Saturday, November 19, 2011

Facing Fears and Receiving Bows

Aside from the rampant internet problems that continue to prevent me from being able to call my family, the past few days were full of milestones and memorable moments.  Yay Duck really got a workout this week!

On Thursday, I summoned all available courage and, feeling not unlike a Renaissance traveler facing the Ottoman Turks, went to a Chinese dentist for the first time.  I am privileged to work at a school that has its own dental office just down the hall from my classroom, and after suffering for quite a while from what I believed to be a cracked filling, I decided to take advantage of the free dental care provided to me as a teacher.  I really had no reason to be afraid, as I soon learned.  Our school dentist spent much of her life in Iowa, so she speaks excellent English.  Additionally, she is definitely the best dentist I have ever visited:  incredibly kind, soothing, and capable.  As it turned out, I had a cavity rather than a filling problem, and it was quite large owing to my inability to afford a dentist for the past three years (I had no insurance during that time).  Dr. Li numbed me quite nicely, drilled out the decay, and gave me a filling that is so well done that it cannot be distinguished from the actual tooth -- and she got it all done in time for me to go teach my freshman Ancient World History class!  Other than having one side of my face numb (my freshies were quite sympathetic), I was just fine!  At lunch, which came next, I unfortunately chomped up my lip pretty well owing to not being able to feel it, much to the amused sympathy of the friends I was eating with.

After school on Thursday, I had a wonderful evening with some very dear Chinese friends who had me over for dinner.  I particularly enjoyed playing several games of "poker" with one of my favorite little girls in the world (the daughter of a friend; I also teach English to this bubbly smartie as sort of a sideline activity).

On Friday, I had an only slightly less fear-inspiring moment than facing the dentist:  I faced a dictation test from my Chinese teacher.  Despite coming right on the heals of a vocabulary test (yes, dear Jackie gave me TWO tests in ONE day!), I managed to write all of the characters correctly . . . well, aside from messing up a bit on stroke order (I really didn't care -- I was too ecstatic about actually remembering how to write the characters).  Oh, and I also got 100% on my vocabulary test. ☺

Earlier in the day on Friday, I had one of those special "I really love my freshmen" moments (I have these frequently):  We had an assembly earlier in the day where one of our school counselors discussed cultural integration and cultural politeness with the students.  He finished by having some teachers and students show how to properly greet one another according to our different cultures here at the school (our student body is about 80% Korean, 20% assorted other cultures, and then our faculty is a mix of Chinese, Korean, American, Filipino, South African, Indian, Australian, Finish, Malaysian, etc.).  When I went into my classroom after lunch, a mob of my freshies were waiting for me at the front of the classroom.  They promptly bowed to me and said "Annyong haseyo" in eager, smiling unison.  How cute is that?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The End-of-the-Day Bus Ballet

At the end of each school day, as we teachers embark on the journey home, we are treated to a special show:  "The Dance of the School Buses".  On some days, it is a short performance, with only a few students nearly being flattened and some intermittent horn-honking.  Other days, we are witness to five or more buses all determined to enter the school gates simultaneously, while at least ten other vehicles block them (with musical accompaniment from several shouting guards, a few bystanders, and an irritated policeman).  One Friday, however . . .

The ballet opens with a backdrop of a gloomy, rainy day at the school campus.  Our heroine, Stephanie, spectacularly avoids injury while darting down slippery steps and even-more-slippery path, convinced she is about to miss the bus (having been somewhat distracted by melancholy reflections on her poor performance on a Chinese dictation quiz minutes earlier).  Off to stage right, a chorus of jacket-clad children frolic on playground equipment, oblivious to the rain.  Off to stage left are more buildings, with assorted extras scattered hither and thither.

As Stephanie nears the buses, she becomes immediately aware that, regardless of whether or not she moves in time, bus #8 is going to back off the drive and into the grass . . . where she is presently standing.  Whilst hopping out of the path of bus #8, Stephanie nearly encounters bus #5, also intent on backing up into the grass (and possibly into bus #8 as well).  The guard, who is one of the focal figures in this scene, darts to and fro amongst buses, somehow avoiding getting hit.  It is CRUCIAL that each bus driver initially ignore him -- this is all part of the dance.

A chorus-line of cars in varying colors now approaches, completely blocking any buses from exiting the gate.  Although there is absolutely no room for them, a chorus-line of construction vehicles joins the cars, gracefully weaving in between one another at rapid speed in death-defying fashion.  It is CRUCIAL that each vehicle come within at least one and a half inches of one another -- this, too, is all part of the dance.

Teachers and students, standing wherever they can fit (all nicely warmed by the buses that are never more than six inches from their bodies), now flock onto the buses in musically disorganized fashion.  There are, naturally, fewer seats than there are people.  Rearrangement of some of the passengers takes place, while, simultaneously, the guard continues to dart about between buses, the horn symphony plays background music, and the far-more-vehicles-than-any-sane-person-would-ever-cram-into-one-area continue to interweave -- right wear Stephanie's bus is determined to go.

The uneven, potholed dirt road, complete with lose stones, is now nearly as crowded as Black Friday at Best Buy.  A choir of shouting people add to the festivity of the scene.  Every vehicle moves at once, some in the same direction (mere coincidence), and most in opposite directions.  Our heroine bravely digs her long fingernails into her thigh as a defense mechanism against panic (until you have witnessed this bus-ballet in person, it is impossible to grasp the intensity of it).

At 4:48, the 3:45 bus at last makes it off the dirt drive and onto the main road.  Stephanie releases a breath that she has been holding since 3:46.

Pictures from Weifang (courtesy of Kathryn)

Memorial to Eric Liddell, who died in the
concentration camp that is now a park.
This gorgeous archway opens into what was once a concentration camp.

Kathryn, my closest non-Chinese friend here in the "Middle Kingdom"

This place is so enchanting that I am convinced dragons must live there.

Doing my best "Chinese pose" in the archway.

Even with the algae, I still thought this spot was pretty.

Paths like this one demand to be walked down.

Memorial to those who were imprisoned at the concentration camp.

This canopy was overhead on one of the many paths through Liddell Park.

The base of the memorial, listing the names.

"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"