Tuesday, June 9, 2009

the student becomes the teacher

This week and next week I am sitting in front of around 300 students individually for an oral exam. This will, in total, take about 32 hours of my life. Yesterday I made it through my first 5 hours. I have asked my students to choose one of five questions and prepare to talk about it with me for five minutes. Easy. My purpose is for them to express themselves rather than memorize and recite answers. So far the conversations have been interesting. The favorite question so far has been: What makes China so special? Sometimes at the end of their answer I'll say, "You forgot to say the food!" One girl named Nancy took the cue and started talking about her favorite foods. She was aghast to hear that my favorite dumpling filling is egg and tomato. She had never had it before and she couldn't get over it. "Egg... and tomato?!" This is a popular Chinese dish, but when it comes to dumplings most Chinese are pretty convential: pork and a vegetable. Nancy's favorite was pork and cabbage. Many of the students educated me about their favorite parts of Chinese history and culture, and I was glad to listen.

Some students chose to talk about how much they admire Chairman Mao Zedong, or Premier Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier during Mao's reign. One girl said she admired soldiers for their self-sacrificial attitudes.

"I have to tell you, Jon," Sunny said to me at the end of her exam," I have a boyfriend and he is a soldier. But this is a secret! You can't tell anyone!

"It's a secret that you have a boyfriend?" I asked her.

"No, it's a secret that he is a soldier!"

I have no idea why that would be a secret or why she would tell her teacher during an exam, but I was about 4 hours in at that point; so I didn't think about it too much.

One part of Chinese history I learned more about yesterday was from my friend, Jack, over dinner. He began to explain what the Nanjing Massacre in the winter of 1937 meant to him. What ensued was an hour-long conversation about hatred, revenge, and forgiveness. Jack couldn't find it in himself to forgive the Japanese for what they had done, to the point of a sense of hatred for all Japanese people. He kept saying that the Japanese government is in denial and that if they asked for forgiveness, he would forgive them. I implored him to ask our Father about this.

"If He says it's okay to hate them," I said, "then you can hate them. But don't hide this from Him."

He said I couldn't understand how he feels, that I'm not Chinese. He's right, and the things that were done to his people were terrible, absolutely unmentionable things, but when does forgiveness takes place? Does it depend on the other party's asking for it? If we use Our Father as an example, forgiveness is usually a preemptive strike... This is something we all have to deal with in our lives. Jack's not the only one.

If you don't know much about the Nanjing Massacre, I encourage you to learn about it. Some call it the "forgotten holocaust." But if you have a weak stomach, steer clear of the pictures or accounts of some of the things the Japanese did.

I'll see you in less than two weeks, America!


esther lee said...

I guess that answers my question.


the title sounds like a song

----------- Robert, the ...the ..whatever you think