One (Fri)day

  • 6:45am: Awakened by the national anthem being played at high volume through loudspeakers as one thousand students, who have already been awake for at least an hour, line up for morning exercises in the dusty swath of grassless ground which fronts the main teaching building. Roll over and go back to bed.
  • 7:30am: Reawakened by Tibetan pop music being played at high volume through loudspeakers as one thousand students go to the cafeteria for breakfast. Knowing the music will continue for a half-hour or more, I roll out of bed and groggily make a cup of Lipton tea, which, if somewhat lacking in quality taste, is warm and caffeinated enough that it convinces me of my own laziness. I walk sleepily towards the sliding door which opens onto my sun porch; I stare out the door into the snowcovered world beyond. Another light snowfall last night. Maybe an inch or so. Not enough for skiing, or really any use at all except superficial (though convincing) beauty. I stare up at the whitecovered mountains towering above, tops barely touched by the rising sun, which as I watch begins to angle through a side valley to the east; angling rays shoot in all directions, illuminating patches of mountain, field, valley. I awake as from a dream; realizing I need to work, I pad into the kang room, which holds the eponymous large sleeping platform that doubles as my office. Opening my computer, I get to work on my Senior 3 textbook, the last few chapters of which I must finish today so they can be taken to Xining and printed. I’m excited to actually have a book to teach from for the rest of the semester – if a mediocre book that I had to write myself. At least, I think, it will end the epidemic of students losing papers.
  • 9:15am: I walk out into the brilliant morning, round the corner of my building and enter school. For the past eight days, this has been the extent of my contact with the outside world – these thirty feet of filthy street, covered by dust and shit and now temporarily beautified by snowfall. I walk into school and make my way to the library, where I immediately turn on the two space heaters to rid the room of its antarctic chill.
  • 10:20am: Class. My third year students are surprisingly enthusiastic this morning – perfect for speaking exercises, which is what I’d planned for today. Past perfect continuous. The gaokao. Test is coming in two months. No time to prepare. Try not to panic. Panic is inevitable. Unimaginable pressure. Not for me, for them. Thanking whatever deities exist for not being born into this education system.
  • 10:25am: Class is interrupted by a teacher, who informs us that Saturday – tomorrow – will be a Wednesday class schedule. Sunday will be a Thursday class schedule. Bite my lip in frustration; was planning to go to Xining this weekend to meet my program manager, who is visiting from America.
  • 11:00am: I walk out of the school building to go home. Workers are unloading strange metal frames near the door, and I pay no mind. On my way out of campus, I run into the vice-headmaster of the school, who informs me that we have classes Saturday and Sunday. I thank him and go on my way. I continue home and look through my cabinets for something to eat. Having been banned from going to town for more than a week, I’ve long ago run out of anything fresh. I decide to make a chapati out of flour, baking powder and salt. I eat and continue working on my textbook.
  • 12:00pm: Banned from running. I am in the middle of my in-apartment exercise routine, which has actually done wonders for my upper-body and ab strength. Amazing. Who knew that confinement could help me get other pats of my body in shape?
  • 12:45pm: Co-teacher asks me to pick up something from out waiban relating to her impending visa renewal, as she is busy tutoring a monk. Run to school and back, then translate for the monk before returning to school to open the library for student use. On the way into the teaching building, I notice that the random metal frames I saw earlier have been assembled into ping-pong tables.
  • 1:00pm: Librarian Bob is supposed to be in the library
  • 1:25pm: Librarian Bob is in the library. Co-teacher appears with a package from America containing a frightening wealth of foreign deliciousness, from sea-salt-covered chocolate almonds to dried tortellini.
  • 1:45pm: Students start to return cameras they’ve been using during the 2.5-month winter holiday. I spend the next hour going over pictures with students on my computer. The images range from astonishing to artistic to mediocre. Even the photographs ruined by overexposure remain interesting to my foreign eyes, if banal to the students.
  • 2:30pm: End of lunch. My co-teacher and I ask if Bob can come to work this weekend, as we will have class both days. My co-teacher will be going to Xining, so I’ll be holding down the fort while she’s gone. Librarian gives a vacant, if friendly stare and says he will see. Then librarian tells me about the new ping-pong tables, which are at this very moment crowded with teachers. Don’t you think we should go and have fun too, he suggests. Even the headmaster is playing ping-pong. I snap; I’m working on a book, a good part of which must be finished tonight. He doesn’t mention ping-pong again.
  • 3:00pm: Still in the library working; co-teacher is in class with ten minutes left in the period. I get an urgent call from mywaiban saying that my co-teacher’s presence is requested at the police station for visa renewal. Not in ten minutes when the period is finished – now. I run upstairs and take over her class while she delves into the joys of bureaucracy.
  • 3:25pm: I run to my other class – a double-period of enthusiastic first-year students, who are energizing and an absolute joy to teach. Period one flies by. The second period we spend in the library. Again ask librarian if he can come this weekend due to classes on Saturday and Sunday; question meets with a barrage of conditionals. Spend the rest of the period helping clarify new words and enjoying socially-conscious coffee-table books with students whose families could themselves be (and might have been) the white-guilt-inducing subjects of such tomes.
  • 5:00pm: Librarian disappears just as the students start rushing the computer en masse to check out books.
  • 5:10pm: Librarian returns, conveniently after class has finished and all students have already left the library. “Do you know there is class this weekend?” librarian asks.
  • 5:15pm: Walk out of the school building to find the vice-principal challenging all comers to ping-pong. The table, he informs me, is exclusively for faculty use; students aren’t allowed to use it unless playing teachers – a situation which no teacher would ever let happen, lest they lose games and consequent face. The vice-principal informs us that there is school on Saturday and Sunday; if we hadn’t heard, the class schedule will be that of Wednesday and Thursday. Except for Sunday afternoon, when the students will have an official morning exercise competition. The winning class will get a prize.
  • 5:17pm: My co-teacher and I find ourwaibanloitering near the headmasters’ building. He informs us that we have school on Saturday and Sunday. We nod and smile. He informs us that, after eight days of confinement inside our apartments, we are free to go into town during most daylight hours. The middle of the day is best. We break into broad smiles. I cheer, surreptitiously. I propose going out to dinner.
  • 5:30pm: My co-teacher and I load into a taxi and soon find ourselves at the establishment which used to be our favorite Sichuan restaurant. Now called “The Brothers’ Wok,” we decide to give the new management a try. We order a cold cucumber-garlic salad (蒜泥黄瓜), fried barbecue potato slices coated in cumin and pepper (香烤土豆片), and – though I haven’t ordered it in months out of shame, due to its reputation as the foreigners’ dish – gongbao chicken (宫爆鸡丁), chicken with peanuts, carrots, and some random green vegetables in a somewhat spicy sauce. The food turns out to be excellent, if a bit expensive. We drink a beer to our freedom.
  • 6:30pm: We wander up the street to pick up a few essentials – especially vegetables, which have not had any place in my diet for nearly a week due to the lack of vegetable shops in my apartment or at school. We then ride a taxi back to school so my co-teacher can make her night class, which starts at 7:30. I return home to continue working on my book.
  • 1:00am: I have finished the necessary sections of my book, but cannot combine the documents into one without destroying the formatting of the documents themselves. Frustrated, I jump into bed without having showered. I’ll do it in the morning.
  • Sometime extremely dark: I am awoken by firecrackers going off in a nearby courtyard. Groaning, I turn over and attempt to return to sleep. Which comes, eventually, smothering the turbulence of the day with its blissful omnipotence of necessity.
  • Early the next morning: Librarian Bob calls to inform us that there will be class both Saturday and Sunday. I groan and turn over, just in time to be woken up by the national anthem being played at high volume through nearby loudspeakers. I look out the window; the golden spires of the monastery shimmer through the translucent frost coating the window, the spectacular snowcovered mountains looming miragelike above. Who knows what this light, now hesitant and weak, now stronger, more confident, as it angles gently, now firmly, into the depths of the valley, all the while illuminating the sacred peak of Taklung, rising above all in a magnificent pyramid of seemingly unblemished purity, majestic, a mountain of a latent power and might deserving of deification, illuminated by the eagerest of earlymorning rays – who knows what this newlyborn light may bring with it? Who knows what this illumination, magnificent in its regular, quotidian cycles, may bring to the world, or to me? What possibilities, what ideas, what troubles, what beauty? What will I discover today? This is what I wonder as I look out of my window at the innumerable mysteries beyond; the incomprehensible magnificence of the world. And so I wake up to another morning in paradise.
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4 Responses to One (Fri)day

  1. loebx001 says:

    welcome back…

  2. Kailah says:

    Read the news. Available on NYT Asia page, among other places…

  3. Kailah says:

    Glad to hear things have started again. But, more than that, that you guys are allowed to go out and around again.

  4. charlotte says:

    Very familiar Jonas and I chuckle reading knowing all the lost in translations. So glad you’re both able to be still there and think of you a lot. Yaaay for that view of glittering domes and soon the green fluffings will appear on trees. Has the veg shop across the street shut then? That you have put together a third year text book is very impressive! Well done!
    Here too much rain to deal with and leaking roof and giant tomato plants. Hardly a patch on what you are dealing with there these days.

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