Guest Post - China like a Sledgehammer

[From Phil: The post is meant to emulating the struggles and discoveries that you are likely to feel and experience when first landing in Beijing. If it's confusing, or difficult to read, then you're probably getting close to the heart of it.

The original can be found on Ben's Blog Here]

Phil asked me to write a guest post about my experience in China.  "What should I write about," I asked him.  He told me cultural impressions, anecdotes, advice or stories. My impression of the culture is this: vast, deep, evolving, traditional, paradoxical, fascinating…

I’ve only been here one year longer than Phil and in a society with 5,000 years of tumultuous history that’s a drop in the bucket.

Let me share what I wrote my first weeks here:

This is how you write a sentence; this is how you teach a class of young foreign students: you talk in a tone they can tune into, you keep the air filled with sound and you engage them one on one by name; you maintain control by acting like you have control; you smile - not too much (too much) - and pay attention to them as individuals; you acknowledge their mood, you follow the curriculum, you ask questions such as ‘what do you do on the weekends?’ and you laugh, fun, after all, is a great way to learn; this is how you get from point a to point b, and this is how you get from point á to point b, and this is how you get from point ù to point zhu, and you have to keep your teeth together like you are saying the last letter in buzz, but it is very quick and then you make a hu sound that sounds like a modified version of hew in chew, but your mouth needs to make a bit of a different shape and you are allowed to eat without manners as long as you don’t leave your chopsticks in the rice, and the bus cost ¥0.4 if you have a card and the people here will look at you bemused and you can drink on the streets and the foreigners congeal, and there are Russians here, and there are Zambians here, and four story dance clubs that play American hip hop, and this is how you use a stripper pole to help your dancing be more bombastic, real touch-the-floor, bend-your-knees, pat-your-heart stuff; this is how you don’t fall too much in love, because, well, okay, you know when you are a toddler and you are just learning to walk you fall all the time?  You don’t fall too much anymore, because you aren’t quite a toddler and you know how to catch yourself, though you can fall in love with the city and even the smog and wonder what exactly is in the air?  You think there should be giant filters collecting air and that students and people should be trained to analyze them. You think about music in the classroom, the 400ish sounds in Chinese, some you can make and many others you can’t make not for lack of trying very hard - one day maybe you’ll be able to.

My advice is simple: enjoy the opportunity.  It’s a small, big world.

Reading Music


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