I cry easily. I always have and I probably always will. I cry at movies. Even comedies. One sappy scene and I’m tearing up. But for some strange reason (maybe superior self-control), I didn’t cry yesterday (Tuesday). I’m starting to write this now while it’s all still fresh in my mind.
On Sunday evening we were dinner guests at a BBQ restaurant with one of my 2 freshman classes. We all sat outside and it was very nice. I like BBQ so I could eat which is always a bonus. Now I’ve always mentioned that these kids look so young. On Sunday I shared my observation that at the beginning of the year they all looked like they were 12 years old. Now they look 16. I guess they’re growing up.
They were drinking beer. There is nothing wrong with that as they are 20 to 21 and there is no legal drinking age in China. It just looked so strange to me to see these little toddlers drinking beer. I almost said (and I’m serious), “Should you be drinking that”? Luckily I shut up first.
These girls are mostly small. Tiny small. I would figure that it wouldn’t take much to get them drunk. Two girls got blotto within 45 minutes. They both couldn’t stand or say a coherent sentence in any language. One of the two girls was crying and crying. Why? I don’t know. They were among the drunkest human beings I’d ever seen. They were probably more drunk than Sayoon ever was, and she could get very fall-down drunk.
Now here is the good thing. The culture here is that you take care of your classmates. A couple of the girls got a taxi and took the two of them back to the dorm and then they came back. I love how they look out for each other. The other thing I was thinking was that if it wasn’t a class function and they were that drunk, it wouldn’t be surprising (Chinese or not) if they woke up the next morning in some strange bed.
It was interesting and the whole event was quite nice. Everyone had to come over and toast me. They love to toast here. I was toasting with my Coke and they with their beer. Now when you toast, you drain your glass to show respect. There were a lot of drained glasses.
There were a lot of hugs at the end. It was nice and warm and I could feel the love. I’m not an idiot and I know I will soon be a distant memory, but at that moment in time it was all sincere and that’s what matters. I could feel that I had touched a few lives, and they had touched mine. And all this hugging in a very non-hugging culture means a lot to me. One girl kissed me on my cheeks. It’s such a compliment that they feel that comfortable with me that they can step into my culture and show their feelings.
I had told both my classes that I would be in the classroom Tuesday morning if anyone wanted to stop by and talk. I expected 1 person (Mandy) to be there. I was flabbergasted. In the 1st class out of 28 students, 23 showed up. I think some of them came because they didn’t understand that they didn’t have to come. I think some came because even though I said they didn’t have to, I’m the teacher and they better cover their asses and show up. Then there was the 3rd group of which I believe there were more than 10. When I asked, “why are you all here?”, Mandy said it was because they wouldn’t have many more chances to see me. And for some of them, that was true. They might not be the most brilliant students in the world, but I think they are good people. And I tell them that being a good person is much more important than speaking English well. I thanked them for helping this to be a great year for me.
Naturally I talked the most. I got some questions (how old were you when you had your first girlfriend?) but I had to blabber on or there was silence. Everyone stayed the full 90 minutes and when the bell sounded I received a few gifts. The first was a card from Kimoko which I have photographed. I can’t express properly how good it made me feel to read her words. She is one of my favourite people here. I tried to get an answer out of her as to whether all she wanted to do was go to school and then get married, but she wouldn’t say. I think she is one of the students who I just wonder what the hell they are doing here. It must be extreme laziness. What is good is that those who want can take an exam after the 2nd year and if they pass, they can go to university. I hope a lot of them follow through and do that.
Then Mandy gave me a notebook that she had inscribed. I have photographed it and it’s below. She talks about her memory of New Year’s eve when she told me she would never forget this night. If you look at the right under name it says “Martin” and for address she wrote, “live in Mandy’s heart”. There is no reason to write that except if you feel it. Once again I’m honoured and touched. I told her last night that of course I remember New Year’s eve because it was very special to me. Mandy and Nine took me in hand and we walked arm in arm to the activities (with Shujie following). What made it special for me was that it wasn’t teacher and student, it was friends. Here I am, almost 58, being accepted as an equal and a friend to these 20 year old girls.
I can’t explain properly how I feel. I guess it’s what everyone who ever wanted to be a teacher dreams of. You want to make that connection. I now know you can’t make the connection with everyone, but you can make the connection with a few and that is something to be quite thankful for.
There were a couple of other gifts and some pictures. Below is a card they made me and gave me last night with a couple of pictures in it that they ran out and got developed. How freaking sweet!
Last night was the final movie of the year. It’s really weird. Three weeks ago it was “Schindler’s List” which was mandatory. Before that I would average 10 to 15 girls (no boys) each week. The girls were regulars so that made me feel good. Some were there for the English, some were there to see Western culture, but they were all there to see a good movie. I gave them a taste of everything from “Princess Bride” to “Clockwork Orange”.
Last week it was not mandatory and there were about 40 there for the movie. Why? I have no idea. Last night there were 39 (or maybe more) and I don’t know why. Where were they before? Shujie thinks it’s because they now their time to see me is running short. But in the movie, I don’t talk to anyone, I sit alone, I don’t discuss the movie (I don’t want them to feel it’s “school”), and they tear out of the movie like bats out of hell. But they were there and maybe Shujie was right.
Here are a couple of pictures with each class and me. Shujie figured out how to do it for the 2nd class so the 1st class picture is bad. What can I say? I’m overwhelmed.
What’s really nice about this is something like Mandy’s gift. If this was the West and some girl wrote that I think I would wonder, “is it sexual”, “are they after something from me”, “what’s their game”. But I’m here in China and I understand something of the culture. It is what it is. It’s an expression of feeling with no sexual overtones and no hidden meanings.
We’re here for another week and I told them they could call and we could get together. I don’t expect to hear from anyone. I mean, how many times can you say goodbye. In the privacy of my apartment I can think about all this and let the warmth come over me. I don’t have to worry about keeping a “stiff upper lip”. I haven’t cried but this is as close as I’ve ever come to being touched without tears.
This morning Shujie and I went to see the Dean of the school. We had one mission and that was to sing the praises of Wang Jing. All people ever do is complain to managers and bosses. We believe in telling the boss when someone is really good. I spoke and Shujie translated. I think he was pleased. Shujie said she had never heard of anyone in China ever telling the boss about good people. They only hear complaints. I wanted him to know how lucky he is and how good and kind Wang Jing is. Later Shujie heard from Wang Jing because the Dean reported to her what we had said. That’s good. I was hoping he would say something to her. We didn’t tell her what we were doing as it wasn’t so we would look good. But if the Dean tells her, then he is pleased, Wang Jing is pleased, and Shujie and I are pleased.
It’s crazy right now. I’m a jumble of feelings. I will miss many things about here, and I hope I’m this lucky next year. I found out I’m teaching culture and writing which doesn’t thrill me. But I will twist the textbooks they give me to work for me. A culture textbook! Western culture is many different things. If you are raised Jewish your culture is different than some raised Christian. So I guess the textbook sticks to stereotypes or avoids the intricacies of culture.
It’s now Saturday morning and I’ll finish this post off. It’s been a pretty boring week with no classes and just waiting to leave on Wednesday. The library did give me a notebook as a gift. I’ve never been to the library but Shujie gave them some novels (in Chinese) that I had bought. So I get the gift. A thank you would have been fine and the thank you should have been for Shujie. Oh well, everyone loves the white guy.
The dean of the school told Wang Jing about our visit so I was very pleased about that. She was pleased and surprised we did that. Shujie figures her idiot boss Christie will hate her even more when she finds out, but that’s beyond our control. If someone does an outstanding job, you should tell their boss. This is not done in China so once again I’ve broken new ground with my foreigner ways.
We are getting organized and it’s not too bad. We have a bunch of stuff we’re shipping to Baotou so we don’t bring too much stuff with us for the summer. I usually bring 3 times as many clothes as I need but I’m getting better. I have no more than 2 times the clothes I need. Shujie doesn’t have so many clothes as Asian people don’t change every day. There is nothing wrong with that since they don’t smell either. They don’t use deodorant and they smell just fine. I change because I just feel dirty if I don’t. I use to change my clothes about 3 times a day but now I’m almost normal and only change every day.
It’s the “Dragon Boat Festival” now. Don’t ask. I asked Shujie what it was and she didn’t know. I asked Wang Jing and she said it was to honour some poet. I think you race boats on the water. Who knows? Since I have no more classes, it doesn’t affect me. If it were a day off it would be another story.
Today we are going to visit Wang Jing’s new house. I’m told it is an actual house, which I’ve never seen here. Everyone lives in apartments. It’s quite nice of her to invite us, and Shujie and her have become quite close. I hope they survive the breakup and I wonder how long they’ll stay in touch. I would say they are “work friends” except Shujie doesn’t work here. But the friendship pleases me and I’m quite fond of Wang Jing myself. Doh, if I haven’t mentioned it 100 times already.
I don’t know if I’ll post over the summer. I don’t think I’ll have many observations but you never know. I will be back to regular posting at the start of September. New city, new school, new students, new people. I’m nervous and I hope the situation is good. I don’t want any hassles. Just leave me along and let me fumble through what I do. I’m not thrilled teaching writing and culture. I’d rather just do a generic oral English because I feel that’s my strength. I will bend the culture course to my needs but the writing will be more of a challenge.
Julie (the one student I sort of tutor who visits once a week who I always lend movies and books to) came yesterday for the last time. Did she say thank you to me? Hah! What a cold fish. I should have told her that. You say thank you when someone does something for you. Weird. Shujie thought she was a cold fish too and kind of strange. She thought not saying thank you was rude. I’m glad I called that one right.
I will leave you with a picture of the local pool hall. There are many more tables than in the picture and yes, it is what you think it is. It’s just pool tables lined up on the sidewalk and people pay to play. It seems all the tables (or the way they sit) are warped so it makes the game quite interesting. We’ve done it twice and had fun.
I will be at the same address, adventuresinjurong, come September. I should change the name but how would my one or two followers find me if I did that? So I’ll stay with what I have but it will really be adventures in Baotou. Can you feel the excitement?