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Monthly Archives: March 2012

The job hunt is over.  Sort of.  Kind of.  I have a job but I still look a little.  I guess I’m not there yet, so I’m not working there.  But I’m pleased.  I think it’s a good decision.

It seems we will be in Baotou in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China for the next school year.  We will both be working at a Teacher’s College (they say it’s a University).  I will be teaching conversational English and Chinese Calligraphy while Shujie will be teaching Business and some English.  I’m actually joking about the Chinese Calligraphy but I’m not joking about the English.

I’m told the class sizes for English are about 12 students.  That’s good and that’s bad for me.  It’s good because it’s a small number and the students will get the opportunity to talk a lot, and if they don’t I will beat it out of them.  It’s bad because I tell a lot of jokes.  If the joke flops and there are only 12 students, no one may understand it or think it’s funny.  If you have 30+ students, it increases your chances of at least humouring some of them, and as we all know, I am a humourous person.

They don’t know Shujie’s breakdown since it will depend on how many business students they have and that won’t be known until around the end of June.  I hope it’s a lot.  For the hours that she must work (it’s 20 periods or teaching hours (45 minutes is an hour a week), the non-business will be taken up by English.  That’s reading, writing, and grammar.  That’s what Chinese English teachers teach.  Is she qualified for it?  About as much as I am for Chinese Calligraphy.  Can she do it?  I believe she can but she’s going to have to upgrade her English and upgrade it fast.  Eleanor (other English teacher here) says she will tutor Shujie.  Teaching family anything can be stressful so we will avoid that.  I’m starting to correct her grammar more these days so that’s a start.

The school answers all my questions in a timely fashion and I just have a good feeling about them but I realize I may be wrong.  I’m a very trusting person.  They have 2 sizes of apartments there and they told me that we could have the bigger one.  It’s not in the contract but I’ll trust them on it.  It’s a good test.  There is much to do and I just can’t renew my visa but I will have to get a new one.  That’s because in Inner Mongolia you are required to have a “non-criminal check” to get a visa and that will have to wait until we’re back in Toronto in the summer.  I can’t really do it from here without a lot of hassle and I could be looking at 12+ weeks until I get something back.  This way, I can apply online and pick it up when I get back to Toronto.  Then I just have to scan it and send to her.  She’ll get my documents and courier them to me, and then I’ll go and get my visa in Toronto.  That’s a 1 day thing.  I drop off the application in the morning, pay a little extra, and pick it up in the afternoon.

This will be like an adventure inside an adventure.  China being the main adventure but Inner Mongolia being something so different.  Winter is winter there.  The average high in January is about -4.5C and the average low is about -14.1C.  That’s not too bad.  I thought it was -30C.

The average high in June is about 27.9C while the average low is about 15C.  So the climate should be livable.  For some reason I thought it was -30C but I was wrong.  Too bad.

There will be some sandstorms (there’s desert up there) and there is nothing like the feel of sand between your teeth to let you know you’re alive.  We had them in Arad (in Israel) and it’s an experience.  It’s supposed to be quite beautiful and I look forward to it.  There is no high-speed train that goes to and from Baotou yet, so it looks like airplane when we want to go to Baoding or Shanghai.

Y’all are welcome to come and visit next January.  The apartment should be warm.  An English teacher there told me the apartments are too warm.  And the classrooms should be heated so that’s good.  I just need to find my boots in my storage locker in Toronto along with my flannel jeans and I’ll be set.

I was offered a different job in the city of Zhuhai in the Guangdong province.  Shujie always tells me that people from Guangdong are the biggest liars in China.  She has some strange ideas.  I spoke to the head of the English department and told her that 12 hours (which is what would be required of me) is too little.  I wanted more and she told me that 16 hours would be no problem.  When they sent me what would be in the contract, it said 12 hours.  I told them I wanted it to guarantee me 16 hours and I was told by this person (English department head) that it would be no problem.  The next day I get an email rescinding the job offer since they can’t meet my many conditions to take the job.  My many conditions were one thing that I was told was no problem.  It’s a good thing because it’s obviously not the place for me.  And even though it pays more than Baotou, it would mean Shujie would have to find a job since she can’t sit around for another year.  I wrote them back and told them they were liars (in a nice way) so that’s done and made the decision easier.

I could wait longer and see what pops up but getting Shujie a job where her hours would mesh with mine won’t be easy.  I would probably have to work in a college and I think I don’t want to teach this level of student anymore.  I want better conversation.  And I believe she will love teaching.  She loves to talk and she can relate well to all age groups.  Plus, she will learn something about this generation after hers.  Her knowledge is lacking and in some ways she thinks it’s still the same as when she was younger.  She is so wrong about that.  I don’t know how much she can learn about what the students really think since she’s Chinese.  They tell me things that they would never tell anyone else because I’m a foreigner, I’m strange, and I’ve earned their trust.  It makes me feel good.

I was thinking about what have I really taught them this year.  “Teach” is a tough word to define in what I do.  I basically try and provide an atmosphere that will enable them to talk without fear.  Asian students don’t want to speak English out loud because they know their accents and grammar are bad.  I rarely correct them.  I just want them to get their thoughts out and if I were to stop and correct them every time they made a mistake, then they wouldn’t be able to string 3 words together.  I think what’s happened is that they are using the words they know when speaking.  They are getting new words but a lot of the knowledge was locked inside of them.  We’re doing debates this week and some of them were actually arguing with each other in English.  It was great.  I felt great.  I actually felt like I had accomplished something.

In one of my classes I have 2 girls who didn’t open their mouths the first semester.  Now they both answer questions or give their opinions in class.  One of them is one of the students who participates the most.  I told her I was so happy she was taking part and even gave her a hug.  I can do that here because I’m strange.

I know that in 5 years they won’t even remember me (if that long), but I hope that they remember what they’ve accomplished this year.  There are about 2 ½ months of classes left and I think we’re all starting to get a little burned out.  I don’t know how I’ll make it to the end, but I will.  It really has been a great year and most satisfying.

Now my elective classes on Tuesday are just a bad joke.  I’m just the babysitter.  I think a lot of the students came not to learn English, but for an easy credit.  One boy was in for a surprise.  I banished him forever from my classroom.  He was playing a game on his cell phone, which is a big no-no in my class.  It’s one of the few rules I have and I told them that on the first day.  I went up to him and caught him (what a dummy) and told him to give me his phone.  He wouldn’t.  So I told him to get out and he wasn’t moving.  I told him to get out once more and if he didn’t I was leaving.  He left and slammed the door behind him.  I’m not sure if he knows he can’t come back, but he can’t.  I’ve thrown him out of class for not coming with a pen and paper to class (you wouldn’t believe these kids), and now the cell phone. 

This week I showed some pictures from Korea and China that I had.  I really don’t know what to do with them.  I think I have 7 more classes with them.  This week is one of the weird holidays.  The holiday is on Wednesday so they are closing classes on Monday and Tuesday so the kids get 3 days off in a row.  However, Saturday is a school day to teach Monday’s classes, and Sunday is a school day to teach Tuesday’s classes.  I told my elective classes that they didn’t have to come on Sunday and to keep it a secret.  When I got that through to them I went outside and screamed at the top of my lungs, “There is no English class on Sunday”.  Anything for a cheap laugh.  One girl came up to me on the break and asked me if there was a class on Sunday.  DOH!

Shujie and I are off to Zhenjiang tomorrow afternoon for 2 nights.  It’s been a while since we’ve been anywhere but the weather is improving and we’ve never really been to Zhenjiang except for the medical exam I needed for the school.  It’s about an hour bus ride away and it will be good to be gone.

That’s about it for now.  Life goes on but the job hunt is over which is good, and it has a happy ending (so far).  April 1 is tomorrow so there is about 2 ½ teaching months left (exams are mid-June) so that’s pretty much the end of the year.  Already I’m thinking Toronto and the flight prices have gone through the roof.  I don’t know what we’ll do for 7 weeks but I’ll get to see Elana and Leah and her family at the beginning of August.  I’ll get to eat some food I like.  I’ll get to be bored but spend some time with the people I love.  And I’m buying a new MAC.  It’s been more than 3 years so it’s time to upgrade.  I’m excited about that.

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Actually, I wanted to say, “I am Spartacus”, but that will have to wait until Tuesday.  I’m going to show Spartacus (a must see) and when the film finishes I’m going to stand up and shout, “I am Spartacus”.  Then I’ll get Shujie to stand up and say, “I am Spartacus”.  Then Eleanor (the other foreign English teacher) will stand up and say “I am Spartacus”.  It might be a dud, but it might be funny.  And if you’ve never seen or remember the film the above paragraph is meaningless to you.

Spartacus is the first movie I remember Elana (my eldest, 29) ever crying at.  I think she was around 10.  I was shocked and touched.  I wonder if she remembers crying.  It’s a nice memory of how this film got to her.

This week I think was our smallest turnout for a movie.  I showed “From Here To Eternity”.  It was great but I always say that.  I think the 15 students who showed up enjoyed it.  The hit of one week never translates into the big crowd of next week.  The week before I showed “The Godfather” which was a huge hit.  I think the reason that there was a poor turnout was that I couldn’t remind my classes on Tuesday there was a movie.  They have the attention spans of gnats (no offence to gnats intended).  I sent an email on Sunday letting them know the film and the time.  I thought giving them notice was good.  There were no classes on Tuesday since this school was hosting high school college entrance examinations.  That’s a joke.  Everyone gets in here.  But most of the students are not capable of retaining information for 48 hours.

In one class this week over 20% of the students weren’t prepared for their debates.  I’m trying debating now and I gave them their positions a couple of weeks ago so they could prepare.  Why weren’t they ready?  Let’s see.  There were those that forgot and there were those that didn’t like their topic.  I told them they wouldn’t pull this crap on a Chinese teacher except I didn’t say “crap”, I said, “shit”.  I also used the “fuck” word.  When I’m annoyed, I’m always annoyed with a smile on my face and I never raise my voice.

Who doesn’t do an assignment because they don’t like the topic?  And if you’re dead set against it, you go and talk to the teacher right away.  You don’t wait until delivery day and announce that.  What garbage.  As for forgetting, one student told me they never get homework in advance.  I don’t think she’s a liar, but I can’t say I believe her.  According to her, homework is for the night before.  And there I was thinking I was being nice and fair giving plenty of notice.

This girl also told me that they don’t do their work because I’m the nice foreigner and I’m not Chinese.  I don’t buy that either.  I don’t punish, I don’t yell, they all feel I treat them with respect.  I believe that many don’t do it because “Martin is a nice guy”.  Fuck ‘em.  No one fails but they don’t know that yet.  We’ll see if it happens again.

So over 75% of my students would say I am humourous.  I was speaking with the head of the foreign affairs department (my bosses) and she told me that I am humourous.  I wanted to punch her in the face.  Of course, I always feel like punching her in the face when I see her.  Wang Jing asked if she had asked me about extending my contract yet, and I said no.  So I think Wang Jing told her I’m seriously looking and she should get off her fat ass and do something (or words to that effect).  But this woman isn’t too quick, which is just as well.  I just don’t think I can do this level of students again.  I need new and better jokes and I need a better class of student who can understand them.

My Tuesday afternoon elective classes are still a bad joke.  I threw 6 kids out in one class for not having a pen and paper.  I threw 2 out in the other class for doing their homework for other classes.  I’m not sure any Chinese teachers would notice students doing homework for other classes in their class.  The Chinese teacher comes in and talks for the whole time and then says goodbye.  If they notice, they don’t care.  If they’re too wrapped up in themselves they don’t care.  However, I do give a bit of a damn so I do make an issue of it.  And they are so stupid.  They should know I’m looking.  I tell them I’m looking.  I guess they figure they’re invisible.  I tell them in my classroom they should forget they’re in China.  We do it my way.  My way is that the class participates and just doesn’t listen to me babble on for 80 minutes even if it feels that way.

I’m getting a little warn out from all this performing.  About 2 ½ months of classes to go and I should survive.  I think there is a one-week holiday in there but I won’t know until about 24 hours before it is to begin.  Wednesday April 4th is “tomb sweeping day” when you go to the cemetery to clean up the graves.  So to make it a “long holiday”, they are giving the students Monday and Tuesday off.  The catch is that you must do your Monday classes on the Saturday before and your Tuesday classes on the Sunday before.  Just give them 5 days.  Shujie says they can’t do that because the parents would be upset.  So the parents are stupider than the kids if they think they’re little darlings are actually accomplishing anything here.  A few are, I think, but the majority are for the garbage.  Good thing I like them or I’d say something negative.

The job hunt.  What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.  Or so they say.  The school in Mongolia that had offered Shujie and I jobs, then took back Shujie’s job, wrote again.  Now they say Shujie doesn’t have to come and “test teach”.  It seems the only sticking point is my insurance.  They say they can’t get me insurance.  Why they can’t and all other schools can is beyond me.  They told me to buy my own and they would reimburse me.  However, I can’t buy Chinese insurance.  I have to buy out of country insurance, which isn’t cheap (about $2500).  So I’m waiting to hear back from them.  Again.  But the time has come to fish or cut bait.

In the meantime I’ve been offered another job towards the south of China.  The average temperature in January is 18C.  So that’s pretty good.  The pay is the best I’ve ever seen for a University.  Everything sounds decent so I’m playing along like I’m going to take it.  The only sticking point in the contract is the salary is based on a 12 period minimum of classes a week (45 minutes a class).  That’s part-time to me.  I want a guarantee of 16 hours minimum where they could pay me my regular pay for the first 12, and then pay me overtime for the next 4.  That’s what they would do if they wanted me to work more than 12, but I want a guarantee.  The head of the English department said 16 hours would not be an issue.  The Foreign Affairs Office told me they have foreign teachers who have their 12 hours and that’s all they want.

There is no job for Shujie there (but she hasn’t spoken to the business department yet), but she says she prefers Zhuhai (where the school is) because it’s warmer.  I think Mongolia would be more of an adventure and Shujie would have a job that she’d enjoy so I’d feel more comfortable.

So that beat goes on.  I figure it should all be settled this week, but who knows.  Just when you think you understand something, you realize you understand nothing.  These people are crazy but I enjoy most of them and it’s been fun.  People ask me how long we’ll stay in China and I always answer, “Until it’s not fun anymore”.

Except me, of course.  I know I have a small view of the country, limited to my environment mainly.  Sometimes I step out of that when job hunting, or travelling, or talking to others.  I know the culture is different, and I know that my way of thinking in many areas is different.

However, I try and draw a line between “culture” and “common sense”.   I admit that sometimes I just don’t get it.  I try to look at things rationally to see how they reached a decision (or non-decision) and I can’t get from A to B.  Something happened this week that burned my up so much I was actually thinking of chucking this all.  However, I’m not giving up yet.

As I mentioned in my previous post I had spoken to a school in Inner Mongolia (Baotou city) that appeared to be interested in me.  They mentioned hiring Shujie when we spoke so I thought, “they must be smart to know that would be a way to get me”.  On Saturday afternoon they phoned Shujie and all looked like it was going well.

Then they sent an email offering us both positions at the school.  Good.  That’s what we wanted but for some reason I wasn’t overjoyed.  Maybe even I have a sixth sense.  They sent me a list of all the things I needed to get together for them so I started gathering them.  They sent me a contract to sign (which I sent back listing the errors in it), and told me that they would do Shujie’s contract next.

The next day I get an email telling me that they are still offering me a job but they can’t offer Shujie a job just yet, since they don’t have 20 hours of business classes for her and they would need her to teach a “test” class first.  Which is it?  No 20 hours or no “test” class?  They mentioned her teaching extended English reading and writing (whatever that is) and I told them that I wouldn’t hire her to do that.  Of course, there are very few Chinese English teachers I would hire to teach English.

So they suggested we come to Baotou, Shujie does a few 20-minute classes, and they decide.  I asked them, “who pays”?  The woman didn’t have an answer for that and I told he that if it could be arranged quickly and the school paid for the complete trip we’d do it.  I’m not paying for Shujie to go to an audition.  I haven’t heard back yet but sometimes these people have to go through 311 other people before they get an answer.

I was steamed.  Why offer a job and then take it away?  Why not say “audition first” and then if you pass we can offer you the job.  They told me that all Chinese teachers have to do this.  I don’t know if that’s true since lying is a national sport here, but regardless of that, if you want it, you ask for it before explicitly offering a job.

So it looks like that “opportunity” is gone.  It’s too bad since it met both our needs but even if they offer to pay for the audition, I have a bad taste in my mouth.  And what really is illogical is that all contracts (even mine) have a 1-month probationary period on them.  So if we screw up in the first month, they can just throw us out.  So why the audition?  Why the probation?  It’s one of the other you need (probation is better for the school), and yet these morons who don’t know their asses from a hole in the ground go along like this.  This is China.

One agency writes me on Tuesday with good news.  She has a school that wants to interview me.  Then on Wednesday she writes me to tell me that ideally they want a couple but since I have family in Baoding (where the school is) they are interested in me.  Then on Thursday I find out something but I can’t quite translate the Chinglish.  It’s annoying.

The woman who got me this job has not put forward one candidate yet for my consideration.  That puzzles me since they know me and I have a glowing report from this school.  She says “this school” and “that school” and says she’ll get back to me.  Then the next time we talk I’m not even listening because those schools previously mentioned are no longer in the running and I don’t care why.  Don’t mention them until they really want to hire me.  She’s getting on my nerves.

Everyone is getting on my nerves.  That’s bad.  I know I started the job hunt too early and should wait to start looking seriously come the middle of April..  They just don’t do things here in a prepared manner.  We have 3 days off next month for the “tomb sweeping festival”.  What three days?  Who knows, they’ll tell us later.

True story I read on a China job forum and I believe it, from a teacher teaching an adult night class.

Student receives a phone call in class and talks for a minute.

Student:  I have to go.

Teacher:  Why?

Student:  I was just invited to a birthday party.

Teacher:  Why would you want to go if you were just invited now?

Student:  She’s my best friend.

That about explains the Chinese planning process.  I’m sure not everywhere or everyone is like that, but I’d guess 90%.  It’s hard to adapt to and it gets me frustrated which I don’t want to be since this is supposed to be a stress-free period for me.

The head of the Foreign Affairs Department had a long talk with Shujie this week.  She had asked me if Shujie ever found a job (you never helped her you stupid bitch), but she told Shujie that the school year had already started so it was impossible.  Now that they’re looking for next year (ha, ha, ha), she will seriously look for a job teaching business for Shujie.  That’s their plan (I think) to ask me to stay.

If for some miracle they do find a job for Shujie, it makes it hard for me.  The people here have been great to me and I have no complaints.  I don’t mind this town.  The only down side is the quality of students.  I don’t know if I could do this again.  I want to graduate to a higher level.  If any of this comes to pass I’m trying to think of what to ask for to make my job more enjoyable.  They can always say no.  But this is China, so I’ll be surprised if anything happens.

I must be calm and patient and it will all turn out.  I have a small problem in that I need to get Shuie a job since she doesn’t really want to stay at home, and we don’t want a “Chinese” job working 6 days a week including evenings.  It’s a challenge but I’m an idiot and believe it’s possible to find such a thing.

I showed “The Godfather” on Tuesday and everyone but one enjoyed it.  The one girl who didn’t enjoy it felt it was boring.  Movies are personal and she’s entitled to her opinion and I’m honoured that she’s honest with me.  I love that film.  Every time I see it, it just flies by.

I got annoyed at a couple of kids in one of my 1st-year classes.  Every class one student comes to the front to be “teacher for 10 minutes”.  In this class it usually takes them 30 minutes since they ask everyone in the class a question and I just let it roll.  I had 2 students who gave the answers, “This is boring”, and “I don’t want to answer”.  You can do that crap with me because I can drag an answer from you, but you don’t do that to your classmates.  If you don’t have an answer, make one up.  I was very bothered by this since Asian culture puts a class in a group where everyone helps everyone else regardless of personal feelings.  I was disappointed since it is one of the “good” culture things.  I told the students how I felt and how I was disappointed.  I don’t think that will happen again.

It’s funny.  In these sessions when the “teacher” asks someone a question, they stand up and answer.  For me, no one stands up any more.  Not that I care, but it is interesting.  I have their trust, which is Number One by far so I’m pleased.

I did a new activity in class this week and it was a huge hit (in my opinion).  I wrote little skits for 4 characters with one line each.  I explained to them that they weren’t who they really were, but that they were acting and should be the person in the skit.  They shouldn’t just stand with their arms hanging limply at their sides, but they should use their bodies.  Most of them got it and they all did their bits and it was a riot.  I laughed and the students watching laughed.  It was a huge hit and the kids told me that they had fun.

I have now extended it so they add lines to their skits and do it again.  I look forward to it.  That leads to the biggie, which is that I’ve prepared an outline of Romeo and Juliet, which no one really knows here, and the students will write their own play about it.  It can be any period in time, they can add characters, but it’s their interpretation of it.  I look forward to it.

The class where I deep-sixed the 9 students has been about 100 times better and I don’t think any of their classmates are sorry to see them gone.  The students are working and getting into things.  I’m only sorry I didn’t do it sooner.  So my 2 regular freshman classes are running just fine.

Now, my electives.  What a bunch of morons.  I don’t know where 10 years of learning English went, but I do know it didn’t go into their heads.  I don’t know why they took my class (probably figured an easy pass).  There are a few who make an effort and good for them.  As I keep saying, I don’t’ care if your English is good, try to use what you know and you’ll get better.

As we all know, I’m humorous.  More that 75% of my students think I’m humorous.  So I was getting annoyed that no one talks and they just wait for me to perform.  So I told them that next week they had to bring 50RMB (about $8) to class to pay me to perform.  I’m not sure how many understood.  I told them if they try, the class is free, If they come for entertainment, pay me.

At the end of class one student asked if they really had to bring 50RMB to class.  I had to explain it was a joke.  I wonder if some students will show up with money next week.  I do know that if the gods don’t smile on me and I get an offer to work here next year, I won’t be teaching these kinds of classes.  If I wanted this I could go to a kindergarten and make 3 times the money.

Usually when a student shows up late they stand at the door and say, “May I come in”.  I always do the same thing.  I start yelling at them to go away and of course they can’t come in.  99% of them smile and just come in.  This week some bozo kid walked away.  I had to run after him to bring him back.  Why is he here?  However, 5 minutes later he was thrown out of class since he (along with a few others) didn’t bring a pen and paper to class.  Not that they’ll write anything, but I told them on day one that they must bring a pen and paper to class.  It’s one of my ways to whittle down the class.  What student shows up at a class without pen and paper?  A Chinese student who doesn’t give a damn and has no business being in school, that’s who.

If this school didn’t exist, you’d have a lot of unemployed kids.  Now you will have a lot of unemployed young adults (with a maturity level of 12) after they graduate.  Why pretend I like them.  If you make an effort, I like you.  I don’t care if you suck at English.  It’s not that important.  It’s important that you try to use your brain.  Of course, that’s a concept that hasn’t hit China yet.

Another week of thrills, chills, and spills.  Actually another week of pretty much the same thing with some interesting things (to me) thrown in.  Here we are, the middle of March, and I’m still here.  This is the longest I’ve ever stayed at one school so it looks like I will be finishing a complete year here. 

I showed “The Princess Bride” on Tuesday and to say the students loved it would be an understatement.  I believe it to be the most enjoyable film for the students that I’ve shown all year, even surpassing “Big”.  The turnout was big so you would think that next week the turnout will be huge coming on the coattails of “The Princess Bride” but I’ve learned that one week does not relate to the next week.  All I offer is great movies that most them have never seen or heard of.  I try and stay away from the too thought-provoking (Citizen Kane) so I don’t tax their little minds.  And when a student tells me that they don’t like “black and white” movies, I just want to punch their faces in.

The student I “tutor”, Julie, is a person who appears to love films.  I lend her all the movies I won’t be showing to the masses.  She saw “Citizen Kane” last week and she knew it was supposed to be one of the greatest films ever.  She says she liked it.  I enjoy giving her films and I think her taste is similar to mine—eclectic.  So, good for her.  I’ll show “The Godfather” this Tuesday.  That’s Shujie’s favorite American film and I’m sure those who come will enjoy it.

I started the movie again on time this week so that’s the official way now.  I think students are starting to catch on that if you come late, you miss part of the movie.  I would prefer that they stay away as it’s disrespectful to the film, but I’m no one.  I’m just the guy who buys and shows the movies.  Not that it bothers me, but not one freaking student has said “thank you” to me all year for showing these movies.  All those things you’ve read about manners in Asian cultures are crap.  Maybe they were true once upon a time, but the manners here are no better than in the West, and they certainly don’t hold a candle to my manners.

I have 2 first year classes.  One class has 28 students, which is manageable so even the bozos stay quiet and occasionally listen.  I have no problems with them (except getting them to talk sometimes).  I like them and I tell them about once a month that I like them.  The other class is 40 students which includes about 10 bozos who I want to punch in the face.  For a job that’s stress-free, that’s as stressful as it gets.  They have no desire to learn and I spend too much time asking them to be quiet.

So, this week on Tuesday I made a “special offer”.  First I explained what a “special offer” is, and then I told them.  They had 24 hours to decide if they wanted into this special program.  If they disappear from my class and I never have to look at their faces again, I’ll pass them.  If they stay then I guarantee they will fail the exam and when it comes to the make-up exam, they’ll fail even worse.

I was aiming for 8 boys and 2 girls.  That would bring me down to 30, which is a huge difference from 40, and would free up time for all the students who are trying.  Also without their idiotic influence, more students will make an effort.  Luckily I’m trusted and have always done what I say I’ll do, and they know I’ll go to bat for them.  So the next morning 9 boys took me up on my offer.  One of the boys was a shock as he’s a fine student and I expected more from him.  The rest were the useless ones.  There was one useless boy I was sorry to see go.  He’s not the brightest but he has hope if he can get away from the bozos.  I can see him being pulled and he chose to be pulled the wrong way.  I’m not trying to sell the program; it’s their decision.  I just think he made another bad decision just like he’s made bad decisions his whole school life to end up at this place.  It is sad.

But the good thing is they’re gone, and the classes are much better.  A brief survey of the remaining students showed that they were extremely happy with what I did.  They would rather attempt to learn than listen to me tell idiots to be quiet.  It doesn’t bother me to pass them since they will never use English in their future lives.  So they’re happy with the pass, and I’m happy not seeing them.  Everyone wins!

Every couple of weeks I reprint an essay I find in a book I have.  I go through it and explain words and phrases they don’t understand.  The students are getting so much better at actually asking me questions (which is great) and after everyone basically understands it, I try and go for a discussion on the topic.  The most recent one was “what type of man or woman should you marry”.  Since no student would admit to ever wanting to get married (weird, who never thought about that at 20), the discussion goes nowhere.  I asked them if they’re silent because we’re in a group setting and if we were alone they would talk about it, and they told me yes.  I believe them.  So, I shall stay away from boy/girl/sex topics.  Damn, no discussions of religion, boy/girl relationships, or sex.  But it’s the culture and I’m not going to fight it.  I’ll just try and stay within the boundaries of things they’re comfortable talking about.

I’m pretty sure they’re open with me and with no other teachers, which means I’ve succeeded in gaining their trust and putting them at ease.  It’s nice to feel you’re good at something.  The other day I told them I wasn’t perfect and I’m still learning how to be better and some girl (I think I know who it was) said after I said, “I’m not perfect”, said “yes you are”.  I think she has a crush on me.  If I was a very young father, she could be my granddaughter.  I’m flattered that she has this crush on me since I think she’s an intelligent young lady (not just for her taste in foreigners).  Ah, the sweet moments I have.

I learned more about my elective classes this week.  My regular classes have 14 English periods a week.  My elective students have either 2 or 4 (not including me) English classes a week.  No wonder they’re so bad.  I also went around the room because I wanted to know what major they were taking.  I got things like “communications”, “tea art”, “landscape design”, and a few others.  Most of the students professed to not liking their classes.  One girl said school wasn’t “colorful”.  I liked that description so I asked her what color it was.  After giving it some thought she came up with “green”.  Why?  I don’t know.  So I guess green is the color of jealousy and of boring classes.

My favorite major answer came in a conversion like this.  I’ve normalized the English for easier reading but trust me; it doesn’t sound like I’ve written it.

Me:      What’s your major?

Student:         Golf.

Me:      Golf?????????????????

Student:         Yes.

Me:      Where do you play?

Student:         We don’t play yet.  They’re building a golf course.

Me:      Have you ever played golf before?

Student:         No.

Me:      Oh.  Why did you choose golf?

Student:         Because it sounded interesting.

Sometimes you feel like you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.  Golf?  Do you know how expensive it is to play golf in China?  No, you don’t.  But it’s expensive and I don’t believe these are students from rich families.  Who studies golf as a major without ever having picked up a golf club before?  Now we know the answer—the Chinese.

The job hunt.  It can be annoying.  I think I started too early because I was silly and thought schools would be organized.  The woman who got me the job here last year is looking for me and has a few possibilities if she ever gets organized enough to send them to me.  She works for a government agency so she decides once the school looks at my resume.  Since she knows what she’s getting (someone “serious”  which is funny and who comes with a good recommendation), I know I’m at the top of her list and schools are starting to trickle in.

However, I may have secured a job already.  I spoke to a woman (through another agency) from Baotou Teacher’s College in Baotou.  You know Baotou.  It’s in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.  It houses the Genghis Kahn Mausoleum.  It’s a city of about 2.6 million people.  We had a good conversation and she sent me a contract.  I wrote back with my issues and the ones she answered pretty much came out in my favor.  There are still one or two things to go over.  And it’s not a deal until it’s signed.  But the biggie here is that they want to hire Shujie to teach Business courses (including Business English).  Shujie would love that and it gives her a traditional job where we have weekends together.  She doesn’t get paid the same as me (foreigners get paid more), and she doesn’t get her plane ticket paid for (but she’s coming anyhow), so it’s good.  I hope we get the other few things ironed out (I don’t see why not), because I’d love to see her working at something she’d enjoy and be challenged by.  As for me, all my students would be English Majors so they would be there to learn.  It might be north and cold in the winter, but who cares.  If it’s north, that means the classrooms will have heaters which beats this place.  Hopefully we can pull this together by Tuesday.  Then I have nothing to worry about for the next semester and Shujie gets one of her dream jobs.  I asked her if she wanted to be a teacher and she said, “it’s always been a dream of mine”.  So dreams do come true if you marry a white guy.

If it doesn’t work out then there is Echo (the lady who got me the job here).  I know I will get a job easily in Jiangsu Province, but I’d much rather go where Shujie has a “normal” job with “normal” hours.

We watched “The Artist” this week.  I know, you’re saying, “it’s out on DVD already”?????  C’mon, this is China.  It’s out on DVD before it’s out in the theatres in North America.  Okay, that was a joke but this illegal copy came from the DVD’s they sent to Academy voters in France (I could tell from the warning that would pop up on the screen occasionally).  It was cute and different, but in the lexicon of “best pictures”, it’s near the bottom.  I enjoyed it and I respected it and it was different, but “The Godfather” or “Gone With The Wind” it’s not.

It’s supposed to hit 11 degrees C today.  Could this be a good sign?  Then it will drop to around 8 or 9, so I think, finally, that Spring is around the corner.  Good, I can start complaining about the heat soon.  It will be a welcome change from complaining about the cold.

Question:  When is a job posting not exactly a job posting?

Answer:  In China.

I have begun my serious search for employment in September for the next school year.  I usually reply to agencies who act as agents for the schools because the schools rarely post themselves.  I’m talking about real schools here, and not the “English Academies” which are “schools after school”.  I want a University position, or a College position with students who must learn English so they have some kind of motivation besides me.

So I write about the jobs and when I don’t hear anything back I ask why.  Is it my resume, my picture, what?  The answer I get is that schools will not begin looking at people until April or May.  So why are the jobs posted now?  To fool me, that’s the reason.  And they do.  Where I come from you post a job when you need someone.  You don’t post it 2 months in advance.  This is a weird place, but I think I’ve mentioned that.

I showed “Gone With The Wind” on Sunday and it was reasonably well attended and everyone stayed for the 4 hours except 2 students.  Why did they leave?  I don’t know.  Because they have the attention span of gnats?  (I don’t mean to insult gnats).  I was pleased that everyone appeared to enjoy it.  I think that’s my only Sunday afternoon movie as the longest film I have now is 3 hours and 15 minutes and I can squeeze that in on a Tuesday with a 6:15 start time.

I showed “Bridge On  The River Kwai” on Tuesday and I started on time for the first time.  Enough waiting around.  I don’t want to wait around and I don’t think the students who show up on time want to wait around.  It was another hit as everyone enjoyed it.  We had one small problem.  It’s a 2 DVD set and the 1st DVD worked fine.  The 2nd DVD jammed a few times so I had to take it out and start again and just move a touch past where we were.  What a pain.  That’s what I get for buying films in China.

Next Tuesday I’m moving to comedy with “The Princess Bride”.  Inconceivable, you say.  No,  it’s not and I think (but can never know in advance how humour will work) that it will be enjoyed by one and all.  I’ve only really showed one comedy this year (Big) and that was a hit.  I have “The Hangover” for later as an example of what defines a cream of the crop comedy these days.  This one I’m not too sure of.

I will be doing a class on the Holocaust for my two 1st year classes, and for the 2nd year classes I used to have.  I don’t think they learn a lot about it so I may well show them pictures and video and explain what happened.  This will lead into me showing “Schindler’s List”.  Movies are an “easy” way to show some history.  It’s not perfect but these are not English speaking students with an understanding of all this.  Movies are prettied up versions of how people starved, died, and looked.  They know about Japan (how could they not) and WWII, so let’s show them people who were worse than the Japanese.  I don’t want to get into “my bad guys are worse than your bad guys”, but hopefully they will see the difference.

In case you’re wondering, to me the difference is that the Japanese believed they were a superior Asian race and should rule China and Korea.  Chinese and Koreans were beneath them and you could do what you want with them.  Working slaves, sex slaves, whatever.  Whereas the Germans believed the Jews were a plague on the earth and should be exterminated and so they had a well though out plan to kill them all.  To me they’re both horrible, but the Nazi’s win that competition of evil.

I ordered a bunch of DVD’s yesterday including “The Artist”.  I’m looking forward to getting it.  11 movies for about $9.  I can handle that.  These are not for my students but for Shujie and I to enjoy.  Maybe they’ll be here tomorrow but we won’t rush through them.  Tonight we eat upstairs again (at Eleanor’s) which is nice of her.  She grabs food here all the time which Shujie likes.  So she wants to pay us back.  I hope we don’t get into any political discussions.  Eleanor asked some questions and I kept saying “don’t ask that”.  Shujie won’t admit she’s wrong and she feels that because she’s Chinese she knows more.  I feel that because she’s Chinese she knows less.  It’s called censorship.  Anyhow, it’s a topic we stay away from.

On Monday my arch-enemy June called me (head of the English department).  I think she was trying to show off what a moron she is.  She told me that all the teachers had make up exams the past weekend but where were mine.  Well June, you insipid moron, no one asked me to have a makeup exam for the bozos who failed (and it’s tough to fail my class).  I didn’t bother telling her I don’t do exams as that would really throw her.  She wanted me do them Tuesday morning and have the marks to her sometime Tuesday.  I don’t care what the rules are.  If I’m trapped, I’ll do them, or fake them  But for her to ask my on Monday was the height of inconsideration and disrespect.  Shujie says shes nice and that well may be true.  As the head of an English department she’s a perfect example of why this is a 4th-rate school.

My makeup exam consisted of the questions, “Why do you think you failed”, “Did you deserve to fail”, “What could you have done better”, and “What will you do next term to ensure you don’t fail”.  They’re writing is at about a grade 3 level and I don’t think they could put a sentence together if you put a gun to their head.  What are they learning in their other English classes except memorizing words (which is no way to learn).  I had decided beforehand that if they put their name on the paper, they would pass.  I don’t need the annoyance and if the school doesn’t care and these kids will never lose English (close that door to me), then I’m not failing them.  So next semester, no makeup exam.  Everyone passes.  Is it right?  No.  Is it fair?  No.  Is it real life?  Yes.

I tried something new in class this week and I think it worked.  I went around the room and each student had to contribute one sentence to follow the previous student’s sentence in an effort to build a story.  The story in my first class was silly (they are all silly) but I could follow it and it ended with it being a dream.  The 2nd classes story was just plain dumb but it did end with a dream.  They told me they used to do this in Chinese in middle school, but it’s a “fun” exercise and except for me telling them to be quiet it doesn’t require much of me.

On student who was “teacher for 10 minutes” played a game after her little preamble.  She had questions in a box and you keep tossing the box to someone until someone says, “stop”.  Then you either have to answer a question that’s picked from the box, or ask that student to do an “adventure”.  They were out to get me near the end and every time I tried to pass the box off the students would fold their arms.  Then they asked me to dance.  The only thing I do worse than singing, is dancing.  So I danced a little and then grabbed my little friend Estella and tried doing some Jive with her.  It was fin and I’m pleased that they feel comfortable enough to include me.

I opened my big mouth on Thursday.  I tried to explain to them come June 30th they have 2+ years in front of them to prepare for the real world.  That was their problem and not my problem.  Come June 30th, I’m gone.  I don’t think they knew that.  I sort of got out of it by telling them that even if I stayed, I still wouldn’t be their teacher.  I hope at least some of them go on to have fulfilling lives.  I like the little monsters.

I have decided I hate my Tuesday electives.  Only 12 weeks to go but how do you teach 40 kids English in 80 minutes a week?  The answer is that you don’t.  What I think the school should do (and will never do) is have special classes for those whose English is okay and want to participate and learn.  Throw out those who don’t have a chance, or stick them with some Chinese teacher.  They are wasting a resource here (that’s me).  Not that I’m great, but I bring something different to the table.

The cold is till with us and it looks like it will be another 10 days at least.  I can’t wait for spring.  I’m always cold and I’m so tired of complaining of it.  Next year I should live in the true south (where it is warm) or the true north (where everything is heated), and not this “phony south” with no heaters or air conditioners in the classrooms or the dorms.  I live in one of the best provinces in China (Jiangsu), but I’m game to try something else as long as the work sounds good.

Ideally I’ll find something in Baoding which Shujie would prefer, but I doubt it.  The university there pays peanuts and she has no guarantee that she’ll make money.  I think she’d be involved in some sort of start up with a friend, but that’s no guarantee of money.  I want her occupied next year.  She’s enjoy life more.  I don’t think she’s minded this year, but she may have to push herself a little harder to get that “ideal” job with 2 day weekends.

I’m sure I’m have a new job in the next 2 weeks (call me Mr. Optimism).  I’ll be giving up things such as Wang Jing, and a decent apartment, and decent (but not bright) kids.  Anytime you move you are taking a big chance since you don’t know what you’re actually getting into, until you get into it.  But that’s adventure.