And when I die

On Thursday QiJi, Shujie, and I went to the cemetery to her father’s grave.  It’s the 2nd time I’ve been and it’s a different experience.  The customs are quite different and very interesting to me.  Here’s a short of the gravestones along with one of her father’s gravestone giving the details such as name, date of birth, date of death, and something personal.  That’s just like ours.

Bodies aren’t buried in China.  You’re cremated and your ashes (in an urn I suppose) are buried.  Here’s a picture of a grave just waiting it’s next permanent tenant.

Now before you go to the cemetery you should be prepared.  You should have money to burn, perhaps some gold bars, and some other things I don’t know about.  If you haven’t bought these in advance there are vendors outside the gate happy to sell you your grave-visiting needs.  Here’s a cart where you can see the money.

You see, the dead need money to spend in heaven (or wherever they are).  Chinese people have dreams about the dead suffering in the afterlife if no one comes to burn them some money.  Naturally the money isn’t real but the whole thing is weird, but no weirder than any other death custom.

Here QiJi and Shujie get the fire going so her father will have his spending money.   It’s followed by a picture of the offerings on their way to her father.  Notice the cigarette in the pictures on the grave.  This is really cool.  Her father smoked so QiJi always lights a cigarette for him and puts it on his grave.  I think it’s a very nice touch and I guess you can’t buy cigarettes in heaven.

After that we were supposed to go to lunch with a friend of Shujie’s but my stomach was rebelling again and I just wanted to lie down.  I told Shujie should she go without me and naturally we argued about that.  If I don’t go then she (as my wife) shouldn’t go.  To me, that’s crazy.  I finally convinced her to go and she called her friend to make my apologies.  Her friend told her she must go home with me so the whole lunch was off.

To digress a little, on Wednesday we did nothing special for dinner.  We went downstairs to one of the dirty Chinese restaurants in the area where I was the celebrity (probably the 1st white person to visit their establishment) and I decided to play it safe by just eating rice.  They brought my rice and I started to eat.  When I eat here, I eat with chopsticks.  It’s no problem.  I even eat rice with chopsticks.  The waitress came to me and motioned that I should be using a spoon.  You see, Chinese (and Koreans) use a spoon to eat rice.  Only a crazy foreigner like me would use chopsticks.  But this is how I learned to use chopsticks.  Every day at lunch in Korea I would have a bowl of rice and use chopsticks.  Everyone else is using a spoon.  Shujie told me she couldn’t eat rice with chopsticks so I showed her how.  After 2 months of daily practice you learn a few tricks.

I just lay on the couch all Thurday afternoon, which was fine with me, and by about 8PM I was feeling better.  We went to dinner with her friend (I was finally hungry) for some more delicious show-cow (bbq).  I love the grilled lamb and potatoes.  I think I could eat that every night.

As I mentioned earlier her friend was going to drive us to the train station in Beijing.  That wasn’t quite true.  Her friend arranged for someone to drive us.  Her friend has a good heart and a head full of air.  This person had never driven in the city of Beijing before and had no idea where the train station was.  We got him to stop and we got out and took a taxi.  I was furious.  How stupid could her friend be to not verify that the driver (equipped with a GPS no less) had never driven in Beijing.  We made it to the train on time and it was a 4-hour trip.  It was longer than going there since we took a different route.  I do like the high-speed train though.

When we got to Nanjing we needed to catch a bus to Jurong.  We arrived at 4PM and the buses go every 20 minutes.  Our bus was at 6:05 because of the crowds.  Many people are coming back from their holiday.  We just hung out and I only wanted to get home.

I got a call from the school asking me when I’d be back because they wanted to have a meeting to discuss my schedule.  I’m wondering what the rush is but we scheduled an 8:30 meeting.  What the hell, it’s not like I was doing anything else anyways.

I had offered to work more hours (for more pay) since I’m obligated to work 16 hours but could easily do 24 hours a week.  However that wasn’t their plan.  The plan was to take 8 of my current classes with the 2nd year students away and replace them with 12 classes of 1st year students (for a total of 16 classes).  It seems the 1st year students must study oral English and the 2nd year students are supposed to study “Advanced English” and “Study Skills” which I conveniently try to avoid.

They wanted my approval to change the classes (why, I don’t know), and I told them I was their employee so whatever they wanted.  They also asked for my opinion.  They told me again they were hoping to get another foreign teacher and I told them again “good luck” because I think I’m the only foreigner in town.  They told me that they would have a Chinese English teacher teach “Advanced English” which has the advantage of the teacher being able to translate everything into Chinese.  I told them that was a stupid idea because most of the students wouldn’t listen to the English and just wait for the Chinese.

The head of the “Foreign Affairs Department” (that’s over me) said she believed that 2/3 of the students English level was low and I laughed and said, “try 9/10)”.  She said the students need to pass exams so they can go study in America and I told her that no one was going to America.  The kids weren’t interested and their English level is so low that they’d have trouble passing grade 5.

I told her there was the unreal objective of the school, which totally ignores the students (going to America) in favour of trying to get the count of students who pass some exams high.  It’s not about how to help the students.  I told them they should deal in reality and that I could teach the students to speak a little English that might help them in the future in their jobs or to get ahead.  That’s real, not going to university to North America.  But, as I said, it’s not about the students.

To give you an examples of the bozos here, I was supposed to have a class at 8AM this morning.  This was one of my classes that was taken away.  At 8:05 the phone rings and it’s one of my students wondering where I was.  It seems no one had told the students about this change and probably no one told a teacher.  That’s not my problem but as you can see it is the student’s problem.

I have a meeting in a few minutes to discuss my new schedule.  Last night I saw there was a Friday on it although the boss said the schedule wasn’t ready.  Don’t lie to me when I can see the paper in front of me.  They said I would meet with the head of the English Department who I learned was the woman I refuse to meet with since she has no listening skills.  It’s like she has a prepared speech in English to tell me something and can’t handle anything that deviates from it including any comments or questions from me.  Wang Jing will also be at the meeting (Shujie said something but did it in such a way as to not make her sound like a moron).  I told them before I left that I would prefer to not work Fridays and I would also prefer to have bunches of classes together instead of 1 class a day.  I know this can be done because last year’s English teacher’s schedule was taped to the wall in our apartment and she did her 16 classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  So she had Monday and Friday off.  If they push for Friday I may just say that I’ve reconsidered and since they asked me if I minded if they changed my schedule, I now have decided I mind.  Very much.  We shall see.  I’m nice.  I try to get along.  I give my opinion on what’s best for the students (someone has to even if it’s not listened to).  I’ve offered to work more than I signed on for since they will not get another foreign teacher.  So let’s have some payback in a nice way.  I’ll continue this when I get back.  I do have a class after the meeting.  I keep my 6 classes a week classes for 2 classes a week.  That’s nothing.  I see them once a week and therefore building momentum and familiarity is difficult.  Now if they don’t see me tomorrow, they see me the day after.  That’s how it should be.  But who cares about that when they can have a Chinese English teacher who can teach them in Chinese.  Sheesh.

So, we had our meeting and from there I went to my afternoon class.  They gave me the textbook and they gave me the lesson plans created by a foreign teacher last year.  I had a look and decided the book was stupid and I wasn’t going to use it much.  They have things like “practice conversations” for 2 people.  In a class of 40 you can’t have 20 conversations going on at once in English.  The reasons are it would be too noisy but the bigger reason is no one would speak English if the teacher isn’t watching.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  And the conversations are inane at best.  Here is a sample:

Ruth:   You’re in great shape, Keith.

Keith:  Thanks.  I guess I’m a real fitness freak.

Ruth:   How often do you work out?

Keith:  Well, I do aerobics twice a week.  And I play tennis every week.

Ruth:   Tennis?  That sounds like a lot of fun.

Keith:  Oh, do you want to play sometime?

Ruth:   Uh, …how well do you play?

Keith:  Pretty well, I guess.

Ruth:   Well, all right.  But I’m not very good.

Keith:  No problem.  I’ll give you a few tips.

Ruth:   And then we can have sex.  I’m good at that.  And I can give you a few tips!

I can’t and won’t do this.  My method, such as it is, is to encourage talking and making them talk.  As they get more comfortable with the words they know, they will be at ease to try out new words.  I believe this will work.  I’ll take some “ideas” from the book but not much.  And the lesson plans?  Forget it.  They just go in a drawer somewhere so you don’t have to follow them.  And when I saw that I should teach the song, “You Are My Sunshine”, I knew it was truly stupid time.

Then they showed me the schedule.  It had something every day so many days were just one class.  I didn’t like it.  I pulled out the schedule from last year’s foreign teacher (teaching Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) and showed them.  Then I said that I was asked if they could change my schedule and while I said yes last night, I changed my mind and I would not accept a schedule change.  Sometimes you have to play hardball.

Ten minutes later I had the new schedule, which was classes on Tuesday’s, Wednesday’s and Thursdays, with Monday and Friday’s off.  That was easy.  June, who I don’t like or respect made the schedule the way she did because she knows I don’t like her so she won’t be nice to me.  When I got the first schedule she made back for September 1st, she made a point to tell me that she purposely had me not working on Friday’s.  Now I’m sure she purposely made a point to create the worst schedule possible.

But let’s keep Martin happy.  When she came upstairs to talk about the course and the textbook and the schedule she would say something.  I would begin to reply and she would interrupt and say something else.  It was wonderful because it was exactly like I told Wang Jing.  So, Wang Jing saw for herself what my problem was with June and why I won’t talk to her.  There were some things I needed to find out but I sent my emissary Shujie to meet with her after I left.  I don’t like doing that to Shujie but she doesn’t mind and she likes June.  Maybe she’s smarter in Chinese?

So I have a pretty good schedule.  If I can nitpick it would be that I have more afternoon classes than morning classes.  I prefer morning classes.  And there is no sleeping past 6:21AM anyhow.  But I can’t complain about a 4-day weekend.

I asked my class this afternoon if they missed me this morning and they lied and said yes.  I told them what was happening and that basically they’d have someone spoon-feeding them the English textbook complete with a Chinese translation.  I think those that are interested in English weren’t happy about it and those who aren’t interested in English don’t care.  I asked them if they wanted to continue with the public speaking in class or just stick to the textbook.  They want the speaking so I feel a little vindicated.  I then showed them my new textbook for the first year students and asked if they had used it last year.  They said yes.  I asked what they thought and they said it was too simple.  I asked if it was “silly simple” but they didn’t know what silly meant.

I’m starting to get a handle on things and learning about how I’m teaching this.  I wish I could get more class participation but that will be an ongoing battle.  I noticed today that I have a habit that is actually beneficial to the students.  I tend to change horses in midstream or rather change the topic constantly bouncing all over the place.  I do that to keep myself interested but I think it helps those who care because then they have to pay attention to see where we’re going.

I hope these new classes are good.  One class is 40 students that looks like 30 female and 10 male.  I like that since the females tend to be a little better behaved and pay more attention.  However, forty is too many.  The other class is 29 and breaks down to 15 female and 14 male.  29 is a better number.  However, we’ll see how much they know next Tuesday.

By the way the movie next Tuesday is Rocky.  That’s 7PM in the Language Lab.  Be there or be square.

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