Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The day I woke as pro-American, part II

The "comment box - deflowering prize" goes to GM Roper for his encouraging words about the first part of this story. Thank you very much, Sir! Well, back on topic...

Nanning is the most American city I've ever been to. It has a sky line and some sky skrapers, it follows the "cars first!" approach, it has KFC, McDonald's, Starbucks and Pizza Hut - and a WAL-MART SUPERSTORE. (I had been to a KFC in Prague before and I also had been to a WAL-MART in Moscow, but that wasn't a SUPERSTORE.)

When I had agreed to the contract, I had not been aware of what it really means to teach in China. (That's natural. You simply can't imagine what it means to teach in China until you enter the classroom and find yourself in front of more than 100 eyes filled with a mixture of fear and fascination.) But apart from that, I also had no idea that I would be considered a representative of what the Chinese refer to as the "western world". And in Nanning, "western world" equals - the USA. So there I was with my zero first-hand USA experience, but sophisticated knowledge about the dissolution of the monasteries in mediaeval England and Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar".

But hey, no problem. I enabled my Richard-Ford mode and off it went. The first thing was to get rid of my German name, since "Marian" is as inconvenient for China as it is for the U.S. (even my classmates nicknamed me "Lady Marian"), and I wasn't too unhappy to be called "Mark".

My junior grades did everything they could to help me. There was a TV set in the class room, and when I entered, they were going like: "Watch NBA! Watch NBA!" (On our last day, I gave in and let them watch the Houston Rockets with former "rookie of the year" Yao Ming). When I asked them about their favorite food, they replied in no time with a broad, longing smile: "HAMBURGERS!"

And then there were the books I was provided with. As far as I can tell, they were 100% original US style, as for content and teaching methods. So I taught them "How to make a banana smoothie", "How do you get to school", "Never give up" (a lengthy piece about Thomas Alva Edison), "What friends are for" etc. All the lessons were designed to compare China to the U.S., but the China part usually was a cliché which had hardly anything to do with the living conditions in Nanning (maybe with Shanghai, if anything). One day, we took on mind mapping, which seemed weird to me, because as far as I know, in order to map your mind, you have to make up your own mind in the first place. And Chinese education isn't iconic for teaching junior grades to make up their own minds. Anyway, the mind map in question was about a Chinese student's daily life, like "favorite subjects", "problems", "free time activities" (Wait a time? What free time?) - and "dreams". And one of the dreams read: LIVING IN AMERICA.

Now, if a German teaching Chinese students to dream of living in the U.S. isn't odd, what is?

And then there were the speech contests, both at school and at university. As a German, I wasn't familiar with speech contests. I'm not sure about the contemporary educational system in Germany, but in the 80's, speech contests were unheard of at German schools. Because "contest" means "competition". And "competetion" is dangerous, for it may frustrate the loser. Or so they said, back in the good old 80's.

But the Chinese didn't care about my personal bio and I suddenly found myself being transformed into an honorable judge.

And on campus, there was the marketing battle "Coca Cola vs. Pepsi". And when Christmas time was ahead, I felt like being in Las Vegas (cum grano salis) - all those blinking-twinkling Christmas trees and the windows decorated with Christmas stuff and university students dressed as Santa Claus'. A few days short to Christmas Eve, I was invited to an expat Christmas thing. Initially, I had hope to get away without Karaoke - but no way, boy. The host, an retired teacher from Kansas (?), handed the mike to me and I performed "Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer" (and "Jingle Bells", of course!) Yonkers!

I was taken aback. What was that all about? Dared I label the whole situation as "cultural imperialism"? (as one Chinese university teacher did) Hm. Then again, what the U.S. actually did was, they promoted themselves - and what is wrong with promoting the own country - and, on a related note, values like freedom and the pursuit of happiness? Did the Americans harm the feelings of the Chinese? Did they damage the Chinese culture? Hardly, I'd say.

Now, when I headed back to Germany, I was on the brink of Pro-americanism. I didn't see it coming, though. Otherwise, I would have cared for counter measures. What made me cross the Rubicon, was my exploration of the U.S. blogosphere. But I'll leave that to the next post.

part I, part III


Rayson said...

For some strange reason I feel obliged to post the next comment. Interesting story, and I just can't wait to read the next part(s). If only those f... commercial breaks in-between went away ;-)

Good luck for your blog efforts! Thank God that you eventually decided to go this way.

trouble said...

Fascinating read. I anxiously await Part III.

DocJones said...

Right, where is part III? Can't wait!

Is there a way to write personal messages to Marian? Have to ask something...

Marian said...

trouble & docjones,

thank you. Part 3? Hmmm...maybe on Saturday...

Btw, (one of my) email accounts is visible now. Feel free to check my profile (again).

Anonymous said...

Guten nacht! I used to live in Germany in 1997 - 1999. It was a nice time and I drank lots of Heffewiessen bier! Good blog!!!
America and Europe are both more similar in the world of ideas and ideals then we like to let on and should work together to save western civilization while there is still a chance of doing so.

Ymarsakar said...

Thomas Paine would have been in heaven had he known about the internet and the blogosphere and actually experienced it. Indeed, living in and as an American, it was only the blogosphere that broadened my horizons and allowed me to practice critical thinking. Which, along with reason, logic, and philosophy, opened up the pathways of the mind.

To frame it in an Eastern style, there are conduits of power in the mind as well as in the body, and it requires specific techniques to unlock them.

The core of American cultural and philosophical belief is buried deep deep in things that were once almost inaccessible before the blogosphere. Because we were limited to the legacy MSM media, just as Germans were.

Information could not be free, as it was meant to be. But now it is. And many lives have been changed.