It’s nice to be done for the year. I still have one class on Monday, but it’s short and easy. I wish it had cancelled last week with the rest, I could have gone home early, or maybe found a cheap place to have a mini-vacation close by. As it is I had just enough work to interfere with any possible travel plans. At least I’m done with the VISA process now.
I went by the office on Friday to finish up and it was surprisingly busy. I have been there a lot over the past few weeks, but this was the only time I really had to wait. I don’t know if everyone waited until the last day of the year or if the immigration office set it up that way, but I was in line for almost two hours. I had to spend most of it listening to an older lady complain that Spanish was too complicated because the teller window was a ventanilla instead of ventana like all the other windows in the world. Her husband tried to explain, and he made sense. Her arguments just kept getting stupider every time he showed her she was wrong. I was so happy when she was pulled up to the window just so I wouldn’t have to listen to her anymore.
It’s even more frustrating as a language teacher. The more people believe that a language is complicated the harder it is for them to learn. In Sociology we have been studying some experiments on female volunteers. Before they are given a test, female volunteers are told that women typically do better or worse than men on that particular test, plus a control group who are told nothing. They are all given the same test. Most of the time, if they are told women do worse, the volunteers do worse. If they are told women usually do better, they test better. When they are told nothing, they usually do the same as the male volunteers. It fascinates me to see how people create their realities based on the world rather than truth.
It’s always fun for me when people describe Chinese as a difficult language to learn. They believe that there are so many characters, and it’s so complicated because of how unfamiliar it is. Then I show them the tricks Sifu James taught me to remember, how to see what the characters represent. I love to see that look in their eyes, like I just revealed the wizard behind the curtain. I am lucky enough to have found some amazing teachers in my time, and a few bad ones that taught me how not to teach.
When I completed the TEFL course at ITTO, they required us to write a teaching philosophy. It’s a short description of how I plan to teach, meaning my approach and my goal. It was recommended that we base it off of a real teacher that we know and respect. Someone who we would like to follow. I chose Sijo Douglas Wong.
The best teachers are always flexible enough that you cannot see when things begin to go wrong. They know how to guide the class with the least force necessary, to reach the objective without hitting the wall, or losing anyone along the way. I have met very few in my life who could achieve this, and the only one in recent memory was a martial artist.
He is a master of the subject, has decades of experience, a sense of humor and a light touch most of the time, and a steel wall when necessary. No one who studied with him was left behind, no question went unanswered, and no one wasn’t better for his presence. That takes the right personality, the right sense of humor, and the confidence that comes with true mastery of the subject.
I was lucky to ever meet him, and even luckier to be his chauffeur on his trips to Tijuana. Spending hours in the line to cross back across the border sucks, but with him around I had someone fascinating to talk to. Long after I had my SENTRI and didn’t need to wait in the long line, I still did just because I knew there was always something more to learn from him. I somehow doubt he enjoyed the three to six and a half hour trips as much as I did.
I can see now why he taught for so long. There is something awesome about this job, that I get to spend my days getting paid to do something that is so easy and fun. There is always a little work around the edges, and prep work, but I have yet to feel like I’d just rather stay home. I do sometimes wish my classes weren’t as far from home as they are, but I haven’t hit the point where I hate the travel yet. I just hate when I spend an hour and a half on the bus to find out they cancelled the class.
I like it here, but I’m already thinking about moving. This time next year I’d rather be on the beach, teaching when I have to, surfing almost every day, generally enjoying life. I will probably stay in Mexico still, but there are a lot of beaches here. It’s nice to have so many options. I wouldn’t mind looking into Tuxtla Guiterrez in Chiapas again, or maybe spend a year in the Yucatan. With all the options it’s like planning for winning the lottery. The big difference is that I already won. I just wish I could find good tea and Chinese food.
It is nice to still be so close to home. A short flight on Tuesday and I get to be home for the holiday again. I know a number of teachers who can’t make the trip back to Russia, Australia, or even some of the further reaches of the United States. I find it amusing that I live in a foreign county and it’s faster and cheaper for me to get home than it is for my brother in Ohio. I know it won’t last much longer though, either the family is moving or I am. Either way the trip isn’t going to be as easy anymore.
Christmas here is a bit weird. I expected more from a country that is 90% Catholic, but there is very little in the way of decoration. They do have things like ice skating and sledding on artificial snow, but it’s not the same as being able to go up to Big Bear back home. The snow is impressive, if only because it’s 85 degrees in the sun and 65 in the shade. We are just starting summer, but Christmas is a tradition of winter, so they bring out the snow for it. There was a large fake tree and North Pole style village, brought to you by Coca-Cola. The advertising was strangely American in it’s interference with the Christmas Spirit, but without it there would be almost nothing to show that we’re less than a week away from the holiday. The street vendors were out in amazing force, but that happens with every day off work around here.
I think the most disturbing thing I have seen here to date was the guy in the t-shirt, jeans, and sweatshirt selling flu vaccinations from a wooden box in the street. The syringes were all in a rack with their individual caps on them, but that was the end of the apparent sanitation. There were no gloves, alcohol, or anything else resembling cleanliness to be seen. Other than the product there was no difference between his location and the people next to him selling food, cheap religious trinkets, or low grade toys. There was no mark anywhere tying him to any organization or business. As far as I could tell, it was just a guy with a box of syringes and a hand made paper sign selling street vaccinations. There is nothing about it that made me feel comfortable. I decided not to take a picture because I didn’t want him to get upset and give me a free sample.
I also saw a bunch of guys in the park with foam swords surrounded by a crowd. I don’t know if it was a show or an audience participation thing, but they weren’t doing anything but talking for the ten minutes I watched. I was hoping they would call for volunteers so I could surprise them by dual wielding swords, Escrima style, but no luck. I wandered off bored by the lack of activity.
I guess Christmas is like so much here, hidden in the patios and behind closed doors. Christmas decorations may be everywhere, but I haven’t seen them. I plan to go to Tonala tomorrow and see the street market. I’ll miss Christmas Eve here, but I’m not so interested in tradition that I would want to delay my trip home. Maybe tomorrow night I’ll wander El Centro and see what there is on the last Sunday before the day. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is nothing or if an endless tide showed up at the last minute. One thing about this place is that it’s always surprising.