Ok, so when I said that work had fallen into place you may have noticed that I didn’t say it was going well, because it wasn’t. It had become my daily dose of frustration. Teaching two dozen children dance with the help of a couple other people is very different from trying to teach English to thirty plus rambunctious only-children. You’ve heard of the One Child policy, right? And the Little Emperor phenomenon? It’s one of the most frequent complaints about modern China. They say because every family is only allowed one child, they say each kid grows up with two overly attentive parents, four extremely doting grandparents and essentially the entire world revolving around them. The result is imperious children who have no concept of sharing, compromising or being patient. Well, it’s true. Maybe not so much that it is a product of four doting grown-ups catering to their every whim, but certainly the result of a child who has never had to share anything, least of all attention. Children would quickly grow bored with waiting for the other pupils to speak and start to amuse themselves until the whole room crescendoed into a seagull’s conception of a perfect symphony. The room would become a din of screeching children all trying to amuse themselves and simultaneously catch the teacher’s attention. I would shout myself hoarse just to be heard and then when silence was finally achieved it was transient, merely the eye of the storm. I tried everything I could think of to discipline students from making them stand in the back of the room, or in the front of the room, to holding heavy objects or trying to appeal to their better natures. None of it worked. Lorne and other people from the company came into observe my class and started giving me tips on what I should be doing. Slowly things got better, but not quickly enough.
Lorne respected my desire for blunt, un-cushioned truth and how I took what he said to heart. He started teaching me everything that wasn’t in the handbook. He provided me with mentors, whose classes I observed in order to better understand how they maintained order. Generally they did everything that Lorne had taught me and our mentoring sessions turned into involved conversations about nothing of real interest, such as badly chosen Chinese names, girlfriend troubles and the difficulties of buying an oven in a country that had little concept of household baking. These foreigners weren’t having great luck with adjusting. Not that my luck was much better these days, at least when it came to teaching. The kids would behave in one class and act like little terrors in the next.
The commute was a bit like that too, sometimes interminable, sometimes pleasant, but always a challenge. I had to take a bus into People’s Square, which is the epicenter of the city. It is home to the modern art museum, the historical art museum, a huge underground shopping mall, an overly formal park and the main terminus for the buses and subway interchange. It’s more of an oblong than a square and was used as a race ground under the foreign regimes. Now it’s a park walled in by important buildings and roads filled with the most beautiful of modern and old architecture, with blocks that snaked out from the park’s center like an octopus’ tentacles. From People’s Square I walked ten minutes to the line two subway and rode it to Dongchang station stop. Then I took a 30 kuai reimbursable taxi ride all the way to the school.
I was their first and only foreign teacher, so everyone was nice to me and helped me find my way around. The school consisted of a group of boxy white buildings built for practicality rather than esthetics. They were in a gated lot of asphalt and failing lawn. Rows of typical apartment buildings and commercial shops flanked it on either side. I had my very own classroom with air conditioning and shiny new desks. I brought props that I stuck in my money belt to teach them the word ‘fat’ and smeared chalk, unintentionally, all over my face to teach them the idea of dirty. (I was terrible with the chalk. It was always all over me.) We were starting to get the hand of reading simple things “Cat sat on rat”, but I was only reaching the brightest, most attentive students.
In the beginning of November the axe was dropped. My third week of classes had finished. Lorne called me on my cell to break the bad news. He said the school just wasn’t happy with the discipline of my classes. It wasn’t my fault. I was new and inexperienced, in fact he was so impressed by my hard work that they were going to break company policy and keep me on.
“We usually don’t have any use for a teacher that’s been asked to leave a school, but I like you Marj. You work hard and I don’t think it was your fault. I’m going to switch one of the other teachers to a new post and give you his class. It’s twice a week for an hour each.”
I did the math in my head. It would give me about 1,200 kuai a month, just enough to scrape by on if I didn’t count the rent, which was paid up for six months. I suddenly cursed myself for having gone on a shopping spree that day and spending 100 kuai on manga art books, stickers, DVDs, CDs, computer games, stationary and other little goodies.
There was this alley across from the park just packed with tiny shops the size of a parking space, stuffed with all sorts of school age wonders. Their merchandise spilled off of card tables and cheap display stands like treasures beckoning at the end of a rainbow. I had penchant for anime and had taken myself there after morning martial arts practice. It was the first splurge I’d indulged in since I arrived in China and now I had lost my job. I looked at the black trash bag full of the day’s purchases and despaired at my moment of frivolity. At least my visa was intact. My heart had been pounding when he told me I was fired, because if I lost the job, I'd have to leave the country, thankfully the company was keeping me on. It was a blow, but not a fatal one.