What grade do you deserve and why?

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.


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