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The hour of no power

The hour of no power

By Chi Lo
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Two nights ago when the power went out, I went to the closet and grabbed a flashlight, expecting the light to come flickering back on at any minute. But, as I was brushing my teeth by candlelight, I thought to myself, as a city girl (so I've been told) with a love for the outdoors (the Vancouverite in me), I don't ever remember being awake for a power outage. Sure, a few times I have awoken to the microwave clock flashing 12:00, but being in a city almost all of my life, this is quite a feat.

Then I thought to myself, if we didn't have power for the next few days, how would we manage? My imagination ran wild. When the food in our refrigerator goes bad and our canned food supply ended (though highly unlikely as a result of the rude awakening of Snowmageddon), would we have to walk through the back woods of Virginia hunting birds and deer and picking unripe berries? Would my hours spent watching (okay, being infatuated with) Bear Grylls finally come in handy?

I thought back to my days spent hiking and camping in the wilderness of British Columbia and the outdoor skills I learned through outdoor education programs and summer camps. We learned to sterilize water, pitch tents, use compasses and so on. And then I thought back to one of my early days teaching English in Shanghai.

At Wall Street Institute where I taught, each teacher had to create an original lesson twice a week for seminar-style class for the school's adult students. These lessons were called "English Corners" and arguably the bane of every Wall Street teacher's existence, for the hours that go into preparing the class so that it appealed to all levels of English, and to students' general interests. The class is structured in that teachers introduce the topic, provide vocabulary, talk about the topic, and then present the students with an activity or discussion questions for the remainder of the hour.

My first-ever English Corner, I was assigned a topic called "Fireside Chat." Knowing very little about FDR's chats, and not considering myself expert enough to talk about this era, I decided to spin the topic to discuss surviving in the wilderness, with the focal point being an exposition on campfires.

Attempting to provide the students with some insight about American outdoor culture, I turned the lights low and told them a ghost story, and taught them (verbally) how to make a fire, cook s'mores, and my personal favourite, spit n' chew (potatoes, onions, carrots and hot dog chewed up raw, placed into a tinfoil pouch and roasted over a fire). It backfired.

Making a fire and keeping it safe is apparently useless information in Shanghai. My students insisted, they have barbecues now, so why would you need a campfire?! I explained, in our spare time, many Americans like to enjoy the outdoors and go camping. No, no, they said. We go shopping. Feeling slightly defeated, I re-explained new words, and gave handouts, and spent the rest of the class going table to table explaining the vocabulary all over again. Sigh.

Before I fell asleep that night, the power returned. Brought back to the age of electric, I got up and changed the clocks back to the right time, and reset my coffee timer. I may be a city slicker, but at least I can fall asleep in the comfort that if a tree fell in my neighbourhood and severed the power lines, I think I could survive for at least few days, though I think bonfires, even on the balcony, wouldn't blow over so well with local fire authorities.

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