Happiness > Winning

I’m always a little reluctant to talk about my observations and experiences here in China because I know just how trollish certain organizations of people can be when determined to undermine bad news or information that runs counter to their own narrative. I’ve just gotten used to saving it for my journal or internalizing it all together. Such is life here in China.

But I suppose I want to talk about my experience coaching high school basketball and how difficult it can be teaching Chinese high school kids to play together as a team. When I look at how most of these kids were raised, as an only child, often coddled by their grandparents, often without a strong father-figure or male role model, it’s no surprise when I see them get upset about missing a shot, making bad pass, or just turning the ball over because they lack some of the fundamental skills to execute basketball moves they’ve seen NBA players perform. Each of these boys wants to be the scorer, the playmaker, the hero on offense but doesn’t want or know how to work as part of a team. To a man and poor spelling aside, I think each of them believes there is an “I” in “team”.

Most of them struggle with the idea that they are not meant to be the superstar. They resist the idea that the play the coach wants them to run is a more effective, more consistent way to score than their own ideal of 1-on-5. Their preferred way invariably results in one of them launching a contested 19-foot prayer toward the hoop while their teammates stand around watching, frustrated that they aren’t the one with the chance at stardom.

A few of my players understand they need to work hard to improve their skills, and they stay after practice to work on something. But the majority of my team seem to believe they will only improve their game through the frustratingly inane 1-on-5 play I laugh at, then shout at them for. One of the best parts of coaching for me has been taking individual kids aside off the court and explaining to them their importance lies not in scoring points but in some other aspect of the game that they excel at.

This one boy who calls himself “Batman” looked a little depressed last Thursday night during our open-gym time because his team wasn’t getting him the ball so he could shoot more. He was so distraught that he didn’t want to play anymore that night. The next morning before first-period, I went to his classroom and had a short conversation with him in the hallway. I reminded him of the compliments I always give about his defense. He has become a hyperactive monster at the small forward position, disrupting opponents’ passing lanes, harassing and frustrating ball-handlers, grabbing rebounds, even blocking shots as he’s helping out. I told him any points he scores for our team are a bonus and that he should focus on his defensive play because that’s what the team needs most and what he does better than anyone else on the team.

I suppose our team won’t win any games against other schools this fall, but I really couldn’t care less about that. My philosophy about basketball has evolved a lot since I began playing here in China. No longer do I keep score when I’m playing, and I don’t argue calls. Instead, I focus my mind on one thing while I’m playing, and that’s whether or not I’m happy. If I’m not happy, I remind myself how lucky I am to be fit enough to play basketball nearly every weekday, how lucky I am that I work at a school where I have access to a gymnasium to play in year-round. When I consider how lucky I am and how good having basketball in my life feels, I can’t help but be happy. For me, basketball has become all about shared experiences and relationships I have with those I play with and coach. Winning is also nice, but I won’t allow not winning to affect my happiness.

 

I’ll Start This Post After Lunch

I have some ideas for a blog post, some thoughts I’d like to write about the process of hiring a new foreign teacher, that I’d like to put down into words in here. But I only have 2 minutes until it’s time for lunch so this blog post will have to wait. If there’s one thing I’m religious about, it’s lunchtime on weekdays here at school. That low rumbling sound you hear rolling across the room, rattling the windows, is the growling, gnashing sound of my stomach eating itself.

A While Later
Lunch was pretty good. It consisted of duck served in a dark, sweet sauce, shrimp with diced carrots in a mild sauce, fried cabbage, and a delicious soy pork dish that I liked. The lady serving up the food didn’t give me any rice. She never gives me rice. Her prior interactions with me and the Chinese teachers who have occassionally accompanied me have made it crystal clear that I don’t like rice, so it would be wasteful for her to put it on my tray. It feels good to be recognized and remembered by the sweet older lady who serves up the dishes in the cafeteria. She even remembers I like the duck, “Yahdzeh” she reminds me. Rarely does she offer me the fish. I hardly ever ask for it (because of the small bones).

Today, I sat at a small, otherwise empty table with four chairs. I generally prefer to eat lunch alone with my earphones deeply implanted so as to absorb a podcast or some music while blocking out the buzzing chatter of Chinese teachers conversing unintelligibly. Lunch is a brief escape. I eat quickly and return to my dorm room for about an hour to either read some tech news or play some video games on my PS4. Today I played MLB The Show 18, very relaxing.

It appears I’ve run out of space to write about my experience hiring foreign teachers here in Shanghai. That will have to wait until another day.

 

First Day Back at School

It’s Tuesday, August 28th, my first official day back at work for fall semester 2018 at the little international high school where I teach and supervise foreign teachers. Unfortunately the start of a new semester means my foreign teachers are already whining and complaining that they don’t want to teach some of their scheduled classes. One teacher doesn’t want to teach US History. He’d rather teach a subject we are no longer offering. Another teacher doesn’t want to teach so many English classes because she is a science teacher. No one wants to teach those classes, but we need some of our foreign teachers to teach English to the attached domestic school. There’s just no getting around it. Another Foreign teacher didn’t want to teach the English classes or electives, so he’s overloaded with science classes. Some people are just going to be unhappy, and that’s the way it goes, especially when two of those complainers are irresponsible people who frequently break the rules and don’t fulfill their duties as teachers, so I really don’t give a shit about their complaints, at least not on day one.

 

Delusions of Simulation

If we exist within a computer-simulated world, does our knowledge of this fact make our lives any more or less meaningless than if we were truly alive? I can’t imagine life being any less meaningful, but perhaps being part of a simulation might lend purpose to our otherwise purposeless lives through transference.

Personally, I doubt we are in a computer simulation. The people who believe we are just going through the motions in a facsimile of a world are probably grappling with their innate (and possibly unwanted) faith in a higher power which they refuse to call “god” but is certainly based in magical thinking and superstition, not empirical evidence. Instead of having delusions of God, they have delusions of simulation. They don’t want to admit to a belief in an all-powerful being so they gravitate toward this alternative, a simulated universe where we humans are not free in any real sense, where we, some higher power’s insignificant creation/program could be ended with the push of the power button, and therefore whatever we do in this simulation has no repercussions whatsoever.

If that’s not a belief in “god,” I don’t know what is. I only know I have no such belief.

LTBP #3

Lunchtime Blog Post Number 3

Over the the weekend I accomplished very little of the numerous creative projects I had tentatively planned on tackling. Instead, I wasted a lot of time watching TV shows and a couple of films that left me feeling just as hollow as before watching them.

My dysfunctional mind, instead of realigning or rescheduling things I intended to do, simply drops them from the list, unstricken, never to trouble me again, that is, until I realize on Sunday night I completely squandered my weekend.

I’m nobody!

In my American Literature class today, we continued discussing various Emily Dickinson poems. One poem in particular should have made a deeper impression upon my class, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”, but they weren’t able to understand and internalize the meaning behind the words. I suppose I can’t really blame them too much as English is their second language, and I don’t suppose too many American students would find the deeper meaning appealing at the same age. I guess no one wants to believe they are the bog (swamp) in a poem’s less-than-flattering metaphor.

Lunchtime Blog Post Number Two

At some point I’ll have to think of a better name for these lunchtime blog posts that isn’t so on-the-nose, but that day is not today. Today is merely the second consecutive day of my blogging during my lunch break. So in between slurps of hot coffee, I’ll jot down some of my thoughts for today.

Fingernails

Fingernails, in most instances, are pretty freaking awesome. Their convenience when it comes to picking one’s nose or scratching a persistent itch is unrivaled. On the basketball court, however, they are the bane of my existence. I’m referring of course to the fingernails on the hands of my opponents who frequently scrape and tear away my flesh in their desperate attempts to defend me. Every single time I play basketball here in China, and it doesn’t matter if I’m playing against students or other teachers, I come away with hands and arms spotted and streaked with the evidence of their defensive transgressions. I often feel a little terrified that should one of my opponents get mugged and killed later in the evening, I could become a suspect due solely to the fact that large amounts of my DNA would be found underneath the victim’s fingernails.

Lots O’ Drafts

At least 6 draft posts are resting comfortably in a cloud somewhere in WordPress.com. That’s 6 posts I began to write but for various reasons stopped before posting. I’d like to say they are in various stages of completion, however, they are all in the same stage: incomplete. I’ve never been one of those bloggers who could sit down at the computer and remain focussed long enough to crank out multiple blog posts on multiple unconnected subjects and not find some tenuous thread by which to combine and post them together as one homogenous screed. It’s extremely rare for me to finish a post and not publish it immediately. I couldn’t care less about views or likes, so the time of day matters extremely little to me when it comes to posting. With that said, I may try to finish one or two of those aforementioned drafts if I have a little free time later today. Or not. Who knows? Not me.

Expulsion Solution

In the past month, my school has expelled two students for entirely different infractions. The first student, Davis, was kicked out for bullying.  I was told that he had gathered a group of his friends (from other schools) to intimidate another boy outside the front gate on a Friday afternoon when the boarding students usually head back to their homes. In my opinion, Davis definitely deserved his punishment.

The other boy, Allan, was expelled for smoking both off-campus and in various location on-campus. While I agree that students should definitely not be smoking on the school grounds, I don’t believe he should be punished for what he does outside the prison school walls. The fact that he was caught smoking at school is certainly a serious problem, but I don’t believe the punishment fit the “crime.” Obviously, the boy has an addiction to nicotine, and by expelling him, the school really hasn’t done anything to help him break this addiction. He’s just been cast aside like he’s a flawed clay pot unworthy of being fired in the kiln of education.

Sometimes I think international schools in China are run too much like factories where the administrators view the workers (students) as interchangeable and replaceable. They just don’t seem to grasp the human aspect of teaching and shaping young minds. My school has such low expectations for these kids that teachers let them sleep in class, but try to force these same lazy kids to stay awake during the exams by making their tests harder.

There’s just no logic to international school education in China. If you want to create little robots, follow the Chinese curriculum, but if you want thinkers and creators, take a more westernized, holistic approach and stop throwing away kids just because they’ve begun heading down a wrong path.

A Difference of Opinion

Today was the day we teachers at my international school were supposed to turn in our final exams to the heads of our departments. My exams turned out to be quite long, about 10 pages of mostly multiple choice questions plus a written section at the end.

I got a request from the head of the English department suggesting I change some of the multiple choice questions. Get this, the problem isn’t that my questions are too easy. Oh no. Her complaint was that some students will simply scribble letters into the blanks as quickly as they can, then use the remainder of the exam time to sleep.

Apparently, she and I have a different philosophy when it comes to designing tests. I prefer to test what the students may know. The head of the English department seems to think the purpose of the test is to keep students awake. WTF?! So, I guess I’m going to have an argument tomorrow when I meet with her, and I really don’t think her argument has a leg to stand on because students who can’t read can’t answer any questions regardless of whether they are multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank. I fail to see any difference except that my test at least puts the correct answer in front of them. Her way guarantees that the worst students will not even be able to write something relevant on their answer sheets, and I’ll have to wade through that garbage as though I’m actually measuring their knowledge and not just wandering through a landfill searching for pearls.

Remaining Ghost

After careful consideration, and after having read reports that all new Twitter sign-ups require registration of a phone number, decided to bite the bullet and hand over my Google Voice phone number to Twitter for the sole purpose of using that social network to promote this blog. There’s nothing social about it, I assure you. But because I have so few followers on Twitter these days, I don’t think it will make a difference one way or the other.

As for the other big American social networking behemoth, I’m referring of course to Facebook, not LinkedIn, I’m currently weighing the pros and cons of cross-posting links to my WordPress posts there. However, to my mind, the negatives of linking this very personal blog with my real name and very impersonal Facebook “friends” far outweigh the positives and probably isn’t the best idea for someone who prefers to remain a ghost, unknown, so nobody can touch me now. I prefer to remain a ghost or a shadow on Facebook at least. I don’t want random former school chums or co-workers creeping into the comments or worse yet, secretly stalking me in the attempt to discover how I take my coffee (cream and 2 sugars) or where I shop (Uniqlo). So, a ghost I remain.

What’s New Tuesday?

For the Love of the Game
Let’s see, what’s new? That’s really not a rhetorical question. I got bashed in the right eye by an errant elbow this afternoon in the school gymnasium while playing basketball with some hyper-aggressive (and slightly uncoordinated) teachers who visit from other schools every Tuesday to play basketball. This wasn’t my first basketball-related injury this group has inflicted upon my face. Last Tuesday a teacher went all viper-style on me, springing from his coiled position straight up into the bridge of my nose giving me a swollen schnoz and a black right eye. I’m sure I’ll have another shiner come tomorrow morning despite my early exit from the gym to ice down my face. Many of the players messaged me on WeChat to check if I’m OK, so that was nice. The sad thing is that I’ve already begun to change my playing style; becoming less aggressive on defense. Now it’s time to stop being such a ball-hawk on the boards as well.

The Taobao of Pooh
I recently joined the zillions of Chinese shopaholic in properly setting up a Taobao account, complete with online debit card payment (please don’t hack it!) and a correctly entered shipping address. Not only that, I successfully ordered a few things, and already received my first package, a replacement USB type-C power cable for my notebook computer. I know that doesn’t sound very impressive, but it’s going to save me from packing and unpacking a power cable every single working day. Now I’ll just leave one of the cables on my desk in the office. Yeah!