"Wish You Happy Every Day": An Expat's Life in China

A Few Gems in Garbage Mountain
December 1, 2010, 3:46 am
Filed under: teaching

To make ourselves feel better, a lot of the teachers at my school–both Chinese and foreign–refer to the school as “Garbage Mountain,” as a pun on its Chinese name.  Needless to say, this is not the best English teaching gig in China.

Still, I have found some real gems buried in Garbage Mountain, and I certainly don’t regret coming and working here.  In fact, working at a school with limited resources due to the administration’s cheapness has its funny moments.  I won’t ever forget teaching a group of 8-10 year olds what “opposite to” means and the differences between their left/right and someone else’s left/right.

I had set up two small chairs, facing opposite to each other.  In one chair, I had a raggedy and dirty stuffed dog, and in the other, a crappy looking fake Barbie doll, courtesy of Garbage Mountain.  Both of these toys looked as though they had survived the Cultural Revolution.  Barely.

So, I raised the dog’s right arm, and asked the students, “Which arm his he raising?”  They all got it right, so then I moved across to the fake Barbie, and asked the same question.  Unfortunately, the moment I lifted her arm, it fell out of the socket.  I tried very hard not to laugh but it just didn’t work, especially because the whole class was laughing.  “Well, that happens sometimes,” I said.  “That’s why she has another arm.”

Actually, I have a lot of days when I look forward to teaching, especially this particular group of students.  I can’t get over how attentive they are, and yet how they can have fun with almost every assignment.  Each student has his or her own distinct personality.  There’s Jack, who’s incredibly bright and still asks questions like, “If we wish we could become an animal, will it come true?” Jack is friends with Andy, who, whenever I have them draw pictures, always surreptitiously calls me over show me his funny picture, just to get a laugh out of me. It also helps that there is one girl who is sort of the mother hen of the group–she’s well-liked by her peers and eager to win all of the games that we play, but she also keeps the other students in line.  This past week, I came into class sick with a sore throat and told the students to please keep the talking to a minimum. When one boy started chatting with his neighbor, I noticed this girl admonish him in Chinese: “Shh! Teacher has a sore throat!!”

And then there are little things that I like about the students.  Just a year ago, if I had met my nine year old student Bob, I would have cringed a little.  He does things like stick his pen in his nose and wags his head to see how long it will take to fall out.  Nowadays, I think it’s rather endearing.  I love that he talks to himself in English in a cheerful sing-song voice, which somehow seems inseparable from the pen up his nose.

I’m becoming one of those teachers that brags about the ridiculous things these kids do and say, even the high school students.  Recently, a bunch of students at the high school drew me pictures of their heroes–and some of these kids have talent!  One student drew me an incredibly elegant picture of his hero, Mao Zedong, and beneath it he signed his English name: “Spiderman.”

All of this makes me think: a family. A Marriage. Kids. Maybe not the white picket fence, but how about a comfortable apartment in New York?  In Brooklyn?  It’s like anything these days for me–who knows? For the first time in my life, I can see it.  To think, I had to come all the way to China to envision myself having a “normal” future.

But not until I’m at least thirty. I still have more traveling to do.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I could hug the dears – and you, too. It’s love, isn’t it? Children are so easy to love, even when they’re naughty. I have the same feeling toward them, in my smaller sphere – the children in the library confide in me, and ask me how to spell (lots of) words, and tell me about their families or their tragedies. They endear themselves to me by simply being real. In their unbiased judgement, you (and I) are safe people to trust. My niece and nephew believe I can do no wrong – and the feeling is mutual. (Is an irrepressible urge to laugh a serious impediment to applying discipline?)

Love covers every Bob, pen and all, in a blanket of unsullied glory.


Comment by Jessica

Way to bury the lead my friend. His name is Spiderman. Classic!


Comment by Whitney

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: