Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Back on the chain gang. So, what's your daily routine like Justin? Glad you asked. Here's a typical day in digest form.
7:30 a.m. Shattered awake by a dorm floor security guard with a whistle, shouting in Chinese. Kind of like the bugles and screaming that heralded Chi-com and North Korean charges against the US and South Korean troops during the Korean war. The teachers share dorm floors with students, males on the boys floor, females on the girls floor. Our quarters are considerably more swank than the students. We have air conditioning and real beds and private showers and holes in the floor for toilets. The students are tough little mofos. Public showers and shitters. They sleep on bunks, with wooden supports and thin tatami mats as mattresses and no pillows unless they brought some. They also hand wash all their own clothes and have no AC, only malfunctioning fans.
The whistles and shouts are followed by earshattering music piped all over campus. It ranges from Pan flute versions of the Bee Gees, to the Eagles greatest hits, Hong Kong pop, Barbra Streisand, Air Supply and, always, always some version of the Titanic theme.
8-8:30 a.m. Breakfast in the cafeteria. Usually three kinds of rolls, sometimes with a filling ranging from bean paste to coconut creme to pork. Hard boiled eggs. Dishwater colored soup.
8:-9 a.m. Teachers and staff gather in the "(Communist) Party Members Activity Room" before classes. A gold hammer and sickle shines from a wall on one end of the room. Unlike our classrooms, it has AC. Teachers can be seen nursing occasional hangovers, while others are trying to prepare for lessons by asking each other, "What've you got? Got anything good?" like junkies trying to score. A notable two or three are always prepared, particularly S, a female teacher in a 7th Day Adventist school in LA. Fortunately for many of us, she is generous with her expertise and experience.
9 a.m.-noon. Lessons. These can take the form of real lessons, 60 minute games of hang man, rehearsing for whatever pageant is expected. Or simply trying to maintain order after someone like Rod Stewart (see prevoius blog) has a meltdown and throws herself on the floor shouting in Chinese and hammering her tiny fists.
Noon-2:30 pm: Lunch. MMMMMM! Do you fancy chicken tendons and boiled bean sprouts at the school cafeteria? Are they serving pig's blood custard again? If not, you can wander down to an area behind the school we've dubbed "Blade Runner-ville" and eat at a local joint that features 15 freshly made on the premises potstickers for 40 cents. Or an enormous noodle and veggies and pork soup for the same price. Stop at the "Chicken store" on the way for an 8-cent Coca Cola. The Chicken Store is so named because the owners keep a fat, friendly chicken as a pet and egg source. It seems to interact peacefully with the two cats that also live there.
Other teachers take the #347 bus for a 30 minute ride to a KFC. KFC is enormous here, extremely popular with the foreigners and locals alike. Col. Saunders' kindly visage looms on many billboards like the benevolent pictures of Mao once did.
2:30-4:30 pm Free and Fun Activities: Not always fun and not free. This is the facsimilie crafts and arts and sports part where we have to lead classes in things like dance, singing, friendship bracelet weaving, dream catcher building, collage making, letter writing, soccer, basketball, mixing colors to make new colors ("science") and turning the classrooms into waste dumps with yards of torn papers, spilled paints and yarn.
4:30-5:30 More classroom/activities time. If you're lucky you've got time booked in the computer room, ping pong room, gym or library. If you're not it can be the longest hour of your life.
5:30-7:30 pm. Dinner. See lunch.
7:30-8:30 pm: See 4:30-5:30 pm or occasionally they get to watch a movie piped into all the classrooms. The movies are American, stuff like Finding Nemo and Vertical Leap, but with Chinese subtitles.
The kids also watch TV during classroom breaks, usually Chinese soaps set in the Ming dynasty or thereabouts. The commercials are much like ours with the exception of one for toothpaste that opens with live footage of two yaks copulating and then cuts to a closeup of the toothpaste tube. I have still not divined the connection.
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