I’m about to disappear once more, but not like last time. This time will be different. This time I won’t be running for my life. This time, I’ll just get up on my trusty steed and ride off into the hills in Red Dead Redemption 2. I don’t remember ever feeling so much anticipation over a video game before. I’m sure that feeling has deeper implications about my current desire to vanish into the wilderness without a trace, but I’m not ready to write about that at present. As soon as my Taobao order arrives, I’ll to go to ground. My escape will get underway just in time for the US mid-term elections.
Next time… The Adventure Begins
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).
This is yet another pathetic post to acknowledge that I haven’t been writing enough lately. But that is about to change…later today…or tomorrow.
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.
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.
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.