On Companionship

One thing I love about Shanghai is the guilt-free ability to take long showers.

My hair is still wet as I write here what I was thinking about in the shower.

I am someone who craves companionship and doesn’t fully embrace friendship. By companionship, I mean–I want someone to be my best friend. I want a significant other–regardless of whether there is a romantic side to things or not. I, perhaps, feel as though if I find a companion who I click with at every possible dimension, I will finally be a complete person. This is, of course, hogwash.

But it explains why I am so quick to let whither friendships that I can tell cannot be companionships. It explains why I am so easy to fall in love with people, despite knowing that due to our situation or their personality, we simply are not star-crossed lovers.

And in the shower, I realized that I am growing friendships here, but nowhere has it been more apparent to me that I lack a companion–and that that is okay.

Moreover, it is a useful challenge for myself to learn how to live more independently. To use various friendships and the support and engagement they can provide to enhance my experiences and stabilize my mental health.

For example, Don is the guy I talk to whenever I want someone to teach me something about soccer, kindness, or beer. I can talk to Kat whenever I want to feel inspired to follow my passions, travel the world, and to do good. I talk to Harry when I need to feel down-to-earth or when I need a jolly laugh. Whenever I feel like engaging in deep philosophical discussions, Hannah (who I have not formally introduced here; different Hannah from the one in the Oktoberfest picture) is my go-to. When I want to discuss coping with mental health problems, Hannah’s boyfriend Dan has been a valuable resource. Though none of these friendships are exclusive to those topics or experiences, I can be assured that if I feel like I need one of those experiences, I can talk to the designated person.

I used to think this type of friendship was exploitative or that I was pigeonholing my friends, but I’ve come to realize that just because an attribute of a friendship might be the foundation, it does not have to be the framing, interior design, and exterior painting.

I have also come to realize that it is genuinely unfair to expect one person to provide or be the source of all the support and interaction someone needs in life.

It is also useful to me to have a better understanding of what it is I need in my relationships with other people; I want a better glimpse of what I can provide myself, what I seek in my relationships with others, and why I find tiresome in others as well. In other words, I am collecting data for both how what I want, expect, and need in a companion and how I can be a better friend and eventual companion to others.

This genuinely feels like a mind-altering realization, but it is not yet complete. I hope you will challenge me on these thoughts. I eagerly encourage any feedback or comments to my thinking here. I need it, friends.

On the First Few Weeks

Hello all,

I’m sorry its been a while since my last post. As I am sure you can understand, it has been quite busy here. There isn’t much point in detailing every aspect of the past few weeks, so instead, I will tell a few stories with the pictures I have managed to take. Let’s begin with an unglamorous, but useful picture:

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After the first day of classes, most of us in Building 5 gathered in someone’s apartment to discuss our first impressions of our students. Consider it a mass therapy session. I know its not a well-composed photograph, but I genuinely enjoy candid pictures that capture the essence of a moment, and I think this does that. No one but me knew the picture was being taken.

To introduce some of our players so you can put faces to names. We will go anti-clockwise starting with me. Immediately behind me is Kayla, a middle school English teacher from Stockton. Sitting in the chair next to Kayla is John–who was a BMX coach in his native England. He and his significant other, Kat, (who is on the other side of him) have been travelling around Asia for the past year-and-a-half, including volunteering teaching English for a semester in the slums of India. He is a PE teacher; Kat is a high school English teacher. Her office is directly behind mine, so we have become quite close walking to and from the office. Kat is closest person to Mary Poppins I have ever met.

Next to Kat in the blue shirt is Don, who I have talked about previously. I’ve also mentioned the next two people: sitting on the floor is Emily and by the door is Harry. Here is a moment we all shared the first week in an underground bar (no, those aren’t our first drinks of the evening).

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To finish the introductions above: on the couch talking to Harry is Kristen and her husband Luis from Nashville. Kristen is an elementary teacher and Luis teaches biology. I have spent quite a bit of time with them as well!

So now that you have a brief introduction to everyone, let’s start with telling you about Tiger…

After the first two weeks, Harry–a PE teacher–was desperate for a good workout and knew I, too, wanted to find a gym to frequent. He came downstairs, banged on my door, and ordered me to get ready to sign up for the gym.  We knew full-well that signing up for a membership was going to be a difficulty erected by the language barrier, so we braced ourselves for a stressful time and went to the gym–about a 15-minute walk away on the fourth floor of a mall.

When we arrived, the women at the desk immediately got on the phone and without words, prompted us to sit down. A tall lanky man in his low-to-mid-twenties came out with a big smile and shook our hands. “I’m Tiger!”

We shook his hand and talked about signing up for membership and though his English wasn’t spectacular, the combination of guessing and liberal use of translating apps, we could carry a conversation with him. While I filled out the paperwork, Harry asked him why he chose the name Tiger (for the golfer, naturally) and what he liked to do in Shanghai (oh, you’ll see later in the story).  As Harry did the same, I talked to him about basketball–he is a huge LeBron James fan–he once had dreams of playing professionally, but his ambitions were cut short by a knee injury. As we finished the paperwork and were prepared to start our workout, Tiger asked us if we would like to have drinks with him at 10pm that night. That was quite late for us and Harry was reluctant to do it, but I–wanting to make deliberate choices to be more adventurous–pushed him to agree to do it. Tiger said drinks would be his treat; neither Harry nor myself would ever consider passing up free food and we certainly did not want to refuse his generosity. We agreed to meet him. Wanting to be somewhat safe, we suggested a restaurant in the mall by the gym and Harry and I agreed privately that we wouldn’t go to any other location.

We went home, showered, and then walked to a restaurant near the mall for dinner, where we each got a beer. We finished eating, went to our designated meeting spot with Tiger, got another round of beer, and waited. By 1015, we were talking about leaving. Until he showed up with his girlfriend, who went by Joy. They brought with them a grocery-bag filled with beer. (Note: in China, it is perfectly acceptable to bring your own drinks with you to restaurants. And indeed, most restaurants do not serve many drink options, so its essentially expected you BYOB).

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There are 11 beers in this picture. What I failed to capture was that each of us had already been served one and Tiger had drank one as they walked over. Joy informed us that she would only be having one beer, so it then fell on the three of us to finish the rest.

Every few minutes, Tiger would raise his can and proclaim, “Ganbei!” the Chinese equivalent to “Cheers!” or “Prost!” and, he informed us, it was traditional for the guests to keep drinking until the host put his glass (or can) down. And so Harry and I did–keep in mind, we had already consumed 2 half-litres bottles of beer at dinner and while waiting for him. Yeah, its that kind of evening.

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Little did we know, however, that Tiger had called ahead to order a platter of food, partly seen above. (I took this picture because, well, let’s just say I recognized I would not have remembered much of the evening otherwise).  The platter he ordered was, what he claimed, a collection of his favorite foods, but I suspect he ordered it to challenge our Western sensibilities. I’m sorry I didn’t take more detailed pictures, but the essence of the dinner can be seen above.

On the top of the tower was my least favorite item available: Duck feet. It was all bone and skin that you hate by sucking out the juices. It was flavored quite spicy, so I had one to try, then avoided them. Would not recommend.

Beneath the duck feet on the tower is what I enjoyed the most: bullfrog. It had the texture of a thick fish and was deliciously flavored. However, like most Chinese food, the bones and cartilage are left in–doing so enhances the flavor, but makes eating more of a challenge. Especially with chopsticks!

What looks like an orange fish is an absolutely wonderful mango-gelatin dessert. The was none left at the end of the night.

Not pictured is another item I did not much enjoy; ox stomach. It was incredibly chewy quite spicy, so I avoided it after a few bites. In the bowl closest to Joy in the picture was a fantastic steamed potato dish that was the most comforting food to eat there.

But in the bowl closest to me was the biggest surprise of the evening. When the bowl was placed on the table, I immediately recognized what it was. Being quite drunk, it was the first thing I took a bite of.

And it was delicious. It melts in your mouth; the flavor coats your tongue. No chewing is necessary.

I told Harry to try it; without hesitation, he picked his chopsticks through it and ate it. He asked what that was. I asked if he really wanted to know.

It was pig’s brain.

Tiger complimented us on our bravery and willingness to try everything. I probably ate the frog the most, with the brain second. Despite having had dinner a few hours prior to this feast and having gone through a not-insignificant quantity of beer, we ate and talked and drank until they kicked us out at 1230 in the morning.

We were the only customers left. We attempted to leave a tip; they abjectly refused. We offered to split the cost with Tiger; he abjectly refused. We said our goodbyes–he and Joy were going to visit her parents for a few weeks. Despite the praise of our ability to eat, Tiger was disappointed that we hadn’t drank more–I think he was prepared to get another 16-pack. Harry and I promised that when they returned, we would bring Tiger around town and this time we would pay. So I have to look forward to sometime in the next few weeks.

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Alright, switching gears. This is an almost complete 3-D printed model of the school that the students are constructing for the school’s 25th Anniversary celebration. The blue arrow is my apartment; the red arrow is to my office. The walk takes less than 5 minutes.

732833661672966237.jpgOne of my favorite parts of campus is the colony of semi-feral cats that live here. The guards feed them at night, but they stick around on campus full time. I’ve never seen a mouse or rat on campus and I am sure they are a reason why. There are a few kittens around; the teachers who live off campus either adopt them or find a friend to do so before they get too old. They aren’t exactly friendly, but most don’t mind if you pet them, which I, of course, do on occasion.

The cats are somewhat of a school mascot. There is a club on campus that raises money to treat them for any medical issues and to pay for their food. If someone adopts a kitten, the club will even pay to spay or neuter them and ensure they have all their shots. But there is a much sharper line in Chinese culture between wild and domesticated animals–even cats. So the locals refuse to get the feral cats fixed until they are adopted.

The picture is intended to demonstrate how hot and humid its been here, but also how fearless they are. They sit around the lunch area while the kids are eating; they’ll jump on the tables and follow you around if they know you have food or if you scratched them in a particularly excellent way.

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Despite having an office, I do not always have to work there. This old stone Go table is my favorite place to work. The building you see in the background is where my office is, so its near enough to not be hassle to get to. Behind the table is a heavily forested area, so I can feel like I am a part of nature while being apart of it.

There is also a cafe for teachers only to work and meet in where I frequently find myself working. Think of a toned-down gentleman’s cigar and cognac club, but with coffee and red pens instead.

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Last weekend, a group of us went to an Oktoberfest party. Since we have a few new people here, I will reintroduce everyone. Behind me on either side is married-couple Don and Sarah. The woman doing the sorority-squat is recent college grad (and sorority member) Sam, an elementary school teacher. Next to her is Hannah; they are best friends from their undergrad sorority and embarked on this journey together. They very much act like sisters. The tall woman in the back is Dana, who is also a PE teacher. And you all should be familiar with Harry and Emily by now. Between Emily and Hannah is Kayla (wearing sunglasses). More on her another time.

This was the only picture of the food I managed to get. They gave us these platters of food and we just dug in. There was all sorts of potato stuff, sauerkraut (naturally), sausages, various deli meats. There were only three beer options and none were especially good. But what they lacked in quality, we more than made up for in quantity.

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The last thing I will post here is the activity I have added to my schedule that I am most excited about. I am one of two coaches for the school’s baseball team! There is a baseball club on campus, but the school wants to field an official competitive team. So they recruited myself and a middle school teacher named Dane to lead the team. He played through college (including with a bunch of current major leaguers!), so he will probably do most of the coaching. But I am planning on keeping track of and integrating baseball statistics into our team.

We are beginning by having a teachers vs students baseball game, which you can see us preparing for below. I am coaching the teacher’s team; Dane is coaching the unofficial students’ team. Yes, I already have official school merchandise!!! 596566546786307811.jpg690937243671554846.jpg441907577987115002.jpg

My other extra-curricular activity is a competitive History team that I will be leading. Think a cross between academic decathlon and spelling bee, but purely for history. I went to a meeting to talk with my club members; the photography club happened to be immediately next to us. A member of the club (and a student in my 12th grade class!) snapped what has to be one of my favorite pictures of me ever taken. 54091961005074485.jpg

And that is where I’ll leave you.

Thanks for all of the love, support, and interest,

Atticus

PS: So as to not leave you all hanging for so long, my new goal is to publish shorter posts more frequently. Hope you won’t mind!

On the Party

18, August 2018

Three days before my departure, my family hosted a party at our house to provide many of our family and friends the opportunity to say “Good riddance” to me.

Though the name for the party on facebook followed the line and its tongue-in-cheek attitude, it was only a few days ago that I wish I had named the celebration the “DePart-Y,” a regret I will have to endure until the end of my days.

It was a great party. About 40 people were there, including my best friend from college, geographically-close family, my master-teacher, and dozens of family friends accumulated over the years. It was such a blessing to have all of these people who have played such an instrumental part in shaping the person I am in one place.

My favorite local Thai restaurant, Mom Can Cook, catered and seemed to be well-received, judging by how little we had left over! For dessert we had ice cream bars and bundt cakes–no mess and no clean up is always the best.

My father delivered some kind words about how far I would be: 6487 miles away. He also informed the crowd that if you dig through the earth from California, you do not end up in China, as popular mythology suggests. (It is, in fact, the middle of the Indian Ocean). He also announced that it was also my birthday, much to the surprise of many of the guests! Like I said previously, the purpose of the party was to say good-bye, but it was a happy coincidence that the Saturday before my departure landed on the anniversary of my birth. He even lead the guests in the Chinese version of “Happy Birthday”.

My mom spoke next, though did not get through her five items without cracking a bit. She announced to everyone’s surprise that she loved me, she was proud of my selection of profession, that she would miss me, she said good riddance, and then wished me the time of my life. 

As the sun was setting, it was my turn to speak. I had prepared a speech, which I will include in the next post.

The rest of the evening was catching up, telling everyone about my coming adventure, and thanking them for coming and the contributions to my life. It was an overwhelmingly happy and beautiful evening.

A perfect epilogue to the first book of my life.

Thank you all for making it happen.

PS: I apologize to everyone for giving them the wrong address to this blog! I thought I had also bought the other domain, but learned that I hadn’t. Oops!

On My Adventure

I noticed, perhaps too late, that I had never detailed what my adventure is. I have made allusions to it in other posts, but nowhere do I properly explain what is happening. So here is everything in one place:

I leave August 21st for Shanghai where I will be teaching at a high school that is ranked among the best in China. (So that I can be more open in this space and to maintain some anonymity, I will not state which school).  The students at the school receive all of their instruction in English with the exception of their Chinese-language class. About half of the teachers are American with the other half being mostly British, Australian, and Canadian–so I should have a reasonable foundation for a social life. The students all expect to earn their way into the best universities in the world and for some reason, the school thought that I could help them get there. I will be teaching 9th and 10th-grade history.

My contract is for one school year, but that can be extended at the end of the year if I like the school and the school likes me. The school pays approximately what I would be making if I was working as a first-year teacher in the States if you include the fact that the school will provide me with housing and utilities in one of the most expensive cities to live in!

Shanghai is a massive city of 24 million people; my home state of California has 38 million. Only about 2% of the city’s population is foreign-born, but that still accounts for almost half a million people!

I got this job by attending a job fair in New York City in February. I was by far the youngest and least experienced person at the conference, but I interviewed well and the school was looking for a teacher who can bring new ideas into the department about how the students can focus more on critical thinking and problem solving than memorization of dates, events, people, and concepts. Even though I haven’t much formal experience teaching, they liked what I had to say and decided to take a chance on me. An opportunity for which I am already extraordinarily grateful. I am not throwing away my shot. 

I went to the conference because I wanted to teach abroad. And I strongly feel that I have a unique window that is open to me right now that may not be available to me later in life. I am single and at the beginning of my career, so the flexibility to move to another country will probably never be greater.

I have also wanted to live in another country for as long as I can remember. Not just to travel, but to live and immerse myself in another country. I want to feel foreign; like a perpetual outsider. I want to see how a different culture creates different people.

I want to expand my vision of what reality is.

On my Project

Yesterday I completed a major step in my development as a teacher and progress to working in China. I finished a 4 part project that proves to the State of California that I am capable of being a teacher. The Teaching Performance Assessment (TPA) is a project every teacher in California must complete in order to earn a teaching credential. It is notoriously time-consuming and arduous to produce. And in order to work on this project, I have spent no fewer than 4 hours at least 4 days of every week for the past 4 months in my town’s public libraries to work on it.

This project was probably the most difficult work-related task I have had to complete. It is not interesting nor fun nor does it feel necessary. Merely opening the document on my computer was difficult. Keeping myself focused while the mysteries and wonders of the world outside of the TPA beckoned was the most difficult part of completing it for me.

I so badly wanted to escape this responsibility–this burden. And on many days, I did. Some days I would explore the internet or play Civ with the project open in the background. On days with better impulse control, I sat in the library and forced myself not to open reddit or to play a game. On more than a few occasions, I sat in front of an empty screen waiting for the will to begin typing.

When I left the library, I often felt deep anxiety about not being able to complete it. That anxiety would whisper seductively that my future would fall apart if I didn’t finish and that I wasn’t even capable of finishing it. I sat at home with my stomach in knots angry that I did not finish enough that day and worried–perpetually stressed–that I couldn’t finish.

I will stop myself there before this post turns into a rant about how much I hated this project. But suffice it to say this:

It took me 77,681 words on 184 pages to answer all of the questions the state of California asked me.

But I am now finished with it.

 

I know this all may feel dramatic or hyperbolized, but I am trying to describe as accurate as possible my experience with this project. It was painful. It was difficult. I do not feel like it made me a better teacher. But I had to do it and I did.

I wish I had worked harder on it and more efficiently. I wish I had not procrastined so much on it. I wish I had done a million little things better. But I am doing what I can to not dwell in that muddy pool of self-depreciation. I really want to feel proud of myself for pushing myself to the library all those many days and for pushing myself to continue typing on the days I managed it and for pushing the final submission button yesterday. I want to acknowledge that I did accomplish something and allow myself to enjoy this moment of success–a treat I so rarely allow myself.

 

On the Name

Its a rare and blessed experience in life. If you are here, you probably know why. You are here to follow, well, me.

And, therefore, you might be surprised to see that there will be no mention of my real name on this website. I have done this for a couple of reasons:

  1. I value anonymity on the internet. I smile when I noticed that if you google search for my real name, no pictures of me pop-up. I am delighted that I have withstood the compulsion to create a social media account (more on this another time).
  2. By using a different name, I hope that it will change my mindset when I write here. I can be more analytical of my own feelings and behavior. When you get off an airplane, every Square People Pipe looks the same. Every airport looks like an airport. The first time you realize–and really appreciate–that you’ve actually traveled anywhere is when you see the name of wherever you are. Names manipulate distance.

Atticus Gallivant. Sure, it sounds like a name out of a John Green novel. But it was intentionally chosen.

Why Gallivant?

Gallivant means “to go around from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure or entertainment.” And though there will be plenty of work and struggle throughout this journey I am on, I hope to find pleasure, entertainment, and joy in all that I do where ever I go. I have chosen for myself the curious search for beauty and humanity. I want to push myself to find people and experiences worth appreciating in all things I do. Therefore, gallivanting is part of my life’s ambition. And with something so core to my perception of Self, I might as well integrate into my identity somehow–and now it is, of sorts.

Atticus, however, is a bit more complicated.  For the past month, I have been in the process of de facto changing my first name to Atticus. No legal paperwork has been filed yet, though I probably will someday. I will use Atticus as my first name with all interactions on this journey. So, I would appreciate that if you leave a comment, you do not refer to me by my old name.

Why Atticus? 

I wanted a name to which I could aspire, a name I feel like I have to earn. I wanted the name to be refreshing and interesting. I did not want a common name nor a unique name.  And so I stumbled upon and selected Atticus to be the first part of my online pseudonym.

And if you have heard the name before, it is likely from one of three sources:

  1. Atticus the Lawyer. A brilliant and principled fictional character played by one of the most famous actors in history from one of the most important books in American history. Someone certainly worth aspiring to be.
    • (It is a happy coincidence that one of my favorite nicknames for my dog is “Scout.”)
  2. Atticus the Philosopher. Not much is known about him, but my recently discovered interest in philosophy made this name sexier.
  3. Atticus the Poet. A pseudonym of a brilliant poet who wrote a devastatingly beautiful book of poetry that I count as my favorite.

I will let you do the psychoanalyzing as to why I chose this name. My truth is: I like it. And it fits me for some or all of the reasons that popped in your head.

I have created a more mature and complete version of myself that I have named Atticus; it is he who I aspire to be.

For now, I will still ask people in person to call me by my parentally-given name. I have considered formally changing my name to Atticus, but that will have to wait for me to earn that honor. Perhaps I never will, but I at least want a clearly identified and named vision of who it is I want to be.

On this Project

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Hello!

Thank you for joining me on my adventure.  And as with any adventure, no one knows exactly what they are getting themselves into as they take their first step.

The purpose of this blog is for me to track and for you, dear readers, to follow the notable and interesting steps I take on my journey.  I hope to post about the milestones and maladies along the way. I hope to introduce you to people I meet and the experiences we share. I hope to use this as a place to explore my thoughts and feelings, seek and find advice, and, maybe on occasion, vent my frustrations. I hope to post pictures, videos, essays, and stories.  In other words, just as I do not know where my journey will take me, I do not yet know where my journal will go.

I will go into greater detail about what, exactly, my journey will be in a later post. I have some expectations and dreams for what my journey will be, but those aren’t particularly interesting to write about until they are either betrayed or confirmed by reality. But here are a few expectations I have of what this space is and will be:

  1. I want this to be interactive. I will allow comments on all of my posts and have set up a Contact Me page. If you have anything you’d like to say, please say so! I will certainly respond to questions and suggestions.
  2. I expect to update this blog at least once-a-week from here until I decide to close this project. Updates may be much more common than weekly.

So I hope you will find this as a useful and interesting place. The only audiences for whom I have ever written were my poor teachers and friends who were contractually obligated to read my thoughts. So I must say, I feel a bit nervous about posting here publically. For all to read. But I hope I have the courage throughout my travels to be honest and complete in my experiences.

But, to begin this honesty, I am doing this project for me.  I will continue to post here even if no one reads. I want this to be a record for me to return to; a perch from which I can oversee my progress and changes. I will probably continue to keep a private journal for all of the daily tedium, but this place is an opportunity for both you and me to track and follow the experiences that are worth remembering and sharing.

I have found myself hoping for a lot of things over the course of thinking about and writing this post.  Hope, for all of its virtues, is never surprising. We hope for a great many things when we travel: safety, novelty, the sublime.

There can be no adventure without hope; hope is what turns a pedestrian walk down the street into a quest for insights and novelty.

Here is to hope.

Here is to adventure.

Here is to the first step.

Cheers,

Atticus