Day 54 - The Open House + Culture

Friday, April 1st, 2016
Smog Level: 1/3 Mountains

Blah. I’m tired and can’t wait for this open house to be over. I arrive on campus to find out that my classes don’t start until 9:05. It’s 7:40. The Director comes and goes, saying that he hears there’s a dust storm coming in tomorrow.

What’s a dust storm? Well, there’s a lot of dust, wind, and possibly sand. The Director said that his first dust storm some years ago, he had fallen asleep with the window open. He had a rude awakening to find himself, his bed - his entire room - covered in dust and sand. That must’ve sucked.
When he arrives, I ask Pool what the parents are like. He says “[they can range] from educated people who you can relate with, down to ‘newly rich peasants.'” An example he gave was his in-laws: they own factories. The patriarch of it all dropped out of school when he was in grade 6. "What do you expect when they close schools for a decade?” he asks. I’m not sure if he means universities, or all schools. He’s also referencing the cultural revolution, where the students were recruited into the “Red Guard,” and seem to be young, empowered police officers who sometimes would report their own parents. It’s not the first time this sort of thing happened in the world, and definitely won’t be the last.

He tells me that one of the parents just met with him and was complaining that their child wasn’t fluent in English yet. They’ve been here two years. “Chinese parents sometimes expect the best, and they expect it to be instantaneous, just like their country had changed instantaneously,” he explains. Makes sense. 

Tying this back to dust storms: Beijing used to have a lot more in the past, Shimou told me, and they came from the north. This was because there weren’t many trees there. BOOM! Trees planted, storms cut down in frequency. There’s an upside to a government that can do what is necessary whenever they decide to.

Onward to the first class: the kids look like they are held up by strings, and rods have been inserted where their spines were. The parents line the back of the room, the windows are closed, and everyone arrived early. Fantastic. I’m nervous and the room is damn hot. Deep breath, here we go.

I was a robot. I had to make sure to ask every student a question to avoid offending the parents. Two kids in particular needed to be asked more questions or their parents would be upset. It’s difficult to ask kids questions evenly while trying not to embarrass them. I run the course of the class, follow the abnormal lesson plan, and survive. They criticized me for being dispassionate, which.. cool, I’m ok with that. There are worse things they could say. And to be honest, watching me was probably like watching a animatronic teacher with animatronic kids. (See the video)

Looking in the mirror in the washroom between classes, I notice that there are massive circles of sweat under my arms. Good, good. Just gotta do this one more time.

Hmm... Something seems off.
Second class: students were more relaxed. Some acted out a little bit, meaning I had to tell a couple to stop picking their nose. One of them gave me a hug coming into and out of the classroom. Because they were more relaxed, I was more relaxed. I joked with them a little more, but still less than normal, and we fit a game into the end of the class. They do so love their hangman. Again, criticized for being less animated than desired. I wonder if they know that we’re supposed to be teachers for the kids and not performers for the parents. Observation can change outcomes, duh. That being said, they're probably right.

After class, waiting for lunch, I am informed of things called “pregnancy hotels” in the US where Chinese women will go and live for the duration of their pregnancy in order to have kids there. They have to go in the earlier months or they will have their visa rejected for being obviously pregnant. Apparently the FBI has been cracking down on these places. 

Another fun fact: I’ve been told that lots of international schools have bans on Chinese people, or at least a high restriction. Why? Because there are large numbers of Chinese people with money who want their kids to have the ability to leave the country. So many that they wouldn’t be “international” schools, but would end up being “Chinese-abroad schools.” It seems people generally want to get out of China. Pool has said that he has to jump through all the standard hoops of immigration for his wife, even though she’s married to an American. Nuts.

Lunch rolls around and I eat with Carden Wendy, Coteacher Linda, and Coteacher Helena (coteachers are Chinese). It’s a long weekend due to a holiday falling monday. What holiday is it? Well, it's...

Tomb Sweeping Holiday!
Tomb sweeping is where you go to the family tomb/crypt and spring clean. They burn money so that their dead can have it. Why do the dead need it? To buy new things, of course! It’s the only way dead people can get money, I think. They live underground, Helena tells us.
In the past, they used to burn actual money. This isn’t very good for the government. How would they keep track of how much currency is still out there? How much does printing more cost the country? Instead, they now have fake money that you can buy and burn for the dead. There: an economically sound way of sending money to the dead.
Linda said she doesn’t believe in the practice, but did it just in case. Playing it safe for relatively cheap, plus following rituals can be fun and bring people together. Helena said she believes that the money does go to the dead, but doesn’t recognize many of the faux pas or rituals.
What faux pas? If you see someone burning money, pretend you don’t see it. Don’t take pictures, ignore them altogether. If you see a pile of ashes, don’t step on it. People are supposed to do this in private, but it’s difficult with such high population density and the risk of fires.

That being said, I’m totally going to be walking around on Monday, hoping to catch a glimpse of something.

Dan happened by the caf, and we walk back to the office together. I tell him about my reviews from the parents and says not to take them too seriously. They’re hyper-critical.

It’s Friday, which means I have to babysit the 1st graders. First class plays hangman with me after practicing some English food words (noodles, chicken, eggs, milk, etc.). I try to think of silly things that first graders will find funny when the sentence is revealed. This time: “The Giant Chicken Kicks the School.” First, they were confused. Then it was translated. Oh man, they thought it was amazing. I also am getting more creative with my hangman drawings, making the guy flex, angry eyebrows, an eyepatch, and a peg leg. Even losing can be fun for them!

Second class, the game was “play ball” which involves drawing a target at the board, which they throw a balled up paper when they correctly spell a word. One girl in this class told me that I was pretty, and a little boy gave me, like, 6 stickers. This is mind blowing! Stickers are their crack, and they’ve only had me maybe 3 times!*

On my way home after class, Carden Brad offers me money a second time today, and I take it up on him realizing how little I have in my pocket. Only ¥15 ($3 CAD / $2.30 USD). He spots me ¥200. Gotta make sure I pay everyone back what I owe...

Parking on a Friday Night. Park wherever you want - just make sure
there's at least one lane to get through.
After work, I tutor my Friday girl, Lola. She is going into 1st grade in September, and is 6 years old. Very smart, can read some words in English, and can write some, too. It’s insane! I didn’t learn to read until first grade in my own language. Very tired, I have a lot of trouble getting her on task, but managed to teach her some things in the one hour we had. Very cute, lots of energy. I guess she’ll learn from me speaking to her and correcting her grammar.

Nap for an hour, Blogwork, get some Burger King with Shimou (found the best deal they got: big grilled chicken burger for ¥22 (4.35 CAD / 3.39 USD)). Massage, then crash for the night.

*He did change his mind on which stickers to give me, exchanging a bear one for this big one that had some Chinglish on it.

Words of the Day
English - Mandarin [pronunciation]
Yes - Shì de [shur duh]
No - bù shì [boo shur]

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