Teaching English in China is difficult in more ways than one. My popularity with the preteen girl crowd waxed and waned this past term, much to my chagrin. In December I wrote about feeling uncomfortable with the touchy-feely Grade 5 girls. I thought I wouldn’t teach them this term. I was wrong.
Coming early to class, crowding me in the hall, hanging on my arm: Extremely uncomfortable. If I was in Grade 5 I’d be in heaven. Alas, I’m a long, long way from the fifth grade. I’m probably closer to fifth grade in my next life than I am in this one.
The touchy-feely crowd was strangely absent for most of June. After I cracked the whip and changed their seats, six of them from the same homeroom, remarkably, became ill. The air conditioner was blamed. With the H1N1 hysteria running through the school, they were sent home.
A few came back the next week. When they discovered they had to write the test they missed their fevers suddenly returned. Adios, muchachas. Six girls from the same class – all sick with the same illness? An illness that prevents them from attending only my class? Strange, indeed. Some might say it was a conspiracy… I didn’t shed a tear, it was one less thing to worry about.
Tuesday was the last day of classes, and four of the six returned for the party. It was business as usual teaching English in China. It was only one day. I used big arm movements to create a buffer zone when they weren’t busy scarfing down chips and chocolates.
The biggest offender, let’s call her PMHKG (Prematurely Mature Hong Kong Girl), wasn’t at the party. She saw me the next afternoon as I left the campus. PMHKG charged and I hunched over in an attempt to ward off the incoming onslaught.
“Steve!” She called.
It was like a scene from a bad Korean Soap Opera (even the good ones are pretty bad). She hung on my arm as I eased towards the school gate. She looks about three years older than she is, standing a head taller than the other girls. She tried to explain her absence as we walked. A female teacher walked past and smiled. I cringed. It must have been a sight: Me with a preteen on my arm, her head on my shoulder. Ah, the live of a man teaching abroad.
I didn’t have time, the air conditioner repairman was due at my apartment. Trying to pull my arm free I discovered her grip was stronger than a bear trap. Gnawing off my arm would have taken too long and left an unsightly mess on the white tiles of the campus. With another pull I discovered the amazing lubricating qualities of perspiration. My addled mind formed a rudimentary plan. She tightened her grip, pouting.
Rice-fed Prematurely Mature Hong Kong Girls are strong. Because I sweat like a pig (and who doesn’t when it’s 110 degrees), with a mighty tug I was able to extricate myself from the crushing crush. A disappointed groan was uttered as I laughed and dashed for the gate.
My days as a big rock star are over. In his heyday David Cassidy had nothing on me. Now he’s on Broadway and I’ll be shooting photos professionally. Life is change.
I’ll miss PMHKG and her crew of touchy-feelys. As agonizing as our time together was I will remember them fondly.