Saturday, March 19, 2011

Director Wang

Director Wang stands ready at the school gates to take my temperature. He is worried about containment, the spread of viruses, and specifically my personal health. He’s been checking the foreign teacher’s vital statistics for months. Smiling and lifting the electronic barrel of his beeping thermometer gun, he greets me every morning as I enter the building. At first I tried to duck him, sneaking in through back fire escapes, climbing in through first story windows. I even disguised myself as the cleaning lady complete with mop bucket and bamboo rice field hat. But Director Wang caught me.
“Not so fast, Teacher Brian.” He pounced. “We wouldn’t want our prized employee getting sick now would we?”
“Yes, Director Wang,” the words form mysteriously in my mouth as I lower my forehead to be tazed.
“Good, now run along.”
“Yes, I will run along.”
The realization that Director Wang is trying to take over my mind came slow, but now that it has started, his intention is absolutely clear. He’s trying to make me a Chinese Educator-Zombie, and I might be powerless to stop him.
It began innocently enough one morning during my 7th grade reading class. A group of investors in white lab jackets emblazed with school insignia poked their heads in to visit. This was not unexpected, these kinds of intrusions were common: Women with excessive make-up and short cropped hair carrying clipboards, dark faced men with grim expressions, their arms folded behind backs chewing on cigarettes and nodding.
“And this is Teacher Brian. He is our best.”
“Oooh!” They sigh as I leap from desk top to floor telling a story about jumping trains. “Oooh!” They wheeze as I race to the board and diagram the structure of an essay.
“See, if you invest in our school, this is the kind of New Century education you can expect to endorse.”
“And students respond to this?” A tall brooding man in dark jacket asks.
“Oh yes,” Director Wang answers. “Today’s modern student feels a need to be entertained, to be catered to with personal stories and funny hijinks. They want their teachers to be comedians.”
“But he doesn’t use a microphone or sit in front of the podium. It is undignified.”
“Look at all the energy he wastes bouncing off the walls like a ping pong ball. Won’t the model break down?”
Director Wang furrows his brow. “If he does, we will just offer him financial incentives like school sponsored trips or gifts of new school blazer or punch cards for free milk tea. Teachers are public servants by nature, they do not require much maintenance long term.”
“Ohhh!” The group sighs and nods their heads collectively.
“You see,” Director Wang continues, “The New Century student needs to be told how special they are at all times. This requires constant positive reinforcement. Look how Teacher Brian has been trained to accomplish this.”
The heads of the group focus on me standing in front of the class, my wide eyes warm and acknowledging.
“Jackson, excellent job remembering to bring your pencil. Give me Five!”
Jackson slaps my hand on cue as all the students clamor for their share.
“Teacher Brian! Give me Five! I want Five!”
Their voices fill the room.
“Melody, did you remember your green tea acne medicine today?”
“I did Teacher Brian.”
“Well, you get Five!” Our hands smack high atop the other students.
“And Rich, did you remember your snake blood vial the fortune teller gave you for good luck on your math and science exams?”
Rich’s eyes drop wearily to the ground. “No, I forgot again.”
“That’s okay, Buddy. I’ll send you a text tonight to remind you and tomorrow I will follow up with a tweet.” I playfully slug his shoulder in a non-predatorial show of affection that clearly keeps our relationship boundaries well defined.
“Thanks, Teacher Brian.”
“No, bud. Thank you.”
The group nods their heads while students quickly assemble for a trust exercise atop the table. One student falls backward into a safety net of reassuring side hugs and non-threatening back rubs.
“Oh, what is he doing now?”
“This is called ‘Breaking Down The Walls.’ Here post-pubescent students learn not to hate one another through asexual physical contact and verbal affirmation. Next Teacher Brian will tell a revealing story about a time he was persuaded into taking drugs but said no. This will naturally lead to an intimate discussion on the importance of abstinence.”
“Talking about drugs and sex in school? Won’t that lead to moral decay and excessive violence?”
“Yes, are you sure he is not a subversive? Did you check his back pack?”
“He is not secretly passing out condoms or methadone is he?”
“Or his laptop, are there violent video games?”
Director Wang put up his hands, “Oh, we’re quite sure. See.” He points to a black orb circling the classroom. “That’s the eye in the sky. We have complete surveillance on our teachers at all time. They are in each classroom, the staff office, bathroom stalls, and in all the corners of the building. There is nothing fishy going on during my watch.”
The group seemed rest assured.
“OK, class, now before we end our lesson, who updated their Facebook page today?”
Hands shoot up in the air.
“Oh, I know. Betty, those pictures were raunchy.”
Betty smiles sheepishly. “I know. I just can’t shake the image of my abusive Dad. Binge drinking is the only way I can forget.”
“That’s great, Betty. Way to take ownership of your personal demons.”
The class collectively nods.
“And Kevin, what’s going on with Debby? I saw she ‘unfriended’ you and your status says you’re no longer in a ‘relationship.’”
“Oh, Teacher Brian, we’re finished.”
“What happened, Pal?”
The students rise to form a circle of trust around the young boy as I get down on one knee and Kevin continues. “Remember how we were reading that one in four women aged 16 through 24 has contracted an STD?”
“Yes, Kevin.”
Rich lowers the lights to help Kevin feel more acknowledged and supported for his ability to speak about his own deficiencies and problems.”
“Well, I wanted to validate her and show her I really cared. So I contracted Chlamydia. I thought she would be happy, help our relationship mature, you know? But she told me she already had genital warts from another boy.”
“Wow, Kevin. That stings!”
Rich turns the lights back on. “I think we all learned a valuable lesson there, didn’t we class?”
The students nod their heads and take their seats.
“Don’t worry Kevin, I’m sure you will meet someone on-line in a couple of years whose profile matches your own. She’ll be an admitted transgendered abused runaway and you can both take ownership in finding someone who won’t judge you despite your age difference of twenty years.”
Kevin's face beams, “Thanks, Teacher Brian.”
“I’m here for you, kimosabe.” I pump a fist across my chest and Kevin returns with a salute in support of our troops in Afghanistan.
“Wow!” One of the women observing in the back of the class says, “He is really good.”
“And now class, in honor of Thanksgiving, Kwanza, the end of Ramadan, Festivus, the upcoming pagan Christmas Tree lighting and the local Mazu pilgrimage, I would like us to all take a moment and give silent thanks to our own individual universal powers that we believe in. Please bow your heads.”
When class is over, Lil’ Wayne’s Party in the Club begins to play over loudspeakers and I meet the students at the door for High Fives and Chest Bumps.
“Why doesn't the school have bells?” One of the women asks.
“Oh no, bells are much too impersonal and institutionalizing. We prefer to signal learning cues by emphasizing ringtones.
"Ooooh," the gasp together in understanding.
Director Wang motions me over. “Teacher Brian, I would like to introduce you to our potential investors. As you know, much money is needed to keep private education afloat. We wouldn’t want to turn into a publically funded institution, would we?”
I bow, introducing myself and speaking in slow robotic English, unable to break free, “Hello, I am Brian Hartenstein. My favorites are pizza and the color blue, and you?” When I get to the end of the line Director Wang raises his temperature gun to my forehead, pulling the trigger and sending electronic shock waves all throughout my body. My arms tingle. My left eye twitches. I have no recollection of the past few seconds. When I come-to, the faces of the investors are standing around me smiling and scribbling in checkbooks. I begin by shaking their hands, “Hello, my name is Brian Hartenstein. I like playing basketball and making homemade ice cream, and you?”
Director Wang holsters his temperature gun, grinning at the investors in complete assurance, scratching me behind the ears.

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