Last night, some teachers that I share a class with took our students out to karaoke to celebrate their entrance exams into the program. The karaoke joint, located in 1912, was as pretty as a high class hotel, with individual rooms and artistic fruit trays. The karaoke had American and Chinese songs, multiple microphones, and showed the music video alongside. Some of the girls in my class had amazing voices – Matt didn’t even realize one of them was singing; she sounded as good as a CD.
After, we grabbed some food with a couple of our older students, since the younger ones had curfew. They are both preparing for graduate school in the US. I love having dinner with Chinese people; I get such a different perspective. When we had lunch with members of the TV crew last weekend, we discovered the TV director was a member of the Communist Party. He and his friend, a younger woman, explained that it is easy to get into the Party if you are a university student, but difficult if you are a farmer or a member of the general public – what a transformation from the days when the students were forced into the countryside by Mao, with great loss of health and even life, in order to learn more from the peasants. The younger woman did not want to join the Party because there are some restrictions on Party members to do with travel, I think (we still have some language barrier), and she visits her family in Singapore often. They tried, with difficulty, to explain to us how leaders are chosen, given that the general population does not have the right to vote.
With our students today, we learned so much. As they’re headed for Detroit, they were interested to know whether the US was a safe place, speaking of crime. They told us what they thought when they saw the 9/11 attacks, and explained their understanding of the relationship between China and Taiwan and Hong Kong. But perhaps the most shocking thing they explain to us was an event that happened during dinner.
A little girl, maybe 4 years old, came to sell roses in the restaurant. She was quickly ushered out by the staff, but Matt wanted to buy a rose so I looked out the window for her. The students told us not to buy the flowers; the girls were in a kind of slavery. Their families, of little means and from poor areas, had been told by “leaders” that the children would be taken care of and fed well, taken to nicer places. Instead, they were forced to sell flowers, and only allowed to eat when they brought the money back to the old man leader. The girls looked so sad. Eventually Matt bought one. The Chinese student asked how much, and the girl said ten. Our student said how about three, and she returned with five. They eventually settled on 5 RMB. Imagine a four-year-old bargaining.
Different little girls kept sneaking in all night with flowers, continually ushered out by the restaurant staff. I think Joni’s right; I can’t imagine leaving the country without taking one of those girls home with me. I’m not sure how to work it, though; remember the scandal between France and Chad, children taken who still had parents? You can’t adopt without birth and death certificates; these girls come from places without such paperwork if the first place.
That’s when Matt explained the concept of “white guilt” to our students and they asked about racism between black, white, and Asian people in our country. Then we bought a song from two guitar singers, who had amazingly beautiful voices, and a table of Chinese people across from us bought us second song and gave us a toast.