Friday, 21 August 2009

happy Easter to me

Date: Sat, 14 Apr 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: happy Easter to me

I was going to write an email about snot, but mum absolutely forbade me. She thinks I have written too much about the old green goo and should give it a rest. So I will restrict myself to remarking that I have a cold.

This week I am even more Chinese than I was last week. For example, I have always had very firm opinions about my personal space. Strict rules about where it started, who was allowed in it and when. I think it was about a foot and a half and not many people not often. I didn't even like other people's personal space being in my personal space. But this has all changed, I walk arm in arm with people, lean against people when I’m talking to them, and feel reasonably comfortable on the bus.

Also, I am learning more Chinese. My problem till now has been remembering the words, and I have worked out a system.

doorshow jen? (how much)
go away (expensive)
how (good)
hen house (very good)
thai howler (really good)
chafing (let's eat)
jaguar (all purpose word, mainly meaning 'this one')
negligee (all purpose word, mainly meaning 'that one')
I see one (I like)
and so on. There are lots more.

My hair is growing (imagine!) and I am starting to look more like me again, not that strange girl in the mirror. Actually I am starting to look a lot like Bono when U2 recorded 'Under a Blood Red Sky'.

I am going to go to the barber in the street. I am waiting for my courage and a sunny day (for good photos) to coincide. I figure if I can shave my own head, I can go to some guy on the side of the road to get a hair cut.

Happy Easter to everyone. China embraced Valentine’s Day, but hasn't seemed to notice Easter. I have some Easter eggs, (thank you Canada (no! I haven’t eaten them (all) yet)).

love love love

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

girl conquers china

Date: Sat, 7 Apr 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: girl conquers china

I am writing from Melinda’s room. It always smells like butter tea and dried yak meat. Very exotic.

I finished off the lying game and I got an 'I feel lonely everyday' and a 'I hate myself and I want to die'.

I also had another nice young chap come up to me and ask me if I was Christian. And I replied 'um, no, not really.'
He appeared stunned and said in disbelief 'but I thought all Americans were Christians.' (and that just about sums it up, doesn't it) What could I say? I just shrugged.
'So why aren't you a Christian?'
(Y'know, kid, I’ve never really given it much thought)


The beauty of teaching is that I love all the kids. The spotty ones, the dumb ones, the geeks and dweebs, the kids too cool for words, the smarties who don't want to show off, but desperately want you to know that they know. I even love the irritating ones. There is a boy in one of my classes, I’m pretty sure he's the smartest kid in the class. We are playing a game where he pretends he is disruptive and rude and I pretend that he is stupid. This week he called me a pig and I said 'now that's not very nice' in my best 'speaking to a five year old' voice. He kept repeating it and with wide-eyed innocence I said 'perhaps you do not understand what you are saying.' slowly clearly, slowly clearly. 'But it is very rude.' 'and-if-you-keep-saying-it-then-will-send-you-to-the prin-ci-pal.' he stopped.

The moment he stops being disruptive, I drop the stupid act.

I am having second thoughts about my new watch. I had my old watch a long time and I am feeling a little unfaithful with the new blue one. My grandpa gave me my old watch and it has seen me all the way through high school and uni. It survived horsemanship, a fall in the Yarra and my short-lived apprenticeship. But I don't think it will survive China. I dropped it on the floor of my room and cracked the face, and the band is about to give out. I am utterly attached to it, but let me not be spoken of as one who loves not wisely but too well. I have packed it away with my spare pair of glasses, and will suffer valiantly along without it.

I am becoming very Chinese. I went out to a banquet last night and didn't even think of asking for rice with the meal. I am getting used to the amount of personal space and if I could just do something about the way I look and my command of the language...

But then maybe not, I bought a DVD player yesterday and christened it with The Matrix. (So very good to hear English)

love and kisses

Monday, 17 August 2009

he trusted in god that he would deliver him

Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: he trusted in god that he would deliver him

China is wearing thin. Or maybe I have had an intensive immersion in Canada for the last week and now the Canadians have gone home and I am still here.

We had a lovely time swapping cultural differences (they don't have yobbos in Canada, or whingers) and laughing at each other’s cultural blunders (I referred to Canada once as America and they mentioned Crocodile Dundee. Did I ever tell you that I failed cross-cultural communication in first year? (So what am I doing in China??)) They have gone now, taking their English and leaving their Canadian chocolate (so good, so good).

Since last week everything has got green. It practically happened overnight. Suddenly the view out the bus window has taken dimension. All the tones of brown kinda made the landscape (if you call it that) look flat. Now there are contrasts and the fields stretch back to the horizon rather than up to the top of the bus window. I also saw a man driving a horse and plow. I know that the new ways are much more efficient, but o, how romantic.

I went shopping a lot with the Canadians and I have bought my first name brand item. A Gucci watch for 50 yuan, which is roughly 12AUD, 10CD, 6.50USD, or 4pounds Stirling. It will be interesting to see how long it holds up. I guess I can no longer take a stand against China's breaches of intellectual property and copyright.

Two weird things have happened this week. While I was at the boarding school, some of the older students, whom I don't teach, asked if they could talk to me. I wanted to say no, but I sat down with them. While we were making stilted conversation, a young chap with a burning look in his eye barrelled up to the table and said over the top of another student:

'Are you a Christian or a Catholic?' in a tone that suggested there were no other options.

I was puzzled and, keeping a hold on my irritation, said 'Well, Catholics are Christians.' I paused, but that was clearly not the answer he was after. 'But I guess I’m neither.'

He studied me for a moment, 'Ah, then you do not trust in god.' Wow, slow down kid. I didn't say that either. But I decided he did not have enough English or patience for me to explain that many things have shades of grey (it seems many Chinese people of my acquaintance see things as either black or white and have no time for my "yes, but" answers. I have had some rather alarming questions) so I settled with 'um, no.'

The other thing was just yesterday. With the junior two kids I am playing the lying game, where they have to say something about themselves and everyone else has to say whether they are lying or telling the truth. This was fine until one girl said 'my father hits me once every day.' and then said that it was true. So what do I do? I couldn't tell if she was serious or not.

I hope everyone is well. Is it true that there is a new James Bond movie on its way? That would be good reason to buy a DVD player. I am having my usual bout of indecision that comes with the idea of buying something. If I don't get over it soon, it will be time to come home and I still won't have got it and then it will be too late, and then I won't have to make a decision… sounds perfect.

love you

Friday, 14 August 2009

the taste of chalk dust (think tofu and you're just about there)

Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: the taste of chalk dust (think tofu and you're just about there)

I want to tell you all about my funners week.

It all started on a Wednesday, I know it was a Wednesday because on Wednesday the milkman always comes at two (sorry, I have been reading a lot of Agatha

Any way, on Thursday I went out to dinner with jenny (an English teacher) and her boyfriend Vince and her friend Bob from Texas. Bob from Texas is very disappointing as a Texan, he doesn't even say y'all. He knows of black adder but when I said, 'Bob, that's a funny name for a girl' he didn't laugh. He invited me out the next night with a bunch of his American friends (two of them were going home). I went to meet him at the train station, when I got there there was this man who started chasing me round saying 'wo ai ni, wo ai ni.' and that he wanted to kiss me. Close to tears, I fled into the train station. Ten minutes later it occurred to me that Bob from Texas might not be coming by train. So I ventured to surface. and to my great joy the drunken man had gone and Bob was there.

We were out until so late and when I got home the gates were locked. Just as Bob from Texas suggested I come to his place for the night, one of the nice men came out and opened the gate. then of course the building was locked. I thought for sure I would be curled up next to the garbage bins for the night. but then the man in the basement appeared from below in his long johns and slippers and rescued me from my ignoble fate.

On Saturday I found some jeans that fit (men’s jeans, one size down from the biggest size you can buy. The women's jeans, not now, not ever.) and a shirt (men's).

On Monday a Canadian group arrived (from Canada!). There are two teachers and four students, so I am quite replete with spoken English. I took them out shopping and for dinner and discovered I have learned more about China and Beijing than I had thought, I am quite an accomplished tour guide.

Also this week, I have had three nosebleeds, my hair started falling out and I cleaned my room. I am hoping the nosebleeds are because it is so dry and the hair because it is getting warmer, I cannot explain why I cleaned my room (with a mop and everything) it is totally out of character, what’s more, it has stayed neat til now.

all my love

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Lovesong of Celia J. Prufrock

Date: Sat, 24 Mar 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: The Lovesong of Celia J. Prufrock

oh coffee
remember me?
I want to hold you
in my hands again.
roast beef you remain,
with potatoes and gravy
and maybe some peas,
most pleasing.
pasta with pumpkin
and cheese or something
spicy and hot
with ginger and not
a hint of star anise.
o Cadbury, who am I
without you, o timtams.
o cheese, o cheese
in a toasted sandwich
with salami.
what bliss.
olives and hommus
biscuits and bread.
o bread cut thick
and spread with honey
or toasted and, with the
most exquisite jam,
fish, barbequed, tender, flaking
your white flesh would take me
through raptures untold.
lamb to capture
the magic of rosemary and sage
and garlic and wine.
Babka's lemon tart
sharp in my mouth, I smile.
Tasmanian Blue Banner pickled onions
does anything matter
with your bitter taste
between my teeth?
oh for the velvety feel
of tomatoes - hot from the sun -
against my fingers.
almonds, cashews, black jelly beans
nutella, cracked pepper pate
smoked oysters and cheese.
nectarines from our tree
tasting like sunshine.
a bowl of müsli
crunched while tired eyes
desire a deeper sleep.
a breeze that touches your skin
and brings the smell of fresh baked
fruit cake
catches in your heart
and you yearn
for foods forgotten
and far away.

Monday, 10 August 2009

bikinis and banana lounges

Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: bikinis and banana lounges

I do not understand the weather.

Last week I was still wearing my jacket in the classroom because I was cold. Yesterday it was 20 degrees C and too hot in a light silk shirt, and today is 25 C. We seem to have skipped my favourite season and moved right on in to summer. It gives me a weird feeling of having changed country again. Of course I have no summer clothes and yesterday when I went to buy some, I discovered again the benefits of being a small person in China.

I have realised that the length of my stay will not be determined by how homesick I am, but how by long my undies last.

Friday, 7 August 2009

"and she cried lacrymatory tears" (student's writing in junior two)

Date: Sat, 17 Mar 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: "and she cried lacrymatory tears" (student's writing in junior two)

Although I feel foolish to have to admit this, I discovered this week that the most important part of teaching is learning your students' names. I decided on Wednesday I was sick of pointing and saying 'you!' when I wanted someone to do something. So I made an effort to use people's names, or used the role when I couldn't remember. And once the students realised I was making an effort to remember, they began to help me, not just with names (Richard, make Richard do it) but with everything. I can't believe it took me four and a half weeks to realise something so obvious. Of course when I sat down to work out how many photocopies I need, I discovered I teach 920 students a week (is it any wonder I can't remember them all). The kids all think I am very cool, as a result I am learning to be very cool. This is a new thing for me as usually I fall closer to dork along the cool to dork continuum.

I got on the wrong bus on the way here. I am suspicious of buses at the best of times. I am never entirely convinced that they are going to go the way that they are supposed to go. Add to that not knowing where they're supposed to go and having no common language in which to ask the driver and you have a very nervous girl indeed. Still, I am learning bit by bit what numbers go where, which is also how I came to be stuck in a traffic jam for an hour the other day. The traffic jam left me with plenty of time to wonder why the driver had a kitchen knife and an iron rod on the dashboard.

I read some news reports about Oz the other day. All that seems to be happening is floods and droughts and also that John Howard, leader of the ruling coalition party, was in serious trouble for the next election. I had as much trouble explaining to Melinda why I found the coalition being described as ‘the ruling party’ funny, as I did trying to explain Easter, except I think I know even less about Easter than I do about the coalition.

'So why do you eat hot cross buns and chocolate eggs?'
'Well, you know Jesus?'
'Ah, well, um you know the bible?'
'Okay, you know Christianity?'
(There followed a scuffling of dictionaries)
'So, in Christianity there was a man called Jesus and on Easter Friday, I mean Good Friday he was crucified.'
'Oh, he was taken away?'
'Um, no, he was nailed to a cross.'
(a look of horror)
'Or maybe they nailed him to the cross on another day and he died on Friday. Anyway, the he rose from the dead on Sunday.'
(a look of disbelief)
'He came back to life and, oh any way, we eat eggs then to celebrate.'
and I gave up.

Okay, I have my phone number now, (and because I know that everyone wants to call, I am going to tell you) it is (010) 68885555. I am considering losing it again so that I can tell people that I don't know what it is. If I tell people they just call me to ask irritating things like can I help them/ their family/ their friends/ their friends’ families with English after school/ in the mornings/ at lunch time/ on the weekends (the answer is no and will continue to be no).

love you

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Q: What's brown and squishy and falls apart when you touch it?, A: I don't know, but I'm not eating it.

Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: Q: What's brown and squishy and falls apart when you touch it?, A: I don't know, but I'm not eating it.

If you happen to look at the weather report in The Age for Beijing, and you notice that under weather it says 'smoke', that means that the smog is so thick that you can chew on it. Like today.

Teaching twenty-six classes seems to be all right. This morning one of the students asked me if I would help him pierce his ears. Just like mine. One of the teachers keeps asking me out on dates. Or to 'just help him with this thing', 'shall he come to my dorm?'. I don't think so.
Today, when I arrived at one class, they were still at PE and the door was locked, I couldn't be bothered standing, so I sat on the banister to wait. A bigger reaction I have never seen, as students came down the stairs or along the corridor they gasped in shock. The ones who know me asked 'Celia, what are you doing?' I don't think they would have been more astonished if I’d taken off my clothes and danced up and down the corridor in bra and knickers (okay, a little bit more). Mental note to self 'don't sit on banisters'.

And I’m tired of being stared at, it is like an itch I can’t scratch, I can feel people looking at me all the time. When I came to the internet cafe with Melinda, she couldn't believe it. She kept saying, he is looking at you, she is looking at you, he is looking at you and he said that...

Melinda lives in the foreign teachers dormitory with me. She is from Tibet and is studying English at Beijing University because she wants to go to Wellesley College in Boston. She is an odd girl, but nice. She is good to learn Chinese from because it is her second language, too, so in moments of frustration I can abuse it as much as I like. I worry for her though, I am the person she speaks the most English with, and she is picking up some of my speech patterns, the other day I distinctly heard her mutter 'ahh crap'.

Other than that all is well. I hear I missed John McCutcheon at the Folkie. I tell you, China had better deal something pretty spectacular to make up for that.

love you

Monday, 3 August 2009

teaching my knickers to fly

Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2001
From: Ceels
Subject: teaching my knickers to fly

Qantas is no longer flying to china. To catch my Qantas flight home I have to go to Hong Kong. Look Hong Kong up on a map. And where is Beijing? Irritated? What do we think? The cost of a plane ticket is half a month's salary and to take the train is thirty hours.

But now to the weather. It is warm enough to go outside in just a shirt and jeans. Soon there will be no more little kids wrapped in so many layers of clothes that they can't walk. They look like little chubby starfish. I saw one the other day fall down some stairs. It didn't feel a thing, it just lay at the bottom and waited for someone to put it back on its feet.

Soon maybe there will be some greenery. We drive past quite a lot of farmland on the way to the boarding school. The paddocks look as though nothing has ever grown in them ever. They are just dry dusty clay beds. Quite often you see sheep (and shepherds!!!) but I don't know what they eat. In fact I am not even sure they are sheep. They have really long legs and big floppy ears. Now, I know sheep. Hell, I’m even wearing a pair of sheep earrings. But these things look more like those big walking things in return of the Jedi.

Except smaller.

There are many odd things that bother me, but those sheep bother me the most. Although the trees run them a close second. The bottom three feet of all the trees on the side of the road is painted white. This is a mystery to me. The birds are starting to come back. There are some that look like mudlarks, but with really long tails and I think the other morning I saw an owl (bearing in mind that all flora/fauna is seen from a tinted bus window at 80-130 kph). And some little sparrowy things.

The most astonishing fact in my life at the moment is that (wait for it). I enjoy teaching, even the chalk. I even feel closer to the teachers from school and want to write them all letters apologising. For every thing. I was cleaning the board today and was suddenly overcome with memories of year twelve Lit, and the smell of chalk and mint chewy and cigarette smoke (the teacher snuck to his car for a ciggie every recess then chewed chewy to pretend that he didn't). That smell will always remind me of Shakespeare and Africa (A Dry White Season).

I am teaching twenty-six classes now, but they are paying me quite a bit more. I have also had an offer to teach night classes. I will wait and see.

And this weekend is the Folk Festival. It has been the hardest couple of days since I arrived at the school. I should be in Port Fairy listening fabulous music and drinking Guinness, but instead I am in China listening to EZY FM and drinking sprite. I don't even have my Pat McKernan cd to comfort me (I forgot to pack it).

Oh well, there is always next year.

love to you