Obscene and not heard.

Another post?! So soon!?

Well Nanjing is pretty miserable again today so I’ve taken refuge in the warmth of a Pseudo-Bucks.

There’s a photo-shoot going on, which is a common sight in Chinese coffee shops. Heavily made-up girls posing with their iPhones while a man with an obscenely large camera fawns over them, taking photos utilising a hilarious 80’s glam-rock guitar solo pose. It’s very hard to tell whether this guy is a pro or he has just been friend-zoned to the degree that this is literally how he is forced to spend all of his free time.

Anyway, my next few posts are probably going to be attempts to regale you with teaching stories. A kind of ‘Chinese students do the funniest things’. I hope the fact that I tell these stories with genuine nostalgia and love means that they don’t, quite, count as complete exploitation! It’s often laugh or cry in these scenarios. It’s always better to laugh along with the situation.


I feel a bit bad naming names. As such, in all cases but one I’ll maintain the child’s anonymity.

Piggy is the exception to the rule. Not just in this particular instance but in all particular instances.

I don’t feel bad calling Piggy out by name because I’m going to assume that sometime, as he approaches adulthood, he will choose to shed the name ‘Piggy’ and he will no longer be associated with his previous persona. I must stress I didn’t name this kid Piggy. Piggy’s previous teacher also didn’t name him Piggy. His origin story is lost. He simply is.

He’s one of my favourite students, but also quite a handful. He used to be a real difficulty in the classroom but, after some hard work by my TAs and me, he’s manageable and is learning pretty quickly! He still has his moments though. He is usually incredibly overexcited, but in an entirely endearing way. He dances with joy very often during a class. It is not always desperately clear what he is responding to but hell, I’ll take it as a compliment.


Here is a standard ‘Piggy’ classroom experience:

We start with a spelling test. Piggy takes an unusual approach to this form of examination. He has decided that the optimal strategy is to listen closely to the first of fifteen spelling words. Unsure of the accuracy of his first attempt, Piggy will proceed to erase and rewrite the initial spelling word for the remainder of the test. As I approach the end of the list of words I will always, without fail, glance over and see Piggy eagerly awaiting the second spelling word, which I said 4 or 5 minutes ago. Endless attempts to explain the flaws in this strategy have had no effect. He does this, tries to totally nail the first word, then scrambles and panics his way to a complete spelling test during the second re-reading of the words.

Unfortunately Piggy also has an itchy knee. As anyone who has ever had an itchy knee can testify, it’s really really hard to spell ‘purple’ while you have an itchy knee. So between words Piggy is attempting to solve this issue but can’t make any progress due to the thickness of his tracksuit bottoms. In his frustration he stamps on his school bag which is under his feet. With some perseverance, however, he powers through. After an appreciable amount of repetition and face-palming the test is completed!


Now it’s time to push the chairs back from spelling test positions to normal classroom positions. This is always a bit of a free-for-all and unfortunately someone knocks Piggy’s pencil box off his chair. Though purely accidental, I encourage the perpetrator to say “I’m sorry” to which, due to the Pavlovian conditioning style of teaching I’ve utilized, Piggy responds with the phrase “It’s OK”. However it is clear from the moment the words leave his lips that this isn’t a simple apology acknowledgement anymore. It’s a vocalised demonstration of newfound self-assurance. It’s a mission statement; a goddamn epiphany!


With that Piggy whips down his tracksuit bottoms and scratches the hell out of his knee.

All power to him, but this isn’t an ideal teaching situation. After frantically re-clothing Piggy I encourage him to pick up the pencils that have fallen out of his pencil box in the aforementioned collision. He has lost interest in these useless floor-pencils and, instead, seeks out new stationary in his bag. Which, don’t forget, he was stamping into the planes of oblivion not 2 minutes previously. Instead of a new writing implement, he instead finds the remains of at least 6 or 7 bananas which were at one point his lunch. Everything is soaked in banana pulp. I attempt to help, but Piggy has got this.

He stands up, takes his bag to the corner of the room and tips out the entire contents, books and all, into the rubbish bin. Dances back into his seat in a Jagger-esque fashion and sits, arms crossed, ready to continue with the class as if nothing had happened.



A few other brief classic ‘Piggy’ moments:

–          Halfway through class Piggy runs over to Catherine, the TA at the time, and begins to stroke her arm. She asks him what’s wrong and he whispers into her ear “I’m saving them!”.

–          Asking students their names. “What’s your name?” – “I’m Tina!”. “What’s your name?” – “I’m Rily.” “What’s your name?” – “………….WATERMELON!”

–          Piggy is playing Connect 4 with Tina. Piggy sneezes all over his sleeve. With the sneakiest grin I’ve ever seen he leans over to Tina and wipes his sleeve on her jumper. Then gives her a kiss on the forehead and raises his hand to ask if he can go to the bathroom.

–          A brief encounter with Piggy in the wild. I’m at a restaurant meeting a private student when Piggy runs over to me. I say “Hello, how are you?” to which he responds “I can swim!”. He comes over to investigate the contents of my plate. He takes a piece of cucumber, says “You’re welcome” and runs off back to his parents.

Amazing scenes.


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