Since the last time I wrote, I've enjoyed the Sheraton Thanksgiving buffet over in Changsha, visited a youth correctional facility, gone to an amusement park, finished all of Jessica Jones and Master of None, heard the investigation on my bank account was completed (charges confirmed to not be mine, as anyone who knows me would probably think it's a little out of character to spend hundreds on shapewear), finished giving out my second formal exam (which went well, no tears or alcohol), and recovered from some nasty cold which had me badly congested. There were times I knew someone had farted in the back of the classroom but couldn't really smell it, I just watched everyone go "ugh!" and make faces as I circulated. I was thrilled when I cleared up enough to smell my site mate's orange.
I had a lot of people saying they would help me to understand what was going during the trip since we were going to a correctional facility to hear some young boys talk about what got them into the facility. However, when we got there and were seated in the auditorium (back in Changsha again) both my students assistants looked surprised when I asked them what the boys were saying. Only two came out and spoke, each with a shaved head and a grey uniform on. Both talked about getting into trouble with gangs and killing a boy. One told students to love their families. Another spoke about how the grandparents of the boy he killed came to visit him and see how he was doing in the facility. Then it changed to performances by the boys.
The first was a short skit. A boy gets into an argument with his dad and rips up his homework (I think) and runs out into the streets. He bumps into a group of boys who surround him and start pushing him. It finally builds into one of the group getting stabbed after which red and blue lights flash all over the stage with the sound of sirens playing as the boy makes a run for it but ultimately gets caught. From there, it went into a dance and some singing. ( A song called "Dad I love you", I think.) After that, they cleared off the stage and brought out a keyboard and we were treated to a performance. And it ended with a popular song I've heard on the radio here before we were told to move out a class at a time.
I sorted out some of my feelings and thoughts. When I heard we were going to the correctional facility, I assumed it would be a pretty stripped down thing. A plain room, maybe a mic, just young boys taking turns talking about what they'd done. I wasn't really expecting a warm auditorium, bottled water, dancing and pop songs. My first reaction when they started the skit was that it seemed interesting, unexpected. From there, I couldn't help thinking the pop songs were kind of weird, but maybe it was nice to see them doing things my students do at school even if I couldn't help noticing all the shaven heads, grey uniforms, and similarly stoic faces. I thought this must be a nice break for them since I imagined their lives to be pretty regimented. Maybe it was important to not only talk about what they'd done but to remember other things about, things that made them more human. But on my way out, I saw how many buses full of students were waiting for their turn to come in and see what we had. I began to wonder how many times a day or how many times in a year they do this presentation among other questions.
After the correctional facility, we went out for lunch and headed to an amusement park. It felt like a strange thing to follow the correctional facility. Oh, and since I didn't get much sleep I wasn't feeling great, I ran out of tissues and the other teachers said I needed to wear as many layers as they did or I'd get a cold (but it already seemed to have me). It was fun, it's been a long time since I rode a roller coaster or swings, but I was also afraid some ill-timed sneeze would leave me with a face full of mucus on a cold day. We spent the rest of the day out there before going back to school and the teachers all headed out together to get dinner at the Huatian Hotel, which I guess the school paid for as a kind of gift for the teachers taking charge of the students that day. The other teachers went out of their way to find something Cantonese for me, which I thought was both funny and sweet. It was a pretty good start to my weekend, but I was really excited to go home and pass out. The cold was pretty bad on that following Tuesday, when I had only morning classes so I went home and played dead after lunch. What was supposed to be a short nap turned into me waking up past 7PM, running out to get dinner, and going back to bed for another 8 hours. I must have really needed rest and water.
Now that my head feels much clearer, I'm looking forward to Spring Festival. I'm looking at going to Vietnam, Shanghai, and possibly Osaka to see an old friend who is also teaching. I wanted to do Xian, but the train tickets going to Xian are already gone. The only ones available are the trains that are leaving. I really wanted to go to Yunnan again,but I have this list and it's taking me towards the East rather than the West side of China. The ice festival in Harbin sounded really cool, but I think I've had enough of cold and wet already and the idea of going all the way up to Heilongjiang isn't super appealing (though it looks pretty). I've been powering through test corrections, watching Netflix, feeding my tea habit (at the moment, I've been drinking a lot of Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong/Lapsang Souchong because they smoke the leaves during processing and it's great on cold rainy days), and reading a ton of books. Huan Hsu's "Porcelain Thief", Sherry Turkle's "Alone Together", "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" (last 500 pages and pretty much all the major characters are dead now), and "Successful Classroom Management". I've also caught up on the China History Podcast while correcting, which has been great. I'm sorry to say I still haven't put in a ton of time on improving my Chinese but I do notice my conversations are getting a little longer and a little more sophisticated. It's certainly a step up from my first few weeks last year as I tried to remember my high school Chinese and pointed at things while saying "Zhege" ("this") and rubbed my fingers together to ask how much it cost.
Again, I'm sorry for the long space between updates. My original intent with this blog was to do something each week within 500 words or less but I haven't been very good at that. I don't even write in my pen and paper diary as much as I used to though I feel better in general when I take my thoughts and put them in there at the end of the day. Sleep better when my head isn't full of things, all electronics have been shut off for the night, and it's just me writing for myself. You know, write out questions or ideas without worrying about what others might say like I would have to when I post things online, remember mundane things without filling someone's feed and all that. For a while, I guess I forgot that my tendency to reflect is one of my strengths. In the future, I'll do a little better to keep posts coming, especially over Spring Festival. For now, I will leave you with the Christmas tree that's been set up across the street: