New Diary

September 2, 2013    Monday

I wish I had gotten around to writing more in August. As it stands I failed utterly in writing one word on the…I can’t even remember: what the hell was I writing about? Zombies? Oh yes, that’s right, a PLAGUE! The Drug War Plague. This month…I will try (can’t promise).

Plague. My life has been plagued by battles and skirmishes lately. A victory only seems to lead to more fights, more conflict. If I was getting along with my Chinese counterparts down at the Center, then the foreign teachers began acting up. The first thing Mitchell Richard did once he returned from Canada was bitch about money. This I get after all the work I did in securing him a job and getting him better pay, air flight, insurance, etc. He doesn’t know about the behind the scenes work or any of the dirt. The Center didn’t even want to hire him, but I convinced them that we really could use him. Anyway, I will have a talk with him and try to tell him in a diplomatic way that he is essentially on probation. He doesn’t feel he has to stoop to do any of the menial grunt work a regular teacher does when preparing for classes, i.e. making cards and posters and games. His attitude is just one stressor among many.

Recently, I went through several high-pressure meetings where I had to explain our program and the methodology I was employing to create these lessons for the foreign teacher curriculum. They weren’t high-pressure in the sense that I was being taken to task, but, as I had to conduct it mostly in Chinese, I felt stress. Then, as usual they sprung the meetings literally last minute. I know that they felt nervous about the “Curriculum” as I had not given them any hard copies. Why? It’s my work. No one, absolutely no one has helped me. I showed them what I was doing, but I am not going to release anything until I get assurances that my name goes on the cover as sole writer and main editor. The normal way business is run is that someone does all the work and the higher ups get almost all the credit. The main writer/compiler gets assistant editor title. Sorry. I am not going for that. I am not a Chinese coolie.

I undertook this project to prove that good teaching practices can better prepare the students for any tests they must take, more efficiently, without overly stressing the children, which is how they study now: high stress and very little long-term results. Here, basic teaching research is ignored. EVERYBODY and their dog and their grandmother and their grandmother’s dog all concur: wide and varied reading achieves the best results. Do the students read authentic materials? No. Do they have leveled books? Hell No. Is anyone conducting reading groups or shared reading? Very little. So, up front I tell them, our program targeting oral/listening skills is very nice, but it won’t have as great an effect without a comprehensive reading program. Or at least some kind of reading program.

The administrators in our partner school said to me: oh, we can’t do that. We can’t implement foreign books in our schools. Just think: if you were learning a language, wouldn’t you like it if someone who was a native speaker and writer in that language wrote your reading material? If the materials here were adequate, I wouldn’t object, but they are full of errors, some egregious, some atrocious. Not to mention the ideas! Lord, help me! Antithetical to developing critical thinkers. However, I am willing to pay some lip service to the notion that not every society is ready for freedom and democracy. I mean, perhaps some things take centuries to evolve properly and we might later on, centuries from now, realize that some societies are indeed like a human being and need an adolescence, a childhood, before assuming the mantle of adult responsibility. I am willing to think about that. However, this does not give carte blanche to the “fathers and mothers” to oppress their “children”. Savvy? Anyway, at least my Chinese language skills are being honed in all this discourse. My vocabulary is increasing because of these highly intense communicative situations (which proves what research says about language learning, not incidentally).

Battles here. Battles there. My life is a struggle. I cannot begin to mention the back and forth going on between Zoe and me. If two weeks pass in BLISS we then spend one week in the lowest circle of HELL.

And it is my fault. I recognize that. I must be both Superman and the Flash. Some days I think I must evince all of the attributes of the Justice League in order to succeed here. The plain fact is I am not great enough to handle all of the stress that comes with living and working in China. I am sure others can. So. I am stuck between Scylla and Charybdis again. I feel desperate. I feel like a treed fox. The men in red suits with thunder sticks are approaching. The hounds are barking beneath my little paws.

I know better. I have tons of experience, but I find that despite all of my gains in living history and personal wisdom, I anger easily and (most frightening) more and more easily lately. As if my personal body clock were literally a time bomb waiting to explode, a volcano spewing off minor explosions before erupting totally and raining lava and burning rock on the villagers below.

I fear for the peasants.

So, anything good going on? Yes. Hockey season started yesterday. I needed to hang out with these Chinese middle-aged farts and just goof around. I didn’t care that I sucked. I was just GRATEFUL to not think about work or Zoe or my novel or anything. I only thought about: stop that little hard disc of rubber from hitting the net. And if it does: laugh. Laugh, laugh, laugh. It’s okay. We’re only here to sweat and have fun. And so we did.

We went to a different ice rink, a nicer one than the one where we played last season. It had stands and played Western rock and roll music (obnoxiously loud). We rented half the rink and there were only a handful of us plus a few middle school kids, but it was really, really nice. My soul needed it. I needed ‘play’.

We went to this rink because the rink at Heping Road was not set up yet. They were fixing it up. I went in and took a look. As a novice and an outsider to hockey culture, it was fascinating looking at the floor without ice. The small arena smelled of sweat. It smelled of the coming winter. The coming games we’d play. I swear it smelled like hope.

I noticed I felt stronger carrying my bag of stinky equipment. I felt at ease lacing my boots, buckling on the pads, and shuttling back and forth in the crease. (Of course I still sat in the net like a sieve!) The guys were different towards me too. More familiar. We hadn’t seen each other all summer and it was like old friends getting together. They took more time to help me understand their rough dialect-filled speech. I was not some queer little foreigner standing between the iron posts. I was their queer little friend who doesn’t understand Chinese so well. Their rough comradeship was manna to my beleaguered soul.

I will never have a lot of money. I will never possess a home. I will never own a car. But, perhaps, I will always be rich.


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