With the new school year in full swing, it has been time for some of my older students to fly their strictly controlled parents’ nest and venture on to the freedom of far-flung university destinations. Being their resident English teacher, such an occasion has two benefits. Firstly I have a reduction in my teaching schedule. Having a manager driven by greed, I’m sure this will only be temporary. Secondly, it also means plenty of invitations to banquet style feasts to celebrate the students’ successes.
It’s always an honour to be invited out with a students family, where the industrial size ’Lazy Susan’ is over-flowing with a multitude of dishes. Like a duck being prepared for foie gras the family force feed me until I’m ready to explode. If there are male members of the family present it’s almost a certainty that the local tipple, bai jio (50-60% rice wine) will be served.
I’m the first to admit that handling my alcohol doesn’t always come easy. Thanks to the customs of drinking in China, I’ve learnt to throw caution to the wind with these concerns. As a grown man, to turn down a drink in such a hospitable situation is deemed an insult to their generosity, offending all involved. In the worst case scenario, which I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying on a couple of occasions, it leads to insults and escalating violence.
After being invited to a student’s house, who would soon be venturing off to university in Beijing, I was amazed to be introduced not only to her extended family, but also her neighbours too. It seemed all the male guests had bought their own bottles of rice wine. Her neighbour had been saving a bottle for 16 years for such an occasion, while others had bought only the most exquisite, expensive varieties.
I realised from this moment, my evening was only going to go in one direction; a downward spiral of menacing drunkenness. Like a football team defending a one-nil lead in a cup final, I battled bravely with a rearguard action of professionalism beyond my years. Like many times though, with the finish whistle only minutes away and victory almost assured, I somehow managed to let in two sloppy goals and grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. In my case, this meant drunkenness.
Seated in her dining room and as a lasting memento of the occasion, her family requested photos to be taken. With not enough chairs for everyone to be seated, I decided I would do the honourable thing and let her grandfather sit down. As the bai jio kicked in, I thought sitting on the 85 year old’s lap would add comical value to the situation, and as the photo was about to be taken, I started to tickle his chin in order to replace his sternness with a smile. Like a baby, with flailing arms, he laughed and uttered incomprehensible gargles. Luckily with everyone now intoxicated, such behaviour was met with an array of hysterical laughs.
This was one of the last clear memories I had of the evening. Waking up the following morning in my own bed, my wife reasserted stories that I hoped were just drunken dreams. Upon returning back to my apartment after the last photos were taken, I spied a middle-aged woman carrying her poodle, which was dressed as Spiderman, complete with cape and little Spiderman boots. I decided to rescue the poodle from a life of fancy dress, snatching the poodle from the confused lady’s hands. There was one little error in my plan. I was unable to run-off in to the freedom of darkness, as I performed this act of kidnapping in an elevator with no means of escape. A brief fifteen seconds of awkwardness ensued, before I returned the poodle unharmed, as the lady disembarked.
Before I passed in to a drunken stupor, there was still time to disappear from my apartment. My incomprehensible singing allowing my wife to find me several floors down, disorientated and attempting commando rolls like I was on some kind of secretive mission. After weighing up the consequences of these actions, I’ve decided in future I would much rather offend a host by refusing their, at times, forceful offerings, than to have an angry wife to appease the following morning.
A more sophisticated affair followed with an invitation to another student’s leaving party, who had been accepted to university in Canada. After eating dinner, my wife and I were invited out for karaoke, where I was given the honour of singing the first song,. Deliberating what song to sing as her twenty strong crowd of family and friends looked on, my wife shouted out, "Eminem," beating me to a more soothing choice. As both sets of grandparents and others watched on, I was forced in to performing my best rap routine with enough blue language to make a grown woman blush. A combination of innocence and lack of understanding kept the meaning of the lyrics unknown.
Enjoying these invitations and the extra banquets they entail has left me with a rapidly increasing waistline. This has meant double-shifts at the gym have had to be endured. Being a foreigner in a Chinese gym is always going to bring attention. After one instructor noticed my protruding little pot belly, I was forced to show off a selection of waistline-reducing exercises in front of ten work experience students, like a dummy a first-aider would use to practice resuscitation.
Away from eating and drinking, my classroom complaints have steadily continued, for what can only be described as comical reasons. After disciplining two students in class for not paying attention, I was confronted by their angry parents who accused me that it wasn’t their children who were at fault, but my teaching methods. I calmly pointed out that once their children had been disciplined, they improved dramatically and managed to remember everything they had been taught. Some parents would rather see their students misbehave and learn nothing, than having the embarrassment of having their child disciplined in front of them. Fortunately this type of parent is in the minority.
During another class, one front-row girl started calling out to her mother, who was sat next to her. Normally I would expect total attention from students, but with the youngest students, where there are just as many parents watching the classes, it’s easier for public relations to let such moments slide. Initially I didn’t understand what the problem was. I did a few seconds later. As I continued teaching, the mother (who had fallen off her chair earlier in the year while attempting to kick the same daughter) bent under the desk, pulled her daughter pants and skirt down and after a quick examination, vigorously scratched away at the potential itch. With such a disturbing sight in front of me, I tried my best to continue on with teaching.
To keep my youngest classes entertained, I normally try and get my students to act out certain words. Seeing the word, ‘robot’ in the class’s new vocabulary list, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to break up the monotony of repetition. Calling a boy and girl to the front of the class and asking them to act out a robot, I was dismayed to see the boy expertly performing a malfunctioning robot by dry-humping the confused girl. As parents gasped and looked on shocked, I quickly reverted back to the monotony of repetition. It was during this same class that one student also mispronounced the word fix, uttering the sentence, "Can I f*ck your TV," to which the next student replied, "yes you can."