Wednesday, June 29, 2016

School's out for summer!

Can I just say that again... School's out for summer!

Honestly, it's a horrible school. I do not like the students. They are just spoiled, rich kids. They don't have to learn English, they are going to be rich anyway. And I do not like my bosses. They don't know the first thing about how to put together a program, or to even run the Cambridge program which is already pretty well put together. And, well, they don't know how to handle foreigners.  We are all nice people. Really, the foreigner teachers are a great group. But, we spend most of our time really ticked off about something. I mean, I don't. Not usually. But, there's plenty to be ticked off about, that's for sure.  For my part, my pay is not going to be what I think it should be, I still don't know whether or not I'm getting a bonus, it's all messed up, as is normal. I think I'm about ready to be lied to and treated badly by people in another part of the world for awhile. Though, I plan to be back here for one more year. 

I have mainly been a big lie-about since school was out. It's been raining for most of the time. We even had thunder the other day which is pretty unusual. Anyway, when it is not raining I go out for a walk, or a juice, or bike ride. If it's past rush hour I take my bike. Between 7am and 7pm, though, I walk. 

I got my hair cut. Photo to follow.

On Sunday my friend Steven and I are going to Quibao. It's an ancient water town, actually in Shanghai. Very old. Lots of tourists go there. Since Dong Tai Road has been shut down, I am looking for a new place to go on those steamy Shanghai afternoons when I just want to walk slowly and talk to people. Dong Tai Lu was an antique/"antique" street. You can still find some legitimate antiques. I have been there a few times since it closed down and people who remember me have come out of their houses to offer me antique beads (I am a sucker for those) or whatever they have. Most of the good stuff isn't of much interest to me and/or it's out of my price range. I do love the old Chinese beads, though. They are colorful and funny. Something about them appeals to me. I've bought a lot of them over the  years. Sometimes I buy a piece of red coral if it's of exceptional quality. There used to be some very good jade down there, but I never bought any of it. I love the imperial jade, but the lesser quality jade doesn't do much for me. I enjoy talking to the people. It was a good place to take visitors because it was a way to see "real" Shanghai, and buy some souvenirs too. Also, a good place to practice Chinese speaking.  They will build an office building in its place. The one thing Shanghai does not need is another office building. For one thing Shanghai is already sinking. There are too many buildings on it already. For another thing, sea levels are rising anyway. Add that to the sinking and I think it's a poor real estate investment. I ain't no Donald Trump, of course, but I wouldn't do it. Also, Dong Tai Lu was special. Office buildings are not. I don't care how many neon lights you stick on there it's still not going to be special. Alas. But maybe I'll like Quibao!

I'm reading a new book by Joyce Carol Oates called Middle Age. It's about a bunch of middle-aged people -- quelle surprise -- and how they respond to the death of their mutual friend. It's entertaining, though I'll probably go back to non-fiction after this. I'm just not learning anything from it. 

Hope all is well. Thanks for reading the blog

Sunday, June 19, 2016

It's Father's Day. Because sperm, I guess. I never think of my father. Maybe sometimes, but not often. I do not recall any Father's Day celebrations in our home. It seems strange to think that I have a father. Of course, I must. But, it's surreal.

Other people knew my father. I never did. From them I know what he valued, what he did, things. I don't know. He lived an entire life hidden from me. As I guess mine has been from him, as much as possible anyway.


I wrote about Elijah again today. Elijah is sort of my new boyfriend. I'm a little bit obsessed with him. You can read all about it here. Early in the week I noticed the chiasmus, the two questions are the tip off, at least they were for me, but I didn't put the whole thing together until rather early this morning. It goes like this:

A - Elijah flees

          B - Eat and Drink

                    C - What are you doing here?

                              D - Got Tells E to GO and STAND

E - God passes by

                              D - E GOES and STANDS

                    C - What are you doing here?

          B - Go and Return

A - Elijah gets sent back

C - D - E was easy enough, but I got a little bogged down around B. I felt that Elijah's coming and Elijah's going were connected, but it took me awhile to put eat and drink together with go and return. It wasn't a big part of the essay, though, if you read carefully you can see that I made sort of a chiasmus in the essay itself. It's too subtle to even mention, but I rather like that part.

But what I want to talk to you about is that man in the tombs. There he is, opposite Galilee. And he is tormented. The story tells us that he was tormented by demons. Hum. In a universe of possibilities we can't rule that out. But it seems to me like something else might be going on. \

I have a small class I teach on the side. Five little girls, and they are all five years old. Four of them are a complete delight. The other one is kind of hard headed. My life as a teacher would be easier if she were more like the other children. But I see the spark of genius in her. She's a non-conforming girl living in one of the most conform-valuing societies in the world. There are times when I'd like to drive her out of the classroom for her non-conformity. Of course, I do not. We have to work with this kind of spirit, not against it. Some other teacher will probably come along and crush the spirit out of her, or beat it out. But it won't be me. When she displays her hard-headedness I do not try to overpower her, even though I easily could. I could physically force her to do what I want her to do, or I could just use the force of my will like I do with the high schoolers. She's only five, after all. But what would that achieve? She would just dig in. And when she was old enough, and strong enough, she'd break the bonds of my strength anyway. Physical and mental. And people would say that she's crazy. Maybe even demon possessed. But, she's not. She's just not a conformer.

And so I was thinking about my little hard-headed student this week in relation to the man in the tombs. Maybe the legion of "demons" were really just a million creative ideas, a thousand ways to live differently. Or, maybe, as a pal of mine suggested, he refused to conform to Roman expectations and that is what caused the others to be afraid of him.

I don't know. He is one of the many Bible characters we meet and then don't hear about again. I would like to know what happened to him.

Tomorrow is the first day of a very special week. It's the last week of school. I only have the faintest outline of a plan for my summer. Mainly I am just relieved that for eight weeks I will not have to go to that horrible place.  Hope your week is as happy as mine.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

In my essay last week I wrote about how God desires to answer our prayers and how Elijah's simple prayer for God's presence was enough. You can read it here. In my readings, though, I came upon a story that I wanted to use in the essay, but didn't. I could have used it, but then the essay would have been too long. So, whatever. I didn't use the essay, but I like this a lot:

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, one of the great Hassidic teachers, looked forward to Seder night every year. 
One year, after the Seder was over, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak went to sleep, content. He had conducted a great Seder with all his students round the table. 
He fell into a deep sleep and dreamt a strange dream. 
In the dream, the prophet Elijah is talking with the angels, giving them an account of the Seder he saw in Jewish homes. He describes the kids' excitement as their eyes are glued to the cup for Elijah to see if he came to visit them this year. 
One of the angels asks, "But which was the most important Seder that you visited? Was it Rabbi Levi Yitzhak's?" 
"Truth be told," Elijah answers, "Rabbi Levi Yitzhak's Seder was full of interesting discussions on the Haggadah, but it cannot be compared to the Seder of Chaim the water carrier." 
At that Rabbi Levi Yitzhak woke up with a start and jumped out of bed. He had to speak to this water carrier named Chaim right away. 
He shook awake one of his students who had fallen asleep at the table and sent him to seek out Chaim. 
Eventually, the student found Chaim in a tumbledown hut at the edge of the town and brought him, dazed and barely awake, to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak's house. 
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak welcomed the puzzled man, and offered him a chair opposite him. Then he asked, "Tell me, my good Chaim, what happened last night at your Seder?" 
Ashamed, looking down at his shabby shoes, Chaim answered: 
"What kind of a Seder could an ignorant, tired fellow like me have? Yesterday, the day before Passover was a very hard day. All the houses were being cleaned, and water was in great demand. I walked backwards and forwards all day, trying to supply everyone with enough water. I slaved away with not a moment's rest. 
"At the end of the day, I arrived home, half dead from exhaustion. My wife Rachel was just lighting the candles for the festival and I asked her to let me rest a while, and I fell into a deep sleep. When I awoke it was nearly dawn. 
"Of course, I quickly woke up Rachel. There was no time now to read the whole Haggadah, so we drank the four cups of wine, and ate the matzah and some maror, and with whatever time I had left, I pleaded with God: 'Almighty, please forgive a simple ignorant man. All I know is that you delivered us in the past from the cruel hands of the Egyptians -- you have led us out of slavery to freedom. And now we are all in exile again, and I ask you with all my heart to lead us again into freedom!" 
Having finished his story of woe, the water carrier waited, sure that the great Rabbi Levi Yitzhak would reprimand him for not making a proper Seder. 
But instead, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok put his hand on Chaim's shoulder and turned to his students and said, "It is extremely important to follow the order of the Seder, but now we know why this man's Seder was the most pleasing to Elijah the Prophet." 
Judaism teaches that "Every individual has to see himself as though he himself was redeemed from Egypt." Telling over the story of going out of Egypt is not enough -- we have to connect with it ourselves. 
Chaim, a simple ignorant Jew, in his one sentence Seder, found favor in God's eyes, because of the depth of his sincerity and his commitment to do the best that he knew. "What comes out of the heart, goes into the heart.

So, once again, the humble, the poor get it right.

The story was written by Rebecca Rubinstein and you can read it at Aish.