Culture Clash (or Happy to Heavy)

* Activity Being Procrastinated: the story I wasn’t going to put into The Novel but have now decided needs to be in there
* Music In My Head: Brakeman’s Daughter – David Francey
* Tea: mojito herbal tea (mint and lime… without the good stuff)
* Books Being Read: Catcher in the Rye, Treasure Island, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

It’s Daylight Savings time!  This means I get an extra hour of sleep every night: China doesn’t have Daylight Savings so my classes don’t start until 6 a.m. now.  Somehow, getting up at 5:30 a.m. seems like a luxury – certainly, 4:30 a.m. was slowly killing me.

It’s also March Break in Ontario, so I don’t have too many students in the evening.  Slow weeks are a good time to get caught up on sleep and other mundane things.  I’m usually in a really good mood this time of the year: the extra sleep, the decent weather, the extraordinary amount of reading I get to do when my students leave me alone.  But this week has been a culture clash, and it’s left me with a headache.  (Blame it on Marshall McLuhan and his bloody Global Village.)  Chinese students aren’t encouraged to read the newspaper: current events are only current, so they don’t have any bearing on exams and choice universities.  Huh.  Not in my world, damn it.  I make my students read the English Chinese newspapers online.  My students will not grow up to be limited and dull.  I demand thinking, not parroting.

You can tell – foreshadowing, irony, divine justice, etc. – that this attitude of mine must necessarily backfire.

“What did you do today?” I asked them on Monday.  “Did you read anything about what’s happening in Japan?”

“Yep,” said a boy who isn’t known for saying much.  “And I wrote a composition about it.”

“Awesome!  What did you write.”

“I wrote that I was happy about this happening to the Japanese people because of what they did to China in WWII, and I want them all to die.”

Stunned silence.

“And what did your teacher say about that?”

“She gave me a perfect mark on it.”

More stunned silence.

All I could do was change the subject.

I’ve since learned that while it’s not a popular opinion in China, it’s still a common one.  Some of the girls have picked up on my sudden lack of interest in the subject and tried to talk about the things they’re doing to help Japan (raise money, collect clothing, etc.)  But I’m worried that if we bring up the subject again, I’ll have to deal with hatred, and I have absolutely no clue as to how to handle it.

A long time ago when I was about 12 years old (digression: I’ve recently realised that there’s one person in this world who knows all kinds of intimate things about me – she was one of my closer friends while growing up), a friend and I were discussing prejudice.  I confessed to being prejudiced against people who are prejudiced.

“That’s okay,” she said.  “That doesn’t count.”

No, I’m afraid it counts.

I will never be able to like that student again.  Everything he says and does will be judged, no matter how hard I try not to.  I’ll be afraid to ask him questions or have a discussion with him in case he says something that goes so strongly against everything I believe in.  Every mistake he makes will just be brushed off because I can’t bring myself to expend time and energy on him.  These things are all excellent examples of prejudice.  I am exactly what I said I was.

And I hate it.

But I can’t seem to change it.

2 responses to “Culture Clash (or Happy to Heavy)

  1. A young woman I met in a Japanese class at university a few years ago has to deal with this prejudice from her mother and many of her Chinese-Canadian relatives (almost all of whom were born and raised here in Canada). Hatred runs deep and is so easily passed along to others. My friend’s eagerness to learn Japanese and show her family that there are many good things about Japanese culture was heartening, though.



  2. I don’t blame you for feeling biased against your student. However unwittingly, he was offending your values, and you cannot be faulted for being protective of your values.

    It is impressive that you refuse to give excuses for your own bias; that takes a lot of honesty.

    AT the end of the day, we all have biases, and it cannot be avoided. How we act on our biases, though is something within our control. That is what makes us beautiful: our ability to transcend how we feel.


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