It’s my favorite time of the year: late October and almost Halloween. When I was a kid, Halloween was a time to let my imagination run wild, with outrageous costumes, calling up the spirits of the dead by holding séances, and watching the wind whip up mini-tornadoes of yellow-orange leaves as we went trick-or-treating. The holiday lost its luster later in life, but I still like to hear the chill wind whistling outside my windows, and to feel a bite to the autumn air. I’ve made promises to a couple of my classes to either tell them a ghost story or to come bearing gifts of candy next weekend.
Today was one of those days when everything started wrong. Well, not quite everything: I did manage to wake up at a quarter to six, beating the alarm clock, and to have time to walk the dog, pack my books, get dressed, and grab my two morning bao zi (steamed buns) on my way to the bus. I trekked all the way to the First Ring Road to catch the #34 to the Sichuan Conservatory of Music, where I meet my teaching assistant on Saturday mornings to board the teachers’ bus to the school’s suburban campus in Xindu. Today, though, my assistant was late. We missed the first bus at 7:50, then had to take a taxi for the 30-minute ride to Xindu. And a wild ride it was, the driver honking all the way, zigzagging across traffic lanes like a mad video game, almost getting flattened by trucks, and running red lights.
We arrived safely at the school only to find that we were locked out of the classroom building. After a period of yelling and door-pounding, my six students gained entry for us, fifteen minutes late for our class. Then the teachers’ lounge was locked, so I had no hot water for my tea, and I proceeded to lose 2 yuan in the instant coffee machine. Then our cassette tapes for the listening exercises (delivered to me by bicycle with a new tape player last night at 8 p.m.) were mysteriously missing Chapter 2, today’s lesson. I had to improvise and read my own listening exercises; good thing it’s a performing arts school, so the students understood improv.
The day ended on a better note, but the early lesson felt sluggish and poorly-planned. Today’s listening & speaking classes were about weather, seasons, camping, and 3 boys named Peter, Herb, and Mike. And a bear. No kidding. We then worked on some difficult words, such as chrysanthemum (a one-word tongue twister), decathlon, and triathlon. I talked about “weather” collocations: heat up, warm up, clear up, which are different from cool off, cool down, get cold, or turn cold.
During our lunch break we all ate at a nearby noodle restaurant, then it was time for writing class; in all, the day consists of six 45-minute periods. I tried to get a little creative, with moderate results. I introduced “freewriting,” which is supposed to be spontaneous and unedited, giving students 5 minutes to write anything they wanted beginning with “I remember….” Then I told them to turn over their papers and tell someone else what they had written, without looking at their writing. This caused some anxiety.
We then covered some boring, simple stuff such as connecting phrases and sentences with and, also, but, and so. We finished the class (and the day) with my first experiment in a “student-teacher dialogue journal.” Students were told to write about one thing they learned today, and then to write one question they had for the teacher. The teacher (moi) will respond in writing to each journal, and hand back the papers next Saturday. In some ways this job is ideal: it’s on a beautiful campus, there are only 8 students in the class (2 were absent today), they’re friendly and motivated, and it’s a change from my regular post-graduate English classes that are sometimes like talking to a brick wall. Oh, and the pay is good.
All in all, it was a moderately successful day, not too tiring, and I was home by 5 p.m. After walking and feeding the dog – and giving him his first bath in 5 weeks – I made myself a very tasty dinner of fried rice with carrots and smoked tofu. The smoky flavor permeates the dish, so little seasoning is required: basically, some chopped shallots, vinegar, and soy sauce. The smoked tofu is a recent discovery, and I picked some up at a local market yesterday; it comes in rectangular dark-brown slices, and the flavor is a little like smoked cheese.
Next time I’ll write about the rest of my teaching jobs; I’ve become something of a teachaholic lately.
Improv shot #3