Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bad China Day

Today was one of those days we call a Bad China Day.

It's not like I was in a bad mood all day, or that any of this nonsense really upset me. But upon taking inventory at the end of the day, this was a tad bit of a BCD. It certainly wasn't the worst by any means.

The morning was great. The munchkins at the kindergarten were super adorable and happy and I had a blast horsing around with teaching them.

I even received a gift. Score.

We were even served fish for lunch at the kindergarten and I didn't choke on any of the ten thousand billion microscopic bones.

Things were lookin good.

Then I rushed home from school to shower and change and rush back out to get to my afternoon classes at the university.

While I was running around in my apartment about to hop into the shower, someone starts banging on my door. I knew exactly who it was.

The meter man.

He comes every month on the 24th or 25th to read my water meters so they can calculate my monthly utility bill. Well, he usually comes in the evening, so I figured I would ignore his knocking and get showered and ready so I wouldn't run late for my afternoon classes. He could return in the evening.

The banging on my door was relentless and growing louder and louder. This didn't seem like him. He's a jolly fellow with a moderate knock. This was full-blown OH MY GOD THE BUILDING IS ON FIRE!

That is the only time that kind of knocking is acceptable.

Or maybe if their baby has fallen into a well. And all the villagers have already died in the fire and you're the only one who can help.

I got out of the shower and by this time the knocking was shaking the walls, not even exaggerating.

I was peeved by this time so I took my sweet-ass time getting dressed and ready while not answering the door. The knocking stopped.

Then as I grabbed my shoes to sit down and put them on, the knocking started again and at the same frenzy and absurdity. I answered the door and there was my crazy neighbor lady. Yes, I feel justified in calling her crazy after 8 months of living next to her. It's legit.

She scurries into my apartment and starts pointing at my flourescent lightbulb on my living room ceiling and rattles off a bunch of Chinese. I'm convinced by now that she's only ever speaking Hainanese, which is a completely different language than Mandarin, since I can never seem to understand her. Yet I can understand my other neighbors just fine, for the most part.

Anyway, I knew what she was trying to tell me. The meter man wants to come in and check my meters for the utility bill.

I nodded and said hao hao hao hao hao (which means yes I understand, no really, I understand, yes for realz I get it) as I crowded her toward my front door.

I shut my door, put on my shoes, grabbed my bag, left my apartment and fled the building. Without being seen by my crazy neighbor lady nor the meter man.


As I rushed to the bus stop to catch my bus, I was not in the best of moods. I'm a private person who likes to float anonymously and invisibly through her little life. China rarely allows me that luxury. But hey, it's made me appreciate those things all the more! Some day I'll write a big boring post on "why I loved China" and it will be filled with those kinds of things.

I caught my bus and away we went. Side note, I've been teaching at a university in the afternoons, and it requires me to take a city bus to the university's "old" campus, and then catch the school shuttle to their "new" campus where I teach. Then I do the reverse after finished with my classes. So it's quite a lot of schlepping to and fro.

En route, I received a text message from the supervisor of the foreign languages department…

"Lisa, please bring the Junior's English textbook with you today."

This isn't the first time I've been called Lisa. It's not even the second or third time. It seems whenever I tell someone my name is Liz (btw, Elizabeth is too long and complicated so I go by Liz here), they inevitably change it to Lisa. And yes, even after I have texted them and/or emailed them and signed my name "Liz." I've given up being confused about this.

Well today was my Tourism English class for Juniors, so I thought ok cool, I already have the textbook on me. I didn't bother asking why he needed the textbook. "Why" is a pointless question here.

I arrived at the school and called the supervisor so we could meet up and I could figure out why he needed me to bring him the textbook. I met him, pulled the book out of my bag, and he frowned and said, "No, that's the Junior's English textbook, not the 4-year Junior's English textbook."

I smiled and told him, "Yes, you texted me to bring the Junior's English textbook. The text message didn't say 4-year." (Side note: the Tourism English classes are for the 3-year vocational students, which come to find out is not what he wanted.)

I knew good and well you should never point out a mistake to someone here, especially not your supervisor. But I did it anyway because I was feeling snarky and justified. And I have very little to lose here since I'm merely filling in for a few weeks until the other American teachers arrive.

I also think months of dealing with the administration at my own school has worn on me. Nothing makes sense, and it's not supposed to. If something starts making sense, someone quickly throws a wrench in it.

One of my American coworkers has so sweetly dubbed one of our Vice Principals "The Creator of Problems." We try to figure out what her job is and what she's supposed to be doing with her time, and all we can see with our own eyes so far is that she jumps into the middle of well-oiled machines and starts unscrewing the bolts. At least she's friendly enough.

So anyway, I asked him why he needs the textbook, and he said, "Because you will be teaching a different class now." And he pulled a different textbook out of his bag and handed it to me. He said, "This is the 4-year English textbook for the Freshman and it starts tomorrow." It's the same time as my 4-year English class for the Juniors, so I asked what would happen to that class. He told me that one of the Americans has arrived and will take over that class.

And guess what, I got a full 24-hour's notice on this change. Not bad for this place, actually!

Then I go to my assigned classroom, and none of the students are there, and it was time they should be. So I chased my supervisor back down and asked him to check which room I'm supposed to be in. He told me "N403." I said, "I was in N403 and no one is there, do you mind checking again? The new schedule you sent me this weekend says N403." I ran with him upstairs to the administration office, he spoke a bunch of really-fast Chinese with a woman there, and then started to leave the office. Um, excuse me sir, did we get anywhere here?

I asked him, "Did she confirm the room number?" And he replied, "Yes, room N403."

Alrighty then. I took him to my room N403, and said, "See, no students, and the bell is going to ring soon. They're usually here by now." He frowned, whipped out his cell phone and started texting someone. Then a minute later he looked up at me and said, "N406." Ok, great. I rushed down the hall to N406 and there were my students. Hooray.

It wouldn't be so bad if this wasn't already the third time this sort of thing has happened with failing to inform me of my own room numbers.The students somehow magically know. Is it so hard to inform the teacher? Apparently. I arrive at my empty room and peek my head back out the door and into the hallway until I see a small herd of students file into one of the other rooms down the hall. It's comical. Especially when some of them see me coming from one of the other rooms. Totally professional, right?

So I taught this afternoon's classes and headed out to wait for the shuttle back to the old campus. The shuttle arrived and it was standing room only. It's a 25-30 minute ride. Which normally wouldn't be that big of a deal, but have you ever ridden a Chinese bus? Thankfully I've ridden enough of them now that I no longer have heart attacks from the sheer insanity of the experience. But it's certainly not a relaxed ride when you have to be on high alert to shift your balance every .25 seconds to keep from plowing into the people around you, or through the front windshield.

I made it back to the old campus and rushed to the bus stop to catch the city bus home. I was so tired today from not getting a great night's sleep and rushing around all day, that I fell asleep on the bus.

And missed my stop.

I woke up a couple of stops later, luckily recognizing where I was. I said what the heck and rode a couple of stops farther to be let off closer to the Carrefour shopping center.

I figured this was a stupid enough day that I deserved some shopping in the foreign foods aisle. And I bought some delicious pasta and sauce and walked all the way home.

And guess who came a knockin' on my door not five minutes after I settled into my apartment.

The meter man, with his smiley face and kind demeanor, actually cheered me up. He doesn't understand a word of English, so I told him (in English) "You're so nice. You make me happy. Thank you."

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