Shuffle,Shuffle,Slip,Pause,shuffle,rinse, repeat as necessary. This is how I made my way from the hotel down the alley way. It was only the third day of the year and there had already been a fairly decent snowfall. Snow, apparently , was never taught manners as a child. Of course if I hadn't been out the night before none of this would have been a problem. But after I dropped my friend off at the train station I didn't want to go back. I wanted my stories of Beijing to include more than trips to really cool historical sites. Okay, mainly I did it because I didn't have the patience to stay in the cold waiting for a bus.
Around 10 pm the night before I decided I would give my friend a call. She is a manager at a nightclub and she is constantly trying to get me out to come and dance. However my distance from Beijing really makes it impossible most of the time. So when I realized I would be in Beijing I gave her a call . It took me until midnight to figure how to get to her club. When I showed up she was very happy to see me. She was probably worried I would end up getting lost somewhere , this is not an entirely unfounded fear. I am directionally impaired and I have the amazing ability to get lost or otherwise distracted. This time I made it after a few unsuccessful tries so I was happy
I paused at the corner of the street and pondered how I would get across. Usually I just cross streets with everyone else, the signals at this particular corner are tricky. The cars seemed unaware of the snow that had accumulated on the road and , because of the relatively early hour of the morning, had not been plowed recently. So I stood and watched the traffic go by. Then realizing I would not be able to cross anytime this year I started to watch the snow fall. It had been a long time since I watched snow fall. Usually I just cursed my bad luck about being stuck in a snowstorm. But I sat and watched the snow and started to feel a feeling I had not had in a long time, it was wonderment.
If there aren't laws against me dancing there should be. If you want an idea about how I was dancing you should watch some movie that was made in the mid nineteen -eighties. See the guy who is dancing in a way that causes you to get upset to your stomach, that is me. But at that point I did not care I was having fun. I don't get much of a chance to have fun when I am abroad. I work a lot. Most of my family and friends think I spend my time on some exotic beach sipping drinks from a cup but really I spend most of it in an office struggling with how to make classes interesting, reassuring students that their level English is perfectly fine for their level and correcting papers, usually a rainforest worth of papers. I just do it in a different country. But somehow because I am not miserable in my job and I am in some far away country people never take what I do seriously. If I was working for some mega bank figuring out how to slyly avoid rules and flying corporate jets things would be different. But I actually enjoy the fact that my job is useful in the world. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Barak Obama all had teachers at some point. Without them they would just as anonymous as I am.
I did not realize how big this storm was until I reached the main road going into Beijing. It was empty. I counted the number of people on the street. I counted About a half dozen people . In a city where there are 12 million residents and a number that probably swells another twenty five percent during the work week the sidewalks were empty, desolate. It was a nice feeling having a whole city to myself. Then suddenly I felt very small. It is not often that a six foot three guy feels very small. I watched some teens trying to have a snowball fight. But the snow was no good for making snowballs. They were still having a great time. One of the doormen smiled as I walked by. I think he was hoping I would walk in the shopping mall so he would have an excuse to get out of the cold, if even for a minute or two. But I was determined to get to the bus stop which I had avoided the night before. Even though I was less than five hundred feet from the bus stop I decided to stop in a store and get something to eat before I continued. The whole city had been put on pause. It was fuzzy just like a TV when you paused a VHS player so I decided it was a good time to get something to eat.
I really enjoy teaching students who normally would not get a chance to get a good education. They work very hard. I often see them waiting for me during office hours. I get a great feeling when they have an "English moment" and finally get something I was explaining in class. All the sudden they are empowered to manipulate and play with this crazy language we take for granted. Part of my ego loves taking credit for it but the thinking part knows they accomplished it because of the long hours they put into studying. I see how hard they work, and then I look at my own country which expects handouts at every corner and it is a little embarrassing. But the embarrassment always goes away with that smile that they have. For some of them, they have all the pressure of their family's meager earnings resting on their success. One of the things I have noticed that it does not matter what country they are from, or how much money they make, or how much time they actually spend awake in my class , that smile is always the same and it always produces the same feeling in me.
I got back to my apartment and quickly got to writing. I wrote a blog about my new year. I know most of my family won't read it. But I write it anyway. I write quickly. The silence produced by the snow is deafening and it has the strange effect of making me hungry. Okay everything makes me hungry. But I am excited to walk outside in the snow again. I want to see it before it stops. It has to stop eventually, I think. I finish the New Years blog in just under an hour and then I go back outside. The snow on the ground has begun to turn to ice. Slip,slip,shuffle,slip, just long enough to get to Chinese restaurant across the street. I ask for some food to go and then make the return trip across the street to my apartment. I am really warming to the idea of this whole snow thing. I watch the snow, and the people and bicycles and cars make their respective ways to warmer to places. Snow wouldn't be so bad if it weren't cold.
If most of the people in my life have any say "A life full of wasted potential" will be written on my grave. There isn't a incredible opportunity that I haven't blown. It is a special talent. But I have secrets they don't know. I have conversations with my students when they say thank you. Several times they have come up to me and told me how much my class has changed their lives. It doesn't happen often but when it does it is very special. I wonder how many of my friends and family have had someone have had someone come and tell them that. They have BMW's and first class trips to Europe and Asia but I have something they don't have. I wouldn't trade it for all the money in the world. They worry about if they are going to lose their money I go in every morning to classes full of cheerful students. I see the future being built in front of my eyes and realize how great the world will be. Perhaps wasted potential isn't so bad.
I took a pause from some papers I was correcting. I brought my cup of hot coco and stood on the freezing porch. I watched the snow as it danced in the street lights like millions of broken pieces of glass. I clutch my mug to warm my hands.