[Written on Friday, July 28]
As I write this, I am perched on the teacher’s podium of classroom 9 at Handan High School #4. The teacher-students are working on thank you letters for me (I’m unsure whether I’m supposed to know this until they actually present the book to me), and in about 10 minutes we will practice our final presentation once or twice more. This afternoon, we share our performance with friends, family, coworkers, fellow teachers, and local government officials in a grand fete that is meant to be the culmination of our 10 days’ effort. I can hear one woman reviewing “Auld Lang Syne” by listening to a recording she made of me in class the other day, and it’s more than a little bit surreal.
I think the thing that I will miss most about China is the people. These women in particular are so kind, so sweet, so grateful, so generous, and so happy to have an opportunity to learn from an American teacher. You simply don’t have that kind of energy and appreciation from American teachers (or students, for that matter). It’s enough to go to your head, but it’s also terrifying to try to live up to those expectations. Half of these women have 20+ years of experience to my measly 7, and yet, you would think I was a visiting college lecturer from the way that they take notes and pictures while I teach.
I’m sure it will be strange going back to the States, but I’m ready to be home. I’m looking forward (in no particular order) to sleeping in my own bed, eating food that isn’t strictly Chinese, seeing my family and friends, cuddling Merry Belle, and generally having a rest before teacher workdays start back up in 2 weeks. I’ve found that a month of travel is my limit, and although I’ve had an amazing time, I will heave a sigh of relief when the lights of Charlotte become visible from my plane window.
[Added on Saturday, July 29]
Yesterday’s performance went off about how you would expect. The event itself was a hectic mess, hardly rehearsed and poorly planned, but my students did exactly as we practiced and I was very proud of them. They performed Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman,” taught the audience how to play “Hello, Neighbor,” and sang “Auld Lang Syne.” They’re far too hard on themselves: they wanted to pick apart every mistake as soon as we were finished, but I thought they did beautifully. At the end, they all cried, “We love you!” and stormed across the stage to attack me with hugs. It was beautiful, and I definitely didn’t cry. Definitely not.
In about half an hour, we’re catching a train to Beijing. Most of us fly out tomorrow, and although I know it’s a long-shot, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can fit in a quick trip to the market in the morning before my 3:30 flight. I haven’t bought half as many souvenirs as I should have, and although I’m quite out of room in my luggage, and I’m willing to risk it if it means squirreling away a few more mementos for family and friends.
I’ll work on some reflections of the trip as a whole as I travel today and tomorrow, but in the meantime, wish me luck! I have quite a journey ahead, and miles to go before I sleep.