Sunday, May 10, 2009

the media room

"Ugh!" shouted Vince as we walked across campus, "I can't believe you can get a media classroom that easily! I have applied many times for a media room and I never get one!" Everyone knows who Vince is; he is one of the most important students on campus. He is the head of the Ministry of Study Affairs, a student union full of undercover brilliant students who would rather hold events, have ministry meetings, and study their own preferred subjects than study for their classes. Who can blame them? The majority of the students at Hebei College of Finance ended up at this school by failing to pass a few standardized tests that would have allowed them to attend the school of their choice. On top of that, many of them were forced into majors they didn't choose. It's a slippery slope in China. Once you don't pass the tests in high school, you don't get a choice in much of anything. But that doesn't mean you have to just sit and take it, or so Vince would tell you. You can create a slew of student unions and hold English speaking events until your head explodes instead. If you've ever seen Rushmore, Vince is Max Fischer, with a touch of Jack from the Newsies, always leading the charge against the establishment. Except that he doesn't do lasso-dance routines when he's by himself. Well, I guess I have no way of knowing that for sure...

"You have to apply for a media room?" I asked him, confused. All I usually did was ask for one.

Our walking pace quickened as Vince was trying hard to find something to blame for feeling slighted over never getting his media room, and I was trying to give him one: my white skin.

"Sorry, man," I told him, "you know it's just because I'm a foreign teacher. All I do is call Ms. Zhao and she finds one for me. Listen, next time you want a media room I'll book it for you."

I could see in his eyes that he didn't want my pity. But I felt sorry for Vince because the school does bend over backwards for me. Just last week I asked for a media room on Tuesday night for my classes on Wednesday morning by sending a text message to the head of our department, Ms. Zhao. She responded promptly by giving me a media room. I arrived there in the morning and put in the DVD I wanted to use. Nothing happened. I looked at the computer again. No DVD compatibility. Crap. I quickly called Ms. Zhao, explained the situation, and within ten minutes my students and I moved to a different media room with a DVD player. I then proceeded to show some movie scenes without subtitles for listening practice (Dead Poet's Society, Little Miss Sunshine, Hitch, Superman). Another victory for the waiguoren (foreigner).

The next day things weren't so easy. I found out the night before that there was no media room available with a DVD player, only the one useless media room that I had tried that day. I could just see Vince grinning over a bowl of noodles, satisfied with his sabotage. But I wasn't going to let it defeat me. No DVD, no problem. I explained my predicament to Ryan, who conveniently teaches in the classroom next door. We had just heard an idea that day from our friend, Emily. Her parents had come to visit her for a couple weeks and she brought them to a few of her classes. They played a game where t
he students tested Emily to see how well she knew her parents. They asked her questions, and her parents wrote their answers down before Emily could answer. Emily then answered for her parents.

At 9am that Thursday morning, during the class break, Ryan and I directed our students to the DVD-less media room that I had reserved, which had suddenly found its use; it holds 100 students, which was about exactly the number of our two classes combined. I wrote "How well do Ryan and Jon know each other?" on the board and we played. The students were on one team, their goal being to stump us, and Ryan and I wer
e on the other. The first question was predictable.

"Does Ryan have a girlfriend," one of Ryan's students asked me. Everyone laughed. It's funny every time to them.

"Ryan does not have a girlfriend," I answered with confidence. An easy point for us.

"Okay, now who wants to ask me if Jon has a girlfriend?" Ryan asked the class after the laughter had subsided. They laughed again. One of my students named Christina stood up to ask a question.

"How often every week does Ryan wash his hair?" she asked. Christina had apparently noticed that Ryan hadn't washed his hair that day, something she always seems to notice about anyone. Actually, the last two times I had seen Christina, she had told me, "I think it's time to wash your hair."

"Hm, I'm going to guess 3," I said. Ryan doesn't wash his hair that often.

Ryan held up his paper, which read, "2." One point for the students.

One of Ryan's female students stood up. Most of the questions came from females.

"What's Jon's favorite movie?" she asked Ryan. This was a hard question, so the student decided to give Ryan a break. She said I could write down five movies and Ryan had two guesses to guess any of them. It was hard to be honest with my top-five list; I wanted him to guess one. So, I put Lord of the Rings, which we were both reading, and Superman, which we had watched in my class the day before. The result was unfortunate.

"X-Men and... uh... Ace Ventura?," he said. One point for them.

The game continued on with a few hard questions and a few easy ones. Ryan guessed my favorite quote correctly (found on the left side of this blog); I missed the age of Ryan's dog by one year; Ryan guessed that my favorite experience in life was either my trip to Newfoundland or my trip to Colorado/Oklahoma, both of which were great guesses. But I tried too hard with my answer, "Teaching in China." The last question was perhaps the funniest.

"What color underwear is Ryan wearing today?" Coco, Ryan's student, asked me. I remembered seeing a pair of black boxers hanging in our shower room recently.

"Black!" I guessed. Ryan peaked in his shorts.

"White." The class lost it.

And so the game ended.
The class: 13
Ryan and Jon: 11


I love watching my students watch movies. The rest of that week, I decided to simplify my movie-viewing in my classes down to just one movie: Superman. I showed each class the rooftop interview between Lois Lane and Superman for listening practice, and instead of switching films like I had planned I just decided to let them watch more Superman. They knew very little about him, just that he rescues people. Most of my classes had big smiles on their faces when Superman took Lois for a ride over Metropolis. But their big reaction came when he first rescued Lois as she fell from the dangling helicopter. The laughed when Clark ran down the street and ripped his shirt open to reveal the bright red "S" on his chest. But they gasped when he caught Lois.

"Don't worry, miss, I've got you," Superman tells her calmly.

"You've got me? But who's got you?!" Lois exclaims. They all laughed.

The helicopter then falls towards Superman and Lois. Instead of avoiding it, Superman flies right at it and catches it with one hand, his other arm occupied holding Lois.

"Wow!" many students gasped. A few of them even clapped.

There's something in the innocent heart that jumps for joy over Superman. And somehow, the Chinese students still have that heart. Imagine a classroom of 50 American college students watching Superman. We're too cynical to react like them, even if we'd never seen Superman before. And even if we felt like they did, we wouldn't clap or say, "wow." Which is why I took hold of the chance to actually smile when Superman catches Lois. Because that's how I feel when I watch Superman; happy.


spider screen said...

favorite video game quote from Shenmue2: "Do you know where I can find some sailors?"

Cameron said...

Jon, I am on your computer telling you to update your blog.