Something happened last Friday morning, something that has been about 21 months in the making. My (now) ex-wife and I finally signed our divorce settlement, slapped down our red inky thumbprints upon our names, and received our divorce papers from the Chinese government. So I guess this might be the end of K-Sqared’s Ghost Bloggy Blog as my life can now officially begin again.
I’m not a prototypical consumer, but I am very accomplished when it comes to buying things I don’t need. I own a little Xiaomi universal IR blaster with which I can control the TV and air-conditioner in my room with my phone. I have at least 5 pairs of earphones, but only 1 pair of ears. I have a podcasting microphone, but I haven’t podcasted in years. I have a Raspberry Pi, and I don’t even like raspberries. Three mice are scampering around my various desks.
My current phone (which I’m satisfied with) is a Samsung Galaxy S9+. I bought it when it launched way-way back in March of 2018. Being that it’s now October 2018, I have no business looking at mobile phones, at least not with the intention to buy. I have no need for a new mobile phone. So why am I checking out the $1,440 Huawei Mate 20 Pro? Because I am a human geek from America, and the media trained me to seek out and consume technology, that’s why.
I probably won’t buy a new phone this year, probably. But I find it disturbing that I want to buy this phone. Tech news sites and podcasts prey upon the geek’s natural desire for cool, new technology. The media feeds us glorified press releases masquerading as news, custom-built to appeal to our appetite for gadgets. The media programmed me to seek out news and information so that when I see something shiny and awesome, I’m primed to buy it as soon as I can. My self-control is constantlybeing put to the test. Services like Amazon Prime which offer near-instant satisfaction would certainly endanger my bank account were I living in the US right now.
My very own copy of Red Dead Redemption 2 arrived at my school today. At lunchtime, several people got my hopes prematurely lifted through the ceiling when they told me that a package was waiting for me in the boys’ dormitory. Mentally I pumped my fist while silently shouting an enthusiastic “YES!” in my mind. But the package only turned out to be my new 32″ UHD monitor wrapped in plastic and packed tightly into a wooden frame for extra protection.
Later in the afternoon, possibly as a direct result of my feverishly mashing F5 on my keyboard to refresh Taoboa’s logistical tracking page, I saw that my highly anticipated box of happiness had arrived at the front gate. Skipping every other step of the four flights of stairs I rolled down, I couldn’t get to the security booth fast enough. Fortunately, the guard on duty remembered me and let me find my own package rather than forcing me to wait until all of the packages had been delivered to the boy’s dormitory at 5pm.
The installation and update took an hour and 20 minutes to complete, but it was definitely worth the wait! So far, I’ve killed 1 man, six wolves, and my desire to ever turn off my PS4.
If anyone is wondering how much I paid for RDR2, I got it for 372 yuan. That’s about $53.11 in US money, money well-spent if you ask me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a game to live.
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 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.
This alternate universe known as Shanghai has an energy to it, a vibe that imbues the flow of humans rushing through the streets with an unnatural momentum as though nothing common can stop it, not even an oncoming train. So the government has implemented these rolling gates. Otherwise, you better believe trains all across the country would be forced to stop to wait on the majority of drivers and motorcyclists who clearly believe traffic laws are entirely optional.
Though it was never in my life plan, Shanghai became my home away from home last July. Actually, I should say that I moved here in July of 2017, but it became my home at some point during the fall semester at my new school, probably when I realized the administrators, teachers, and students were quickly becoming my new extended family, and I was feeling safe both on campus and off. Exploring Shanghai on foot, one city block at a time became my hobby and pastime. No longer is walking the desperate, momentary escape it had been for me in Changsha. The day I walked all the way to the Bund and became engulfed in the flood of wide-eyed tourists on East Nanjing Road still echoes in my mind, a fantastic triumph of spirit and fortitude which I’ve subsequently repeated several times. Now, I know this is where I belong (for the time being).
Despite all of the beginning-of-year mini-disasters at my school, I have to say that life has been pretty good for me so far this semester. I’m only teaching two literature courses (instead of 3), and my basketball practices will start tomorrow afternoon. I’ve been averaging over 7 hours of sleep for the past three weeks. That’s an improvement by about an hour over last semester. Although I haven’t yet lost the extra kg’s I gained over the summer, I feel pretty healthy, no aches or pains anywhere, and my basketball skills (such as they are) don’t seem to have diminished.
For three days last week, I traveled with my school on our fall field trip to a place southwest of Shanghai called Nine Dragons. I guess you’d call it a secluded resort area on the coast surrounded on three sides by small mountains. I’d call it a picturesque local except for the three massive sky-piercing smokestacks clearly visible off in the distance from nearly every place in Nine Dragons.
On the afternoon of the first day, the students were placed at random on teams then performed a bunch of cooperation-based tasks, basically team-building 101. When I asked a few students how they liked it, they invariably said it was very difficult. They don’t get a lot of team activities at our school.
On the morning of the second day, we rode horses around the inside of a coral, led by the horse’s trainers who held a lead. I found it a little boring, but some of the kids liked it. We also did some archery followed by kart racing, which I enjoyed most of all the things we did. I’m not hyper-competitive, but I’m proud that I passed everyone in my heat once and passed one person twice. After my race, another foreign teacher ignorantly said my kart was much faster than theirs. I didn’t waste my breath explaining to her that she was slow in the corners, didn’t follow the racing line, and probably wasn’t strong enough to press the throttle all the way to the floor. I just let her think my kart was faster. Hell yeah, it was faster. I drove it faster.
In the afternoon of the second day, we went boating in a small harbor and around some small canals which connected to it. Our small, under-powered boats each held four people. I rode with 3 of my 10th-grade students, and we had a pretty good time tooling around on the water. Once we had found the outlet, we made a tentative plan to escape to the ocean, but we ran out of time and needed to head back to the dock to head to the next activity.
One of the 10th-graders brought a few clubs with him on this trip, a 7-iron, a wedge, and a putter. Too bad he didn’t bring his driver, or we could have had a little driving contest, but he thought we were going to be playing on a par-3 golf course. Most of us had fun pointlessly trying to hit little white balls into a rolling field full of little white balls while Andy, the boy who had brought his own clubs worked on his short game.
The last stop of the day was to play a war game the Chinese kids call CS (Counter-Strike). The war is fought with guns that fire plastic pellets which aren’t supposed to hurt much, but seeing as how I’m a teacher, I didn’t take the chance to get shot in the face by my students and sat this one out. Though most of the kids had a great time fighting it out among the modified shipping containers, one boy was obviously upset that someone he had shot would not admit to having been shot, and I suppose it might have changed the outcome of the game. So I reminded the boy that it’s only a game, and he calmed down. I think he was just hangry, and all of us were looking forward the the big meal at the end of a very long day.
As a teacher, you’re not supposed to have favorite students, or at least you’re not supposed to acknowledge that you do. I’m quite good at following this rule. That is until I heard the news this week that one of my favorite students, a tall, skinny, socially awkward boy who goes by “Mike” wouldn’t be returning to our school this semester.
I don’t mind stating that I find intelligent, self-aware students far more interesting than those uncurious students who struggle to speak their minds, or perhaps don’t even know their own minds. Mike is one of those kids. He was always asking my favorite question, “Why?”
Mike’s most endearing quality was his physique. He was tall, 6’4″, and built like a corn stalk. To call him thin would be a gross misuse of the word. But despite looking as though a stiff breeze could uproot and bounce him down the sidewalk, Mike often made the attempt to play basketball. He was actually beginning to make significant progress at overcoming his extreme awkwardness. So it’s super unfortunate that he’s not returning to our school this semester. He’ll definitely be missed by all of his teachers.
Seriously though, I really wanted to write a post about how I’ve come to not care about all the heinous shit happening in the world, how I’ve learned to ignore America’s Troll-in-Chief, and how I’ve become apathetically numb to the ever-increasing entropy all around us, but it’s impossible. It’s impossible because, despite all my efforts (and lack of effort), I still read the dog-damned news every morning.