nearly done with Changping

Publié le par chrislzh

Monday lunchtime:


Back in Changping. Fortunately this morning went easy. The students from both classes had stuff they wanted to talk about, so I didn’t need to prepare anything. And actually, I wound up talking far more than I would have had I prepared something.


I bumped into Mr Wu on the way to the apartment after class. Unfortunately he picked a day when I have a definite case of Monday-itis to try and talk to me. He started asking me about a fanzhuo or yuanzhuo by the first door, but I was really confused and couldn’t figure out what he was going on about, so he said, “Never mind, go home, I’ll come by your place later.” So off I went, trying to figure out if he was talking about a 饭桌 and a 圆桌 and what the hell he meant by the first door. Was that the door to his apartment, which is the first door I come across when I enter the little yard we share? No, I walked in the gate and there is nothing outside his apartment. I walked up to my door, and through the window saw a round dinner table with its legs folded up leaning against the wall in my front porch, the same table that’s been there for the entire time I’ve been in Changping, and I think, dumbarse: The first door or outer door of my apartment, and I bloody knew there was a table there.


So a few minutes later Mr Wu knocks on my door and I give him the table he wanted to use. He said he’s give it back in ten days. I don’t care, in ten days I won’t be in Changping (hopefully).


Well, then Mr Wu pointed to a mysterious lump on the ground that has been sitting outside my door for ever and asks me if I know what it is. Well, I’d been wondering about it for a while, but I had no idea. “Mafeng,” he tells me, then seeing my confusion, he says “Check your dictionary.” He told me that the ma was a next to a and the feng was the one in 蜜蜂 and 蜂蜜. Right, so it’s a beetle sitting next to a horse with a bee. Got it. So he left with the table and I grabbed the dictionary. 蚂蜂: see below – see also . So I look up and find 马蜂: common name for 胡蜂, but below that is马蜂窝: hornet’s nest. So I’m guessing马蜂 and胡蜂 mean hornet, but to be sure I looked up胡蜂: wasp; hornet. So there you go: This strange lump sitting on the ground outside my apartment is either a wasp’s or hornet’s nest. Fortunately it’s a long-since abandoned wasp’s or hornet’s nest. I guess it fell off a tree or building sometime in the winter or spring.


And then I remembered something that’s been bugging me in the classroom for weeks. Because I was in the classroom I only had my small dictionary, which wasn’t much help, but I’d always forget to check in my big dictionary after work. So today I checked. The chalk in the classrooms, according to the label on the boxes, comes from a factory in Jixian, Tianjin, which goes by the name “(something or other) 文彬文具厂”. Well, the 文具 is fairly obvious. But I tried, and failed, to find 文彬 in either of my dictionaries. All I could find in my small dictionary was : see below. And below was written: 彬彬有礼: refined and courteous; urbane. Right. The big dictionary was only slightly more informative. It also gave 彬彬: formal refined. Ok. So what the hell is文彬 supposed to mean? In fact, Word (or is it the Pinyin input system I’m using?) only recognises this character in the context of彬彬有礼. Everywhere else in this paragraph it has a little red squiggle under it as if I’ve spelt the word wrong. Enlighten me, please.


And in the process of finding these characters and words, I came across a whole lot of really cool characters, words and phrases, but I’ve already forgotten them all.


Tuesday lunchtime:


So this morning was my morning of discussions on the “China Threat” Theory and Sino-American relations morning. I got the usual speeches and opinions, but fortunately no People’s Daily editorials. Also, there was a little more variety than I expected, and we managed to get a good discussion going in each class.


The first lesson, though, I couldn’t really put much into. See, I’ve finally done it. For the first time ever I have actually given myself food poisoning. Well, it was the usual food poisoning for me. One sprint or two sprints for the toilet and then I’m pretty much back to normal. But this morning’s episode left me feeling pretty tired and a bit sore for the first lesson. I’d gotten back to normal by ten, though. I can’t figure out what caused it though. I mean, last night everything was washed and cooked thoroughly. At first I thought it was just a chilli-oil overdose, something I’m used to from Hunan and my favourite super-spicy hot pot restaurants. ODing on chilli oil doesn’t worry me, it’s just one uncomfortable sprint for the loo, then it’s all over. This morning’s first sprint for the loo was very much like a chilli-oil OD, but then I had to sprint a second time, and that time certainly had nothing in common with a chilli-oil OD. So I don’t know what I did to myself, but it wasn’t pleasant.


I know you all want to read about all the problems my digestive system faces. Really you do. Anyway, I’m all better now, at least until my next culinary adventure.


Today is the first blue sky I’ve seen in ages. But again there is cloud building up in the distance.


Anyway, so the first class, of course they all disagreed with the idea that could be a threat to anybody. But at least most of them were reasonably well-informed about this theory and they could offer up a variety of ideas for why certain people feel threatened by ’s rise. I tried to wind them up a bit, but without too much success. Like I said, I was feeling kind of tired, sore and weak thanks to last night’s culinary adventure. Anyway, one student repeated the usual “’s peaceful rise” argument, and I said, “Yes, you all say that, but look at ’s friends: , , …. These aren’t exactly peaceful governments.” Which started off a bit of a discussion focused mostly around Sudan in which I managed (I think) to explain that certain people don’t believe China’s talk of peace because they see who China’s friends are and how they behave and how China supports and even on occasion protects them. Anyway, it was interesting. But in the second half of the lesson, they changed the topic and got me talking about language and languages again. Not all of them were interested in politics. Fair enough.


The second lesson there were only two students. Still, they were both prepared and we managed to drag the discussion out for the full two hours and keep it interesting. But one thing I noticed was that both had prepared to talk about modern Sino-American relations only. Neither had bothered to look at the history of Sino-American relations. So I ran through that with them. It was an odd exercise.

       “When did Sino-American relations begin?”

       “Ummm, nineteen seventy…. something….”

       “No, we need to go back earlier than that.”

       “Some people say the Indians came from .”      

       “Ah. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

And then I explained that the Indians/Native Americans moved from Asia to North America across the Bering land bridge during the last Ice Age, which was thousands of years before even existed, so we can’t say they came from . didn’t exist at that time. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Then I dragged them back to the 19th century and the supporting role America played in the bullying and exploitation of China, from there through support of Chiang Kai-Shek and the KMT to Nixon’s visit to China and the normalisation of ties with the PRC and the passing of the Taiwan Relations Act up to the present day, with a brief mention of America’s policy of containment of communism during the Cold War. I was surprised by their apparent lack of knowledge of anything more than a few years ago. Anyway, that gave us a context for understanding Sino-American relations in the present a little better and the discussion turned to things they knew a bit more about.


Sunday’s party with the students was both successful and a complete flop. Murphy reared his ugly head and as soon as the barbeque was lit (and it was quite a mission getting it lit) it started pissing down with rain. So we had to quickly shift everything onto the long, narrow veranda outside my colleague’s house. It was supposed to be a farewell party for our Changping students, but only four students from Changping showed up. One class’s boss showed up in Beijing to deliver his son to Tsinghua University, so they had to go out for drinks with the boss. Some had a bad cold and thought it better to stay in the dorm and rest. Some said they were too tired. Most didn’t bother with excuses. Fortunately my colleague had also invited a new class he’s started teaching at the Haidian campus, so there were enough people. But these new students didn’t drink any of the beer. Not one of them. And I’d bought a crate just for the party. Oh well, that’ll save me the hassle of having to buy beer for a while. Most of it is in my freezer, so I’ll have to remind lzh to take some out and put it in the fridge tomorrow evening or Thursday morning. Beer isn’t much use frozen, but I don’t want it warm by the time I get back. But the party was fun, anyway.


I wandered downstairs at 1:30 on Sunday afternoon to see if my colleague needed any help setting things up for the party. I found him in the yard desperately fanning the barbeque, but achieving nothing except to send smoke and ash floating through the yard. We wandered round to the store to get a crate of beer while his wife had a go at getting the World’s Most Stubborn Charcoal to light. She didn’t succeed, either. So I suggested pouring some baijiu on as an accelerant. For some reason he had a bottle of 75% alcohol solution inside, so he poured some of that on. Then we couldn’t find a lighter. No smokers around just when you need one, typical. So he ran inside, rolled up some newspaper, set it alight on the kitchen stove, then ran outside to drop it on the barbeque. That was about when the first students showed up. He dropped the burning newspaper on the barbeque and there was this big “whoompf!” and it was finally lit.


Which reminds me of a story I heard at Otago. The manager of the university housing was walking down, umm, that street that runs north from the back of the registry, whatever it’s called… Leith Street, maybe? Anyway, he noticed there was something different about the street, but couldn’t quite figure out what, until he noticed one of the university flats seemed to be missing. He wandered down the driveway to find four rather forlorn looking young scarfies standing round a pile of cinders. Obviously the flat had burned down. The manager poked around the rubble and found a twisted metal petrol can lying next to what used to be the fireplace.

       “You didn’t use petrol to start the fire, did you?” he asked the forlorn-looking scarfies.

       “Yes, we did,” they answered rather sheepishly.

I heard that second-hand, from a friend who knew the manager in question, so there’s probably a bit more truth to it than most scarfie myths I’ve heard.


And I’ve set Word to New Zealand English, yet ‘Otago’ and ‘scarfie’ still have stupid little red squiggles under them. Ridiculous. Somebody in Dunedin is going to have to get started building a replacement for Word.


Tuesday evening:


Halfway there.


For some reason, the song running through my head on the way back after class was The Velvet Underground’s “I’m waiting for the man.” Nuh, not me, I’m being proactive. The first thing I did was drop my bag, change into some less sweaty, sticky clothes, grab six empties, and bought beer. Yes, six. Not all for consumption tonight. I would like to have some left over for tomorrow. But I also want the option of a little extra, should it prove itself necessary.


And not having brought the appropriate CD with me, I’m having to settle for the Very Best of Lou Reed. Damn, such compromises.


Wednesday morning:


So I bought six beers yesterday just in case a little more beer than normal was needed. That’s how I was feeling when I walked out of class. As it turns out I struggled to finish the third. Well, no, I struggled to stay awake long enough to finish the third. Don’t know why I was so exhausted.


But then this morning I did the usual: Wake up about 5, look at my cellphone, see it’s only 5, go back to sleep, wake up half an hour later, go back to sleep, wake up at 6 when the alarm goes off, think, it’s Wednesday, I don’t start till ten, go to sleep for another hour….


I like these longer, slower starts to the day.


So I’ve just about finished here at Changping, but nobody has bothered to tell me what I’m doing next. I’m supposed to start teaching down in Haidian, but nobody has told me anything. Guess I’ll find out sooner or later. Quite possibly when somebody kicks down my door to find out why I’m not in class.


And in the news: lzh has decided to get rid of our cat. She left Amy in the courtyard this morning when she left for work. Apparently Amy immediately took off into the grass, enjoying her new-found wild cat freedom. I’m not overly happy about this, there are more responsible ways to deal with problem cats, but there was always something abnormal about Amy and she was rapidly becoming unmanageable. And I don’t think I had much say in the decision. Anyway, if she hangs around the courtyard there’ll always be people around ready to leave out a bit of food for her. And maybe one of the neighbours will think she’s cute and steal her. Probably they’d return her within a week once they discover just what a terror Amy is. We really should have named her ‘Osama’.


Wednesday lunchtime:


I’m starting to think this is one of the least organised schools I’ve worked at. I don’t know, maybe it’s just the Changping branch. Anyway, yesterday I was told that the Xinjiang and Liaohe students would all be together this morning and I’d give them an oral test. I talked to the students, and they hadn’t heard anything about this. Then yesterday afternoon I went to the office to check the arrangements for today, and I was told no, just regular class times. One of the Liaohe students asked about a test, and the answer seemed to be negative, so I didn’t worry about it.


Then this morning I got to class and the Xinjiang students were talking about a test. I asked them what was going on, and they said the boss had told one of them I would give them an oral test this morning, so he told the class leader who spread the word. So a few more students than the usual 3 to 5 showed up. Twelve, in fact.


Five or six years ago, I would’ve probably been really pissed off with this disorganisation. Now, bugger it, it’s just part of the deal. Just get on with the job. If the boss gets what he wants, I get my pay, and nobody’s getting screwed over, there’s no problem.


Anyway, so I had to give them an oral test, just in case the boss did actually want grades for them (it had been suggested that the boss was worried about the consistently low turn out, so he said there’d be a test just to get the lazy bastards to actually show up for class). But, with the bloody 管乐团 practicing downstairs, I couldn’t do what I had been thinking of and take the students outside in groups of two or three to try and get a conversation going. So, impromptu speeches. The instructions were simple:

1: Tell me your Chinese name.

2: The class gives you a topic.

3: Speak.

It went fairly well, for the most part. The class managed to keep each other talking for as long as possible by asking questions. Most of them enjoyed it. Two didn’t. One just removed himself from the classroom. I thought he just needed the toilet or somebody was phoning him, but he never came back. And then halfway through, it fell to one of the guys I’d never seen to get up and do his speech. They gave him a topic. He stammered a couple of attempts at words. Then he said “我都不会说话!”, turned, and ran out of the room. I haven’t seen him since. Not the kind of behaviour I’d expect from an adult student, but never mind. It’s his problem.


The first guy to speak was asked to describe the people of Henan. His first sentence was, “You know, many people say Henan people are the Jews of China.” It’s not the first time I’ve heard that, and I’m still not sure what Chinese people mean by that. The first time I heard it, the guy went on to explain that Henan people were kind of mean and stingy. I just let it slide. Most of the time I just can’t be arsed with these kinds of bullshit arguments. Anyway, this student this morning didn’t shed any more light on this “Jews of China” thing. He did go on to explain that Henan people have gotten a bad reputation because of a few bad apples, and explained that it’s a poor, over-populated province from which many people leave to find work, and those who don’t find work resort to less legal methods of making money, giving the rest of their province’s people a bad reputation. And besides, came from Henan. It’s the birthplace of the Chinese civilisation.


Well, I suppose we could pick holes in everything he said, but what for? Good on him for standing up for his home province.


The second student was told to describe the people of Shandong. He said Shandong people are all very good and kind and friendly. He said he had been robbed once in Shandong, but it obviously wasn’t a Shandongren who robbed him, because all of the thieves in Shandong come from Northeast China. Obviously.


Wednesday evening:


Well, this afternoon got off to a brilliant start. The boss informed me that one of my classes still has lessons next week, and so I’ll have to come back on Monday, and then he’ll tell me when those lessons will be. “Maybe Wednesday,” he said. Am I really expected to sit around here for a week twiddling my thumbs for a week just for the three final lessons for one class? I don’t fucking think so. I think I’ll assume that the first lesson will be the usual Monday morning 8 am lesson. Then depending on when the rest of the lessons will be, I’ll either hang around or disappear. What I mean is: If I have lessons Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, sure I’ll hang around. If I have one lesson on Monday and the other two on Wednesday or Thursday, then no, I’ll disappear and come back in time for the lessons. I’m sorry, but I’m just not interested in discovering the delights of Changping. If I’m getting spare time, I’d rather spend it in the real world.


And then the little shop where I normally buy beer decided to close for the holiday. Brilliant. Where am I supposed to get beer now? It’s the only xiaomaibu-style place where I can swap my empties that I know around here. So I had to dump my empties back in my front porch and run round to the shitty local supermarket where, like all supermarkets, beer is more expensive and mostly comes in smaller, less efficient packages. They have a few big bottles, but the price is ridiculous. Buying big bottles there would only be worth it if the beer was imported, but it’s not. So I got a bottle of wine for this evening and a few beers for tomorrow afternoon. I guess if I have to spend nights here next week I’ll be drinking wine. It’s more efficient.


About the only good thing about the local supermarket is that it stocks Smirnoff. Maybe if I have to spend too much time here next week I’ll get myself a bottle to wash the wine down.


Maybe you can tell I really don’t enjoy my life in Changping. I suppose if I were here more permanently I’d make a bit more effort to get to know the place a bit better. I’m sure I could find some good things about Changping if I had to. But the way I feel right now, the only good thing about Changping is the Badaling Expressway. Why? It can get me back to either Haidian or Yanqing nice and quick.


So, I’ve vented. I’ll have a few more drinks, get some dinner later on, I’ll feel better about it tomorrow.


Thursday lunchtime:


Bloody hell. The second lesson this morning there was only one student. This is the class that I have to come back for next week. This student then told me that maybe I won’t have any lessons next week, everything still has to be decided. The class leader has taken his wife to hospital today, so the decision will be made tomorrow, when, of course, I will be in Haidian. I bet they don’t phone me, and I’ll still have to come on Monday regardless of the decision.


And from what this student told me today and Monday, it seems the students just plain don’t like the foreign teacher classes. Apparently a lot more show up for classes with the Chinese teachers than with the foreign teachers (I’m not the only one). On Monday I was told that they often understand only half of what I say. You know what? This is entirely their own fault. I do everything I can to help them understand, but most of them just sit their like stuffed dummies. And don’t tell me this is the Chinese way. These are adult students and all my other classes are much more active than this. Some of the students are active, but not enough of them. Basically, there are too many lazy little losers in the class. And I have to come back next Monday to find out if I have to teach them three more times.


Good news: lzh has re-adopted Amy. This morning on her way to work she walked out of the building and saw Amy sitting there looking pitiful. She called Amy, and she came immediately and followed lzh upstairs. lzh gave her some food, and Amy got stuck in like she hadn’t eaten all week (this little kitten can really EAT). So Amy is back home safe and sound and probably tearing the place apart again. We’ve decided that we can put Amy out in the courtyard to play during the day, and hopefully along the way she learns to hunt, and in the evenings we can take her inside and make sure she’s fed properly. This way she’ll have a fighting chance when we leave, and hopefully won’t have to rely so completely on the charity of my colleagues. Remember, we only took her in temporarily in the first place, so she could grow up before she had to start fending for herself. Her mother was wild, and I don’t think we’ll ever manage to tame Amy.


I just hope that we manage to call her back inside quickly enough to not be eaten alive by mosquitoes each evening. The mosquitoes in our courtyard are pretty bloody 厉害. They even attack me, which is rare indeed, and their bites raise big, ugly, nasty, itchy-as-hell welts. And lzh is a mosquito magnet.


So, one more class, then I might be done with Changping. Or maybe not. One way or another I’ll have to come here on Monday. But one more class and I’m free for the weekend.


And I would guess from the name 胡蜂 that, at least from an ancient Chinese point of view, hornets and wasps came from Central Asia, or that the first place ancient Chinese came across hornets and wasps was in parts north or west of Jiayuguan. Correct me if I’m wrong.


Thursday afternoon:


The文彬 mystery has also been cleared up. It is, as I suspected, the totally meaningless name of the crappy chalk factory in Jixian, Tianjin, that makes chalk so soft and fragile it’s only slightly better than useless.


Anyway, finished for the week. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll only have to come back here on Monday morning to find out I’m not required next week.

Publié dans chrislzh

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