Take yesterday for example.
My plan had been to spend a couple of hours on the computer, go out
and try to buy a printer, come back and connect it up, spend an hour
or so on lesson preparation for the next couple of weeks, watch some
TV, log in to the chat room and talk to some friends, and finally go
Well the origin and the final destination were the same but in between
things took a number of different turns.
The attempts to buy a printer proved fruitless. I found one printer in
one shop but it was a huge model at an insane price. As I was leaving
the shop I received a text message that Erika had sent to me and Mike
asking if we were at home. I texted back saying no and continued on
down to the DVD shop to see what he'd had in new this week.
About half an hour later, as I was putting my key in the outside lock
of our apartment block I got a call from Mike asking how long I'd be.
By the time I'd answered him the answer was "I'm here already."
In the apartment Erika was sitting with her friend. Now I don't want
anything here to sound judgmental, but it probably will so I'll
preface it by saying it isn't meant to. It's factual and the fact is
that her friend was one of her students, aged about seventeen. And
there you see that we have already crossed the line of what in the UK
would be considered acceptable professional behaviour. Teachers simply
don't make friends with their students. It's so deeply ingrained that
it feels wrong.
We were, apparently, all invited to dinner at her parents apartment,
which is a little better as now appropriate adults are involved.
Before that though there were a couple of hours to kill so we went out
and went to the pool hall and when we left the pool hall we bumped
into another group of Erika's students, two boys and a girl - all
sixteen or seventeen years old - and went to a bar where we drank beer
and played counting games with cards.
All of this was over my protests at the advisability of it. It's
perfectly legal, China has a legal age for the purchase of alcohol but
none for drinking it or going into bars. Maybe it's because there is a
relatively small age gap between Mike and Erika, and the students -
about eight years - compared to the gap between me and the students -
more like thirty six years - but I was decidedly uncomfortable with
the whole situation.
Things improved when the other students went home and we went back the
first students house. Her family were delighted to have us, giving us
an excellent meal and insisting that we drink quite a lot of beer with
The apartment was about the same size as ours but very differently
laid out and as we sat in their small living room more and more family
members arrived - brothers, uncles, aunts, friends of the family -
until it was really very crowded. Her mother piled the table high with
food and, though it contained some things that were very odd to us - a
large bowl of chicken's feet for example - it was all delicious. Only
the student spoke English, and fortunately rather good English -so
everything was conducted in translation. We were made to feel like a
combination of long lost relatives and revered guests. Everybody had
their photograph taken with us, individually and collectively.
After several hours one of the uncles suggested KTV.
I may have mentioned KTV before but for those who missed it, I need to
describe it now. It is a Chinese institution, here in Baiyin I know of
six KTVs and I haven't been looking for them. What it is, is a kind of
private Karaoke. Each room in a building will be separately equipped
for Karaoke and you rent a room by the hour. You and your friends pile
in, eat, drink and sing. The rooms vary. Last nights was a small room
with comfortable chairs and things rapidly got underway, were rapidly
after the Karaoke controls had been explained to us at least three
times by the patient employee.
Drink continued to flow, though I had by now reduced my own rate of
consumption to merely politely joining in whenever toasted by one of
Others were less wise and were considerably the worse for wear when we
finally left at about 10:45 but we did make it back in time for me to
try to connect in the chatroom but there was nobody there so I gave up
and went to bed.
Sometimes days don't follow the route you had planned for them but,
vague concerns aside, it had nevertheless been a pretty good day.