Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Meet and Greet

Finally! My dream comes true! After months of wishing and longing and waiting and hoping, I am going to meet the English teachers!

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve met some of the English teachers before, but they were very brief meetings. Still today, if an English teacher came up and slapped me I wouldn’t know if s/he were an English teacher or just someone who wants to slap me… for whatever reason. I’ve not figured myself as particularly slappable since I’ve been here so maybe, if someone did come up and slap me, I might have to figure there might be a connection to something. Perhaps to the English department.

All slaps aside, one of my fondest wishes since being here has been to work more closely with the English teachers that teach the kids the nuts and bolts of the language I am here to help them learn. A few months back, when Sam and I had that long discussion in which I poured out all of my frustrations (see Walking Pneumonia and Computer Fever entry) I expressed the idea that the school should maximize its investment in their foreign teachers. They paid a great deal of money getting me and Victor here, and they pay us a more than generous salary, complete with benefits and accommodations, to do the little we do. How does 6 hours of work per week balance out against what they are paying to get us here and keep us here and keep us happy?

I have learned that everything has its time and place in China. Remember, when I had to rehearse for the song I sang at the Year End show (see The Year End Parties entry), and nobody said anything about it until Wednesday… and the show was on Friday? There have been many other instances of such seemingly ambling preparations: no orientation prior to teaching, no advance warning when class schedules change and no warning when the workmen were coming to my apartment. So, after telling Sam the administration should maximize their resources (Victor and me), especially because they paid so much money for us and, quite frankly, are not getting much of a return on their investment with our pitiful 6-hours per week of teaching, I really did not expect anything to come of it.

Well, something did come of it. It seems the teachers have been curious about me for a very long time – since I got here to be exact, and my performance in the Year End show proved to them that I was approachable. Now that they know the big foreigner woman will not bite them or otherwise harm them, they want to work with me.

Sam came by last week to tell me that the teachers and the department Dean want to have a series of meetings, seminars actually, to help the teachers make use of their English skills. It seems the teachers have the same problem the students do: they do not have a native speaker to practice English with, or to listen to in order to maintain their listening skills. My excitement overflowed and I jumped around the room at the news! Poor Sam: he was carried along in my leaps because I had taken hold of his hands and wouldn’t let go.

The first meeting was scheduled for this past Wednesday. On Monday I went to Hanyang, to the IGA to shop for foods that would fit the bill for the first ‘Foreigner Meet’n’Greet’. I thought potato salad, cocktail weenies in barbeque sauce and some cookies would be appropriate. The trick was finding barbeque sauce and mayo to make potato salad with. The ‘foreigner foods’ section at the IGA did not have what I needed so on Tuesday I took off for Metro, knowing that I would find what I need there.

Not only did Metro not disappoint but they had finally gotten a shipment of Brownie Mix in! I bought three boxes of Brownie mix and a medium sized jar of Miracle Whip. I had to buy dill pickles because they did not have relish, but I reasoned I could simply chop up the pickles and mix them back into the pickle juice before adding it to the potato salad. Add one bottle of honey mesquite flavored barbeque sauce, and I’m ready for the checkout.

My shopping bag full, I returned home and set myself up in the kitchen: peeling, chopping, slicing and dicing. Green onions, peppers, pickles all fell to my blade. Potatoes boiled cheerfully in the pot while I mixed Brownie ingredients. Soon the kitchen was redolent with the smell of chocolate and the steam of boiling potatoes. As I do not have a well-equipped kitchen, I had to do dishes as I went, using and reusing the few implements I own. In total, I spent four hours in the kitchen. Between two days worth of shopping and hours of cooking, it was the most work I had done in a while.

The potato salad turned out exquisitely, but I burned the first batch of Brownies. How silly of me to not have positioned the oven rack properly! I decided to get up early the next morning and make another batch. Can’t serve bad brownies now, can I? Exhausted I fell into bed.

Back up at 8:00AM, and I quickly whipped up another batch of Brownies. While the oven was thus occupied I heated the barbeque sauce on my hot plate and added the weenies. That darned electronic hot plate! It overheated and burned some of the weenies, but not to the point of ruination. At least the potato salad would be good.

All’s well that ends well. The Meet’n’greet was a huge success. The teachers and I talked about differences in American and Chinese education systems and the challenges we face as educators. They thoroughly enjoyed the food, especially the brownies. They all expressed their welcome to the department and are looking forward to making the Wednesday seminars a regular occasion. They did ask that, next time, I prepare an agenda and email it to them so that they can prepare discussion points. We parted company 2 hours later, reluctantly, with the promise that future sessions will be even more fruitful.

The irony is that I, the novice educator and the one with the least credentials, am hosting it.

Good thing I live for irony! I have several weeks’ worth of agendas ready and another box of Brownie mix ready to whip up.

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