Being John Malkovich

I love John Malkovich as an actor.  I think he’s very talented.  Tonight we watched “Being John Malkovich” which I haven’t seen for years and couldn’t remember if I liked it.  I loved it.  It was brilliant, unique, original, and I give extra credit to Mr. Malkovich for allowing himself to be in the movie kind of making fun of himself and being silly.  It was a real treat.  Since Shujie couldn’t relate any part of it to any reality, she didn’t like it.  Even in fantasy it must have some basis in reality.  Harry Potter passed that test (the kids were just kids even if they were wizards) but in this, everyone is just plain weird.

Classes on Thursday went well, even the one where I did some butt-kicking on Wednesday.  It’s ridiculous.  You have to make them fear you a bit which is silly.  Of course, maybe I’m silly for expecting them to be like young adults.

I brought in the song “Imagine” along with a copy of the lyrics for everyone.  Before introducing the song I asked everyone if they could change one thing in the world, or make one thing happen more, what would it be.  In my “better” class I got answers like “the environment” and “freedom of speech”.  I was suitably impressed.  Of course I got answers that I didn’t think much of but I didn’t put anyone down.  I personally don’t see how more trees will make a better world.

In my other class I got very few answers I would consider to have an inkling of intelligence.  “More friends”?  “Smiles”?  “Parents”?  What the hell does that mean.  The best answer I got from that class was “Love”.  I’ll buy that.

I then handed out the lyrics and played the song once.  Then I asked for questions on the words or things they didn’t understand.  And they asked questions.  I was quite pleased and you have no idea what a huge step forward that was.  They asked what religion is so I stick my arms out and put my head down and do my impersonation of a crucified Jesus.  They get it.  Heaven you just say you die and point up.  Hell is you die and you point down.  And I guarantee you there is more of a chance of them learning the word with my silly actions than there is if I just gave them the word in Chinese.

Of course sometimes it isn’t that easy but I work hard at being understood.  Brotherhood isn’t too tough to do.  Possessions and greed aren’t too hard.  You just have to lack the fear of looking silly and act like a ham or draw stick figures.  It works.  I do break down occasionally and give the Chinese translation, but that’s a rare occurrence.

I love when we get to religion because then I digress, and I am always digressing in class.  Once I say religion I have to explain my contract, which forbids me from talking about religion or politics.  They asked me why I’m forbidden to speak about religion and the best answer I could give (and the one I think it is), is that the government is afraid of teachers proselytizing.  I can understand that and if a teacher does that they should be shot.  However, with me, they don’t have to worry about it.  I’m an atheist like 99% of my students.  Then I get on politics and how I don’t think China is a true communist country.  Everything here is money, money, money.  The students agree and are amazed when I tell them that in Canada doctors and hospitals are free.  I tell them we’re more communist.

Then I do my freedom of speech spiel.  I tell them I can go up to the White House and scream “Barack Obama is an idiot and should drop dead” and all that will happen will be that some people will look at me like I’m crazy.  If I go to Beijing and shout, “Hu Jin Tao is an idiot and should drop dead”, what will happen to me?  One boy made the slashing sign so they get it.  I love breaking the rules and talking about what I’m not allowed to talk about.

I would really love to teach something about religion.  It’s fascinating.  Not as something to believe in, but as history and how it controls people and is responsible for more deaths in history than anything else.  But I won’t push my luck.  I’ll just throw in things when I can.  I find it sad (although sad is the wrong word) that Shujie and I can’t discuss religion since she knows nothing about it.  It’s so hard to imagine someone who knows nothing of the bible or the 10 commandments.

Imagine is a good song.  It’s 40 years old and just as relevant today as it was in 1971.  We can talk about ideas a little as I do most of the talking.  But by doing these things I hope I’m opening their minds a little more than they are already opened.  Chinese teaching is basically the teacher talks and the student listens.  The student really doesn’t have any input.  That’s what I’ve been led to believe and I believe it.  I think that’s part of the problem I’m having.  And I introduce subjects into the classroom that they will never have introduced in any classroom and who knows if they get discussed anywhere.  Homosexuality, religion, freedom of speech, free health care, and so on.  It’s good.

I’ll have to find some other songs with some meaning.  I can’t go too far back because then I’d have to give a history lesson.  I love “Eve of Destruction” but as Ricky would say, “I’d have a lot of splaining to do”.  I mean “Think of all the hate there is in Red China, then take a look around to Selma, Alabama”.  It psyches me up to thing of trying it, but I think I might just be aiming too high.

Tomorrow we’re going out for dinner and bringing our friend Lisa with us.  Lisa is the 1st year student who visits me after class sometimes and other times will sit in on class.  She can be my friend since she’s not my student and I don’t tutor her.  There’s no conflict.  If I take a student to dinner and then have a problem with them, that would be difficult.  This way there is no wall that needs to be there.  And Shujie and I are both fond of her, so this works out very well for everyone.

I’ve been thinking about things and while we all know that things can always be better, I really can’t complain.  Life is pleasant.  The school isn’t bad.  I could have more knowledgeable students, but I could have worse students too.  Considering that you’re basically throwing a dart at a map and saying, “I’m going there”, and you know nothing about where you’re going, I’d say I lucked out coming here.

What’s wrong with me?  Why aren’t I complaining more?  This can’t be healthy, can it?

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