A New Excuse Not to Go to School

August 31st, 2010

Time: 10:41 a.m.

Location: An armchair in the living room of my apartment

Sometimes life gives you miracles wrapped in small packages, like being able to pick open the lock on your suitcase. And sometimes, they’re a little larger – like the typhoon that is expected to hit Shanghai around noon today.

That’s right, for me, this typhoon is a blessing.

It means that I get to spend the entire day doing nothing but sucking back glasses of orange juice and water, eating toast, and swallowing handfuls of pills – oh, and sleeping. Because, yeah for me!, I am sick. And those pills I mentioned? Not doing much to help.

Lately, I have been ending my days feeling as though my students and a bat have had their way with me. Luckily, my main duty had been to observe the classes. Today, I was supposed to begin teaching. I was not ready. My lesson plans were half thought-out because I kept falling asleep mid-plan. Attempting to inspire the energy needed for 4 to 7 year-olds was daunting just to think about. So, when my line manager woke me up to tell me that school was canceled due to a typhoon warning, I couldn’t help but keep a note of excitement out of my voice: “really?!” I mean, “oh, really?” adding a note of concern.
I ended the call with a silent cry of thanks to the big guy upstairs.

So, here I sit surrounded by flashcards and CDs, construction paper and glue, paper and pens. And I don’t have to do a thing about it. Well, not for another couple hours at least. I will leave you with the view from my apartment last night. Yet another blessing in my chock-full life.

Becoming Shanghai

August 24th, 2010

Location: Room 8321, Green Tree Inn, Wuzhong Rd., Shanghai
Time: 12:32

Today, I was pushed, prodded, and stuck with a needle. I was disrobed, re-robed, and disrobed again. Strangers’ hands patted my naked flesh, manipulated my head and neck, and looked up my nose and down my throat. And for all this, I had to pay 700 RMB - paid to be violated, that’s my idea of a Tuesday well spent.

At 7:45 this morning we all loaded into taxis and made our way to the medical travel center to be robbed of our dignity and our pocket money. Sitting next to each other in white robes and blue booties over our feet was yet another experience to add to our seemingly never-ending bonding fests. If we all pass, we will be looking forward to a whole year of such experiences – hopefully ones that involve a little more clothing and less blood-letting. But with this group, who knows? No, really – who knows?

Between my first solo outing into this humming city and from where I sit today, more has happened than I can truly sit down and process. I have found an apartment, met my employer, greeted my fellow teachers, hugged “old” friends (they feel like old friends, at least), taken the bus, the metro, multiple taxis, pointed and gestured for my meals, acquired a phone and a new Chinese mobile number, and dodged multiple speeding vehicles.

I feel like I have become Shanghai – minus the Chinese characters.

Waking up to China

August 21st, 2010

Location: Room 3821, Green Tree Inn, Wuzhong Rd, Shanghai, China.

Local time: 6:27

Early morning Shanghai is not the China of yesterday. This morning the diffused light drifts through my open window, weaving and bending its way around buildings. The air lightly clings to my skin, just warm enough for comfort and a couple of degrees shy before the ever-humming AC kicks on. There is little activity out on my street –some early morning travelers and an occasional bus. As of yet, not a single motorbike.

From where I sit, I can see a man lounging shirtless out on the stoop of the neighboring building. The light has not reached his position, but glints off the marble steps just inches from his seat. He has a drink in his hand and he looks utterly complacent – content to simply sit and watch the world at a standstill.

Traditional Chinese music trips into my window and the lilting flute completes the air of serenity. Every so often a horn blast punctuates the stillness, a promise that my yesterday’s China will soon wake-up.

That China is but one word: frenzied.

It is a city of constant and relentless movement. Taxis and bikes and SUVs and bikes and cars and bikes zip past, weave through lanes and pull up short. Getting across Wuzhong Road is like a game of frogger. Women in tiny shorts and teetering stilettos totter down the streets doing their best to shade their faces beneath their umbrellas. Bikes, motorized and pedal, single and double, covered and uncovered are everywhere – on the sidewalks, in the alleys, before me, behind me, beside me. The bleating horns, rumble of engines, din of people, and endless activity coalesce into a frenzied dance.

As of yet, I do not know which China I prefer, but right now, I am happy to be in this one.

And So it Continues

August 20th, 2010

Location: Narita, Japan. Airport. Gate D23.
Local time: 18:16
My Time: 2:16

All I can say is thank the Lord for sleeping pills, Steve Jobs, and small miracles. There is no level of importance in that order, because picking one over the other would be impossible. But I’ll start with the last. By some act of God, I managed to have the only empty seat on the entire plane next to me. Technically, I wasn’t even sitting in my seat. I switched with a middle-aged Japanese man so that he could sit next to his friend. How does that saying go? No act of kindness . . . I don’t need to give myself a pat on the back for my good deed because the gods of travel handed me my reward in the shape of bountiful leg room. Well, as much leg room as an added seat can really offer. Space wise, it’s not much in the cubic feet department, but I’m pretty sure it saved my life. Or, well, my knees.

Still, an 11-hour international flight is just not bearable without a little help from a little blue capsule of sleeping goodness and that miraculous invention we call the ipod. I always pack books in my carry-on, but considering I generally am up all night the night before a trip, if I attempt to read I usually find myself reading page 2 over and over again. And so, after hours sprawled across two seats, 6 chapters of an audiobook, 4 in-flight movies, 2 meals, and 4 beverages later, I arrived in Japan.

I can’t understand a single sign or what the lady on the speaker is saying, but there is still a universal comfort in airports. World-wide, you basically know what to expect. Whoever designed those standard airport chairs that I’ve seen change only in variation of color was a genius. That man is set for life. I got here early enough to snag two of those said chairs on the end of a row providing a buffer between me and any potential encroacher of my personal space. What can I say? I’m American and I know that I’m about to lose even the pretense of a ‘bubble’ and so I’m hoarding the extra room while I can. Old people needing a seat be damned. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

Guess my good will regarding seats was used up on the plane. Or maybe in the course of the last 12 hours with two seats all to myself, I’ve grown accustomed to the luxury and simply can’t give it up. All I know is, I really have to use the bathroom but my connecting flight doesn’t depart for another hour. I can’t get up and find the bathroom because then I’d have to take my stuff (which is an ordeal in itself) and thus lose my coveted seats. Oh, the dilemma.

In case you’re wondering, the irony of my “seat situations” is not lost on me. If you’re lost, you might want to read up on karma.

Off to China I go. Fingers crossed, someone will be at the airport waiting for me .