Third Installment of the China story
Fourth Installment of the China story
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After three hours of uneventful flying the plane commenced with its descent mode. The slow gradual approach into Shanghai seemed to take forever. The terrain passing below consisted of a patchwork of farm fields and rice paddies. These were separated by a vast network of canals and irrigation ditches, busy with barge and boat traffic. The houses seemed large, but I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that they must be dwellings that sheltered a number of families. As the plane dropped to about a thousand feet I started seeing traces of the urban sprawl surrounding the city of Shanghai. The sound of landing gear dropping into place signaled the approach of the airport, and I watched intently out the window. I didn't know what to expect.
When my flight touched down in Shanghai in the early afternoon of September 1, 1989, I had an uncomfortable, sinking feeling that it was going to be a very long year. As I readied myself to leave the aircraft I felt my stomach slowly tightening, and I wasn't yet sure why. Bicycles scurried along the tarmac next to the plane as it taxied towards the terminal. Hand carts waited to shuttle the bags to the baggage claim. The terminal appeared as if it had been thrown together by the blast of an atom bomb. Despite the fact that I was arriving on a brand-spankin' new Boeing 737, I searched for evidence that would confirm that this was the latter half of the twentieth century. I don't remember whether I expected to be entering a halfway modernized environment or to be overwhelmed by a culture reminiscent of the ancient dynasties. All that kept entering my mind was how awkward and archaic everything seemed. Any image of China that I had conjured up prior to that moment had been shattered once I stepped off the plane. I was met by overcast skies and incredible humidity as I descended
the gangway. The parade of passengers filed into the baggage claim area, hurrying to get a stray luggage cart to haul their bags, lest they be forced to shell out a single yuán to the handcart renter.
"Wait a minute, this isn't a teacher exchange, I've been sentenced to hard time in Swelterville."
As I waited for my luggage to come into the terminal from the plane, I became nervous about going through customs. The fact that I hadn't anything to hide made this concern even more ridiculous. After claiming my luggage I easily cleared customs, the three officials at the counter were far less scrutinizing than I had anticipated. One was a tall slender man and the other two were short stocky women. They had a difficult time seeing me over the bags that sat on the counter. Since I was entering a communist country I had expected a thorough search of my bags and body cavities, but they simply asked, "Have you anything to declare?"
"That's very good English," I replied, and then realized it would be best to watch my mouth and just answer the questions. This drew a curious glance from the clerks, who seemed to find nothing humorous about the exchange.
"Declare? You mean in my luggage? Nope. No sir, not today!"
They looked at me for a few awkward seconds. The heads tilted, the brows furrowed. This continued a moment or two before the tall one gave the signal for me to move on. Not seeing the need to dawdle any longer, I went looking for anyone from the Shanghai Foreign Language School who I'd hoped might be there to greet me. Outside the quiet confines of the customs office the scene changed dramatically. In the heart of the terminal were hundreds of people pushing and shoving to get through the exit door that I faced. Because of all the shouting and shoving I thought perhaps I'd happened upon some massive protest rally, but in actuality this was how the Chinese waited to greet their arriving guests. People were being pushed closer and closer to the terminal doors and some even wound up with their faces painfully pressed against the huge windows. I half expected the glass to give way under such pressure and for a dozen or so waiting Chinese to fall through the opening with the cascading shrapnel. I stood for a while waiting, and then wondered out loud, "Crap! How'm I ever going to get through that?"
As the throng slowly surged forward I spotted two hands, extending above the crowd, holding a sign with my name on it. These hands belonged to a woman who eventually squeezed her way to the front of the mob and greeted me with a warm hello. Together we struggled to get back through the sea of humanity that blocked the exit and somehow got out the door without losing any of my bags or appendages. As we stepped out into the day I could sense a peculiar beginning. As we reached the school car I dropped my luggage behind it and stole a moment for contemplation. My time in China was going to be quite the experience, no matter how it turned out, but I wasn't sure how ready I was to handle it all at that point. Of course I'd survive it, probably become a lot wiser, learn a few lessons, and live to tell about it, but keeping that all in perspective wasn't so easy. Time would tell.
We tossed my bags into the trunk of an old Chinese automobile that had a body remotely resembling that of a 50's Mercedes. The driver smiled a crooked grin while puffing his cigarette and offered me the front passenger seat. As we spun out of the parking lot I began to wonder about the requirements for a driver's license in China, and about this particular driver's record - his grin turned to a smirk. Sitting in the front seat, I rolled the window down and tried to relax, while my greeters, Han and Miss Xing, rode in the back. They made conversation, but for the first few minutes I was too busy fanning away the driver's cigarette smoke and absorbing the surrounding environment to hear. For reasons known only to him, the driver chose to go through the middle of town, getting caught up in the slow moving traffic. I discovered later that this was a very roundabout way of getting to the school. Throughout the ride I was swamped with visual stimuli. I can't even remember what it was that I expected to see - most likely movie images, such as rickshaws, Buddha temples, and lots of rice paddies. My first impressions centered on the filth - where did it all come from? I was awe struck with the city, but in a somewhat disturbing way. People and bicycles were everywhere, and I wondered how such a huge population could survive in those crowded conditions. From an environmental perspective
bicycles made a lot of sense. I was looking forward to being one of those bicycle riders. I like bicycle riding - especially in flat cities. If nothing else, this would be a great year for people watching. And the vast majority of the people I encountered sure seemed to enjoy watching me. Foreigners were prime targets for stares, simply by virtue of the fact that we looked so different.
The ride from the airport to the school took almost fifty-five minutes - I was happy once we arrived and I could stretch my legs. We dropped my bags in the dorm room which would be my new home and then drove to the school to get the basics of my teaching duties. By day's end my brain had been saturated with new information. My head had been on a constant swivel trying to take in all the sights. I had no bearings as to what was north or south and could easily gotten lost without much effort. I had forgotten, almost immediately, the names of the people I'd been introduced to. This is most embarrassing, especially when you're trying to figure out subtle ways to reacquaint yourself with someone's name. So many things to know and learn. Truthfully, it was overwhelming - almost painfully so.
So there I sat. It felt good to be in the room and alone for a while, but after an hour or so I began to get a bit rattled. I was dead tired but had too many things running through my mind to relax. It was Friday afternoon, which meant I'd have a whole weekend to catch up on sleep and try to get adjusted to this strange place. It was going to be difficult - it almost seemed as if I'd convinced myself of that.
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On the following Monday I received the grand tour of the school and a
lengthy explanation of the rules and policies of the institute. More things to remember and peoples' names to forget. Shanghai Foreign Language School, which was attached to Shanghai International Studies University, or S.I.S.U., was the site of my teaching assignment for the entire school year. The school offered a variety of languages to study, including Russian, German, French, Japanese, and Spanish. The English department, however, was by far the largest. This meant that their budget was also larger, affording them the money to hire two foreign experts. They were soon to wonder how much expert they got for their money.
I taught conversational English, and American History, with lectures on cultural things given every other Thursday afternoon. I checked in each day with a teacher named Miss Zhang, whose main group of students consisted of about forty sophomore level kids. We split her two classes in half and kept this arrangement for the entire year. The school assigned an interpreter to work with me to help me get adjusted. His name was Yao, a tall, bespectacled gentleman of about twenty-four, and his first assignment was to introduce me to the Head Mistress, Luo Peiming. She spoke German quite well, but Yao was necessary for interpreting my English and her Chinese. She welcomed me to the school and spoke a few niceties on behalf of the whole faculty. Yao poured us each a cup of tea. Being as humid as it was a cup of tea was the last thing I wanted, but it was a formality with which I was to become accustomed. I was then presented with a contract for the school year. It seemed fairly easy to understand. All of the details had been hashed out between our two administrations prior to my arrival, so there was no need to haggle or negotiate. I signed it there in her office, and before I had a chance to sample the tea we were ushered politely out the door. Yao then took me to an open market on our way to deal with a few of the basic business necessities. I took notice of the produce available and bought two small bananas. A photo studio was located on the corner of the same street as the market. Yao brought me there to have a picture taken for my White Card and I.D. card. After being shown the whereabouts of the post office and how the dining hall functioned I found it
less necessary to bother Yao for help. Surely he would have better things to do with his time than to follow me around, though I'm sure it was by a mandate, handed down from his boss. I thanked him for his time and from then on tended to get around more independently.
Finding my bicycle wasn't always easy
I think the school had intended for him to watch after me a little closer, but it started to come across more like
concerned hovering than interpreting, and I avoided Yao for a while - just to test my theory. After a week had gone by he finally caught up with me during lunch in the English office. I had just ridden in from my dorm to check the daily mail. I told him that I was getting about just fine. It seemed as though he found this hard to believe. When he followed this with a string of questions it felt a bit like I was a teenager who had just come home from a late night out and had a little explaining to do.
"I haven't seen you in a while," he said.
"I've been very busy," I said, as sincerely as possible.
"But you have no classes to teach today?"
"Right," I said, "This is my day off."
"Have you been eating your lunch? I don't see you in the office so much."
"Yeah, I've been eating at the cafeteria by my dorm," I said, not yet wanting to explain the strange mix of friends I had newly met there.
"Do they use the same meal tickets as here?"
"No, I bought some from the fúwùyuán in my building."
"Oh, I see you have learned some new Chinese words. That's good."
He then pointed to my hands, "Those are strange gloves. They have no fingers."
"They're bicycle gloves," I replied.
"You have a bicycle?"
"Yes, It belonged to the teacher who was here last year."
"You should have the license registered. This is very important."
"Okay, I'll take care of that this week," I said, pretty sure the situation didn't require immediate action.
This seemed to go on and on for a few minutes. I'm sure he was only trying to do his job - it must have come across like I was deliberately being difficult. That was not my intent. Yao later help me with a few errands and I did my best to show my appreciation for his efforts.
The work schedule was ideal. Each week I taught thirteen classes that were 45 minutes each. These were typical hours for a Chinese teacher and I was happy to follow the norm. This afforded me at least three days off a week, and sometimes four. Had it been possible to obtain round-trip train tickets in China, perhaps I would have traveled more during my days off. I taught two different groups of Chinese students, and instead of the students changing classrooms for each period it was the teacher who changed rooms. I thought that the students would get bored with this arrangement, but it seemed to strengthen their sense of unity and comradery. I must have appeared apprehensive when I stood before my students on the first day. Even though these students had been taught by an American teacher two years earlier, they too appeared a bit nervous about their new foreign instructor. We were on somewhat similar ground. They knew nothing about me and I knew nothing about them.
Two years had passed since Miss Marsha, a teacher from Nebraska, had encouraged them to select English sounding names to use during class - including some which were slightly unconventional. I'm referring to a boy who had chosen the name Shopping, and a girl called Sprite. Never thought to ask them why they picked these names, but I wish I had, I've since grown very curious. The alternative was for me to learn their Chinese names, and this is why I gladly accepted any English name they chose. The two text books for the class were interesting publications from Great Britain, and I ended up spending a fair amount of time explaining the many differences between English and American. The students delighted in what they called my "peculiar accent". They had spent the past several years learning British English and their choice of words often demonstrated this. I tried several different methods to get them to speak informally in English, but class discussions usually brought on few responses. On one occasion I tried to start a discussion on the events of Tiananmen Square, but was told quite tersely by Kathryn, normally quite a shy girl, that some internal problems are not meant for the outside world to quibble over. Since the events in Beijing had been student initiated I thought that my students might be eager to express their opinions on the matter. I later learned that each class had a monitor that reported to school officials and that this action by Kathryn was simply a way to cover her hide and squelch any further risky discussion on the topic. Had anyone chosen to express their personal views on the subject the monitor most likely would have passed on their views to the proper school authorities. This type of atmosphere does not promote active participation.
Their classroom manner was a bit more rigid than what I was used to. One idea I did enjoy was the fact that they stood when answering questions. This made it very clear as to who should be talking and who should be listening. I did have quite a bit of difficulty getting them to speak with confidence. They had the skill, but lacked the self esteem to give it a try. We worked on this the entire year and I noticed some amazing progress in several of my students. Some of their antics were surprisingly similar to those of my students in America. Trying to get the teacher off the topic, for example, and on to one of their choosing. They told me that it would be good for their listening skills if I were the one to do most of the talking. They asked me about life in America and questions about the high school where I taught. By the end of the school year they had begun asking about my personal life. I tended to spruce those stories up, hoping to get a reaction as well as to check whether they were actually comprehending or not.
One of the other difficult tasks I had in the first few weeks of school was establishing a working rapport with my students, hoping it wouldn't take too long for them to get used to me. In the beginning I remember being troubled, but not because they presented any discipline problems - quite the opposite in fact. It's just that I wasn't' accustomed to such well behaved students. I didn't have the normal confrontations when trying to get the upper hand in classroom management. There simply was no vying for position or authority. They had been brought up in such a way that I pretty much had command once I stepped through the door. Whenever I would walk into the room to begin class they would stand at attention at their desks and wait for my greeting, then sit down quietly. I imagine they did this the first week because they weren't sure how stern I might be. With the exception of trying to get me sidetracked in our discussions, they never acted rude, never tried to manipulate me, and never gave me cause to raise my voice. This was something I hadn't experienced in the classes I'd taught in America.
Having only twenty students in each of my classes helped tremendously in keeping things focused and under control. My Friday afternoon history lessons combined both classes, giving me a total of forty students. Sometimes these classes would get a bit lively - something I truly welcomed, compared to the occasional morgue-like settings in my English classes. During a lecture where I explained the impeachment of U.S. President Andrew Johnson, I decided to use several students as props in a demonstration of the senate vote in Johnson's trial. Before class had begun, I had asked several of Miss Zhang's students to cast votes during the "trial" and chose one boy to be Edmund Ross, the young senator from Kansas who would cast the deciding vote in the trial. I had explained to him before the lecture that I would call on him, and that he should respond, in character, and cast his vote. While embellishing the circumstances of the trial I called for a quick congressional vote. Each student called upon responded as they had been asked. After tallying the deadlock on the chalkboard I explained how the impeachment trial came down to one last cataclysmic vote.
"Gentlemen of the Senate," I hollered, pounding heavily on the podium, "at this time we call on Senator Ross of Kansas for his vote on this very important issue."
As I pointed to the young student whom I had spoken with before the lecture, I beheld the intrigue that seemed to take over the rest of the class. All eyes were riveted to the young man, not knowing that he had been prompted with the correct response. He rose slowly in his chair, looked around the room with a shy, half-grin on his face, and quite deliberately cast his vote.
The class cheered at what they saw as a just verdict. I think most of them were surprised that he knew the correct thing to say. It was one of those fun, magic moments that you wish could have been captured on film. It was probably one of the only history lectures they really enjoyed. Though I hadn't learned the young student's name before that day, thanks to his friends who attended the lecture that afternoon, he became known as Edmund Ross. From then on he seemed to enjoy being greeted that way when I passed him in the hall.
The attendance record of the English classes was to be lauded as well. I had only one student who was absent for more than one day the entire year- Charlie. Charlie missed several days. Attendance records in my class weren't kept, but I know he missed at least fifteen days. For my other students this might have posed a problem, but not for Charlie. It wasn't a major concern for me. He must have been spending his time downtown practicing his English on foreigners, because his speaking skills were the best in the class. He spoke with confidence, and had a vocabulary with words most of my other students hadn't even heard, let alone used. He also understood that I expected him to make up the work he missed. I never asked him why he was absent so much of the time. I figured that was the school administration's business and they'd deal with it as they saw fit. He really destroyed the curve when it came to grading the oral part of the final exam.
Charlie had a classmate, named Claire, who had good English skills as well. Claire deserves to be mentioned because she was the only student in my classes who understood and demonstrated the fine art of sarcasm. She would often make remarks during a discussion that just cracked me up. I don't think the other students even had a clue as to why I was laughing, but Claire, with her dry sense of humor, seemed to know just the right thing to say.
Thursdays were by far the easiest days when it came to teaching. The English Department supplied each class with an audio-taped presentation that matched a lesson in a corresponding text book. All I did was place the tape in the player, let the students listen, usually twice, and then have them fill in the blanks in their book. It was called "Step by Step", and I enjoyed these tapes because they never ran the entire length of the class, giving me plenty of opportunity to talk informally with the students. They loved it whenever I explained an idea by drawing pictures on the chalkboard. Many times, after drawing on the board, I would ask one of my students to come up and label the drawing in Chinese. They would pronounce the word for me and then ask me to repeat it. This method worked for just about every drawing,
except when I drew a pizza and tried to explain this particular food. Pizza is just pizza. The Chinese have a word for it, but when it was explained to me this word really seemed to miss the mark. They were intrigued by pizza, but thought they might not like it because of all the cheese. Chinese are generally not too fond of cheese. I assured them that it was something easy to make, and that modifications were very acceptable.
My students enjoyed any attempts of mine to speak Chinese, even when the pronunciations were way off. To them it was enough that I had tried. Sometimes I would learn a new Chinese word from my new friends András or Andrew and then share it with my class, asking if I'd pronounced it correctly. If I was able to write it on the board they were even more impressed. Their responses to my attempts at speaking Chinese were similar to what I encountered out on the streets of Shanghai. No matter how much I mangled a word - and I usually did - the response was, "Your Chinese is very good." I admired their politeness, but I don't think my Chinese ever improved.
On each of the days that I taught I had each group for at least two class sessions. There was a ten minute break in between classes and this afforded me enough time to go get a bite to eat, or more importantly, to check for mail. More times than not I walked away disappointed. The frustration stemmed from not knowing who to blame - or actually, knowing that blaming someone wouldn't help the situation. In actuality, the reason I wasn't getting mail was because the Chinese postal system operated at a slug's pace and very few of my friends were writing letters. In addition to being guards, the men at the front gate also served as receiving clerks. They checked the stack of mail right in front of me, hoping that I would spot any of my mail since they couldn't read English. They could, however, recognize what English looked like and would offer me any envelope that wasn't addressed in Chinese. Though the mail service was slow it operated seven days a week, and I would also stop by the school on Sundays hoping to get lucky. When there was nothing in the mail bundle for me the kind and sympathetic men in the guard house would shrug and sigh, "Mei you. Mei you."
This, simply put, means there's nothing. Although it was a letdown to walk away empty-handed I still got a kick out of their attempts to ease my disappointment. It was almost three and a half weeks before I got my first letter and my students were very excited for me when that happened.
The school dining hall had a tiny bakery attached to it that sold sweet rolls and bread during the school day. Actually, the sweet rolls were not very sweet, but they did fill a void. The rolls also provided me something to munch on as I stood and read the morning paper, the China Daily - later to be labeled by my new friend Andrew as a "two-bit, half-wit, propaganda rag". Eating lunch at school on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays afforded me the pleasure of eating excellent hun dun, arguably the finest available in town. Some people call them potstickers, but they're just dumplings filled with meat and vegetables - and they're delicious. I kept two porcelain bowls and a big stainless steel spoon in my desk, for this was the only way to get fed. The cafeteria supplied no bowls, plates, or utensils for the people dining there. On these hun dun days the kitchen occasionally ran short and some of the students would have to buy food in the other lunch lines. I usually didn't eat breakfast and by lunchtime I was as eager to get to the dining hall as my students. Although completely
unauthorized, I made it a habit to let my class out a minute early so that we were sure to get a good spot in line. The word "line" is not the best to describe how they queued up for food. It was basically push, shove, and hope you didn't spill or get spilled on.
My students delighted in the fact that I often purchased two bowls of hun dun. They seemed amazed that I could eat that much. It was tasty enough for me to regret that I didn't have room for more. It was so soothing and delicious that later in the year I encouraged my friends to join me for lunch. They thought it strange that I would get so worked up about dumplings, but after they ate with me they changed their tune. Hun dun - true comfort food. Most of the other food served there was completely unrecognizable. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I would eat my lunch back at the university.
On the first day of every month I was paid my salary of ¥1000 in cash at the dispersing clerk's office on the first floor. ¥1000 at the time was equal to about $212, which may not seem like squat, but it was plenty - considering the low cost of living.
Though the differences between Rénmínbì and FEC caused a little confusion at first - I'll explain this later - the basic idea behind Chinese currency was pretty easy to pick up. The yuán, or kuài, is the Chinese dollar and the fen (pronounced "fun") is the cent. They have a small paper note, called a jioa - also refered to as a "máo" by the locals - that serves as their dime unit. The jiao is more common than the fen since most prices are rounded off to the nearest dime. When a sales clerk or shop owner would quote a price for an item they would give the yuán amount followed by the jiao. For example - if something cost ¥1.60 it would be stated, "Yi kuài liù," or "One dollar, six," not mentioning the "máo" at the end. Soon as I learned to count in Chinese my life got a lot easier.
The head dispersing clerk at the school was a cheery, fat, and vocal man who for some reason thoroughly enjoyed my once-a-month visits. He would escort me past the others in line and bring me back behind the counter so that I could check for myself to see if they had paid me the right amount. I trusted him completely, but I think he was just making sure he covered his ass. As he stood by smiling I sat and counted this ridiculously thick stack of bills and then signed the ledger to show I'd been paid the correct salary. Since most Chinese teachers were only given a fraction of the amount I was paid it was a little embarrassing, and I would try to do the counting as discreetly as possible. They usually paid me in ten-yuán bills, and ¥1000 was a fair lot to count. Then he would say something friendly in Chinese and I'd be on my way.
When teaching my Chinese students I found them to be very similar to my American students in the sense that both groups enjoyed a bit of variety now and then. This included watching a little television in the classroom. I hadn't any language videos to show them so I figured a movie in English might do. I had with me a video copy of the MGM classic The Wizard of Oz, and played it to my entire class one morning. Though I had to explain the dialogue in a few places, they enjoyed it immensely and asked if I had any other American films. Unfortunately the only other videos I had were basic home movies which I thought they might find boring. I couldn't have been more mistaken. They especially liked the ten minutes of a Seattle Seahawk football game included at the end of the tape. This preceded a twenty minute discussion on the rules and objectives of American football. I was never actually told what to present for my Thursday afternoon American culture lectures and this made it possible to touch on a wide variety of topics. The audience during these sessions included only third year seniors so their English comprehension skills were slightly higher than my regular pupils. My first presentation was about the American male wallet. This common item that was carried by most men in the states provided a clever insight into the culture of my country. I talked about the money system, bank machines, checking accounts, credit cards, calling cards, and drivers licenses. This last subject led to further discussions on cars and how they are acquired, rules of the road, dating, drive-ins, gas stations, auto racing, and a huge variety of other related stories. By the end of the talk it felt more like I was doing a stand-up routine than a guest lecture. For some reason they were overly charmed by my presentation and I deeply appreciated their attentiveness. I'd never before had such a captive audience.
On one particular Thursday afternoon the normally scheduled American culture lecture was cancelled so that the students could go to the university auditorium to watch an all-school talent show. Each class was expected to put together some type of production to be performed in front of their schoolmates. I decided to attend for a short while and sat in the back so that an early exit would not draw attention. Some of my students from the afternoon lecture class noticed me sitting there and stopped by to chat. I was surprised that they spoke at such normal volume, as if there was nothing happening up on stage. They assured me that this was not unusual, nor was it considered offensive to the performers. We somehow got on the topic of dating, marriage, and choosing spouses, with most of my students thinking their parents could do a far better job of it for them. At that moment most of the boys pretended to lose interest and turned their gaze to the stage while keeping an ear in the ring. One of the girls was completely convinced that her mother knew what was best for her daughter and would be better able to choose a suitable husband. The concept of choosing a mate for romantic reasons was, as they put it, unwise. I granted them that, thinking along a more practical vein, but then asked them why they didn't want to select their own husband or wife. If they knew the desirable criteria, then why not set out to find the right mate? It seemed to them to be too difficult. I admired the faith they put in the
judgment of their parents.
Their questions became more bold, and of a more personal nature. They asked these questions in an embarrassed sort of way and I assured them that such curiosity was normal. I didn't come close to approaching topics that Dr. Ruth might handle, but we did get into the subject of dating practices in America. They began asking questions that they had probably been hesitant to pose during the culture lecturing that covered this topic. It was obvious that they were much more relaxed in a small group setting. It was a great opportunity for me to learn something of their culture, so I began a long line of questioning that they seemed happy to address. I learned that the average Chinese college student only dates one person. I don't mean one person at a time - I mean one person. Dating almost never occurs at the high school level and then only infrequently during the first two years of college. Though they notice the opposite sex they realize that dating distracts them from their studies, thus affecting their grades, their future job placement, and basically the rest of their lives. This control over their hormones, at least in theory, was quite commendable. Though not explained in such words, I gathered that failed relationships result in such devastating loss of face that students are extremely selective about who they choose to go out with. Casual dating just simply doesn't exist. And though premarital sex is not uncommon it almost exclusively occurs between a man and a woman who have decided to get married in the near future. They asked why I hadn't married yet and I facetiously suggested that it was due to my highly selective nature.
"I'm just too picky."
Perhaps my standards were too high - at least I'd like to think so. The conversation meandered on in many directions and think they enjoyed my candor. Although I'd been enjoying myself, I felt as though I'd been sitting too long, and after noticing the time excused myself to go eat.
The school building itself was in a saddening state of disrepair. It was mostly concrete, large and drafty - especially in the winter. It had no central heating system which meant that both student and teacher usually wore the same clothes to class that they arrived in. Regardless of the inconsistency of the winter winds my students preferred to keep the classroom windows open - except when the rain was coming down sideways. I often kept my hat on during the lessons and wore gloves without fingertips so that I could handle the chalk and keep my hands warm at the same time. Sometimes this was not enough and my fingers would cramp up, making it difficult to write on the blackboard. Since Shanghai had its share of dirt and pollution things tended to become dirty after a time. Normal clothing was easily washed, but larger items such as coats would be too difficult to launder often. To get around this problem the students used to were a separate protective sleeve over the two already on the coat. When these got soiled it was easy just to slip them off and throw in the laundry. I didn't bother with this, simply allowing my coat to get filthy and then washing it during my three week stay in Seattle for winter break. It was a boarding school arrangement where the students lived on the premises six days out of the week. After morning classes on Saturday the majority of them went home to their parents. Some were from families that lived out of town, which meant they either stayed with aunts and uncles or made a longer journey home. It was clearly visible on Mondays that the short time off had done plenty to lift their spirits.