Published: December 22nd 2011December 22nd 2011
UN Day Parade Preparation
Keeping the class occupied while we wait to leave on our neighbourhood parade.
This school year seems to be fraught with ill fate. Scarcely two weeks had passed before I contracted a ferocious case of head lice - a situation I have NEVER encountered during my life. At first I thought the itchy scalp was just a sensitive reaction to the change of temperature or my shampoo. Then one fine morning as I was helping the children out of their coats I happened to catch sight of myself in the mirrors which line our walls. Usually I try to avoid eye contact, so as not to horrify myself at my typical ragamuffin appearance - duly doused in snot and paint - but this particular morning a strange rustling of hair (sans wind) caught my attention. I peered in closer to discover the cause of this phenomenon and was horrified to discover tiny bugs crawling about everywhere! Now, remember I had yet to experience this typical summer camp condition that hits countless people in the West, so at first I was even confused to the nature of these creepy crawlies. My initial thought was what new terrifying infestation has Beijing brought now? Of course it didn't take long before the niggling idea that it may
be lice began to gnaw at my brain. I showed my Chinese co-teacher whose dramatically horrified reaction of kicking me out the classroom and tossing everything I had come in contact with out the windows made me realize that I was in deep trouble. Turns out three kids in separate classrooms were in possession of these head bugs - all Western children who had returned from separate holidays - and with whom I had the opportunity to contract their contagious buggies. Lucky me that the concept of sharing kicked in so early with this lot! I realize that lice is an annoyance, but a no-brainer in the West... here in China they have no idea what it is. I first went into the Chinese hospital near my school where I had the previous fun experience of having a dislocated shoulder set, and was shuffled from reception, to infections, to dermatology, to the pharmacy and back again. They had no idea how to treat and kept phoning each other to consult, only to change their minds on how to deal with the "tiny animals" in my hair. My work recommended I go to the Beijing Vista Clinic as they had Western
doctors and treatments available there. This is an excellent clinic which I would highly recommend. Very clean and professional English service. I was lucky to have my insurance cover the consultation and I just had to pay 10% of the treatment. They gave me some highly toxic treatment and comb which is similar to "Nix". I bought several boxes and headed home to begin the process. Letting down my hair and witnessing the true infestation caused me to immediately burst into hysterical tears in my bathroom. I doused my hair in the foul smelling tonic and let it seep in to supposedly cause a lice genocide. With great hope I finally rinsed my hair, despairing slightly over the dried out and mangy feel of it. I then whipped out the lice comb to draw out the eggs and any remaining bodies. Now while this comb managed to rip out nearly half my hair, it proved unsuccessful and removing nits. The next day I looked in the mirror while brushing my teeth and nearly lost my mind as I noticed yet more bugs scurrying around my scalp! It seems that these boughts of bathroom hysteria were to become a routine as
over the next week I attempted treatment after treatment to no avail! These vicious buggers were determined to claim ownership of my scalp. What finally produced a result was drowning my head in Listerine and allowing that to soak for an hour or two. I then rinsed my newly "minty fresh" hair and soaked it in white vinegar for an hour to bloat the eggs. After a couple of those treatments I was ready to return to work! It was exciting to get back to my class after missing a week and a half. Being so close to the beginning of the semester I was eager to get back to forming bonds and relationships with the kids in my class. School was in full swing and we were already looking forward to our UN Day preparations. The teachers were instructed that they would not only be expected to create classroom activities, but to also perform some sort of "multi-cultural" number for all the kids and parents. (Gulp). It was decided that all the classrooms would be transformed to represent countries and it was great fun to decorate ours to be Italy! I set up a DIY pizza station, a Leaning
An Attempt to Distract
This was one of the taxi rides where I was doing everything I could to distract myself from the horrible noises emitting from my driver.
Tower of Pisa photo station, and red, green, and white pasta necklace table. We had Italian children music playing in the background and I even snagged a Ferrari jacket for the occasion. I was totally prepared a week in advance an was feeling good about the celebration, though we had yet to decide what kind of number we teachers would be performing. The decision to perform a Bollywood dance number was finally arrived upon and a collaborative choreography began. With a week to go, time was tight for practicing, but we believed... plus the chance to see our ex-hippie, male campus director perform with us wearing a coin skirt and swirling his hips was heady motivation. Things were moving forward... oh, and then I realized I was reinfested with lice. This realization was met with me sinking into a pool of dejected defeat onto the shower floor and nearing flooding that area with tears. There are no words to describe the helpless horror and the desperate desire for my mom to be there to fix everything. That this impulse for my mother's presence was so strong was slightly embarrassing for this "big girl" to admit, as doing things for myself
What mornings look like when I arise.
and on my own has been a consistent theme in my life, but here I was, a pathetic heap on the floor crying for mommy. Eventually I robotically took out the emergency Listerine, then a couple days later tested out the overnight mayo treatment. (Warning: will stink of spoiled dressing for quite some time). The infestation seemed under control so I returned in time to celebrate UN Day and had to just bumble my way along with the dance number as I missed all the practices. That was humbling.
The highlights of November and the beginning of December was the return of many old/previous "Beijingers". It was such a special experience to see their familiar faces again. These were the people who I shared my first year with, so it was truly nostalgic to re-encounter them and just incredible that they all managed to be here for the same time!
We just finished our Christmas celebration at school. The parents were invited to our classroom to see their children perform some dances and holiday songs. The kids looked so precious dressed as Christmas mice/reindeer/santas. When you don't have complete outfits, just mash everything together to produce a haphazard
cute look. We were so proud of our kids. We had fully prepared ourselves for them to either burst into tears at the sight of their parents and so many new faces, but most of them embraced the opportunity to shine and it was a sincere pleasure to see the joy and pride on their parents' faces as they observed their little darlings. That afternoon we teachers also celebrated our own campus Christmas party at the official worst buffet in Beijing. This place calls themselves a "Brazilian BBQ" - but like everything here - don't believe what you hear. The only reason this place is popular is that it is incredibly cheap for "all you can eat" (otherwise known as what you can choke down). I stuck to concentrating on refilling everyone's wine glass and trying to avoid our bus driver who was determined to have me drink baijiu with him. During our gift exchange I was presented with the very Chinese present of an IKEA x-mas lantern. ;) Awesome.
Presently the final week of school is winding down and I am on a serious countdown to holiday time. My bones are longing for the warm, white beaches of
Vietnam! After these past months it seems everyday I become closer to a total collapse and the universe seems determined to test my sanity. Every taxi driver lately have managed to tip me to near breaking point through incessant, rattling, throat clearing. Now, I am a seasoned Beijinger and the loud and constant hoarking spit is nothing I bat an eye at... but when you encounter the types that have something to clear and just chose to rattle it around their esophagus at three second intervals I DARE you to retain a firm grip on your sanity. Moments such as these are soul shredding in a way you can only empathize with upon encountering such an individual.
So my dears who are anticipating the cheer of a drizzling Christmas... think of me stretched out and baking in the glorious sunshine of Vietnam, sipping on my Christmas cocktail and musing over whether to go snorkeling or adventure to some jungle waterfalls.
... all jealousy aside, know that while I don't miss the rain, I do miss family and friends. I yearn to share my traditions again... there are many moments where I mechanically look to watch a Christmas film on a Sunday, only to realize I have none. My flatmate made me pepparkakor to boost my spirits, which helped slightly, but I still choke up when we watched "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" with our kids. So all, my heart is full for you. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
P.S. All I want for Christmas is a cure for lice... yes. Currently reinfested and feel that perhaps a head shave is the last resort.