Vol. 3, Issue #8 April 18th - March 1st, 2008

Small and Beautiful Moments
By: Tyson Meade

Jane says, “You’re very popular with the students.”
I’m serious; I‘m not joking. She really does say this. She has told me this like three, maybe four times.
“You’re very popular with the students,” she says and then she always adds “especially with the naughty boys.”
Jane, of course, is a Chinese English teacher meaning she is a Chinese who teaches English. She is very good, even though she is a bit strict. I always tell those naughty boys who like me that they are lucky to have Jane teach them. They don’t quite see it this way when she adds an extra lesson at the end of the day when they would rather be playing basketball, when they would rather be boys than students.
Sadly, Jane retires after this year. Fortunately, I am surrounded by several Chinese English teachers that I really like. All of them go out of their way to make my time in Shanghai, and my time at the school especially, a wonderful memorable one.
Qi Min – who has no English name – is my link teacher. She sits behind me in the teachers’ office. She is the teacher who went with me three weeks in a row to the dentist when I had to have all of the nerves pulled out of one of my chompers. She would not take cash when I tried to pay. She paid for me. She told me that the dentist did not know how much to charge me since I am a foreigner. When I went to London, I brought a teapot back for her that I bought at Herrods.
“So expensive,” she said when she pulled the teapot out of the Herrods’ box out of the Herrods’ bag.
At that point, I told her again how much I appreciated her taking me to the dentist those months ago.
“No problem,” she responded enunciating every word precisely, the way she always does. “You are a colleague.”
“Well, I really do appreciate it,” I told her.
For the most part, everyday with the students is a good day. I positively always look forward to going to school which I never ever did when I was actually a student. And, when I am on holiday, I actually miss the students. Does this make me some sad old bachelor, some strange teacher creature?
Although most of the times with the students are joyous, there are those times when I feel as if perhaps I have given them a little too much freedom. I asked Sylvia, a senior two in class four who named herself after Sylvia Plath, about this. I asked her if the other classes are as noisy as mine. She told me no. I asked her why this is. Could she tell me? She told me the students in my classes feel as if I give them more freedom than the other teachers give them, which is probably true. Sometimes, my classes are so noisy that even banging on the desk does not work. The students do love it though when I do a few flam taps and some paradiddles. Thanks Mom, at least I am using those years of drum lessons for something.
Last term, my cousin Kyle sent me a family story that I thought was hysterical involving his brothers, his dad and step-dad getting into a brawl at a stock car race – his dad and step-dad fighting for, not with, each other. This, of course, took place somewhere in Oklahoma. I thought this a perfect story to tell the students because they always want to know about American daily life. To me, this is daily American life at its most Americana.
Class one listened attentively. Actually, Mushroom and his friends – the naughty boys who sit in the back of the class - passed around Kyle’s email which I had printed like it was a girlie magazine or a Henry Miller story. They asked me what certain words and phrases meant, such as redneck, pit crew, screwed up, reckon, can of whoop ass.
Others classes, however, would not shut up long enough for me to get even a sentence out. At times, or actually, a lot of the time, teaching is like playing a show, like performing; yes, it is a performance. When it seems like most of the students aren’t listening, I focus on the students who are listening and that helps me get through the class. But, I want it known, this is not something that happens often. A week or so ago, when Sylvia’s class was so loud that I could not even hear myself I screamed - “SHUT UP!”
At first a few people snickered thinking I was joking but when they saw my face and saw I was serious, no one stirred. For the first time, my noisiest class was silent, scarily silent. I actually somewhat freaked out myself that day.
That day, I was telling a different story because the assignment was to write a funny story so I wanted to give the students an example of a funny story. I decided to tell them about the time that Todd Walker, Todd Felker and I liberated a refrigerator from a slumlord owned house which was being used for storage. That, of course, is when I was in college living in the Owl House and Todd F and I were both in summer school. Todd W was working for the man, the University man, those were the days he drove the University van through campus scaring geeks and Greeks with his rendition of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song Born on the Bayou. At this point, that is beside the point. We had no refrigerator. We were poor. Slumlord had more refrigerators than he needed. We needed a refrigerator like Ed needed a baby in Raising Arizona.
Needless, to say, since I had to shut them up, the spirit of the story suffered though I do think that they still enjoyed it. I asked one student if it was okay to steal a refrigerator. He answered –‘Yes’.

NO! NO! NO! Never is it okay to steal a refrigerator! Never steal a refrigerator. I could have been caught. The police could have been called. They could have shot me. Never, ever steal a refrigerator. My whole life could have been ruined because of this one stolen refrigerator. Never ever still a refrigerator. I was given a cosmic reprieve just as Hi and Ed were given a reprieve in Raising Arizona.
A few weeks ago, I discussed complaint letters with the students. In America, I told them, we complain about everything. Jerry - senior two, class seven –told me he would like to write a complaint letter about a teacher.
“About a teacher?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said “my teacher tells me that I yell in class”
“You yell in class?” I asked. Jerry is vocal in my class which I like. Many of my students are shy. He is not. A month or so ago, when we came back from our winter holiday, my hair had grown out a bit.
“You look very handsome.” Jerry told me when I walked into class that day.
“Thank you Jerry.” I said. “That is very nice of you to say.”
“Sexy,” he added as an afterthought which of course caught me off guard and triggered that rapid fire laugh of mine which sent the whole class room into hysterics. Yes, I like Jerry. He’s got spunk and personality.

A few months ago, when I was on holiday in London, I received a cryptic message, a message from a guy named Jonathan. Yes, I know this is like the beginning of some ridiculous spy thriller or whatever starring Nicholas Cage (with his ever puzzling mystery hair) or Harrison Ford or Matt Damon (buffed with mystery muscles).
Anyway, this message was a call of arms so to speak, a call of arms for the Kittens. His Majesty’s Secret Service needed us. We were the only ones who could perform this duty, the only indie rockers up to the challenge. Okay, okay, I am lying about this. There was no Majesty’s request, no Jagger in trouble, no Bowie on the lam, no ghost of Lennon assassinating deserving politicos.
Nevertheless, I got this message from this person who introduced himself as Jonathan. I was intrigued. In the message, he mentioned a music festival. This festival was to happen in Norman. He thought the kittens might be interested in playing. At that point, I channeled Flo from Mel’s diner and thought – “When pigs fly.”
Did this guy, this guy Jonathan not know that I have this life with naughty boys in China? Did he not know this? Yeah, I can just fly in for this festival. As fun as it sounds, does he not realize that I am looking at somewhere in between 17 and 20 hours on a plane not even including the layovers themselves? Does he not realize this? Sheesh!
My response was not rude I do not think but it certainly was not very optimistic. I think I said something to the affect that the plane ticket to get to Oklahoma from Shanghai would probably be about $1,500 and so this would have to be figured into the Kittens performance fee. And, besides, I did not even know if the other Kittens had any desire to play a show or not. I guess I should say here that we never actually officially broke up. We just stopped playing shows about 8 years ago or so.
Let me also say that I love the other guys in the Kittens. We are like a family and not even a dysfunctional one. When I think of each of those guys, I smile. That is love.
At the moment my favorite t-shirt is this red t-shirt with an image of Jagger from that film Performance. I have always loved that image, wanted to wear that image. The film however is not that good but that is beside the point. I love this t-shirt. Matt, Kittens’ bassist, screened it for me the last time I was in the USA.
When I see a Cary Grant movie, I think of Eric because for some reason he reminds me of Cary Grant. Eric is one of those people with an enormous amount of talent. He does these spot on impressions of people. Those sorts of impressions that Rich Little did of, and for, Johnny Carson back in the heyday of the Tonight Show.
And, Trent, what can I say about Trent except that he is the best friend a guy could have and, not to get all mellow dramatic and General Hospital about it, but I have Trent to thank for still being alive. He curbed my toxic intake at times during my wild years.
The thing about friends, true friends like these, is that they know things about you that you do not even know about yourself. Eric was the first person to ever point out to me that when I get frustrated I often just go silent and stare at the floor. Trent was the first person to realize that I get grumpy, as in throwing headphones down on the floor in the recording studio and throwing a hissy, when I have not eaten. Neither of these things I ever even knew about myself.
Of course, the thought of playing with the guys again was an exciting thought but there was another detail that was actually a fairly big obstacle. This obstacle could possibly prevent the whole thing from happening. The obstacle: I am a full time English writing teacher at a public high school in downtown Shanghai which, in itself, is no big deal. However, this festival did not happen to fall during a break but right in the middle of the term which would be a huge problem. I was not sure how - if it even got that far - I would get the time off to go back to America to play this festival. I have never missed a day. I have never been late. I love my job. I do not want to lose it. This could be a huge hurdle.
It would be one thing if I wanted to take the job and shove it but I don’t. As I said earlier, I love all of the other teachers; I love the students; I love my job. This really is the best job that I have ever had in my life. Needless to say, at the time when I received the first message from Jonathan, I did not think that it would get to that point. At the same time, if it did get to that point, I did not want to just quit my dream job to play one festival.
Once I sent him a message back with the plane ticket price added to our performance fee, I assumed I would not hear from him again. At this point, I am accustomed to those flaky sorts of people who do not stop and think about the nuts and bolts of the situation. Thus, I really did not put much faith into this whole dream becoming a reality. But you know what? Jonathan sure was a pesky varmint.
He wrote me back and told me that the committee sure would like for the Kittens to play. The Kittens playing would make the festival even more special. At this point, I just metaphorically (or maybe even physically) shook my head and thought, “Wow, this guy must be delusional.” Not to get all Spinal Tap or Def Leppard about it, but really, I just saw too many obstacles for it to work out. Granted, Eric does still have both of his arms and he has not choked to death on someone else’s vomit but still I thought the logistics made the prospect of playing somewhat dismal.
Nevertheless, Jonathan wrote me back and told me that Andy Nunez is booking the festival. At that point, I began to think – “Oh man, this could really happen.” As most people know, Andy Nunez opened the Opolis in Norman, is a founding member of the Starlight Mints, and, incidentally, is Trent’s best friend from middle school.
At that point, I was still on my three week winter holiday in London. Although, the possibility of playing this strange festival, which the Polyphonic Spree were to headline, seemed to be more and more real, I would still have to talk to Li Ping who is my direct supervisor at the school. By the way, Li Ping is someone whom I really like but I know that she has to do what she is told. I always try to remember that I am in a different country and I should honor my host county’s rules and customs. And, I have no problem with that whatsoever.
On my holiday, as I strolled around London, darting into Herrods and Harvey Nics, and having high tea with sandwiches and cakes on High Street with my friend Audra, and then drooling over the suits at Vivienne Westwood and Ted Baker, and then having more high tea with Audra, this time at Herrods with salmon and crusty bread; I mulled over how I would ask for the time off if, indeed, negotiations actually got to that point. As I said, I have never been sick; I have never even been late; I love my job.
As I strolled, shopped, drank (tea), ate, shopped more, and drank more (tea); I realized that the one aspect of this upcoming event that could possibly work in my favor when I went to Li Ping to get the days off is the fact that this festival is an event sponsored, more or less, by the city of Norman, a city whose residence have been very good to me through the years. Yes, it is a coincidence that my friend Bob is on the city council - Bob who fed me every day when I went back to school to finish my degree. He even flew me into town to play a Midway Jam at one point. He is now one of the City Fathers. This all seemed like it could play in my favor. I know it sounds a bit abstract but I was trying to look at it from an outsiders’ perspective and remove myself from the equation if that makes sense at all. I was trying to stop myself from staring at the floor.
Skip to the end of winter holiday. School has resumed. Jerry has told me I am sexy. I walked into Li Ping’s office. Oh, before I walked into Li Ping’s office. I gave the aforementioned Herrod’s teapot to Qi Min. At the same time, which was a complete coincidence, I told her I had been invited to play a festival in my hometown. I said hometown because I did not want to confuse matters. I had heard thru the grapevine - or noodle vine or whatever you may want to call it – mid-term examinations would be somewhere near the end of April. This was a Lucky, lucky break for me, a cosmic intersession. The mid-term examinations would fall at the same time as the festival. Qi Min told me that it should be no problem to get some time off but of course, I would have to clear it with Li Ping. Yes, yes I would talk to Li Ping I told Qi Min.
Okay, good, there may not be a problem getting the time off I thought. I do really like Li Ping. I think she is very nice but she does have to cover her bases. I decided that I would start the conversation by telling her about the Magic Red Monkey Show.
This is a show that a school club (I am the guide teacher for the school club – the 21st Century Unalterable Mind Expanding Television Club – okay, okay, I do love King Crimson) will sponsor. Thus when I saw her, I told her that I want the students to become famous. I want the school to become even more famous than it already is. Mao would be proud. She was quite excited by the prospect. That is when I told her about the festival that happened to fall during midterm examinations. And, before I even had time to list all of the reasons that I should get the time off she said -
“Oh, it should be no problem.”
This shut me up rather quickly.
Maybe this is where I should mention that I have been asked to be the guide teacher for a rock and roll band at school. Yes, some naughty boys are starting a band and they tried to explain to me what this band entails. I am quite confused. I know they have a couple of guitarists, a male singer, a girl singer, a male dancer, a keyboard player and a drummer. Hades Li – one of my favorite naughty boys - will be playing bass. I am not sure when they will or can practice and I am not sure where they will practice but I am their rock and roll guide teacher and I am committed to helping make them ROCK. In celebration of this, when I got home that evening, I played Aerosmith Rocks really loud, really loud. He gets his lovin’ every night for free/ He’s out there rockin’ like you wouldn’t believe/ Singin’ Na Na Na Na Na.
There are those days in which I am touched by the sweetness of the Chinese teenage emotions. Jerry who called me sexy and has been accused of yelling in class by a Chinese teacher asked me when I am going to America. I have told the students that I will go to America when they are taking midterm examinations.
“You will go to America when we take our examinations?” he asked.
“Yes, my band is playing a festival.”
“You will not come back?” he asked with tears in his eyes.
Of course, I will come back Jerry,” I told him. “I cannot leave you.” This made him smile from ear to ear. I took a picture to remember the moment, this small beautiful Chinese moment.
Here in Shanghai, if you can live some wonderful days, some basic wonderful days; days where Jerry waves to you from his place in the morning exercise line, where he waves to you like a maniac, like you are the most important person in the world, like you are Laurel and he is Hardy; and Franchise, Rainier and Billy, not doing exercises but shooting hoops, wave and call to you, all of them showing off but missing their shots, Rainier pulling Franchise’s hoodie hood up from around his neck and over his face after his (Franchiese’s) shot; if you can have these sorts of days filled with the small beautiful Chinese moments most of the time; then there should be no complaints; ever.

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