Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Boy Named Dream

The principal of my high school had this ritual of telling us girls that boys are bad and girls are good—BB and GG. Well, I have never truly considered boys bad, but they have always been these strange creatures that lace the atmosphere with awkwardness and cause me no end of internal unease. So I have avoided them for the most part. Simple enough. That is until I finished my first week of classes and discovered that I have fifty-one girls and a hundred and fifty-one boys. To make matters just a little more awkward most of my students are around 20 years old, making them only a few years younger than I am. Oh, and add to that, I have the adored and esteemed physical characteristics of blonde hair, big eyes, and a high-bridged nose that can attract a crowd in any public setting (but that story is for another time).

So I made myself as teachery as possible (and as girlfriend materialish as little as possible). Still in that first month, I must have received dozens of “Teacher, you are so beautiful”; “Teacher, you have amazing skin”; “Teacher, this”; and “Teacher, that.” But soon enough, my students became inured to my appearance, and I discovered how wonderful almost completely male classes can be—no chattering or giggling or whispering or passing notes or any of the other things that girls love to do. My boys (as I now fondly consider them) follow me with their eyes, talk when I tell them and cease to talk when I tell them. Oh, the glory of control! Plus, they can be simply hilarious with their antics and English stories.

So here is to my boys: a few snapshots of the best and the brightest.

Dream is a tall boy who is one of the bravest students: he was the first student to come visit me during office hours. While his English is not great, he is like the name he has chosen, for he is one of the most hard-working students in the class. I believe Dream will accomplish all his dreams.
Bruce, known as Monkey to his classmates, introduced himself to me as Bruce Lee. He also gives me Chinese movie recommendations and even bought me a gift that related to one of the movies he recommended. He is an amazing artist and invents some the most coherent and creative English stories during class.
Lancelot is definitely one of my favorites. When I asked him if he knew where his name was from, he gave me the story of Lancelot, Merlin, and Arthur. His English is outstanding. One day when I had them bring creative items to class to “sell” in a commercial, he brought a real apple into which he plugged some headphones, proposing that the apple was both a MP3 and breakfast. Most other students sold their pens with no special attributes.
Jeremy is my most unique student and the one I think will go furthest. His English is the best of all my 200+ students. But more spectacular, he is the only student in China I have ever met who possesses true critical thinking skills and recognizes the importance of such skills. In China, it is unheard of to criticize the government or the country—everyone loves China and seems to be blinded by that love (at least in public). When I was talking to Jeremy the other day, I mentioned Taiwan and Hong Kong as being part of China (for even though they essentially are not, it is safer to go with the official Communist line while in China), he jumped in and said, “Well, the government thinks they are part of China.” Woa! What insight into the true nature of his own country.

I could go on to mention my other interesting students, like Vampire or Dragon or Stone, but it will suffice to say that my students in China are a whole new experience, resulting in much laughter, bewilderment, exasperation, or amazement. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Different Sort of Standard

After spending a weekend with my sister in Beijing who is blogging as payment for all her trip expenses, I have been inspired to break from my more academic-feeling blogs and simply relate some of my experiences and feelings while here in China. I will start at the beginning (the very best place to start…).

Despite having lived in China previously, I realized on my first night back that a year and a half away from China was plenty of time to “forget” some of those less pleasant aspects of this land. I walk into my apartment building to discover that the elevator is broken, and I must walk up four flights of stairs with two 50-pound bags and my book-laden carry-on. I sigh and roll my eyes because I should have known. I lug up what I had thought was my fairly downsized material possessions, but doubt on this matter builds with every stair. Maybe I did bring one pair of shoes too many… Well, I successfully make it up to the fourth floor by three a.m., click open my door and enter.

At first sight, the room is clean and spare. Then I enter the bathroom. I lift the lid on my toilet, ready to sit down after having access only to squatty potties for the past several hours and behold, worms. Yes, worms. I suck in my breath as my eyes widen to make sure my mind is not playing tricks. But no, there really are a family of worms that look a lot like our ice worms in Alaska—black, thin, and about an inch long—swimming around in my toilet. Add to that, brown wavy mold is clinging as high as the water line, transforming my toilet into a miniature scum pond. How I wished at this moment that my R.N. mother had not taught me all the fun little details of bacteria. Ignorance would truly have been bliss. Next came the shower I had been looking forward to for the past 30+ hours but that did not turn out as expected either. I was one of the lucky teachers that did not have a water heater already in their rooms, meaning I am on public water, which is unreliable at best (and non-existent at worst). So no hot water at 3 a.m. but ok, I can deal with that. As I open the shower door, I glance down and am assaulted by the black mold ringing my shower floor. Oh, would my mother faint! It appeared that years of leaks had been caulked without ever trying to remove any mold so that caulk and mold were sealed together in wide strips. I breathe out and step in, thinking I can simply wear sandals and survive. That hope dwindles as the water level rises—my drain is clogged. Soon I am standing ankle-deep in moldy water. Ick. So much for washing away the grime of my travels. I opt for sleep and temporary forgetfulness.

Today, three months later, and I smirk at how “American” I was back then. I have become mostly inured to these lower sanitary standards in China—not even thinking about the mold any more, simply flushing down the worms when they show up every now and then, eating street food without caring that the people here rarely use soap, never use sanitizer, and probably don’t have refrigeration. Living in China is an exercise in disciplined thinking—if you think about where your food is coming from or what you are walking on (everyone hawks on the streets and young children frequently pee and poop on the sidewalk) then you might never leave your room. But if you can box up your American standards until a later date, then that public squatty potty in Beijing might even seem more welcome then some gas station stops along I-55.