The Driver of Bus 149


January 30th, 2011
Time: 12:59 pm
Location: Starbucks, Hengshan Lu

Today I nearly lost 30 RMB – 2 fives and 2 tens. 

I stepped out of Hongqiao Station, exit 1 and bypassed five girls, arms intertwined and giggling over the DVDs tightly wedged into the brown wooden cart.

I looked into the sun at the busses waiting in the terminal.  748s were stacked along the curb.  Large clear windows pressed into the vented metal back of the next bus.  The digital green numbers were hooded by the curve of the roof, causing the horizontal slash of the 7 to look like a 1.  Nearly my bus number if you were only glancing. 
 
But it wasn’t my bus.  149 wasn’t in its usual place – by the 149 sign and cold metal fences I would hoist myself onto to wait.  I almost didn’t see it – wedged at an awkward angle behind five 748s that had taken up illegal residences.

He was just beginning to close his doors when I ran up.  He grunted something to me in Chinese and I glanced over my shoulder.  Ten feet away on the hard grey pavement lay a folded note that had flown out of my pocket as I had pulled the metro card from its place. 

I stepped off the bus and ran to it and he followed, picking up another note I’d lost.  I thanked him as he handed it to me – a purple and blue note, folded into uneven layers and dog-eared in the corner. 
We climbed back onto the bus and then he gave another cry and scurried off bus 149.  I threw my head back and groaned in  an exaggerated show of self-deprecation and shook my head.  The people on the bus laughed.  He returned and handed over another folded-up 10 note.  I smiled and said thank you in Chinese and English.

In my usual perch on the dirtied plastic yellow seat with the green and white checkered pattern I ordered myself and made a show of pulling out my wallet, smoothing out each note, and carefully placing it safely within the paisley-lined walls. Only then did I look up. 

Hanging from the rear-view mirror was a caricature of a mouse standing on two legs, clad in athletic pants and an open shirt.  His blue face featured a toothy grin and squinting eyes. Behind him dangled long red tassels and fish interlaced with patterns of gold. 

As he neared my stop I stood up to wait by the door.  With a sharp jerk my ear buds wrenched from my ears and my ipod clattered to the floor.  I heard a chortle and I glanced to the mirror above the swinging mouse.  He winked at me and I laughed and gave a little wave as I stepped down.

Xin nian kuai le, driver of bus 149.  And many happy returns.

Smielee and Bear it.


January 19th, 2011
Time: 1:12pm
Location: Coffee Bean

Today started out relatively normal.  The exception being that I wasn’t up ‘til all hours reading so I managed to wake-up without hitting my snooze button about 30 times.  This also meant that I had time to shower and have a cup of tea with toast.  I usually attempt to squeeze every last second I can into staying in bed for as long as possible and this doesn’t leave much time for things like eating . . . or grooming.  Due to the extraneous cold, my hair is always buried beneath a hat anyway, and I’m wearing so many layers any smell I might have is held captive beneath 14 barriers of fleece, cotton, denim, and wool.  Don’t judge me.  

Anyway, today I got-up and showered, braided my hair, put on some make-up, and managed to look half-way respectable.  This entire effect was ruined as soon as I swathed myself in a scarf that’s about 4 feet long, wrapped my white fluffy earmuffs that were a gift from my kindergartners around my head,  and buried my feet in my hideous but highly effective UGGS.  I am so gloriously Chinese – minus the blond hair bit.

An hour and half later I arrived at school looking wind-blown, bedraggled, and wet.  My transport has been cut this week because my principal apparently needs it and they tell me they “knew I wouldn’t mind.”  Mostly, I don’t.  It requires getting up earlier, but it also means I will for sure arrive at school before my lessons, which I infinitely prefer to arriving late and attempting to explain through an act of charades that my driver was late. Again. Plus, when I’m early they give me coffee.  Korean coffee is ah-mazing.  All nutty and rich and perfect.

There was no coffee today, but I got another surprise.  My school likes to do this every once in a while.  Could you please finish this book before the 7-year-olds graduate?  It’s only 16 units and you’ve got 4 weeks left – which equates to 16 days to teach it.  Oh, and this book too. It’s 8 units.  But today can you teach them this song for the presentation on Saturday?  Oh, today the teachers are going to a meeting, so teach the 6ers and 7s together, okay?  And today you will teach a cooking lesson, right?

Right.

I walked in this morning and the 7s were all wintered-up and holding bags.  Oh crap.  Are you leaving? I asked.  Of course we are teacher, no one told you? And then the English-speaking teacher came in and said, guess what?  The 7-year-olds don’t have a lesson today.  They are having graduation pictures taken, and guess what else?  Later we will take you to the studio because you’re going to have your picture taken with them!

Right . . .  

So, I had to cobble together a 40-minute lesson for my English-deficient 6ers who I usually have for (an already too long) 20 minutes.  Then down to the 5ers, when half-way through that lesson another teacher came in and said, Oh! You need to go now!  Not in another 30 minutes like we originally told you.  Except that the only English she has goes something like this:  Teacher! Go! Me: Uh? Whaaat? I thought at 11:30? Korean teacher: Finish! Now!  And then I was hustled out the door, sans winter garb, barely managing to stuff my feet back into the hideous UGGS, and into the waiting van.
I arrived at Amore Mio where another Korean teacher was waiting for me.  Up the broken escalator we ran, past an expansive entry, though a room full of bejeweled wedding gowns, and into a photography studio.  In a section devoted to white-washed wood, filmy curtains, and soft lighting sat my little 7s, decked out in full graduation regalia.  I had just enough time to shrug off my jacket before I was plopped between two square hats and some fake roses were thrust into my hands.  I can’t even give an honest assessment of how I looked because I hadn’t been given a chance to look in a mirror.  I’m going to go with comical.  My knees were drawn up around my shoulders, on par with my students’ eyes and while my fellow Korean teachers were in skirts and blouses, I was holding it down in a hoodie and sodden jeans, fancied up with some dusky pink plastic roses. 

Something, something, Chinese! Said our photographer.  That didn’t work.  My kids looked like they were standing in-front of a firing squad.

He tried a new tactic: One, two, three! Smeelie!  

Better.

One, two, three! Simileee!

Flash. Click.

One, two, three! Smeeleee!

Koreans, Chinese, and unintelligible English unite!  

I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

Then my kids got up for a costume change and I took individual pictures with all of them.  I tickled, teased, and cajoled and probably managed at least one genuine smile out of each of them, except for Rachel who freezes like a deer in headlights in front of a camera.  

Then I was told I was finished.  I was thinking I was done, done.  As in, done for the day.  See you tomorrow.  This had been the “original” plan.  Original, as in the plan concocted between the Korean principal and the English-speaking teacher.  My original plan consisted of a regular ol’ Wednesday of white board activities and bookwork.

This apparently was no longer the plan.  Or something.  Once again, I was hurried down the escalator to the waiting van – except the van wasn’t waiting.  I attempted to ask whether I was returning to school to teach the 4’s but she clearly had no idea so I pulled out my phone and asked my Korean-American friend, Sue to translate.  Her translation skills got me about as far as I had been before the phone call.  The teacher had no idea who or what I was teaching.  By the time I got back to school I only had 15 minutes left in my teaching time, so I pulled the 4s away from their finger-painting and we sang and danced and ran away from my monkey flashcard. I then re-bundled myself and walked through the snow to the bus stop.  After a soggy, chilling 25 minutes I arrived here, at Coffee Bean – directly across from the photography studio where I just saw the school van pull up.  The van with heat. 

Rosa, one of the Chinese staff, says “take bus can feel local Shanghainess life and also learn more chinese. haha.”  

Right.

One, two, three! Smieelee! 

And bear it.

Mastering Chinese


January 17th, 2011
Location: Coffee Bean
Time: 2:05 pm

Monday blog update!  And that’s about as exciting as this will get.

On Saturday night I had my first full-fledged conversation in Chinese.  It captured nearly every word I know and it lasted about 30 seconds.  It went something like this:

I enter the cab and say “Nǐ hǎo! Zhongtan Lu.” at which point I show him my address saved in my phone because for some inexplicable reason I can’t get that first to second tone down.

The cab driver says: “Ah, Zhongtan Lu.”

I say: “Dui” (correct).

The cab driver then says something to the effect of: “Do you want to go left, right, straight, up, or down?” (Elevated road or side-streets – which would be the down bit)

I say: “Wǒ bù zhīdào” (I don’t know).

Cab driver: “That’s okay.  You don’t know, but I know.” (Again, to the effect of)

I say: “Hěn hǎo” (Very good).

End conversation.

Except not, because then my cab driver assumed I knew Chinese and he proceeded to have a full-on one-sided conversation with me/himself while I sat with a blank look on my face until “Billie Jean” came on and then we rocked out to Michael Jackson all the way home. It was a bonding moment.

We arrived at my apartment with some more savvy Chinese from me: “yīzhì zǒu” (keep going straight), “yòu guǎi” (turn right) and “ting!” (stop). These were of course accompanied by hand-gestures because let’s be real –  I am so blatantly awful that I don’t trust my words alone to convey meaning.

I then say: “Dào le!” (Arrived! – um, or so I assume from my metro rides . . . )

I give him money, he says: “Xièxiè! Zàijiàn.” I respond in-kind.   

And therein you have 5 months of Chinese language immersion.  Oh wait – I can also say “Wǒ yào kāfēi.”  Obviously.  Priorities in-check.

In other news:  My roommate and I cannot figure out how to change our mop head. We are on the verge of buying a whole new mop altogether. 

I think it’s safe to say that this country has defeated me this go'round.  But it’s nothing a little MJ can’t fix . . . So . . .  

Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it
No one wants to be defeated
Showin' how funky strong is your fight
It doesn't matter who's wrong or right
Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it

*In Chinese, they don’t have tenses. Therefore, my mixing of tenses in this post is simply in keeping with the Chinese essence. . . . go with it.*

Make It a Double.

January 10th, 2011
Time: 2:43 pm
Location: Coffee Bean

What I would give to be in Glendale at this moment.  The game isn’t until my Tuesday and then it’s in the morning while I’m at work.  I kind-of doubt my employer would look kindly on me calling-in for the game.  I’d do it anyway, but I’d like to score at least one bonus this year.  Instead, I’m going to boycott the internet all of tomorrow until I’ve watched a replay in the evening.  

Another reason to be in Arizona: heat. Last night I kept waking-up b/c I was so cold.  I finally put on a second pair of socks, my hoodie, and pulled the hood over my head.  My inability to handle any extreme temperatures is bordering on pathetic.

And while I’m feeling the cold here, spring is apparently in the air – or at least its side-effects.  I’ve got kissers in my classes.  2 different classes. 2 different schools. 2 different nationalities.  Same week.  When it first happened I was torn between adorable and . . . should I stop this?  I mean, once? Okay, I’ll allow it.  But 5? 6? 7? Just stop already. I separated them. Once again, I’m hit with the reality that my life is bordering on the pathetic.  Just keep your lips to yourselves, 5ers. 

Miley Cyrus just started singing.

I need a drink.

Reasons my life isn’t pathetic:
Today is pay-day.
Tomorrow is my best friend’s birthday.  I have a best friend.
I have friends willing to be my pack-mules.
 It’s Monday night half-off burgers at Blue Frog.
My alma mater has the best football team. Ever.

But I’ll still take that drink.

Holidays Shanghai Style


January 5th, 2011
Location: Coffee Bean
Time: 3:42

I never should have started a blog.  The pressure to update is just too much for my lazy-self.  So, here’s what I’m going to do while I rock out to Justin Beiber – yes, Justin Beiber you haters.  You know you love his little pre-pubescent voice and swoopy hair – I am going to give you a rundown of the holidays because there’s too much to say.

Christmas Eve: Worked.  Bu hao to John Gregory for heading off to Beijing and leaving me to cover him.  Actually, it was okay.  I just played games for every class and his students officially think I’m cooler than him.  They can’t say this in their limited English, but I know it to be true. I could see it by the twinkle in their little brown eyes.

After work I went home and put on sweats, ordered some pizza, and watched movies.  I had the option of going-out, but as it didn’t feel like Christmas Eve I decided to treat it like a regular old Friday night so that I wouldn’t get all depressed about missing Christmas Eve service, and candle light, and my family
.
Christmas Day:  Packed out Christmas Day service with my German friend Thomas, and afterward met up with Sue and Paulette and people from our recently acquired cell group and had some good Mexican food.  A first for everything.  After this Paulette and I headed off to our co-workers’ apartment and celebrated in style with a make-shift fire created out of left-over wax, a rolled up piece of tissue paper, lighter fluid, and a very drunk Kiwi.  Before the apartment caught fire we headed over to my neighbor’s and sat around talking until about 2 in the morning when we decided to go out.  At 2. This is also when my stomach decided it was hungry again so I filled myself with some very delicious street food with about 10 different types of MSG in it. Two club/bars and watching a Chinese man’s Michael Jackson dance moves get blocked out by a fat Persian dude on the bar later we all piled into a cab and returned home to sleep until sometime around 1 the next day.

I think it was a rather successful Christmas.  

Due to the holiday season, my kindergarten took the week off and one of my evening classes was cancelled, so I worked a whopping 4 hours for the week. I had 5 whole days off for the holiday weekend and I’m still trying to get back into the swing of things.  5 days is such a tease.

December 30th: Cleaning craziness. Shopping madness (yet another topic to be covered later). Corn chowder/soup made and enjoyed.  Convinced Kate and Tia to come out from Hangzhou a day early so we could have a girl’s night.  Bed time:  4ish.

December 31st: More shopping, but this time of the clothing variety.  Super Brand Mall in Pudong right outside the hideous monstrosity that is the Pearl.   All scored at H&M.  Returned home to prettify and if I do say so myself it was achieved. I have hot friends. Carla arrived and I somehow managed to convince everyone to come to my house for the pre-party. Kate and I went downstairs to the salon/barber shop in my complex and had our hair washed and curled for 40 RMB.  (Also another potential post). Everyone eventually arrived and we set off for the People’s Party in the Fashion Hub. Ran into a bunch of co-workers and pretended to dance stone-cold sober to house music.  The beauty of house music is that it is specifically designed for white people who can’t dance so all you really do is kind-of move and look stupid with the rest of the other white people on the dance floor. After this we set off for Dada’s, a smaller venue with equally as horrid music, chilled on the couch and watched people play Mario on a Super Nintendo, and again pretended to dance. Bed time: 6ish?

January 1st: Woke-up sometime between noon and 2, ordered Indian food.  Watched Black Swan, a WTF movie if I ever saw one.  Headed over to my neighbors and then out to Windows Scoreboard.  It felt like America. Pool tables, darts, beer pong, half-naked Australian guy dancing on the table.  His name is Tony and he’s a friend of my co-workers (which I discovered today).  Then we went to a M2 where they play real music that I spend more time singing along to than actually dancing to, because once again, sobriety and dancing don’t really mix too well for me.  The highlight: being instrumental in making a Chinese guy’s (who my friend Mo refers to as the “midget”) night.  I could tell he wanted soooo badly to dance with my friends, and so I told my friend Zach, who pulled Mo over and she good-naturedly started dancing with him.  His signature move consisted of raising both hands upward (like he was raising the roof) while simultaneously bending his knees in a paired movement.  He looked a bit like a frog suspended midair attempting to jump, or maybe like one of those water skimmer insects.  Every time he started dancing with a new girl I DIED.  It was awesome. Bed time: somewhere in the vicinity of 4.

January 2nd: More sleeping-in combined with delivered McDonald’s – a new height of laziness and gluttony.  Again went over to my neighbor’s where eventually a whole bunch of cohort 6ers met up and we talked, watched movies, and played cards until the wee hours of the morning.  I lost 40 kuai in poker but I did last ‘til the last round. That should tell you something -  we all officially suck at poker. Bed time: 5 or so.

January 3rd: Slept, read, and read some more.

I now need a vacation to recuperate from my vacation.
Kate, Tia,& Carla

On my balcony

Kate and her faces.

Having our own party before everyone arrived


Garces, Zack, & Kate

Tia, Garces, Zach, Kate, Me

I love you all.

I love this picture.  I'm pretty sure I'll never get a picture of Pat smiling.

I'm pretty sure I took about ten thousand pictures of Kate.  And Miles. 

I'm touching Zach's head! This never happens.