Another good (and rainy) week, despite dealing with a bit of a cold. I guess it feels easier to stay inside and heal when the weather is so dreary.
The big welcome show for the freshman took place this week. All first-year students have been marching around campus in fatigues, fulfilling their government-ordained requirement to undergo military training as a means to…well…I’m still not exactly sure why they do it. My students can’t give me a clear answer, other than that it’s “what we do.” It might be a means of instilling discipline, order, group collaboration, etc.
Anyhow…the school put on a huge talent-show-style production for a football field full of students. The performances ranged from singing to belly dancing to break dancing, all which have been clearly rehearsed for weeks. And then there was us—the eight foreign teachers performed our song/sketch, a Chinese song we threw together in 1-2 weeks. Despite not knowing all the words and some technical glitches with my guitar and mic, we were a hit. The crowd loved our effort and the underlying story: me, the “nerdy guy,” tries to win the heart of Ann, the “pretty girl”…I ultimately failed as Ann remained indifferent to my advances, while the crowd of freshman booed her off stage for refusing my love. Good times.
Another highlight was a dinner party at which the administrators officially welcomed the foreign teachers. After a more formal meeting, in which I and several others gave brief speeches and received our “certificate of employment,” we drove 90 minutes to a lake (reminiscent of Lake Shasta), at which we were taken by boat to a resort containing several mansions and various indoor and outdoor amenities, all set on a gorgeous lake surrounded by rolling hills (also the setting of the “giant vase” pic below). We enjoyed what was the finest meal I’ve had since arriving in China. The school clearly appreciates their foreign teachers and treats them well!
The occasion also afforded me the chance to meet Dr. Zhang, the school president and party chairman (i.e., communist party…the government has representatives at each school as a means of connectedness and involvement). And, as much as I am drawn to the outcast and the ignored, I’ll confess I enjoyed schmoozing with the president—discussing American and Chinese culture and making future plans for a ping-pong “date.” Nothing wrong with making friends in high places with power, I suppose. :)
And Chinese people love to make toasts. Every university administrator at the party came around and toasted every other individual, filling up our shot-sized glasses with beer (or OJ for the women), saying “cheers” and “bottoms up.” Even the resort general manager brought out his own personal champagne bottle and did a round of toasts. I thought I nearly offended one of the administrators when I refused more beer and insisted on sipping the little amount I had left from the previous toast. He kept insisting I take more and eventually I put my hand over my glass and said no very sternly; he got the message, after Dr. Zhang basically told him to stop and go sit down. Then Dr. Zhang and I had a brief discussion about the Chinese drinking culture of rapid consumption as compared to the way I typically enjoy drinking...gradual, savoring, engaged in thoughful conversation. He initally thought I just didn't understand Chinese culture.
These are challenges for which I am grateful—getting past assumptions and misinterpretations to find understanding and even appreciation for other ways of “doing things.” I like beer...well, Portland-brewed beer...Chinese beer is only tolerable. But there are many nuances (that I won’t go into) to my fellow NMYM teachers' and my own perspective on drinking while in China. And I believe I thoughtfully weigh these things—considering my own “rules” and retaining my cultural/ethical/personal distinctiveness while also considering the opportunity for relational and cross-cultural connection in a given moment. But I think the heart of the issue is that I don’t like being pressured into things and was resistant to this particular man’s persistence. I’d also started to feel the alcohol (after endless shots) and didn’t want to risk turning into a giggly buffoon in front of the president. :)
But these are some of the challenges in intercultural relationships that intrigue me...discerning as an ambassador of the Kingdom what contextualizing my values in a given setting looks like…identifying the difference between what are man-made and culture-specific traditions/laws and what are truly Kingdom and culturally-transcendent ways of being…knowing when it is appropriate to make my own personal convictions and freedoms secondary to what will most benefit others and will most glorify G** in a particular setting. For example: does taking excessive beer shots enhance the fulfilling of my call here? Detract from it? Not affect it either way? Depend on the setting? These are the kinds of questions I feel responsible to continually consider while here.
Anyhow…been a fun week, with ever more connections being made. I’m definitely getting the “you’re so handsome” comments left and right, with students staring (and the bold ones taking pictures with me). It’s totally going to my head too, as I’ve become grossly self-absorbed. :) Actually, I’m having fun with it, trying to come up with ever new responses besides just, “thank you, that’s very kind.” (Such as “what about my personality?” or “my girlfriend in the U.S. thinks so too” or “gosh, in the U.S. people think I’m hideous!”)
Enough for now. Must finish prepping for my freshman classes, which begin this week. I’ve basically been working 1/3 time these past three weeks, and finally move to a full-time load tomorrow. Looking forward to some new faces!