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Leon's Blogs

Epistle 4 of Leon's China Chronicles


*****Fry's Day, September 12, 2003*****

MOUSE REPORT

The sunflower seeds that I set out last night are still untouched. I'll keep them there for a few days to see what happens. I'm pretty sure there still is a mouse (at least one) living in my house "sponging off" me. Darn freeloaders! I wouldn't mind so much if they did some work around the house, but NO... they just eat my stuff and defecate all over the place. Maybe if I could potty train them, it would be different, but I can't even potty train my own son, for Pete's sake! (and that reminds me: why do we say "...for Pete's sake?)

I just had a thought (and no, it didn't hurt, thank you). I believe that the original saying was, "...for Christ's sake!" as if Christ (or the Christian concept of Christ, rather) needed any help from us mortals... Then, some Christian people (the hardliners) thought that it was taking the Lord's name in vain, and changed it to "...for heaven's sake!" AND, I suppose that some people substituted St. Peter for Christ. But the whole thing doesn't make any sense. It would make more sense to say, "...for sanity's sake!"

*****Saturn's Day, September 13, 2003*****

MOUSE REPORT

Almost all the sunflower seeds in the house are either gone or cracked open at the insides eaten out. The sunflower seeds on the outside of the house (just other side of the door) are untouched. This means the mouse (or mice) is (are) still in the house. And, it also means that my plan didn't work. I'm formulating a new plan. I'll keep you posted.

MOSQUITO REPORT

When in Korea (just this last Summer) I was hypothesizing and theorizing ways to keep from getting attacked by those bloody mosquitoes. I found that late at night the mosquitoes seemed to be attracted to my computer screen (when all the other lights were off). [My thinking was wrong, but I'll get into that later]. So, I hypothesized that mosquitoes must be attracted to heat and light as most other flying insects are. So, I decided to test this hypothesis and put a single candle in the room where Taijing (then Taegyung) and I slept. The idea was that the mosquitoes would be attracted to the light from the candle and stay away from Taegyung and me. This seemed to work as the incident of mosquito bites were significantly reduced. So, I theorized that mosquitoes can be distracted from their prey by heat and light greater than the heat and light produced by the prey. [I was SOOOOO wrong! Let me explain.]

Last night, I safely put sand in a GLASS Bowl and inserted the candle deeply into the sand. As neither sand nor glass is flammable, I knew this would be safer than plastic (jeeze! what was I thinking? plastic is made from oil, for sanity's sake!) I still wasn't comfortable with this arrangement, so I put the bowl (candle and all) on the tile floor of the bathroom (knowing that tile, likewise is not flammable). Then I turned off all the lights and went to bed, hoping that all the mosquitoes would be attracted to the light in the bathroom.

Well, the opposite of my hoping happened. All the mosquitoes in the whole friggin house came into the bedroom and started draining us alive (nothing like fresh, warm human blood). I woke up at three A.M. because the mosquitoes were really bothering me. I turned on the light and there were at least twenty mosquitoes hanging around the bed. I got the fly swatter and had a very bloody battle with the mosquitoes. I won, of course, but only after severe injuries to my exposed skin and Taijing's exposed skin. A Pyrrhic victory.

So, I am forced to amend my theory. But, before I do so, you should know that before I bought the candles, I used to leave the bathroom light on at night, and most of the mosquitoes seemed to stay in the bathroom. Only a few wandered into the bedroom. That is important because my theory is not entirely wrong. I mean mosquitoes DO seem to be attracted to heat and light, but they also seem to be repelled by smoke. So, the reason the mosquitoes didn't bother us in Korea, was because the smoke of the candle repelled the buggers. I'm so frightened to put a candle next to the bed (here). I think I'll try incense on the night stand next to the bed and see if that works. Also, mosquitoes, like their cousins the flies, seem to have olfactory perception. I mean I see mosquitoes attacking my dirty, sweaty clothes (I mean the one's on the floor or hanging up in various places around the house). So, I'm thinking of putting all the dirty clothes (which are mostly in the bedroom) in another part of the house as a decoy. They can attack the dirty clothes all they want. What I need, however is a hamper (or a cardboard box big enough to function as a hamper).

The mosquitoes are amazingly still living, reproducing, feeding, etc. despite the cold nights.

PROBLEMS (other than the mice and mosquitoes)

I previously mentioned the problem about the drain in the bathroom NOT being at the lowest point in the room and how the water pools around the base of the toilet bowl, so my pants get wet when I take a dump. Well, that problem is solved. I bought one of those elevated platform thingies (that you only need in Asian bathrooms. I finally found one. It was the last one in Tong Liao. I guess I'm not the only person with this problem... well it's not a problem any more.

Another problem is that the drain in the kitchen sink is also NOT at the lowest point of the sink. In fact, it is at the highest point and the water pools all around the sides. This has got to be the most inane, insane, ridiculous things I've ever seen, besides the bathroom drain problem of course.

Parenthetically, if you've never lived in Asia, you probably don't know that the bathrooms have no tubs. The room functions as a shower, a latrine, and a place for personal hygenics of various sorts (e.g. things that involve a sink and mirror). So, the drain, which is supposed to be at the lowest point in the room, is a very important part of the room. Unfortunately, the idiots who made my bathroom didn't care about quality, just about getting the job done and getting paid.

There's another problem. In Korea, most bathrooms are sunken down so that the water cannot run out into the other room(s) of the house. Here, my bathroom floor is elevated and water frequently runs out onto the kitchen floor. It is a huge pain in the neck/ass. I was going to ask my boss to have somebody come and tile up a two inch barrier so that water wouldn't run out, but then I just bought a towel and laid it in the doorway to catch the water. I don't want to be a pain in my bosses neck/ass/whatever.

The kitchen floor is also elevated but fortunately the workers got the drain at the lowest point in the room and water (which isn't very much at all) goes where it is supposed to go.

Incidentally, I suspect that the mosquitoes are coming from those two drains. In case you don't know. Mosquitoes hatch their eggs in water. Mosquito larvae live in water, eating whatever mosquito larva eat, then they form a kind of cocoon, and when they leave the cocoon, they are what we know and recognize as the blood-sucking pests, which cause us humans so much grief. I cannot cover the drains 24/7. I wish I could, but it is just not practical. Besides even when I do cover them, they aren't completely covered. Mosquitoes could still find a small crack to get in. I am awaiting fall eagerly.

Another problem is my boss provide no wardrobe or shelves. There are a few cupboards under the kitchen counter, but...

When asked if everything was to my satisfaction, I said, "Well, there is no place to hang my clothes." He said, "No, problem. We'll have someone install a bar from wall to wall for you to hang your clothes." And the next day or the day after that. Someone installed a bar in the bathroom and in the living/dining room.

There is no washing machine. So, I take my clothes to the "cleaners" once a week. Costs me less than ten bucks to have all my laundry (and of course Taijing's as well) washed, pressed and folded. Saves me a lot of time and energy. So, I don't mind paying the less-than-ten bucks once a week. My coworker asked me if I wanted a washing machine. I said, "No, thanks." Because the cleaners are cheap and convenient. No need to get a washing machine.

*****Moon's Day, September 15, 2003*****

TODAY...

Today started out badly. I missed the first half of the flag-raising ceremony. I woke up quite late. Actually, I woke up at the alarm (7:30am), but went back to sleep. I shouldn't have, but I couldn't get to sleep until very late last night, and I wanted to squeeze in as much "shut-eye" as possible. Then, lunch turned out to be spectacular. I don't know what this means. Does it mean that the gods have already forgiven me for being late to flag-raising ceremony? Or does it mean that I owe the gods big time?

WEATHER REPORT

I have been informed that before I came here, this region had been experiencing a drought. But since my arrival, it has rained quite a lot, usually at night. It is usually sunny during the daytime, but now it is overcast with dark rain clouds and the thunder rolls across the plain. This region isn't really a desert, as I may have led some of you to believe, but the drought made it seem like a desert to me. Hopefully, recent precipitation will do some good to the region. Although, it may be too late for the farmers. They've already harvested much of their crops, I think.

MOUSE REPORT

I haven't seen the mouse lately, but I know it is still in the house. All the sunflower seeds that I laid out have been eaten. But, the one's outside remain untouched. I even set the grass broom with all its seeds (and there are a lot of seeds) just outside the door, but it remains untouched. Makes me wonder what the mouse is getting into (for food) now. I keep my rice (the uncooked stuff) in the freezer. I find that it keeps the bugs out. It will also keep the mouse out. There is a huge bag of flour, that I'll probably rarely use (but got for teacher's day). I wonder if the mouse will try to get into that.

MOSQUITO REPORT

The damned mosquitoes are driving me crazy. That's one reason why I couldn't sleep until late last night. I was being eaten alive. I actually slept for a couple hours before being rudely awakened by itching sensations all over my extremities. I got up and killed about twenty mosquitoes (no exaggeration)! I'd really like to know where they are coming from! I don't have any more candles, and even if I did, I'm too frightened of burning the house down. I tried incense, but it didn't work.

It's not the idea of minute bugs sucking my blood that bothers me. I have more than enough blood to spare for the little buggers. It is the irritation that is caused to my skin and my ears when I'm trying to sleep that bothers me. I don't fancy the transmission of disease that is possible either. If the little parasites could suck my blood without causing me (or my son) discomfort, I'd let them do it. But, I swear these bugs keep materializing out of thin air. It's almost as if there is a disturbance in the time/space continuum which connects my home with a tropical swamp which has a year-round mosquito population. (I just hope it's not the West Nile!).

Then, I got to thinking... why is it that mosquitoes don't attack in the daytime? I thought, "There must be a reason." Furthermore, all the mosquitoes in the house go to the windows during the day, as if they want to get out. I usually oblige, but somehow in the evening, there is a fresh new bunch of mosquitoes in my house ready for break-fast. I had a sudden inspired thought: "Maybe the light distracts the mosquitoes from their target. Maybe they can hone in on the natural auras that all humans produce, but perhaps artificial light blocks their abilities to sense the human aura." So, I turned on the lamp which is next to the bed and had a very peaceful sleep (albeit a short one). I don't like sleeping with the light on, but if it will keep the damned mosquitoes off me and my son, I'll do it.

WEATHER UPDATE:

It has begun to rain. It is siesta time. Chinese take a nap, but I am not used to napping, so I use this time to write this journal report.

CHEESE

Chinese cheese (like I mentioned before) comes in these hermetically sealed packages. It is unrefrigerated and doesn't need to be refrigerated. But, I'm beginning to wonder if what I'm eating is actually cheese or if the Chinese just think it's cheese. It could be another "pizza" thing (if you remember my pizza experience). It tastes more like dried, condensed milk. If you've tried condensed milk, you know what I'm writing about. It's like that, but dried into little "bricks" of various shapes (the shapes representing the flavor). I'm really craving some REAL cheese... and some butter, but it is no where to be found in this small, countryside town.

MEAT

I found one supermarket that sells frozen meat. HALLELUIA!!! Thank the gods! I bought some ground beef and some fresh vegetables and made a scrumptious soup yesterday for Taijing and myself. Taijing only ate the broth, but that's okay, because there are a lot of nutrients in the broth. I ate the rest.

While I'm on the topic of meat, it is interesting to note that there are a LOT of restaurants (small ones) with the Chinese character for barbeque manifested in Christmas lights. The Chinese character for barbeque is a picture of a Kabob, cause that's how they barbeque the meat. I'm thinking that most people don't have a refrigerator, so if they want to eat meat they go to one of those restaurants.

In other shops, meat is preserved by smoking it (i.e., drying it with smoke) [they don't put the meat in their mouth and light it like a cigarette]. Then, the meat sits out on un-refrigerated counters waiting for customers to come by and buy some. I'm not into that. I have no idea how long it has been sitting there. If I could be guaranteed that it was freshly smoked/dried, I would buy (and eat) some.

THE FOOD SHOPS

I don't call them "supermarkets" because they are NOT super. They are small, like the grossly mis-named Korean "supermarket"s. Most have a refrigerator and a freezer. The refrigerator is for beer. The freezer is for ice cream. That's it. There are rows of "juice", which isn't real juice but medicine-like imitation juice sitting unrefrigerated on the shelves. Probably has a shelf life of ten years. Like I mentioned before, not even the milk is refrigerated. They must pasteurize the milk and fill the packages while the milk is still hot, 'cause even though it is in hermetically sealed packages, any bacteria inside would multiply very rapidly in the warm, un-air-conditioned shops. I don't know how they do it, but it seems to work. Taijing and I haven't gotten sick from the milk yet. Maybe they put some preservatives in the milk. I don't know.

THE CONDIMENTS

All spices and condiments come in hermetically sealed vinyl packages. You have to buy your OWN containers to store the stuff in. Like, I used any empty water bottle to store the soy sauce in. I had to buy a small, plastic chest of drawers to store my spices in. The spice chest comes with miniature, plastic spoons in each drawer, which is nice. I also have one for teas of various kinds. The Chinese drink tea like it is going out of style, and I'm not writing about red/black tea. That's not very popular. I've tried several kinds of teas, most consisting of flowers of various kinds. I like them very much, but miss coffee, so I bought a big box of instant Nestle coffee at the supermarket (and this time I mean SUPER-market). That's the only kind I could find. There is no canned coffee, no coffee shops, no gourmet-style bottled coffee; only Nestle instant coffee in the packets. I guess the population of coffee drinkers here is next to none.

THE CIGARETTES

As many of you know, I'm a smoker, and my fellow smokers will be curious about the Chinese cigarettes. Well, there is a really cheap brand that most people smoke. It is smooth (light) and tastes really good. It only costs 6 Yuan per pack (that's 75 cents US and 800 won ROK). I have been smoking that brand, but I'm thinking about changing, because I get no nicotine kick from them, and that's why I smoke... for the nicotine. Some brands cost as much as 30 Yuan per pack. (that's 3.75 dollars US and 4,000 won ROK). Exxxxpennnnsive! Especially for China! I won't be smoking those.

*****Later the same day*****

WEATHER UPDATE

It didn't rain much (or for long). In the late afternoon, it became extremely windy (and that's not good because of all the dust that gets picked up by the wind). The wind knocked my bike over three times, one time Taijing was standing next to it. Luckily, he wasn't hurt. The weather here is strange.

LIFE IN GENERAL

For some people, living here would be extremely boring. If I were single (and without son), I might not have chosen this quiet, small town to live and work in. I hear that no foreign-born English teacher stays a second contract period. I can't say I blame them. There isn't much to do here, unless killing mosquitoes turns you on. There is one English channel, but is has no programs from abroad. It mostly portrays documentaries about China, and a few talk shows with visiting dignitaries as guests, hosted by an English-speaking Chinese citizen. Some of it is slightly interesting, but once in a while I crave some mindless entertainment in order to unwind. There's no David Letterman, no Jay Leno, no Oprah, no Jerry Seinfeld, not even Sesame Street. Furthermore, hardly any one speaks English, although many of the senior middle school kids speak some English. None of the menus are written in English (or any other language except Chinese, except occasionally Mongolian). If you like hiking in the mountains, this is not the place for you. Inner Mongolia is a great plain, commonly called "steppes". If you like an exciting night life, this is probably not the best place, for although it does exist (so I'm told), you won't get far without a translator. If living with mice, and bugs of all varieties (spiders, centipedes, sow bugs, flies, mosquitoes, gnats, June bugs (although the June bugs are gone now; they are called june bugs for a reason), etc.) is completely unacceptable, this is not the place for you. If dealing with the circuit breakers switching off every other day (especially when you use too many electrical gadgets at once), because the place you are living in was not meant to have all the modern conveniences that your employers have so graciously provided you, then this is probably not the place for you.

Nevertheless, I like it here. There is something pristine about this place. It could just be an illusion, but illusions are nice. I work a normal 8 to 5:30 schedule with a three-hour siesta in the middle of the day. I can put my son in daycare, because I work a normal schedule. I don't have to worry about my salary, whether I'll get it or not, or when, because I work for the government. I am paid three times the normal salary in this town. I don't have to worry about money. My accommodations are provided. I have plenty of time to spend with my son. I enjoy the motivation and stimulation of being immersed in a new culture and language. I have already learned enough Chinese to survive. I can count to ten thousand. I can order jja jang mian, rice and liquor. I can say, "Where's the toilet?" What more is there to know? I'm picking up new words every day, though. I enjoy the stress-free life here, that I wasn't able to enjoy in Korea since my ex-wife decided that she didn't like the whole wife-and-mother thing after all and cashed in her proverbial chips. As if having to raise my son by myself wasn't enough stress, I had to deal with late payments of my monthly salary (as much as two months late), and I was living in one of the most expensive cities in the world with the most outrageous utility bills! Feeding my picky-eater son wasn't cheap either. Clothing my son (and myself) wasn't cheap either. That's why I waited until coming to China to buy my son some much needed new attire. I love Korea, but my salary there was barely getting me by. Yeah, sure I only make 600 dollars a month in China, but that is double the national average, and three times the Tong Liao average.

They don't see too many foreigners here. I'm a bit of a celebrity (not that I "get off" on being a celebrity), but my superiors are trying their best to make my life here as comfortable as possible, because they don't want me to leave. They don't want me to leave, because they don't get many chances to meet foreigners here (not many at all). I mean this isn't a tourist town. By the way, one of the endearing things about this town is the integration of three cultures and foods: Han Chinese, Mongolian, and JoSeonJok (Korean). The food here is hardly one or the other. Most restaurants serve all three foods. And some foods are a combination of cultures. Such is extremely interesting and exciting for me to experience. I am intrigued by all three cultures, and to find them all in one place is truly amazing... truly, truly wonderful... a linguist's dream come true. Every sign in town is written both in Chinese and Mongolian, but Chinese is the language of instruction in the public schools. Most Mongolians here are bilingual. If you go to a hospital, all written materials are in both languages. Most of my Mongolian students have taken Chinese names, which I guess is kind of necessary since very few of the teachers can read Mongolian. (And after looking at written Mongolian, it is a wonder that anyone can read it. It is written as a vine-like line with various extremely similar-looking branches. That lack of variety in the types of branches must mean a lack of phonemes in the language.)

MANDARINE CHINESE

Writing of linguistics reminds of something I learned a couple of weeks ago. Evidently, the Mandarin language is a dead language. It was the language of some tribe (the Manchu, I believe.) The Mandarin-speaking tribe conquered most of China, but a majority of the people (i.e., their subjects) were of the Han tribe. That is to say that the Han-speaking tribe, although subjects of the Mandarin-speaking tribe, were much greater in number. Thus, in order to rule over the Han-speaking tribe, the Han language became adopted as the official language of the region. Mandarin is no longer spoken (by anyone). The Han language is now called: Bu-Tong-Hua ("common language"). So, Westerners need to get THEIR facts straight as well. And writing of getting one's facts straight... the capital of China has never been called Pe King; it has always been called Bei Jing, another misconception that Westerners have had. [Maybe you younger folk don't know this, but when I was in high school learning world geography, "Peking" was what we learned as the capital of China. Then, some time later, Chinese officials asked the Western world to change their maps (and stop calling the capital of China by some incorrect name), which was done.] I wonder when Chinese officials will educate the world about the correct origin of their language.

*****Tui's Day September 16, 2003*****

LIVING IN INSECTOPIA

The weather has warmed up a bit lately, and perhaps that is why the bugs have re-emerged for one last party before going into hibernation (or whatever it is that bugs do during the winter). Today I was visited by a bee (or something that resembles a bee), a daddy-long-legs (a kind of spider), a ladybug & a stink bug (kinds of beetles), and a lacewing (a kind of flying insect with lace-like wings). I know a lot about bugs, because I have made a study of bugs when I was younger. Call it a fixation if you like. I call it a healthy fascination with the world in which I live. I like bugs very much, with one exception: the mosquito. The mosquito has got to be one of the most useless creatures on the whole damned planet (with the exception of humans, of course). I mean all they do is hatch, probably eat micro-particles of water-borne algae (not necessary), metamorphize (not necessary), suck human blood (definitely not necessary to human life), 'cause great discomfort and sometimes death to their victims (most definitely not necessary), reproduce (unfortunately) and die (not soon enough). They are completely useless to the ecosystem. I mean... sure, some creatures might eat mosquitoes, but lets face it: mosquitoes do make much of a meal for their predator... and it's not like there aren't other things to eat. I have come to despise mosquitoes. Last night was the last straw. Last night I spent six hours killing mosquitoes. They kept coming and coming, as if they were materializing out of thin air. This evening, when I came home from work, I decided to put an end to the nefarious infestation. I searched the whole house for possible entrances. [By the way, the lamp-by-the-bed thing didn't work, as if you couldn't tell.]. I plugged up every nook and cranny with rags or tissue paper... except one... and unfortunately that is where I strongly suspect the mosquitoes are coming from. There is a 30-centimeter by 30-centimeter whole in the kitchen floor, under the counter and under the cupboards, hidden from view (well... from normal view). The hole is for pipes that send used water down into the sewer from all the floors above me. I live on the ground floor and there are six floor above me. There is copious amounts of condensation on the pipes, and although I cannot see down the whole (because my head will not fit under the cupboards), I am now strongly convinced that there must be a pool of water down there from the condensation on rolling down the pipes... a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Besides, I have abandoned the idea of mosquitoes coming out of the drains as one of my crazy, unsubstantiated postulates. I have never seen a mosquito come up out of a drain (and neither has anyone else that I've asked). BUT, I have seen a lot of mosquitoes come from the cupboard area. When I opened the cupboard doors this evening, four of five mosquitoes came flying out. I cannot plug the whole hole (trust me; it is impossible, because I lack the resources)., but I sprayed a lot of industrial-strength bug spray down the hole. Then, I went around the house killing all the existing mosquitoes. I haven't seen one since. I believe I have finally gained the upper hand in the "WAR with the MOSQUITOES". Unfortunately, a lot of innocent bugs will suffer (and probably die). Centipedes and Sow bugs only live in moist areas. That's where they come from as well. Perhaps some spiders will also die, for I saw some spider webs under the cupboards. I feel sorry for those "beneficial" bugs, that actually do something productive for the planet. Of course if the spiders had half a brain, they would have webbed up the whole completely and all the mosquitoes would have gone into their webs.

MOUSE REPORT

I haven't seen the mouse lately, and I don't think the mouse is in the house any more. I had thought it might be hiding under the cupboards in the kitchen, but no sign of it. I just checked the whole house for possible mosquito entrances and unless the mouse comes and goes through the same hole in the kitchen, there is no other possible place for the creature to be.

VEGETABLE REPORT: SPICY BELL PEPPERS OR GIANT CHILI PEPPERS?

I went shopping for vegetables the other day (I mentioned that), but the thing that I forgot to mention was the green eggplants and the the giant chili-pepper-like things. No wonder I mistook them for bell peppers, 'cause when they are chopped up, you cannot tell the difference. I mean these things are huge. The come in all colors, too, just like bell peppers. I'll bet they are a hybrid of bell peppers and chili peppers. But, the thing that baffles me is how do the Chinese produce GREEN eggplants, when the whole rest of the world produces purple eggplants. I'll get back to you on that one.

LIFE IN GENERAL

If it seems that I have been doing nothing but dealing with bugs and rodents, it is because I have been doing nothing but dealing with bugs and rodents, except for work and taking care of my son. Work has been going... Well, as well as can be expected I guess. Chinese students are no different from any other students. Most of them don't particularly like to study, especially in my class, because my class is probably not going on their transcripts. My class is an auxiliary class, i.e., extra-curricular. It won't be graded (I don't think). I asked my coworker if I would be required to test and grade the students. I was given various non-commital answers, which probably means: NO. So, what I'm getting at is I have to deal with some discipline problems. I have to censure the students frequently, to let them know that I mean business. I don't want them getting the idea that my class is a party class. On the first day, I told the students my rules. I only have four: (1) no talking when the teacher is talking or when another student is talking in ENGLISH, (2) be seated and quite when the bell rings at the beginning of class, (3) be prepared with paper and writing implement, (4) respect yourself, your classmates, and your teacher. They keep forgetting rule number one, or if not forgetting, disregarding. Today I was lecturing, and I had to stop several times to shush the students. After about the fourth time, I got angry. I told them to all put their pencils down, and put their heads down on their desks, and NO TALKING. They had to stay like that until the end of class (there was only ten minutes left, but that is beside the point).

The difference between American students and Chinese students is the Chinese students actually did put their pencils down and their heads down and didn't talk for ten minutes. In America, my students would have said, "Fuck off!" and kept right on talking. Take one guess why I don't teach in America anymore!

If I ever go back to teaching in the States (which is unlikely), but hypothetically writing: if I did, I probably wouldn't last one week before the principal was firing me for beating the shit out of one of those little shits. Americans complain about the Asians taking all the good jobs in the States,... well, I WONDER WHY?????? DUH!!!! Maybe it's because asians generally actually STUDY more than their counterparts generally do. Yeah, sure, you've got your yuppie college prep private schools full of your upper-class, ivy-league-bound WASPs, which are every teacher's wet dream to teach at. But, how many of those have you got? I have said it, written it, and I'll write it again: the American school system is in big trouble. I was a public jr/sr high school teacher in Utah. My car was keyed and the rear window was shot out by a gun-wielding student. Yes. a student fired a gun at my car. Thank the gods I wasn't inside. And that was years before Columbine. Teachers don't get paid enough for the shit that they have to endure in America. I'd take my hat off to teachers (in America), but I've been there, AND I think any person who continues to be a teacher after the first year, is either a masochist or a lunatic. Go elsewhere! You could pump gas for the same amount of money (if you could get a full-time job at a gas station, which is hard these days), but the point is almost anything else would pay the same money and be a hell of a lot less stressful. I mean: Damn! I'd rather be the janitor than a teacher. At least janitors don't get their cars shot at or their lives threatened and they aren't treated like shit. Sure, they have to clean up shit in the bathrooms once in a while, but it's better than handling little shits every day in the classroom. Of course, we all can't be janitors, but the point is, some manual labor jobs actually pay better than most teaching jobs. Or take out a student loan, go back to college, get a degree in ANYTHING but education. With your GE done, you could get another B.A./B.S. in two years or less. Get a job as a T.A. to help pay the bills. Sell your house, or take out a second mortgage to help you through your education. OR, do what I did, and go abroad to teach English. Believe me, you'll never regret it.

Life is too short to have it shortened by a disgruntled student.

Maybe... just maybe... if schools around the country cannot find enough qualified people willing to teach; federal, state and local governments will wake up to the problem, and solve it... or am I being too optimistic?

I think that the first thing that needs to be done, is the federal government needs to stop catering to big business and stop sticking it's nose in where it doesn't belong (like the middle east for one example). Big businesses can take care of themselves. The middle east can sort out it's OWN damned problems without us sticking our unwanted noses in them. If America would spend half the money it spends on it's unremunerated efforts in military operations around the world, on improving the quality of education, there just might be a chance for America. Improving the quality of education includes kicking out all the little shits that don't want to study! I don't care what they do, but they have no business being in a public school, let alone FORCED to go to school. Yes. forced... by law. America prides itself on it's freedoms. But, America has a long way to go yet. Forcing kids to go to school is NOT right. I know some people think they are doing good by forcing an education upon a child. But, they err, and grossly at that. Trying to force an education upon a child that doesn't want it, is like trying to force bitter medicine down a toddlers throat. Even if by some miracle, you get past the clenched teeth and somehow get the medicine into the child's mouth, it'll just be spat right out. The children who don't want to be in the classroom only hinder the education process of those who DO want to be there. True freedom is education offered free of charge, BUT NOT FORCED UPON people. "You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink." That proverb is probably older than USA is. Yet, why do American people not pay attention to the proverb? You can make a child physically attend a class, but you cannot make him/her learn. I'm sorry, but you can't. You just can't. So, why waste tax-payers' money trying to do the impossible? At least give the kids options to get vocational training. Let them become apprentices for half of minimum wage. I don't care if they are learning to bus tables... if that's all they aspire to do with their lives, more power to them. Shit, the world needs table-busers too! "One rotten apple spoils the whole bunch." That proverb is much older than the USA, I'm sure. Why don't the USA's elected officials pay attention to age-old wisdom? American needs education reform, and it needs it terribly soon. In fact, it is long overdue.

In China, education is mandatory only until the end of jr. middle school (grade 9 in the Western English-speaking countries). In the US it is mandatory until the age of 16, which is often after the middle of grade 10 and sometimes in the beginning of grade 11. So, thousands of students bide their time in prison-like classrooms, causing havoc and making life miserable for their teachers. In the jr/sr high school where I taught. There was a 75 percent drop-out rate at age 16. My 11th grade classes were an absolute JOY to teach. The rest were hell on earth.

Now, I teach in a senior middle school. The students are not mandated by law to be here, AND it is NOT free of charge. Parents pay good money for their children to attend this school, so most of the students are well-behaved. There are only a few bad apples, and they are NOT very bad at all. But, if you give and inch, they take a mile. So, I have to keep reminding them of rule number one.

Needless to write (but I'll write it anyway), I am not eager to go back to teaching in the public schools in America.

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