Sorry I've been so behind, it's been intensely busy. I'm just going to include in this post the events and thoughts of May 17. On another note, since I can't view the blog, I can't reply to comments. However, I get them in emails, and appreciate everyone's replies.
Lance had asked me if I wanted to go to a Kung Fu school and talk to the kids about America. I don't think there's anything I really like more than Kung Fu, America, and talking, so I jumped at the opportunity. After a bit of juggling with deciding to go by bus or taxi, some sort of small Chinese sports coupe picks us up. There's a short, incredibly fit woman driving, and a girl named Heidi who had just got back from studying in North Carolina sitting shotgun. A small dog barked at me from the front seat. Chen, Lance and I squeezed into the back and we embarked on a horrifying journey to the outskirts of Ningbo.
The school is walled, and enormous. I was expecting the typical American-style martial arts school. This place turns out to be a full-blown boarding school. There's dorms for the students to live in. The place is built in the "classic chinese style." Building in all four directions, with a yard to play in in the middle. Upon seeing the dorms, it was told to me that the place is very "much like the military." I was beginning to understand what sort of place I was in.
Turns out the woman that was with us owned the place, and was some sort of weapon-phile. She took us up to the training room, where a bunch of little kids were doing ridiculous things. These guys are like little flexible machines. They were running all over the place without looking even slightly tired. We got a little tour of the place (check the flickr feed), where we were shown the classrooms, "Party Room" (where Communism is studied) and other areas of the school. Lunch, then, time with the kids.
Chen and I were told that the kids would want to ask us questions about our countries, but unfortunately there was only time for Haidi to give her presentation on learning. In China, the learning focus is more on route memorization so that kids can get good scores. I keep hearing over and over that the focus is on a numberable success, so they have things like trophy rooms to display physical examples of this idea of success. Both Haidi and Lance have complained of this, and wished for a more creative type of learning. Lance says that this is why he will focus on literature in the US. So, Haidi's presentation to these children was about real learning, and applying passion to understanding a subject rather than just knowing the facts. The audience was very unique in terms of Chinese students. The school was a boarding school, and private, so all the students were receiving a different type of education. It was much more intense. There are about 800 students from grades 2-9. After grade 9, they join normal public schools. When I asked Heidi if the students found the transfer very difficult, she said that they actually find it extremely easy, since the Kung Fu boarding school is so challenging. These kids are being bred a lot differently than the rest of the school kids around. They are very disciplined, intelligent, and confident. They would come out of class, organize into lined groups in the courtyard, then jog in line while chanting to wherever it is they needed to be, without the guidance of a teacher. Some would be running around (they always ran) doing some errand in a focused and on-task manner, stopping to greet us with a classic fist-to-palm Kung Fu bow. However, apparently cheating is a big problem, because of the heavy workload.
The proprieter is awesome. She had pictures of herself with guns all over the four rooms of her enormous, affluent office. There was a sword in every room. One room was devoted to her desk, a coffee table with chocolates and chinese candies, and a huge oak desk. Another room had a ping pong table and a grand piano, which I'm not sure at all how they got up there. The next room had tons of trophies and pictures of herself with famous chinese people.. I felt like I was in some sort of influential, madwoman's headquarters. This lady is really into weapons. She also had a caged bird and also a small dog that follows her everywhere and will find her cell phone if she asks it to. I don't think I could ever create such a character.
We had to wait around for a long time, so I got to talk to Heidi about Chinese culture. I mentioned that Chen and I would be presenting about AIDS to housing communities, and our difficulty with formulating a lesson plan for that without having a clear idea of what sort of sexual education Chinese people had. From what I had learned from Zoey, sex ed consisted of teaching about the basics of human production, and that was it. There is no STD or safe sex education. According to Heidi, these were issues, because "young people just do it because they see it on TV, but they don't have the concept of using a condom." So, nobody is telling people about safe sex, especially in rural areas. Urban young people are aware of safe sex issues, but seem to be so busy that it is a non issue. However, I feel that my earlier opinion of sexual repression is not accurate. "Chinese people love sex," Heidi said, "Why else would we need the One Child Law?" I'm not sure of the relavence of the statement, but it was an amusing insight. Later, I was told that one of the politicians of the Cultural Revolution told the Chinese people to have many children to fuel the industrialization of China, which may have ended up going too far. More on that some other time.
They put on a Kung Fu demonstration just for us. I later found out that these demonstrations usually cost 5,000, whether US or RMB I never learned. The demonstration was utterly fantastic. These kids really were a step above any other child I have ever encountered. I later found out that they all had a colorful history for their age, and each was a national or international champion. One girl had been abandoned by her father at birth, because she is a girl. Her mother enlisted her in the boarding school because "she wanted her to be strong." Now, the girl is a worldwide champion in Kung Fu, and can sing and dance to boot, all at 11 years old. Another girl wanted to desperately work abroad, and was offered a chance to work with another Kung Fu school in Malaysia. However, she turned it down so she could continue to work towards going to the United States or Australia instead. She was 12. Then, there were the kids who I didn't get stories out of, but who's pure ferocity and strength were demonstrated by body language and intensity in the dojo. None of the kids were above 13, and yet they had far more self-awareness and strength than many adults that I know.
I clearly fogged over the true difference in culture when I described China as a place of restriction. However, the important thing for me is to have this blog to look back on and track my discovery of the massive differences between China and the United States. On the one hand, I could suggest that rather than restrictive, the Chinese are more disciplined and honorable. On the other, I could mention the kid taking a poop in front of a memorial statue yesterday, to the complete disregard of anybody that happened to notice. The mindset is something I will have to attempt to put myself into before I can truely grasp what the nature of this culture is. In any case, the Kung Fu school was a paragon of discipline and achievement in Ningbo. The proprietor was a 20 year old tailor when she met and fell in love with a Kung Fu teacher. She took up martial arts herself, then started a school of her own in a small building. Ten years later, she ran the enormous boarding school, staffing cooks, teachers, and janitors, and with 800 students in attendance, many of whom live at the school. Several of her students are world champion martial artists. That morning, I had asked Lance what the Chinese equivalent of the "American Dream" is. "I don't know, maybe the Chinese don't know," he had said. It could be purely based on success, with students watching the numbers, but the ferocity I witnessed in the school that day seemed to apply to more than just that. The kids had ambition. And yet, from what I have been learning as I meet more Chinese students, this ambition could be funneled into a profession they have no desire for, simply because of parents' wishes or a necessity to make money. After hanging out in the school all day, I wish life could just be a constant study of something one loved, like martial arts. I am given hope by the proprieter and her husband's lives that not all Chinese students are doomed to become business men and women.
I also feel that the United States could learn from the Chinese education example. I sat in a classroom with these kids as they actively listened to a college student talk about learning for the sake of learning, and they paid attention. They understood what was being talked about and considered it. A few hours later, I watched them tear around a dojo with weapons twice as big as they were, shouting and planting every step with utter steadiness and confidence, as they were cheered on by their classmates. Alex (learn about him next time) and I later joked that "we're Americans, we value free time rather than learning useful skills or applying ourselves to talents." Thinking back on middle and high school, I can only remember the insane number of hours I wasted watching TV or playing video games. The kids in this school spent their time mastering control of their bodies. All of the ones in the demonstration abandoned free time to get more in depth training, deciding it more valuable than lazing around. They are using as much time as they can to mold the vessels they inhabit to be as functional as they can make it. To me, it seemed they were alive.
I'm going to do my best to stay on top of these blogs. As of right now, I think maybe I'm two or three behind. I don't think I'll dump them all out at once, because I know that walls of text like this can get boring. Remember that there's the flicker feed (flicker.com, search "caleb rogers") which now has video as well as pics. I bought a pro account so I can just dump everything in there. Vids sometimes have difficulty uploading, but I think there's two kung fu ones up right now. Good stuff, take a look.
A lot of people expressed concern at the picture of caged rabbits. It was taken about 10pm, in Lance's neighborhood. They were piled in the back of a running pickup truck parked outside of a house. Lance had no explanation. He said that people don't eat bunny in China. So, I have no idea either.
Next time: Children, teachers, and maybe beggars too.