Our man in Tianjin, Stuart Beaton, is back with tales of teaching English in China. Stuart also has a fabulous author podcast site, which you can click on here. A quick warning about this post: don’t read it on an empty stomach. I made that mistake and now I’m craving homemade pizza!
It has been a busy week, and it’s not over yet….
Tuesday last week, Class B decided that they’d missed out by not going to Metro, and so they wanted to go to the local Water Park… so off we went.
Or course, when we got there, nothing was really open, as it was the morning of a workday, and who’s dumb enough to want to go to a tourist trap then?
Apart from us?
So we wandered around for a couple of hours, with me gently trying to explain things to them in English (that I wasn’t terribly sure about), and delivering an impromptu lecture on Monet’s Water Lilies – a bit tricky, given that the water lilies there weren’t in bloom, but near enough’s good enough for these occasions.
It was either that, or go completely insane.
I had rather hoped to go out on one of the myriad of pedal boats that were tied up by the various lakes, but, this being China, they weren’t for hire, due to “safety” reasons.
The reason being that the gentle breeze was making a few ripples on the water’s surface.
Why is it that OH&S rules are only enforced in China when they wouldn’t be in the rest of the world, and vice versa?
At least by now some of the rides were open, and a few students decided to go on them – I didn’t go on them, however.
Not because the rides themselves scared me, no – it was the lack of a level of maintenance of them that did.
The class and I ended up stopping in a long covered walkway, where they played some game that I couldn’t fathom, while I read.
When they’d finally bored themselves senseless, I declared the lesson over, and they all disappeared off in separate little groups, while I got a taxi back home.
Still, they had fun.
Last Thursday I let myself be talked into having a double lesson with Class A, as they wanted to make pizza in class.
Well, to be brutally honest, they wanted to make cake, and eat it. Or, to be more precise, they wanted me to make a cake, and then they’d eat it…
Having explained that making enough cake for 22 people in my tiny oven, and waiting for it to cool, then making icing from scratch, icing the cake and then finally serving it up was going to take longer than the time we’d have (and that I’m shite at icing), we compromised on pizza.
Pizza’s far easier to share, and you can involve an entire class in the process – except for making the initial batch of dough.
That saw me up at 0600, hurling flour, yeast, salt, water and olive oil into the mixer, while I went and tried to assume human form in the shower. Having then fortified myself with coffee (and more coffee), I had to break my kitchen down into a travelling circus, and wait for my “eager” helpers to arrive at 0730.
While the walking dead shambled off with my oven, mixer and other bits of kit strapped to the back of bicycles, I followed behind them, lugging a pack with a few basic ingredients.
Ten minutes later we arrived at the classroom, and I started to set up, pulling desks together to form a basic work surface, clearing chairs away so I wouldn’t back into them, that sort of thing. The rest of the class began to drift in, and helped move everything else around – lifting things, once I’d pointed out that the dragging noise didn’t “do wonders for my mood” – and we began.
By now the first batch of dough had doubled up nicely, so I knocked it down, and cut it in half. I put one half back in the bowl, covered it, and split the other piece into two parts, so that the kids could handle it (having made them go and wash their hands thoroughly with soap first) and get a feel for what the dough was like. While a couple of my students began to wrestle the dough into the shape of the trays, I sliced up a couple of firm, ripe tomatoes, oiled the trays, and put the oven on to heat up.
Then the pizza were assembled – just basic ones of tomatoes, olive oil, salt, herbs and pepper – and whacked into the oven.
At this point, I started to make a second batch of dough in the mixer… only to discover that, after ten minutes, some clever sod had switched the oven off to carry it, fearing it might heat up on the way if they didn’t.
With the oven now cooking, things progressed. By this stage we’d put some 80’s music videos on, and I was showing some students how to slice the vegetables, without taking any fingers off. Other students were taking turns kneading the dough, or staring through the oven door.
If willpower was converted into heat energy, those pizzas would have burst into flames.
After 25 minutes (and a bit), I pulled the first two pizzas out, and sliced them with the mezzalune (a wickedly sharp double handled curved blade usually used to mince things), and let the kids all have a piece.
I think it was then that someone snapped a photo that was later to make the main page of Tianjin Uni’s weibo account, and drive other classes insane with jealousy.
The rest of my morning went in a blur of slicing watermelon, working dough, assembling pizzas, and generally whipping myself into a frenzy, whilst the students had a marvelous time.
Just before Noon, we managed to break everything back down, clean up, and start dragging everything back to home.
To make sure I wasn’t going to get any rest, at 1400 I had to teach my British Literature class, and I was grateful that I had a full compliment of Shakespeare videos ready to show, as I was completely knackered.
Of course, having vowed and declared I’d never cook pizzas in class again, I’ll be doing them again tomorrow with Class B.
Which proves that there really is no rest for the wicked.