Sunday “Bloody” Sunday

Hello dear reader, how was your Sunday?  Did you get up early to attend church or a mosque? Did you go for a run or play with the kids?  Were you nursing a king-sized hangover in bed?  Perhaps you had a strong cup of tea and read a book…

Sundays here (for this writer) include five lessons and a lot of driving. As a dear Canadian friend, Mr. Hill, likes to say “there’s never a dull moment here.”

I’ve decided to chronicle the events of Sunday, October the 21st 2018. Perhaps you can compare your day with mine. What were you doing at 9am, 2pm, 8pm?

8:45am – Inner Ring Road (en route to the first lesson)

A bronze coloured taxi is driving erratically along a four-lane highway. Behind him (yes a him) on the right was a silver Toyota Corolla. To the taxi’s left – a large white bus. I am following 100 metres behind them. The taxi, as slow as a turtle (and without indication), moves into the path of the Corolla. The Corolla brakes quickly to avoid a collision. The taxi then moves to his left and, by a whisker, misses the bus. The bus driver, angry at such vehicular idiocy, brakes, and blasts his loud horn. He then accelerates, overtaking the taxi. It’s revenge time as the bus brakes in front of the bronze taxi and proceeds to drive at 30 kilometres per hour (in an 80km/per hour speed limit).

10am – Rich People’s Garden

Because you two have been so well behaved, I’ll take you out to a 5-star restaurant tonight” the mother announces.

Mummy, can we have Coke or Sprite?”  Young Billy asks.

Billy, your Mum drives a Maserati and your Dad something equally expensive. You and your sister go to the most expensive school in the city. You have a bunch of houses. You holiday at luxury European resorts. Of course you can have a Coke – heck, why not just buy the restaurant?

11:30am – East Wind East Road Compound

There is a presentation involving menus. Miss Y, as we’ll call her, is offering such delicacies as sheep salad (shrimp salad) and roast kitchen leg (roast chicken leg), while Baozha Tou (translates into Afro hairstyle or literally ‘explosion head’) Master B, offers brown knees (brownies) and an A/C meal (a set meal). It’s a joy to watch eight year olds producing menus of such good quality. Mistakes aside, they’re pretty good with English and all scored well. That is apart from one lazy boy who was curiously absent from class.

IMG_8846
Promoting the benefits of kitchen meat

1pm – Subway Sandwiches

appetizer beef bread breakfast

Subway is Subway anywhere in the world it seems. A few menu changes here and there but still of a good standard. There is no queue at this branch. Two Russian girls are playing with the soda fountain, refilling their cups time and again. Value for money. I hope they can get to the bathroom in time. A local man, halfway through his sub, has wandered up to the counter to ask a question. Lettuce is spilling all over the counter and he is speaking with his mouth full. This would explain the mayonnaise droplets falling on to the stack of clean trays by the cash register. Thankfully I’m taking away.

Catshit Coffee (that’s the translation sorry) – the Indonesian coffee chain seems to have moved out of the mall and a newly named Offee and Co. (where’s the C?) seems to have opened. Their watery coffee wasn’t particularly nice last time so I ordered a latte coffee from Subway. What could go wrong?

Mental note: never ever order coffee from Subway at the East Wind East branch again.

3:10pm – Community Centre for Societal Harmony and Egalitarianism

IMG_8852
Naughty boys play with walking frame during break time.

The students in my third lesson have just returned from a short break. Laughter erupts and then suddenly stops. I don’t understand. I’d said something vaguely funny. We were about to learn the meaning of sarcasm and sarcastic laughter when I realise they’re not laughing at me and that the short figure moving behind me isn’t a student. It’s a man with Downs Syndrome. He walks about the classroom. Stops to pick up and inspect my lesson plan book, then my textbook. He gives me a puzzled look so I say “ni hao” to him. He responds in kind and walks out. What a bizarre episode. In 18 plus years of teaching, I’ve seen pretty much everything. That was a first.

There is a centre nearby that houses people with various mental conditions. This chap was friendly but there have been reports of people with psychotic tendencies going on knifing rampages from time to time. The results are never good. Better lock the door next time in case someone else turns up with more sinister intentions.

4pm – the drive home

This is like playing a bad Commodore 64 computer game from the 1980s. I’m Player One. People are jumping out in front of my car at regular intervals. Motorised bikes are heading in the wrong direction. Trucks are behaving like sports cars, Candy Crush Saga-playing pedestrians walk blindly out on to the road and cyclists haven’t yet learnt to ride in a straight line.

The game would be called “Chaos in the Car East“.

6:10pm – Block Seven, balcony of the 11th floor apartment

Teacher, you smell bad” says the five year old boy.

No Kyle, that’s your own sweat you can smell,” says his mother “you’ve been running around downstairs don’t forget!

Aw cripes, do I smell that bad? I’ve been on my feet all day. I head home and check with my wife. She’s blunt. I can count on her for honesty.

No, all I can smell is your cologne.” she says.

Phew.

7:15pm – Military Hospital

It’s very dark here but not cold. This will be the last lesson of the day. Two orderlies are pushing a wheelchair and patient towards the same building that is the teaching venue. A child walks past and stares at the patient, as does someone else. That’s a bit rude isn’t it?  A patient should be given some privacy/dignity, no matter what physical state they’re in.

I steal a glance as I pass them. The patient is extraordinarily stiff and pale. He’s wearing pajamas and he’s a…. dummy!  How weird.

IMG_8854
The Dummy. Where is he going?

I retell this story to one of the parents, a doctor at this hospital. He points to a tall, thin object in the corner. It’s covered by a cloth. The kids are avoiding the area until someone pulls off the sheet to reveal a human skeleton!

jack o lantern on grass

It’s not even Halloween yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chalkface: From the mouths of Chinese babes

This is a breakout blog.

I’ll do this from time to time, get outside of the Block 6 Lifts and write about something wider in scope. Chalkface is one such project. It is intended to share some of the observations from the Chinese language learning environment. We’ll get back to Caffeine Man, the Mad Tapper, and Sir Pick-n-Flick in the next Life In Lifts blog.

Chinese kids are busy on the weekends with loads of extra-curricular classes. It seems that the Chinese middle-class want their kids to be calligraphers, scientists, mathematicians, structural engineers, TV hosts, pianists, polyglots, and NBA All-Star team members – all before lunch time Saturday.

I taught ten lessons this past weekend. Ten different locations, with varying degrees of ambience, air-quality, size, materials, and linguistic skills. And ten traffic jams to negotiate. It’s a good thing that the job is a blast.

In April, I gave the students three weeks to complete a task: design a travel poster for the summer holiday. It had to be an overseas destination, limited to 10 days travel, with a clear itinerary of fun things to see and do. A route map was also part of the requirement (e.g. Day 1 – Pyongyang, Day 2 – Kim Il-Sung shrine etc.). Sixty percent of the mark was to be allocated to the poster (size, colour, visual effect) and 40 percent was for the oral component (pronunciation, grammar, vocab, length, and delivery).

Well, the posters were great. Some real passion went into the production of these posters with colour photos, drawings, computer-aided design, clearly-written paragraphs and neat layout. It made my school homework look embarrassingly inept. Most teams scored full marks.

 

IMG_6781
Where’s Bossy Town?

IMG_6780

 

Then came the spoken part.

There was one girl who spoke beautifully about a tour of New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Bossy Town. She lost half a mark for that. Bossy Town is home to both M.I.T. and Harvard universities and the Red Sox baseball team (have you guessed it yet?).

Here are some of the other things I heard:

“After Black Forest (breakfast) we will make a trip to the female agitation (what?)”   Tommy, 10

People like beer very much. Then it’s time for lunch” – Davy, 10, about a trip to a Swiss zoo

American food is very unhealthy so we will stop at a Chinese restaurant for lunch” – Jessica, 11

“New Zealand is made up of the North Iceland and the South Iceland. You will be arraigned in Christchurch.” – Connie, 10

“Sweetland (Switzerland) is in the middle of Earache. It is home to chocolate watch cheese.” – Lisa, 11

Quebec is the best city to cultivate children. It has many interesting topographical features (how do you know such complicated English – you’re 10 for goodness sake?!). The Canadian frog is red and white with a maple leaf….” – Ada, 10

After arriving at the sandwich hotel, we will get our passports (followed by  indecipherable words) from the Internet and visit  the old naughty (Nordic?) museum, then on to a ski Russell to try skiting” – Leo, 12

There were many examples of this but also lots of really good English too. The most touching thing was their attitude towards this assignment. They didn’t really have to do it. I would be powerless to contact their school teachers and have them fail English. They were incredibly self-motivated. Many parents were kind and said that I had been their child’s motivation but I disagree. Their collective effort made me yearn to take this  freshly-acquired inspiration and repeat my childhood all over again!

Do you ever wish you could go back and do things differently?  Feel free to leave a comment.