It's Chinese National Week here, which means I'm now off for seven days. Unfortunately as I was told quite specifically two weeks ago that my school was only off for two days (Saturday and Sunday - how does that count as holiday?) I didn't make any arrangements to go anywhere. I was told it would be seven days by a student on the morning of the day before it started leaving no time to actually arrange anything. Oh well, you've heard "c'est la vie" and "c'est la guerre" - now you can add "c'est la Chine".
It does mean that I have time to do my occasional re-blogging exercise and add a few of the things that have gone onto Facebook since... oh wow... is it really almost four months since I posted anything here?
Anyway, this time, rather than just cut and paste, I'll paraphrase - mainly because I'm bored but also to give anyone who reads both this and the FB page, a marginally different experience.
Back in June the end of the school year was rapidly approaching and lessons were being shuffled around and end of year activities shoe-horned into the schedule. I was invited to be a judge on two occasions. The senior one students, who are now my senior twos this year, invited me to judge performances of sketches they had written. This event was to take place out in the school yard but thanks to the weather was on, then off, then on, then off, then... well you get the picture. In the end it was on - on the only night in the whole month that I couldn't actually make it. So I never did get to see them. On the other hand I did get to judge the speaking competition where twenty two of the students from my (then) senior two classes made near identical speeches on the subject of "Yangshuo". As I had helped them prepare, I was happy that there were no clashes to prevent my attendance. The evening came and as judges we were seated seated in a row at the front and I was in the middle. The two Senior 2 Class 1 students who were comperes started out by introducing the judges. They introduced judge number one who stood up and was applauded. The judge two, then judge three. Skipping right over me they went on to judges five six and seven. Then, after a slight pause they added, "and finally the most handsome, interesting and funny teacher in the school... Bob" and the whole auditorium was filled with cheers, shrieks and foot stamping. They even asked me to make a welcome speech before the competition started.
I noticed the school headmaster nodding with approval, a fact that made me quite happy as, at that stage, I had no idea if they would be renewing my contract or not.
Of course it was also the time when my school, for no very good reason and against the practice of practically every other school in China, wanted me to do exams. You may recall that I tried to explain last year that it's impossible to do oral exams for sixty students in thirty five minutes and expect anything meaningful to come out of it but there they were, insisting again. So, having, after a lot of effort arranged for the school to let me do my oral exams over two weeks, which was still inadequate but, at least, possible, I then had to reschedule Monday's exam for Saturday as Monday was the Gao Kao* exam day. I was told categorically that I had to finish by Friday that week so the results could be handed in to the office. Then I got to school on Tuesday and another teacher - my administrator being absent - informed me that I couldn't do senior exams then or Wednesday as they were sitting other exams. Another "discussion" ensued in which I tried to explain that I couldn't hand in results for exams that hadn't been done and they insisted that I must. Eventually it was agreed that I could now work the following week on Tuesday and Wednesday and hand in the results on Wednesday afternoon. China is one long stream of right-hand/left-hand communications interface failures.
(*The Gaokao is the Chinese University entrance exam.)
In July I went up to Baiyin to visit Theresa and see some old friends. While I was there I witnessed (from the outside only) the setting up of a Chinese circus. I was taking a walk to the coffee shop to meet a student when I came across it. Just across the street from the coffee shop is an open space where a circus was setting up. I walked past a crowd of people looking at two tigers, a lion and a black bear in cages. It was one of the saddest spectacles I had ever seen. All the animals were lethargic and looked horribly malnourished. The lion's cage was barely two inches longer and six inches wider than the animal. The tigers (in separate cages) fared little better. Worst was the bear which was chained inside a cage smaller than my bedside table and which looked to be on its last legs. I know that animal welfare isn't something most people on China are concerned about but it was pitiful to see.
While I was there in Baiyin I had my first problem with mushrooms in ages. Usually I have been quite adept at avoiding them but sometimes the restaurants just don't get it. I think I might have been reasonably safe from the dreaded mushroom at one dinner as I was eating with five Chinese friends all of whom are aware of the problem including two doctors and a nurse. When the pumpkin soup turned out to have mushrooms in the resulting chorus crying to get it replaced could be heard streets away. It was rather embarrassing really-I could just have ignored that one dish but they wouldn't hear of it. It was on another occasion, when it was just me and Theresa, when things went wrong, I don't understand why they find it so difficult. My food intolerance to all kinds of mushroom and fungusis quite severe so I make very sure that restaurants know this. So, when we went for hot pot, Teresa explained for a full five minutes that I can't eat mushrooms or food containing or cooked with mushrooms. The soup came and we checked again and were assured that it was ok. I put some vegetables in and started fishing them out and eating I'd eaten quite a lot when I fished out something that was very clearly a mushroom. The staff said in Chinese that it wasn't a mushroom it was a wild fungus. We told them that this is just another kind of mushroom. They brought a new bowl of soup which I think was just the same thing with obvious bits strained out. Too late, the damage was done. I had a night of hot and cold sweats and stomach pains and a morning of hasty dashes to the toilet. It's not the first time. No matter how carefully it's explained they just don't get it. Why?
While I was there I did a few English lessons - some for Candy, my old private student who still managed to brighten my day with her ten-year-old enthusiasm and some for the young son of one of Theresa's colleagues. He was a little shy but did inform me that his favourite TV program is The Walking Dead. He's eleven. Later that same day Candy had brought our old books over and we were looking at a chapter about countries which included Puerto Rico which she insisted, quite deliberately, on pronouncing as "potato rico". When, the following day, we came across the word Toronto, she told me clearly that it had to be pronounced "Tomato" so that someone could move from Potato Rico to Tomato, which is actually quite a good language joke from a second language student aged ten.
Waiting at the airport for my flight back to Yangshuo I looked around. I was sitting in a crowded airport lounge waiting for the plane and realised that over eighty percent of the people I could see were using their phones either as phones or to play games, watch movies or send messages. The woman sitting next to me was simultaneously using three - one to send text messages, one she was talking on and one to watch a movie. Isn't modern life wonderful?
Sometimes I wonder about the people who release software. On my edition of Word most of the settings are still at the defaults. This means if I type. '"Good morning." said the boy.' It changes the "s" to an "S" (because it thinks it's the start of a new sentence AND THEN underlines it in green to tell me it's wrong and then I change it back to lower case and the green line disappears to tell me it's right. So it "corrects" my correct sentence , identifies it's own "correction" as wrong then lets me change it back and identifies my original as right. Ridiculous.
A comment on a post elsewhere read simply. "ooooooooooh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Facebook offered the option to "see a translation" so I did.
The translation read "Ooooooooooh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
That capital "O" makes all the difference.
So Vin Diesal has signed on for Guardians of the Galaxy 2. I imagine the conversation went like this
Agent: Sorry Vin, Groot isn't in the movie.
Vin: Come on give me a chance, we haven't started to explore my range yet.
Agent: Look, Groot just isn't in the movie.
Vin: Listen, "I am Groot.", "I AM Groot.", "I am GROOT". There's just so much more I could do with the character. We haven't scratched the surface.
Agent: Leave it with me. I'll see what I can do.
A nice little story cropped up when I was teaching my "What do you know about the UK" lesson. One of the questions I ask is "Who is the UK Prime Minister." As part of the instructions I always tell the students that if they don't know an answer they should guess. Walking around and looking at answers I discovered that one of the students had written "Bob Dylan." When I asked him why, he shrugged and said "I don't know the answer, but I like Bob Dylan." He was pretty knowledgeable about his music too.
Finally, I've had a poem accepted for the forthcoming Offa's press anthology of poetry about Staffordshire. Here, exclusively on the blog, is a sneak preview.
The emblem on my school badge was the Staffordshire Knot.
It's visible in all the fading photographs.
I could write my own address before I even started school
And the last line that I wrote was “Bilston, Staffs”.
But then came '74
And we were Staffordshire no more.
They had changed us at the dropping of a hat.
Our badges stayed the same,
But our home had a new name.
“West Midlands.” Where's the character in that?
Some objected; they considered that they were of sterner stuff.
Continued to use “Staffs.” in weak defiance.
Wrote letters to the papers, to their MPs to the PM
But it could only end in their compliance.
The fait had been accompli
And thoroughly and promptly
The boundaries of Staffordshire receded.
The ears they turned were deaf.
No use appealing to the ref.
Any opposition to it went unheeded
But some of us, like history, will take a longer view
Not everyone thinks bigger must be best
And identity's a tricky thing to try to take away
Not something that can just be dispossessed.
Here's my old school tie.
I look at it and sigh.
To see the emblem of the knot repeated there.
Nostalgia? Well, perhaps.
But though the years elapse
Some bonds exist that are too strong to tear.