Monday, November 24, 2014

Chinese, What?!

The very first time feels like this: uh, he doesn't look Chinese....

And then there is a pause. My mind becomes aware of itself  as some invisible wall bends and shatters. My own mind, hiding entire rooms from myself; this room didn't exist before, or was I just unaware?

After the first revelation, the room vanishes (poof) as quickly as it revealed itself.

I'm no longer surrounded by, "_____" people. I'm just surrounded by people. Every stereotype of physical features is made obsolete as the curves and edges of human forms become sharp realities. Recognition occurs.

Perhaps, in stating this, I betray some hidden facet of racism-- though I do not perceive myself as such.
     Perhaps then, I merely examine the obvious.

The word, "_____" has not simply undergone a change in meaning, nor has it shifted weight within my vocabulary;"_____" appears to have fallen out of my lexicon as a whole. The letters form a sound I can't pronounce.
Fuck. What
  is that word...
That isn't quite right
      ...."cinches" so

What a bizarre phenomenon.

This morning, the sky was clear blue. There were tufts of white flattened against the blue, sprawled out like cotton balls, unrolled by the fingers of some playful child.  I marveled at the sight from my bedroom window. And then again, as I headed through my garden toward the Taxi bay. I stared at the sky, almost unable to look any other direction. Treasure the moment when color breaks my morning to me.

At last I peel my eyes back to earth, flinging myself to the right so as to not trample...

Hang on, his features aren't the same.
     He gives himself new depth, so distinctly himself.
            I give him new depth?

I see clouds, and blue sky, and people. And suddenly, I am so aware of my "western" ways.
Because I am strange to everyone around me, I am strange to myself.

Q: "I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore..."
Hint: Dorothy is not strange because OZ isn't Kansas. Dorothy is strange because Kansas isn't OZ.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I Killed a Bee Today

      My balcony is equipped with a clothesline; the apartment unit has a washing machine, but no dryer.  Today was laundry day, so naturally, I was outside shaking out clothing to hang up. Out of nowhere (at least it seemed that way), a bee fell onto the balcony, landing with a rather dramatic thud. I looked down at it in shock. For a moment, I stood motionless as it wiggled a few of its legs around and propped its stinger up in the air.
        My first thought was, "WOA, there are bees in CHINA?!"
        My second thought was, "oh shit, I'm allergic to bees." Then my mind was consumed with the silly, "what if's" that a mind can come up with when there is too much room for thinking. What if it stings me and I die on the balcony? Noone will find me until it's too late! I continued to stare at the bee while considering my fate. After a few more seconds of watching the bee struggle to move, I placed my laundry bucket on top of it.
      Something strange flicked around inside my stomach. I've always been allergic to bees, however, I've never felt threatened, or been afraid of them before. I continued to hang my clothing out, but when I finished, and lifted up the laundry bucket, I found the bee even more crippled than before. My heart sank.
        I felt shame as I walked back inside and left the bee to suffer through its few final minutes of life. What the fuck? Really though. I could have left the bee to dance around with its awkward little stinger sticking up while I continued to hang my laundry, right (this is a rhetorical question, you don't have to answer)? It would have been like we were doing a little dance together, he with his stinger and I with my clothesline. What's wrong with me, yo?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Vance Joy in the Classroom

         The EF "mission" in the classroom, as I understand it, is not simply about teaching English as a language, but also includes instilling ideas regarding the culture that is inherent in the language. Due to the fact that English users around the world represent varying and distinct cultures of their own, I cannot pretend to be an expert representing the entire gamut of English speakers (that would be both silly and foolish). However, I do my best to bring my culture to the table, and to explain that this is my perspective and not necessarily hard truth that encompasses all native English speakers. After all, I am only one American, and we are all so different. Moreover, English speakers do not only come from America! While these facts may seem fairly obvious to my readers, the concept of culture and variety is not something my students necessarily understand (yet!).
       The picture above is from one of my HF classes-- roughly 10-12 years-old. We are learning about movies and movie genres in class right now; comedy, action, cartoon, etc. I thought long and hard about the best way to explain the emotions, actions, and movie types, to a group of children that not only crave stimulation, they wont listen if they aren't interested (yes, this is the grand age at which students will literally yawn in your face if they are bored-- the pressure is on!). After some deliberation, I decided that the best way to explain movie genres was to first show them (shout-out to ZV for an awesome Comp-I course that doubled as a film class-- you inspired this lesson).
          Currently making waves on the radio in Denver is Vance Joy's, Riptide (as a side not,  if you haven't watched the music video for this song, I highly recommend it, as it mixes a very literal representation of the lyrics with a classic but twisted movie style).  Lights out in the classroom, children confused, and Riptide on the projector! Over Joy's voice, I can hear the students squeal, laugh, and gasp as they watch and listen. Afterward, we talk about what they saw in the music video that matches up with their vocabulary words. Was there a gun? Who shot the gun? Cowboy!? Which genre of movie is this? Western! What about escaping, did we see someone escape? Which genre of movie do people escape in? Action! Yes, they get it!
        "Do you like this movie?" I ask them. Noone speaks.
      "Do you not like this movie?" Still silence.
    "Do you like what you saw?"
                             All together, "NO! I do not like!"
"Do you like what you heard?" All hands up, "YES!!!"
                      Okay Vance Joy, your music is safe; the children of China say, "yes." And while your music video has excellent value as an example of film genre and culture (two thumbs-up for cinematography and mise en scene that mirror distinct periods in American film history), the meaning might be lost on my young students, who think that smeared lipstick and "black down under eyes" is, "wrong." In my next lesson, I'll have to try and explain that sometimes, a little "wrong" is alright.

On Teaching

Between all nine classes (well, eight classes and one "life club"), I teach over one-hundred students every single week. This is not a number even remotely near the image I had in my mind of what, "teach in China" would require--trying to memorize names gives me an even greater amount of respect for my college profs (how do you remember so many faces?).  However, teaching so many students does allow for some very interesting life-moments:

1. Trying to pick up a Small Star student (4-5 years old), from behind and swing him around. When he kicks, screams, flails, and runs for the nearest exit, I realize, by gazing at the side of his frightened face, that he was not my student at all. Why do  small children all look so similar from behind? I think his mother hates me.

2. Saying, "hello Peter" and patting a Small Star on the head (from behind), only to have him turn around and say in perfect English, "I am not Peter. My name is Leo." Also, not my student. His mother might also hate me.

3. Walking into a classroom and asking students to pull out their books. When the appropriate teacher for this class walks in and gives me the, "what the fuck" look, I must admit that I do not recognize students in my own classes enough to distinguish them from another class. I leave with my head hung in shame, and go to the next room to try again.

I could go on forever, but surely you get the picture. Secretly, I weep at the end of the day. But in time, I'm sure it will get better! A little about my Small Stars:

I start my week off with my only Small Stars class, which has ten students that I teach twice a week in the evenings. These students are absolutely precious. They are not only adorable, but the level of interaction required is the one I perform best with (I think). Students must be highly engaged at all times in order to retain information. This means I have to use wild body language, make bizarre faces, and occasionally make fart noises throughout the class period (i.e. I get to be myself). If you were to walk in to my class during the middle of a lesson on animals, you would find me on the table and children climbing up my legs while I make monkey noises and fill my cheeks with air. This image is not far off from my everyday behavior, and the children spend 88% of their time in class laughing.

One of the greatest aspects of teaching this age group, is that they all want approval and attention (which translates to, "love me, please!"). Their desire for attention manifest in the following ways: Tiger loves to pinch. If you don't respond immediately to his every beckoning, he pinches you over and over and over. No, it doesn't feel gentle. When correcting his behavior, (telling him to share something like glue or scissors), he hangs his head due to the public shame he has just received in front of his classmates, and then continues pinching. However, after showing him how to share, and then asking him to do the same, I reward him by smothering him in manic hugs and kisses. His reaction to the lovin' is the very picture of delight. He just wants love, damn it! True fact, all ten of my Small Star students just want love. And me too. I'm so overwhelmingly happy when one of them walks up to my and kisses my arm, or takes my hand, or hugs me. How sweet, how pure is the affection of a child!