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Saturday, April 26, 2008

(More) Spring in Jilin; Also, Jim's Birthday

Springtime for Jilin and China. (Winter for ... *sigh* Jilin and 东北 Dongbei.) Yes, what better way to welcome spring than with one of those casual April snowfalls?

It was Jim's birthday on Wednesday, so we took him out for the usual birthday meal (well, usual for us at least): dumplings. We also made him an awesome chocolate pudding cake, complete with double-layer oreo cookie crust. The bizarre April snowshower began after days, almost a week of spring-worthy warmth. It may be hard to tell in the picture, but we're outside the restaurant, and it is indeed snowing.

Hands off, ladies, he's engaged. The cake was approximately three hundred percent more satisfying to eat than it was to look at.

The restaurant where we seem to end up for every birthday (well, mine ... and now, uh, Jim's) takes pride in being one of the oldest jiaozi restaurants in Jilin. A lot of that "legacy" is manufactured: old cannons that couldn't shoot the breeze litter the facade, while 服务员 fuwuyuan (that is, waiters and waitresses) scurry about in carefully-orchestrated anachronistic frocks. (God I love that word, "frock.") But they do put on a nice little tea-pouring show.

James loves tea!

Now that's impressive.


Sanae and Wakana love tea, too!

The weeks here in Jilin seem to be slowly but surely slipping through the ether, an invisible clock that you nonetheless feel ticking down to June. I can't believe it's almost May! (And now, because I had it written already, is another clumsy timepiece metaphor:) The sand in the China hourglass is dwindling, and life seems locked in a predictable pattern of class, tutoring, gym, and never finding enough time to study.

I've made a real effort this term to spend more time with my students, and so far, it's been a total wash. I could walk out my door on any random Zhanjiang afternoon and spend more quality time with students in half a day than I've spent with my students here all year. I've offered them chances to come over and cook, talk, try some fresh coffee, watch a movie, damn near anything, and I get nothing, no response, or at least no real response beyond a lot of empty enthusiasm. Not just me, either, but all of the other teachers here as well. I had one group of girls set to come over this afternoon, we were all set to cook, until ... someone's mother called and asked her to come home. Well, she'll be home next week, Mom ... and so one girl bails, and the whole afternoon was scrapped. Two weeks ago another student, Maureen, stopped by Sunday afternoon and stuck around for a good long chat. She asked if we could meet like that every Sunday; sure, I said, bring your classmates, let's do it! Sunday came and went, no call from Maureen; I saw her in class that week, asked he what was up, she told me she snuck (hmm, FireFox's spell checker is telling me I should write "sneaked") out of her Sunday computer class, went back to the dorm, and slept all day. And now it's after midnight on Saturday "night," and something tells me I won't be seeing Maureen tomorrow.

So there it is, folks. I guess I shouldn't complain; anywhere else on the planet, the last thing a student wants to do is spend their free time with their teacher. But it's different here, dammit, or at least it should be, when I'm a young disposable foreign teacher whose class is a joke by default. I shouldn't be angry, the students can do whatever the hell they want with their free time, but when the job has long since become a farce, the pay is just enough to keep you from going broke, and you live in a half-frozen armpit of China for nearly a year, well, you kind of start wanting a reason for it all, something to make it all worth it. That human connection with my students was there in Zhanjiang; it's proving elusive here up north.

On the bright side, apathetic students have given me plenty of time to study Chinese. But that, in turn, has only helped me realize that I don't want to spend the next half-decade of my life learning this language that is long on frustration and short on any kind of sexiness. Mastering Chinese is a noble goal, and if you have a handful of years to throw at it, be my guest. But after two years here, I've had my fill of China, and while I'll continue to study the language and its fascinating intersections of symbols, abstracts, and a peculiar if not consistent logic, I am dismayed that no other aspects of China can match the promise of the language.

Whoo boy. It was supposed to be a short blog for photos. I need to learn when to shut up.

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