Teaching in China


Ed and I sit in the stairwell smoking. A security guard walks in the door. He bums a light off Ed.

“I love China,” Ed says.

I nod. We finish and walk back to the Kindergarten. The school is between a piano shop and a Costa Coffee. It is colorful. Inside the door, our boss approaches us.

“Hi Justin.”

“Hi boys.” Justin smiles. He always smiles at us, as a kind grandfather might smile toward his fat and greedy descendants.

“Where are your uniforms, boys?”

I look at Ed, Ed looks at me. We are both wearing casual dress-shirts.

Ed turns to Justin.

“We don’t want to wear them.”

Justin’s smile twitches, only a bit. “Why?”

“Well, they make us look like pedophiles,” Ed explains.

“Oh!” Justin says, then frowns “what is a pedophile?”

“It means you want to do things to kids, bad things.”

Justin’s eyes go wide. “You guys aren’t pedophiles, are you?”

“What? No,” Ed says.

Justin looks at me. I try to shake my head and roll my eyes simultaneously. It’s nauseating.

Justin takes a huge sigh, “Oh, good,” he says. “If you were,” he says, “we’d have to have a chat.”

He smiles. He pats me on the shoulder. He leaves.

I turn to Ed and frown.

“Does this mean we have to wear those stupid uniforms?”

Ed frowns after Justin.

“Haven’t a damn clue,” he mutters.

You Could Kidnap Spiderman if You Wanted To


Ed leans against the bathroom stall. He knocks.

“Yes!” Ed’s student calls out from the other side, in Chinese.

“Spiderman?” Ed asks.


“How old are you?”

There is a pause. I light a cigarette; Ed too.


I frown. “His name is Spider-Man?”

Ed shrugs. “I guess. They let them pick their names.”

“So what’s his real name?”

Ed looks at the stall. “Spider-Man! What’s your real name?”

“Yes!” Spider-Man calls.

Ed sighs. “Well, anyways,” he continues, “this kid can’t be more than four and we’ve been working here, what, two days?”

I nod.

“Yeah, so, what do they really know about us? I mean, they didn’t even ask for my passport. You?”


Ed thinks through a few drags.

“This would never fly in England. I mean, I’m a grown man. A strange grown man. I was just observing in the back of the class and the teacher put his hand in mine and said bathroom.”

“Just bathroom?”

“That’s it. I don’t think she knows much more English than that to be honest.”

I chuckle, commiserate.

“Well,” Ed says, “I mean, it’s like I said. I’m just a strange man. And this bathroom is way out here, down the hall. And you know the stairwell is right there.”

He points through the wall. I know where he means.


“Yeah, so, I got to the end of the hall and just stopped and looked at the stairwell and thought, well, I could just take this boy down those stairs and be gone.”

I frown. Ed holds up his hands.

“Not saying I would or wanted to, just saying, a bit irresponsible.”

My cigarette is almost finished. I walk to the sink and place it in the make-shift ash tray. There is a flush. Spiderman comes out of the stall. He really can’t be more than four. He waves at me. Ed motions to the sinks. He washes his hands then Spiderman and I wait while Ed finishes the last drags on his cigarette.

“China is weird, huh?” I ask.

“Yes!” Spider-Man cries, picking his nose.


The Tuna Can


The subway system in Beijing boasts the nickname: tuna can. There are men, tuna-packers. They stand, in yellow vests, shoving every last bit of flesh into each compartment.

Once, a friend explained it to me rather well, he said,

“You know when you’re in the subway and you are so packed in that you know it is not possible to fit another person?

“Yeah,” I told him.

“Well, the Chinese can fit twenty.”

I started having nightmares a couple days ago. I wake up in a dream and I look out to see a city filled with blood thirsty, frothing, flesh eating Chinese zombies. They are ripping people to shreds right out on the streets. Terrified, I lock my door.

They come through it anyways. I leap from the window and run into the main plaza. The pandemonium is pungent. I can’t tell the difference between zombie and live flesh they are so interwoven in a mess of gore. I find a small group huddled in the crotch of two angular buildings.

I run up to them and start yelling the only things I know in Chinese.


They look at me with rising terror, then a small woman pulls out a shotgun and blows open my chest. I wake in a cold sweat and look out the window. It is exactly like my dreams, minus the gore.

When I fell asleep last night I had the same dream except I didn’t go to the main plaza. I ran to a store down the street that sells wheel chairs and fire extinguishers. High on a shelf is a massive sword. I am the only one in the viscidity tall enough to reach it. I take it down and hack my way through the main plaza onto the subway platform just as a subway rolls in.

The doors slide open and the scene inside is a monumental horror. There are Chinese zombies packed in so tight they cannot bend their necks to get a good bite, so they’ve been chewing the face off of their neighbors.

The bodies are untouched, covered in bits of eyes, and ears, and mouth, and nose. They all stop chomping each other as the doors open. They turn.

I lift up the massive sword and begin swinging. I make sweeping nipple-height blows, decapitating ten zombies at a time. I move further and further into the subway. Heads, shoulders, knees and toes, flying every which way as I flail like a madman.

When I finally stop I am standing among mounds of unidentifiable body parts and bits of face. I take a deep breath and wake up.

It takes a minute to figure out the sound echoing around my apartment. Then, I realize,

I’m laughing.


Bears at the Great Wall of China

Stepping off the Great Wall, Chris turns to me.

“Want to see the bear park before we go?” he asks.

I shrug. He leads the way. It is only a short walk.

Inside, we walk past pit, after dirty pit, of bears. A PETA-activists nightmare, or wet-dream, depending on the activist.

The bears are as grime-caked as the pits they live in. There are jungle gyms in each pit, the old rusted kind that no respectable parent would let their kids near. But, bears aren’t respectable parents, so they climb, roll, and lounge about. I don’t see any food.

Chris excuses himself to the toilet.

I approach the nearest pit. A tower rises up from the center. Atop it, a bear; completely black and overwhelmingly large. I step back. It looks a safe distance away. But, I’ve never watched enough animal planet to be sure of anything.

There is a little girl to my left eating a bag of small apples. The bear is watching her. She takes an apple and tosses it.

The bear stands up on his back paws and catches the apple in mid-air. I find myself clapping involuntarily.

A moment later, something else flies toward the bear. He catches it. He puts it in his mouth, then, spits it out, gagging.

I hear laughter.

On the other side of the girl, a group of teenage boys are snickering as they ball up a new bit of garbage.

The little girl, unperturbed, throws another apple.

The bear eats it.

Then the boys start tossing more trash, one after another.

The bear catches all that comes his way with unwavering deftness and, each time, tries to eat it. The boys are beside themselves with joy. The girl continues to throw apples, more determined.

The bear can’t figure out who is throwing what.

I light a cigarette and watch.

A crowd has formed. They are all taking pictures and videos of the bear’s plight and giggling.

The bear finally turns and looks at me. The thick hair of its face, matted in all sorts of uncomfortable directions. It looks confused and angry, but somehow, hopeful.

My cigarette is done. I flick it at one of the boys about the throw a piece of trash. He stops and yells something at me in Chinese.

I walk over to the closest stall and buy two dozen small apples. I walk back to the pit and shake them at the bear.

He stops paying attention to the crowd and watches me. I turn the bag upside down and empty it into the pit. The bear climbs down the tower with humbling speed and starts scarfing down the apples.

The boys glare at me. They try throwing a few more pieces of trash, but they just bounce off the bear’s back

The crowd grows bored and everyone leaves; selfie-sticks, sheathed.

The last to go is the little girl. Her bag of apples, almost gone, hanging beside her. She is crying.

She doesn’t look at me. She walks off.


Beijing is a beehive in a dirt storm.

I follow my recruiter into the officetel. She calls herself Jennifer. I don’t know her real name. She wears classes. Her English is poor.

“You will interview.”


“This is good company.”


In the elevator, she stares at her phone. She turns it to me.

“Who is this?”

I look at the picture. It is her, in a hat.

“You?” I say.

She makes a pouty face. She puts her phone away. She doesn’t speak to me until we arrive at the door.


I wait. She goes in. I look out the window at a wall of gray smog and question my life choices. The door opens. I am led in. Jennifer leaves.

A Chinese man sits smoking a cigarette. A Nepalese man smiles at me. He holds out his hand.

“You are American?”

I nod.

“Have you been a teacher before?”

I haven’t, so, I lie. “In college. I worked at a school.”

“Good. With small children?”

“Yes,” I lie again.

“Do you know children’s songs?”

“Yes, many.”

“Can you sing one for us?” The Nepalese man smiles. The Chinese man lights another cigarette. I nod.

“Like Old McDonald had a farm?”

“That will do fine.”

I take a breath.

“Old McDonald had a farm,” I try to sing, “e-i-e-o…”

The Nepalese man smiles encouragingly. He even bobs his head a little.

“…and on his farm, he had a cow. And the cow goes moo…moo…moo…”

I suddenly realize, I don’t know what comes next.

So, I just keeping mooing.

Holy shit…did I just forget the words to Old McDonald had a farm? I think. The Chinese man snuffs out his cigarette. The Nepalese Man’s smile begins to slip.


I keep mooing. I try to buy myself time. Try to think of something to say.


The longer I moo the less options I find myself with.

I can see the realization pass over both their faces. Holy shit…did he just forget the words to Old McDonald had a farm?


I finally stop mooing. We sit in silence. The Chinese man lights another cigarette.

“Well.” The Nepalese man says, fixing his smile.

I look around the room to avoid eye contact. It stinks of shame.

“I could sing a different song?” I venture. The Nepalese man just looks at me for a moment. His face doesn’t move. Like stone.

“Uh, no that is fine. We’ll talk to your recruiter now.” He manages. He holds out a hand. I grasp it. It’s a wet handshake.

I leave.

I sigh as I wait. I stare at the slate of gray poison pressing against the window.

Jennifer comes out. She smiles.

“They were impressed. You start Monday.”

She walks toward the elevator. I follow, frown first.

In the elevator, she looks at her phone. She holds it up to me.

“Who is this?”

It is the same picture of her in a hat.

I shrug. “Not you?”

She beams at me. She places her phone in her pocket.

We descend in silence.