My contract promises me the chance to teach 12- to 18-year-olds, but it doesn’t expressly forbid me from teaching other ages. Ji asked me to teach a “demo lesson” for a few young children.
“What’s a demo lesson?” I asked.
“It’s a short lesson, twenty minutes, to see if they want to study at our school. Don’t worry ok?” Ths Chinese often use OK as the English form of ma.
I hound Ji for a while until she tells me there will be four children beteen 6 and 8, and that they’ve all studied English “a little”. I try to find out whether that means a few words or a few semesters, but I can’t. I give up and search the office for a textbook.
The children’s textbook literally has mold growing on it. The pages are rippled from water, and there are huge black spots of mold covering most of the pages. I draw a coloring worksheet, with pictures of cartoony fruit, and asked the secretary to make 4 copies for the lesson. She keeps telling me, “yes, ok, yes,” until it’s apparent that she doesn’t speak English.
I go downstairs to the business center and stick my worksheet under the copy girl’s nose.
“Wo xiang si,” I said. Want four. She asks me perfectly normal questions in Chinese and I shrug because I have no idea and my patience for accomplishing simple tasks is wearing thin.
When the class starts, I walk in with my four worksheets and a box of crayons. The class, though, is not four children but eleven, and they’ve all brought at least one parent. The youngest is four, the oldest is 19. The younger kids are too busy staring open-mouthed at the lao wei to tell me their names. The oldest girl wants to practice her conversational English before studying in England next year. The parents don’t sit in the back quietly judging me, like American parents would. They are involved in the class, praising their children for the correct answers, answering for their offspring and discussing my weight and clothing in Chinese.
I give a quick biography, then we play a little Meg Says and some Alien Abduction (a less morbid version of Hangman) and finally, mercifully, the twenty minutes are over.
“Thank you for coming. Goodbye,” I pick up my copies and try to leave.
“That wasn’t one hour!” one of the mothers says.
Correct, it was twenty minutes. I tell the secretary that the parents seem to think the lesson will be one hour and I ask where Ji is. She tells me “yes” to both, which I’m starting to realize means “I recognize that you are speaking English”. The secretary asks me why I am not teaching my class, and I try to explain that my class is 20 minutes long, not one hour. She says yes and then asks if I am too ill to be in class. I call Ji but her cellphone is turned off.
And then I go back for another 40 minutes of Alien Abduction.