Thursday, August 28, 2008

From Starbucks.

I forget that being a teacher is more than just educating people in a classroom (as if that weren't enough). Although I never used my teachers for this purpose, another whole facet of being an ejimicator is supporting a student's personal life.

Kevin, a former student of mine, needed such help today. I asked him how he was while we were exiting school this afternoon, and he answered honestly: not well. He studies constantly like most students, saving little time for relaxation. He tearfully told me about how he always feels stressed about getting a high enough score on the IELTS exam to move to Australia. He thinks there are no career opportunities for him in china because he doesn't have a college degree.

While I think he's a great student and will certainly emigrate soon, I have to wonder if he, like so many other students, is overestimating the amount of available opportunities abroad. These students think that life "in the West" is somehow so much more wonderful than in China.

Just like, as I discussed with my students in another class, the Chinese government hoped to only display positive traits of Chinese culture at the Olympics, going so far as to modify its citizen's behaviors, many impending emigrants choose to only focus on the Land of Opportunities, skipping chapters in their travel guides about the Valley of Poverty, the River of Crime, the Desert of Inaccessible Transportation, and Mount Racism.

I worry about the naïveté most of my students suffer from. What will they do when their expectations fall so dangerously short of reality?

* * * * * *

In other news, I just saw a woman on an electric scooter. This is not noteworthy, of course, except that her 50 pound golden retriever was perched (this really is the best word for it) on the foot rest, as she weaved through traffic.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The hardest, heaviest part of me.

I love letters, and have received some great ones recently. I wouldn't mind a few more, and I'm great at providing quick, junk-filled responses.

I am suddenly looking forward to falling in love when I return to Chicago. It's pretty fucking impossible to do so here. Eat cheese, sleep with Yuki, dance at Berlin, fall in love: this is my spring manifesto.

(On my hour-long bike ride around Tianjin after work, I saw a large dog that was doing the do-si-do poop dance, and I suddenly needed desperately to see a large dog take a large shit, to remind me of Yuki. But I kept riding because, well, I'm not quite that crazy.)

I'm off to Shanghai this weekend. I deserve a pleasant disruption to the unruly rigmarole of my daily life. I'll be touring a little canal town an hour outside of the city, which should be perfect. Among other perfect things.

My baby sis moves to Morocco in one week. You'd think our parents put out their cigarettes on our arms, judging from the distance we've put between ourselves and them. I am jealous to the second power of her impending adventures.

I'm so glad trains from Beijing to Tianjin now start running at 6:15am. I get to stay out until all hours of the night with my little friends and be back in my concrete-soft bed by 7:30.

And how would you distinguish between sour and acidic foods? Exactly. Thank you.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The ambassador.

I am not an ambassador.

Nevertheless, being one of, what, 50 non-Chinese people in Tianjin, I somehow have the unimaginable responsibility of representing my country.

Can we talk about this idea for a moment? Perhaps I've just been lapping at the teat of liberally-biased higher education for too long, but I thought that one couldn't/shouldn't make broad assumptions about a nation of 300 million widely varied human beings based on the actions of a single person. After all, if I see a person hold his slit-pantsed child over a garbage can while said child defecates into said garbage can, my first thought isn't, "All Chinese people shit in public." It's, "how does the parent know that the child has to shit? If there is some sort of warning system, why doesn't the parent simply take the child to the public toilet down the street?"

In my angelic Level 9 class today, we talked about the Kyoto Protocol. (I know: my job is awesome.) While we were talking about ways China was reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, I momentarily leaned up against the white board and balanced myself by resting my right foot against the wall for, perhaps, 30 seconds, until someone's comment filled me with the strength to turn around and write their brilliance on the board.

After class, a student whom I greatly respect (his English is terrible but he works incredibly hard) stopped me, as is his usual shtick. Today, however, he had no vocab questions or sentences to test out on me. He wanted to give me a suggestion.

"Brian? I want to give you a suggestion. Don't put your feet on the walls."

(Note: I had to really think what this meant, because I couldn't recall walking on the walls at any point in the last 24 years.)

He blathered on about "people in China" doing horrible, terrible things, but that I am "a representative of my country," and he didn't want people getting the wrong idea about the US.

I then responded that, though I am sorry for putting my foot on the wall because it may have lowered my students' opinion of me (not the US, but me) by a fraction of a hairswidth, I resent his implication that I am somehow required to act as a living embodiment of the USA.

Furthermore...give me a break. Other teachers answer their cell phones in class; will me resting my foot against the filthy wall for half a minute really invalidate my status as an upstanding citizen of the world?

So, sod off.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On phantom facial hair.

I learned today that sometimes, the students who are in heart with me do not refer to me by name, for fear that someone will hear them and know who they are talking about. Instead, they will rub their imaginary soul patches. As in, "do you know this teacher (rub non-existent soul patch)?" How odd. Well, whatever keeps me from losing my job.

How do real teachers teach more than 30 hours a week? I am dying.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Weekend Update

Another weekend has passed, this one filled with equal parts stress and relaxation. Friday, I had dinner with some of my favorite former students, which was quite lovely. We had an eggplant dish that arrived in an old-skool chafing dish; it was oily and well-seasoned and perfect.

Saturday, I got a late start to the day; I'm working 28 hours a week this month and I'm just not capable of handling that somehow, which translates into a late alarm clock on Saturdays. I arrived at the train station to find that only one train was not sold out for the entire evening, and it was a 2.5 hour, old, standing-room-only death trap that didn't leave until the time I needed to be in Beijing. So, I banded together with some American architects, and we decided to split a cab from Tianjin to Beijing (roughly equivalent to a cab from Elgin to Chicago).

Everything was fine--we paid more than we wanted to--until we got into the Tianjin expressway. Our driver starts communicating with other drivers through his window, and we hear "Beijing" over and over again. The architects start getting worried.

We arrive at the toll plaza about 10km outside of Tianjin and our driver pulls over to the side of the road. Apparently, he was trying to "sell" us to someone who was planning on driving into Beijing. Um...what? The girls flip out, scream, etc., while I silently take in the fact that we're being SOLD to a stranger on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

At least we got the consortium of drivers to lower the price.

I made it for all but one of the beach volleyball sets last night; it was far less decorous than one would expect an Olympic event to be. R&B music blared throughout; there were cheerleaders involved (what?); people did the wave. Basically, every reason I don't care for sports was present that evening. I still had a great time, though.

After sleeping for two hours on a very uncomfortable couch, I went to the Olympic Green gate to try to buy tickets for the Michael Phelps swimming event. Oddly, no one was really selling tickets at all this morning; aside from a few hand ball and shooting tickets, the demand was infinitely higher than the supply.

A disgusting American woman (with two small, impressionable children in tow) complained for about 30 minutes to her young Chinese guide about how this is the worst Olympics ever, and how China/the Chinese have ruined it, etc. I felt awful for the guide for a variety of reasons (mostly that she was in real danger of being harassed by a fellow Chinese person for speaking about--nay, being an audience to--such things).

I caught the final stretch of the women's marathon, which was exciting. If I hadn't moved to China this year, I would have participated in the Chicago marathon, so it was nice to watch these athletes pounding the pavement.

I'm really quite lucky. I cannot ever forget this fact. I've been blessed in so many ways. I'm so glad I cam to China; I'm so glad I've made 85% of the decisions I've made; I'm so glad to be alive, and alive in this very life, no less.

Remind me of this passage after my next "I hate the world and my role in it" post, please?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Big O.

I have mostly amazing and wonderful things to say about my Olympic weekend. In the months leading up to 8/8/8, I had some concerns about the state of Beijing--it seemed like things would never come together. Everything seems to be going quite smoothly, though. The Olympic Greens are immaculate and Disney-esque; the volunteers are (at times overwhelmingly) helpful; people seem happy to be in China.

I just keep thinking about nationalism and patriotism and "is this good for China?" and "what kind of soft power will they acquire if this goes well?" and "I'm nauseated by the super-China messages sponsors are plastering across their faces." But.

Men's Gymnastics was, obviously, awesome. It's a bit over-stimulating though, because 6 teams are all competing at once, and your eyes are daring from floor routine to pommel horse to vault to parallel bars and back again. The Chinese team was quite phenomenal in all events, though I think Japan might edge them out in several gymnastic events. It was so great having the stadium filled with actual Chinese people; most of my students (save two) aren't planning on traveling to Beijing at all during the next two weeks, to my horror.

Fencing was quite a surprise, in terms of its excitement and drama. The athletes really displayed unique personalities and emotions through their craft (I know...trite trite trite); the "drama" was not that of typical athletic suspense but more of a "these people are a bit high-strung and finicky" way.

I may have been on the Today Show?

I had a great time and will be returning again next weekend, to see swimming on Saturday night I think? So. Rock. Photos are up, by the way.

Due to some unfortunate recent events, I now feel even more alone in Asia. I used to share this experience with one of my closest friends, but as events out of her control have forced her to return home early, I am not shouldering this burden by myself, I feel. Burden might not be the right word--rather, I used to share this experience with someone very close to me, and now I'm doing it all by my lonesome. So, that'll be a bit awkward. (Selfish me.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Teh kidz aren't alright.

I hate my students today. All of them.

First: why would you waste your parents' money taking really expensive English classes if you aren't going to try to fucking learn anything? You are in your twenties; do you know how long I had worked before I was your age, you shit brained twits? Seriously. Go be an adult now and let the people who want to learn, learn.

Second: Seriously? You have no interest in thinking about terrorism, except in an simplistic, "the government tells me not to go to Beijing during the Olympics because of terrorism" sort of way? You have no original ideas of your own, and you call yourself a citizen of the world? I am presenting you a forum for discussing a real, world issue, but you would rather watch rom-coms and talk about love and other shit that doesn't really matter? Are you fucking dead inside?

Plus, I have had to turn down another marriage proposal today, except this one from a fellow teacher (who I genuinely like as a person; she's my second-favorite of all the Chinese staff).


No, no--wait. Awkward was when she told my boss she and I were dating, and I had to tell my boss, "you idiot, I'm a big fucking fag" when he didn't believe me that we weren't.

China, you wasteful, horny cur! Behave!

Olympics this weekend. Oh, the terrorism! However will I survive?!?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Consumption is the new Mao.

So, I bought a bike on Monday for 400RMB, an awesome sewing machine on Tuesday for 800RMB, and a brilliant haircut tonight for 20RMB. I love China sometimes.

Well, until the bike's stolen (I have to carry it up a flight of stairs, at the stern request of my apartment complex guard), the sewing machine breaks, and my haircut grows out into some Frank Gehry-looking menagerie.

I'm traveling to Beijing this weekend; I scored some cheap tickets to see men's gymnastics on Saturday and fencing on Sunday. Various forms of recklessness and frivolity will ensue between events.

Pictures might be up now, unless I go to bed (I should really go to bed).

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A nice feeling:

To sit in front of one's computer and feel odd, like one has never used such a contraption before.

I've just returned from a retreat with my fellow teachers, and then trips to Hangzhou and Shanghai. All of the above was quite delightful. I'll post more later, including photos hopefully. For now, however, I must sleep.