I wish I could help the other volunteer more. She has more classes and our short notice on the end date for the term really put her in a tough spot. She tried to ask about the cleaning schedule too, since each class usually takes a day to clean the school (either a whole day or two half days) and got no response and so in addition to having more classes and only seeing most of them every other week, she's found that her classes are canceled because of cleaning days no one tells us about until we show up at the classroom. I don't think it's on purpose, people get busy, they get carried away with their own work and since we have one designated liaison already, it's not as if every teacher here is required to give us news about the school. On the other hand, it is sometimes hard when you realize your students know what's happening next week and you were told nothing despite what a major setback some of these scheduled things can be. It takes time to hear students speak, we tried to give them the questions ahead of time and time to prepare but somehow that didn't get across (especially to classes I haven't seen in 3 weeks and just had to jump into the test), students push to get their scores NOW, and a lot want to retake it as soon as you correct their grammar. And I have allowed second chances but I can't do more than two tests. I just don't have the time for it. And they push hard for that too and tell you to move faster. Kid, I'm moving as fast as I can. What would be faster is if you actually used the time I gave you last week to prepare your 4 sentences and a copy of the rubric so that you wouldn't stand there going "uhhh". So it's hard, you want them to do well, but you need them to know they earned what they got and that you're spread thin. Though some of them quit persisting about retakes after I explained that since the exam is out of 20 points, a 19 is 95% or an A so making two grammatical mistakes and getting a 19 is still a really good grade. I made it relatively easy on purpose so it would be a fast summary of what we covered during this term.
Otherwise, I've been trying to relax. The China History Podcast has been running a 10 part series on the history of tea, which has been fun to listen to (and pretty ambitious). The very first episode mentions Shennong (who as I've mentioned before is huge for bringing agricultural practices to China and his face comes up throughout the city of Zhuzhou) being purged of 70 different poisons after having a taste of tea. The leaves happened to flutter upon him or into his kettle. I can't remember all the details.
I've been reading Amitav Ghosh too. I read The Shadow Lines and really enjoyed it but I've heard good things about Sea of Poppies too so I started that. I loved the Shadow Lines for all the different elements at work in his novel. The whole background of colonial history, the relationship between two families, the cross-generational dynamics, the way he structured the story (some people will tell you to start at the beginning, which isn't always true in storytelling), and the nuances that you come to understand through all of that added up to a really strong story. Sea of Poppies has a lot of the same themes but given that its chosen the opium trade to highlight its themes and draw its characters together, it seems more fixed in a particular era than did Shadow Lines. I'm about 300 pages in and it's still really good and really impressive in scale if you consider that this novel has characters from the subcontinent, from China, from England, from France, and from the US and all their lives are tied together by the opium trade. It's not wholly unrelated to the podcasts I've been listening to and those events are just recent enough in Chinese memory to be quite prominent. I guess it's also nice to get back to some of the things I enjoy, though I've definitely got the whole "oh so ACADEMIC" look from people here too. I always feel really embarrassed and a little hurt when people do that. It happened most recently during English corner when a student asked about the story behind a Lady Gaga song and I said "Well, there are two kinds of poems or songs. We have narrative, which is something that tells a story, and lyric, which doesn't tell a story but describes or talks about a feeling instead. So this song could tell a story but it doesn't have to. It could just be feelings about being a celebrity or people who idolize celebrities." As soon as I said the word "narrative" I got the look and knew I'd gone too far. I'm one of those crazy lit people. I know better than to say stuff like that outside of certain contexts.
I've been a little worn out and may need to just go out for a coffee over the weekend and read or people watch. Occasionally, I'll walk into a coffee shop or a McDonalds and hear someone speaking English and get excited. Then I'll remember the reason that my excitement isn't reciprocated at first sight is because I look a little too much like the locals. Ah well. We've also been lucky enough to get an invitation to a wedding after finals. I'm excited. I know the very traditional wedding was a pretty elaborate affair and I've heard that in today's China there's a pretty wide variety of traditions and customs that have come together with Western elements at times too. One of the other teachers is having her traditional wedding soon in her hometown. She showed us all the things she bought in pairs (and all the things that were red), her white wedding dress, shoes, and veil, her red qipao for toasting and greeting guests later on, the gift bags she had for the 6 drivers coming to her house in 6 cars...I'm sorry I can't see it since her hometown is a little far and we have school but she said she might hold an event in Zhuzhou for her friends and connections here. I've heard weddings are huge affairs here, which makes sense in a place where family and connections are important. But the invite and the opportunity is both a great honor and an opportunity to understand another piece of Chinese life.
That's about my week in summary. Not much happened, I came off as too snooty, everyone's stressed about tests and getting grades in on time, I've been reading, I had the joy of seeing a colleague show us how she prepared for her wedding, when I wasn't testing or recording grades, I was listening to podcasts or rewatching "Community" and "The IT Crowd", and plotting out my travel plans for February. We shall see what we can get done this next week so that I can get all my grades in by the 20th.