180

Today was probably the most necessary day I’ve encountered since moving settling down in Shenzhen. The past two weeks have been a blur in the worst way. In my previous post, I mentioned that I had an extra week off compared to the rest of the teachers in my program. This one week vacation turned into two, and it was not welcome at all. Relaxation is nice, but it was not at the right time. Despite not teaching, my school heads requested that I stay on campus throughout the days in case they managed to fix my schedule (They didn’t.) or if they needed me for anything. Spending two weeks cooped up in an apartment grows old quickly, and I felt guilty for not spending more time exploring the city.
But after today things have definitely taken a turn for the better. For starters, first day of classes! I arrived at the cafeteria around 7:30 in the morning for breakfast, and sought out my contact teacher to finally find out when I would start classes for the day. Unfortunately, according to him, my schedule was causing a lot of issues. At my school, I essentially replace the Chinese English teachers for a period and take over their classes. Apparently, a lot of teachers wanted the same or similar times off, and others wanted me to come in on Wednesday and Friday afternoons (a violation of my contract due to Chinese classes falling at that time). While initially crestfallen, I decided to make the most of this day and accompany Ally to her classes to watch her in action and pick up a few quick tips before starting myself.

Cut to an hour later: Ally and I arrive at the office to drop off our stuff. I had abandoned my teaching materials in my apartment and changed out of my button-down and khakis into a more comfortable shorts/T-shirt combo. (Shenzhen gets hot yo, and it’s hard consistently being a sweaty monster.) Suddenly, rounding the corner at breakneck speeds, my contact teacher sprinted up to us. 

“Connor, we have decided that this week you only teach grade eight,” he panted breathlessly.
“That’s fantastic!” I exclaimed, “what period do I teach first?”
“First period. It starts at 8:30.”
I glanced at my phone. 8:32.
I don’t think I’ve ever sprinted quicker in my life. Bounding across campus like a gazelle pursued by the lionesses, I made it back to my apartment, changed back into teacher Connor, grabbed my USB and books, and made it back to class…fifteen minutes late.
Breathlessly I apologized to the teacher, but she understood. Nowisim is very real in China – the idea of planning things in advance is just not a thing here, you have to be ready to fly at the spur of a moment. Refer to my “getting China’ed” post. That first class started off poorly and just spiraled down quickly. My powerpoint didn’t work so I was forced to pantomime and repeat things repeatedly instead of relying on my fun pictures to explain the class and the rules to the children (All that time on Google Images! Wasted!), and the students were at a much lower level than I expected, which is never good for boosting a waijiao’s (foreign teacher) morale.

Thankfully, the second class of the day went so much smoother than the first. Firstly, their English level was miles above the first class, so much so that I’m still having trouble grasping that they were all the same age. Secondly, whereas the first class seemed generally uninterested and stared at me like I had two heads (AKA normal middle school brattiness), the second was generally engaged and enthused the entire time, and volunteered to ask/answer questions and provide feedback (First time this has happened in either Beijing or Shenzhen so GO KIDS GO, embrace your inner nerdiness!). When I asked what they wanted to study, one little girl chimed in:

“Teacher, we want to study whatever you want to teach us.”

SWOON. SWOONING ALL OVER THE PLACE.

Granted, most classes aren’t like this. Kids are kids, even in China. They don’t want to be cooped up for hours on end in school, they want to play and go outside. I’m guessing that this was the advanced class but I don’t care, I’ll take any positive experience. 

Additionally, they told me that I look strong and they love my blue eyes so Grade 8 Class 5, keep sucking up to teacher. It’ll pay off in dividends by the truckload.

After classes I decompressed for a little bit. After getting sucked into a Breaking Bad vortex (I just started the most recent episodes and my emotions are all over the place at the moment. I CANNOT deal with this kind of emotional investment again, I just recovered from Mike’s death.) I realized it was getting late and needed to get dinner. Guess what guys, I found a second restaurant instead of surly noodle hut! And it is…another noodle restaurant. Can’t win ’em all. (This place is a tick up in terms of taste and cleanliness though. Also, the menu is really easy, just tick off what you want and they fetch it for you. Downside is, the waitresses all doubt I know what I’m doing. After I tick off a meal with the character for spicy in it [辣], they always ask me if I know that the meal is spicy. Yes, waitresses, whiteboy likes the heat, he can handle it.) However, when I got to the street, both restaurants were packed. Panic. 

That’s when I noticed something new. Perpendicular to the street I exit campus from is a highway which I always viewed as impassable, but tonight I noticed a pedestrian bridge traversing it for the first time. I had previously written off my neighborhood as nothing but residential, but my Lewis and Clark senses were tingling and I decided to explore.

Thank God I did. Nearing the end of the bridge, the unmistakable stench of stinky tofu (Exactly what it sounds like, folks. Mmmmmmm, fermentation.) bombarded my nostrils and I knew I was in safe hands. FINALLY, I had discovered my own network of alleyways littered with stores and small restaurants. These were my blood and water in Wuhan, and now I have a new playground to explore in Futian. I’m beyond ecstatic at this.

I ended up at a small outside shack near the end of the street. I sat down and glanced at the menu, but the waitress approached me nervously, definitely not used to Westerners in her establishment. I decided to order the first dish I could read and settled on 酸菜抄肉丝饭 (Pickled vegetables and pork strips stir fried together and served with rice.) Shame to say that the meal wasn’t a home run. The flavor of the pickled mustard greens were salty and sour without being too overpowering, and the pork seemed to be a higher quality than that of other restaurants. Unfortunately, the dish was ruined by one aspect: Sand. When I first started learning how to cook, I religiously took notes from The Barefoot Contessa. Over and over again, any time a leafy vegetable or something grown in the ground was used in a recipe Ina always made sure to note to intensely wash the leaves to eradicate any grit that could ruin a bite. The stems of the mustard greens were fine, but the leafy tops were so loaded with sand that it killed any other enjoyment I had ascertained from the meal.

It’s alright though, there’s always going to be good and bad meals in China, just how it is in America. No amount of sand can ruin just how much today meant to me. I’ve finally gotten to start work and enjoy it (Remember my goals? Going into TESOL is definitely making more and more sense as I get increasingly involved in it.) and I have a whole new exciting area within walking distance from home to explore. Every time I start to think that I’m over China and don’t want to deal with it any more, it always reels me back in. That in itself is something to cherish.

一路平安