All good things come to an end

How often in life does a 94-year-old man die and you can honestly say that it came as a shock?  I mean 94 is old, isn’t it?  My Uncle Murray died this week and I was shocked to learn about it and saddened beyond belief.  My uncle, who was my father’s older brother, was in good health.  His brain was functioning just fine and he could still make silly jokes.  He still drove his car (and made his children nervous).  He took care of himself and kept busy.  He had Parkinson’s (I think but maybe not) and his hands shook a lot.  However, he could still draw and paint (one of his hobbies).  Here he is recently with a couple of his paintings.

If my fantasy world, my Uncle Murray was the one person who would live forever.  He was a stable rock in my life who I just knew would always be there and we would be able to visit once in a while.  He lived in Detroit so I never saw him as much as I would have liked to, but seeing him and being with him always was a treat and brought laughter and smiles to me.

My mother was very upset at his passing.  As she said, “he was never down but always up”.  She spoke with him on the phone pretty often and she was quite shocked by his death too.  He went quickly.  He felt unwell at dinner and they called an ambulance (he lived in an assisted living home).  He died on the way to the hospital of an aneurism so it was fast.  I’m glad he didn’t have to suffer and as much of a shock as it was, especially to his kids I think, it’s ‘better’ if it’s fast.  You don’t want to watch someone deteriorate (like my dad).  My cousins I consider very lucky as they had both their parents alive until my cousins were in their 60’s.  That’s pretty amazing.

My Uncle Murray was the first person to point out to me that my father was going bald.  I remember as a child being at the beach and asking him where my father was.  He told me to look down a ways and look at the head the sun was shining off of.  That was my dad and his bald spot, and that was my Uncle Murray, making it funny.

When he and my Aunt Rita used to come to Toronto to visit, they would leave about 5AM.  I always thought they were crazy but my uncle wanted to “beat the traffic”.  I thought it was funny and they would leave about 5AM to return to Detroit.

When we used to visit Detroit when I was young, my uncle would always take me to the zoo.  For some reason he loved the zoo, or maybe it was just that he loved taking me.  I remember him talking about the “Penguin House” they were building at the zoo.  He was very excited about that.

When I had my quadruple-bypass surgery when I was 45, it was only my Uncle Murray who made me cry.  He phoned me to see how I was and I was struck by the absurdity of the situation.  Here I was, just 45, getting a phone call to see how I was from my uncle in his 80’s.  I thought the world was upside down.  But he cared and he called.

He was a good man.  My father loved him.  They used to talk about going to Europe together (my uncle served in WWII but my dad was too young).  But it was just talk and they should have gone.  I have never heard anyone say anything negative about him and there is a reason for that.  He truly was one of the “good ones”.  There aren’t enough of them, and now there is one less.

94.  And now he’s gone and it shouldn’t have happened but I’m not being realistic.  It’s just difficult to think of a world that my Uncle Murray isn’t in.  He’s always been there and he always seemed so indestructible.  I will miss him and I’m sure everyone who knew him will miss him too.  It must be hard to live to 94 as you see too many people die before you.  But as I said, he was a strong man who never showed a down side.

I’m very upset that I couldn’t go to the funeral.  When you’re 94 you don’t get a big crowd.  Do you have many friends, if any, when you get to 94?  Probably not.  I should have been there in honour of his memory, and to be with my cousins Gary and Janice (his kids).  It’s the down side of living here in China..  The world is a little poorer now with his passing.

But for the rest of us, life goes on.  Here in China it’s business as usual.  I did something good in class this week with my 3rd year classes.  We had debates.  I split the class into groups where they debated living together before marriage.  Regardless of your personal belief you had to argue for it being a good idea or a bad idea.

Each side had 4 or 5 people and everyone had to talk.  It was the first time I had everyone in class talk.  It was the 1st time I heard some of those kids talk.  It was great because they got to think and argue which you don’t get to do in Chinese schools.  I’ve decided to hell with the curriculum, I’m just going to do what I think is best.  And what is best is giving these kids a chance to think and use their brains.  School here is “duck-stuffing” as it’s called.  That means they just beat information into your head and you memorize everything.  You don’t question the teacher; you just follow the book and repeat it.

It’s so different from here and I can’t help but believe it’s a worse system.  The kids spend most of their childhood in school or studying or doing homework, and not doing “kid” things.  I hate it.  So I’ve started doing what I did last year which was to try and think of things that will let them use their brains and exercise their imaginations.

I learned a joke this week about the Chinese education system from a student.  One day the teacher asks the class for their ideas about the lack of food and hunger in the world.  The American student says, “what is hunger?”.  The African student says, “what is food?”.  The Chinese student  says, “what is an idea?”.  That explains the situation here.  Everyone knows it’s wrong but it doesn’t change.  The students don’t like how they are taught and they are not allowed to think.  The teachers don’t say anything because it might upset their bosses.  Everything stays the same because everyone is afraid of the person whose level is above theirs.  So you keep your mouth shut and say nothing.  These people are nuts and I can’t change them.  I can only have my own little world in my classroom and hope that a couple of kids get enlightened.

Most of the students here don’t believe in living together before marriage.  A girl’s reputation and virginity are still important here.  What a family says and what other’s think is important.  It’s different.  I can’t debate them myself on this because it wouldn’t be fair since my English is so much better.  I can just explain the Western view and let that sit.

I had to give a lecture to about 120 students (not mine) on Thursday night.  All foreign teachers do 1 lecture on a Thursday night to some kind of class.  What a waste of time.  I chose to do “Religion in the U.S.” but I changed it to mostly religion.  Few people have religion here and few people believe in God.  I had a 40-slide PowerPoint presentation, I had music, I had a film, I was ready.  I didn’t even get to do half as I was over-prepared.  I have trouble editing myself.

The microphone didn’t work so I had to speak loudly and most of the kids weren’t interested before I even started.  There is a myth that the Chinese are polite but it’s a lie.  They are the rudest people I’ve ever met.  I told my 120 students who I was lecturing that.  I told them they should go home and save their parents the money they are wasting sending them to school.  I took two newspapers away from a couple of girls and tore them up.  They probably thought I was mad, but I wasn’t.  I was annoyed and I playact a lot.  And, I don’t accept that kind of behavior.  If I were a Chinese teacher, it wouldn’t have happened.  But because I’m a foreigner and therefore a “nice guy”, it happens to me (and others).  I don’t get that crap in class (but it’s a smaller group to manage) and I won’t do this ever again.  I don’t care that I get paid for it, who needs it.  The students don’t care so it’s a waste of my time.  It’s so amazing at times to realize my students are around 22 years old and are about as mature as 14 year-olds in the West.

I have finished watching 8 years of “Law and Order” on Netflix.  That’s about 190 episodes.  Now there are 20+ years of episodes but Netflix only have the first eight.  What will I do with my life now?  I’ll have to find other things to watch or maybe finally start trying to teach myself to play the guitar.

Shujie and I are going to Vietnam in January.  We are in the process of narrowing down the tour choices.  I’ve gotten a lot to go through and we’ve narrowed it down to about 4.  We’ll decide and book the beginning of next week.  We’ll go for 2 weeks and I’m excited about it.  Vietnam was never on my list of places to visit, but I’m here and it’s close.  I’d rather visit Japan but it’s wintery there now and it’s quite expensive.  It should be interesting.

I have video of some of the debates, which I am trying to upload to Youtube.  Once they’re there I’ll post them and you can watch what you want.  I think parts of them are quite entertaining.  With all my classes I listened to 18 debates and I enjoyed every one of them.  I think my next biggie will be to put them in groups and they have to write and perform plays based on Chinese, Western, and a made-up culture.  Why not?  They’ll get to use their imaginations, which are pretty good.  I often forget that since they aren’t used to using them.  I think this will be more beneficial than teaching them how to act in an “intercultural encounter”.  That’s kind of insane since they are all in China and if they go West they won’t have the book to refer to.  And if they want to have an “intercultural encounter” they can encounter me.

1 comment
  1. Beth said:

    Sorry to hear about your uncle, Martin. It sounds like he was a wonderful man and will be missed by all who knew him

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