Monday, April 30, 2012
Friday, April 27, 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
As you know, I am in the habit of reporting on remarkable students: Tony, Evan, Bailey, Tulip, Summer, and of course my Cookie Cutter Girls: Dash, Zhanni and Lilly have all been featured in this blog at one point in time or another. These are kids who, through their sunny disposition and massive intellect have caught my attention.
Tina and Georgina are not at all like them.
These two girls are insolent, rude, disrespectful, impertinent and negligent. They alone make me dread Fridays, when once again they will prance into class – or not, depending on their mood; not participate, argue with me and generally disrupt the class.
I had these two in my class last year and was floored by their attitude. At that time, Tina was my class monitor, somewhat akin to a teacher/admin/student body liaison person. Class Monitors are to assist the teacher when needed, such as erasing the board or making sure the classroom has chalk. If there is a media center that is not working the class monitor is supposed to contact maintenance and assist the maintenance tech or the IT tech in getting it running again. If there is an announcement to be made, it is filtered to the class monitor, who delivers it to the students.
Being a class monitor is a serious duty, requiring a lot of time, energy and effort. The best students vie for this position because it looks really good on the resume. And only the best of the best are chosen. I was surprised that Tina was seen fit to be given the position.
Last year, as my class monitor, I called on her several times to assist me. One time in particular I needed a textbook, and none of the students had brought one. Understandable, because I do not teach from a book. However, in this instance a student had emailed me a question regarding a text in the book. Logically, and, as I should have, I asked Tina to go get a book. She replied, without getting up: “Why me?” “Because you are the class monitor” I spluttered, shocked at her defiance.
And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is Tina at her finest. Now, allow me to present Georgina.
I believe this girl is only in school because her parents want her to have a college degree. From what I can gather of her she couldn’t care less whether universities exist at all, or whether our university in particular burned to the ground with all students, faculty and administrators perishing in the blaze. She is an impudent piece of work who seldom participates in activities, only shows up to class for the attendance grade and, while in class spends the entire time on her cellphone, doing who knows what.
I recall my own student days, way back in time when we had to bring our own hammer and chisel to class, and the school provided the stone tablets. We had a teacher who got so angry at one of the boys in my class that she took his fountain pen and threw it against the back wall, where it shattered and spewed ink everywhere . His ring binder, books and book bag followed in short order. I was terrified. Especially because I sat in the back row, and all of the things flung to the back wall bounced off and hit me. I still cannot fathom what that boy was doing to make the teacher so angry, but I recall her actions now, with Tina and Georgina occupying the back seats in my class. I would like to snatch Georgina’s cellphone out of her hand, dash it against an opposite wall and grind what is left of it under the heel of my boot. Maybe that would get her attention.
By the way: I still remember the boy’s name in my class that had so angered my teacher. He was Michael Guether, a large, hulking boy with a pasty complexion and a surly disposition. If he weren’t my age I would see fit to introduce him to Georgina.
I was relieved the first half of this year at finding Victor was cursed with these two in his class. That relief was short lived as I am now cursed with them.
The first day of the semester they did not bother to show up for class. I breathed a sigh of relief: maybe they decided they were too good to come to school and just dropped out of college altogether. A girl can hope, can’t she? But then I noticed about 8 other girls didn’t show up either. My joy was short lived. The second week they paraded in about 15 minutes late with no excuse or apology, their retinue in tow. Of course, they are getting docked for their time, but they added to the aggravation because I had to get them caught up on what we were doing.
Victor has a way of dealing with such students: he ignores them. I daresay other teachers use that methodology too. I cannot adopt those same tactics. I feel if these girls are in my class it is my duty to engage them, not just give them an attendance grade and let them do what they want. If they do not participate I feel I should encourage them to leave the class, and penalize them for lack of attendance as well as no participation. Why should they get a grade for just showing up, when they don’t do anything?
This past Friday the class and I were setting up for an activity that would span 2 weeks’ sessions. The little so-and-so’s showed up late – again! Come time for them to choose the role they were going to play in the second part of the activity next week, Tina declared she didn’t want to do it that way. She wanted to participate on her own terms. Georgina held up a pack of tissues and ran for the bathroom, thereby avoiding being selected for a part in the role play activity.
I know what I should have done. I should have told Tina that we are not going to do the activity her way and she would not be exempt from doing it the way all the other students were going to do it. And then I should have cornered Georgina upon her return to class (2 minutes before the bell dismissed them) to assign her a part in the exercise.
I did not do any of that. I was too shocked at Tina’s insolence and Georgina’s sneakiness.
The sad thing is that I have some really great students in that class who actually enjoy the things I plan for them and participate wholeheartedly. Those two cast such a pall on the rest of the class that, when they do show up to class everyone else just kind of shuts down. It is not right or fair that these two should rob everyone of their joy of learning. I am just going to have to psyche myself up and be ready for them the next instance of insolence or rebellion they show.
It is not me who is looking for a boyfriend. That cry resounds all over campus, especially from the older students who remain unattached. Of late, my favorite Cookie Cutter girl, Zhanny only ever talks about all things boyfriend: how to get a boyfriend, a longing for a boyfriend and wondering why she doesn’t yet have a boyfriend.
Quite frankly I’ve wondered about that too. This girl is flat out gorgeous – remember: she is the one who resembles a young Audrey Hepburn, and she is smart, sailing through her classes with high marks. She has never had a boyfriend, although she has fallen for a boy who already has a girlfriend.
When I first came here two years ago many of the kids were unattached and wanted to remain that way, as instructed by their parents. Public displays of affection around campus were few and far between. It was shocking to find the occasional couple holding hands while strolling around. At the time I found that rather surprising, seeing as college is the time when kids start breaking from tradition. That was my first taste of exactly how deeply rooted tradition is in this culture.
Nowadays, freshmen are falling in ‘love’ and pairing up just about as soon as they get here. They are not shy about flaunting their status as a couple, either: nestling on park benches, necking, walking hand in hand and arm in arm, even wearing each other’s clothes to the extent that fashion and gender tailored wardrobes permit. The sophomores are doing their best to catch up, although they are being more conservative in their parings-off and manifestations. Some of the juniors, Zhanny and Dash included are left out in the cold.
Why don’t these lovely, smart young women have boyfriends? They are in college, away from home and surrounded by males suffering from testosterone overload. I decided to find out.
HOW DOES ONE GET A BOYFRIEND?
The courtship dance is much more involved in China than it is in the Western world. Over here, a girl cannot (or should not) simply approach a boy and ask him out. Neither is it acceptable for a girl’s friend to approach a boy on her behalf, as would be common in the States. Here, girls are expected to remain passive and wait for the boys’ approach. They do have the right to accept or reject an offer.
It is not common for a boy to approach a girl while she is with her friends. Such approaches are made one-on-one. That puts the boys in somewhat of a conundrum because, generally, the girls travel in gaggles, or at least in pairs. Once a boy does manage to approach a girl it is generally with a harmless invitation, such as a walk after dinner, a game of badminton or maybe to study together (if they are classmates).
Another challenge the boys face is that a lot of these girls are shy to the point of being unapproachable. They wouldn’t yell ‘fire’ if their hair was ablaze and they would simply die of mortification if they were seen in any way other than beautiful, haunting and unattainable. This model of womanhood is ages old here, and pounded into these girls from day one of cognizance. To walk around holding hands with a boy or even be seen in the company of a male would guarantee they would shrivel up and blow away from shame.
This phenomenon goes so far as to include the boys in my sophomore class. Recently we did an activity in which the kids mingled about the room, asking each other questions I had prepared in advance. Harmless, innocent questions that had nothing to do with love or lust, in case your were wondering. My two male students were left talking with each other while the girls bounced from crowd to crowd, chattering away. When I encouraged a few girls to go speak with the boys, they blushed furiously and squealed “No! I’m too shy!”
Remember Evan, from speech competitions? He and Jeremy had to be prodded and led by the arm to a group of girls. Even then they stammered and stuttered out their questions until they got into the spirit of the game. After a few minutes they got much more animated, but I did notice they stayed with the same group of girls for the entire activity.
Interesting to note that, when I conducted the same activity in both my freshman classes, the girls did not have a problem engaging the boys, and the boys had no problems approaching the girls. In fact, any activity I’ve assigned my freshmen, neither gender had a problem approaching or working with the other. Some girls even prefer working with their male classmates.
We’re talking about a one-year difference in age. Why are the freshmen so liberal while the sophomores are so much more grounded in tradition?
Traditionally, relationships are arranged. The whole family gets in on the act, arranging meeting after meeting and pairing after pairing until all parties, including boy and girl are satisfied with the match. Youths do not bounce from person to person, dating, sampling, ‘hooking up’ or gaining experience. Generally a person has only one or two relationships in their lifetime. They usually marry the first lover they have. It is very uncommon to have had more than one lover before marriage. I’m not saying that many are virgins when they marry (as was the case a mere twenty years ago) but they are certainly not wildly experienced in love or relationships.
That’s rather refreshing, isn’t it?
Now that so many more people have access to extra-familial experiences – college, work or living with relatives other than parents, and far away from home, the introduction method still prevails.
It would be acceptable for Dash to introduce Zhanny to a relative or someone from her village, for example. Or, I could introduce her to a student in another class. Or, a male relative who is studying at a different college in Wuhan could introduce her to a roommate. The important factor seems to be that introductions must be made.
Bottom line: one cannot just walk up to someone who is unknown or unrelated and strike up a conversation. Meeting someone on a bus or while out shopping is completely out of the question, no matter how the pulses race. The whole Western ideal of love at first sight or ‘eyes meeting from across the room’ is virtually impossible in this exceedingly traditional society.
Makes you wonder how anyone ever manages to find a mate and actually move into the marriage stage, doesn’t it?
Chinese law decrees that males are eligible for marriage at 22 and females may marry at or after age 20. This is to ensure that people will complete their education and at least get started on a career. Before a girl’s family will consent to a marriage the boy must prove that he at least has an apartment and a job that pays enough to support a family. If he has a car, all the better.
It is of paramount importance for all parents – the bride’s and the groom’s to agree to the match. If, for whatever reason one set of parents is displeased with the match, most likely the marriage will not take place. There are exceptions to that, though. For example: Sam was introduced to Penny by his orthodontist. His parents did not think too much of her but noted how devoted the young couple was to each other, so they let the marriage take place. Penny’s mother was satisfied with the match. Usually, if the girl’s parents are displeased no amount of swaying, begging, pleading or convincing by either party will change their mind.
Upon marriage a woman does not take her husband’s name. The child of that union will take her father’s name, especially if that child is male.
If a woman is not married by age 30, she is generally considered unmarriageable and will remain single for the rest of her life. A divorced woman stands little chance at remarriage, no matter what age. If a man is unmarried by that age he is under constant pressure to do so. Gary, at 32, routinely fends off his relatives, pleading business concerns and a recently broken heart. Being as his business is doing so much to support the family financially his marital status is excused but the family tortures him at every occasion nonetheless.
Daisy, one of my colleagues (See Daisy, Helen, Hellen and Mouse entry posted June of last year) is unattached and 28 years old. She badly wants a boyfriend and would love to get married. Her family is going to great lengths to ‘make an honest woman out of her’. She had a boyfriend earlier this year, introduced to her by another colleague but it didn’t play out. She wants me to introduce her to Gary. I thought about it but decided it wouldn’t be wise on my part. What if it didn’t work out?
I cannot comment on the role of sex in relationships because talking about sex is not done openly here, as it is in the States. I can attest that sex happens and, as I am given to understand it does not play the same role in the relationship as it does in the west. Here, relationships seem built more on the idea of companionship.
One could describe China’s love, dating, courtship and marriage rituals as archaic as best. Imagine love in the ‘40’s in America, add a double dose of tradition and you’ll have the way things go around here.
As I write this entry I keep thinking of more things to talk about, but I’m already running a bit long. So, in parting I will talk about Martin, a sophomore who lives with his girlfriend off campus, without his parents’ knowledge. And Tony, who has a lovely young woman named Joanna to share life with, but they live in their dormitories and do not put on public displays of affection. Nor to they do everything together or make each other the center of their lives. There’s Stephanie, whose boyfriend had a previous lover. She cannot stand the idea that he is not a virgin and is considering breaking up with him because of it.
Love, sex, marriage, tradition… what a salad! What is going to change? What will prevail? Things are changing so fast I can’t begin to tell you. I will wager that Zhanni will ask about boyfriends again next time I see her.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
In America, my son Darrell and beloved Samantha await the arrival of their little bundle of joy, scheduled for early next month. In China, Chris and Julia, both teachers at this school and good friends of mine also anticipate the coming of their child. I am caught in the middle: In body with my Chinese friends and in spirit with my son.
The Great Baby Race is ON! Who will make it to the delivery room first?
Sam’s due date it the 11th of April, as is Julia’s. If I were a betting woman I’d bet on Julia. Not that I have anything against Sam’s ability to labor or Baby Ben’s desire to enter the world, but only because I know how each of these countries handle the birthing process.
Sam and Darrell will most likely welcome Ben in a birthing suite, using natural methods. Julia will be scheduled for a C-section. Chris will not be present in the operating theater. Believe it or not, more than 70% of the women in China deliver under anesthesia. According to Sam (the Chinese one, not the one who is currently incubating my newest grandchild) it is because they choose that method, but I’ve also read that most obstetricians choose it for their patients due to hygiene concerns and possible infections. Also, the doctor can make more money performing a C-section than assisting in a natural birth.
And here I was wondering how Chinese women stay so slim-hipped!
After delivery, Darrell, Sam and Baby will spend a total of one night in the hospital. Just long enough to make sure mother and child are healthy and well. Julia will spend a week to 10 days in the hospital recovering from surgery. She will not be allowed to handle her baby during that time as it might prove too stressful on her incision.
Darrell and Sam will have insurance and payment information paperwork to deal with prior to hospital admittance. Chris and Julia will not be allowed to leave the hospital unless their bill is paid. That would be about 8,000Yuan IF it is a simple procedure with no complications.
Once home, Darrell and Sam will go out of their way to make sure their baby has a sanitary environment. They’ve already banned Zeva, Kitty and Marley, their furry children from the nursery. They have plenty of hand sanitizer around and plenty of soap and lotion to keep their hands clean and soft. Any and all relatives will have to be disease free and wash their hands before holding Little Ben.
Chris and Julia, six months proud owners of a brand new apartment in the same complex I live in, have yet to move in. The smells and toxins of the new building might prove too harmful for Baby. They are still living in their 5th floor walkup over Snack Street (see Strange Superstitions, Odd Suppositions entry, posted December 2011) Whether they will take possession of their new apartment once the baby arrives is not known. If the fumes are too toxic during pregnancy, there is no telling at what point they will be safe for Mom and Baby.
Sam will not doubt want a shower as soon as she gets home. She is a beautiful girl, meticulous about her grooming. She likes to be clean and feel good. She glories in her healthy head of hair (she has BEAUTIFUL hair!).
Julia will not be allowed to wash her hair for one month after delivering. It is said/thought that the head is the ‘entry point’ of the Qi (pronounced ‘tchee’), the life force that animates us all. To wash a woman’s head that just gave birth could incur a possible disruption of the Qi, causing all manner of infirmity or imbalance.
Sam has the option to breastfeed or not. Quite frankly, I’m not sure which she chooses. Julia’s only choice will be between the left and right breasts for the first 3 months of her baby’s life. There is no formula geared toward newborns however, there are formulas available for babies 3 months old and up – traditionally the time mothers return to work.
At 3 months old Sam and Darrell may introduce cereal into Baby Ben’s diet, if he is a particularly sturdy, hungry baby. Shortly after that, they can give him some pureed fruit. By the time Chris and Julia’s baby is three months old he or she will have already tasted soft boiled eggs, mashed fruits, potatoes, rice porridge and will be starting on vegetables. There is no such thing as prepared baby food here. Babies eat what people with fully developed digestive systems eat, just in softer form and no spices added.
At one month old, the fine down on Baby Ben’s head will just be falling out, making way for that ultra smooth silk babies’ heads naturally sprout. At that same anniversary, Chris and Julia will welcome all of the relations on both sides of the family to ritually shave their baby’s head. That ritual, done for luck and blessings will be the first access the extended family has to that baby. Over here, there is no such thing as a stampede of friends and family coming to call for the first month of baby’s life.
Sam and Darrell have long known they are welcoming a son. They have decorated their nursery accordingly and have chosen a name that is unique within both families, yet honors both sides. Chris and Julia are forbidden by law from knowing the sex of their child in order to prevent a gender-preference decision to abort. Traditionally the oldest relative from either side of the family will name the child. More recently parents have lifted that particular corner of the tradition veil, choosing to name the child themselves. More often than not, Chinese babies are nameless for the first few days of their lives, sometimes up to that first month when relatives come to call.
Sam and Darrell have enjoyed a baby shower or two. Thank you to everyone who has plied my son’s family with gifts, especially if that gift is diapers – one of the most costly aspects of having a new baby around. Chris and Julia will not have to worry about that cost. Pretty much from birth on the baby starts his/her potty training, as described in More Chinese Idiosyncrasies entry, posted December 2010.
Another cost Chris and Julia will not suffer is daycare. Once maternity leave is over, either Julia’s or Chris’ mother will move in and take over childcare. The new parents’ only cost will be supporting their parent. In some cases the baby is taken to the grandparents’ home, sometimes as far as two hours away, meaning the new parents only get to see their baby on occasion: if they travel or the custodial grandparent travels. Darrell and Sam will have childcare costs to worry about when Ben turns about 6 months old. Sam’s paid maternity leave ends after twelve weeks. Darrell is entitled to paid paternity leave. He plans on taking his leave after Sam has exhausted her entitlement, thus extending Ben’s time in his home environment.
Chris and Julia are also entitled to parental leave, but theirs is not a paid leave. The longer they stay gone, the less their annual salary. With childcare so handy and them living so close to the school, Julia may well return to work after that initial month and just take advantage of ‘milk leave’. That strange but aptly named leave is the extra hour a day of paid time a new mother in China is entitled to stay at home from work to feed her baby. For obvious reasons, Chris is not entitled to ‘milk leave’.
And so the Great Baby Race is on! Who will deliver first? Whose baby will have more advantages? Whose baby will… pardon the pun… come out ahead???
Please forgive me for that last. I blame it on New Grandmother Fever.