A six hour train ride took me from Beijing to Jinan, where I was to meet my long-time friend, George. Here was a man dear to me, primarily because he lived a life that no one else dared to. He had shrugged off the typical trappings of the Western world and its imbecilic notions of earning money, buying property, and courting women for marriage, almost to the point of a Buddhist or Hindu ascetic, were it not for his acute taste for any sort of alcohol or drug his body didn't already reject for overexposure, and his insatiable appetite for women he had absolutely no respect for. As the good doctor Hunter S. Thompson once said, "One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production."
And this man had told convincing enough lies to a scouting company and conned enough money out of his family to land himself a job teaching English at the Shandong College of Tourism and Hospitality in Jinan, China and a plane ticket to get there. This was a man who had absolutely no right being anywhere near the youth of any nation, let alone shaping the minds of the generation of Chinese very likely to be the heirs to America's position as Most Powerful Corporation ever. With the exception of his weekend stint as a camp counselor as a Senior in High School, he hadn't had the slightest exposure to children before, and his colored history of short-term jobs ranging from drunken high-rise condo doorman to zonked out personal assistant to rock artists, to stoned landscaper hardly passed as true teaching credentials. Here was a man so disconnected from reality that he arrived in the country having no idea it was under communist rule.
So, naturally, George had concocted a curriculum based on what he knew best, aside from toxicology and pharmacology, of course: his life in America. He brought a slew of photos of life in America on his laptop, and figured he'd wing the rest. He was shocked as seemingly common sense notions of our capitalistic and democratic world fell on deaf or confused ears in China. Yet somehow, primarily through his charming and persuasive personality, George had quickly become not only the most well-known and requested teacher at the school, he was also now the hardest working, influencing a total of 600 students by himself that term, and commanding a salary greater than most doctors in the Republic.
I had read his emailed stories of introducing the kids to the concepts of group projects, in an attempt to move past the antiquated teaching system of rote repetition and lecture that is still in use in China. George had told me of how he pulled teeth to introduce the concept of debate to the students; that despite what their government and parents had pounded into their heads, there were actually at least two sides to any issue, and that it was OK to question authority and to fight for what they believed in.
Some of the points got through, he said, while others didn't. Upon explaining to his students, who bought the party line that "Mao was 70% right and 30% wrong" in killing millions of innocents to take the Great Leap Forward, he told them that if they disagree with the things that they see their government doing, they should push for a democratic way of voicing their opinions. Of using the majority opinion to guide national decisions.
"Wow, professor," one inspired teen reportedly exclaimed, "you have some great ideas. Perhaps you should write a letter to our government!"
George had spent his three-month summer vacation on a motorcycle ride across China and back, which I imagined to be a reverse Motorcycle Diaries, whereby the revolutionary spread his views of Democracy and Capitalism across the Communist nation, rather than the other way around. It was with high expectations of his influence over the future generation of the country that is destined to eat our collective lunch that I approached the university with George the first day I went to class with him.
As we walked up the still-developing landscape of this brand new school, George decked out in a tailored suit and sneakers, carrying a briefcase and sporting mirrored aviator-style sunglasses, he was greeted by hundreds of waves and familiar smiles. George was big man on campus and reveled in it. George explained the overall scene at the school to me and how Billy, the top administrator was essentially George's bitch.
"OK, so it's going to be cold in the classrooms. Since this country is run by some fucking stupid-ass commies, they turn on the heat for the whole country on a predetermined date. Since it's cold early this year, they haven't turned it on yet, so we get to freeze our asses off, and god forbid they should budge and turn the shit on a little early. I guess it's better than the years when it is still 90 degrees in November. At any rate, you'll be cold.
"You'll notice that there are new plasma-screen TVs mounted on a few of the walls, which will soon show propaganda about how great this school is. But can I get an internet connection here, or even a fucking photocopier? Way too much to ask.
"When I start a class, I tell them that I don't care if they learn. I tell them that I already got the free trip to China, and they are paying for it, so I don't give a fuck if they sleep or learn something. I am there for them, and will blow their minds if they want it, but if they don't care, it's no skin off my back.
"Billy is the head guy here at the school. He's very nice, but he has no spine. I own the mother fucker. We're headed to his office right now; since there isn't a teacher's lounge, this is where we hang out."
We grabbed some breakfast in the school cafeteria where I noticed a sign imploring the students to "Have no the harmful effects vegetable." Clearly a school with high standards.
We situated ourselves in Billy's office, drinking his tea and occupying his desk chair and couch until class began. Of course, Billy was excited to have another Caucasian at the school and went out of his way to ensure that I was comfortable and happy in the frigid school.
In this school, teachers move classrooms between periods, rather than the students moving over the course of the day, as they do in the west. George's strategy was to stay out of the classroom until the moment the bell rang, and made a habit of concocting his lesson plan sometime after that.
As the bell rang, George slammed the door open, startling the students, in what I am sure has become an almost predictable interaction, and sauntered into the room with an ego the size of Tiananmen Square. As I walked in behind him, the now-attentive students sat upright, grinned broadly, and let out a collective "ooohhh!!!" that there was another of these strange creatures in their presence.
Without saying a word, George walked up to the chalkboard and determinedly wrote "The Golden Jew," his preferred nickname for me. Without uttering a word, he marched down the center isle towards the back of the room, switched on his camera to video, hit record and bellowed, "repeat after me. 'The Golden Jew.'"
"The Gorden Jew."
"Louder! The Golden Jew!!"
"Very good. This is my friend Adam, also from America. Today for class, you will ask him questions. Adam, get up to the podium. OK, begin." George took a seat and looked at me expectantly.
Shit, this was high pressure for all of us! I wasn't sure how to begin, and neither were the kids. Fuck you, George, help me out here! "Uhh, hi, my name is Adam, and I am from America!"
"And, uh, I have known George since he was this tall!"
"Ooooohh!!!!" Ok, maybe it wasn't going to be so hard to impress these people.
"Well, I am at the beginning of a trip through China, Myanmar, India, and Bangladesh. I am very excited to be here in your country, what do you want to know about my country?"
And, slowly, the interview began, which I was soon to see consisted of a very similar set of questions in every class: Where are you from? What do you do for work? How many people are there in your family? Do you have a girlfriend? And Do you like Chinese girls? Every single time.
All of my answers elicited ooohhs and giggles, in particular the affirmative response to the Chinese girls question.
Over the course of the three classes that day, the curriculum began with the same interview, the same oohs and aahs. A fair amount of class time was devoted to teaching the kids important things about America, such as how to flash gang signs; and for their part the kids taught us important Chinese things like how to spin a book on one finger. Somehow, something of a more prurient nature found its way into the curriculum.
George somehow got the idea that we should have the class sell its girls to the wealthy American in the room. So they were instructed to break into groups and come up with advertisements for a girl in each group. I would be stationed at the front of the classroom to hear their various pitches and I would pretend to buy my favorite girl, based on the advertisement they came up with. Songs were sung, the cooking or speaking skills of each girl was touted, and giggling abounded. I made my selection based on a reasonable price and a well-written advertisement, though I think George wanted me to pick the cute one. Such activities would certainly have led to countless lawsuits, headline news, and photos on thesmokinggun.com back home, but not in China, and George lapped it up.