Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The School

I wonder how some of the others felt about the school's conditions. Having taught English at some poorer colleges last year, I knew to expect the flimsy, padlocked doors leading into concrete-floored classrooms furnished with splintery wooden desks and squatty rectangular stools.

The first classroom boasted a welcome message, written with crisp white chalk on the newly painted blackboard. As with most Chinese signs, I could make out about half the characters. Outside in a courtyard of sorts stood stubborn concrete tables that looked like picnic tables without the benches. We learned that these were for ping-pong, and that the students would use lines of bricks as inflexible nets.

Across the main street from this area were some basketball courts, backboards without goals hanging from poles. Student living quarters, shoddy brick structures with broken windows and the same metal doors, lined the courts and formed an L-shaped enclave that stretched close to a three-story, white-tile building.

The only bathrooms were tucked into a corner of the property all too close to the dormitories. Schools in areas like this have no indoor plumbing. In fact, students are lucky to have an outdoor toilet with the technology (like a hose pumping water through a trough) that keeps things circulating. I've been in areas where a rectangular hole in the concrete is all you get.

When the girls got back from using the bathroom the first time, we heard about it. Of course they were right in thinking the bathrooms were disgusting, but sadly, they weren't as bad as they could have been.

Some of you cringe, but you'll be surprised what you can do when options are slim. It's not that you lower your standards; you just realize that standards here are different, and facing that fact, discipline yourself to live according to the present situation. As someone once said, "A foreign country isn't designed to make you comfortable; it's designed to make its own people comfortable."

For this week, this was our workplace, and with God's help, all the trappings of American life would be as far from our minds as our country was from this one.

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