Thursday, December 17, 2009

A spiritual journey (to the office)

This morning I went down to meet my regular driver who takes me to work. It's always just him and me in the car.

But today when I got to the garage the driver was standing there, and next to him was a Buddhist nun. She was wearing orange robes and a brown cloak, and her head was shaved. I thought, "Wow, I've never seen a Buddhist nun in the garage before!"

The driver and I got into the car and to my surprise, so did the nun.

Now when you stand or sit before a buddhist monk or nun, I think you want to make every effort to be as calm and serene as they are.

Which was hard for me because there was this one thought swirling around and around in my head - "Why is there a nun in the car?!"

i never did get an answer to that question. Maybe my driver is Buddhist and he was supporting a member of the clergy since they can't buy bus tickets or subway tickets. But it seems like he would have given me some sort of heads up.

Anyway I decided to just let it wash over me. (Very zen-like, don't you think?)

i did however get answers to some other interesting questions.

Q: How long have you been a nun?

A: 4 years.

Q: How did you get introduced to Buddhism?

A: I met a Buddhist monk when I was in college and he became my teacher. After several years I decided to become a nun.

Q: Do Buddhist nuns take a vow not to get married and have kids?

A: Yes, that's right.

Q: How did your parents take the news when you told them?

A: At first they were upset but to their credit, after a couple of months they were fine with it. Now they support me. It was harder for my fiance but even he came to accept my decision in time. He was Buddhist too.

Q: You were engaged?

A: Yes, but I broke off the engagement 12 days before my wedding.

Q: How can I learn to meditate?

A: I can teach you. Over email, if necessary.

She has a gmail account. Which suddenly made Buddhism feel much more accessible to me.

Sometimes I blog about why life in China is hard or confusing for me. But at the same time I love my life here because it's always interesting. I just never know what's around the corner but I can be sure I'm going to learn something every day.

This morning was a perfect example.


Postscript: I checked this website to see what kind of protocol one should follow when talking with a Buddhist nun. Sure enough, asking them why they're in the car would have been rude. I was also rude to put on lip gloss while I was talking to her.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Worst Parent-Teacher Conference EVER

Last Friday Audrey came home with a notice that there would be a parent-teacher conference on the following Tuesday.

This is the first thing that I hate. Why can't the school can't decide more than 2 days in advance that we all have to drop everything and be there in the middle of the afternoon? And in my case, dropping everything was impossible since I was signed up to teach a communications class for Sun. So we agreed Buddy would attend.

Now I have to tell you that in China, parent-teacher conferences consist of the teacher, you, and the parent of every other student in your child's class. So you've got 40 parents sitting in their kids' desks, and the teacher talking to them. And normally that's all it is - the teacher just talks to the parents. Tells them what they should be expecting this year, what they should look out for, etc.

But this parent-teacher conference was to be different.

Audrey's homeroom teacher, a 40-something male Math teacher, decided to give feedback to each parent about his or her child's intelligence. He went around the room parent-by-parent, and told them if their child was 'smart' or 'not that smart'. About 10% of the kids were 'smart' and about 25% were 'not that smart'. As for the other 65% it's anyone's guess. Maybe they're average. Maybe he has no opinion. Maybe he wasn't really paying attention.

Apparently his goal was to set the parents' expectations appropriately, so that they wouldn't be surprised or disappointed when their child's grades started to fall in later years. For that notion, I have 3 words: self fulfilling prophecy.

And where, you might ask, did my progeny fall on this teacher's scale?

'Not that smart'.

I am not even going to dignify his evaluation with a response.

Buddy told me the whole story that night after the kids went to bed. He was just as upset as I was. And God love him, he protested heavily against the teacher's judgment. To the extent that one of the other parents gently prodded him, probably after Buddy had been protesting for several minutes, that at a parent-teacher conference it might be interesting to hear what the *teacher* had to say.

I prayed for one thing as I fell asleep that night. "God please let the other parents show good judgment tonight. Please don't let them go home and tell their kids what they heard today. Please let these awful indictments stay in that parent-teacher conference, among the parents and teacher."

But God had other plans for me. Because sure enough, the next night at dinner Audrey said, "Why did you guys keep that secret from me?" We played innocent as best we could. But we're lousy actors and we were most certainly not innocent.

"What secret, honey?"

"That I'm not that smart."

Yep, sure enough. One of the parents told their kid, and the kid told Audrey the next day.

And the worst part is, she asked us why we didn't tell her that she isn't that smart. NOT - why didn't you tell me my teacher said I'm not that smart. But - why didn't you tell me I'm not that smart.

It breaks my heart. And I'm having a hard time controlling my anger at this teacher. I wish you guys could have seen this post before I deleted a whole bunch of words. It was spicy.

We've considered talking to the principal but a) he probably doesn't care and b) the damage is done.

If you have ever had a worse parent-teacher conference than this please tell me about it.