I taught my last class for the 2013/14 academic year on June 2nd. Since then I've lollygagged, lounged, traveled about, and visited friends. I was master of myself with no obligations to anyone or anything. That type of freedom is exhilarating, but it has its downside.
If I had an endless supply of money I would travel more. As I am not rich, perpetual travel is impossible. The alternative is to lay around, indolent, with each day melting into the next, as they did toward then end of this long summer. I got tired of it, and was relishing the start of the school year.
First day of class: Wednesday, September 10th. Tuesday night at 10PM I choose my clothes and prepare my class materials. With everything laid out, I hit the hay at 10:30. A little after 4AM I finally fell asleep. My alarm roused me at 6:30. I knew it was going to be a rough day.
Rough in more ways than one. The students I was welcoming back to class are last year's freshmen. They had Victor for a teacher Spring semester and their exuberance at my leading their class again was obvious. Not only was I greeted with a rousing “Good Morning, Teacher!”, but there was a large bouquet of flowers on my podium.
I had forgotten it was Teachers' Day.
They hadn't. They made sure to show their appreciation in word and deed. I was bowled over and, sleepy as I was, couldn't stop the tears. We had a great class. I did most of the talking, being considerate of this being their first class on their first day back in school. The statement: “I'll bet all of you used English every day during your summer break!” was met with derision. I told them they could do the talking next week. I'd do the talking this week.
After dismissal I strapped my flowers to my bike's rack and took them home. I met Sam along the way, who exclaimed over the gift: surely I must be a well-loved teacher. I couldn't say anything without breaking down. Later he told me I was the only teacher that got any sort of token for Teachers' Day. I felt so honored.
My next class was in a building across campus: a snap to get to astride my Bikey-bike. Again the moving greeting. Again a gift, this time a plant in a lovely ceramic pot. How to thank such an outpouring?
I told them about the only other plant I've managed to not kill, given to me when my beloved Gabriel was born. When I moved to China I could not take Planty-plant with me so I repotted it: half to my son and the other half to my daughter. Every year when I visit they make sure I see Planty-plant is growing strong. Now I have another significant plant to love, and love what it represents. The kids helped me name it: Guanyin (g'wan yin).
After another great session I put my new plant on the back of my bike and rode across campus. Oh, wait: an incoming text message! Yes, more accolades and well-wishings from students present and past. That is when I discovered my prepaid phone had run out of money. I was simply too tired to go back out, find a phone store – which, no doubt would be crowded with the influx of students, and buy more minutes. I used the computer to log into QQ, China's premier chat program.
By now I am completely wiped out, but my inbox was overflowing with greetings. I could have ignored them, but why would I? These are people who, even a year or several removed from my class, remember the great times we had and paid tribute. It took me more than 3 hours to respond to every single message.
I am the richest person: so fortunate to have so many good people and so much love in my life.
I'm running out of words to describe how worn out I felt.
The message I most wanted to respond to was Sam's invitation for Erica's birthday party, to be held at 6:30 that night. Quite frankly I wasn't sitting with any aplomb and couldn't see how I would manage a birthday party with hordes of little children and even more adults but I wasn't about to miss my Little Buddy's birthday. Beyond weary I set out, making it there just in time.
It is amazing how, in the company of friends, one forgets things. I forgot how tired I was as soon as Erica rushed to throw her little arms around my knees. Sam and Penny's warm greetings were also a balm and, for the first time, Penny's mother and I had a conversation. She is normally quite reserved around me because I am the first foreigner she's come into close contact with. Now that I speak the language better, we're becoming friends.
A body could do a lot worse than being a part of Sam and Penny's family/social circle.
At the very end of my rope I made it home after 9PM and was in bed about an hour and a half later. Among all the messages from my students that day, my Jenn had also snuck a tender message in: “Just thought you should know I love you. Have a good day.” I couldn't bear to put myself to bed before connecting with her, on the other side of the world.
Thursday wasn't half bad, except for the fact that the shirt I was wearing was not appropriate for the weather. Stifling mugginess does not go well with a button-down blouse. Within the first 20 minutes in my non-airconditioned classroom, where not so much as a fan twirled my shirt was saturated. How embarrassing! How uncomfortable! During the break between classes I again rode home, fully aware of the irony of riding in such humidity that would exacerbate my sweaty condition but I felt much more comfortable in a cotton shirt than I did in that blouse.
And so it goes. At dismissal I quickly policed my room, wiped the board down and gathered my things. I had forgotten about the computer cabinet access card in my back pocket. I had not signed the card out; my class monitor did. I did not use the computer, but I did put my books and phone in it for safekeeping while I rode home during the break, so I had use of the card. I simply forgot about it.
Upon Sam's reminder – again via QQ because I've still not paid for more minutes, I set my alarm to wake up before first class so I could return the key card in case a teacher using the room that day needed the computer. I messaged Sam that accomplishment, to which he sent a reminder to be at the ground floor of the library by 8:30AM to take part in the Freshman welcoming ceremony tomorrow.
Argh!!! Another day of waking up early!!! Will it never end???