Sunday, 10 December 2006

Teaching Already, UB Banjo Debut?

Tuesday 5th December
Arrived at school at about 8.20am today - staff room very quiet. Was checking my emails when a teacher said I should have started teaching a class at 8.30am. What class? where? teaching what? Of course, no one had bothered to tell me. And so my day began, dropped right in at the deep end with my first class - no idea at all who the students were, where the students were or what they’ve been studying.

I have 3 classes - years 9, 10 and 11 - maybe I also teach one class of year 4 some time too? Did my best to be a hard-ass - insisting on conversations being stopped, phones and iPods put away. Had a markedly low turn out for the second of two classes, where I had thought the first had gone well. I did enjoy teaching "The Monkey's Paw" which proves to be a most entertainingly written yarn that seems to have caught the class’s imagination - though that may well prove to be a product of my imagination. A Ray Bradbury story has proven less captivating for another class, although I’m enjoying it, and surely that's what counts? Have been given the impression by my class that English (American that is) teachers come and go pretty quickly - I am beginning to suspect that the English the kids do know has been mostly self taught through the internet and time spent in the States. Got some pleasure out of telling the students what low grades I’d given them for their ‘Olympics’ work. Well, I’ve got 7 months to get better - and surely one good class is a good hit rate for my very first day teaching?

Was given yet more work to mark which kept me in school until half six. I also wasted ages, as requested by the deputy, organising a schedule for tomorrow’s Oral exam (well okay, the time was actually wasted figuring out (with a little help) how to use Excell) only to be told at 6pm that the schedule had already been done. One and a half hours after my contracted finishing time.

“Did I email you a copy of your contract before you came here?” I was asked breezily.

“No you didn’t,” I replied, and did not add: ”the only thing you did was tell me not to bring me a spoon. And I needed a bloody spoon.”

Anyway, the contract looks okay. I get paid at the beginning and middle of the month, presumably $350 a time, cash. My rent’s paid while I’m at the school - I’m responsible for utilities. Foodwise, I can easily live on $10 a week when I need to[Edit: ! ], which should leave a bit of money to play around with, once I get all my cashmere and oil-painting buying out of my system.

Strolled over to the Great Khan at a quarter to ten, swinging the old banjo from one hand then the other, keeping as good an eye to the dim and uneven ground as I could - wary of the many missing manhole covers (but stumbling nonetheless on a piece of rubble in the darkness). Strolled in the brisk cold, the streets now much emptier but folks still as always strolling about and none, happily, too menacing looking as I rehearsed how I might explain to my insurance company news of my mugging. Strolled briskly then arrived gladly in the welcome warmth of the Great Khan and dispensed with my body warmer and berghaus - these providing quite ample insulation, particularly with my ski gloves tightly cuffed into the sleeves, and my hat tied beneath my chin. Pushed through the busy bar, many wealthy young Mongolians and a liberal sprinkling of American business types quaffing beers and chatting, to find the manager of the pub and lead singer of The Beer Band at a tall stool with a group of equally burly sorts all drinking and joking - the manager greeting me expansively and asking what I might drink, and approving when I said I would join them in a beer. His band, he told me, would be arriving late, maybe 11 o’clock, as they were “filming a strip” somewhere else - they being “the best band in Ulaanbaatar.” Their absence did not seem to be any source of concern to him, and I was truthfully very happy to delay my Mongolian performing debut and relax after a grinding day at the school, by drinking and dodging the banter as best I could.

Well the band, it seemed, were not coming at all, and more beers were drunk, on the generosity of an ex-pat American colleague mein host. After eleven, however, the band did arrive, so it was announced that they would be performing four or five songs, and that I should come backstage and meet the band. I did so, and shook hands with the band and on my sponsor’s prompting rattled off two rounds of the Worried Man Blues, possibly to the band’s polite confusion. I didn’t play with them on stage, and was rather relieved when I went out and listened, as there was no rhythm guitar for me to follow. I could easily see why the lead was frequently described as “the best guitarist in Mongolia” - he played blistering, competent solos throughout on “Money for Nothing”, “Smoke on the Water” and “Sweet Child of Mine” - and with an entirely relaxed manner. I think that I’ll ask if I can play a couple songs solo before the Saturday set, and am feeling cautiously optimistic that I’ll pleasantly surprise them if I show I can hold my own.

So, with a merry glow I sauntered off, retrieved my coat from the beshawled check room woman, who happily received a T100 tip that I felt I dispensed with the generosity appropriate to the business class company I was keeping, wrapped myself up and bounced outside. I half intended to walk but, even though I had lost the address that the manager had written down for me (that is to say: my own), I confidently crossed the street to a parked-up taxi - and perhaps my confidence communicated well to the driver, who quickly understood my request for the Chaplin Bar, and drove me home. This time handed over a T1000 note with what I felt to be the correct degree of confident generosity and we bid each other a cheery farewell. Realised I had left a glove in the taxi and had no trouble flagging him back down and retrieving it, which inexplicably added to my satisfaction with the night’s proceedings.

In the apartment building, 1am or thereabouts, the little girl rushed out of the super’s room again to call me the lift, but I indicated I’d take the stairs. I guess maybe she doesn’t go to school herself.