Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Daisy, Helen, Hellen and Mouse

I’ve gone a long way to introduce you to some of my students, but I’ve barely said anything about the teachers, have I? Isn’t it about time I do so?

There are far more English teachers than just Daisy, Helen, Hellen and Mouse. There’s also Chris, Julia, River, Miller (who just got married), Juliet, Amanda, Berry and Ms. B., just to name a few more. But, if I put all of those names in the title it just wouldn’t have the same ring. Also worth noting is that Mouse is not an official teacher’s name. It is a nickname I’ve accorded to Martina, a tiny little teacher who looks like a student herself. I’ve named her that because, the first time we shared a meal together, she ate like a little mouse. Quick as lightening her chopsticks dart into a bowl as she snips a bit of food, and like a flash it disappears into her mouth. She then munches while contemplating her next foray into the prepared dishes. Just like a little mouse.

Daisy and Mouse room together, work together and are probably closer than sisters. They were roommates in college years ago and since then have taken jobs at the same college. Daisy is 27 years old and gorgeous. She has an elegant face and thousand year old eyes that give her an aura of timeless beauty. She is more mature than her little Mouse roommate who looks about 18, but is in fact 25. Daisy longs for a boyfriend, which makes me wonder why her long-time friend Louis, who is clearly crazy about her, has not filled that role. When I posed that question to her she said she would think about it. I hope it works for them. They would make a lovely couple.

Chris and Julia are the world’s cutest couple. They met on campus, while rooming in the same dorms that have since been allocated to the foreign teachers. Julia used to occupy my apartment and Chris had the apartment 3 doors down. Their love affair was not explosive but a slow progression to the steady, slow-burning passion that symbolizes lifelong commitment. Chris’ devotion envelops Julia; within his love she blossoms and shines. Julia hardly seems grown up because Chris’ tender confines.

I don’t know very much about River other than he is a badminton fanatic and that he is married, but his wife lives far away. He is a handsome man, intelligent and well-read. When we have our seminars he is the one who usually raises philosophical questions.

Berry is nothing short of a sweetheart. Standing perhaps 4’10” and weighing at most 87 pounds fully clothed, soaking wet AND carrying her book bag, she is, in my opinion the embodiment of precious. She has lively dark eyes, darker than most Chinese, and a smile unrivaled for its combination of mischief and sweetness. Berry likes to stay in touch. She sends text messages occasionally, to the tune of ‘I miss you! What are you doing today?’ She is married and has a 2 year old boy. Recently her father was very sick. She and I kept a constant barrage of messages going: “How is he doing today?” “Much better, thank you. He ate a little bit this afternoon and now he’s napping.” She lives in constant terror of her father passing away, but while her little boy was in the emergency room getting stitched up from a minor accident, she opted to attend the Teacher’s seminar. She said she missed our talks and came because she knew her husband and father would take good care of her son. See what I mean about being a sweetheart?

Helen, with one ‘L’ or two are not my favorite characters. The one-L’ed Helen tends to be rather bossy and talkative, not letting anyone get a word in edgewise. She likes to take over peoples’ lives, planning entire evenings for them and telling them how to live. I should know; I’ve been ‘Helen’ed. She is married and also has a small boy who is utterly delightful, if not a little bit spoiled. This Helen is the one I wrote about in the Be My Friend entry who insists I know nothing about China, Wuhan or how to get around even though I’ve proven otherwise. She feels compelled to keep me in sight at all times in case a bus runs over me. Maybe I find her disagreeable because she seems to see me as on par with her son.

Hellen is not a pleasant person at all. She is opinionated and judgmental, and it seems she spares no one when criticizing. She has a long, harsh face offset by bangs, tight lips that barely force smiles out and a narrow blade of a nose. She has accompanied me on several outings at the behest of other teachers both because they fear I will get lost and because she lives close to campus. It appears that, in Hellen’s eyes I cannot do anything right. The dress I had made is too big and makes me look dumpy. When I ride on the bus and stand in the doorwell I need to move because it is not safe. That doesn’t stop her from standing in the doorwell though. Presumably it is safe for her but not for me. I do not wrap Zong Zi correctly (See Seven Pony-tailed Heads Day entry). I waste too much. My eating habits are unhealthy. The list of my shortcomings goes on an on.

I really tried to like her. The sad truth is that I see a bit of myself in Hellen, the way I was years ago: snippy, arrogant, judgmental and opinionated. Rather than fight with her I opt for tolerance and understanding. I can do it for short periods. So, imagine my horror when she suggested I rent her a room when I get my new apartment this fall!

It started with a conversation between Chris, Julia and me. We were discussing the new apartments that we would move into this September. Although Chris and Julia already own the apartment they live in now, they want to buy one of the apartments being built for teachers close to campus. Hellen jumped in and sighed: “I cannot afford a new apartment. But Sophia will have a two-room apartment; you could rent the other room out to me!” for days I was possessed with the fear that Hellen was serious and actually thought I would want to room with her, and with the idea that I could not give up my living habits and take on a roommate if it was somebody I wanted to live with, let alone someone so totally contrary. I hope she was joking and forgets that she said that between now and September.

Let’s see: who did I forget? Amanda and Ms. B. Both have experience with America. Amanda’s husband went to Chicago last year to study and Amanda became enraptured with the city. That is understandable. She does not see any downside to America at all and wishes to live there forever. I hope she realizes her dream and I hope she never has to see that America, like China, has her problems.

Ms. B is the assistant dean of the English department. She is closer to me in age and we relate famously! Her daughter is currently studying in Florida. That is another thing we have in common: our children are far away. I don’t know too much else about Ms. B other than, after associating with either Helen, she is like a warm summer breeze carrying the scent of honeysuckle and magnolia. I would gladly spend more time with Ms. B. but she is in fact very busy in her personal and professional life. Suffice to say that we like and respect each other, and the door is open for more companionship in the future.

There are more English teachers on campus, but these are the ones who have, of late, reached out to me. I’m glad to know them – even the Helens. Perhaps next year I will be able to associate with more of them or work more closely with the department and get to know everyone.

At least now I have more colleagues to talk about than Victor or Sam. Isn’t that a relief?

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