Every day I realise that I’ve learned something new about teaching, and at the end of each day I realise that things are getting more fun and a lot easier. I’ve also realised that I am always really, really exhausted at the end of each day, and it’s a whole new kind of exhaustedness. Probably because I’m on my feet all day long and and I’m always talking in a voice ten times louder than I would ever speak in normally and even when I’m not in class, I’ve either got little kids climbing on me, surrounding me or yelling hello at least 10 times each, which of course I feel obligated to respond to every single hello I hear….
Also, even though it’s still only the 2nd week of school, I’ve come to the conclusion that all my classes are wonderful except for the 2nd graders. There is absolutely no hope of not wanting to pop every little 2nd grader’s head off at the end of each class. This week it was so bad that I had to run and get a Chinese teacher to come in and help me make them be quiet. Sure enough, the second that teacher walked in the room, the kids all sat down, shut their mouths, stopped hitting each other, stopped climbing on things, and neatly folded their hands in front of them. The teacher hadn’t even opened his mouth yet!! And the second he walked out, the class plunged into chaos again. I’ll have to think of something soon…..
That aside, Thursday was Teacher’s day in China, and in the morning Cindy called me and told me to come to her office to get two ‘Hong Bao’, or red envelopes with money inside from the school, one for me and one for Craig, with 200 kuai inside. Pretty gooood! Then Monica called and said that we had to go to the special dining room at school because there were two American men coming for lunch, and me and Craig should dine with them because we were also American. I expected two business men in suits to be there, probably to make some deal with the school or headmaster (who I haven’t ever seen). Me and Craig went up there and sat down in an empty dining room for 40 minutes, then the door opened and in piled 3 generations of a Chinese family who were relatives of the woman who owns the land the school is built on. Apparently the only American was this 18 year old son of a woman from Liuyang who had lived in Taiwan for a while, and now lives in Irvine, California. It was kind of a weird lunch, because there were two sets of grandparents who kept dozing off in their seats, while one guy kept pouring Craig some baijiu (60 proof rice alcohol) and another lady kept protesting, saying he had classes after lunch and couldn’t be drunk, while I talked about cadavers and fake military exercises with the younger American kid. Anyway, the food was good, and I went to class pleasantly full.
After my last class, Monica called me again and told me and Craig to meet her in her office as soon as possible because all the teachers were going out to eat and then to KTV (karaoke), courtesy of the school. 12 teachers piled into a 7 seat van and we drove to a local restaurant to have dinner. I sat down with Monica and Craig but some of the teachers came over and asked me if I would sit at their table, and all the teachers kept laughing and pointing at different male teachers, teasing them that they were the ones that wanted me to sit at their table. I was having a little trouble speaking Chinese, because I was missing a lot of the words I wanted to use, so the guy next to me thought I couldn’t understand very well and was going on to the guy on the other side of me about how fat Americans are. I laughed and nodded at him, and he got really embarrassed and said ‘oh no oh no!! i thought you couldn’t understand, oh no!!’ I thought it was really funny and kind of felt bad that he was embarrassed!
The first dish that came out was a giant pig’s head on a plate covered in hot peppers, snout and all. Everyone just hacked at it, until some chunks of meat and fat were exposed and started eating it. I wasn’t sure at first, but then dug in as well and it was so so so so tasty. After that the wait took it away and apparently cut it into small pieces and brought it back again. Maybe the giant head was just for show, and to make it look more expensive. There was another dish that I thought was some kind of clear rubbery vegetable and I kept eating a lot of it, so at the end of the dinner I asked what it was, and a teacher told me it was made from pig skin, which I guess just means its fat trimmed off the skin and meat. Mmmm…
After that Monica said there was no room in the van going back to school, so we would just walk into town. It was going to be a very long walk, so three of the teachers that had been at the dinner were going past on their mopeds and had us all hop on the back. I got on the moped of a teacher named Selina and we all went into town to wait for everyone to get to the KTV place.We had a few hours to kill so Selina said I could try to drive her moped in an empty area. The last time I drove a moped was Helen’s in Taiwan, in a park for 10 feet when I was 15, and drove horribly, but this time I did pretty well. She said I could borrow her moped any time I want since you don’t need a licences to drive one in China (no wonder there are so many accidents involving mopeds…) but I think I’ll have to pass on that. We rented some double bicycles and rode around on the closed off street next to the Liuyang river, then got back on the teacher’s motorcycles and went to KTV.
The room was enormous and full of teachers from Xinwen School. Apparently there were 2 other rooms rented for our school for teacher’s day. When I got in there was an old guy singing extremely loudly to some old Chinese song, and after that the music teacher at the school sang a bit, and everyone would order songs and sing them one after the other. Me and Craig tried to sing ‘Hotel California’. Craig did much better because I don’t know the words and I’m too shy to sing in front of anyone, but it was a fun time anyway.
After teacher’s day there was just one more day of school left until the weekend so me, Craig and Michele were planning to go to Changsha for the weekend, to see the city and meet another Buckland teacher (Katie, my roommate in Yangshuo) who was coming to Changsha to get a new cord for her laptop. Michele teaches for ‘World Teach’, which has it’s main branch in China based in Changsha, so there is a group of about 20 foreign teachers in her group teaching and living in Changsha. One of Michele’s friends (Courtney) had agreed to let us stay in her apartment for the weekend, which was great because that’s about 80 kuai that didn’t have to go to a hostel. Me and Craig met up with Michele at Liuyang’s bus station and got on a bus that was about to leave for Changsha. Apparently with local buses you can just get on and pay for the ticket then. It was only 25 kuai and it got us to Changsha’s east bus station in an hour and a half. We took a cab to Courtney’s school, which ended up being on the other side of the city, and soon discovered that Changsha was probably going to be a lot more expensive than our little tiny ‘town’ of Liuyang. The bus cost us 25 kuai to go from city to city, but the taxi cost 38 kuai to get from the east station to Courtney’s school. Changsha is HUGE, and there are ZILLIONS of people. Liuyang seems empty and serene compared to Changsha. At night in the busy districts, you basically just have to shuffle along the sidewalk because there are so many people.
That Friday night we went to eat some tasty Chinese Muslim food at a place near the walking street, then walked over to a place called ‘Folk Bar’ where Michele said the bartender is really friendly and great to talk to. We got in there and the place was pretty empty, and then within about 20 minutes I think all the ‘world-teach’ teachers in the city streamed in. I hadn’t been around that many super-3-D-faces in a while, and it was really really strange to be around so many foreigners at once. We stayed there for a little while and then I went to meet Katie at the train station and show her where to go. When we got back to the bar, Katie, Michele and Courtney were tired so they went back home and me and Craig followed the hoard of World-Teach(ers) to another place called So-Ho, which was another one of those wild Chinese discos. That ended up being very fun, and we made friends with a lot of the teachers. I also dropped my cellphone in a squat-toilet, which I fished out as fast as I could, but it had stopped working, and I didn’t think washing it would help any….(It eventually dried out after a couple days, but now I think it’s just covered in dried pee-germs…I wonder how long pee-germs live?)
After So-Ho, we followed the teachers to this guy’s apartment that was in a high-rise, so there was an awesome view of the city. It was getting light out by that point, and everyone was really tired, so after a few beers and good talks and some noodles, we all dispersed and me and Craig followed these girls back to their apartment because they said we could sleep on their couches. By 12 noon that day, I had woken up and so had Craig, but the girls hadn’t, so we just wrote a thank-you not on their table and taxied back to find Katie, Michele and Courtney.
That afternoon we went to eat at China’s Pizza Hut. The pizza was really really good, but since I’ve just been eating rice and veggies and little cut up meat every day, it felt way way too heavy and thick. Every time I eat western food, I crave it less and less. I feel way better eating Chinese food, and it has so much more taste and variety….
After that we went to Carrefour to see what kinds of things they had, then went to a pirated DVD store where I found some anime for my sister Lulu and two movies that came out to be less than 6 US dollars. It was kind of late when we had finished walking around and we were hungry again, so we went to a tofu restaurant where Mao had supposedly eaten on his visit to Changsha way back in the day. There was a big Mao-bust in the doorway, and a bunch of pictures of him all over the wall, as well as a giant red communist star. The food was really really good, and fixed my stomach after eating that thick, greasy pizza.
The last stop we made that night was to this German place called ‘Metro’. It’s basically like Costco, and it’s full of foreign products. Everything is really expensive, but I decided to get some Nutella, cinnamon and pasta and pasta sauce. I’m gonna make Monica and me and Craig and some other teachers a pasta dinner maybe, if I can get a hold of somewhere to make it.
I went to sleep on Courtney’s floor that night, and in the morning we all ran to our bus stations and caught our buses back home. We made it back just before the onslaught of noisy students return to school in the afternoon.
I always think that every time I leave a place and come back to it, it feels more and more like home, and it felt really good when the taxi came around the corner and pulled up to our school!!!! Hommmmmeee! (almost)