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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Another Saturday morning.  There’s not too many of these left.  I’m thinking I have about 3 weeks of classes to go before my “non-exam” and then classes are done.  There have been times this year when time seemed to drag, but lately it seems to be galloping.

I went out for dinner (shou-kou=BBQ) last night on the street.  Shujie is in Baoding and will be back Monday morning with a “subway sandwich” for me.  That’s almost as exciting as seeing her again.  The whole leaving me behind thing is so weird.  She had to be convinced to go because how could I survive in China not knowing the language?  I convinced her I could.  I could cook food.  I would live through it quite easily.  I did survive in Korea.

Her mother asked her “what will Martin do for dinner”?  So many people don’t understand just how simple it is to get along day to day without language.  We’re just so used to flapping our gums (none more so than the Chinese) that they don’t know there are other ways to communicate.

Now because she went away something came up Thursday morning that I really could have used her help with.  My front tooth broke.  Ordinarily she’d take me to the dentist and translate.  But that wasn’t going to happen.  I called Wang Jing to play that role (she’s such a doll) and she took me and translated.  I’m in the middle of some major changes to my dental situation and I hope it works out.  It’s a lot cheaper than Canada and I trust the guy here.  It was a split-second decision but I didn’t have time to review his references.

Wang Jing left me there and I spent 3 hours in the chair.  I have to go back next Friday to finish everything.  It’s not cheap.  It’s about 1 1/3 month’s salary.  We negotiated the price.  This is China.  He gave me the price and then I said to Wang Jing now we negotiate.  We got to a place where we were both happy.  It’s not like negotiating a piece of fruit.  If the merchant sells to you but hates what you’re paying him, he can’t do anything to your fruit.  But if he hates me, he can wreck my mouth.  I have this temporary thing in now and it’s uncomfortable but I can’t walk around showing a front tooth missing.

I figure if Shujie had not gone to Baoding this never would have happened.  It’s weird how timing works.

If you haven’t read my previous post, I recommend it.  Lots of pictures and videos.  I think I must accept that I’m writing for myself.  I have no regular followers really.  I’m hurt a little since I thought my family might be interested.  My writing isn’t bad (a little long-winded at times), but it’s interesting stuff (I think).  It’s discovering a new culture.  Am I boring?  Do people forget how to read except to read illiterate emails?  I don’t get it.  And this blog is so different than the Korean one which was a lot of whining and complaining.  This one is much more pleasant.  But I can’t force people to read, but in all honesty I’m a touch disappointed.  I don’t have a lot of friends (no problem), but I thought I had a few who were interested in me.  And if people are too busy to spend 5 to 10 minutes a week reading something different, there’s nothing I can say.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I’ve decided that need a non-powered bicycle lane on the streets.  The bicycle lanes have been taken over by the electric bikes so the non-electric bikes are a pain to go around.  I almost had about 4 accidents on the way home from the supermarket but I play chicken.  If I stopped every time someone wanted to cut me off, I’d never get anywhere.  I wish these people would learn how to drive cars and other vehicles.

Last Tuesday were my last classes at the Mao Shan campus.  That’s my English elective courses.  I have 2 of them and I see these students once a week.  They don’t contribute to the class, rarely listen, rarely participate, and it’s boring.  I get no energy from them and seeing a class one time a week doesn’t let you build a relationship with the students.  My other students I see 3 times a week, which is good.

I think this whole elective thing was a waste of time.  Eleanor agrees.  Our time would have been better spent having a “selective”.  Students try out for the class and we take the best ones who actually give a damn.  That way we don’t waste our time on those who don’t care and are just marking time.  We are going to suggest that for the future so we have no vested interests, but nothing will happen.  Who cares?  I don’t think the school cares.  Every student who pays gets in.  You can’t be rejected for this school.

I thought for my “exam” I would do a very brief one on one interviews with each student where I ask them what grade do you deserve and why?  I thought I would get some semblance of honesty in their answers but was I in for a shock.  At least 90% of the students felt they should get between 90 and 100.  Yes, there were some who thought they deserved 100.  I’ve got it narrowed down to “I’m a foreigner and a nice guy so I’ll do it”, or “I’m a foreigner so therefore I’m an idiot so I’ll do it”, or “I’m a moron and have no concept of reality”.

The reasons I got for these outstanding marks make “The dog ate my homework” sound like the work of a rocket scientist.  I got the following reasons (these aren’t all of them).

  1. I came to all the classes.
  2. I was on time.
  3. I love English.
  4. I have confidence in myself.
  5. I’ll do better in the future.
  6. I watch English movies and listen to English music
  7. I want a 93 because 93 is my favourite number.
  8. I want a 99 because 100 is perfect and no one is perfect.

I didn’t debate with any of them.  I just listened.  I had 2 students who said they should get ‘60’ which is the lowest pass mark.  I told them that I respected them for their honesty.  I had one girl come in and I said, “I’ve never seen you”.  She told me she had come to the first class and didn’t understand what I said, so she didn’t come back.  But she wanted a mark.  I was told that if a student misses 3 classes they fail.  I hate to call these people mentally handicapped, but to a certain extent they are.  I blame the school system, which puts no responsibility on the student, and they’re told every little thing to do.  What a disaster.

Then I had one student, a girl, who was one of my better students.  She listened, didn’t talk to friends, and actually spoke in class and deserving of one of the higher marks.  Now remember I’ve only had 14 visits with these people.  We’re wrapping up and she says to me, “Is there anything you want to say to me”.  That brought me up short.  What does she want?  Am I supposed to say, “you’re a pretty girl” or what.  I settled for “I think you are a delightful and intelligent young lady”.  I thought I had dodged the bullet, but wait; there was more in her arsenal.  And none of this had to do with “sucking up” for marks.  I honestly believe in her sincerity.

Now I’ve mentioned that China is not a culture that believes in public displays of affection.  The time most kids stopped being hugged by their parents was about when they were 6.  They never tell their parents they love them, and their parents don’t tell them.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t love; it just means it’s not talked about.

This girl started to cry.  I was floored.  There was no way in a million years I would have expected that.  Does she have some white grandfather fetish?  I shouldn’t make fun because she is a sweet young lady.  When she could talk again she asked if she could give me a hug.  A hug?????????  These kids don’t hug their parents.  I told her of course, and we hugged.  I’m happy to hug the students I like but I would never initiate the contact.  After the hug she cried some more, then she hugged me again and told me she loved me.  This is not normal.  Maybe in a Western primary school, but definitely not in China.

I was totally flabbergasted by this.  I called Shujie that night to discuss and she said that’s how the kids can show you they like you.  I don’t believe her.  I think she lived in Canada too long.  I have to talk to Wang Jing about this (10 years teaching experience) to get a better idea.  I told Julie (my “tutored” student) and she had never heard of anything like that.  I believe her.

The student after her was another girl who made an effort.  There were no tears but she asked for a hug.  That was okay since I felt it was sincere and felt we had a good relationship.  We hugged and then she told me I reminded her of her father.  I take that as the highest compliment I can get.  Then she asked if I had any advice for her.  I told her to go see a psychiatrist.  (That was a joke).  It was a tough question but I settled for think of yourself first and not your parents.  It’s your life and you have to make yourself happy.  Things should flow from that.

Then a 3rd student came in and she wanted a hug.  She only wanted it because of the 2 ladies before her.  I wanted to tell her to fuck off and get away from me, but I hugged her.  I’m such a softie.  But it wasn’t sincere.

It got me a little worried about my “real” classes.  I can only see maybe 1 girl (Mandy) maybe wanting to give me a hug and I’d be honored and touched.  Shujie says there will be lots but I just can’t see it.  It will give me something to worry about for a few weeks.

Culture is a weird thing.  There are some things here (cultural) that I like and approve of and think are superior to our culture.  There are some things that I wouldn’t call culture and would just call wrong.  Of course, if I live her I can’t say that.  Then there is the 3rd and most difficult.  I understand what they are doing in a technical manner (if culture can be technical), but I don’t understand it.  It baffles me.  The non-physical contact with parents falls in that category.

So I have 3 to 4 weeks for worrying about hugs.  If no one hugs me, will I be hurt?  If this episode wouldn’t have happened this thought wouldn’t even enter my head.  Would I be happy to give them a hug?  Yes.  I like almost all of them and feel warmth towards a great many of them (boys and girls).

On Tuesday after classes when Eleanor and I were riding the bus back to Jurong I told her all this and she was quite glad it wasn’t her.  She’s more reserved.  She’s English.  But the thing is, and I like this, is that we are two entirely different teachers in all ways.  I love that since we can bounce things off one another.

She is more of a “teacher”.  She will have a class on “giving directions” for example.  I would rather cut my throat.  I’ve decided I’m more of a “life” teacher.  I use English as my tool for communication but I’m more interested in helping them become better and more responsible.  I guess that invites more warmth.

Who’s right?  Who knows?

I gave them the plays to do on their own and that was the first time they had received total responsibility in school.  That was good.  I’ve started doing Improv (Second City has nothing to worry about), but it’s trying to get them to think on their feet.  It’s really weird for them since it’s so far outside their experience.  I hope they get better.  I put 5 words on the board and they have to be in their little skit.  They like doing this because it’s fun and it’s different.

Those that paid attention and maybe learned something this year will miss me, I think.  The others, who don’t care and got nothing from me, won’t miss me.  If I make a positive difference in one person’s life, then it’s all been a success.

It’s done.  All 11 plays (the student’s take on Romeo and Juliet) have been completed and performed.  I went ahead with an “awards” show on the day following the presentations.

No one play was a disaster.  The only requirement was the play should be at least 4 minutes and everyone should memorize their lines.  One play fell short on time (it was about 80 seconds), and most people had their lines down.

It was quite funny and we had some real hams that were great at it.  They were overly melodramatic and they didn’t laugh at themselves.  In fact one girl told me to stop laughing while she was performing.  She was the best by far.

After all the plays were done I had ballots ready to vote for the 4 awards which were best actor, best actress, best directing, and best play.  It’s interesting to see how some people vote.  Some vote for everything in their group regardless of how bad they were.  Some vote for their friends.  And some vote for the students who they “think” should win because they are the best students.  But sometimes the best students don’t do the best job.  Shujie insisted I do some fiddling with the final results and I wasn’t comfortable doing that.  But after careful consideration and because the votes were close, I admit I changed a couple.  My reasons were that the ones Shujie and I thought were best should have won, and if I made them the winner it would mean more to them than a good student just having another feather in her cap.

One group got a late start because their leader screwed up in not organizing them.  She had other commitments and didn’t tell me.  She is one of my favourite students so I was a touch disappointed.  She sent me an email that read like this (unedited), “Martin I really feel sorry about the script, i know it is all my fault that i did not try my best to finish it,i hope you can forgive me but it seems impossible,i felt so sad and my heart into pieces ,when i saw your email ,i  know you have the same feelin”.  It’s kind of cut off since it was sent from her phone which only allows her x number of characters.  I wouldn’t say it was “all her fault” and I wrote her back a rather lengthy email (which I am prone to doing) since I am fond of her and respect her.  She replied to my email with this.

“Martin:                        I don’t know how to describe my mood at this moment.i have seen your email(the longest email i received before) i felt so touching that i was cried . thanks for your forgive me and accepted my apology.i am very appreciate.

I have many words to tell you. deep in my heart  at first i think you are one of the most important teacher and have a great influence for me. i learned a lot from no matter what your email or class . i really respect and like  you as you like me .”

It was nice and I was touched.  I know she likes me a lot, but what’s really cool about it is that it is the love of a friend and not a student sucking up to a teacher, or trying to hustle a teacher.  Here is a picture of my favourite Mandy:

Shujie did pictures and videos of the plays and did a pretty good job.  And you get to see them.  You have to listen carefully since the English accents can be difficult.  Here are a few of the videos: coming from the different plays.  I’d watch them all because they are damn fine and that’s my unbiased opinion.

Romeo and Juliet meet:

Romeo’s confession:

Juliet lets Romeo (in prison) know he will be a father:

Juliet’s suicide:

Rosaline tries to pass by:

Romeo and Juliet dancing:

Romeo brushes off Rosaline:

Juliet wakes up from suicide with Romeo there:

Rosaline takes a knife meant for Romeo:

Juliet has fixed herself up for Romeo (lost weight and wearing a sign that says “G Cup” so everyone will know about her surgery.

Edison and Alice meet (Romeo and Juliet):

Edison and Alice (Romeo and Juliet) run away and throw themselves off a cliff.  I think they become birds after.

Dancing at a party:

The best actor speech for one of the classes.  I was quite touched.

Winner of best director for one class:

Here are some pictures:

A student dressed as a Priest.  You can tell by the big cross.

Romeo and Juliet drink:

Romeo and Juliet drinking:

Romeo and Juliet meet:

Romeo finds out Juliet is going to have his baby:

Another death:

Estella with award standing with Wang Jing.

Girls from one class with me:

Boys from one class with me:

4 girls from other class with me:

Wang Jing came to the 2nd awards show and was shocked that the students could do such things.  The fact is that in Chinese classes they don’t get the opportunity to work on their own or interact much with the teacher.  The teacher talks, the students listen, the students leave.  She said it was a real  eye-opener for her and she may start doing things like this.  It’s a great idea.  The student’s loved doing it, and they loved having some responsibility (although a couple abused it).  I’d say overall it was a big success.

My problem now is there about 4 weeks of classes to go.  What do I do?  I’ve asked the students to come in with ideas next week about some things that might interest them.  I don’t expect to get any suggestions so it will be the same old, same old.  I probably peaked too early by using this.  I’d like to do something similar but I can’t do plays again.  Any and all suggestions would be appreciated.

I’m glad it’s done and I’m sad it’s done.  Overall I think it was a good experience for all concerned.  What is the nicest thing about being the “English teacher” is that I just don’t teach English (if I even do that).  It’s that I expose them to different ways of thinking and I treat them as adults (even if they are kids).  I never put them down (what’s the point) and I try and make them relax.  Some have taken advantage (in a good way) of this method, while others are too stupid to live and there is nothing I can do about it.

When you first start teaching (and I’ve come to this late in life) you hope you can make a difference in everyone’s life.  Then reality seeps in and you think, “maybe I can make a difference in 10 lives”.  The reality is that for every single student you have touched with a new way of thinking and doing things, it’s a bonus.  Using that as my criteria, I think I’ve been a success.  I know I will be forgotten but maybe a couple of things they’ve learned about how to think and behave will stick with them.  Then I’m happy.

It’s less than 7 weeks until we’re in Toronto.  I cold be about 5 or 6 weeks left of teaching.  You don’t teach after your final exam.  My exam will be brief one on one interview where I basically ask the students what they think they deserve and why.

If they can convince me their mark will go up.  If they can’t they will stay with my evaluation based on my observance and insight into their piddling little brains.  Just from comments like the previous it seems obvious that I am slowly sinking into “fedupness”.

My big project right now which in my naitivity I thought was brilliant, was to break the students in to groups of 5 or 6.  I have a total of 11 groups between my 2 classes.  They have a rough outline of Romeo and Juliet and they are to write their own version and perform it (with the lines memorized).  My involvement is to leave them alone unless they ask for help and to change their scripts (which they had to hand in) from Chinglish to English, print them, and give everyone a copy.

I am so freaking nice.  Only I would do this.  Okay, maybe others but I’d be to dollars to donuts it wouldn’t be a Chinese teacher.  I don’t expect a party to be thrown in my honour.  All I wanted was if I threw a little trust and responsibility their way, they would reply in kind showing they deserved it.

Let’s just say I overestimated quite a few.  I don’t want to say everyone is bad because most are good.  But we know that the bad ones tend to put a damper on things and bring my mood down.  That’s wrong.  I should be going, “85% did well and 15% did bas so overall that’s good”.  I don’t do that.  I get wrapped up in the 15% of total lazy and useless morons (it’s all about respect).

I had one girl who was a group leader who didn’t send me anything.  Someone else in the group did but I had to reject it.  I admit he tried which is good, but it was totally understandable.  He also sent his Chinese version, which Shujie translated, for me.  However, I wasn’t going to write their damn script.  I don’t care if it’s bad as long as I can understand it.  My bar to succeed it is quite low.  Come in, make an effort, and you’re laughing.

I sent some unfriendly emails to that group and the group leader was quite upset that I was upset.  She had other commitments and I told her she needs to tell her teacher (or her boss in the future) when she can’t do something.  I actually wrote her quite a long email in English, which probably took her 3 hours to translate.  However, I don’t’ speak Chinese and I care about her.

She wrote me back that she understood and that I had moved her to tears.  I’m good at that.  If she got something out of it, then it was worth it.

This week they’ve been rehearsing (and no one has called for help).  Next week are performances.  I’m waffling between having an “Academy Awards” presentation next Thursday or not.  I think I’ll wait until I see the results.

On Wednesday I dropped into the classroom to see if anyone was there and in my first class most show up to meet.  There were a few not there that I had students call and oh yes, they are on their way.  They are scum liars.  I had another boy I texted whose excuse was there was no water to brush his teeth or wash his face.  Of course if he woke up on time, it wouldn’t be an issue.  One student was studying her lines in the library.  Where was the rest of her group?  She didn’t know.  Would they be meeting tomorrow?  She replied, “maybe”.

One boy had his phone off and never showed up.  In fact a few never showed up.  I guess I gave them holidays.  I figured that if I treated them like adults, they would respond as adults.  I was wrong.  But you know what?  After all this time I don’t care anymore.  I’ve been patient, helpful when asked, kind, and all that stuff.  If they still want to only play computer games and sleep on their off time, it’s not my business.

So I’ve changed.  I was not going to fail anyone.  If when I see these plays if I feel that someone didn’t do their job (and I’ll know), they will fail.  No makeup exam.  I don’t owe them anything.  I’ve given and given.  If they want to screw up their future, it’s not my problem anymore.  My standards are so low that you have to have the brain of a slug to not pass.

I will ask the students to try and truthfully grade their fellow group members anonymously.  We shall see.

I am not saying I’m the hardest working teacher, but I try and keep in varied and interesting.  To do these little plays is different and interesting and can be a lot of fun.  But if you have a group of 5 and 2 are total morons who don’t help, you’re screwed.  The 3 who try will not be penalized.  The 2 who screwed up are dead men.

I had one boy who wanted out of my class.  He told me it wasn’t because of me as I was the best foreign teacher he ever had.  He couldn’t take the fact that most of his classmates are morons.  He is one of their class monitors and he was tired of covering for them.  I know the culture is different but I advised him to throw them to the wolves and just worry about himself.  If he wants to be the only one who wants to talk in English during the class, let him.  I’ll talk to him and to hell with those that can’t be bothered to make the effort.  I’ve spent 8 months trying to create an atmosphere where you can say anything and I will never shoot you down for your horrendous grammar.

I’ve never experience mass laziness such as I see her.  It is rather disgusting.  I’m pretty sure next year will be different as these will be students who had to be accepted to the school and are the best from their area.  I do look forward to that.

Today is May 11.  I’m supposed to be paid on the 8th of the month.  Wang Jin does the paperwork and hands it into her fat cow of a boss Christie.  All she has to do is sign and pass it along but apparently that is beyond her hopeless abilities.  Shuie wanted to go in and yell at her but I though it was pointless.  Some people are too stupid for words.  So, this morning Shujie is going to see the cow Christie’s boss to complain to him.  It shows contempt for Christie since we are bypassing her.  I’m considering burning her house down.  Every teacher here gets paid the same day of the month by direct deposit.  The foreign teacherd get paid cash on what should be the same day of the month, but rarely is.  Wang Jin does her job and fills out the requisition but it has to go through channels.  She’s usually done her job by the 2nd that leaves lots of time before the 8th to get my money.  It just makes me sick.  They tell me how wonderful I am and then show such disrespect towards me.  I shouldn’t burn any bridges so I’m keeping my month shut.  But this Christie woman is a cow supreme and should be shot.

We are looking for moving companies to schlep our stuff to Baotou.  We’re up in the air about our electric bicycle.  We’ve decided to leave it up to Juliet (from the foreign affairs department in Baotou) to tell us if it’s worth it and there will be enough months of driving available in the year.  They do have a winter there.

Shujie is trying to work out courses to teach with them.  The problem is Juliet keeps staying in the middle.  It would be so much easier to have Shujie talk to the business department head herself but we play the Chinese game.

I’m proud of myself for lasting the year.  I’m proud of myself for learning something.  I’m excited because I believe it’s a far, far better place I go to than I have every known.

I showed “No Country For Old Men” on Tuesday.  Only 5 girls showed up and I don’t think any of them liked it.  There is no accounting for taste.  It was brilliant.  I think I might do “The Green Mile” on Tuesday.  It’s 3 hours but I think it will appeal to everyone.  I have the “Hangover” with Chinese subtitles so I’m considering that too.  You know, I buy the movies, I show the movies, I tutor who ever asks.  How hard can it be to pay me on time?

Shujie will go to Baoding for a week around the 20th of the month to visit family.  I’m glad for her.  I had to talk her into it.  It’s weird here with family.  She’s worried about me because what will I eat.  I think I can fry chicken breasts, put a baked potato in the over, and grill steak as well has her.  She seems to like doing these things so I just let it go.  This is the year where it’s the  least I’ve ever done.  It’s weird.  I miss being able to do things for myself and I hate having to depend on her to ask others questions for me.  I would think if I studied Chinese for 5 or more years, I might know enough to take a stab at it.

You know, you can stick a fork in me.  I’m done.