Thursday, November 12, 2009

“I’m A Little Teapot”

I am on my way to school. I flag down a motorbike and show him a piece of paper reading Guan Yuan in Mandarin. “Ok” he says as I hop on the back of his bike. On the way I see the police, my heart stops and I check the driver’s shirt quickly to make sure he is a legal driver. Thank god, I’m safe. We weave in and out of traffic, it’s so noisy. I put in my iPod and blast up the volume to drown out the sounds of the honking horns surrounding me. People are waving as they see me drive by so I smile and wave back. We are finally at my school; I stumble off the bike and pull out my wallet. I pay the man 5 Yuan and say, “Xie, Xie” (which means thank you). As I approach the gate the security guard comes out, “Good morning Chelsea”, “Good morning” I reply back. He jesters me forward, he must have a new word for me. I step into this tiny cubicle for an office and look around. There are windows overlooking the road with four chairs placed in front of them. He has a desk that is fit along the back wall all the way around. It is messy, there is garbage everywhere. I look to the left and see a tiny bathroom, there is no door. Eww. There are rain coats hanging up on a hook beside the room. I look forward and he is standing there smiling at me pointing to an empty beer bottle. Wow its 8 am, is that necessary? “Piju” he says. “Beer” I reply. He repeats me, “Beer”. He waits for me to say Piju, “Piju”. He smiles and lets me go on my way. As I walk to my office I try to think of all the other words he has taught me this past month. He will tell me a word in Mandarin and I tell him the word in English, so we are really teaching each other. I like it; he has taught me a lot.

I walk into the school and the children who have finished their breakfast are walking by and saying, “Hello, Chelsea,” and “Hello, Teacher”. I smile and wave at all of them. As I enter the office cool fresh air hits my face. I look around and all the Chinese teachers are smiling. The ones who know English say good morning, the ones who do not just smile and nod. I take a seat in front of my computer and try to log on to MSN so I can talk to my mom before class. My friend Venus comes in and is as excited to see me as I am to see her, “Did you miss me, my friend?” she asked.
“Of course!” I reply.
“How did you sleep?”
“My bed is too hard” I complain. She laughs at me and sits down at her desk. We continue to talk and make plans for the upcoming weekend and the head of the English department comes over to us. “Ah, Chelsea, I would like you to teach the children a song”
“A song?” I gulp. I can’t sing!
“Yes I think they will like it a lot” Oh no. I think quickly of all the childhood nursery rhymes I learned growing up. Jack and Jill? No…stupid. Little Miss Muffet? No…too many hard words. Humpty Dumpty? No, too sad. I’m a little teapot? YES! I throw together a power point with the lyrics and pretty pictures of teapots and make my way to class. My heart begins to pound. I can’t sing. I CAN’T SING! I walk towards the room gripping my books tight. I’m sweating already. Please don’t be another teacher, please, please, please! I look into the room and see only children who are screaming “Yayyy!” once they see me. No Chinese teacher! YES! A little bit of relief passing through me.

I start up the computer and put the song on the power point. Clap, Clap, Clap Clap Clap. I get the students attention. A silence fills the room. I smile. “Good morning class” I say. “Good morning Chelsea” they reply. I smile again. “GOOD MORNING!” I yell. “GOOD MORNING CHELSEA” they scream back. I laugh and draw my tree on the board. I want to waste as much time as possible so we don’t have to sing for too long, so I begin with an activity. I put my name at the top of the tree and pull out three pictures of different coloured monkeys. “What is this?” I ask them. “MONKEY” they scream back. I pick out one of the colours and move towards one section of the room. I raise my hand and ask “What colour is this monkey?” Hands shoot up into the air and the students begin to yell, “Let me try, let me try!” I choose a student. She is cute; her hair is up in pigtails. “It is a green monkey” she says. I smile and give her a sticker. I hold up the next monkey in the middle of the room. I choose a boy who has glasses that look too big for his head. “Blue monkey” he says. I give him a sticker and hold up the last monkey. Hands fly into the air once again. I look around the room and choose a boy who has one hand in the air and the other in his nose. “It’s a yellow monkey”. “Very good,” I say, “if you are good the monkey will go up, if you are bad it will go down, the monkey closest to my name at the end of class gets stickers.” I hold up the stickers and the whole class screams in excitement.

Clap, Clap, Clap Clap Clap. Everyone becomes silent. I turn to the board to begin this humiliating act of singing. Knock Knock. I look towards the door and see Venus standing there smiling, she walks to the back of the room and takes a seat to watch. NOO!!!! My heart sinks and my face flushes red. I can do this! “Stand up!” I shout. All the students stand up in arms at their sides like a soldier. “I can do this.” I whisper to myself. I go through each line of the song and show the kids the actions. “I’m a little teapot,” I sing. Oh no, my voice cracked. My face beats red I can feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. I swallow and continue. No one noticed no one noticed. I get them to repeat it in groups and then as a whole class. Aww, they are so cute. I forget about my mistake and get carried away singing and dancing like a fool with the students. The bell rings. I look at the board and the blue monkeys have behaved the best. I begin to hand out stickers and Venus approaches me from the back. “Chelsea,” she began “you have a terrible voice.” I stare at her and begin to laugh. “I know” I admit. She hugs me and says, “It’s okay because you are beautiful” Wow, well that makes me feel better. We laugh together as she helps me pack up my things. We walk back to the office and as soon as we enter Venus finds it necessary to inform all the teachers of my horrible singing ability. My face turns red and I decide that I am never singing again.


  1. This was fun to read because it told me so uch about the teaching role you had in China. I like reading about the difference in culture, and to see how the school was set up, how the teachers act, etc. I liked the way you make some of the CHinese people speak in broken English because it seems realistic. Or the way the security guard just pointed to the beer bottle to say the word. I like your internal thoughts of fear or encouragement mixed in with the story.

    I think you have a wrong word when you wrote: "He jesters me forward" I think you were probably going for the word 'gestures' instead.
    All I can think to suggest is to include more description, especially of setting. How was the classroom set up? Do the classrooms in China look like the classrooms in Canada? Also, I liked the point where the story started, but like we talked about in class, if you wanted to change it up, you could make a point to start it where the conflict starts. Rather than taking the reader through the story of how you got to work and what you did to begin the day, you could start it with some dialogue or inner thoughts illustrating that you have to sing a song, so that the story starts off with tension and the feeling of being nervous. However, it was interesting also to read about your motorbike ride to work! That's certainly different than taking a taxi or a bus for public transportation!

  2. Hey Chelsea,

    I think this is definitely one of your best posts. You definitely show more than you tell, which makes it a lot of fun to read.

    I agree when Whitney says that it shows people what it's like to teach a class in China. My only recommendation is maybe shortening your paragraphs or uses more line breaks between dialogue and paragraphs. It's like a little breather for the eyes.

    Great post, my favourite so far.

  3. I really like this post. You keep to the same tense and bring us into the scene with good detail and dialogue. I liked that this story showed what happens in a Chinese class, without explaining it in a boring way: you are showing us not telling. I like that you wrote "my face turns red" as opposed to "I was embarrassed"
    I also liked the inner dialogue you have with yourself...hoping that no one will come in to watch you sing. We've all been in embarrassing situations like that!

  4. Hello Chelsea!

    This is my favorite post of yours so far. You teaching experience and your interactions with the students were really interesting and well done.

    I think if you work on varying your paragraphs, which are all pretty big, and tighten up some spelling and grammar issues, you will take the next step in producing a great piece. Good work!

    - Jeremy

  5. This is such a cute story, and my favourite of yours too. It’s very descriptive, and really gives us a sense of what your day is like, while still telling one cohesive story. I also liked how you made us wait for you to actually sing!

    A few other people already said what I was going to point out about line breaks and paragraphing, so I’ll leave it at that. Great post.

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  7. Chelsea,
    I love reading about your trip to China its so interesting reading about the different culture. I really enjoyed reading about the monkey/ sticker bribe. For one, I want to try that idea when I am in a class room and secondly the description of the children that were answering the colour of the monkeys was well done.
    In your piece you talk a lot about how you can’t sing, and how much you are dreading singing but then in your piece you focus on the monkey bribe. I was waiting to find out more about the song, did the kids learn the actions, did they perform the song to anyone, did they sing the little tea pot all summer long, did you regret choosing that song. Things like that may add to your story about the song.
    It was a really funny post and easy to follow. Great job!