There is a house in New Orleans–Part II

Today is a new year.  2011 is history (although as I write this it’s still 2011 in the West).  2012 is here now.  I could look at the year in review and I’m sure some wonderful and interesting things happened, but sometimes my life if full of new and interesting things and sometimes I feel like I’d like to try and put them on paper.

The week in school (get rid of business first) was okay.  The students were kind of dead which means more talking for me.  I’m doing marks this week so it’s “teacher’s revenge” week.  I can’t justify passing some oaf who sits at the back of the class making no effort while there are people who are interested and trying.  I will have to justify my marks and I’m not sure people will understand my style.

If you come to class and ask questions when you don’t understand, you pass.  If you make an effort to answer a question or to talk, you pass.  If you’re a slug who is a waste of space, you fail.  I don’t think I’m scoring on English ability (because most would fail) but I am scoring on effort.  There is no exam so I will have to give reasons for each mark.  I will make up a key and put the appropriate letters beside each student.  Things like a “N” means student is a moron and a waste of space.  Or an “A” which means student is a joy to see ever day and cares about making an effort.  I will probably pass a few people who I shouldn’t, but I guess I can’t fail everyone.  I’m sure my marks will be adjusted.  This is a business and failing students is bad for business.

I brought in the Beatles song, “She’s Leaving Home” to study.  I played it in 3 classes.  In one class everyone liked it.  In the other two the highest number of people who liked it were 3.  How can you not like it?  I think these kids have blinkers on.  I appreciate my kids who liked all kinds of music because they were exposed to all kinds of music.  I think the week after next (before the big holiday) I’ll just bring in music and we’ll listen.  We won’t discuss the meaning (I get tired of looking at blank faces) and just try to expose them to some older stuff like the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

I handed in my 2nd semester lesson plan, which is a work of fiction.  It’s totally made up and I’m not doing any of it.  But they need something to put in a drawer and I’m happy to comply.  They’re not asking too much of me so it’s the least I can do.

They do have a New Year’s holiday here which really shocked me.  They have a Lunar calendar and the Chinese new year isn’t until January 23rd officially, so why have this new year holiday?  Why does everyone want to be Western?  In Israel they didn’t celebrate New Year’s Day (nor should they) as it wasn’t their New Year.  I wonder if they do now.

I had 2 rehearsals this week for my “House of the Rising Sun” performance.  I’d go to the sports hall (where the show was to be), and as the white guy no waiting was required.  I belted out my song and left.  That was painless and I was prepared for the Saturday night show.

I’m guessing there were about 3,000 people there which would be the most people I’ve ever performed in front of (I used to do community theatre), but I wasn’t nervous at all.  When I did plays I was nervous because I wanted to be good.  I can’t sing so I knew I’d be bad and I just hoped people would laugh.  So there was no pressure.  Just be my goofball self and let her rip.

It was cold in there (no heat of course) although Wang Jing’s boss insisted I waited in the control room where they had heat.  Sometimes I wish I were Chinese and invisible.  I know they are all trying to be nice, but sometimes you don’t want that special treatment and you only want to be part of the crowd.

I was the 8th performer and to say my performance was unique would be an understatement.  The Korean teacher did something (good for him), but it was in a serious vein.  A few of the girls could sing which was good but of all the males who sang, not were what I would call good.  They were okay at best and I’d hate to be “okay” and perform.  It’s better to be bad and know it.  No pressure and no one to impress.

I had my costume on (blue jeans and my Montreal Canadiens shirt) and was ready to go.  I disposed of my glasses and wore Shujie’s sunglasses.  It was my turn and what do I do?  I fell going up the stairs to the stage.  I tried to get up and I fell again.  So I just rolled over on my back and played dead.  That got a laugh and made it look like I was doing it on purpose.  Shujie was concerned and missed filming the first part of my song, but she got most of it.  Some of the film work is pretty bad (as bad as mine) but some is okay.  Here is the performance if you care to view.

Was I a hit?  I’ve been told people laughed so that’s good.  Some of my students told me I was wonderful.  I’m not sure if they were really impressed or meant that they found it funny.  It was a breeze to do and I’m glad I did it.  I guess I’m going to have to find a new song to butcher so I’m not just a one trick pony.

The rest of the evening was wonderful.  My words won’t give it justice.  It embodied why I came to China and what I was looking for.  Teaching isn’t bad but your class is filled with dead wood.  There are many students who put a smile on your face just by seeing them.  That’s not just because they’re good students (some of their English is hideous), it’s that they are truly nice people who have a feeling for me.  I’ve succeeded in not having them afraid of me, which was one of my primary goals.  They’re comfortable with me.  I think they know I care.  You don’t see many, if any, teachers hanging with students but I like to.  I’ll talk to anyone.  And if I’m just walking around kids will say hello to me.  Adults turn the other cheek like they are afraid of me.

After the show Mandy and Nine took me to a building where they had a bunch of activities.  Here I am with Mandy and Nine.  They are both first year students of mine and wonderful girls.  I think they’re pretty, they’re smart, they’re thoughtful, and I’m quite grateful to be “friends” with them.

This concept of defining friends has taken on a whole new meaning for me.  I don’t consider myself a person with many (or any) friends.  I know people through work and the Internet and such, but what makes a friend?  They all seem like fine people but is a friend just someone whose company you enjoy and can count on?  Perhaps.  But perhaps there are different kinds of friends.  In the past I used to say you had your “work friends’.  As long as you worked at the same company, you were friends.  If either of you moved on, the friendship was lost.

I’ve begun to ask myself can I have friends who are younger than my children?  Friends who can’t communicate so easily with me in words.  I’m starting to think yes.  Estella gives me a big hug when she sees me.  It touches me that she feels that comfort with me and feels I’m that approachable.  It’s a warm and wonderful feeling.

Last night as Mandy and Nine took me around to the different activities, Mandy had her harm linked in mine the whole time.  Was she my mother?  Was she my significant other?  At one point I looked and where she had me on one side with her arm linked in mine, on the other side was Nine who she was holding hands with.  I was their equal and their friend.  It was a wonderful feeling and I was quite touched by it.  At the end of the evening Mandy said to me, and I quote, “I will never forget tonight”.  This is truly the stuff dreams are made of.

Will she forget me in years to come?  I’m sure of it.  I’ll recede to being the foreign English teacher in college.  Have I touched her life?  Perhaps.  Has she touched mine?  Yes.  I may not remember her name or what she looks like in 10 years, but she’s added to my life now and that will stay with me forever.  I’m starting to nail it.  It’s why I’m here and it’s what I wanted.  I have English classes where I spend time just trying to get them to think.  I tell them, “to hell with English, just use your heads”.  Some of them get it and many of them don’t.  But that’s okay.  If I can help a few students use their brains more, and improve their English than I’ve been a success.

The rooms in the building had different activities put on by the students.  It was quite nice and the games were simple, yet fun.  First we went into the “ghost house”.  I think they got their holidays mixed up.  That’s Halloween stuff.  The room is dark and people jump out at you.  There was a huge lineup but I got white guy treatment and was taken in.  I brought Mandy and Nine with me because we were together and I wasn’t leaving them.  As far as ghost houses go, it was lame supreme.  But the kids liked it so that was good.

There were games in other rooms and I took part in a ping pong ball toss.  You stand on one side of the room and try to land the ping pong ball in a shallow plastic bowl.  It’s not easy.  You have to bounce it across the floor so the last bounce will put it in the bowl to stay.  I thought, “no way can I do this”.   I was 2 for 2.  I couldn’t believe it.  I won a prize, which was a pen.  I can always use another pen.  Here is a brief video of that activity.

Then it was on to the activity where there are marbles in a bowl of water.  You care given chopsticks and have to take 10 marbles out and load them into another bowl.  All the Chinese kids couldn’t do it so what chance did I have?  I thought it was hopeless and wasn’t even sure I wanted to try.  They talked me into it and wouldn’t you know it, I’m part Chinese now.  Once I got the hang of it I got my 10 marbles from one bowl to another.  At one point I did 5 in a row.  I felt so proud plus I won a 2nd pen.  Here is a video of my effort.  You can see me improve as time goes by.

One of the other things I did was be blindfolded where I pick up some edible goo and try to put it in Mandy’s mouth.  She tells me up, down, left, right, and I just try to do it.  I think we succeeded.  There games (and others) were quite simple but not so easy and lots of fun.  It’s more fun playing for a pen than a stuffed animal for your kid.  A lot less pressure.

This next activity was a “guess the word” game.  The one giving the clues stands on one side and the guesser (me) stands on the other.  One girl said she wanted to be my partner and I’m easy.  However she backed out due to a lack of English.  Another girl did the job and did it quite well considering she could only speak English.  We did quite well and it’s great meeting students who want to meet you so they can actually try and speak English seriously.

Then there was an acting game.  The way it was explained to me is that I had to “put the moves” on a girl.  Shujie explained it wrong using the word “rape” and I was a touch flabbergasted.  So when we began I took off my coat and started take off my sweater.  That was enough to get a laugh.

It was a lot of fun.  It’s interesting as the token white guy how many students just want to say hello to me.  I think that’s the extent of their spoken English but I do appreciate the friendliness.  I’m some sort of minor celebrity which is kind of weird but a nice ego boast I admit.  Although I’m treated special, I really think they like me.  It’s my Sally Field moment.  “You like me.  You really like me.”  The kids feel good when they say hello to the foreigner because that means they’ve talked to a foreigner.  To me that qualifies with changing planes in foreign country but never leaving the airport.

But it appears I do have friends here.  Granted they’re all younger than my kids and we can’t have discussions on the meaning of life, but taken in perspective it is wonderful.  I know I like them and I’m touched they like me.  It’s like the Hokey-Pokey.  That’s what it’s all about.

Here are a few more pictures to share.  This the stage where it all happens:

Here is a picture of the lovely Nine and I.

Here is a picture of the peanut fight between Mandy and Nine.  They put a peanut in a bowl of water and using only your mouth you have to be the first to grab it.  Simple but fun.

Here I am with the girl I played guess the word with, and a boy who helped working on the show.  Very nice people.

Here’s a picture of two guys I’ve never seen before but insisted upon having their picture taken with the foreigner.  It’s weird.

Here’s a picture from the “guess the word” game.  The girl is the one giving me the clues in English and she did an excellent job.  She’s not a student of mine and that’s too bad.

Here is Eleven and I (I don’t make up these names) looking like an old married couple.  She isn’t a student of mine either (wish she was) but we know each other and she sometimes sits in on my classes.

Here’s another picture of Eleven and I as just the friends we are.

And last but not least here I am with some of my friends, new and old, and others.  From left to right on the bottom row is Agnes (a student of mine), Eleven, and some girl I’ve never seen before in my life.  From left to right on the top row is some guy I’ve never seen before who just jumped in to have his picture with the white guy, the girl I played guess the word with so she’s a new friend, the white guy, Mandy, and Nine.

Last night was one of the best nights of my life because of people like this.  I tell them I’m grateful but I’m not sure how much they understand.  They touch my heart and it’s a good feeling.  It’s what I’ve always wanted when I undertake these strange trips of mine.  So I guess it’s 3rd time lucky for me.

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