even know what it is anyways.

There were 3 Americans, 5 Chinese, a Chinese-American baby, and a Filipino.

I started on the pumpkin the night before, biked home, and then biked back the next morning to a day filled with cooking. It was wonderful.

The reason I love Thanksgiving so much is that it has so few rules. There needs to be Turkey (or if otherwise unachievable .... some sort of roast fowl! possibly even roast beast), there needs to be orange gourd pie (colour change might be tolerated)... and some delicious beverages.

You are free to enjoy your friends and go overboard on gluttony.

Other seasons have so many pre established demands to meet, the inevitable non-meeting of those demands, and the tragic results that follow.

So let me say what I am thankful for:

- I am thankful for an adventure that many do not have the opportunity to have.
- Friends that are willing to open up their home and be multi-cultural (and multi-lingual ^_^).
- An import store that actually brought in turkeys.
- A wealth of culinary information available on the internet.
- People who are willing to try something new - and be open to liking it.


I won’t pretend, I burned with desire for the CanIL kitchen (a fully stocked kitchen at my University), but I was pleased as punch nonetheless.

It also gave me a picture of what it really means to have an international lifestyle. There was a sense of home, but it was very mobile, and not the same ‘home’ as you would expect during the holidays back in one’s country of origin. Living an international life means forever being ‘displaced,’ but still finding moments of belonging. It means finding a refuge in someone else’s apartment as you work together to celebrate something that everyone else doesn’t have experience with. It means picking up turkey with chopsticks and eating pie out of a bowl (also with chopsticks).

What do they say? When its dark outside, the best burn their brightest.

Just another chance to spread one’s wings then isn’t it?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 6

Day 6 Out - Sunday

Nearing a week from when I took my leave from the old company.

Today is my second day teaching at the IELTS center. I’m finding that it is very difficult to feel like i’ve done a good job teaching when I’m not fully certain what is supposed to come out of the class. What do you really want to get out of the class when it is called “overseas intensive... speaking” their English is already fairly good... so honestly the class lacks a lot of structure. I cover grammar issues as they come up, and build vocabulary and point everything towards being able to fill the speaking section of the IELTS test. Basically trying to raise the number of “conversationalists.” I guess I am cynical because I wouldn’t really want to study a language this way myself. I suppose if you are in a country where you can’t have a conversation with someone in the language you are learning on a daily basis... it would be worth paying for... but it just feels kind of ‘forced’ or manufactured to me.

One thing I was thinking about yesterday is that teaching English is one of those businesses that fictitious. The product is in your head. You can convince yourself that you either have or have not received the product. Not to mention, there is a definite amount of inherent irreverence that comes with “buying” a society’s means of expression. Thats like trying to buy an artist’s talent or a singer’s voice (ursula did it!).

And then there is the whole issue of... measuring the delivery of that product. How do you as the “customer” evaluate delivery. Most people have no formal language training, and no REAL way to measure their success aside from a general feeling, and half of that feeling is most often whether or not they “like” their school. What kind of criteria is that?

Thats why I like grammar... and also why a lot of foreigners have such a hard time with Chinese... because the grammar is very difficult to evaluate or focus on directly(especially without a massive vocabulary).


Ha... Ha... Ha

After my last class, I decided that I wanted to go shopping. The mall complex I wanted to visit is pretty close to where I work, so why not. I have stacks of cash and a need for some super-fly winter clothes, in addition to the pent up urge to... i dunno - exert myself in some way shape or form and violence is kind of out of the question.

I stashed my computer and books in the lockable cabinet in the office and biked to the mall. Heading down to the bottom floor, I revisited the shop where I got my awesome jacket about a month ago having decided that their style was along the lines of super-flyness I was looking for. Browsing all over the place, the store girl who attached herself to me and I started pulling things left and right. The store is so super fly that most of the sizes are designed to look skinny on asian boys... so I was about 2 sizes too big for a number of things. I was particularly interested in sweaters, dress shirts, pants... ok everything.... Though, the pants I pulled were supposed to fit a slim Chinese (thats slim from the Chinese point of view...), not to mention I have generous buttocks, the likes of which I have not seen on Chinese in my weight class.

I found some straight up Cinderella grade boots - that is... they fit perfectly on the first time... not that they are made of glass and or are going to land me a man (ahem...). Im not sure if they’re Italian or French... Dior? Im not particularly loyal either way... I was just glad to find real leather in a classy shape with well placed buckles.

Bought the boots, a re-invented 70’s grade plaid sweater vest, a pretty awesome suit jacket and a chalk stripe sweater with a low neckline.

WOw.... this is a really revealing blog. I dont think i’ve ever written down just how much I enjoy fashion. Totally blossomed into it too. I was the kid who wore a speedo the entire summer, obsessed over overalls and had at least 3 colours of corduroys until about 16. (Their a wonderful choice for pants dangit!)

Finally deciding that I had milked the store for everything I wanted, having turned down two shirts that I wasn't completely in love with, I got up to the counter and we totaled up my conquest. ¥953 Flip flip flip flip flip flip flip flip flip flip ¥1000 hard earned and gladly spent.

NEXT STORE! (What?! I wasnt DONE yet!)

Total off chance... I went into a jeans shop and ended up with a whole lot more ^_^. See... totally glad I dont have a wife and children to feed :D. At first the shop girl swooped in and started doing her thing, but when the guy started noticing that we had similar tastes... he stepped in and took over. Not gonna lie - totally glad he did, because I ended up with just the kind of super-fly togs I was looking for. Baring a whole lot of extra explanation... I got: a really cool non-standardly pocketed grey-blue collared button down, a pair of moderately dark wash jeans with some seriously technicolored “crude” stitching and a heavy zippered sweater with predominately blue-black mixed body with black cuffs and “belt-line” I had to convince myself to be a little more rational, so I waited on the thermal (puffy) vest and scarf... only to come back after dinner to claim the vest.

Same sort of thing - turned to the counter and totaled up my conquest. This time ¥778 or so (¥257 for the vest after the fact) - Flip flip flip flip flip flip flip flip (flip flip flip) got myself a VIP card and an invitation to go hang out with fashionable shop dude too. HAH! Just might take him up on it too ~ I need some randomly made friends.

Dinner was an interesting affair. I was on auto pilot to the Indian restaurant, but had a reflective moment that this was not a time for “routine” It was time for new! SO, I headed into the sushi restaurant. It was fashioned after the more metropolitan style sushi restaurants with the conveyer belts and colour coordinated plates. Fortunately there was a ‘by order’ menu available, because the premade stuff did not look particularly awsome. I ordered sushi for the first time in ten long and sad months. Honestly it by no means matches up the glory of Vancouver sushi... but it served me in my moment of need... and made me concrete my need to go to Japan some day to visit and then perhaps stick around for work and language number 4 ^_^.

Well... Im all shopped out and tired... and I have to teach two 3hour classes tomorrow... so Imma go to bed and dream of Mao’s red face flying away from me as I pose in my luscious vestments.

In all - over ¥2000 Pretty good for a Teenage girl with credit card moment I’d say. OH and cash that you’ve earned is by FAR more validating than plastic you haven’t.

This is a “next day description” as I am looking back on yesterday this morning. Taking a shopping spree was something I wanted to do, not just to be opulent ^_^, not to further perpetuate the “foreigner” image to Zhengzhou people, but because I think I just wanted to have something to show for all the work I’ve been doing. I have had this sort of growing fear that in a few years i’ll change careers and not have something to show for the “work” I did in China. The reason I came wasn’t for work - it was for language and culture, and im definitely growing in those ways. I without a doubt have something to show on those planes, however the ‘work’ side has been bothering me.

I have this gnawing feeling that most of what I do is performing rather than fully constructive teaching. I DO teach. I DO provide an environment to learn, and I have seen my students learning, but I still have this sort of impotency complex when it comes to “real” teachers. I keep thinking its going to play out like a movie and i’m going to have performed for a few years and then im going to meet a “real teacher” who is going to totally overshadow me.

I’m not as vain or competitive as I pretend to be :D, I dont mind being “second” in certain things as long as I am doing my best and growing in the way I am capable. On that level - comparison is not a truly fitting measure of success to me.

What I DO mind though is “faking it” for a few years and having palsied/ deficient skills in comparison to someone who has had real and cultivating experience.

I am not saying that my experience is not valuable. It has been. It has also been a lot of time trying to avoid the rocks though. There has been no feedback loop except people showering me with kisses ~ and you know what they say about people who multiply kisses...

So here I am being as completely honest as I can about the situation. I went shopping because I think it is fun, because it gives me an outlet for expression even when my words don’t work, it gives me something to show for all of the hours of performances i’ve put on, and it makes me feel like there is at least some sort of reason that I am working as much.

I have been so busy working for the past basically month and a half that I’ve only gotten through one chapter of my Chinese book. Theres only 2 left dangit! But being jostled around so much has made sitting down and focusing on written Chinese very difficult. I have however had ABUNDANT speaking practice these days. More and more I am having full conversations with people. I get a massage - bam conversation about something... possibly ending in me getting chastised for making so much money (How do “you (Chinese massage dude)” think it is a good Idea to ask me how much money I make and then chastise me for it because it is way above the average Chinese university graduate. To quote Rob Roy (loosely), “I don’t show you my mind to be flayed for it!”) The girls never chastise me... meh.

I go shopping - bam conversation. I go to work at the VIP center - SHAZAM conversations all day long. I go to my oklahoman friend’s house - bam conversation because their folks dont speak English. Its a circle of verbal practice all over the place. I could definitely go for some book study now though. I need more words, and picking up words in conversation through Chinese is a little more difficult than Spanish because they are short and sound the same as a gazillion other words.

Love you all, time to start my day.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Day 4 & 5 Out

Day 4-5 Out

Oh yesterday (day 4 out/ Friday). I was supposed to get off early because I dont get any days off this week. Instead, I ended up staying until 6:00 on account of trying to sort out this transfer of ownership (who owns ME that is...) non-sense. The contract termination agreement is under question by my new “owner,” and she is at the point where... if old owner does not give in to my stipulations... she’ll have me drop all contact with previous owner, change my phone number and essentially leave her in the dust. Normally I wouldn’t be SO severe, but there is a question as to what kind of trouble can be made for me if we go through certain steps of the “contract termination agreement.” If there is room for treachery, I am certainly going to leave wide breadth and approach with caution.

Anyhow - I was supposed to get out of there at basically 3:00 when I got back from visiting old boss to try and sort out some paperwork. And... that didn’t happen

That night I was supposed to (and did... and it ended up being wonderful by the way) go make pizza with the friend. I’m more or less the one who is responsible for the crust. I have magical kneading digits - what can I say.

At 1:00 I was briefed on how to teach some IELTS (International English Test) speaking classes that I am responsible for for the next three weeks. Starting the next day. Cant say that particularly brightened my mood - though having work to do finally does make me feel a bit more useful than the cute little lame duck of a foreigner sitting in an office.

Slightly before 1:00, arriving at 12:00 was the grand lady herself - newboss. We got to talking for a while over tea (as always). As a precursor, before I go and explain the subject matter of our conversation, I want to say that this kind of conversation does not fuel my ambition like I used to think it would. Right now, I dont even know what I want... which makes the situation worrisome and frustrating for everyone, because I cannot be bought and secured, and the longevity of my “corporate loyalty” can be very questionable. The only thing to be done as far as “buying me” at this stage of my life, is to keep me feeling like i’m learning something that I deem worth learning. Pretty subjective - Im aware - Im not trying to justify it, only state that this is in fact the case.

Water on the tea-leaves, we get to talking. Once again she is talking about stock, and being shareholder and how she wants to make me a significant part of her company. She is pretty set on trying to convince me to stay for at least 5 years. She turns to the long-term benefits that the job would have for me, including a fuller understanding of China, not to mention the quality of my Chinese by that time. I would be a shareholder in a company that she is bent on getting onto the NASDAQ. For the kind of time she is asking, she essentially offered to give me the apartment I now live in (assuming I understood that conversation correctly), basically a $57,000 value in a really convenient spot. Things along those lines.

It all sounds nice - not gonna lie. However... I dont know if its what I really want. Those things certainly are not my direct motive. So I assured her that I was open to the idea, but completely unable to promise that much time. Her response? Take it easy, and then you can decide.

Thats absolutely right.

After I finally got out of there, I zoomed to a wine import store and picked up a Chilean phenomenon called “Stony River.” Its only called “Rio de Piedras” on the back... but im not too worried cause its got a seriously bodied flavor profile.. From there I flew to my apartment, dodging humans and automobiles alike on my lightning steed. Its like traffic volumes correlate to my desire to not be in it, but instead with friends.

I made it to my friends house mentally playing an incredibly vain and and self-centered version of “Eye of the Tiger.” Upon arriving, I was wearing my awesome surgeon’s mask and holding the bottle of wine. I asked them all sweaty like “AM I BEAUTIFUL!?!I” took the sponge (basically a dough starter for you non-bakers) that I had my friend make, and boosted it up to full on dough status. We then chatted it up while we waited for my Oklahoman friend’s new Argentinian friend to arrive.

Honestly - the rest of the evening wasn’t all that consequential. I just really enjoyed it. I like having friends to be around and enjoy, and be enjoyed by. These days im my own best friend. I go shopping with me, and admire my own sense of fashion and make snide remarks about horrendous shops that should be renamed such things as “The ill-dressed Homosexual” (Urban Renewal... FOUL) I’m not into bringing sexual orientation into judgements - left that behind when I was about 14.... but this store gave off a rank and ill-suited vibe.

I heartily laugh at my own jokes in the middle of a store when they don’t even make it out of my mouth. I think i’ve definitely crossed over the line into an unstable sense of “sanity” - that means i’ve got some serious creative potential right?!

Right now is a moment where I feel I am on the edge of a knife to pull out a Tolkien term. I’ve made some really cool friends at the “small languages” VIP center. They like me, I like them - mutual interest in people that live relatively near by?! no way. Not possible. The only problem is that I’m worried that certain headhunters might try and allocate me to the IELTS center instead because I can actually do an immediately monetarily measurable job (teaching... thats what the students come for right? pshaw). Im worried that pragmatism will outweigh the ideas that were discussed when I was originally brought in, and I won’t be in the environment I was looking for.

If I get shuffled off to be the groups advertising/ “the popular teacher”...who doesn’t necessarily do anything much better than the other teachers... but is really well liked - I can just about guarantee that I would get distant and go into self-preservation mode for the year and then move on.

I really hope that this doesn’t turn into that. I don’t think it will, because Boss Lady has far too much of a vested interest in my happiness to let Headhunter just put me where “it works.” The possibilities do still exist though, and they are a cause for concern within me.

OK Saturday - Day 5 Out

With severely limited prep time (due to being alerted on rather short notice and my own choice to go spend time with friends *acknowledged*), I taught 3 Speaking classes today. Out of the corner of my eye when I was making photo copies, I noticed one of the boys from the level 3 GAC class. Yea... thats right, THE fashionable pain in the ass from the level 3 class studies IELTS at the school I moved to.... on the other side of the city. Freaking ridiculous twist of fate. He recognized me “before” I he, and greeted me. I’m still not sure if he was being snide or if that is just me being snarky on the inside and not wanting to like him because he was such a pain at the other school.

I got a call five minutes before closed the class, and naturally ignored it. Getting in touch with the blighter after class - it was the kids school, telling me that the demo class was moved up a half hour. My generous buttock it is! not a chance. “Its going to be at the same time I was told, I’ve got preparing to do still, not to mention getting there.”

Schools in China (Zhengzhou at the very least) have no concept of forward scheduling. They think its fair to change things / plan them the day of, and that you will bend over and accept it because they planned it, and their normal workers accept it. Thats not fly. I’m all for cultural sensitivity, but I learn culture to operate within it and meet those who belong to it on a level they will understand, not be bound by it.

I can roll with those punches. Thats not a problem. The problem comes to a head when I ask myself “why.” If it is to create a situation wherein I am just enabling someone else's business success, then I feel like I’ve betrayed myself. If its a mutually beneficial relationship then fine and dandy. I love to serve and benefit others, but I don’t want to be someones stepping stone - some sort of pavement that is only regarded for its ability to hold up overhead traffic.

I decided that tonight was most definitely a massage night. In the process of my hour long knee-toe massage I decided that I could totally live out a year improving my Chinese, throw everything else to the wind, go learn how to give the most incredible foot massages ever (the girl said she trained in about 2-4 months), and then move on to Taiwan for another step in my learning curve... Sounds exciting to me ^_^.

And today ended once again with me being tired.

1st week out

I literally just finished my first demo class at the IELTS training center - one of the three branch schools that are currently open for the group I am working for now. I taught the teachers, thank God i’ve got drama skills and a year of teaching experience or I’d probably be visibly shaking right now.

Im sitting in the board room at the head of the table staring at the opposite side of the room where there is a large statue of one of the Buddhist deities... who is most definitely the coolest looking with his full armor, beard and sword on a stick. Well... he doesnt factor into this much, so lets move on.

This job is not quite what I’d call ‘teaching’ in the strictest of ESL senses. It seems I’ll be teaching some classes most definitely, but I’m also being moved around a lot as a means of trying to boost the quality of teachers in the various schools. Thats cool stuff. I’m by no means “super-teacher” but I think it would be a lot of fun to help other teachers along in their growing process.

I was given a book yesterday called, “How to be a Brilliant Trainee Teacher.” I never thought I’d be reading books on education! Im an ESL teacher dangit! Hahaha

Its funny to me to be reflecting on all of this, coming at it from the angle of “I never wanted to do this, but here I am.” Even though I have absolutely no desire to teach in anything but a post-secondary institution, or Language Center back in North America (not that that is even all that high on my priorities list...), I think that learning about the education field is absolutely valuable - and not in a money sense. I am turning back to an idea i’ve written about before regarding teaching. Like I said before, its not my passion, but I think that in every realm that deals with human interaction - there is an element of teaching. All teaching is on the bottom line is the trafficking of information. The primary difference between a teacher and a spy in my point of view is that a spy tries to conceal information and deposit it, whereas teachers have the much larger task of making sure that people can actually USE the information (usually...).

Wherever I end up after this, I know that i’ll have learned a lot about how to cultivate understanding in other people, and that has a thousand and one uses in its own right.

Now to try and get some work done for my two hour English corner tomorrow evening... Evidently I was very highly rated by my “students” on a scale of 1-40 the majority gave me 32-34 according to my headhunter.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

1st week of Nov 2010

El paso final. Right now the majority of my comm. class is doing a “retest” for their final exam - worth 40% of their grade. Eleven out of fifteen failed. Now what does that say? It could say a lot of things, and I think a course on hermeneutics might be necessary for that interpretation. However... I’m not particularly interested in hermeneutics, so I wont go into it. Instead im going to continue writing this blog while time slips away from these students who still look like they didn’t study worth a lick.

Today started out rough, but reasonable. I woke up at about 5:37 and lapsed into a coma. Then again at somewhere between 5:40-45 I was once again goaded into semi-consciousness ~ dehydrated as always. I’m beginning to think that pollution steals your internal water supply, because I drink water before I go to bed each night in a vain attempt at curing my ritual pollution hangover that doubtlessly comes each morning. I stumbled into the bathroom and rid myself of my retainer while reviling the exposed overhanging light. From there I sought out the kitchen and made my traditional “bowl of coffee.” It made waking up worth it. After reading till I was content, I turned off the lamp on my ...desk...table?... and stared out the barred window into the overcast autumn sky that was gradually lightening with the coming of the sun. I love the half-light ~ even though it makes it incredibly difficult to stay awake. I took the time to try and ready myself for the difficulties that I knew the week was going to have in it.

Today begins the end as it were... and thats just hardly a gerund short of a cliche (Today is the beginning of the end*). Anyhow. It is the last week that I will be working for ESLI Zhengzhou ~ and it is bound to be fraught with excitement. Yes... I meant fraught.

Making my way into the sharply chilled winds that come to Zhengzhou in the fall/winter I was picked up as usual by the company driver and we made our way out into the hinterlands where our school is located. After living in downtown ZZ it feels like a ghost town - or one of those post-apocalyptic movies you watch where you see all the towering buildings, but so few or no people: particularly at that time of day. Maybe they’re all in the park doing taichi...

We arrive at work at 7:30 and I proceed to prepare for my 8:00 class. Doesn’t sound like much time does it? It’s not - aside from the fact that the curriculum is all laid out for you and you’re not really given the room to deviate from it. Not exactly what I would call growth stimulating circumstances. If I had to coin a term, i’d probably call it inherent plateau-ing.

Well - 7:50 comes around and one of our assistants comes in and reminds me that level 2 has guided study... and asks if we are going to do any retesting in that time. ($%^). “Yes.” Quickly checking the failed exams, I print off the necessary retests... evidently missing the count by one, which I have to deal with later. 8:05 comes around and the other assistant comes in and says, “Hey Peter, you must be busy,” (Yes... {calmly}) “...its class time.” {looks around for a harpoon or a 2x4} I reply, “I am aware of that, I am currently printing off retests for level 2 {again... as cool as can be managed}.”

Sufficiently irritated, I grab my computer so I have something to do during the 90 minute time slayer of a retest.

I get into the room, collect their phones and pass out the retests - realizing that my count was one off. Assuring the student that they would be allowed plenty of time to finish the test, I attempted to call the assistants to come watch the room ~ and failed. Leaving the door open, I looked in the next room where I suspected one of them was - they were not. Quickly heading back into the room, I saw one of the students already trying to ask another student for an answer to the first question... Upon my return, they quickly wheeled their head around and buried it in their exam. Rather unimpressed, I warned the remainder of the class that if I saw such a thing again... tests would be confiscated and zeros would be divvied.

I stood at the door and tried to make my second call to a more reliable phone user.

Finally picking up, I asked them to watch my class for a few minutes while I printed the remaining test. Scurrying down and taking care of the printing, I finally could make my way up to the room and get our final failure started on the retest.

Tangibly working on an ulcer, I decided that blog venting while working on my “ninja quiet” typing skills was the best way to use the next hour and a half of my time.

Isn’t it just inspiring. Education - the children are the future and all that. If that’s the case then were all doomed.

Frankly the children are only the future if they choose to be. I see the same thing here in China that I remember seeing in the US: a bunch of kids herded into classrooms being told “this is important” when none of us quite believe it and most of us are asking, “when did you go crazy and decide it was so?”

I’ve learned lots in this adventure o’mine, but the two most profound things i’ve learned about education are:
1. A teacher can only teach to the point that their students are willing to receive (and I understand that “receive” can be realized on many different levels and in many ways)
2. A student will only do as much work as they feel they will be rewarded with “productive yield”. This means that an “overachieving” student may find their PY through the actual learning outcome, personal development and teacher praise whereas a “slacker” does not see the learning outcome as worth while, challenges the idea of the class being worth their time or attention and would generally prefer to be doing something else.

Students are in some ways too smart for their own good - as far as education systems are concerned.

Take my level three class for example. There are four boys and two girls. The girls are the only ones who do any talking unless you find a particular way to “force” the boys to talk, but those ways are often quite limited and the “talking yield” is also rather unimpressive.
These boys are not stupid. They however are bored and frustrated and would quite rather be doing something else. It is obvious in class that they do not want to be there, and that they believe the program is a waste of their time: let me explain.

Day 1 for me, which was about week 6 for them (12 weeks/level) of level three (the graduating level of our program, after which they technically should be able to go into university). Naturally I am not going to just launch into the material. No student is completely open with a new teacher on their first day of class unless they are either socially awkward or have some other pretense (at which point they dont actually qualify as completely open anyhow). So - a testing of the waters was in order. I asked the standard, “Why are you studying English, what do you like to do, where do you want to go to study etc.” questions. Aside from getting their major of “choice” and city/ university - their answers did not extend beyond a weighty four words per sentence, and it was not for lack of training or exposure to native speakers. Sensing their irritation with school - which what high school student isn’t? - I opened the door to more alternative topics. At one point I even tried to get them talking about heroine addicts in Vancouver’s downtown east side. Nothing. If they wanted to talk, Chinese was the only way, and not to me - to the other three boys in the front row. the way - the girls were conveniently absent that day. There was no door that I knew to open that would either set them on fire with anger, bias or interest. For (#*%&) sake, what Chinese person can’t talk about food?!

As I said earlier, they’re too smart for their own good. Being silent won’t get the job done, but being intellectually immovable in a class that requires the exchange of opinion in order to proceed in the material - that will get the job done: assuming the job itself is to “not do” school.

So some background. These are kids between the age of 16-20, the fashionable and generally attractive 16 year old being the role model for the generally hideous 20 year old and the others. They do not make eye contact, and they adore mumbling. {feels around for his harpoon again}. The 16 year old actually likes to stare at you for extended periods of time~ which i’m not entirely sure how to interpret, but neither am I too impressed by. They are at this school because their parents put them here. They are going to the west because their parents are making them. They are studying things like engineering because... what do you think.

The only thing they care about at this point is their friends. They are unified by spending time together, and moments after you say “class is over” they go from lethargic to robust in a matter of 10 seconds.

Now I know this is no different than any of us during highschool, but the thing that irritates me the most is that they have figured out what answers to give a teacher so that you hit a brick wall in your line of questioning. There is nothing more to probe with to get them out of their shell because quite frankly it seems that the only things “worth” having to them are inside that shell.

China is a place where your parents do a fair amount of life planning for you, and too much deviancy from that plan would not be good for your family relations. Rather than sacrifice that totally, their children have opted for “doing their parents will” at far less than a half-hearted attempt. They do not take control of their own future. Its like they don’t care at all about what happens to themselves in the future, and they would rather be fluffy balls of rage and apathy (alternatively) than plan a way around the unpleasantries of life.

So - they give answers that kill conversation, and refuse to do homework. They do as little work as possible, while still understanding where their fences lie. They know this program will not throw them out, because the right amount of complaining to the right people, and you can accomplish just about whatever you want at this school.

Too smart for their own good (so says the education system), but smart does not equal useful.

(4‘oclock later)

2x4 to the head over and over and over!

Well - this day of work ended at 9 o’clock when I decided I would no longer grade papers ~ and that it really wasn’t worth it.

Putty in the Eye

HE - Heh - huh... hoh boy.

Its nine o’clock in the evening. I am sitting on the couch in my wonderful and more “me sized” new apartment, and I am exhausted on a whole variety of levels. Its Monday. Someone’s not playing fair ~ maybe its me ^_^

So let me take this blog as an opportunity to fill in some gaps. The previous two blogs that were posted, were in the mindset that the previous week would be the last of my time at the school. I was advised by my new boss lady to stay until I got paid officially incase any treachery should go on and I not end up getting paid. The deadline of the 8th not being made clear to old-boss for what I hope are obvious reasons. Hey - if they want to give me time to give previous boss chance to find someone ~ I’ll take them up on it.

Aside from the fact that everyday was a 2x4 to the head and a slamming head against desk session... I weathered it, after miraculously getting sick on Tuesday too. None-too-ecstatic about that either to say the least. I was incredibly productive to. I was a model employee I felt. I was zoomin’ around printing exams for the next 3 weeks for all classes, for all three levels used a full bundle (ream?) of printer paper... it was a lot. Collated...stapled... labeled according to teacher, class and level and taught classes all in the same swoop. OH and I hired a new girl to take over 1/2 of my schedule. Look at me go. (Im a banana) (Im a banana) (Look at me do it)

In the whirl of retesting, and students who are “so happy” to find out they “passed”, I couldn’t help but feeling that their celebration was over a rather empty victory - much like doing a jig after winning Go-Fish in the final hand (Do you have any twos?... yup). And Yet, the ONLY student who didn’t pass.... for the third time... taking the exact same test... with a cheater study guide... came to me on the verge of tears essentially demanding that I bump him up to the passing zone. Hmm... glad he didn’t know that he was half of a percent from “passing.” Why didn’t I pass him? Because he failed two other classes, and failing three classes was the official mark for repeating the level. Otherwise we might as well let him “re-do” all of this total flop assessments for the other two classes, when his English level does not even resemble the true level for the program. Not to mention that he completely lacks logic and his short answer sections are like sandpaper on bare ass to quote some sort of T.V. show that my good friend loves that I can’t remember how to site. I stuck to my guns, and I told him that passing him was not an option, and that he did not only fail my class, but two others and would truly be better off doing the level again. The higher level would leave him frustrated and worn out. (Not to mention all of the teachers that would have to grade his forsaken offal and then apply soothing lotion to their buttocks.)

I literally resigned myself to weathering the storm for the week, knowing that somewhat smoother seas were ahead.

The week dished out its violence, and I rolled out the punches. The weekend came and went all too quickly, with me doing yet another demo class for the new company and shakin’ my money meykah. On Thursday or so I was told that after the demo class, I could move into my new apartment, so I packed up saturday afternoon bearing in mind all the torment of packing after university, and so I kept the “important things in two of the large moving bags that the Chinese use and my rolling suitcase (plus my violin, and sleeping bag... and tea set...). I call them “tarp bags”... because their basically a gargantuan (meter long foot wide two feet tall) bag made out of various fashionable types of tarp... and their six yuan each. WOO!

Wonderful as always, the new company had the company driver and an awesome crony help me make the move... which took about 10 minutes to go up the flights of stairs to my apartment and get my stuff and get it back down again. We then drove the city block (which turns out is quite the distance... Major road to major road right... we don’t count side streets?) to the new place and went through the hugest underground parking lot I’ve ever seen to evade a few one-way roads and get to my housing complex. I now live on the tenth floor of a 29 story building behind a pretty awesome mall and adjacent to all kinds of wonderful. Restaurants both of the kitchy nouveriche/ western variety and grungy super-awesome real chinese restaurants surround me. There is a super-market in the mall, and two more within the same city block. Its time to buy an oven I’d say. These souffle’s dont make themselves!

When you walk in, there is a shoe rack YAY. Next best thing, theres wood flooring! I’m not sure if its real, but its real enough for me for this stage, and beats the tar out of bad chinese tiles that are either cracked or come loose when you walk on them... not to mention are torturously cold. Next, on the right is a delightfully square kitchen with a very up to date gas range and exhaust hood with as much counter space and cabinetry as can be expected in a compact but awesome kitchen. On the left is my bathroom - with the gas “insta-heat” water-heaters that stream hot water to you as they heat it. I can’t wait till America gets ahold of these - you never run out of hot water! Not even if your sister has six-foot long “conservative/modest” hair!

Today I did good. I have tried my darndest to leave well given the circumstances. I did not only the two classes that were scheduled for today, but I also moved tomorrow’s class into an open slot. At the end of the day, my students (I have this group for 3 subjects...) were complete space cadets. Who can blame them though, reading and writing class after lunch/nap time? No one wants to wake up to learn about skimming and scanning.

We had our class, and in the last class I told them. I told them that I would not be having class tomorrow, because we did it today. I told them that the reason we did it today is because I would not be coming tomorrow. I would not be coming tomorrow because today is my last day. In the stunned silence that followed, I felt a sort of hallowed reverence as my students looked for words. I don’t mean to make this sound as if I am some sort of teaching deity, because I’m not. However, as words started to come back to them by degrees, I answered a few questions and gave them a general explanation that I would be moving on because... “This is no longer the job I will be doing.” Any more of an explanation would have only lead to loss of face on the part of my then current employer, and that served no real purpose.

As my students realized that this wasn’t some sort of joke that was just going to peel away, I heard some students say - (stand up, stand up). There was a massive rise as all twelve students got out of their chairs, thanked me for teaching them and bowed. I was about ready to turn around and see someone else on their desk proclaiming, “Oh captain, my captain!” I don’t even feign to be in the same realm as Mr... something or other of the Dead Poets’ Society, but that IS what it felt like. And it was humbling.

Between looks of severe disappointment that I was leaving, and wistful looks from this way and that in my class of misfits who have no real place in a program that is doing them no healthy service, I found it very difficult to be completely formal. Part of me will stay with my precious little space cadets. I furnished them with my email address, and strict orders for all of them to send me an email if they have any questions or issues.

Heading towards the door, one of my particularly interesting... and low language level... students told me (in English) “You are the only one responsible teacher there.” Responsible is a word in Chinese that really hits home for me in this situation, because I know his mental direct translation was using the words (fu4ze2 负责 which mean “carry on the back” (fu4) and “duty” or “responsibility” (ze2) or “to take your responsibility to heart.” To be a person that hasn’t viewed themselves as a truly gifted teacher, that is validating on a level that I don’t know how to express (particularly at the tiredness level I’m at this evening)

As my students realized that this wasn’t some sort of joke that was just going to peel away, I heard some students say - (stand up, stand up). There was a massive rise as all twelve students got out of their chairs, thanked me for teaching them and bowed. I was about ready to turn around and see someone else on their desk proclaiming, “Oh captain, my captain!” I don’t even feign to be in the same realm as Mr... something or other of the Dead Poets’ Society, but that IS what it felt like.

And it was profoundly humbling.

I stepped out of class for the last time and bumped into the two new teachers that I hired. We talked about a few issues that there were in their classes while the school’s driver started bellowing for me to hurry up. He’s a wonderfully happy buddhist with a schedule to keep! After quickly sorting out those issues with the new teachers, I trotted on downstairs and grabbed my various essentials like paper-clips and tea and then headed out with the driver. So much for long-winded fair-the-well speeches.

On the drive out to the main office, I told the driver that I wouldn’t be coming back. We had shared many drives over the past two months sharing new words and phrases in each other’s languages and using a whole lot of body language. He congratulated me on moving on and wished me luck, and then dropped me off.

I headed straight up to the accountant where I would collect my salary: deeply curious what it would look like. Interesting enough, it was complete and without deficiency of any sort. I counted it and signed for it. I then looked for boss-lady but she had evidently gone home. I said goodbye to one of the other bosses I’d had at the very beginning of my work at the school, and after some rephrasing to clarify perpetual misunderstanding on the fact that I was “leaving” leaving... I finally set out, knowing that the word would probably get back to old-boss from this source.

I hopped the bus back to my apartment and dropped off my stuff, lounged around for a moment before I decided I really ought to get moving out to my old apartment and claim the very last of my stuff at this point. On the return journey I looked at my phone and saw the notice “SIM Registration Failed” a semi-common occurrence where the SIM card in the phone just doesn’t connect to the towers for some reason or other. Give it the PC treatement!... yell at it and then restart it.

Firing it back up I get ASSAULTED with text messages.
(Bing) Hey, I didnt finish the class on friday and I’m supposed to give this test what do I do?.... [from a teacher]
(Bing)郑州消防温馨提醒:全民消防。。。[not even sure what this is about]
(Bing) Hi peter, i just heard that you will not come tmr. You should at least inform me of the date in advance....Or if we inform the security bureau, you will be illegal... [boss-lady]
(Bing) How about pizza night on friday. :-) [Oklahoman awesomeness friend]

OK backtrack (the following is unaltered in anyway save for the fact that it is no longer in a phone text but on a blog...)

“Hi peter, i just heard that you will not come tmr. You should at least inform me of the date in advance, and hand over your work, and we need to sign a contract to cancel our contract. Or if we inform the security bureau, you will be illegal.Pls contact me once you see this message.”
~Ok... i’ll contact... but I know that any reciprocation is not going to be pleasant. Frik... at least capitalize my name.

I sent the following text in reply to the above text:

“Hi (old-boss) - i apologize for the ambiguous date, however i originally gave you the date of november 1st. I came in to talk to you about the details today, but you had already left. I will come tomorrow to provide you with other important information. I did tomorrows class today, so you need not worry tonight.”

I received the following lambasting, which by the way if you’ve ever taken a class that involves a section on behavioral conditioning... you’ll know that you don’t ask someone to contact you and then totally chew them out... it makes them hesitant to contact you:

“I emailed you asking the date you will leave so I know how to arrange accordingly. It is so irresponsible and unprofessional for you to treat [me] like this. I am so surprise[d] you are this kind of person!”

Wow there Clark.
So I did go in, and it was a relatively fruitless venture in the way of a meeting, but a few things were arranged and files were transferred.

We will evidently need to sign a contract to cancel our current one, and I told old boss lady to email it to me as that will expedite the process for us both. Ain’t no way i’m signing something written by a vengeful person without THOROUGHLY inspecting it.

The new DoS which has been chosen, after being turned down by a previous co-worker... and old-boss asked that I “train them. I’ll offer a few “half days” to help guide them in the right direction. Otherwise... I wasn’t really trained, so I will just have to do what I can in the way of “training” while trying in earnest to not bias them...

Evidently this whole affair has shaken my credibility, and so I needed to go with an assistant to check the old apartment for damage before turning in the keys. Danger of savagery assuaged after a “thorough” going over with an assistant friend of mine (the one who I dealt with all the visa stuff with), I turned in my keys and we made dinner plans for the near future :D.

Returning to one of my new offices, I continued to get to know the teachers better, and even managed to provide them with my lesson plan template. Wow - look at me, mister productive in the midst of an ambiguously defined environment.

I get to talk Chinese most of the day and when I don’t know how to say something, I describe it in Spanish to the Chinese-Spanish teacher and she helps me translate it. Its real fun when the Chinese-French teacher kicks in too, because we have about 4 languages going at the same time trying to communicate ~ but we do a pretty good job of it ^_^

Starting to see a little bit of green in the ashes of this bridge, but there are certainly plenty of coals still burning.