Across the market and through the hood…

16 Sep

Today was quite a typical day for me as an ESL teacher in China.  After promising a friend that I would help her by substitute-teaching a new class she has set up at a school, I woke up early and left the apartment by 8 a.m.  My only instructions on the job were to go to a certain subway stop in the city and stand around and look foreign.  Eventually, a Chinese person would come up and find me and lead me to the school.

That’s exactly what happened.  I woke up, headed to the subway stop and stood around looking confused.  Luckily, it’s not a terribly crowded stop, and it’s got only 2 exits, both near each other.  After a while, a smallish old Chinese lady walked up to me and said “hello?” with huge eyes and a quizzical look.  “Yes?” I asked.  “You…Robin?” she said, as if she’d rehearsed the name 30 times.  “Mmm-hmm.”  And with that, she took me off.

That’s when the adventure began.  Not typically good with directions, I’ve been learning fast as a single woman living in this Chinese megalopolis.  Today was a test of all my observation skills.  We snaked our way down a main street, through a narrow residential alley, and across a small plaza with about 50 elderly Chinese men and women doing an exercise dance routine to poppy Chinese music.  Another 2 quick turns, and we entered a massive wet market.  Halves of hogs next to butchered fish and frogs and turtles and snakes and scorpions filled my nostrils and eyes.  Piles of beautiful fruits and veggies spilled over onto bags of rice and beans.  I couldn’t help thinking of the substances that my shoes were absorbing as I tried to keep from slipping on the slick floor that was covered in water from attempts at cleaning by the various vendors, dirt, wrappers and plastic bags, and a slight, gummy sheen of animal blood and other juices.

Quickly keeping up with the speed-demon of a little lady I was following, I had to concentrate to keep from running into busy grocery buyers and tripping over myself as I did double-take after double-take over all the strange sights I was absorbing the the fast 3 minutes we spent in the market.  Just as suddenly as we popped in, we popped out, back into the brilliant sunlight, and left the mad cacophony of the market behind us.  After we crossed another major street, one more neighborhood alley led us back around to a small kindergarten where I began the second part of my adventure:  figuring out how to teach babies songs in English.

The first class was nerve-wrecking.  I had 30 minutes with true kindergarten students (about 20 of them) to teach a simple song in English.  It went something like this:

Sitting on the carpet, one, two, three.

Sitting on the carpet, you and me.

Bunny stand up.  Yeah!  Bunny sit down.  Oh!

Bunny is dancing all around.

Somehow, I figured out how to make that last a whole fifteen minutes, and then we drew bunnies.  To my embarrassment, with the Chinese teachers helpfully assisting me, I realized very quickly that half of these children weren’t old enough to draw bunnies.  Luckily, enough adult hands were free to help them all form the arms, legs and bodies.  None of them cried, and the 30 minutes slowly, eventually came to a close.  I sighed in relief and moved on to the next class.

The kids seemed to shrink as we went on.  During two 20-minute classes, I taught pre-school-aged children (about 15 in each bunch) to sing this song:

Little bee, little bee, round, round, round.

Little bee, little bee, sound, sound, sound.


Oh my goodness.  That was excruciating.  The children were too young to understand most of what I said, except when I danced around like a bee and said “Bzzzzz!”  Not one to whom kinder-theatrics comes easily, I counted the minutes until each class was over, and sighed in relief after each one when none of the children had begun crying or had any traumatic accidents, like peeing all over the place.

Then, I moved on to the babies.  The only thing I was to teach them was “Hello!” while waving.  And, after a while, the words “bunny” and “bear” and to put them together by saying “Hello! bunny” and “Hello! bear.”  That’s it.  Fifteen minutes of trying to get children about 2-3 years old say “hello” and wave their hands at the same time was surprisingly un-fruitful (though very endearing).  In the end, only 4-5 to of them got it, even though I probably said “hello” in every voice imaginable and every speed imaginable.  Only one of them broke out in a tantrum, and none peed (though I think they all wear diapers still at that age).

Then, I was allowed to leave.  I had made it through an early, random morning teaching babies as a favor to a friend.  I happily took my pay and then embarked on my next adventure of the day:  figuring out how the hell I was going to make it back to the subway station by remembering the tedious, semi-treacherous  path I had taken before.  I will return with my camera soon to take pictures; the scenes and surroundings were too colorful not to.  I only wish I could record smells as well!


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