Monday, 8 January 2007

Workaholic, Encore en Bogdkhaan Uul, Bones, Rocks, Peanuts

Monday 8th January 2007
It has been a while since I’ve had the chance to sit down and write either this or the many emails and letters I have promised people (sorry). I could blame myself (congenital laziness, watching too much TV, having nothing worth writing, etc) but the fact is that my conniving employer tricked me into agreeing to produce 8 exam papers by today. It would be “no problem at all,” I boasted. I managed to ‘finish’ (well, slightly more than start) 4 papers by about 9.30pm last night, when I angrily threw my books aside, cursed my boss for allowing me to agree to such a head-wrecking task, and watched a DVD of ‘Snakes on a Plane’ (accompanied by a few vodka and cokes) in rebellion. I dreamt of exam questions all night. When I set a reading piece in the classroom, I have no problem coming up with a half dozen thoughtful and engaging questions that manage to both test the students’ abilities and enable them to learn from the process. Multiple choice, fill in the blanks (which is what are preferred for exam papers here) I find it takes me half an hour to come up with one facetiously worded question, ie - (from my first paper) Complete the following sentence using a gerund:

It is very annoying for me ________(deal) with sudden changes in my schedule.

I didn’t even know what a gerund was until a few weeks ago. And I spelled sentence ‘sentance.’

Of course, I took the correct approach to informing my boss that I hadn’t done the work I’d agreed to do: I went to her office first thing this morning and complained at great length about my incompetence in the area of test writing. I’ve been given a week’s reprieve.

It is very refreshing being in a job where, owing to a complete absence of any other suitable candidates, I can be honest about my failings. There is no need to lie and claim to be punctual, hard-working, competent, etc. Today I went to visit the Turkish teacher’s language school. He very much wants me to start working for him. At present his courses are indeed taught by “100% foreign English teachers” as his literature boasts, but he has not attempted to hide from me that he really, really needs to hire a native speaker. We discussed terms. “I have to tell you,” I said, “I’ve no previous experience teaching English, am extremely lazy and not at all drawn to the idea of hard work.” I start next Monday, teaching 2 hours in the evening Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

I’m promised that I’ll be paid a decent salary - I’ll check exactly how much tomorrow (if it’s T10,000, ie £4 an hour then that buys a decent meal at a restaurant). After talking terms though (and me further saying that the salary is very important to me regardless of my ability) my new boss then told me that one of my students will be a member of the Mongolian group Guys666! That’s the fellers who are currently pictured on the back of Hite beer cans, and who I previously mentioned in the blog here.If I’d known that I’d be teaching Guys666 then I would have agreed to work for nothing.

In all serious, though, although I am congenitally lazy, I think I may enjoy the tutoring job, and it should be an interesting change to teach students who are all motivated to learn.

Yesterday, other than spending a few weary hours in the evening attempting to work, I spent the day out hiking in the Bogdkhaan Uul again - this time dragging two young french travellers, Mathieu and Francois, along with me, so as not to be trespassing on my own. There was fresh snow on the ground, creating a pleasant contrast with my previous hike; the sun, of course, shone as brightly as ever and again there was barely a breath of wind. Crossed the path of many more people out gathering firewood. At the top of a mountain pass Francois found two camel heads and two horse heads left at the foot of a pile of stones (an ‘ovobo’ I think the word is) presumably for shamanic reasons.Unfortunately the powdery fresh snow was not as good for sledging on the plastic sack I’d saved from my previous trip. Mathieu and Francois are travelling on the Trans-Mongolian, with the aim of eventually heading to Kazakhstan and driving back to France. They keep a blog of their travels at onetrip-onenoise.over-blog.com (written in French for some reason)

Saturday I went to the Museum of Natural History. The Gobi desert has been the location of some of the most important finds in palaentology, and Ulaanbaatar has some of the most significant finds in this splendid and very soviet era museum. I was most excited to see the fossil of two dinosaurs who died locked in (assuredly) mortal combat: the only such dinosaur remains in the world. I don’t know what dinosaurologists say, but my 2 minute inspection led me to conclude that the smaller dinosaur, which looks in a pretty bad shape, managed, with a kick of its sharply clawed feet, to rip the stomach out of the more powerful-looking one in its death-throes. There are also about half a dozen dinosaur egg nests, and (ah!) a fossilized nest of deceased newly hatched dinosaurs.

An irresistable appeal to me of the Museum of Natural History is the building itself, which is as soviet-era forbidding and run-down as you could hope to imagine. I will return someday soon and pay the T5000 photography fee to take pictures of the walls and dimly lit corridors. This is a real Natural History museum, with stuffed birds and insects pinned to cards. No high falutin’ interactive displays - unless you count iron meteorites that you can rub or try to pick up (heavy) when the attendants aren’t watching.

As I didn’t bring my notebook with me I couldn’t jot down any of the gems of asian English from the display labels. To compensate, here’s the label from the back of a chinese packet of salted peanuts:

THIS PRODUCT IS MADE OF SELECTED SHANDONG GREAT PEANUT KERNELS AND PROCESSED WITH ADVANCED EQUIPMENT AND TECHNOLOGY OF THE WORLD. IT IS TASTY AND CRISP, NOT OILY, AND IS A KIND OF CONVENIENT TOURING FOOD AS WELL. YOU MAY CHOOSE IT AS A PRESENT OR ENTERTAIN GUESTS WITH IT. IF IT GOES WITH TEA AND WINE, A NICE FLAVOUR COULD BE ENJOYED.

3 comments:

Ken said...

Let the internet work for you, my friend.

ESL resources (including tests, handouts, excercies, etc.) abound... try here for a starter:
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/esl/eslteacher.html

Marie and Joel said...

Ah, you've put my one mongolian fact to good use! I think one of the fighting dinosaurs is a protoceratops but suspect this means nothing to no man

ulaanbaanjo said...

And a very fine Mongolian fact it was too, Joel. Actually, if you hadn't alerted me to the significance of the fighting dinosaur fossil (the only proof that dinosaurs weren't otherwise just a bunch of slightly odd-looking amiable duffers) I would have almost certainly walked right on past them, to have a look at the way the sun light fell on the Stalin-era radiators at the end of the hall.