Saturday, December 05, 2009


It was after the scalp massage, hairwash and the shoulder rub that I thought that I might genuinely be late for work. It was hairdressing, you see, but not as I had known it. I'd spent about 20 minutes in there without the blades of a barber's scissors even getting close to my scalp. I was sitting there having a shoulder rub, chatting to the masked gentleman rubbing my shoulders about all manner of things. Of course the relaxation momentarily disappeared when I spotted the hugest cockroach started climbing the wall, but soon the rub again released the anxiety and the world, I and the cockroach became one again.
The hairdresser emerged from his grotto later and chatted with me while he removed my laterally surging hair. According to my friend, barbers never used to chat to customers; so perhaps, it's a pleasant cultural appropriation from western barber culture; perhaps, the barbers in NZ could learn from the nimble fingers of my masked friend too. Either way, the barber was a good chat, and he enjoyed testing out my cantonese.
I did in fact get to work on time. And that day built to be a stressful one: observed by the boss on a class I'd never taught, but it went well enough; I'll credit student enthusiasm as the element that made it a good lesson. To be honest, after rushing the planning on a hectic day, I -thought it'd be a disaster. I'm par excellence one-on-one but classroom teaching will take some getting used to again. "Why are you shaking?" my students often ask. They have always asked that and the answer is simple: that's the kind of person I am. I've always had what the doctor calls a benign tremor, and the tremor is more severe in moments of anxiety, and I feed on my own nerves.
I have around me two very good, professional teachers, who don't have a heart for the job. They are efficient, knowledgeable and in some respects, good models to follow the example of. They control themselves with ease in front of the class and generally deliver good lessons. But they carry an element of annoyance at students. Whether it be style or personality, they sometimes release a sneer which is quite astonishing. The only other teacher loves students and loves teaching. He has vowed to know the names of all 400 students of the school. His lack of pedagogical polish is made up for in his sheer gusto for people. He and I are the only people who circulate in the student iLab (the area where the students take online courses) to aid and to chat with students. He and I are the only people who'd linger after class to aid students. It is technically the responsibility of all the teachers to go to the iLab but it doesn't happen for the first two teachers. That responsibility was given by the boss for whom many staff have already expressed their dissatisfaction with the management of. I have no objections with ideas of the boss: most of the points that the staff have issue with are things I'd generally think are appropriate things; it is seems apparent though that it is a matter of how changes and policies were delivered; there was no buy-in at all; perhaps, no buy-in even sought; they were just stated and that was that. A simple policy of no Chinese in the classroom and in the staff room was delivered; but the Chinese-literate teachers still use Chinese in the classrooms (this is against my religion); and when the wolf's away, the sheep do indeed come out and chat in Maaaandarin in the staffroom. And Cantonese. Which is fine by me. Incidentally.
On Thursday, I finally got out and about to a scenic area: White Cloud Mountain. As all decent mountains in China, it was staired; but it was still a good walk. It was good to head up and up. Looking back at the city revealed that Guangzhou was just White Smog City. Interpretations of some photos suggest that there is in fact no Guangzhou at all.
My flat-warming is approaching on Tuesday and I'm already thinking about how to amuse all my colleagues. They're a good bunch but we've always got the problem that on every day of the week, there are people working. Tuesday, I and two others have day off but we're all on the next day. They are good people and I'm hoping that release from the mental shackles of the workplace is enough to allow us a chance to be just people.
An interesting phase.

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