Fame

From Tai Xing

Two weekends ago we went to Tai Xing to teach at a small middle school. The purpose was to give a demonstration for a company’s winter English camp. For us, it was a paid excursion to a new town to see rural China.

Tai Xing, a 2 hour bus ride and a 45 minute car ride north, is considered a small town by Chinese standards. The “small” middle school was a complex of three new multistory buildings housing 70 classes of 61 students each. Hordes of students gathered at the windows yelling, “Hello!” as we walked toward the canteen, where we feasted on warm almond milk, hard-boiled eggs, and the local specialty, “yellow bridge cake” under a cheery “Prevent Poisoning Practice Hygiene” sign painted on the wall.

While we waited in the glass-walled office for our assignments, little twelve-year-old faces pressed up against the glass to watch us, like the nocturnal mammal exhibits at the zoo. As we went into the classroom, eyes were glued on us like we were movie stars. During break, children ran up and shoved notebooks into our faces for our autographs – we were pinned to the blackboards by 61 starry-eyed, eager Chinese preteens. Even the teacher asked for our autograph, which the students thought was a riot!

We taught about Halloween (many of Matt’s students are planning on being the Monkey KingMonkey King next Halloween) and body parts with Simon Says and the “head-shoulders-knees-and-toes” song. Simon Says was a the highlight of the lesson with collective “Ooohs!” ringing throughout the hallways when people made mistakes. For all interested locals, Matt is planning on starting a Simon Says club.

People in the suburbs rarely see foreigners, so they are even more hospitable than the Nanjing ren (Nanjing locals). One older man let us take a picture with his bicycle-truck. Their transportation forms were more varied out here, as well. Like in Nanjing, they have found amazing ways to transform bikes and mopeds into vehicles for different uses: pick-up truck style bicycles for carryings things and carriage- cycles for moving people. They also had three-wheeled minivans, and a kind of tractor-truck with its innards on the outside.

From Tai Xing

We were sold on the trip by a promise to see “rural China.” While we did take a short walk along a muddy family farm, China’s economic success is extraordinarily apparent in the brand-new development. New residences to match the new school were built alongside the brick and white-clay houses of the vegetable farm, a stark contrast.

A nice trip, but it’s good to be back in Nanjing, where the weather is warmer and drier, the sky bluer, and real coffee nearby.

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6 thoughts on “Fame

  1. it’s so fun to hear that you guys are being treated like celebrities. No wonder white people feel superior over other races even subconsciously. I’m sure if I were there, I probably won’t get the same treatment. Maybe if I start making out with Adrienne in front of them….. I find it interesting that a rural middle school has a flat screen TV. Not even urban middle schools here in the US have TV screens, if at all. But wow, 60+ students in a classroom? That’s absurd. And why did you spell “Favorite” as “Favourite”?

  2. I had the SAME EXACT experience while teaching English in rural Thailand for a week in college- it was MADNESS! At first, my friend and I thought they were joking when the teachers told us we’d have to be escorted around the campus because students would be too excited- but sure enough, as soon as we’d finish a lesson in a classroom, students would pile up in hordes around us to get autographs- I even signed multiple Harry Potter books, for the simple reason that I am WHITE! Oh, and the pictures…SO many picture requests, and people wanting to touch our skin and hair….at first it was flattering, but after awhile, honestly, I started to understand why celebrities can turn into such assholes around fans….crazy….and no, Dave, they probably would not react the same way to you, simply because you look more like them than the moviestars they see on TV in on screen….

    I agree that it is insane…but imagine if the US was almost entirely made up of people with blond hair and blue eyes, but all of the people we watched on TV had black hair and darker skin…we might react differently if we actually saw one of them on our streets, treating them as if they were the celebrities we see on TV….just a thought 🙂

  3. Actually, Dave, in this article I read in a local English/Chinese paper, one guy was American-Laotian, and he said the taxi drivers would try to guess what his ethnicity was. When he said Laotian, the drivers were full of advice on how Laos can learn from China’s economic prosperity, but when would only insist on answering “American” the driver’s tried to pick his brain on how to make China’s economy (and their own wallets) grow. What a difference perspective makes!

    But in Nanjing, Koreans are common – we have several Korean restaurants, and our school has a program for students going abroad to Korea with classes taught in Korean. I think our friend Craig said that after Japanese, Koreans are the most common foreigners in China. But our local friend Haining, when we were petting a couple’s dog yesterday, said, “They’re Korean. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t know what they were saying” at first, which I thought was funny.

    PS, if you are near Atlanta any time soon, Jen tells me the terracotta warriors are coming to visit! It will be much more fun to see them in the orderly US than in crazy China, where you can’t get close and you have to use your elbows. http://www.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/2008-11-19-atlanta-chinese-warriors-exhibit_N.htm

  4. I think they would still be amazed at you Dave once they found out you were American, but the experience would be different. It would be like the difference between seeing Brad Pitt, and finding out that someone walking by is a Hollywood talent scout who had made the careers of several major actors such as Brad Pitt. Obviously, people would be excited about the presence of such a powerful figure in Hollywood, but unlike Brad Pitt, the mere sight of him would not cause a commotion.

    I read a book once about an Asian-looking American sociologist who worked in a factory in Japan while researching the book “office ladies, factory women.” All of her co-workers were excited about having an American in their factory, and made a big deal about her after work, asking her all kinds of questions about America, etc.. But at work, and whenever they were together in large groups she felt that because of her physical appearance, people sometimes forgot about her and acted as if she wasn’t there — and people visiting the factory did not notice her presence at all. She felt (correctly I think) that this gave her a vantage point on everyday life in the factory unattainable had she been more obviously foreign-looking, despite the fact that for people in the know (especially in small-group contexts), her foreignness was frequently made a fuss of.

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