Monday, June 30, 2008

I've finished all work commitments here in Longchuan, and now I'm just getting ready to leave. I had the end-of-term party where I briefly played guitar and made a speech in Chinese. This was followed by the Captains of all the classes making thankyou speeches to me, and the only one who didn't begin with 虽然-'although' won a prize for best speech.

This was followed by traditionally aggressive Chinese party-games, and looting of the Western snacks I'd hauled back from Hong Kong.

I've never been one for missing people or places. Probably because I never think about the possibility of never seeing them again. But the highs of this experience will probably be impossible to recapture (which is no problem), because China's at a unique point in its history, which happens to coincide with the most important (and infuriating) time of the Students' lives.

Whereas William Blake said:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild-flower
To hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour

I feel as if I've lived eternity in the past (almost) 2 months, so somebody find me a wildflower.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In Aldous Huxley's Those Barren Leaves Francis Chelifer invents a game to take the tedium out of office work. It brings, he boasts, all the thrills of the fairground - the big dipper, the roller-coaster - right to your desk. All you have to do is pause for a moment in your daily grind and ask yourself: Why am I doing this? What is it all for? Where will it end? Ask yourself these questions thoughtfully enough, and though firmly seated in your office chair, you will feel like the void has opened beneath you, and you are sliding faster and faster into nothingness.

Well, here goes. I'll begin, unsurpsisingly, with a quote from a writer. In his 1972 lecture, 'Philately and the Postman,' Alan Garner pronounced:

Creativity in teaching is not to turn a random block of individuals into musicians, painters, authors, because any of them who are going to be these things, will become them in spite of you, certainly not because of you.

Having asked myself Mr Chelifer's question. That is, why am I teaching, when most of the time I don't enjoy it, and sometimes I feel like taking anything just to get the hell out of it.
In the classroom, I've recently taken the strategy of trying to make them forget that I am there. Of course, there have been good and disastrous consequences. But an almost invariably successful tactic was:

to write short plays for the Students to read, enjoy and ultimately, to provide them with the raw materials to write their own. Teaching, like most jobs, is often unpleasent and frequently pointless. But, to use another symbol from Alan Garner's lecture:

Left alone, the child, in my experience, will climb into the astronaut's seat; but the teacher is too often yelling at him to come down and concentrate on the scrap iron.

The problem here with trying to give Students a leg-up into the astronaut's chair is that most of them are so fucking passive. And I'm no good at motivating people who aren't self-motivated. In fact, it goes against what I believe in to try to motivate people who aren't self-motivated, or allow some jumped-up blackboard scribbler to motivate me. So I intend to be out of the teaching game forever within a year. Not that I berate teaching or the people who do it - but it would go against who I am to try to make a career of it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

torrents of muddy water bore down on the ruins of the town

One of the worst affected areas by the quake was
Here is the first paragraph of an article in the Independent:

Earthquake-battered Beichuan suffered its final indignity yesterday as torrents of muddy water bore down on the ruins of the town. The living have left, but the gushing waters took with them the corpses buried in the rubble; the life savings of the residents who were forced to leave; and official documents, books, letters and photographs that make up a person's memories.

John Carey pointed out that whereas John Keats and Percy Shelley were pre-Darwinian and pre-Freudian poets. Seamus Heaney is one of the most significant post-Freudian and post-Darwinian poets. Whereas in Keats's and Shelley's time, the truth was to be found in looking up to the sky, at skylarks and nightingales. Human thought at that time saw salvation and mystery in the heavens.

But most of Seamus Heaney's work delves into the muck beneath his feet. He writes about stuff that is to him, very commonplace, but to most people digging, butter-churning, and slaughtering animals with bare-hands, are symbols of a bygone and more honest existence.

Heaney explores the miracle of how we all came from the muck, and vividly touches on how destiny might be to get submerged in the muck of ones one making.

Which might also explain why there is some pathology behind my fondness for swimming in dirty rivers.

Monday, June 02, 2008

I only realised in the middle of class the other night that it's National Children's Day. During the break I ran across to the shop to buy pop and sweets with which to play party games (for 17 year-olds) with the remainder of the lesson (and to preserve my lesson plan).

Last year, Children's Day fell shortly after the Principal of my School died. The behaviour of some Students that night led me to believe that I would never be able to control a class, and some classes would never be controlled.

The other night, as always, I was anxious and fired-up in the build up to lessons. Then, just before going into the classroom, one of the more advanced and confident Students asked me onto the balcony of my office to say, in halting English, that her and her classmates were very sad that I would be leaving soon.

It's particularly gratifying in China to be liked and wanted for who are and what you've done, rather than what you represent to people. So on that sentiment, I'll sign off with the ever tangential WB Yeats:

When You Are Old

WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.