Sunday, November 21, 2010

Banana Meets Sex

Before you get up in arms about this, I will tell you that this is not an entry about porn. I have a student whose English name is Banana, and I am very concerned about her.

When the semester started, Banana and her cohorts, Edith and Claudia were regular attendees and participants in class. They got there on time, minded the lesson and did everything they could to participate. Then, one day, I saw Banana outside the classroom. I did not recognize her! Such a shocking transformation…

This young girl was wearing a low cut blouse that revealed a lot of cleavage, a short, tight mini skirt, towering high heels and enough makeup to repair the façade of the Chrysler building: cat’s eye eyeliner, pale foundation and ‘come on’ ruby red lipstick. Her hair was teased up in a fashion much too mature for her young face. The ensemble was completed by… yes, a beaded purse that swung casually from her wrist.

Where could my student, who is not more than 20 years old, be going in that get up?

I would be incredibly naïve to declare that I am unaware that teenagers and young adults explore their sexual nature. While certainly Chinese girls are a bit more modest and clearly not as aggressive sexually as American girls – or Western girls in general, I have to admit some Chinese girls are giving Western girls a run for their money in that department.

As the semester wore on I started noticing other girls that had every indication that sex had become their favorite pastime. Delta had hickeys all over her neck and Kara withdrew from class activities and spent more time looking at her cell phone than at the board. Jennifer simply quit coming to class after showing up one day, reeking of alcohol. No notes from the office explaining why Jennifer is missing class, and her fellow students are not talking about her either.

From watching Chinese movies and talking with my Chinese friends I know that there are hotels that rent rooms by the hour. What I didn’t know is that our neighborhood is rife with just such hotels. I found out just how prevalent those hotels are while walking with Lavender one evening. She had come over to cook dinner with me, and after enjoying a sumptuous, 4-course meal we decided to go walk some of it off with a stroll through the neighborhood. Up one street and down the other, there was a hotel, and a restaurant. A hotel and a restaurant. The further we got into the neighborhood, the more hotels there were and the fewer restaurants.

I actually did not know they were hotels. They are not advertised as such. I just saw doors that were wide open, and a bed, visible in the foyer. I had to ask Lavender what those were all about: surely no self-respecting family would put a bed right there, by the front door that hangs wide open!

Lavender told me that the bed was actually advertisement that the establishment was a hotel offering rooms by the hour. OK, so maybe I am a bit naïve. College campus, kids with money to spend, far from home for the first time and away from their parents’ watchful eye, hotels immediately available… I should have figured.

While the light of understanding dawned in my innocent head, Lo and Behold: here comes one of my students, Delta – she of the hickeys, hand in hand with a boy. It just so happens we were in a particularly remote alley, 4 or 5 removed from where all of the food vendor stalls are. It looked like she did not want to go: dragging her heels and pulling her hand back. So caught up in her drama was she that she did not notice Lavender and I, or maybe she didn’t expect to see her English teacher down this particular alley. When she did look up, an expression of shock crossed her face. What could I do but say “Hi Delta!” and keep on going?

Delta stopped in her tracks, which caused the boy who was dragging (?) her to stop and turn to her. Delta hung her head and, out of the corner of my eye I saw her push against the boy’s chest. Whatever might be transpiring between them, her body language and actions clearly said she wanted no part in it. Whether she turned around and left the boy or finally went with him I do not know.

I am concerned about these girls, but is there a call for action on my part? Normally I would say yes, but this time I hesitate. For one, there is the language barrier. How could we have a decent conversation about unprotected sex or the virtues of abstaining when I don’t speak enough Chinese to be clearly understood, and they don’t understand enough English for me to get my point across?

Another reason I’m hesitant to launch into a lecture on morality is culture. The tide is changing so rapidly in China, and every self-respecting boy and girl wants to ride that wave. While the wave is not exactly ‘Be as Promiscuous as Possible”, there certainly is an indication that there is as much a feeling of ‘The Love Generation’ here as there was in the ‘60s in America. In the face of such a wave, one gets out of the way or drowns. Another aspect of the differing culture mores is that, while sex can be openly discussed in America, in China that is still not the case… not matter how these kids carry on. And certainly, no discussion would be held with a foreign, unmarried teacher.

Am I a coward, or sensible? Good question, and I think the answer is: ‘A little bit of both’. In America, I might chance a discussion, something to the effect of “What’s going on? It is affecting your grades. I can see you have changed in the past two months…” and go from there. Here, I do not have much of a relationship with these kids. I do care about them, but my responsibility to them ends when the class session is over.

Or does it?

Recently there was an article in China Daily about more and more women being infertile. A lot of that can be attributed to abortions which are not only legal here, but commonly practiced. Another disturbing article I read was about the growing acceptance of unwed mothers and teenaged pregnancies. Finally, the number of people testing HIV positive in China has skyrocketed in the past 5 years. Very disturbing trends. Could I be doing something to help stem this tide? Should I? Would my efforts have any impact?

Banana recently showed up to class late, wearing a blond wig and her ‘street’ get up. Delta cut off her beautiful long hair and now sports a bowl cut – the better to show off her neck markings. Kara has withdrawn even more. I haven’t seen Jennifer in weeks. It makes me wince to think of what these young girls are doing to themselves and their future.

What should I do?

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