peace, love, and identity

Last month my high school students inadvertently made a really powerful statement about what peace is. Keep in mind these are sixteen year old Shanghaiese kids who are overwhelmingly supplied with everyting they could ever want while actually working very little. There are exceptions, to be sure, but I’m just trying to give a hint of a backdrop. The English is poor partly because they were pressed for time and, in general, don’t care much about English aside from passing tests.

Chinese love Americans
Americans love the Middle East
Israel loves Palestine
Maltreating prisoners turns into taking good care of them
People love people without benefit and utilizing

First, it was interesting that they said “Chinese love Americans,” as opposed to the other way around. In most debates on the street this argument is reversed: “Why don’t Americans love Chinese?” These young folks are fairly culturally aware, though certainly more internally focusedthan they will be oncethey get to university. I find myself puzzling how much of it is formal modesty aimed at the elder foreign teacher. It’s hard to say, but based on their neverending questions about North America, my guess is that American pop culture holds a dearer place in their hearts than history class.

My students find me less threatening than other foreigners they meet in Shanghai. In contrast, when I worked in Hefei people found me to be weird, but in a way that made me an honorary Chinese person, a 中国同. Folks find me more capable of communication than the majority of “foreigners” they meet and this means, given the chance, very lengthy conversations. Shanghai is different, this is a place teeming with people who hold me at arm’s length because I’m not authentic American enough, and I refuse to learn Shanghaiese out of my desire not to pick up another dialect’s bad habits.

What kills me is that granted a sense of cultural awareness I am branded as an oddball within both the expat community as well as among Chinese folks. To double my annoyance, I am as much an outsider at this point in the United States as I am in China.

It’s interesting that this strange quasi-americanness leaves me identifying closest with my friend Xiang. I haven’t felt this much on the fringe of a community I’m supposed to be in since I was a St. Mary’s student.

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