Sunday, June 04, 2006

Back in the Saddle Again (briefly)
C's had a raw deal at work wherein several weeks ago her Chinese overlord (she works for a Sino-US joint venture but her US imperialist running dog masters stick mostly to headquarters in Indiana) suddenly told her that her duties had been increased to include teaching a two hour English night class (7-9 pm) for employees of the company's plant.
For no extra pay, of course.
The plant happens to be about an hour's drive by van/auto outside of Shenzhen and until she raised hell she was expected to either: A. Take a bus (two hours one-way) or B. Take a taxi and pay for it herself - a very expensive option. She wangled a company van and driver but still wasn't exactly thrilled with the prospect of her Friday nights being eaten up as an unpaid school ma'arm. C was originally trained as an English teacher in college but quickly wised up after 6 mos. of what she described to me as "hell, never stopping" and quit. However her diploma and fluency skills continue to haunt her when it comes to stuff like this. She's managed to eke out about three lessons - most due to the superb teaching tips and lesson plans provided by my old SZ pal James "The Temple Guy and USDA Certified Teacher/Principal, Not Your Usual Expat Slacker" Baquet - but she's recently been running on fumes and ennui, not a superb combo.
I happened to be free last Friday due to a scheduling quirk and thought I'd, hey, why not help out?
It turned out to be better than I expected in one sense and a little behind-the-scenes bittersweet as well.
It swept me back to the shallow roots that brought me here almost three years ago - facing a room of Chinese faces varying in age and happy and curious to see a foreign face. Their skills varied wildly from reasonably conversant to numbly tongue-tied. But they all wanted to learn and after they warmed up, weren't too shy about asking questions.
I'd forgotten how much I loved the questions.
"Do all Americans eat meat?" Which launched me into a short explanation of vegetarianism, vegans and how one of America's premier tofu - a Chinese word - manufacturers is in my hometown.
"Is Brokeback Mountain true?" Um...well, it could be. Though when I began trying to gingerly step into the realm of the "G" word vis a vis US and what little I've learned of it in China, I noticed the raised eyebrows of the plant supervisor and segued awkwardly into how much Ang Li is admired in the US.
"Are there many Chinese in the US?" Ever since the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s etc etc.
They all called me "Mr Justin" and one 19-year old named "October" begged me to sing Yesterday Once More, a song and China syndrome that I've blogged about more than once here. However this time, I felt a strange brief affection for it - like a sudden crush on the picture of an old schoolmate - however the delusion passed quickly. I begged off on the request.
I was urged to return as quickly as possible and the plant manager presented me with a crystal paperweight inscribed with the company's logo as a token of his gratitude.
On the long drive back, C thanked me too for bailing her out of another barren Friday night. And she also told me one reason for my popularity. I was a much needed diversion. Most of my one-night pupils earn about 600 yuan (US$75)a month, work 6 days, 10-12 hours a day and live in spartan company dorms, most without TVs much less VCRs, DVDs or CD players.
I winced a little at that last detail as one had asked me how to improve his English outside of the classroom and I'd grandly suggested a diet of English language DVDs, CDs and also-popular-in-China TV shows such as Sex and the City or Friends.
"Most of them don't even have TVs," C said. "No cable, of course. But it's okay. You were good. They liked you."
I liked them too. "Tell them thanks from me the next time," I said. I meant it. It had been a long time since I'd felt so fresh.

PS Two recent T-shirt sightings in Hong Kong: "He went went out with momma's big shoes. Full sugar and a dream stuffing." And this in upper case letters: "JESUS IS A CUNT." (Worn by a middle aged guy toting a small child.)
Comments: I'm curious...who was the crush? Darcy Fahrenholtz? Sue Kokesh?
Heh. Both excellent guesses, Ben. And you'd be pleased to know how little Darcy had changed when I saw her at the last FHS reunion. But the one that came immediately to mind when I wrote that was Laura Wait, my first real, hardcore crush, 6th grade, Uni-Hill primary, Mrs Pollard's class.
Reminded me of a girl I went to grade school with named Natasha. All the dads liked her, too. Most of my friends would mention how their dads all urged them to like Natasha, and most of us complied. In highschool she had a brief fling with some ahole pe teacher. Later we heard that she'd switched teams and is now a confirmed lesbian. Every sha la la, every woah wo wo.
I can't believe Chinlish sometimes...
Hey Justin,

I'm a journalist just arrived in HK and a fan of your blog. I'd like to have a chat some time, if you're available. It's about a potential story. Can't find an email contact for you, so perhaps you can get in touch with me...

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