Teacher Journal: Chi
Taught in Shanghai, China
I have been in Shanghai for a month now, and even though I have been teaching English, I find that my own English is quickly going down the drain. At least my Chinese is getting better. Marginally, I think there must be some clause in the rules of language learning that says there must be a balance. Chi, if you will.
The other day, Michele and I paid rent for the next few months. We paid it entirely in cash, being that it is the norm to pay your rent in cash, and being that the largest bill is the 100, we less than enthusiastically handed over a wad of 135 red bills. Or a brick of cash, if you prefer.
I think the excitement has begun to wane; I wonder if it is because we have become accustomed to the nuances of Chinese culture... Though I am still settling in, there are still things that catch me off guard, like the guy rolling a rack carrying giant stuffed animals that he's trying to sell, next to the lady selling fruits off baskets hanging off either end of a bamboo pole.
I am becoming friends with my coworkers and some of my students, so I am still meeting new people. I have even gone bowling in China. I have also discovered a pedestrian street by my house that sells all kinds of street food and is of course littered with kebab sticks. Normally I would freak out about the dirt, but I think in this case, I think it adds to the atmosphere. Does that make me a hypocrite?
Having been a student for the better part of the past 22 years, I have certainly gained insight into the sphere of academia now that I am on the other side of the desk. I embrace the fact that my students try to challenge me, though I know it is for their own entertainment. For example, the other day, I was doing an Agree/Disagree exercise and I wanted my students to give ways to express dis/agreement. They were yelling things out like "I couldn't disagree with you more," and such, and one student, a guy, of course, yells "bullshit." I replied, "Yes! Bullshit!" And I wrote it on the board. Now, I love that he said that, but I don't know if he said that to test me, to see my reaction to it, because I'm sure he knows it's kind of a crass word. Maybe he just wanted to be funny. Maybe I'm just being a cynic.
Of course my challenges have not been so easy to tackle. Last week, I had a lecture style class where my manager gave me a topic called "Fireside Chat." Since I am Canadian and since I am not FDR, nor was I even alive during that era, I really don't know what "Fireside Chat" entails. I decided to talk about campfires, which is something that I at least know a little about. It completely backfired (I'm punny). I wished I had my guitar so that I could teach them Kumbyah, but teleportation hasn't, to my knowledge, been invented yet, so instead I told ghost stories that they didn't understand. I taught them how to make a safe fire, which, apparently, is useless information in Shanghai. My students insisted that they have barbeques now, so why would you need a campfire?! After I explained all the vocabulary, and gave handouts, I spent the rest of the class going from table to table explaining the vocabulary all over again.
Anyhow, this marks the end of the National Holiday for me. No more fireworks and back to work. Actually, that's a lie. I see fireworks from our balcony about twice a week and still get very excited about it. Michele says that's so Chinese, and then I tell her that she's just as Chinese as I am. We laugh about it and then agree that we are a.) a couple of old ladies or b.) an old married couple.
As the three-month mark approaches, I feel as I am slumping into routine.
After seeing Daddy, Mama, Dave and Ross in my excessively short visit to Hong Kong, and now that I am back in Shanghai, I have had bouts of homesickness. There are things that are still new and novel to me, but I am terrified of the end of this "honeymoon period." I still marvel at the dark skinned girls with their belongings in a Chinese picnic bags, hawking jewelry on the street, the construction workers in their bright coveralls, performing acrobatic acts on the bamboo scaffolding they are erecting, to a backdrop of some wondrous modern architecture. It is a paradox and I am not deprived of witnessing this, and I am not a peddler, coming to the city with a picnic bag, looking for work. Besides luck or fortune, I wonder, what is the difference between me and Ping Pong and his stained blue collar?
School is still great. I still love my work, my job, and it still makes me happy. There isn't too much to report, only daily happenings, such as today - I taught my students about Bob Marley and Reggae, and one of my students, said "I don't like him. I sink he is a dirty man." (This from someone who "sinks" Tom Cruise is totally normal) Another student said, "I don't like this music. I like Chinese music." Other than that, it was a hit. (Mostly) everyone jammed out to it. OH. I played "Jammin'" And the students all whipped out their electronic dictionaries and asked if jam was a type of food. Yes. Reggae is a type of music that talks about toast and marmalade.
In other news, our bathroom door is broken. Only one handle works. We have repeatedly locked ourselves inside the bathroom. So then we put the working handle on the inside so we wouldn't be locked in. Last night, Michele had to kick down the door because we were locked out. She got the husband prize for the night. Our stove is also broken, so whoever would like to come over and fix it and win the husband prize also is welcome.