CHINA JOURNALWednesday, May 29 through Friday, May 31, 2002
Things are really moving fast around here. My earlier tour departure date has me hopping. Wednesday I gave my last talk to the Nankai Bureau teachers. On the way over in the car, Su Dawn said I might want to avoid mentioning slavery again. (I've given what I think has been a full and fair packet of information about the history of the blacks in the United States.) After the history talk, a couple of people had complained to her that I was not telling the truth in saying that, when the slave trade first started, the sellers were black people who had captured other black people and then sold them. Their history books always said that the Western whites had gone in and captured blacks themselves. The results were as disastrous either way. I had a box of all the magazines I sent over. There was quite a wide variety, including ones like The Nation to illustrate our freedom of the press. I was going to just set them out for people to take. Su said someone might be disappointed if they didn't get one, so she would keep them at the district office where people could come and look at them or copy some. They won't get nearly as much circulation that way, unfortunately, but I see her point.
The talk went well. When I finished, the high Hottentots of the Nankai Bureau all trooped on stage to make a presentation to me. When they walked up with this 15x15x3 box, my first thought was, ``Oh, my, how will I get this home?'' It is a beautiful round carved wood frame holding a two-sided convex glass. It encloses a silk embroidered ``painting'' of three pandas in bamboo. The painting is the same on both sides. The whole picture stands up in a carved wooden frame. Quite stunning. The sort of thing I have admired but would never buy because it is too hard to transport. I will now figure out how to solve that problem. I'm thinking of the middle of the suitcase, with some clothes packed inside the box to cushion the glass. On our way out, I asked them to stop at a table we passed to show me how the frame worked. (I hadn't seen it. Su told me there was one.) Unfortunately one of the men in a hurry to take it apart broke one of the bracing pieces on the frame. I'm hoping that Duane Shoffner will fix me up with a rescue glue job when I get home. There is a large certificate on the lid that reads, ``To Professor Jerry Ludeke. Appreciate your Excellent Teaching. Cherish the golden time we get together. Bless our eternal friendship. Nankai Teaching Research Section, Tianjin, China, May 2002.''
Before the talk, a lady came up an introduced herself. She had heard about how good the talks were from two friends, so this was the first one she was to hear. She is a Christian who has a Bible study group that meets in her home. She invited me to come. I don't know if she is aware that my attending could get her in trouble...or maybe that is no longer true, even though I was told that it is. At any rate it is a moot point because my time has run out. After the talk she came up and asked if I could talk with her sometime. She is in her 40s and divorced. A divorced American man in his 60s, from the fellowship group, has paid a lot of attention to her, taken her on trips, etc. She wants me to tell her what he is thinking. Does he love her? Oh, my goodness. Ann Landers on the hoof.
Su was planning on a few of us getting together and going out for lunch between my last talk and my first class. She came up after the talk and said we couldn't do it because Sun Zhi Hong had some special plans for me. We were both really disappointed. I climbed in the car with Liu Jian Goa, Sun Zhi Hong, and Fu Ling heading for I knew not where. It turns out we were on our way to the office. They had a potential teacher candidate who was in Beijing with friends and coming down for an interview...with me...in the morning. He never did arrive. ``Maybe tomorrow''. Li Di kept referring to him as Taul. I suspected it was really Paul, so when I called his friends' house to check on his traveling, I confirmed that it was P as in pencil. His friends are the Nigerians whose accents were too thick to be of use to Bohan. I don't know what Paul's situation is.
Well, tomorrow came. It was Thursday. My last day of teaching. I had the middle school in the morning and three classes at the primary school in the afternoon. I was finishing up on the take-home books with each of the primary classes, so it was very important for me and for them that I be there. About fifteen minutes before the first of the three primary classes was to begin, in walked the Headmaster and one of the Directors. Even without an interpreter I could tell what they were saying....that Sun Zhi Hong wanted me at the office and Liu Jian Goa had come to take me there. Even without an interpreter they could tell what I was saying, ``No way!'' I wasn't about to miss my classes for what, I was sure, was an interview with Paul. They fluttered around for a while and brought in the second Director. I was indicating that I would go after classes at 5:00 or they could bring Paul to the office during my one forty minute break. They then got Ren Hai Ying, the English teacher, to translate. I told her the same message. I think they didn't believe that anyone would say ``No'' to Sun Zhi Hong for anything. Ren Hai Ying went down and called Sun Zhi Hong who said 5:00 was too late and asked me to call him. That was a good sign. I figured I could listen to Paul over the telephone...and that's what we did. Ren Hai Ying told the Chinese teacher what was happening and to start the class. I got in about 10 minutes late...but I got there and finished what I wanted to.
Paul is from Nigeria but had quite a bit of schooling in the United States (including an A.B. from UCLA). He's been teaching English in Inner Mongolia since January and is eager to learn Chinese well because Nigeria does a lot of business with the Chinese. He plans to stay in China for two years. His accent isn't completely American but its variations lean more to the British than to the Nigerian accent, which is hard to understand. He is certainly very familiar with American culture. We had a delightful conversation. I gave my report to Li Di, and I haven't heard yet what their decision was. Ren Hai Ying and Zhang Yu, who heard from someone on the phone, not me, that this was a possible English teacher who is black, were very wide-eyed at that prospect. He would really be a curiosity around here. There simply are no blacks in evidence here (though I know from the International Fellowship that there are some in Tianjin.)
My last session with the middle school students went pretty well. I was bound and determined to get them talking. So I took in a ``talking broom''. I called up a student and we stood on either side of the broom, each holding on to it. I asked five questions, which he answered. Then he called up another student and, with each holding on to the broom, asked that student five questions. After you had both answered and asked five questions, you got a reward. (I had enough reflector ankle straps to give one to each student.) Part way through I realized that their voices were so soft that the rest of the class couldn't hear easily, so I grabbed a second broom and put the ‘asker' on one side of the room and the ‘answerer' on the other. They were so funny. Without even realizing it, the one who had just finished answering and was going to be asking the questions crossed over to the other side each time carrying his broom. What's more they didn't all ask the same five questions. It was still a struggle for them, but at least they talked.
The third graders were so cute. They clapped for me when I came in and said in chorus a big, ``Thank you, Mees Jerry''. Many students were hovering around my office desk all day after they found out this was my last day of teaching. My office mate, the art and music teacher, has just been fascinated by all the things I've done on the creative side. She is always dusting my desk and getting me hot water in my cup and trying out new English words like ‘gooda, hota, colda''. (Everything has an ‘uh' on the end.) She was resting with her head down on her desk while I was putting together the last of the books. She suddenly came over with tears just streaming down her face because I was going to be leaving. While it would have been nice to be able to speak the language of words, the language of the heart comes through loud and clear!
I realize from teachers' reactions how much of my approach to teaching has been soaked up by the teachers of Chinese who sit in the room with the class when I am there. I have thought of them as being there mainly to be a help to me...and they have been invaluable...but I now realize that it has been a two-way street and they have taken real delight in seeing me in action. That is a delightful extra dividend.
Today, Friday, was the Children's Day celebration all morning. The children all carried their desk chairs down the stairway and outside, lined up very carefully and very closely to try to keep to the shadiest parts of the courtyard. A long ‘table' was improvised in front by putting the flat-topped student desks together and covering them with a long red velvet cloth. The directors and I got to sit in back of it facing the students. The long table was piled high with award gifts and certificates. After the ``showing the flag'' ceremony, there were different choral speaking presentations. These kids are marvels at memorizing and speaking in public...in Chinese. (Their confidence ebbs away in English.)
The little first graders, all in their red pants and skirts with white Bohan tops, were called up and introduced. They marched up just so. After all the appropriate words, they were each presented with a red neck scarf, which, until now, they have not been allowed to wear. Older students, both boys and girls, marched up in front of them to present the scarf and tie it around the little first graders' necks. Then they all salute each other. One of the tallest boys in school was carefully tying a scarf on one of the smallest boys in school. Really nice.
Then came all the various awards and much picture taking. I got pulled into a lot of the pictures. The funniest one was the PE teacher with the top athlete girl and boy. I got called up to be in that picture...holding a basketball (in honor of my dribbling coup?)
Next came the puppet show. They did a fantastic job on it. The Snow White story was professionally recorded with some music. There was no Prince Charming though. The dwarfs got back before Snow White took a bite of the apple so Snow White and the dwarfs simply beat up and apparently killed the wicked stepmother Queen. I like the Prince Charming version better myself. Then came the animal puppets putting on a musical program. There was lots of fun in that. I notice that while the students laugh some at the most uproarious action, they don't react nearly as much as an American audience would. There was no clapping after the Snow White part of the show ended and before the animal part began. There tends to be no appreciative clapping unless someone leads it. The same is true with adults. It is almost as if they are waiting to be told what their reaction should be. If someone in charge starts to clap, then they all clap. But if an individual in the audience claps, they don't pick up on it.
My desk is all cleaned out at school. I stood outside at the 12:00 pick-up time when the children were leaving. I just wanted to soak them all in since this would be the last time I would see the students. They are good kids.
With no talk to prepare for and nothing pending at the office, I had an afternoon free...which makes me realize how precious few of those I have had. In a real flashback to my pre-China busyness, I started pulling up the transcripts of the Kern County Chinese interviews which are being readied for the library collection and need a final proof reading. (These are the ones from which the information for the book was gleaned.) I had not read any of them since being here, so a couple of stories now struck me in a different way. Daisy Chow told of how her stepmother was always bawling her out, no matter how good she was, and that she never gave Daisy a compliment. I have a feeling from watching the parents and teachers with the children that this approach is still quite strong. Another one that tickled me was Daisy talking about the railroad workers in town up in the mountains and how, no matter what, they had to be quiet. I wondered if that prohibition arose because they tended to get so loud, as they do here, that it was offensive to the Western ear. And many of the stories told of long hours attending Chinese school in Bakersfield and how they ``didn't learn a thing'' but it was all just memorize, memorize, memorize. That is still the approach to education here.
Late breaking news: Zhang Fu Ling, Zhang Jie, and I were at the neighborhood restaurant for supper tonight (Friday) and I inquired about Paul and whether they decided Yea or Nay. (These conversations are still very much charades and trying a variety of ways of wording...not just a quick question.) They decided against hiring him. She said he ``looked like the beautiful girls'', but I think Zhang Jie meant he ``looked at the beautiful girls'' from the expression on Zhang Fu Ling's face. Then Zhang Fu Ling gave a look of distaste and indicated that his collar was dirty. Thus ends the tale of Paul.
I was pleased to also learn that Zhang Jie will go with me on both of the tours. That will be fun. She has not been to any of these places before either.