The semester officially ended for me on Friday after the Closing Ceremony at the Intensive Language Training Center. Since none of my own students were there, I felt a little redundant, as if I were just for display purposes. It’s been a long time since anyone thought of me as “decorative,” so maybe I should be grateful. The day before, I’d spent 3 hours helping to administer final oral exams to the students in the Going Abroad program – teachers and post-grad students who will be sponsored by the China Scholarship Council to do research in English-speaking countries. Yesterday (Saturday) I attended the 百日 “bai ri” or 100 Days party for my “niece” Cristina Garzon, daughter of two friends at my former school. I didn’t stay for all the festivities, which lasted from lunch through the afternoon all the way through dinner. It’s a Chinese custom to celebrate the first 100 days of a baby’s life with a grand fete. So what will I do with my 7 weeks of (paid) vacation? Hard to say. I will continue my Chinese classes up until Spring Festival the 2nd week in February. Next Friday I’ll begin classical guitar lessons with a teacher who lives not far away. The communication may be a bit strained – he speaks no English – but I may study along with another student who does know English. I may watch some movies, but at the moment I’m a little “movied out;” it’s my preferred form of
BEAUTIFUL Soup, so rich and green, Waiting in a hot tureen! Who for such dainties would not stoop? Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup! Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup! Beau–ootiful Soo-oop! Beau–ootiful Soo-oop! Soo–oop of the e–e–evening, Beautiful, beautiful Soup! – Lewis Carroll I’m making my annual pot of homemade soup. The large white beans soaked for 24 hours; now they’re simmering over a low fire for 3 hours or so. Good thing I ate a big lunch with my friend Mark at Peter’s Tex Mex Restaurant. My weekend was also something of a “beautiful soup,” a mixture of assorted solitary experiences. I followed my tradition of spending the first few days of the new year by myself, at home. A sore, scratchy throat made a convenient excuse for me to spend my days mostly in a prone position in bed, laptop computer balanced on my knees, watching movie after movie, munching on the good Xinjiang round bread I buy at a local stand, which I fry in olive oil for flavor and crunch. Most of Friday was spent enduring, in several sittings, all 3 1/2 hours of Jean Eustache’s 1973 “La maman et la putain” [The Mother and the Whore]. Virtually nothing happens during all that time, except that the very narcissistic Alexandre [Lean-Pierre Leaud] talks a blue streak. Then talks some more. The two women in his life mostly listen. It’s one of those very with-it “menage a trois” movies, and surely set some kind of
I’m staying home with a sore throat. I prefer to bring in the new year quietly, anyway. This week I finally received my TESOL certificate (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from UCLA, after working toward it for 6 years. Whew. I finished my Thursday class for the Going Abroad program today; the students are all either university teachers or postgraduate students. I’d invited them to have lunch after class, and they ended up taking me to a gala lunch at a local restaurant, close to the west gate of the university. Today’s meal ranks as possibly the best I’ve had since coming to China. It would be hard to describe all the different dishes, but I’ll select a few: Beijing-style roast duck – the most tender, succulent duck I’ve ever eaten; two fish – one steamed, the other “spicy,” boiled bacon, a couple of bean dishes, beef ribs, vegetables, soup, and more that I can’t name at the moment. Next week I’ll be one of the examiners when these students take their final Going Abroad exam. The rest of the afternoon and evening were spent at home. My new copy of Peter Matthiessen’s “The Snow Leopard” arrived from amazon.com today – I’d read it years ago but felt the need to have another copy. Tried to watch “Julie & Julia” again, but just couldn’t; it’s OK once, but too superficial and contrived to sit thru a second time. Ended up watching Jean Cocteau’s “La belle et
what remains I spent part of today worrying about camera exposure. I’ve never really grasped it, having never taken a photography course in my life. In gray, hazy Chengdu, getting a decent picture can be challenging. Every once in a while I cruise over to the Shuijingfang area, just across Jiuyanqiao (Nine Eyes Bridge) from Sichuan U. I’ve been documenting the area and its gradual condemnation and destruction for 3 years. Visiting Huangsan Xiang (Alley) today, the hushed stillness of the area reminded me of a graveyard. The houses are vacant, most surrounded by brick “destruction” walls, and the sounds of the city seemed far off. Eventually I was shooed away by a patrolling policeman. Due to my reduced teaching schedule, I had an entire free day today. I watched a mesmerizing film called “Under the Sand,” starring Charlotte Rampling, napped, had some coffee, and am now planning where to have dinner. Oh, the decisions we face in life.
leafy walk Yesterday was my birthday. I was in class much of the day, and for some reason I was incredibly stressed out. Classes went fine; in fact, a couple were much better than usual. In my afternoon class the four students actually stayed for the whole 2-hour period, and spoke English virtually the entire time. In the evening I gave the final exam to my Business English Class, employees of a local Chengdu pharmaceutical company. This morning at 9 am I received an emergency call from the teaching department, saying that they had to have the scores by 9:30. I said that it was impossible; it’ll take me a whole day to grade the exams. We later compromised when I promised that all of the students will pass the course. I know from past experince that final scores are merely a formality; the students all receive a certificate of completion anyway. However, many companies ensure good performance in class by requiring employees who score too low to pay a penalty of up to 10,000 yuan. Anyway, this afternoon I’ll visit the company with the other teachers to take part in the awards ceremony, then we’ll attend dinner afterward. My birthday celebration will wait until tomorrow.