Home (at last?)
"Gone fishin'" - or maybe "Gone to swim with the fishes" -(but not a la "Godfather")
On my last night away from Toronto I went to a traditional summer street festival in Tokyo. I was there with some old friends from my guesthouse, the kinds of friends I could just pick up with as if nothing had changed. Together we stood on a second-floor balcony overlooking the parade of dancers and musicians. I vowed I would leave Toronto and teaching forever to become either a drummer or a dancer in Japan, or perhaps a dancing drummer, so infectious was the deap beat and the drunken spirit of the crowd. I revelled in the novelty of going to the convenience store, buying a beer and cracking it open on the street in full view of docile "crowd control" police officers. I treasured having my friends take my hand to lead me to the best view.
And what of China? I found it incredibly fascinating but so difficult to be there. Each time I go I feel the need to go back and do it "properly," as if I'd travelled far but gotten nowhere. I don't feel I understand.
In the end, despite having the policy of trying everything, I yearned after the familiar and was intensely grateful that my Japanese mom cooked me a nice juicy steak for my birthday, the day I returned to Tokyo.
Still, I have some enduring memories that I would like to share.
Those who have read my blog from the beginning may remember my being tickled at the English names of some of the students. Those who had been named by their teachers were usually Anne or Betty or Shelley or Joyce or Jane or Tom or Tim or Bob or John. Those who chose their own names, however, chose creatively. There was Zero, Four, Tomato, Clement, Cloud, and Prince, to name a few. There was one sharp little boy named Saviour. I found him to be a pain in the ass, as he never listened and usually disagreed with whatever activity I had planned. He just wanted to sit back and read science fiction novels and firmly disagreed with mixing with the girls. One day at break time he began to chuck chalk at other boys sitting in the front row. Deciding not to assume the position of the stern teacher once more, I reached into the drawer of my desk and began pulling out boxes of chalk, lining them up while eyeing little Saviour. "You wanna throw chalk?" I said "Well who d'ya think can last longer?" (doing my best Clint Eastwood.) Well, he stopped his antics, but spent the rest of the period holding his satchel in front of him like a shield. I continue to feel badly about this. I never would have pelted Saviour with anything, but I'm not sure he knew that.
I managed to completely fill my appetite for the popular asian leisure activity of Karaoke during this trip. The thing about singing karaoke with the Chinese in China is that you are only likely to get a rise out of them (and really it's all about pleasing the fans) if you sing a song they know. I tried to branch off a few times but I always came back to the standards: "You are my sunshine," "My heart will go on," "Big Big World," and anything by the Carpenters ... enough to send anyone into a downwards spiral of liquor and cigarette consumption. Now every sha-la-la-la-la, every woa woa is etched into my brain. I will never be the same, and I know my fellow teachers can empathize.
Words I learned
Although I feel like my command of Mandarin actually weakened, I still learned some new words that also, somehow, summarize my experience.
la = spicy
ma = numb/spicy. In Sichuanese cooking, there are two prominent peppers: the chili pepper and the "numb pepper." The numb pepper looks like a little peppercorn but causes a lot more pain. If tasted directly, the tongue will begin to tingle and become numb, feeling almost like it's been rubbed in soap. Speech impediment ensues.
gosli = go *&$! yourself. Sorry to be crude, but I had to include this one. Li and his university buddies taught it to us at the very beginning of the trip and amused themselves by having us scream it at the top of our lungs while on the bus in Beijing.
wun un = good night. Just one of those basic, essential domestic-type phrases I realized I did not know when I went to stay with my teacher's family north of Chengdu.
Anyway, I'll go to bed now. Eventually I'll manage to post some photos, so please do stay tuned.