July 1 will be the one-year anniversary of my arriving in China. One year from now, I (expect) to be packing up to go home.
The last couple of weeks have been sort of strange. Strange weather—100 degrees for a few days, then rainy and 65. Sort of an apocalyptic mood. Even more construction than usual has meant piles of rubble around my apartment (and fun asides like being woken up one morning to the sounds of glass being broken with a sledgehammer two stories down). Many of my friends—basically all the foreigners in Beibei, and second-year PCVs—are getting ready to leave, and so I’m caught up in a lot of “end of the world” sentiment, even though it is, by no means, the end of the world for me. Half my friends are getting Raptured, but I’m still here…
Classes have been winding up smoothly—at this point I feel like I don’t need to put nearly as much effort into planning as I did earlier in the semester but still get positive payoff, so this is good. I collected evaluations from one of my classes so far, and comments were mostly what I’d have expected. A lot of complaints about how much I made them read and think this semester (well yes, critical thinking skills are what I wanted to improve, so that’s just what had to happen, deal with it). Some complaints about the boring movies I made them watch (classics they’d never heard of like Star Wars, Wizard of Oz, Back to the Future). A couple of “I love you”‘s.
One thing I regret about this semester is that a few really bright students whom I originally anticipated having close relationships with never quite panned out. First semester I required all my students to have a meal with me (well, I told them it was a requirement but only about half did it, and since I only have so much time, I let it go and didn’t count it against anyone). This semester, I told everyone that it was no longer a requirement, but that I had lots of free time, so they should always feel free to initiate on their own. Which they didn’t. I also feel weird about making specific invitations myself—hey, three favorite students, want to have lunch?—meaning that, in sum, there was almost no out of class interaction with most of my students, which is kind of too bad. Then, it was also annoying when a couple of comment cards remarked on how they wished I could have spent more time with them. Hey, I was here.
Women’s club I’m not sure if I can count as a success or not. I do think I really reached and connected with the girls who came, but the trouble is, by the end of the semester, I was down to a core of only seven or so who came. Most of this I think wasn’t my fault—the girls who came each week always seemed to enjoy it, and we did cover the kinds of topics they had expressed interest in from the very beginning. But with 30 hours of class, plus homework, plus other commitments, I think my group was often the first thing to get the ax. I had girls bow out of meetings every week because of needing to study or needing to “take a walk” (that one was ridiculous), and twice I had to cancel a whole meeting a couple hours before it was to begin because I got word that all the students had been called to some mandatory school function (as always, announced last minute). So even though I did enjoy the group and the core members did too, it was frustrating to see it dwindle every week, and frustrating because I don’t know what I could have done differently. I’m thinking that I’ll maintain a relationship with the core group, and maybe suggest a continuance of the group in the form of a weekly dinner or something in the fall. And perhaps, with the new crop of sophomore students whom I expect to teach next year, I’ll start another version of the group in the spring and hope for more commitment.
By the way, the sex talk went well. It was basically me with a group of a dozen girls who aren’t considering becoming sexually active, so a lot of the information was remote. They all seemed to know the biologic basics of sex but not the mechanics. They showed a lot of interest in discussing menstruation and tampons (rather taboo and infrequently available/used), and shared some Chinese wisdom like the idea that cold foods should never be eaten while menstruating. The discussion of hymens was baffling to most and upsetting to some. And everyone was delighted to learn how widespread syphilis is in China—like that it’s the number-one disease, period, in Shanghai. Although many of them stayed uncharacteristically silent and wide-eyed while the discussion was actually happening, afterwards they all said it was very interesting/informative and less awkward than anticipated. A small victory.
This week, I’m having finals in my oral English classes in the form of debates about whether there is need for education reform in China and the US. We’ll see how it goes—they didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, and it’s a bit of a complicated assignment. Next week we’ll just have little class parties—snacks, games, conversation, and asking Matthew (who will be arriving just in time for my last few classes) awkward questions. I have one last British Literature class today in which we’ll be discussing part of Dubliners, and then they have an in-class final next week.
This weekend I’ll have a not-insubstantial grading load from various projects, but it’s something to do: life in Beibei has been surprisingly boring lately. On the plus side, I’ve taken up the CBS show The Good Wife and expect to have made it through two full seasons in under two weeks. I’m counting vacation as beginning on the day Matthew arrives in Chongqing, meaning less than a week to go! There are a lot of faux End of the World rites to get to this week as well with the soon-to-be-departing crew—recently were the final showing by Team Beibei at a bar trivia night in the city (unfortunately, we didn’t win) and the last late night at the downtown clubs, and I expect that final Beibei evenings out, KTV, and (shudder) hot pot are all on the docket in the upcoming future. Again, weird to celebrate the end when it’s just not. Maybe I can take solace in pretending it is, indeed, the end, and can imagine that everything is new again when the fall starts. Hah.