Monday and Wednesday this past week there were no classes since we taught Mondays and Wednesdays classes on Saturday and Sunday. Of course this made little sense to me since we weren’t teaching the freshmen at this time, but that’s what it was and now those freshmen classes can just be a bit behind. During these days off I spent some time with some students. One student has become my stalker or something because she calls or texts me everyday and almost every time I leave my apartment I run into her—I don’t have this with any of my other students. Her English is pretty low and she is dedicated to trying to improve it which I admire. I visited her dorm to meet her roommates who spoke even less English, but this gave me an opportunity to practice my Chinese a bit. Before I left they wanted to take a picture with me and to get my autograph. Well, they didn’t say autograph but they wanted me to write my name in their books which seems very much like signing a yearbook to me.
The other students I met up with were some of my freshmen. I visited their dorm and one wanted to know how she might improve her reading ability in English. I suggested reading lower level English books, but they are limited to what they have available so I suggested that they accompany me back to my apartment to take a look at the English library. They were really just excited to see the foreign teacher’s apartment and ended up not taking any books. So we played some cards, they looked at just about everything in my home, they asked me to sing some Celine Dion (My Heart Will Go On), and they wrapped up the afternoon by checking their QQs on my computer since they do not have computers readily available to them. They also took some pictures of me, but this time I got a picture of them, too.
This week there was also a school performance to welcome the new students. I sat with Janice and Mark during the show and we commented on it throughout, which made it more interesting to see. As usual there was singing, dancing and interesting costumes. One notable performance was very Chinese we decided. First three students dressed as pandas rolled out across the dark stage, then when the lights came on many girls ran out with what seemed like pom-poms and they all danced (the pandas even had these little tails which was very funny). About half-way through the performance this one girl comes out in a salsa dancing outfit and dances to Shakira. When she finished the pandas and pom-pom girls came back out to finish the act with more tail shaking action. There were a few piano acts (some good), terrible break dancing, calligraphy, and a wedding show. What’s a wedding show? Basically some students in wedding dresses and tuxes came out with their hair and make-up all done up and modeled. Two of the girls in this show were my students and one of the guys was the boyfriend of another of my students so it was interesting to see. The show had a very Christmas show feel to it or so Janice and I felt due to the decorations, the piano acts, and the cold.
Oh the cold! Maybe Tuesday this week it started out a little cold and got progressively colder throughout the day and the week. I am now wearing my winter jacket, Vivi bought me a scarf to wear (as an early birthday present), and a student bought me some gloves. And oh what gloves they are! They are bright blue and pink with smiley faces on the fingers, and a giant stuffed Hello Kitty on the back of each hand which makes it impossible for me to stick my hands in my pockets. Since she got them for me I must wear them but that doesn’t I cannot lie when I say that I am awaiting her graduation so I no longer must wear them. Vivi’s scarf is more my style, but of course she knows me better than my students do. It is brown and red plaid. Oh and the funny thing is that I brought gloves and a scarf with me from the states; I was just waiting for it to get a bit colder before I took them out. Oh well. It is only in the low 50s or high 40s but it feels much colder because it is damp, there’s no sunshine, and there is little escaping it because none of the buildings are heated. I can heat my living room but not enough to take my coat off and I am still figuring out my bedroom. For now I just wear a lot of clothes to bed and wrap myself like a cocoon in my blanket. I am not the only one, though. It is nice to see the status of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers on Skype so I know I am not the only one dealing with cold. It is worse for my friends north of me in Gansu where it is started snowing this week. In Gansu the buildings have heat, but, according to a friend, they have yet to turn it on—I suppose to conserve electricity. My waiban said that this winter is supposed to be the coldest in a century. I really hope his sources are not good. I can only wait and see. I don’t know how the students deal with the cold—their dorms are without heat and usually their windows are open to dry their laundry.
Speaking of laundry, my washing machine has never worked, but I managed to inform Kerry and he was trying to get it fixed this week. It turns out that the machine cannot be fixed, so the school was trying to find one not in use in the school and couldn’t. What does this mean? The school has to get a new one! I cannot believe how lucky I am. I will have to wait another bit, but at least this guarantees me a working machine in the future and for the rest of my service. Very cool.
This weekend I am teaching again and not teaching Monday and Tuesday so the students cannot participate in the demonstrations that are on the weekends. Apparently the demonstrations have continued to grow against the Japanese because other volunteers are also teaching this weekend as a result of it. This only changes the Halloween party to Monday, otherwise I am getting used to teaching Saturdays and Sundays.
Lastly I had a strange cultural lesson this week. I was taking a walk with my stalker and she asked when I would eat dinner. I said I wasn’t sure and asked when she would have hers. She also said she wasn’t sure. So I said we could just eat together and maybe her roommates might want to come if they hadn’t eaten yet. Of course they wanted to eat outside the school gate which they could only do in my, a teachers, company since the schools is in lockdown with the demonstrations. I went with six of them to a restaurant (that later made us all sick but that’s not related to this tale). At the end they were waiting for me to pay. What?! I only brought enough to pay for maybe half with expectations to just pay for myself. I became so embarrassed that my face turned bright red (later I ran into Vivi and Allie—another teacher—and they laughed and asked if I drank alcohol during dinner). I tried to ask my stalker to pay half which she did (and later I paid her back) but to keep it between us (which she didn’t). I told her it wasn’t in my culture for this to happen and maybe I didn’t understand Chinese customs. Well others I talked with also didn’t think this was Chinese culture but that maybe the students assumed I would pay because I was a “rich” foreigner. There is a misunderstanding of what it means to be a volunteer in China. Students and teachers are always shocked when they hear that the school doesn’t pay me but isn’t that what a volunteer is, I ask. Oh well, just one of many weird moments I will undoubtedly have these next two years in China.