yet another week in Changping

Publié le par chrislzh

Monday lunchtime:

Week Four in Changping begins. Classes this morning went smoothly enough.

Oh, I forgot: Something one of the students from the pipeline company said in class last week: “Tianjin and Beijing are two large suburbs of Langfang.” Langfang, for those who don’t know, is a city in Hebei about halfway between Beijing and Tianjin. The pipeline company these guys (and two girls, strangely enough, considering most of my classes are almost exclusively male) work for is based in Langfang.

Anyway, classes this morning went smoothly enough. Well, the students in my first class seemed to find it difficult to get to class. It was raining, you see, and as one of the more honest ones pointed out, the students find English difficult, especially spoken English, and the rain provided a convenient excuse.

I was reading over the weekend, probably on , that this is the wettest summer Beijing has seen since 1998, or something like that. From 1999 to 2005, annual rainfall has been only 70% of the long-term average, hence all the talk of the seven-year drought. So far this year has had more rainfall, but it’s still less than the long-term average, meaning the drought has eased, but has still not broken. Anyway, there’s been plenty of rain this morning.

I like rain. It was China that taught me to like rain, in fact. In Changsha in the summer the rain would cut the temperature dramatically so that life actually became bearable again. And then when I moved northwards I discovered how good life felt when the air become humid again and my skin no longer cracked open from the dryness. And of course I realised fairly early on that the clearest skies are those you see the day after rain. I like rain.

Late Monday evening:

I’m going to bed as soon as I’ve finished this drink. Really. Eight hours of class tomorrow, I don’t want to be up late.

Tuesday lunchtime:

I’m starting the lessons this week with the desert island game. The instructions are: “You are going to spend a year alone on a desert island. Enough basic food, drink, fuel, shelter and clothing for one year will be provided. You can take five more things with you. What do you take? Why? Important note: The US Navy is patrolling the sea around the island. If you try to leave they will shoot you.” A few things need to be made clear, of course, for example, a desert island is not necessarily a desert. Some of them still think they need to take food and water with them, despite having been told clearly that will be provided. Others can’t understand how a desert island could have electricity and need to be told several times there could be a generator or solar cells or a windmill or some similar power source. I mean, they are being provided with fuel and shelter, so why not? But their answers can be surprising. Two students today said they’d go crazy and kill themselves. Another said he’d wait until the winter froze the sea solid enough then take his five dogs and a sleigh out onto the ice, kill the US Navy sailors and escape. Fair enough.

I shouldn’t be surprised at the number of people who’ve said they’d take a gun to protect themselves from wild animals. And the always say it’s for protection first, only a few of those who say they’d take a gun say they’d use it for hunting. I’m not surprised at this because one time in Taiyuan I showed my students “The Vertical Limit”, a stupid action film about two groups of Americans climbing K2. I asked them what the film teaches us. They all said that it teaches us Nature is our enemy and we have to fight Nature to survive and they all refused to hear any dissenting opinion. No wonder China’s environment is in such a mess.

And now the rain has ended and the heat has come back. It’s a beautiful sky, though.

Tuesday evening:

And by the end of this afternoon’s classes I found myself in the unusual position of being right on the edge of a thunderstorm. South of the building was the storm, north of the building it was cloudy with very light rain. Still, I managed to get home with beer and food before the rain started to fall too heavily.

The last class was starting to come up with some pretty wacky solutions to the impending lack of petroleum. Not just the usual “fly to another planet” stuff, which one guy did suggest. One guy said we should refine people’s bodies into oil when they die. It makes a kind of sense, from a psychopathically utilitarian point of view. That is essentially how we got petroleum in the first place, anyway: The dead bodies of prehistoric plants and animals under intense heat and pressure were converted to the fossil fuels we know today. And I guess at the same time we could extract the water from people’s bodies and reduce the stress on China’s water supplies.

It’s amazing how long it takes people who work in the oil industry to tell me that if the world’s oil supply stopped today the economy would collapse. Still, that last class managed to tell me quite a few good things that would result from the loss of the oil supply: no more cars, for instance. Or all those weapons would be useless. Or America wouldn’t be able to invade Iraq. I guess Israel would also have a lot of trouble continuing its attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, but nobody mentioned that. Maybe they don’t watch the news.

I don’t know why I’m so exhausted today. The two classes from the pipeline company can be hard work, but not that hard.

And the classes from the Liaohe oilfield seem to be haemorrhaging students. I’ve never had full attendance at any of the classes from any of the companies, but this Liaohe lot are getting ridiculous. Two students at the first class, four at the second. Brilliant.

Wednesday lunchtime:

Today is my ‘late’ start: 10 am instead of the usual 8 am. It’s nice to be able to take the morning a little slower.

Also, this morning’s class is in a different building from all the others. As I was walking to class I heard a series of disjointed beeps, squeaks, whistles, hoots and honks like some weird, arrhythmic experimental music, or a conversation between a bunch of droids on a ‘Star Wars’ set. I walked into the building I saw a bunch of people with a variety of wind, mostly brass, instruments, practising. And boy were they in need of practice. There was a big red banner saying something about training for the 石油大学管乐团, or was it a 队?Somehow I remember it being a 团 for some reason. Whatever. I asked my students about it and they said the band had been disturbing them for three days. Anyway, they then tried to tell me it was an orchestra. Last I heard, orchestras also included stringed instruments, but I’d seen only wind instruments downstairs, most of them brass, and 管乐团 on the banner, seemed to me to be about wind instruments only. The little dictionary I take to class wasn’t much help, although it did tell me 管弦乐队 means orchestra. I just checked in the big dictionary and that confirms管弦乐队 means orchestra, but also informs me that 管乐队 means ‘wind band’ or ‘band’. I’ve never heard of a wind band before, but I guess it’s closer to the brass band I thought it was. But now I see there’s a completely separate word for brass band: 铜管乐队,with 铜管乐器 for brass instrument. So there you go, it was the Petroleum University Wind Band I saw practising. Bloody hell they were awful.

Then halfway through the lesson the band got together and started playing horribly. First on the list was a piece I always thought was called “The Ode to Joy”, from Beethoven’s ninth or tenth or twenty fifth whatever. I’m not much into classical music, obviously, but this piece, when played properly, should be powerful, moving. Not just moving, you should be able to close your eyes and soar to the highest of heavens. If you’ve ever seen the film ‘Immortal Beloved’ you’ll know what I mean. But this pathetic attempt at a band came out with something completely devoid of any kind of passion or emotion. They played it so badly they brought back terrible memories of that item on CCTV 9 news about ‘The Ode to Joy’ having been chosen as the European anthem, which ended with Europe’s most mediocre pop stars putting on the most mediocre, limp-wristed performance of ‘The Ode to Joy’ imaginable. Awful.

And while I was sifting through the dictionary trying to figure out exactly what this band was, I came across an alternative writing of 胡同. I’m not sure if the characters exist on my computer, so hang on a minute…. 衚衕, that’s it. The dictionary says nothing about this being a traditional version, either. Interesting.

Class was fun. I wrote “Economic development is more important than environmental protection. Do you agree or disagree? Why?” on the board and gave them 10 minutes to prepare. This sparked a massive debate that I had to put an end to by calling out “Break time”. Otherwise they could easily have kept going all the way to lunchtime. In fact, break time meant the debate switched from English to Chinese. The second half of the lesson they wanted a new topic for debate, but something fun, not so heavy and serious. I wrote “The world would be a better place if it were run by women instead of men.” Unfortunately the two women spiked the debate by offering up flat, middle of the road, opinions. It’s most fun when somebody deliberately takes an extreme standpoint, even if it’s not their real opinion. Especially if it’s not their real opinion. But these are petroleum workers: Engineers and chemists and administrators, not actors or artists. Still, they managed to keep the discussion going on related topics with little intervention from me. At the end I asked for a show of hands, who thought the world would be better, worse or the same if it were run by women. All the men said worse, the two women said the same. “Interesting,” I said, “It seems Chinese men are scared of women.” The women giggled and agreed. The men said nothing.

Wednesday evening:

On the way back from my beer-run after class I came across another big red banner advertising the founding of this 管乐团 and thought, well, maybe it’s not a band, but a club? So I glanced in the dictionary for confirmation and it seems that Wind Instrument Club may be a better translation. But bloody hell do they have a lot of practice to do. They really were awful this morning.

One of my students in Tianjin just phoned me. That was weird. All I could here was him talking to other people with my name popping up every now and then, but I couldn’t here much more of the conversation clearly. And I couldn’t get him to talk to me. Then after a couple of minutes he came on the phone and said “Wei?” I said “Wei?” then he hung up. Weird.

Word suddenly decided to do something weird and completely uncalled for to the format. I mean, why all of a sudden did Word decide to indent each subsequent line of a paragraph? Fixed now, but what the hell brought that on? Bloody Microsoft.

Lately something calling itself the “Windows 安全警报” has popped up every time I turn the computer on to tell me that there may be something dangerous saved on the computer. Scans with AVG and Spybot, both freshly updated before I came back out to Changping, reveal nothing. Maybe it’s objecting to the AVG and Spybot updates? Maybe there’s something in the updates that triggers the安全警报?

Thursday lunchtime:

One more class. I just bought two beers. One to drink with lunch, one for the two hours I’ve got between class and leaving. I’m boiling up the last of the jiaozi in the freezer. Looking forward to leaving. I’m tired and I want my three day weekend. Alright, so that’s kind of pathetic, but there you go. I’ve never had a real job. I’m used to having lots of time for myself.

Thursday afternoon:

Finished. Bloody hell, that last class was painful. Not so much asleep as dead. I would write some controversial statement on the board, give them some time to prepare a speech. After one student gave the speech, the others would have to ask questions, and hopefully a discussion would be sparked. Most classes have managed that. This last one, though, just couldn’t get it.

The first controversial statement was: “A woman’s place is in the home.” You would’ve thought this could’ve sparked some kind of debate with at least a little heat in it, but no. The second statement I tried was “A wife for the family, a mistress for pleasure.” The first student gave her speech (yes, one of the very few women I teach). She did alright and slowly something approaching an extremely tame discussion started. Then one of the guys gave his speech, and the other guys got stuck into him. Finally, in the last 10 minutes of the lesson, the class came alive.

The second class this morning was fairly similar. Not quite as bad, but still….

Ah well, it’s all over now for another week. I’m free. I just have to wait an hour and a quarter for the car home.

Publié dans chrislzh

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