Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Up and Down

Originally uploaded by kevsunblush
(or, Who Says Mood Swings are Just for Teenagers?)

By Ruth

Everybody has bad days, but when you live in China and have a bad day, you can call it a “Bad China Day” and conveniently blame everything on China. Sometimes it deserves it. Sometimes it is just a handy scapegoat.

I’m pretty sure this is breaking “blog length etiquette” rules all over the place, but since I haven’t really been blogging much recently, I felt the need to get it all out all my recent thoughts in one long monologue. For ease of reading, I decided to divide it into chapters.

Chapter 1: Test
The other day we had to take a test for the school or for the country or something. It was an evaluation for “foreign experts” working in China involving a basic knowledge test, a psychological test, and a writing test. Evaluating foreigners isn’t such a bad idea (have you seen some of the foreigners they let over here? Yikes…) It’s just the methods that were somewhat…lacking.

The psychological questions were...confusing. Some of the wording wasn’t exactly the clearest. For example:
- Do you agree that the up-and-down is not the real life, but trivial daily life is real?
- When you describe one thing, what would you like to do?
- What do you think about the idea that the actively taking is better than passively receiving?

The “basic knowledge test” asked some basic questions. It also asked some things like,
- Who is the current president of the United States? (Obama was not one of the answer choices, so I chose George W. Bush)
- When did the UN reach the agreement titled Declaration of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment?
- Who is the current prime minister of China? (Unfortunately…it doesn’t have a prime minister. It does have a premiere, sometimes incorrectly referred to as prime minister)
- Which skin color is most common among Chinese people? (…and the correct answer is apparently “yellow”)
- 0.0495×2500+49.5×2.4+51×4.95=?

It was pretty funny overall, but the other night when I was taking this test, I was not in a funny mood. So by the time I finished, I was pretty ticked off about having to spend my time on something that seemed so useless. My complaints automatically went from small scale (stupid test) to large anger encompassing the entire country. “This is such a stupid country! The whole thing is ridiculous. It’s all so stupid. All 1.3 billion people. Why do I live here? ”

Chapter 2: Class
Which is funny, because mere hours earlier I was in class, watching my students discuss a question and thinking, “I love my students. They’re so cute and fun. I love teaching. It’s so great that we get to be here and do this.”

And the next day, after the previous night's test anger had passed, I was back in class looking adoringly at my students. This week’s lesson was fun to teach. The topic was dating, and student love to talk about anything like that. 95.7% of them are hopeless romantics. I returned from class thinking happy thoughts about my sweet little students…until I started grading their homework.

They had watched an English movie, read an English book, or listened to English music and written a review about it. Most of them wrote good reviews, but some of them were too good, far too good. It was the difference between writing like this:
“They have a dream that one day to go to South American 'wonderland waterfall' adventure. But until Ellie died, this dream didn’t also can achieve.”
and writing like this:
“But this is 1970’s Afghanistan and Hassan is merely a low-caste servant who is jeered at on the street.”

So I looked them up on Google, and sure enough, there they were. No more happy thoughts of innocent students. I was already drawing up the plans for a scathing lecture that would leave them all feeling small and ashamed. Suddenly every student was a lazy, dishonest plagiarizer.

At least until I went back to class today and my student said, “Ruth, I think you are very humorous this year. You make us laugh all the time.” And I thought, “My students are so cute. They think I’m funny. I am pretty funny, aren’t I? I just love my students.”

Chapter 3: Headache
A few hours after the “you’re so funny” comment, the headache which had been lingering around all day came out in full force. As did the train horns, bus horns, car alarms, screaming children and every other possible noisemaker in a one mile radius. China is a noisy place. I guess that’s what happens when you squeeze a thousand people into a few acres next to thee railroad tracks and a highway, and several hundred of those people are children, and anyone who drives a motor vehicle believes that the coolest part is the horn.

Whenever I have a headache, it seems like everyone goes into noise-making overdrive. So I lay in bed with a hot rice sock on my neck and a frozen bag of corn on my forehead mentally strangling the world’s horn-manufacturers.

Unfortunately, headaches wait for no man (or would it be, time waits for no headaches?) and I had to go do a culture lecture. At the culture lecture,
1. The students laughed at me. I’m so funny! :)
2. The computer locked up. Why do computers hate me? :(
3. My little freshmen waved excitedly and smiled adoringly at me. :)
4. My former student told me I should study harder to learn more Chinese (which is totally true, I just didn’t want to hear it). :(
5. My headache receded. :)
6. My student told me I looked tired. True, but generally that’s like when someone says you look sick. It’s not a compliment. :(
7. Christina told me I looked like Rory, the early years (when she was smart and not slutty). :)

Epilogue: The Moral
As I review the last 48 hours, I find that apparently I do believe “the up-and-down” is the real life. The past few weeks have held even more ups and downs, ones more significant and not quite as funny.

A month ago I decided to memorize Psalm 16, particularly because I wanted to remember a few verses in the middle:
“You have assigned me my portion and my cup:
You have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places:
Surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

These past few weeks I have been thinking about those verses a lot. There have been times when I’ve thought, “It totally makes sense! All is pleasant and delightful!” There have been other times when I’ve had to say, “Really? Really? Surely this is not what You were talking about.”

But today as I was lying in bed willing my headache away, all of a sudden it made sense and I thought, it is true. It's really true. The ups and the downs are like variations on the earth’s surface. Mountains blend into hills which turn into valleys. Oceans end and deserts begin. But far beneath it all, the same core stands firm and unchanging.

I’m not always happy about where I am or the events that happen in life. Sometimes I’d like to choose my own “boundary lines,” thank you very much because these ones aren’t looking so good. But sometimes I realize that I’m just looking at the surface of the land. What’s underneath, what doesn’t change, really is that pleasant place, the delightful inheritance.

So…the moral(s) of the story?
#1: Stupid, Chinglishy tests can teach you something.
#2: Feelings change every week, day, hour, and/or minute.
#3: Far underneath, there lies a truth that never changes.


Anna said...

I was having a rather bad/frustrating evening and this quite brightened it and made me laugh. Perhaps because that's how I've been feeling lately as well and it's fun to laugh at the truth of life sometimes...

Candy said...

What a perfect picture of so much of life! As usual, you can express these thing so beautifully. Thank you!