Thursday, March 13, 2014

What’s New?

Its taken me a while to pound this one out. Usually I write the ‘what’s new?’ entry about a week after my return from the states. That gives me time to ride a few buses, check out the town, roam the aisles of Metro to see what they’ve got in stock these days…

This time it was almost literally ‘get off the plane and get in the classroom’. I got off the plane on Sunday and was teaching at 8AM on Monday. No grace period, no buffer, no time to unpack or get over jet lag. That was a great class.

No it wasn’t! It was the class that demanded I throw them a party! (See My Pet Foreigner entry, posted July 2013). However, refreshingly, they are on time, attentive, courteous and bent to the task. It is because they’re scared. Their career defining exam, TM4 is coming up. If they don’t pass, they’re doomed to a life of menial labor.

My schedule is very easy: 1 class on Monday and 2 on Friday. The rest of my week is mine. Or, was mine until our school was invited to a debate competition, to be held the weekend of March 14. Now my life consists of teaching a piddling 3 classes and coaching the formerly non-existent debate team.

I get frustrated when I think of these competitions. Other schools have speech/debate classes year-round. Those students are groomed for competition, are taught everything from proper attire to effective body language. Their English skills are stellar. Our school knee-jerks: “Oh, there’s a competition! Let’s send these students, they’re pretty good!” with no idea how much pressure this puts on the kids, who really want to succeed. How can they, when we don’t give them the tools?

I do my best to coach them in the short time – 2 weeks – that we have. My opening speech to them is that they should not approach this event with the anticipation of winning. They should go for the experience, and to have a nice entry on their resume. I’m not saying that our kids are idiots, second rate or incapable, but I’ve seen Evan and Tony, crushed for having worked so hard only to come in dead last because they only have 2 weeks of preparation while other contestants actually study the subject all year.

Just got word that another team will join the training this Sunday… 5 days before competition!!! Wish them luck. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

What else is new?

Erica is stuttering. How did this child develop a stutter in the 5 weeks I was gone? Apparently she has a new teacher who is rather rigid, and sometimes downright harsh. She claims Erica does not conform and seldom obeys class rules. I believe her stutter is a result of anxiety.

My little buddy is also using chopsticks to feed herself. Before I left she ate with a spoon, or someone would feed her. Sometimes she used her hands to feed herself. I asked Sam and Penny who started her on the chopsticks. They told me she just picked them up one day and started eating. Go, Erica!

Metro keeps adding to their list of foreign goodies. I almost fell over with excitement when I saw honey barbeque flavored twists. When I got to the register with my treasure – 1 bag, the cashier declared they were not in the system and put them in the basket with unwanted item, to be returned to the shelf. Whadda’ ya mean, ‘unwanted’??? I wanted them very badly!

I’m beginning to think they were a mirage. I’ve been to both Metro stores since that day. Neither of them carry that treat.

Here’s another novelty: I’m finding it easier to navigate the city via subway, at least from a time perspective. Before my Chinese was actually good enough that I could read and remember station names, I relied on visual clues to know when to get off the bus. I no longer need those clues. Not only do I remember the names of the stops but I have the city, or at least my favorite haunts gridded out in my head. I can plan routes that involve minimal traffic jams. Usually I cannot get a seat on the subway, but with no traffic, I don’t mind standing for the few minutes it takes to get where I’m going. 

Traffic is still a problem. Nothing new there, unless you want to count the rapidly growing driving culture. More than ever, people want their own car. That doesn’t explain why the subway is so crowded.

Here is something that is new: my toilet seat. When I first came back, Wuhan’s temperatures were still very low. The mercury in my apartment hovered around 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Nevertheless a body must be clean so, taking advantage of my heat lamps, installed just last year, I merrily stepped under the spray, making the best use of my 54 liters of hot water. As usual, after showering, I propped my foot on the closed toilet lid… gotta dry between the toes, right? One loud CRACK!!! And the toilet lid shattered, plunging my foot into the bowl’s icy water.

Fortunately I had cleaned my toilet the day before. Even better: I had enough hot water left to re-wash. Best of all, I was able to buy a new toilet seat at… WALMART!!!    

The last and probably biggest news is that the search is on in earnest for a replacement for Victor. Until now the school had contracted with a headhunter. That is how I was hired. Apparently, deep faith in my contacts stateside has swayed the school to allow me a personal search for our new teacher. All hubris aside, that makes sense. The new teacher will be my colleague, and also will most likely fall under my wing. I will have the pleasure of indoctrinating our new teacher, not just around campus but also around town. Furthermore, there is a good chance that our new teacher will take up residence next door. Whereas Victor only used his digs as a crash pad between classes, I might actually have a next door neighbor! I’m very excited.

That is what is new this time, arriving back to my home after my too short stay with my loved ones. Bittersweet. But I gotta admit that being so far away for so long makes those reunions that much sweeter.

I just tell myself that so I don’t hurt so bad, being far away. 

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