A collection of weekly happenings.
I had a class on Thursday afternoon with my “special needs” high schoolers (the kids with subpar standardized test scores). One of my favorites is a shy boy who sits in the front. He always sits bolt-upright and sports an attentive demeanor, but he’s never willing to speak. Before and after class, though, he’ll approach me and speak freely, with pretty good English. We’ll talk about Marvel superhero films, zombie apocalypse comic books, and music. He plays the drums and once asked me to join his band as a guitarist. If I wasn’t the teacher, I would join in a heartbeat.
We were doing a simple exercise where I asked the class a few “future tense” questions. The question I asked him was, “what do you want to be.” He said that he wanted to be a dean at a school, perhaps at a university. I felt a mixture of “cynical adult” and “optimistic student” sentiment flowing through me. The cynical world-wary guy was saying, “Be realistic with your expectations”. I hated that thought. The optimist was saying, “Hey, you only have one round of being alive. Go for it, and if you crash and burn… treat it like a rollercoaster ride.” I feel like the day the cynical subconscious drowns out the optimistic one is the day I’ve finally died.
My company videotaped one of my primary school classes this week. The moment before class began, the zipper on my jacket jammed. The room was warm and clustered with 46 students, making it all the warmer. I attempted to pull the jacket over my head, but my shirt started going with it. I taught with the jacket on, and my nerves coupled with the heat led to some intense sweating. The Chinese teacher was struggling not to laugh. After class, the person recording the video insisted it was fine. Maybe it was. It was funny at least.
I found myself going back to the old question, one I know the answer to but think about a lot: how much is enough? I remember a talk that I had with my younger brother about the same question. He brought up his friend’s father, who saved a significant amount of wealth in his youth, only to contract cancer in his late 40’s. He told his son, “Don’t save… just enjoy every moment.” This had a ricochet effect, though, as his son spent himself into a debt-laden oblivion.
I had a dream in which I was swimming again. I was back at the Texas Swimming Center, anchoring a relay at a competition; the details were too fuzzy to recollect. I’ve never been nostalgic for training, but I always found the feeling of conquering someone else to be intoxicating. You don’t really “conquer” in other phases of life; not like that.
We had an intense basketball game at the school yesterday. “Mr. Sun,” our team MVP, had sprained both of his ankles two weeks prior. Leeyang and I had to figure out ways to carry the weight of his loss. Mr. Sun showed up to watch, and his longing gaze reminded me of my own when I walk by a swimming pool.
Mr. Sun had an extremely muscular upper body and a rail-thin lower body when I first met him. That was before his first ankle injury (he’s had three since I arrived in China). Miss Huang, the school manager, told me that he sprains his ankles all the time. “His upper body is so big that his feet cannot support it,” she told me. “He does this five times a year.”
Leeyang added to her statement that after each ankle injury, Mr. Sun let’s himself get fat. “It all turns to fat quickly. Maybe he will get muscular again, but it will only be for a few weeks. Then he’ll get hurt again. He’ll lie on the couch and drink beer while his wife cooks for him. Then, his ankles will heal, he’ll get muscular again, and the cycle will repeat.”
After the game, Mr. Sun and I had dinner. He was in a jovial mood.
“My wife made me so much good food this week,” he said. “But she told me, this ankle injury is the last time I put up with this. No more basketball. This can’t go on. So, I promised her this would be it.”
“So you won’t play basketball with us anymore?”
“Of course I will!” he said with a smile. “Hopefully I’m good by next Friday. My poor ankles.”