Hot Dog Delight

For some reason, Chinese people don’t understand the concept of lines:  lining up in an orderly fashion and being served in the order of your arrival or waiting patiently until it’s your turn.  It’s not all Chinese people, but in my experience so far, it is a majority of Chinese people, especially in Changsha.

People gather around, push, shove, and cut lines.  It’s like a fight for survival.  Everyone gets his or her game face on.  It’s quite stressful.  It happens when I’m at the bus stop waiting for the bus.  It happens when I’m at my school cafeteria waiting to get rice.  It happens when I’m getting ready to enter the train station.  It even happens when I’m standing on line at McDonalds.

Yes, I said McDonalds.  As most of you know, I have an affinity towards McDonalds.  That hasn’t changed, even though I’m on the other side of the globe.  Lucky for me, there are a bunch of 24 hour McDonalds all over the city.  They even have separate windows that serve only ice cream.

Yesterday I was standing on line at the McDonalds ice cream window.  I was next when suddenly 2 girls on my left stroll up to the window while the customer waiting to be served is still there.  They go right up to the window, even though they see me, and they immediately place their order after the customer gets his ice cream.  I was surprised that they were so nonchalant about it, like they had the right to do whatever they wanted, like social decency and a respect for social order wasn’t something they needed to abide by, like they were above it.  I should have said something, but I didn’t know how to fully express my anger in Chinese.  I wanted to say something along the lines of, “(insert expletive here), don’t cut the line, or else I’ll cut you!” Well, maybe not so extreme, but something with that fervor.  However, I didn’t know how to communicate myself effectively, so I just let it happen.  After they were served, this young teenage boy strolls up to the window too and blatantly cuts me in line.  At this point, I don’t care that I can’t communicate with words, I push my way up there and cast him to the side.  Sadly, his money is in his hand, and the cashier takes his order after mine, ringing us both up at the same time.   I do get my ice cream sundae first, and before walking away, I give him a dirty look.

I couldn’t believe this punk was trying to cut me in line right after someone else just did it.  If something called a line exists, why would people think it’s okay to not follow it, especially for something so minor as waiting for ice cream?  Everyone will get a turn.  And it won’t take a lifetime to complete the order either.  It only takes a matter of minutes.  It’s McDonalds ice cream for Christ’s sake!  This whole thing is very upsetting.  And frustrating.  And simply not okay.  If people cut lines in America, especially in New York, they better be ready to fight, either verbally or even physically.  Stuff like that just doesn’t fly.

All I can say is after last night, I’m fed up.  And I’m not gonna take it anymore.  I’m brushing up on my Chinese, and the next time someone tries to cut me, I’ll be ready to defend my spot.  To the death.

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There are times when foreign English teachers have to judge English competitions here.  It’s part of our job description.  We recently had one at my school.  It was the Finals Competition for 7th graders, 8th graders, and high school students.  The competition lasted about 2.5 hours.  There were 3 rounds, and in each round we had to eliminate 1-2 participants per grade based on our scoring.  There were 3 judges:  me and 2 other foreign English teachers at my school.

The most memorable participant was this little boy in the 8th grade.  I wish I had a camera that night so that I could have recorded it and shared it with all of you.  It was absolutely precious.  I had tears in my eyes because it was so funny, but I had to stifle my laughs since he took the whole thing so seriously.  During the talent portion of the completion, he reenacted a scene from Titanic.  Most students memorized speeches, read passages, or sang a song.  He reenacted the scene from Titanic when Jack and Rose are on the ship, and they are pretending to fly.  That’s right.  He played both roles.  He was Jack and Rose.

He would physically switch sides whenever he was switching roles.  Throughout his act, My Heart Will Go On was playing in the background.  Then when he was done with his act, he started singing, belting out the lyrics right alongside Celine.  It was by far the most entertaining part of the evening.  His pronunciation wasn’t very good, and he wasn’t a very good singer.  Sadly he was eliminated early on, but he definitely made a lasting impression!  If we could have picked a winner based on creativity, it would have been him.  Some of these students are kind of amazing and I heart them.

There is no indoor heating in Hunan.  It’s too expensive, so people go without it.  There is no fall in Changsha.  It goes from summer (which is ridiculously hot, humid, and uncomfortable) to a week or so of what would be considered fall, then straight to winter.  The weather is awful here.  All the locals know it and readily admit it.  The winters are cold and rainy.  The temperature doesn’t get too low, generally around the 30s-40s.  But when there is no indoor heat, and wherever you go, you can’t get warm, it feels much colder than you would think.

Luckily there is heat in my apartment.  I have an air conditioner unit that can double as a heater too.  It’s not very powerful, but it works and it keeps the apartment not cold.  I have 3 rooms in my apartment, so it’s quite spacious, but harder to heat.  Notice I didn’t say warm.  It’s not quite warm.  It’s just not cold.  I bought a space heater last week to put right in front of me, wherever I am in the apartment.  I wish I could take it to the bathroom when I showered, but I’m afraid I would electrocute myself.  I place it by my side when I’m sitting in my living room and when I’m in my bedroom.  There is no heat in my bedroom, so I bought an extra comforter for my bed.  I’m going to get another space heater soon and an electric blanket too.

It might seem excessive, but it really does get quite cold here.  The electric blankets are not like the ones back at home where you can wrap yourself around something soft and warm.  They’re more like an electric matt, and you place it under your bed sheet.  They warm the bed though, and I’ve been told they’re pretty effective.

The electricity went out in my apartment last weekend.  There was a short circuit on the 3rd and 4th floors of my building on Friday, and the maintenance person said he wouldn’t be able to fix it until Monday.  Apparently he couldn’t buy the part until Monday, even though it was only 3pm on Friday.

It’s shocking how cold a place can get without any heat.  The only thing that worked was my lights.  I braved sitting in my apartment for a couple of hours until I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes anymore, even though I was wearing 4 layers and a jacket.  Then I kept myself occupied for the rest of the weekend out and about, and I also stayed in a fellow teacher’s apartment.

No electricity means no hot water.  I wore the same clothes all weekend long, and I didn’t shower.  I could have easily showered at a friend’s apartment; she lives just below me and had electricity, but I didn’t.  Don’t worry, I didn’t smell.  It’s cold, so it’s not like I sweat.  I have to tell you though, that after not showering the entire weekend, I got comfortable with not showering.  I will admit that I didn’t shower for more than 2 days, even after the electricity came back in my apartment, but less than a week.  You can use your imagination to guess how long I really went without showering.  The bathroom is just so cold with its tile floors, large window, and lack of heat!

It looks like it’s going to be a long, cold winter full of showerless nights in Changsha.  Don’t judge me.

No matter how much some things change, some things always remain the same.  My lack of motivation to work out is a constant in my life.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but there was a time, a few months ago, when I was in pretty good shape.  I even ran a half-marathon in May.  Yeah.  Pretty impressive, I know.

I ran every day or every other day for 4 months.  Then I ran the half-marathon and I got tired.  Tired of running.  Tired of sticking to a schedule.  And then I went to China in August.  And I thought, No problem.  I’ll have tons of free time in China.  I’ll get back on a routine, piece of cake.

Well, I was wrong.  Not a piece of cake.  I joined a local gym at the end of August and have only been there 5 times, if even.  It’s not that I don’t have the time to go.  I have so much time.  I have more free time now than I did when I was still in the States.  The only responsibilities I have here are teaching 20 hours a week and lesson planning for my classes.  Every day, I have at least a 2 hour break for lunch before I teach my afternoon classes.  Besides teaching, I study Chinese, which I don’t devote enough time to either.

For some reason, I can’t bring myself to ever walk the 15 minutes it takes to get to the gym.  I try to psych myself up during the day or the night before, and tell myself, Today is the day I am going to actually go to the gym. Today is the day I am going to go running. And when the day comes, I just don’t do it.

It’s a pattern.  I go through highs and lows.  I have bursts of being physically fit, wanting to exercise.  And I’m usually pretty good for a while.  And then something happens, and I’m not good anymore.  Far from good.  Bad.  Really bad.  And working out is the last thing I want to do.  The longer I don’t work out, the less likely I will.

As the winter quickly approaches here in Changsha, I find myself even less motivated.  It’s just such an effort to walk to the gym, take off all my layers, change into gym clothes, sweat, then change back into my layers, and walk back home.  The very thought exhausts me.  Instead, all I want to do is eat lots of food and sit in front of my space heater watching TV shows I’ve just downloaded from the internet.

Thanksgiving is next week and there is an all-you-can-eat buffet at the Sheraton Hotel:  turkey, stuffing, desserts, Chinese food, the works!  If I want to eat all that I want (which I’m planning to), then I’m going to have to somehow find my motivation again and work it out before or after hitting that buffet, or else it won’t be pretty!

Last month, one of my classes was really rowdy, really chatty, and not paying attention to the lesson.  I took points away from their class grade (each class starts off at 10 and I take 1 point away each time they are noisy or disrespectful).  The last straw was when a student, who was eating a banana (they all get snacks twice a day:  fruit in the morning, yoghurt drink in the afternoon), threw the peel at someone, missed, and it landed on the floor.

At that point, I was already frustrated at the noise level, so I stopped class, made everyone put their heads down, turned off my computer, told them we would sit for the last 15 minutes in silence, and then I told them that if they wanted to come to class next week, they had to write me an apology note in English.  If they didn’t have an apology note to hand to me, they wouldn’t be allowed in.

This was the second time I stopped my lesson and made them sit with their heads down.  It might seem severe, but I felt as if I was wasting my time.  Few students were actually paying attention, and the chatter was so loud it was hard for the good students to even hear what I was saying.  One of the Oral English teachers at my school used to do the same thing, and it worked for her.  The apology note technique worked for me too, because the class is now well-behaved.

The best part of the whole thing was reading the apology notes.  Kids use whatever English they have, they look up words in their dictionaries, or they copy from their friends.  Most don’t make sense.  One of my favorites is below:

In English class, we have happy time.  So, we are talking about happy.  Don’t see teacher.  finaly, English teacher are very angry.  Because, we are very bad.  We have afraid.  So we are very very sorry.  I feel afraid teacher……

Sally

In English class, we have happy time.  So, we are talking about happy.  Don’t see teacher.  finaly, English teacher are very angry.  Because, we are very bad.  We have afraid.  So we are very very sorry.  I feel afraid teacher……

Sally

I played a game of Pictionary at the end of one of my lessons a couple of weeks ago.  It was a lesson called Food in America, and kids had to come up, pick a card with a food name on it, draw the food on the blackboard, and pick a student to guess what food it was.  My kids love drawing stuff.  A bunch of them in one of my classes immediately raised their hands and jumped up to be called on to start the game.  Many of them said, “Teacher, teacher, let me try!”  One of my students, who just so happens to be one of my favorites in the class, said, “Teacher, let me try!  You are beautiful!”  What else could I do but pick him.  I had to.  He said I was beautiful.  Sometimes flattery will get you everywhere.

Being a teacher is hard.  There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  It’s November, and after teaching 20 classes of 65-70 7th graders in each class every week since September, I’m tired.  I only see each class once a week, and I teach the entire 7th grade.  I’m getting the hang of it, but it’s not easy.  Every day, every class, I have to discipline my students.  And it’s made all the harder since they don’t speak English.  There are some students who speak fantastic English and can understand everything or almost everything I’m saying, there are some that have a basic understanding of what I’m saying, and then there are many students who have no idea what I’m saying, ever!  I use a lot of Chinese in my classes, just so kids at least know what’s going on.

One of the Chinese Literature teachers said it best.  He told me one day in the office, in front of some of his students, that sometimes you just love your students because they’re so cute, but sometimes you just hate them because they’re so naughty.  Then he translated it for them to understand.  And I couldn’t have said it better.  There are moments when I genuinely love my students, and I feel so proud to be their teacher.  There are moments when I have fun, and I enjoy being a teacher.  But then the moment dissipates, more often than not because students won’t stop chatting, being rowdy or annoying, and I hate them.  And I hate being a teacher.

After nearly 3 months of teaching, I’m just now starting to get the hang of it.  But there are still times when I don’t know what to do, or I get frustrated.  The disciplining might be the hardest part of being a teacher.  My students are young, and so they need a lot of discipline or else they take advantage and go crazy.  It’s quite exhausting.  Oral English is not taken as seriously as their other subjects, and since I don’t have to follow a set curriculum and I can be a bit more creative and free with my lessons, students see it as a break from their busy schedules, and oftentimes will goof off or do work for their other classes during my class.

It’s a struggle to keep everyone focused on the lesson, especially with so many different levels in each class.  I also have to constantly mix up my methods of discipline to keep things fresh and interesting for myself.  I’ve kicked students out, taken their magazines/homework/toys for a week or longer, guilted students into being quiet, and my personal favorite, made them write apology notes or else I wouldn’t teach them the following week.  I’ve made students cry a number of times.  And while it was easy to do in the beginning, now that I’ve established a rapport with them and have gotten to know them, I don’t take as much joy in making them cry as I used to.  If they cry, I know they take what I’m saying seriously and most likely won’t do whatever it was that made me yell at them in the first place, again.  Unlike in the U.S. where students would take it personally and hate you forever for embarrassing them in front of their peers, Chinese students don’t take it personally.  You can kick them out and yell at them one day, but later that day, they’ll still like you.  My students still call me beautiful, or tell me that they love me.

It’s not that the kids are so horrible that I need to be so hard on them.  It’s the principle.  They are capable of being quiet and not talking for 40 minutes once a week.  They are quiet in their other classes, but they choose not to be quiet in mine.  They think they can get away with it in my class, since I’m just the Oral English teacher.  And that simply won’t do!

So I try my best, and for the most part, my kids are well-behaved.  There are just a few classes, and a few kids in every class that are not.  Then there are the bad kids who I can’t help but like and think are funny.  They simply warm my heart.  They’re the kids who don’t want to learn English, but yelling at them doesn’t help, so I have them help me in other ways, either with quieting the class or carrying my stuff to the next class.

I know after this experience that I could be a teacher if I wanted to be, but I also know that after this experience, I definitely don’t want to be a teacher.  Sometimes I’d rather just know the kids and have fun with them instead of being their disciplinarian and educator.  Being a teacher is hard.  Kudos to all the teachers out there!