The Souvenir

Yesterday was an eventful one. It was a nasty, rainy day from the start, and the weather kept me feeling like I should continue to awkwardly smash at the snooze button for a few hours beyond normal. I think I was expecting to somehow awaken magically refreshed, but it turned out to be a fruitless - if not masochistic - endeavor.

Gah, it shits me to second-guess my spelling these days. The majority of books we work from use British English, which I'm beginning to hate at a level more irrational than most people. It's not out of some form of cultural superiority or bitterness for having formerly been a colony of theirs (I mean, hey, who hasn't?). I'm more annoyed at how the words are needlessly longer (eg. "color" vs. "colour") and more complex (eg. "They have a ball." vs. "They have got a ball."). It's childish, of course, but what do you expect? I work around children all day.

And not just any kids, but some genuinely spoiled little bastards - the youngest (~5 years old) having had no prior experience in a classroom environment. Even with my worst class, it's arguably easy to maintain classroom control by stuffing the misbehaving kids in chairs and corners, but doing so is effectively removing them from the learning environment. The worst I've had to do is pick up, carry sideways, and deposit outside a kid who, in-between bouts of running around, wanted nothing more than to do a handstand with his feet on the wall. The TA at the time felt this was too harsh, but I'll be damned if she's going to be tied up dealing exclusively with that one kid (with loud and distracting Chinese threats, no less) while I need her help in managing the other 13 in the class. Likewise, official policy be damned: if I had to "warn" them about what I was going to do each time, it means they would just get one more chance to misbehave before the problem could be solved, and at the expense of the other students' learning and my personal sanity.

Those who know me may vouch for how little of that I had to start with.

As for the kid I kicked out, I told the TA to "make sure he knows why he's out there." What she reported to me after class was enlightening. The boy's mother had come out from the lobby to see what the deal was. Not only is she paying the school for her kid to be sidelined, but there's the issue of her losing face among the other parents with students in the room. So the mom asked the boy what was going on, and he apparently kicked into puppy-dog-eye mode, complete with comments such as, "Well, Mom, I'm trying really hard..." to which she replied something like, "That's fine, go and do your best." Give me a break.

It's not that he's some master charlatan, but the parents are just blinded by how vehemently they want to believe that their child is Heaven's gift to the Earth. For many reasons, especially economic conditions and the One Child Policy, parents that have a child can count on it being their last. Yet due to the strong cultural emphasis on family, it's a child that they're going to invest as much as they can into (including English lessons at a private school) and fight tooth and nail for. Not only for the sake of the child's personal success, but because once the parents grow older, they will have to count on the child to take care of them as well. Thus, no matter how much of a jackass the kid is, many parents are in this cloud of denial about their little angel. One of the other problem kids in that class was saying to his mother things like, "Shut up, I hate you."

Of course, she just chuckled and gave him some snacks.

It's hard enough attempting to just teach younger kids with the attention span of a fly. I certainly don't want to have to rear them as well, but I'm not going to shy away from the task; someone has to. If anything, that little incident has convinced me to be more of a hard-ass. You can still have fun and retain authority. I don't think children - even that young - will respect you if you just try to be everyone's friend and never call them on their shit. As an aside, while child abuse is still legal here, I certainly wouldn't endorse it. That said, I do grin at the idea of adding a new entry for "recommended number of beatings" on the progress reports. One of the other teachers actually keeps a "blacklist." Ha! I can't imagine the things our teachers must have thought or said about us...

So I think I was originally describing a rainy day. Sorry, it's just how my brain works... if indeed that is the verb to use.

While it got off to a dreary start, I did happen upon something quite fortuitous while fording the rivers that temporarily appear around my neighborhood whenever it rains hard. The pavement isn't level and certainly not designed with drainage in mind, so my morning journey involves a healthy dose of island-hopping.

With my eyes scanning the ground for the usual puddles and pit-traps, I caught sight of a soggy 20 RMB banknote sitting on the sidewalk. "O Fortuna," I wept aloud to the clouds through my gift-bin umbrella of minimal body coverage! It was as though in one divine act, my months of near-constant toil and intoxication were finally acknowledged. I skipped like a little girl all the way to work (well, more than normal).

After all, 20 RMB can buy, like, 10 beers.

I hung my little Mao out to dry and pampered him with all the fixings of an under-budgeted office environment. A paper clip, or even one of those black alligator-clip thingies that is fun to play with but hurts like a bitch if you try attaching it to a chunk of flesh too small to adequately distribute the immense pressure you didn't think it was capable of due to its misleadingly small size, may have been involved. I'm not sure - it all happened so fast and I was high on life at the time. When it was time to head out from the home base for an off-site gig, I grabbed the bill so it could cover my return trip by cab, as all I had was an 100 ...Mao.

I might not have mentioned before, but The Chairman's calm and reassuring visage - the same exact picture - graces all of the bills: 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100. The colors of each are different, but this continues to mess with my head because I'm much better at picking out differences of pattern rather than color. Yes, there's other imagery on the bills, but if Mao's looking at you, you'd best be looking back. That's all I'm saying... it's distracting as hell. The currency isn't actually called "Mao," (it's usually called "RMB," "renminbi," "yuan," or "quai") but it might as well be. Is China's government trying to say "Mao was so mind-blowingly awesome, he should be on everything" or were the flattering portraits of the other famed people in China's long history too few and far between?

Armed with my new twenty, I did my class, hopped in a taxi, got back to the office, shed a tear of joy and paid the man. After he handed me the change, he started up in a heated voice using non-taxi protocol language. It took a minute for me to figure out he was saying that he wouldn't take the 20, and he held it over another that he had and sure enough, mine was a counterfeit. My world came crashing down around me, but due to its sturdy frame, the taxi cab shrugged off the blows and I was able to successfully change my 100 and pay the driver.

I knew it was too good to be true! I'm convinced that in China, even if there was an enormous turd of unrivaled, fibrous strength, someone would bear the stench and pry the last bits of corn from it before it had a chance to cool. Things are scavenged or outright stolen at lightning speed, and people are never in short supply, so what are the chances that I'd find an unmolested item of pure value in a public place? Zero, historically speaking.

Oh China, you are too much fun.


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