Monday, November 30, 2009

Few times I been 'round that track

Before I get to the teachers sports meet (which shit was "bananas", by the way), something super weird: today's New York Times and LA Times crosswords have the exact same theme. I imagine that the constructors (and editors!) must have been as shocked as Lindsay Lohan was after fencing with her long-separated identical twin at camp at the beginning of The Parent Trap remake, or as shocked as Kirstie Alley must have been at the end of It Takes Two. (To give you a sense of how flimsy the premise of the second movie is (if you haven't had the pleasure of seeing it), the first sentence of the wikipedia plot summary is "Two unrelated young girls happen to look identical and they suddenly meet.")

To anyone who has only solved one of the puzzles and was looking forward to solving the other, sorry for ruining it for you. But not that sorry, because after three months as a teacher I'm already used to ruining dreams.

Saturday dawns cool and bright, and the Guangzhou morning fills with an anxious, expectant hush. After a long pan over the student dormitories, we alight on the window of the apartment where two young strong handsome Americans, GUS (Brad Pitt) and JON (Michael Phelps, in his first film role), sleep fitfully as their bedside alarm clocks slowly tick off the seconds, bringing them closer and closer to TEACHERS SPORTS MEET: REVENGE OF THE CHINA (roll titles).

Who needs film school? I can smell Sundance from here!


So Saturday was the teachers sports meet which I was dreading so much at the beginning of last week. The meet was supposed to start at 3, but when we got there at 2:55 we saw that everyone was already lined up listening to a speech from the headmaster. Actually this was an illusion, as I should have guessed from the beginning, because, for a people supposedly famed for their discipline and respect for authority, Chinese people are remarkably inattentive to public speakers. So when we got onto the field, people were laughing and joking around with each other and doing all sort of things other than listening to their boss speak. Which is mystifying to me. Anyway, as soon as we arrived, the teachers suddenly began to talk about us, and, specifically, how totally unfair it was that they had to compete against us, with our long legs and huge Western biceps and pectorals.

My plan at this point was to cultivate this fear in the hopes that everyone might decide that it was futile to compete against us and surrender before we beat them at running and then proceeded to conquer their country, or whatever. (Unrelated: there's a self-help book on our bookshelf in the apartment called "Manifest Your Destiny!" which presumably involves slaughtering all the dangerous natives. Inside your brain.)

During all this I was trying to pay attention to the headmaster, because I have this weird thing here I feel compelled to listen to people who are standing at a microphone and talking to me. So I heard the headmaster say that the games were now officially started! (everyone claps) and that one of the teachers was now going to lead us in our warm ups. That's when one of the female teachers stood up in the stands in front of a microphone and led us in 5 minutes of synchronized stretching exercises while she blew her whistle. At the end she said, "OK, everyone run a warm up lap, and at the end you can pick up your towel" -- turns out we got a towel! Cool! A commemorative towel! Actually it was a commemorative hand towel, and it doesn't actually commemorate anything because it has no markings on it of any kind. No date, no name of the event -- nothing. It's just a plain pink and white towel. Those aren't even our school colors.

After our warm up lap, we gathered by the stands as the organizer read off the names for the first heat of the 100m. (By the way, I had to run the 100m in addition to the 400m, because everyone had to do two events. Gus did the 100m and the long jump, which seems like a total cop out, because no matter how long you jump the humiliation lasts 10 seconds, tops.) Gus and I were in the first heat, which we discovered when, in the middle of the rest of the names, the organizer said “外教一,外教二“, which means "Foreign Teacher #1, Foreign Teacher #2." That's us, in case you haven't figured it out. We do have both English and Chinese names, but I wasn't going to make a stink about it, because any organization that hands me a stack of 40 100 RMB bills at the end of every month can call me whatever they want.

Oh, and I'm number 2.

So Gus and I ran the 100m, where we came in last and second-to-last. And then later, I ran the 400m, and I would have come in third in that, except I tripped at the end and came in last. (Obviously this was my body giving me an excuse for losing, because I have low self esteem, probably because I haven't yet Manifested my Destiny.)

And that was the end of the teachers sports meet. I watched Gus do the long jump (which, to be fair, from a length perspective, was more like a Long Step) and then I grabbed a complimentary bottle of water, avoided the eyes of the students who had come to watch us, and slunk out of the stadium. I then went to the convenience store and bought a bag of peanut M&Ms, which I finished before I could even get back to the apartment.

So, in summary, Saturday was the day when I briefly tasted victory not losing. And it tasted good. Just kidding, it tastes like bile mixed with chocolate covered peanuts mixed with 2.5 micrometer-wide carcinogenic Chinese particulate matter coating my nose, throat, and lungs.