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Archive for December, 2007

I’m living on a Chinese rock

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

 First Part

Yesterday morning was cool.  I got up and got on skype and through the miracles of my webcamera I was able to attend a party in Atlanta live via satillite.  This meant I could see so many people I love that I haven’t seen or talked to in a long, long time.  It was a super hero dress up affair (we are nerds, nerds, nerds) in honer of Chuck’s (who was dressed as the Red Skull) and Adam’s (some obscure DC Hero, Hour man) birthday’s.  I told Big D that he made a better Hulk than Lou Farigno, no small statement, and I told Ryan Burke that he was a better Professor X than Patrick Stewart, along with Amy Bugg as Moria Mctaggish they easily won the couple costume prize, and Todd’s Captain America was dead on amazing I thought.   Amy Lovell (Tank Girl) told me about how her daughter is in her school’s production of my favorite Shakespere play Julius Ceaser, Eric Dimmers (as Eric Dimmers, a bonefied super hero in his own right) is canoeing from the Ocefanoke to the gulf via the swany river, and Sydney (Batgirl) said she was a blog believer from way back, which was super cool to hear and made me feel really good.  I just called Chuck to tell him how cool it was to talk to everyone and to see you guys too.  Unfortunatly my computer went blewie (as this bad bad bad shitty computer is prone to do) so if I missed talking to anyone I am sorry.  It was ok though, going to a party in America on a Friday night for me means getting up on a Saturday morning and drinking until early afternoon.  Which I did, then proceeded to sleep until about 6 last night, when I got up and ate and went out drinking with some guys from the metal band I have joined.  More about them later I think.  First I have to tell you about how close I came to being at this super hero party in person.

About a week ago, maybe a little over a week now, May told me that the school had decided not to extend my contract.  This news came with assurances that this measure was decided on a purly budgetary basis, which I have no doubt to be true for three reasons which may be ennumerated as follows:

1. I am a very expensive pet.  My pay tops most of the leaders of this school, and as cold as it’s been around here I have had the heat running pretty much all time.  Plus I live rent free and I get full pay on holidays, nevermind the airplane tickets to and from.

2. I was hired by the old head master, whom I have found to be a wonderful man who has taken me out to diner with his family twice.  I have every confidence that the charges of corruption and misappropriation of funds which lead to his dismissal were trumped up bullshit.  But I can see how the new headmaster would want to distance himself from me as I was hired by the old regiem.  I can see how the new guy would stick me on the list of his former counterparts many misappropriated funds, which is sure funny, I don’t feel misappropriated.

3. The new headmaster must be making his decision based on the budget because niether he, nor any of his flunkies, or anyone for that matter has ever sat in on one of my classes.  I would bet everything I have and any one of my toes that the new headmaster has never even spoken to a student.  If it happened I wasn’t there and it must have been by accident.  In the unlikely event that he does wind up talking to one of my students he will find that they love me, he doesn’t know that.  I had a vague idea about that but didn’t know how much until a few days ago, but we will get there too.

The second part 

So now it is the other end of the month, the day after Christmas, I wrote everything above a while ago and put it aside because I have been busy busy busy as they say.  Here is what I was busy with, in no particular order.

So like I was saying, May told me that I wasn’t getting my contract renewed, but she did already have a job all set up for me at the Primary school here in town.  They were offering more money, as it turns out the Primary schools are not provided for by the Chinese government the way middle and highschool are so they are more buyers market and therefor a higher paying position.  Nicer place too, I understand.  This was the same school that my friend Gina used to work at, and I was not thrilled about the things she told me about the job and I was not at all thrilled about the little kids.  But more money is more money.  And I held out for the garuntee of full pay on the holidays so I could travel to Singapore and Indonesia.  So we had a meeting where we sat down and agreed to giving me full pay on the holidays and a higher salery (not as high as Gina, but Gina specializes in small kids and I am new to it so I figured that was fair) and a super duper place to live, and a full ticket home, remeber this detail blog believers, I will come back to it later, that is what we like to call a subtle plot point. 

So now my working and residence visa was running out in the middle of the month and I was a triffle miffed that they waited until the week before this happened to tell me that I was being let go, as they say.  So now I had to act fast and had no time to shop around.  I even went to the local college where my friends worked that week and they said they wanted to have me but they couldn’t renew my visa in time.  So I was stuck with the choice of this primary school or heading home.  And for a few days it looked like I was going stateside.  I got myself all mentally preped, I figered the timing was perfect, I could make the super hero party in disguise and hang around while they tried to call me via the computer only to jump out and yell surprise.  The cheers in my head, the hugs, the toasts, I would be welcomed as a hero I figured.  A few days later it occured to me that this would mean leaving China, and I just ain’t ready and that’s that.  So I chickened out and opted to stay here and do the primary school thing.

The last week here I didn’t teach, because screw them that’s why.  I was still a triffle miffed about the short notice plus I wanted to get ready to go.  Wednesday that week I went to the English team (unite English team) which was started by the students.  They are so cute, about 20 of them get together once a week and practice their English.  It was put together by a great kid I named Phil (they love it when you give them English names) and a girl named Rose.  Sometimes when I go to the English corner at the college to see my friends the English Team follows me, loaded down two to a bike.  I do a lot to help their team when I can because I think it’s cool that they are doing it, and they seem to like when I come to their practices.  That week I chose their meeting to make the announcement that I would be leaving the school.  I explained that the school didn’t want to spend the money so I must leave.  A few of the kids looked like I had punched them in their guts.  One guy put his head on my shoulder, and we stood that way for the whole practice.  Every once in a while a student would say “I don’t want for you to go” and I agreed.  So then word started spreading and I started getting knocks at my door, everyone wanted to know if it was true.  The next day a student and I made signs in Chinese saying that that night would be the final English corner.  As we hung them around the school, huge mobs of kids gathered and read, some walked away in indifference but some looked very sad.  It’s no lie, these kids looks as though my leaving was causing them grief.  Many kids asked me about it, some went out and came back with fruit or candy, or little santa clause nick nacks. 

That day one of the knocks on my door brought a girl who was one of the first kids brave enough to seek me out back when I first arrived. She gave me a present, let me tell you about this thing.  It is an album of pages, maybe thirty or fourty pages, each page has a form on the front with questions filled in like, name, English name, birthday, talent, favorite singer, ect.  Each page is filled in by a different student who also decorated it a different way, often with photo booth pictures of themselves glued in and little messages written in the margins.  The back is for the student to write a little message to me, here are a few worded exactly as they appear, written by Chinese high school students.

“Hi, I am very sad when I heart you will leave us.  I have a lot of words to say but don’t know how to say.  I am very glad to know you.  You are my best teacher.  Please don’t forget me, ok?  I will remember you forever.”

“teacher: I’m sad to hear you are going to leave us.  Because we all like you very much.”

“I am very happy because you teach my English.  And I think you’re very smart and funny.  But today, you will leave, it make me very sad.  I wish you can come back and teach our English.  Miss you everyday.”

“Never give up.  I love my teacher.”

“I was your student last term and I like your class very much.  I know a lot about your country from your class.  My dream is to be an English teacher.  I wish you will be successful!!  And you will be very happy.  Best wishes for you!!!  I like you forever!  Merry Christmas!” 

“You are my teacher but I often feel you are our friend.  We like you because your class made everybody laugh.  Your impression are very funny (sometimes) I wish you happy everyday.”

“I hope you are happy forever.  I believe you, nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”

For the record, I don’t do impressions, so I am not sure she is using the right word here, but you get the gist.  I held this thing in my hands and the two kids who presented it to me waited with smiles as I read each one, trying not to break down right there.  Keep in mind that this is the day after I broke the news that I was leaving, they must have had to bust their asses to get this thing done that fast.  So far one of the nicest, coolest fucking things anyone has ever done for me.

That night was the English corner.  This is a Thursday night tradition around here that I started to get the kids working on their English, plus it is a fun way to hang out with them away from the classroom.  That night I took my camera and spent the first half hour taking pictures of them.  Trying to get everyone proved futile, there were damn close to a hundred kids there at one point, give or take.  When the camera went away kids started getting bummed out about me leaving.  I had a few kids crying, I got a lot of hugs that night.  A few of them had written letters to me, my favorite had a drawing of me teaching that looked like one of the crazy drawings I always do on the blackboard.  At the end I was hugged over and over again by an endless train of kids for five minutes or so, which was hard because my arms were now filled with a various asundry of nick nacks and fruits and candys that had been awarded to me as gifts over the evening. 

The English team were all there in force, and we tried to take a group photo but everyone else kept jumping in and in the end I told them a time when we could all meet the next day to do pictures.  So the next day I met them with my camera and they led me outside the school gate to a nearby semi scenic 12 foot tall fake mountain, where we met up with the professional photographer they had gone out and hired for the occasion with their own money.  They then gave me a bag with, hell, I don’t know, maybe a few hundred paper cranes of different sizes, each with a message written across the wings.  The messages say things like ‘happy everyday’, ‘best wishes’, ‘merry christmas’, and ‘we love you’.  The lump which had at this point formed in my throat was growing with malignancy and my eyes started to water, just a little.  And we took took the group photo I had promised them.  Then we took individuals, and were interupted by the bell.  They had to go to class so we didn’t get everyone, which was a bummer.  I tried to pay but was grabed and held back forcefully by 20 something highschool kids.  A few days later (as if it wasn’t already enough) I was given copies of all the pictures.

The third part 

A little while before attending the super hero party live via satillite I was introduced to a bunch of dudes who like to play music.  What had happened was George (the other American) took me to a spot down the streat from his college where these dudes hang out.  The spot is a shopfront with concrete walls which are covered with the coolest teenage metal head graffiti imaginable.  One wall has ‘dead metal’ scralled across it with a skull, next to the skull is the profile of a guys head with a mohawk, spiked ala 1970’s England.  On the guy’s skalp are the words ‘PUCK’, signifing that these dudes are all about puck rock music.  What really caught my eye was a picture of none other than the great Cliff Burton.  This impressed me to no end.  None of these dudes seemed to speak English, and they seemed a little annoyed at our presence, but George sat down and told them to play funk, which they did.  After a while George seemed to go into some kind of Hippy trance (George all over) and the guy seemed to be getting sick of it.  Thirty minutes later it was my turn and for the first time in a year I sat down behind a drumset.  A kid grabed a guitar and strumed what came out sounding like crunchy metal effects box sort of a thing.  Did my ears decieve me?  He started playing ‘enter sandman’ by metallica, I haven’t played that fucking song since it was big when I was in high school, but it came back like riding a bicycle.  Then he started playing metal riffs and I started pounding the toms and crashing the cymbols with increasing speed, suddenly the five kids hanging out looking bored were 10 kids who didn’t look so bored.  I came back the next day, and the day after that, and on the third day we had ourselves a band, with our first gig set for Christmas eve, our band is called ‘Belief’ and we seem to cover Chinese Metal songs.  I promised the guys that I would be at practice everyday for the following two weeks leading up to the gig.  It is an amazing thing, they barely if at all speak English and I barely if at all speak Chinese, and we can play and understand each other fine.  Sometimes its tough, you try listening for a cue to come back in based on a lyric in Manderin, but its good.  The very lovely Pamela comes and translates sometimes, and brings her two friends.  They sit in the corner and giggle, and sometimes we all sit around and drink together.

The way they explained it to me, nobody in Shangqiu likes metal the way they do, everyone just likes Chinese pop music.  They told me that they wanted to play their music even if nobody will ever listen much less pay them, because this is the music in their hearts.  They love Slayer and Metallica and Pantera, and a bunch of Chinese Metal bands that they are getting me into.  It is a cool thing, a bunch of kids holed up in their little fort of a shopfront, throwing middle fingers at the world or anyone who is too good for their metal.  We hoisted bottles and they called me brother.

One night last week we were playing the set the whole way through without stopping and the guitar player fucked up in a spot where he always tends to fuck it up.  I got up and went to the john, and when I came out everyone was outside screaming at each other.  I could tell it wasn’t good and getting worse.  The singer started punching the guitar player in the face, I grabed the singer and carried him away, then tackled him flat ass over tea kettle on the sidewalk and layed on top of him screaming ‘NO’ in his face.  This gave me many flash backs to situations in Bands I was in back in the states, same old drama, same old rocknroll.  I made sure that everyone talked before they left, I explained (with the help of Pamala) that the band was too important and we had to get past it.  They went and talked, than we all drank beer.  The next practice the guitar player wasn’t there, but the one after he showed up smiling, everything forgiven.  Same old rocknroll.

The forth part

That Sunday I moved out, Shannon and Brett helped me move 2 big boxes a big suit case and a back pack into a taxi, along with my new boss Lily and Marlon.  Marlon is a cat that Gina had a lot of contact with.  They worked together and Gina he used to drive her straight up a tree, calling her all the time and asking why she was out so late, asking her who she was with, telling her to go home.  They weren’t even dating, not even close.  They lived in the same complex and Marlon used to watch her James Stewart style from the window to see when she was in and out.  So now he would be my new neighbor.  Gina tells me that he has almost been fired on numerous occasions but it never takes because he kisses the right asses.  This makes sense to me after the third time I have to repeat myself to him along the ten minute cab ride to my new place, his English, it turns out, is not quite as good as many of my 15 year old students not good for an English teacher.  He says some mess about a man living in my apartment and I demand to know what the hell he is talking about right away, Brett and I decide he is talking about a man who lives in the next door apartment or something, and we just can’t understand the guy and so the matter is considered solved.

The place is bigger than Jed Clampets pad, we are talking about a lush 4 bedroom apartment, big screen HD TV, gas burning stove in large kitchen, whole gigantic balcony, two of the rooms have beds already set up in case I have guests from out of town.  Shannon and Brett and I do a little dance.  I immediatly proclaim that the smallest room will be strictly for my dressing and undressing, and the other rooms will fill their own purpasses in time.  A little drafty, but damn, what a sweet pad!  That was Sunday.

Monday

Monday was the first day of class.  The way the classes were set up I would be teaching grades one through four on two week rotation, the third week would be spent at the country school.  This meant seeing the kids once every three weeks and in one sememster I would have each child a totall of 8 times out six months.  Plus the country school is way out in the country (duh) and that means the bus would drop me off in the morning and I would stay until the bus took me home around 5 in the pm.  With nothing but fields in any direction, this is not an ideal place to be stuck each day.  So none of the facts about this job which have been mentioned above were thrilling to me.  And I love teaching high school, I can watch them grow as they get braver and their English gets better.  We can conversate on matters of the world or love or music or whatever.  You can’t really say that you are friends with a little kid, no matter how cute they are.  Many may disagree but my preference is with the older ones.  I was teaching first years, and everywhere I went the kids mobed me, slamming into my body full speed.  I actually had to pull apart a manpile of tikes and take the poor kid on the bottom to the nurse, he had been crushed and trampled in the malay of kids trying to grab my leg, lucky for us he had been trampled by a heard of six year olds and was therefor (aside from a cut on his cheek) reletivly unscathed but he was sad and crying, poor old thing.  My lesson taught the little guys that elephants are big, which they wrote on their papers and then drew elephants, than we did cats, which are pretty, and if we had time we went to monkeys.  Each class had a teacher in the corner, each teacher seemed so utterly engrossed with whatever they were doing (crosswords, writting their memoirs) that they took little notice of me or of their class that was rapidly losing all self control or non screaming abilty.  We are talking about a room of 60 first graders, I have covered this ground in previous posts, but it is tough.  I started feeling that pain in my throat again.  It was screaming at me that if it kept up I would mess my voice up good and have to go to the doctor for real this time. 

After all the classes that day I was told by Lily that the school had given another key to my flat to a worker who would be crashing with me for the next ten days.  I said like hell.  This was not covered in our little meeting, (she swears it was but I swear it wasn’t)  I did not know I would have roommates, now the huge place was making a little bit more sense.  This meant that whenever a worker came to the school to do whatever the school would stick them in my house for however long.  This is not what I signed on for and I wanted no part of it.  They said they couldn’t understand why I was so greedy as to want such a big place to myself, I said I would gladly take a smaller place.  I do not need a four bedroom apartment.  I reminded them that at this point I had not signed a contract yet, and my former school still owed me the money for one airplane ticket, I could always split.  I am at a point in my life where I am over room mates, especially the total stranger kind that are sprung on me from out of nowhere.  After going back and forth, Lilly walked into the office where all the other English teachers are and loudly so everyone could hear what an asshole I am called out “you can have that big apartment all to yourself, now.  Even though it is big enough for many.”  Which brought many many dirty looks from everyone, united in their contempt for the new foriegn teacher.

Tuesday

Tuesday they wanted me their at 8:30 like the day before.  Around quarter to 10 I asked when my class was, always at 10:30 they told me.  Well, why do I need to be here 2 hours early?  I asked.  It is the Chinese way.  Was the answer.  Well, like, the other teachers all have paper work to do, tests, home work, whereas I don’t.  I just sit here at my desk.  I could write lesson plans, was the answer.  Ten minutes later, Lilly approved my lesson plans for the next three weeks.  I pointed out that it was supposed to be a 22 hour a week job and this would make it a 32 hour a week job.  She said I could start showing up at 9:30, one hour wasted a day instead of two.  Then me and Marlon left to go get breakfast, which is a big no, no I later found out.  Marlon didn’t seem to give a fuck and I didn’t either.

Wednesday

On Wednesday before the classes started I was told that the school had decided to pay for my ticket all the way to California, not to Atlanta.  The school leaders had looked online and agreed that Atlanta was too much money and just so long as I was some place in the continental United States I should be happy.  I calmly pointed out that in that case I would be homeless and broke in a strange city, and I asked how much they would care to be in similar circumstances in Hong Kong.  See, Gina is from Vancover which is right on the west side, fairly cheap ticket as they go, they didn’t expect for it to be so much more, and seemed a bit peeved that I had dared to grow up that far East of Los Angeles.  I was also quick to (ever so calmly) point out that the leaders of the school were looking up airplane tickes the week before Christmas, and wouldn’t they care to look at a date a few months down the line.  This argument was dismissed immediatly as poppy cock and they maintained that they could pay for half my ticket and I could use the money my former school was giving my for the ticket from that contract to pay for the rest.  That is my money, (I ever so calmly explained) I earned every bit of it by completing a year long contract.  That money had nothing to do with my present contract or with this school and it was none of their buisness.  They had all sat down before I had said yes and before I had moved my shit and before I had taught a class and told me that they would pay my way home.  So I walked.  I told them I had to think long and hard.  I stayed in, thinking all day and into the night.  Pamala called and asked if I was going to practice, I said no, but it was cool as the gig wasn’t until the day before Christmas.  She called right back to say that it was actually in 2 days and nobody had bothered to tell me.  Same old rocknroll.

So I went to practice and I called them up the next day and said that I would be out by the days end, which I was, this time Wei helped me.  Moved in Sunday, and out Thursday, just in time for English corner.  My old school has let me move back here for the time being, they are being really cool.  And now I am unemployed in China.  Life is cool that way. 

The fifth part

So then Friday was the gig.  I showed up at 2 in the afternoon and after a quick sound check waited around all day, watching all the other bands set up too.  It was cool to see how many cool bands are in this city.  One of the bands actually almost had a surf thing going, they reminded me of the ventures at times.  A few bands got up and played covers of the god aweful pop music, which prompted the guys in my camp to whine like woman crying and mock dance and prance and pretend to make out with each other while those bands played.  It was a complete disrespectful act of agression against bands that represented the very evil with which my dudes are idealologically oposed.  One of the pop bands had a song which ended with the singers acapella sacrine whinning, well the whole thing was drowned out by the guys in my band screaming and wrestling each other over the last cigerettes in the last pack they had.  The guitarist on stage shook his head and scowled.

  Around 5 the power went out, and with the show at 7 we all waited anxiously.  Pamala brought her friends Lin and Kathleen, they are all way fun and cute, pretty good English too, so I spent most of my time goofing off with them.  Wei came too, and we sat in the dark waiting. 

The gig was to be held in the speaker hall of the college which was packed by 7 and over flowing by 7:30.  I would guess around 2 or 3000 people in all, sitting in the dark, a sea of shadowy heads with many glowing LCDs from cell phones giving the appearance of waving lighters in the slow part of any Bon Jovi video.

And we waited, and the lights still we not coming on. 

At one point the organizer of the thing came and drug me onstage.  He put me behind the drumset and asked me to play.  This was not expected and a little embarassing, but I started improvising and the crowd started screaming.  I must have played for a few minutes, big response from the crowd who were frankly glad to have any form of entertainment.  But it was a little embarrasing so I went and sat back down. 

And we waited, still no lights.

The second hour I was amazed that the crowd had actually grown.  They were lining up outside to wait in the dark room, the heat was off too, by the way and it was getting cold.  I started getting stir crazy, before the gig jitters.  It is a nervous pent up energy, a very letmeatem sort of a thing.  I started feeling like a crazed rodeo steer bucking and smashing against a metal fence that would never open, wanting nothing more than to hospitalize or kill some hill billies, the hill billies so close yet so far.  I started shodow boxing in the dark.

After about 2 hours they called it.  It was a shame too, I felt like after waiting that long this crowd was crazy primed and would have torn out their hair for us had we just gone on.  It was announced that we would just show up the next night, even though the schools Christmas pagent was scheduled.  I got the impression that my dudes had just sort of said, fuck them, what are they going to do?  Lets just show up.  Everyone agreed.  Same old rocknroll.

So the next day came and I showed up at 2 again and sat around all day, this time the power didn’t go out and we played as scheduled.  I didn’t hear a pep from the Christas pagent people, I guess we won.  We were set to go first, which in America is a drag because nobody has showed up yet.  Well that night by 7 we already had mobs of people squatting in the isle and by all the exits (no fire inspecters here) so we must have played for around 3000 people.  Screaming people.  Shit they were loud, it was so cool, like being a real rock star, and we were blasting, everyone was on with everyone else.  The sound sucked though, and the man at the soundboard must have been on his first day, and the cymbal I was using kept coming loose so I had to chase it as I played, but hell, thats rocknroll.  I watched the whole show, and at the end the other kids from the space we rehearse, the students of the guys in my band got up with their punk band.  They were teenage kids playing punk too slow and off beat from each other, the coolest thing ever.  How many basements in America, or I guess all over the world have hosted just such teenage punk bands.  The guitarist jumped around and thrashed his head.  The base player at one point started to dramatically power walk across the stage when the cord on his guitar got to the end and he stopped for a second, not knowing what to do, so he dramatically power walked back in the right direction to where he was standing in an awkward attempt to play it off.  All of us were laughing our asses off at that.  And the guys who were playing the pop music were all music students and technically great, but these kids were playing music that was real to them and alive to them and exciting.  It made me happy to watch them jump around adn to know it was burning in them.  Then a few of them left the stage and a few more came on and they formed a metal band that started with a medley of Metallica riffs.  Fucking cool.

The other night Pamala gave me a big surprise and the whole band showed up at my door with two bottles of wine for me, red wine.  It was Chinese and nothing to be snobby about but it was way nice of them to do.  They also went out and came back with a huge cake for me.  We all watched a dvd I have of the MIDI music festival in Beijing, which I went to this year.  They knew all the bands that were playing, and I promised to go next year and want them to come too.  They also smoked inside my place, and spat on the floor, (which is what folks do in China) but I didn’t care.  It was cool they came by, bringing gifts no less.  They wanted to party with me on Christmas eve and they wanted to give me gifts because they wanted to thank me for playing with them, which is crap I should be buying them stuff and thanking them.  But that’s rocknroll.

That was last week, actually had our second gig earlier today.  This time it was an event that had all the leaders of the college sitting along a special table in the front row.  They were starring us down with angry frown.  Fuck em.  Everyone else was into it. We used their gear and although they had me there at 3 it wasn’t until 6, an hour before go time that we realized the floor pedel on the base drum was falling apart.  A dude jumped out of the crowd and him and I fixed it with a pair of wire cutters and a coat hanger and it worked better than it did before.  So lie.

So here is the plan.  Next semester, Febuary 25 I will start teaching at the college, not as much money but my whole airplane ticket home plus not a bad place to stay, two bedrooms, clean, warm.  In the meantime I will be spending the airplane money from my last job travelling to Singapore and Indonesia.  This plan has many ways it could fall through but so far so good, I think I will leave next week, wish me luck.

The sixth part

Christmas was good too.  Merry Christmas.  Me and Brett and Shannon gathered all the western food we could find and had pasta, instant mashed potatos, and bacon.  It was nice.  I hope your Christmas was great if you are into that sort of thing and I hope you are happy and well. 

The end