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.
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.
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.
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!
I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a couple of weeks now, but I’ve been unable to find the right words to accurately express my thoughts and feelings. Why is that? I’m sure that my new role as a literature teacher, has a great deal of influence on me. I spend a good deal of time explaining to my students that they must consider several things when writing, including their audience, the organization, and structure of their writing. When I take my own medicine, I find I hold back, censoring myself here instead of just letting the words fly.
My students know that each of their writings should have a thesis supported by paragraphs with their own main ideas and supporting information. I find when I blog, that I don’t like to follow this rule myself. I’d rather ramble on and on, following my stream of conscious awareness of my mind’s contents at that moment without forcing myself to hover over the keys while I consider the proper organization of the paragraphs. And I’ve certainly never been known to structure the information contained in my blog posts in any order of importance; no upside down pyramids here.
Which brings us to the main idea of this blog post. At the risk of oversimplification, I’d just like to point out that my life is really good. Actually, my life is great! I’ve landed on my feet with a new job in a great new city. With a lot of help, I’ve finally recovered emotionally from the train-wreck that was my marriage. I’ve been shown just how happy I can be if I let myself choose it and stop clinging to the anger and destructive regrets that had been dragging me down. Life is good because I’m ready to move on, advance, embrace happiness.
I know I’m burying the lead, but that’s just the way I roll. Life is good because I’m ready to move forward with a new mindset, a new outlook, and a very different perspective than I had before. There’s a whole world out there to explore and experience, and although I was prepared to fly solo, I now realize I don’t have to.
I’ve been doing some very deep thinking about super heroes lately. Perhaps it has something to do with my falling in love with Wonder Woman, or it could be related to the fact that I watch all the super hero TV shows (except Agent Carter, Super Girl, and Arrow).
Most of the best super heroes weren’t born that way. Instead, they started out as normal human beings, with strengths and weaknesses, flaws, and talents. But something transformative molds them into something special; still flawed, but better and more powerful than they were before.
Peter Parker was a puny high school runt who was bitten by a radioactive spider and became Spider-Man. Steve Rogers survived Polio and became Captain America thanks to Project:Rebirth. Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered right in front of him, leaving him orphaned with only billions of dollars and a massively successful company to sustain him through childhood before becoming the Batman. Kal-El (Clark Kent) had to put up with his folksy human, Smallville adoptive parents and pretended to be human, all the while hiding his super powers. Princess Diana (Prince) left an island paradise full of beautiful Amazon warriors to fight evil, all the while resisting what must be an overwhelming urge to wrap the Lasso of Hestia (Lasso of Truth) around the neck of every politician on Earth.
Suffering through adversity might be the one thing I have in common with the aforementioned super heroes, though my misfortunes have largely been of my own creation. Obviously I’m not clairvoyant. In fact, even my faculty of hindsight doesn’t rise to the level of a competency. I repeat patters and mistakes, thereby hatching new regrets and nemeses (nemesi?). Although I definitely have a a back-story to rival those of my favorite heroes, and despite the wearing of super hero T-shirts and Batman earring, it hasn’t been enough to propel my superpowers of punctuality and sarcasm into the realm of crime-prevention or world-saving.
I’m an enemy of President Trump in the sense that I’m one of the many types of people he professes to absolutely loathe (if he new the meaning of that particular word). I’m here to confess that I am indeed a leaky leaking leaker.
I’m like that package of frozen steak you take out of the freezer and set directly on the top shelf of the refrigerator to thaw overnight only to find a large pool of beef juice covering the base of everything on every shelf when you open the fridge door to get half-and-half for your coffee the next morning. Just like the steak, I need to warm up a little before releasing personal information in drips and drabs all over the surface of this here bloggy blog. Eventually, the truth will come out, making a mess and requiring some cleanup.
Unlike those leakers in the government, my information isn’t classified, and won’t land me in prison were I to be discovered. The worst thing that might happen is that more than two humans may read my words, and I think that’s the goal, if I’m being honest (which I almost always am here).
Some people like to drop the cliché “My life is an open book.” but they only leave that book open to the pages containing no sensitive, burn-after-reading content, only the sanitized, safe-for-consumption, nuggets of pyrite, washed clean and polished for all the world to be dazzled by. In contrast, my life is a package of frozen beef.
As recently as April 28th, I was kind of a big deal; a big fish in a small pond. I was the only remaining foreign teacher at a high school whose main objective is preparing Chinese kids to study in western universities overseas. Every single student at that school knew my name, and about 90% of them would say “Hi!” as they passed me in the hallway. No matter how rubbish my day was, their greetings would always make me feel good. That’s long gone.
Now that I’m in exile, I’m no one, working nowhere, and I feel I’ve become practically invisible. Invisible is growing on me. I think I could get used to this. When I go back, I’ll be the littlest fish in the biggest of ponds, and I think that’s exactly what I need.
Unfortunately, the best advice I can give to a westerner planning to travel or move to China is this: Keep your mouth shut. No, I don’t mean breathe through your nose. I mean keep your critical opinions (and you will have many of them) to yourself. Nothing good will come from telling Chinese people what you see as wrong with their government, their environment, or their culture. Most of them are not ready to hear criticism of these things, even if they know you are right.
Instead, they will blame you, the messenger, even if the message is full of wisdom and truth. It won’t matter that your words come from a good place of concern and caring for the Chinese people. They will point their accusing fingers back at you, throwing every (obvious) flaw and criticism of America (and there are many) they can think of, in your face as though two wrongs make a right or somehow cancel each other out. They will use logical fallacies and motivated reasoning to make false equivalents between problems like China’s pollution and America’s presidential election and endemic racism.
So save your breath. Keep your mouth shut. Don’t speak your mind unless it’s 100% positive, non-critical flattery that reinforces the Chinese belief that their country is the center of the universe and soon will rise to power and dominance as America’s form of democracy falters and its influence around the world continues to decline.
I have a few spare minutes while I wait for my mom. Once she has showered and “put her face on,” we’ll drive the 11.7 miles to Chief Supermarket in Bryan, Ohio. Actually, mom will drive because my license was stolen (along with my wallet) back in China, and I haven’t gotten around to replacing it.
So I’m sitting here on a flowery, off-white sofa, watching the shadows of the front yard’s ancient oak tree dancing on the floor in front of me. The morning sunshine is pouring in through the white Venetian blinds onto the beige carpet. Out of impatience and boredom, I’m tempted to drink another cup of coffee. Armed with the knowledge that a fourth cup of java would put my nerves on edge, something I certainly don’t need while I’m on this forced vacation, I’m able to resist temptation (this time).
I’ll sit here, patiently awaiting my mother’s announcement that she’s ready, while finding other things to occupy my time, if not my mind. The lovely flowers I shot while walking to the post office adorn this blog post only because I took a little of this waiting time to edit them. If these flowers could talk, oh, the joy they would speak of.