Karaoke Night Insights

From KTV

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.


5 thoughts on “Karaoke Night Insights

  1. With all the talk about the booming economic growth in China, people often lose sight of the fact that it is still a developing country. Despite all of the business that goes on there, last time I checked even RUSSIA had a per capita income 2 1/2 times that of China.

  2. Here is how I would explain “white guilt” to foreigners (or Americans, for that matter). As sensitive a topic as race is in America, it is nowhere near as sensitive as class. Class is arguably our most sensitive issue in America — so sensitive, in fact, that people don’t want to even admit that it exists. We all admit that there has been racial inequality in America, but we are so enamored of the “anyone can work hard and succeed” mythos that we are loathe or even unwilling to admit that some, due to a background of poverty and ignorance, cannot succeed no matter how hard they work — regardless of race.

    In order to avoid facing the class issue, Americans just clump it willy-nilly with the race issue. Since rich “blacks” are relatively few and keep largely to themselves, and poor “whites” dominate largely in places like the WV-Kentucky border region or the High Plains where people from the coastal centers of power seldom if ever bother to travel (and thus exist unseen), this is a simple matter for most. “White guilt” is simply class guilt as expressed by a culture that is in complete denial of the role of social class in its society. It is something that virtually everyone affiliated with any university in China can relate to immediately, as virtually all of them come from privileged families, attending expensive colleges in a country where hundreds of millions can’t afford to attend school even to learn how to read.

    The underlying dynamic of “white guilt” is that it really does not exist at all — it is just class guilt denied. Were a major study to be conducted, I’m sure that guilt would be found aplenty among the rich “black” families like the Rices and the Powells (although at present they are not so vocal about it), and no guilt at all would be found among the illiterate “whites” living in tar shacks and beat-up old trailers in Appalacia who depend on public food assistance for their very survival, and can expect to have lost most of their teeth by age 65 (and can only speculate as to what a dentist’s or even a doctor’s office looks like).

    But I doubt any such study will be done soon. It’s better to beat the dead horse of racism than to face up to the fact that with the rising cost of living, declining minimum wage, and increasing numbers of people with no access to health care, millions of Americans work very hard and get nowhere in life — regardless of their skin color. But for all that, America is still light years ahead of China.

  3. White guilt is a class thing. But I feel less and less white guilt about people in America. When you see how worse off little girls in other countries are, knowing there were no options, it’s not really white guilt I feel so much as being-born-in-a-first-world-country guilt. It always strikes me as amazing that I somehow made the tiniest odds to be born in what I think it the greatest, wealthiest, free-est, most-powerful country in the world. And it’s not so much a feeling of guilt as a feeling of duty that I am not sure how to put into action. (Other than stealing a little rose-seller and taking her home.)

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