The 5 EUR a day budget works. Covers a decent, MSG free lunch (with some fruits from the corner greengrocer´s as opposed to the makeshift street stalls, where I dunno but would swear they photoshop their veggies and strawberries). Plus gets me a small latte at Citizen near the school. (No dinner, still on Heidi.)
And then I´ve gotta wake up. Sure it is cool to time travel a bit and live again like a carefree (though skint) uni student and have the time for reading and learning. But. To fly back home one day (and ok, maybe to buy more wigs, I´ve got hooked since that epic Friday) I´ve taken on some private students lately. This city sometimes resembles a huge English classroom anyway (and yet again I wish I couldn´t speak it so that I´d be given a chance to stagger in Mandarin a bit), everyone trying to practise (people stopping you, or if you don´t stop they powerwalk with you for a few minutes, for a Hi, I´m a student from Beijing, first time in SH, wanna go for a cup of tea?*, many times my Chinese teacher explains the grammar in English and language academies open on a daily basis). It´s not so hard then to find students.
Bueno. I´d waved a tearful goodbye at my one day a week work schedule, got myself a shiny golden piggy bank, and while oscillating the laws of attraction in my mind I drew a dollar sign onto the bathroom mirror with my lipstick.
Last term I made friends with one of my Chinese teachers who´s now both a mentor and close friend. She and her family were the first ones who invited me over for dinner on New Year´s Eve. My first ever visit to a local´s house! Loved it. But was so nervous to speak Chinese and see someone´s home that I gulped down the entire bottle of Chateaux Parque I´d bought at Marks and Spencer´s on the way.
So, here I am again, 2 months after this intimate dinner, by now a familiar setting, to give a one-hour class to her hubby, who greets me in his pajamas. A sign of pride (I blush like kitschy sunset nonetheless) that one does not need to go to work that day. It´s a regular sight in supermarkets and basically all around the streets, people strolling at leisure or picking up my monthly flat rent or their grandkids from school in their not so sexy but all the more fluffy-comfy (and at times rather revealing) bedwear. Shanghainese, who are proud of being more advanced (sic!), frequently talk about this in the media, attempting to get rid of this outdated custom that some find rather embarrasing. (Btw, my two Korean teenage tutorees also open the door in the pjs.)
Well, then. He needs to improve his speaking skills for his job. They kindly offer me lunch first, so we eat and converse at ease, I even manage to sip from the whisky he pours me (it´s noon, come on, but fairy muff, he doesn´t know I´ve been abstinent for quite a while now. He probably remembers the effects of that wine at New Year´s Eve) Anyhoo, pursing my lips when I smell the spirit, I remember my hero back in Hungary, Prof Lajos Boglar, founder of the Anthropology Dept. at ELTE in the 90s. He once told us, that at one of his field trips, when he lived with indigenous people in a Brazilian rainforest, he was standing in a circle with a few men from the tribe who just came back from hunting. To celebrate their success at it, they started to snack on some dragonflies and he, being the honorable guest of the village, got the biggest one of course. Raw as it gets. He´d managed to get along with everything offered before and didn´t want to let them down by frowning at this delicacy. So, when no one was looking – quite difficult in a small circle – he quickly broke off its wings and then was easier to deal with the rest of the body only. So, squinting at my hypocrisy when no one was looking at our round table, I did drink the whisky. Careful that my glass is held lower and lower each time we clink.
After the big lunch, I´m already fading as I´d already taught a class in the morning and it´s drooling down with rain and it´s cold and I want to go home and have a nap. But. My new student, head of the family, quietly, but just as confidently, stands up and retreats to the bedroom for his siesta. Thinking first that he must just go fetch his exercise book, I glance at my teacher. She´s so polite, gives me a blanket, sits me down on the couch and makes me some German (!) tea.
While waiting a good forty minutes in silence for him to wake up and start the lesson, all I can think about is what I´d be doing if I had this time for myself? Polish my nails? Finish Wang Meng´s story on the city of chess players? Harass my friends on Skype? Or score yet another 5 kuai DVD on the street somewhere on the way home.
After spending 3.5 hours there, I get out and I take a taxi home.
It´s ok, though. I´m getting used to the fact that one is supposed to be free all the time. Most of the times I don´t get it wrong. It´s just one more alien concept to deal with. We laughed the other day at this with Casey, a former workmate of mine at a primary school, that when a company contacts you and asks you to go in for an interview, very often the following happens on the phone (ooh, and that´s the other thing – e-mails are so not popular here. Even if someone speaks poor English, they´d still much rather give you a call or text you. Lists of funny and annoying misunderstandings could fill some Twitter accounts):
Can you come in to meet us in person?
Errrr, what do you mean? Ok, wait, I can be there in an hour, is that ok?
Can you be here in 20 minutes?
* Beware of these friendly guys actually, often they take you to a tea house and you end up paying 1,500 RMB for a tiny glass)