Sunday, July 12: Good evening and welcome to my humble laundry room for our last cocktail hour in China! Please, do come in and have a seat. Strangely, it isn’t too hot and miserable this July evening, so I think we’ll be comfortable enough on my screened-in “porch.” At least here we can enjoy our magnificent view over the drab and utilitarian hotel courtyard. It lacks charm, as does my laundry room, but hopefully one of you will step up to the plate and charm us all with your wiles and wit.
I have to apologize in advance for asking you to bring your own beverage, as I’m in the process of cleaning out my refrigerator and eating the last of my food in preparation for my imminent departure on Wednesday morning at 9:40 a.m. I only have one Tsingtao beer remaining, and I’d be happy to offer it to you, but…. I must say, I need a beer after all I’ve been through in the last two weeks. 🙂
I’m sorry it’s been three weeks since my last cocktail hour. (The ex-Catholic in me almost wrote, “It’s been 3 weeks since my last confession,… Father.”) 🙂 Since that cocktail hour, I’ve been super busy. On the weekend following our last gathering, I went to the Longji Rice Terraces one last time. They were as beautiful as they were the first time I saw them, maybe even more so, and I’ve now decided they are the top place I visited during all my travels in China this year. Here’s a glimpse, below. I’ll write more about them later, once I’ve returned home. I’m hopelessly behind in my blogging.
In the last several weeks, I had a couple of dinners with students and colleagues, I marked 73 final essays and 37 listening exams and proctored several exams. It’s been busy, so I’ve missed you all, and I hope once I get back to the USA, I’ll have time for more leisurely chats over a glass of wine, or two.
Please, tell me all about your week. I hope my American friends had a nice Fourth of July. For me it was just like any other day, as I don’t know why on earth anyone in China would celebrate America’s independence.
Actually, I take back that it was like any other day. I just remembered that on July 4th, I spent nearly 6 grueling hours marking 19 of my 73 papers. It was the furthest thing from “independence day” imaginable. The process of marking those papers was incredibly tedious. It took on average about half an hour per paper, as we had to check students’ in-text citations and Works Cited pages, which frankly were a complete mess. In addition, when sentences seemed too good to be true, with perfect grammar and vocabulary normally out of my students’ realm of knowledge, I felt compelled to search online for plagiarism. It was terribly time-consuming. Those were some of the worst 4 days of my life so far. Thank goodness they’re now over. My grades are in, and I’ve been officially signed off, received my travel allowance and my final pay, and am now just packing the last of my things for my trip home.
So, tell me about your summer. I hope it’s been relaxing, as summer should be. Are you enjoying your gardens and reaping wonderful fruits from them? Have you been sipping iced tea on a porch with a sunset view? Have you traveled anywhere interesting, and if not, are you planning to? Have you been swimming or eating ice cream to keep cool? What flavors? Have you seen any good movies in the theater or on TV? Have you caught any fireflies or gone crabbing off a dock? Have you sailed the seven seas? Have you read any steamy summer novels? Have you basked in the sunlight? Have you sung “hallelujah”?
I ask about the “hallelujah” because on Facebook, my dear friend Mario, who many of you may remember from Oman, posted a beautiful song by Rufus Wainwright called “Hallelujah.” It was originally written by Leonard Cohen, but I have to say I like the Rufus version better. Once I heard this song, I fell in love with it so much that I’ve been listening to it repeatedly. In addition, I found a website called songmeanings.com, and I looked up the lyrics to that song and read what different people think the lyrics mean. I won’t rehash the comments here, but you can read them yourself if you’re interested: (Rufus Wainwright – Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen cover)). Oh, how I adore this song, especially these lines:
And remember when I moved in you?
The holy dark was moving too
And every breath we drew was hallelujah
The music, the lyrics: all so stunning. That song takes my breath away.
Time waster that I can be, I then proceeded to look up meanings for many of my favorite songs, including “I & Love & You” by the Avett Brothers and “Somebody that I used to know,” sung by Gotye and Kimbra. I’ve had discussions with people about the meanings of these and other songs, and I was happy to find someone in each feed who agreed with my interpretation of these songs. I’ve had some people tell me that when Kimbra sings the lines below, she’s referring to one of Gotye’s old girlfriends who he can’t forget, but I disagree. I understand her to be talking about herself; by breaking up with Gotye, she’s now become the “somebody that [Gotye] used to know.”
And I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know
I must apologize that I’ve digressed. But isn’t this how a cocktail hour goes? Any subject can come up; convolutions in conversation take you down winding paths you never imagined before. I love this about a cocktail party, or any small gathering of friends.
As for books, I’m embarrassed to admit I’m still slogging through The Sandcastle Girls. I honestly just don’t make the time to read like I should. That’s probably because I’ve been so addicted to the TV series Revenge and now Mistresses; sadly, those shows are taking up way too much of my down time. I really need to have that mindless time sometimes though. What do you do when you need time free from thinking? I know Robin meditates; I sadly haven’t acquired that habit, at least not regularly.
In my final days here, it’s been a time of goodbyes. I said goodbye to all of my students and was very sad to do so. I gave them my email address and invited them to come stay with me in northern Virginia any time they would like. I know it’s unlikely that many of them will ever come to America, but if they do, I’d really love to have them. I also asked them to keep in touch and let me know what happens in their lives. I really hope they will do so.
I taught 73 students over the entire year. Most of the same students have been with me since September. My 1408 class is the one I’m closest to because I taught them Writing AND Speaking & Listening. I have an A class of 18 students and a B class of 19 students, for a total of 37. We spent a lot of hours together over the year. The personalities of these classes are very different; the A class is much more lively and talkative and fun-loving than the B class. So I’ve felt especially close to them, and it was very hard to say goodbye. Below is my entire 1408 class with all 37 students. Usually the classes were divided into A and B groups, meaning I repeated the same lessons twice each week, but once a week, I taught one 40-minute writing class with all 37 of them together.
This is my wild and crazy A class. I love them all for their outgoing personalities and their kindness. I have some real characters in this class, especially Albert, Edison, Chris, Yuki, Robin and Paul. Spring was probably the best student I had overall. Robin and Yuki were the movers and shakers, the organizers who always arranged our parties, gatherings, KTV visits, and outings.
My 1408 B class was a little more quiet and subdued. It was only toward the end that they started to break out of their shells, especially thanks to Coco, Jocelyn and Hellen, Jack and Leo.
The 1407 class was really great fun too, especially the A class, which had 21 students. The B class of 15 students was super quiet and maybe even a little boring. I only taught them writing, so I saw them a lot less than the 1408 class. Because I saw them less frequently and because we didn’t talk a lot in class (it was a writing class, after all), I sometimes got them mixed up, more than I would have liked!
A couple of students from the 1407A class invited me to lunch one day and I received from them a barrage of insults and compliments all at the same time. They told me first that Colton, my partner teacher who taught reading and speaking & listening to them, said that I was a “harsh” teacher. I said, “How would he know? He’s never sat in on my class!” Of course, it then hit me that he’d only know this if they told him. But, said David, “I really like your teaching style better than Colton’s. You make me think and you have us do more active learning.” They also told me that they often didn’t understand what I said because I talked too fast. I do know that I sometimes forget to slow down, as I do talk naturally fast. So I said, “Why didn’t you raise your hand and tell me to slow down?” They said, oh no, they would never do that. As Chinese students they are taught to never question a teacher’s authority or teaching style, especially in front of other students. I said, “Well, I hope it helped that I wrote everything on a Power Point so you could read along.” They said, yes, that helped a lot.
On Wednesday, July 8, after I finished proctoring the reading exams, my 1408 class invited me to join them at a restaurant for a lunch they arranged. It was a lovely time. When I finished with lunch, I rode my bicycle home and finished marking the last of the listening exams, entered all my marks onto spreadsheets and wrote up all the analyses of the marks to turn in as soon as possible.
On Thursday morning, I handed in all my exams and marks and analyses of marks, and got my checklist signed off on by all the official people. This felt like the first huge burden lifted off me.
My 1407 class invited me to a party on Thursday, July 9 at the same rental apartment where my 1408 class had a Christmas party for me earlier this year. The party was supposed to go from 2-7, but I had an appointment to get my hair straightened and cut at 11:00. I wanted to have this process done in China because it only cost 500 yuan (~$81), whereas in the U.S. it costs about $300 for the inexpensive version! The whole process lasted from 11-4:30, so I was late to the party.
The girls made dumplings and we played card games and chatted and took pictures. It was a fun time, but I left at about 6:30, exhausted from the whole stressful week.
While I was at the party, I got a message from LiJi, one of the Chinese administrators: “Hi Cathy, Can you come to Dean Qin’s office tomorrow 11:30 a.m.? You’ve been awarded the SCIC Dean’s Special Honor.” For a few brief seconds, I thought this was really wonderful, except I couldn’t think why on earth I would get such an award. Later that evening, I was emailing back and forth with Erica, my friend and colleague, to arrange a time to meet Friday morning to help her with her spreadsheets. By now, quite suspicious of the “special honor,” I wrote to her: “Hey there, has everyone been invited to the Dean’s office at 11:30 tomorrow?”
On Friday morning, I took my signed-off checklist to the people responsible for reimbursing our travel allowance, and had the money deposited into my account by that afternoon. While there, I ran into another colleague and I asked him, “So, what time are you meeting with the Dean?” He said, “What? I’m not meeting with the Dean.” I said, “Oh, I thought everyone was invited!” Oops!
On my way up to meet the Dean, I commented to LiJi, “It seems like a lot of people are getting the award.” He said, “Yes, nine.” Ok, so I guess it was a little special as only 36% of the teachers were getting the award. It turned out we were chosen based on student evaluations, classroom observations by the Chinese staff, and the votes of the Chinese administration. And, on top of that, it turned out we got a 1000 yuan bonus (~ $162)! So I guess it was a bit of a big deal. 🙂
On Saturday morning, I asked Erica if she would help me lug a bunch of my stuff to the post office. When we got there at 10:30 with two suitcases and two bags packed with stuff, we were told that the post office was out of big boxes. We asked if we could leave my stuff behind the counter while we went to a supermarket to find some boxes. The lady said okay. We went to the supermarket, found two large boxes and returned to the post office. The post office lady then told us that we are only allowed to use the sturdy post office boxes to mail things internationally. So why did she send us off to find boxes at the supermarket? And why aren’t they stocking enough boxes for customers to send things home? After all, students are graduating and leaving the campus and will be sending stuff to their homes too. This shows the lack of foresight often so prevalent in China.
It seems we were in a Catch-22. I told the lady I needed to mail my packages today, so what should I do? (All this time, we were actually having our conversation translated by a poor student who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time!) The lady said she would order 4 boxes (2 for me and 2 for Erica) and we should come back at 3:00. We did that; the boxes were there (“hallelujah!”), and I sent my boxes home to Virginia by surface (1-3 months) for 791 yuan (~$127). The whole ordeal, between getting the last of my stuff together and going twice to the post office, was exhausting and took a good chunk out of the day.
Nothing is ever easy in China.
Cheers to you all, and thanks for joining me tonight for my final cocktail hour in the laundry room. It was really nice to visit with you again. I may not be able to respond promptly to your comments, but I will eventually, I promise. And I also will respond to those of you who commented on my last cocktail hour, and to whom I haven’t yet responded. Thanks for being patient.
Hopefully we can meet in a nicer spot once I’m back home in Virginia. 🙂