The Old Must Go for the New to Come

In January 2010, I crammed 25 years of my life into two little 50 lbs bags and headed out on a China-bound plane to educate the young and inquisitive minds of Dalian on all things American. But why? Why leave a coveted associate producer position at CBS (and six years of journalism training to boot) and head off to a lowly English teaching position in China? Why? Because, frankly, I've learned getting what you think you want out of life isn't always what it's cracked up to be. What follows are the tales of my trials and triumphs (like overcoming my fear of the dreaded squatty potty) and the lessons I've learned along the way...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Afric-Asian Relation: My Solution to the Black Gender Gap

So the other day, a friend of mine sent me a link to a televised panel discussion about the plight of the single, successful black female (hereafter, referred to as SSBF). Now, as a card-carrying member of the SSBF crew, I am already painfully aware that the statistics for lifelong companionship do not appear in my favor. I know the numbers…the fact that 43 percent of black women living in the U.S. are single, and that, that number jumps to a whopping 70 percent among educated black women. I’ve watched far too many reports on it to count (most of which only serve to reaffirm what I already know) and engaged in my share of heated discussions on the topic (an inevitable by-product of any social gathering involving food and a group of black women.)  And despite having watched, read and ranted this subject into the ground, I, of course, tuned in to watch yet another group of men and women fire back and forth about who is to blame for this prevelant plight of singlehood...nodding, clapping and “mm-hmm”-ing in perfect synchronization with the 602 other SSBFs seated in the audience.

Afterward, I, naturally, turned to a fellow SSBF (via Skype) to bemoan the unfairness of our demographic quandary. “It's just not fair,” I lamented. “We work so hard and we have so much knowledge and the trade off is we're more likely to be single? I mean, really, what the frik?” What the frik, indeed.  The sad truth is, that—incarceration, homosexuality and color complexes, aside—even if every single black man in America married a black woman, that would still leave 1.8 million black women empty-handed (or should I say, empty-fingered.) It’s a staggering and disheartening number, enough to have a sistah feel like throwing in the towel on marriage altogether. But before you start picking out titles and names for all those romantic comedies and cats you plan to collect over the next few years, let me just point out to you another even more astounding statistic…At present, in China, Asian men outnumber Asian women by about 18 million, and that number is expected to grow to nearly twice as much over the next decade. America, there aren’t enough black men for black women…In China, there aren’t enough Asian women for Asian men…Hmmm, are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Now, before you go all “Heffa, is you crazy?” on me, just hear me out, okay? I happen to have a very good friend who has been dating a Chinese man for over a year now and couldn’t be happier. And perhaps, I’ve just been living in China for too long, but I’m really starting to check out some of these zhong guo ren boys...and some of them are quite promising. I mean, at first glance, Chinese men and black men couldn’t seem more different. But over time, I’ve noticed some marked similarities. For example, most young Chinese men love the NBA and hip-hop; they also like to sing along with their MP3 players loud enough for all the world to hear (and you know, you can’t get on a metro in America without hearing at least one brotha who thinks he’s Lil Wayne); and they can often be seen rocking bright-colored sneakers, blazers and pastel button-downs—or as I like to call it, the “Kanye kanjian (look).” And while I have yet to actually date a Chinese man myself, I've gotten a few numbers and I certainly wouldn’t object to it. Why not, right? I mean, really, let’s look at some of the pros...


1.  Contrary to the stereotype, not all Asian men are small (in height and stature, that is…get your mind out of the gutter.) Northeast China, where I live, is known as the land of the giants, and let me tell you there are some titans here (If I’m not mistaken, this is the same region that gave us Yao Ming.) So if you’re like me, and you have a thing for tall men, you’ve got a multitude of prospects. I dare say, I’ve even seen more men over six feet here than when I was living in NYC…And they’re pretty well-built too (well, at least, the ones I see on a regular basis at the gym.)

2.  Chilvary is not dead in China. Many of the young Chinese men I’ve met here are complete gentlemen and total romantics. In China, it’s rare to see the kind of groping, straddling and slobbering that’s grown so disgustingly common among American youth…but you will see a lot of cuddling and coddling. Watching Chinese men work their game is like watching a Backstreet Boys video. They will tell you you’re beautiful, they will hold your purse, they will give you sappy lines like “You are the flower of my heart” and actually mean it.  Sure, it’s a bit extra and cheesy at times, but hey, at least, you will have a man who will treat you like the extraordinary Nubian queen that you are.

3.  They will be in awe of your beautiful masses of curly, kinky hair…and probably, be elated if presented with the opportunity to help take out your cornrows :o)

4.  They like to sing.

5.  Beautiful Blackanese Babies!!! (Don’t front, you know that’s what you were thinking, too!)

6.  When China takes over the world, they will have your back.

But as with any relationship, there is always a flip side. So here are some of the Cons:

1.  Thanks to international hits like “Friends” and “Sex and the City,” the Chinese, in general, tend to think one-night stands are a way of life for American women (It also doesn’t help that images of Britney Spears seem to grace the front of just about every sex shop I’ve seen in China). Therefore, while Chinese men generally don’t seem to be the forward type, it's quite possible they're dating you in hopes of getting to know a lot more than just your culture. 

2.  That darn language barrier: Ok, fyi, for the native English speaker, Mandarin Chinese is extremely difficult to learn (I’ve been studying for about three months now and I’m just getting to the point where I can give half-way decent directions to a cab driver and hold two-word conversations with the cleaning lady at my school and the staff at the gym)…So I suppose, there would be quite a bit of awkward silence on a first date and a conversation consisting primarily of “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, thank you. And you?” “I like apples.” “Apples are red.” “Oranges are orange.” “I am American.” “I am Chinese.” "Today is Tuesday." Smile. Nod. Eat.

3.  In China (or Dalian, at least), the people don’t shower as often as Americans. So you know that wonderful, fresh, cologney scent on men that just makes you want to melt…yeah, you won’t get that all.

4.  If he offers to drive you home, ride at your own risk.  I’m not in the business of reinforcing stereotypes, but I must be real with you…the one about Chinese being bad drivers… sorry, but that’s a pretty valid one (from driving on the wrong side of the road to driving on sidewalks…oh, the 
stories I could tell.)

5.  They like to sing.

Yes, so there are some cons, but what man is not without his faults? And yes, I admit I’ve made some very broad generalizations here, but as you can see the pros outweigh the cons. In any case, my SSBF sistahs, we’ve got to stop stressing over the current scarcity of selection among our own demographic and start broadening our horizons. The time has come not just to cross color lines but to cross border lines. This is by no means a diss to our strong, hard-working black men. Don’t get it twisted. I love black men. And I know whole-heartedly that there are many wonderful black men out there. But this is a matter of supply and demand, we’re talking about here.  I mean, there are some SSBFs who are perfectly content with the idea of being single for the rest of their lives (just look at Oprah) and that's fantastic…but I'm not one of them. However, I’m also not going to settle. The fact is that just because you can’t find your match within your race or even within your country, doesn’t mean you have to stop there. There are a lot of great men everywhere. And we SSBFs are great women, so I think we owe it to ourselves to keep our options open.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Student Has Become the Teacher

If you had told me a year ago that this time next year I would be teaching E.F.L to young adults, I would have laughed in your face…not over the absurdity of going halfway around the world to work for people I’ve never met, BUT because I never EVER saw myself as a teacher…a professor, maybe, but never a teacher. I mean, I’ve spent the last seven years (and countless more tuition dollars) building up a career as journalist. And don’t get me wrong. I have a great deal of respect for teachers. I was raised by teachers (both my parents, plus my grandmother), some of my closest friends are teachers, and if not for the encouragement and insight of my incredible twelfth grade Composition Writing teacher (Ms. Maker) I may have never even realized the profound power of the pen. Teachers, after all, are charged with a daunting task: to educate and inform an entire generation of young minds. And what more is journalism but a charge to educate and inform the minds of the entire viewing public?

So perhaps in a sense, I was destined to teach at some point in my life, but nevertheless, I did not see it coming and especially NOT at a secondary education-level. If anything, middle school and high school, are the very levels I always said I would never want to deal with. I mean, I do love children. Being around a young child whose not yet been jaded by the disappointment and disillusions of life is like water baptism—washing away all the filth of a corrupted and cynical adult world. And I don’t get people who don’t like children. I mean, I understand not liking some children (because some are just plain evil little spawns of Satan), but not all children. Nevertheless, babies, preschoolers, elementary kids, I can do. Most of them are still starry-eyed and easily entertained by Sesame Street songs and art crafts that involve edible paste. But when they hit 11, 12, and 13 that’s when the attitudes and all those adolescent mood swings always seem to kick in…at least, that always seem to be the case in America.

Ironically, despite my repeated requests to teach only very young children and adults…I ended up, to my chagrin, with mainly classes full of 12 to 16-year-olds. In the days leading up to my teaching debut, I was bracing myself for miserable classrooms full of bored, apathetic youth counting the minutes until their clueless teacher dismissed them...Yet now, after nearly three months of teaching here, I have to say that it’s in these very classrooms that I have the most fun of all. I’ve found that it’s in this age group that I’m free to act as goofy and stupid as I like but without expending tons of energy and time on discipline. I’ve fallen in love with my students—most of whom still possess all the innocent wonder and excitement of elementary school kids along with some insight and perceptiveness that is well beyond their years (which often leaves me with some room for my satirical brand of humor.)  And while all my kids are wonderful, little droplets of sunshine from Heaven, every teacher has their favorites (the ones who say they don’t are bold-faced liars--let’s be real) so here are just a few of mine:

Susan: A very bright, little pig-tailed 10-year-old in my lowest grade-level class, which consists of mainly 9 to 11-year-olds. She’s often the first to answer questions but ironically, also the last to actually get to class (most of the time she’s 10 or even 20 minutes late). From my very first day in the class, I immediately took to Susan, because she reminded me of my little sister Shemaiah. I’m not quite sure why. I mean, they do share similar skin-color, eyes and even hair texture (my sister’s hair is very long and fine), but Shemaiah is much older (14), much taller and while she is very smart, she doesn’t exactly share Susan’s enthusiasm for learning.

Peter: A little mouse of a boy with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen only to be matched by a pair of glasses two sizes too big for his face. The three or four little wisps of hair that spike out at the front of his closely shaven coif always remind me a little of Charlie Brown. At ten years old, he is the youngest in a class of primarily 11 to 13-year-olds, but he is also the brightest. But despite the fact that he is just about half the size of most of the other students, he is far from a shrinking violet in the class. His exuberance is infectious. He’s the first to chime in with one of my silly songs or chants and I seriously believe his smile could bring peace to the world. He’s the most adorable little ten-year-old and I am currently devising a plan for smuggling him with me back to the states when my contract is up:o)

Bill (that’s Mr. Bill to you): The first day I was introduced to one of my new classes, a chubby, happy-faced, little 13-year-old with a very trendy haircut came up to me with a bashful smile and said “You hair is very beautiful.” And from that moment, I knew I was in love. Bill (who just recently informed me he will now go by Mr. Bill because it sounds more professional) is one of my all time favorite students in one of my all time favorite classes at Jayland. He is not the youngest nor the brightest nor the most enthusiastic learner in the class by any means…But he definitely keeps the class entertaining. He is certifiably the class clown of the group but in a good-spirited sort of way (not the kind you want to punch in the face—which technically, you’re allowed to do as a teacher in China.)

Cornelia (the student formerly known as “Sunny”): An outspoken and inquisitive pre-teen in the same class as Bill and a relative newcomer to the class. Unlike, most of the other students in Jayland (or China, in general) she’s spent some time in the states and her fluency in English is well beyond that of her peers. She should actually be in a higher level conversation class. One day after class, I informed her of this to which she responded, "I know, but I want to stay in this class." And while “Sunny” is probably the number one, most-picked English name for E.F.L. students across China, I always thought it was incredibly fitting for this young student’s cheerful disposition. However, just this week, to my dismay, Sunny informed me that she no longer wished to be addressed by the aforementioned name but rather by “Cornelia.” I suppose maybe she wanted to set herself apart from the million and two other “Sunny’s” of China. But why pick a name that sounds like it came from a Charles Dickens novel? I don't know. But I do know she will always be "Sunny" in my heart.

As I mentioned before, these are just a few of my favorites. There are sooo many more I could name, but I'm sure if you haven't stopped reading this post by now, you probably will stop in about three or four more lines. So I guess I'll just end this the lazy way with a corny cliche (a big journalism no-no, but hey, who cares? I'm a teacher now): Happiness is often where you least expect it. The end.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Tomb-Sweeping Day

An interesting fact: Every year around this time, the Chinese have a special holiday in which they pay homage to those who have passed on. It is known in China as Tomb Sweeping Day, and what I find so particularly interesting about this holiday is that it falls on the very same weekend as Easter this year. So on this Good Friday, as many people across this country make their way to the gravesites of their loved ones and reflect on the lives they led, I sit here in my apartment thousands of miles away from all my loved ones and reflect on the life of the One who conquered the grave on humanity’s behalf.

The older I get the more I find it strange that so many Christians tend to make such a huge, larger-than-life production out of Christmas--the months of travel planning, the hours of shopping, the tree-hunting, the decorating, the midnight mass, the Christmas cantatas, the other perfunctory family traditions,…while Easter gets a passing nod—a nice meal, some new Sunday clothes and a trip to church with all those family members who haven’t gone since Christmas. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. It's my favorite time of year. But it’s during Easter that we celebrate the very moment that defines Christianity…and the whole basis for Christmas...The death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It took His death to bring us life. There are years when I must admit Easter rolls around and I barely give it a passing glance. Then, there are other years when the magnitude of just what took place over 2000 years ago really hits me…Like when my grandmother passed away four years ago…and like now, being here in China…and realizing the world isn’t as small as I once believed…and recognizing just how extensive Christ’s love is for this extensive world…for every single person, past, present and future who ever dwelled in it…for every person who ever loved Him, despised Him, believed Him, denied Him, trusted Him, doubted Him, ridiculed or vilified Him.

And the truth is, whether you believe His is the greatest story ever told or the greatest con ever contrived--no one can deny the unparalleled impact of Jesus Christ.  It transcends time and space…from ancient prophecy to modern history…from Oakland to Osaka…No other person to walk the face of this planet has ever had greater influence--to the extent that the world's entire calendar is centered on His very existence.

So on this Friday, while the Chinese acknowledge their dead and Americans preoccupy themselves with Easter eggs, I just wanted to spend some time acknowledging the One who died for me...and you. But they’ll be no tomb-sweeping for me...after all, His tomb is empty :o)

Popular Posts