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April 2005

Wednesdays are bad days for me, because not only do I have my psycho-kindergarten classes, but I also have my C12 class.  This class has only four people who spend most of the time talking to each other in Chinese.  Seven weeks ago, on the first day of class, they had asked me where I was from.  I said Ohio, which resulted in a flurry of Chinese.  “What?”  I asked.  “Have you heard of Ohio?”

 “Yes.  Our previous teacher was from Ohio and he was annoying.”  They said this with the implication that I too would be annoying, coming from that same state.

 “What was his name?”


 “Really?  I’m living in Craig’s old apartment.”  Which I shouldn’t have said, because somehow it cemented their belief that I was also going to be annoying, coming from the same state and living in the same apartment.  Anyway, as far as self-fulfilling prophesies go, they don’t seem to like me and I don’t really like any of them.  Getting them to speak English is like pulling teeth.

 This Wednesday’s topic was crime.  I taught them vocabulary words associated with crimes, attempted to have a discussion about which crimes were the worst, which wasn’t very successful.  Finally, I gave them an assignment to create the “perfect crime.”  After about 5 minutes, they had to describe what crime they would commit.  “Pearl, what’s your perfect crime?”

 “I’m going to kill Craig, my former English teacher.  I’m going to break into his apartment at night and feed sleeping pills to his girlfriend.  I’m going to beat him with a stick and tie a rope around his neck and he can’t breathe.”

 “Um, ok.  Alice, what’s your perfect crime?”

 “I will also kill Craig.  I will take a rope and kill him.  I will put him on a chair and tie the rope to the top so it will look like suicide.”

 “Why don’t you two like Craig?”

 “He would insult China.  He hated China.”

 “Really?  Then why was he here?”

 “We don’t know!  He even had a Chinese girlfriend.  But he always insulted China.”

 “Ok.  Grace, what’s your perfect crime?”

 “I’m going to steal from Craig.  I will invite him to lunch, and then I will tell him to wash his hands.  He will go to wash his hands and I will steal his money.”

 “You’re not going to kill him?”

 “No, Alice and Pearl will do it after I take his money.”

 “Right.  Spike?  Are you also going to do something to Craig?”

 “No, he wasn’t my teacher.  I’m going to break into the White House and steal all of George Bush’s money so he can’t police the world anymore.”

 In my adult class on Wednesday night, our topic was the Olympics, which China will host in 2008.  They said their favorite Olympic sport was ping-pong.  I asked if there were any additional sports they thought should be added.  My student named Robert De Niro said they should add Chinese Kung Fu.  Kelly said they can’t because it is too dangerous and too difficult to score.  Robert De Niro countered, “No, it is easy.  Whoever is left alive is the winner!”  He continued with a conspiracy theory, “They won’t let Kung Fu in the Olympics because they know China will win, just like we win ping pong.” 

 On Thursday night, we went out with a bunch of the foreign teachers and an assortment of Chinese students and friends.  I was talking with Candy, who is in her last year at the university, majoring in tourism.  “Have you heard about the protests?”  she asked.  “I listen to the Voice of America on the radio, and people are protesting against Japan in Shanghai and Beijing.”  (The protests were not reported in Chinese news supposedly for fear of causing more unrest.)

 “Yeah, I read about that on the internet.  They are angry about the history books?”

 “Yes, the Japanese are changing history.  They do not apologize for what they have done to us.  Germany has the right attitude.  They admitted to their crimes after the war, and apologized.  Japan has not.  You know the president?  He even visits the shrine of the Japanese war criminals every year!  How can he do that to us?”  She got interrupted by a cell phone call, and then she continued.  “We wanted to protest here at the university, but our teachers said no.  But we are boycotting Japanese products.  Except,” she giggles, ashamed, “I will not throw away the Japanese things I already own, like my cell phone and camera.  But I will not buy any more.  But my friends are mad at me.  They say if I use Japanese things, I will hear the blood of my ancestors crying out.  You know they used Chinese and Korean women as ‘comfort women’.  Do you know ‘comfort women’?”  I nodded.

 Later that evening, I met a guy from Japan who was in Dalian studying Chinese at the university.  He brought up the protests, and I asked if he had experienced any problems.  “You know, China is mad at Japan, because they don’t want us to have a seat on the UN security council.  But it is ok up here.  The people are good and so I have had no problems.  But it is more dangerous in Shanghai.  Two Japanese students were beaten there, and the embassy was attacked.” Japan was by then demanding apologies from China, which was a bit ironic considering Japan hasn’t apologized for atrocities committed during its 15-year occupation of China, while all the Chinese did was break some glass at the Japanese embassy in Shanghai. 

 However, the significance of mass protests, in a country that doesn’t really allow protest, should not be underestimated.  For the Chinese government to not prevent these protests is the same as encouraging them.  And although the Chinese anger at Japan is undoubtedly real, perhaps some of the people are protesting this simply because it is the one thing they are allowed to protest.  Furthermore, China has rewritten its own share of history.  As Norimitsu Onishi pointed out in a New York Times article, “China's textbooks teach that Chinese resistance, not the United States, defeated Japan in the war; they say nothing of the postwar Great Leap Forward, in which some 30 million Chinese died because of Mao Zedong's misguided agrarian policies.”

 In my adult class on Friday night, I brought a map into the class, and explained that our topic was travel.  I gave each of them an around-the-world ticket good for five stops and they had to choose which countries to go to.  Most of them went to Australia, Egypt, and some European countries.  A few went to the U.S. and  South Africa.  No one went to Japan except Robert De Niro.  “And then, after I go to New York, I will 911 Tokyo.”

 “What?”  I asked.

 “I will 911 Tokyo.  I will fly planes into Tokyo buildings.”

 “Then you will be dead!” the class exclaimed.

 “No! I won’t die.”  He reconsidered, “Maybe I can drop another nuclear bomb on Japan.”

  On Saturday, I did another unit on crime with my C10 class, which has about nine middle school students in it.  Curious to see what would happen, I also assigned them the task of imagining a perfect crime to commit.  Jim and Simon presented their crime first.  They were going to murder Peter, another kid in the class (Peter didn’t seem the least bit disturbed by this), using a complex karaoke-related alibi.  Ann and Kelly had developed a complicated plot involving 10 bombers and a submarine to attack Japan, because they didn’t want Japan to have a seat on the UN Security Council.  When it was Peter’s turn, he also had a plan to attack Tokyo.

 Over the weekend, the protests and vandalism of Japanese restaurants and businesses spread to more cities, including Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning Province, where Dalian is located.   But class on Monday was about careers and dream jobs, and my adult students just wanted to be successful business men and women, doctors, and teachers. Robert De Niro wanted to be the head of the Chinese Film Bureau.

click here to read the NYT article by NORIMITSU ONISHI referenced in this e-mail

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