Oh, Modernity!

Another day, another typhoon. The concept of surge protectors hasn’t caught on in this corner of southern China. At the first rumble of thunder, there is a flurry of activity: everyone runs to unplug the computers, air conditioners, anything that might be fried by an errant bolt of lightning. This isn’t helpful, however, when the entire school is run on two circuits attached to faulty lightning rods. Yesterday’s typhoon succeeded in frying the entire system.
Teaching children English is never easy. It is especially difficult when the classroom is over one hundred degrees. The slightest movement exhausts you. Thinking makes you sweat. Everything seems to pulse, as if the heat has melted teacher, student, desks, fields, and walls into one big organism.
It’s not that I haven’t been hot places before. I worked in Madrid last summer, where the temperature seldom dipped below a hundred degrees, and I once visited Cairo, where it topped out around one hundred fifteen. But both places were dry. A pair of sunglasses and the hint of a breeze kept the days bearable, even pleasant.
Without power, there is no way to sanitize tap water, which must be boiled before it is safe to drink. Food can’t be cooked or refrigerated, and we’re told not to use running water while the electricians are at work.
The electricians, by the way, are six men who look like they have sprung straight to life out of an eighteenth century woodcut. Clothed in ancient overalls and wide-brimmed hats shaped like the bottom of an onion, they arrive before we have finished breakfast. They dig a hole in the ground to expose a set of thick wires, then squat on their heels and stare at it. When I pass by after morning classes, the only thing that seems to have changed is that they are eating a lunch the school provide. It is late evening before the lights flicker on and the air conditioners sputter back to life.
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