Sunday, February 29, 2004

The students in China are not what I expected. First off, they're very hip--way hipper than I can ever hope to be. Messy hair with wispy ends is all the rage and only the very plainest keep their natural color. That goes for girls, as well as boys. Even my non-Fashion Design majors have a keen sense of what to wear and all of it is very much in line with what is seen in the best of Japanese fashion mags.

My students are also very big. I came to China expecting to be a monster among them (no really, stop laughing--I was a monster in Japan) and in general they tower over me. They do tend to have rather slight frames, though there are several chunkies in the crowd, but on average, the people here are bigger than the people in Kona. I have been told the Northern Chinese just are bigger and that has to do with Russian and Manchurian influences. I've also been told that the little Chinese that I envisioned are found in Southern China and the people in the North refer to Southerners as monkeys.

It is true that education is greatly valued here. That goes back to Confucius. The students do work like hell, especially in high school when their futures ride on the performance on one college entrance exam, but the students I have are hardly bookworms. On the first day of class I did the very usual, very boring exercise where the students introduce the person sitting next to them. On the list of things they like to do for fun, the most frequently heard response was 1) shopping, 2) playing video or computer games and 3) playing basketball. (Yao has had a great effect in making the sport popular, or so I gather.) Eating and sleeping are ranked in the top five and was consistently popular among girls and boys.

The students also described their partner's future ambitions, and as far as my understanding of how the world works goes, theirs are just as unrealistic as any American college freshman's is. A good majority of my Fashion Design majors want to be "famous fashion designers" and a good percentage of my Business Administration majors want to be "rich CEOs" and/or millionaires. I asked my fourth future millionaire exactly how he planned to become a millionaire and he thought for a moment and said "I don't know yet." A number of girls also had futures that relied on "catching a good husband."

Granted, the introduction exercise was just that, an exercise, but hearing my students tell me about their grand futures only reminded me of myself, not too long ago, sitting in Film Theory and Criticism and fantasizing, with serious intent, about the day when I would be swimming in filmic accolade as I churned out masterpiece after cinematic masterpiece. (I still think about movies a lot and I've even taken to carrying around a notebook to jot down interesting observations or ideas for characters, but let's face it, I have missed my self-assigned deadline of an Oscar at 23.)

I hate to be cynical (okay, no I don't), and I admit I don't know how things work in China (there may very well be a high demand for fashion designers), but I wonder what will happen to these rising stars three or four years down the road when Milan refuses admittance and there are bills to pay. Will it be like how it is in the States? Will they take jobs in retail while they spend evenings sketching summer collections? I do know that in China the social structure is different and educated people do not take menial jobs, but will that change, too? Will these kids sit around with their friends and bitch about how Bruckheimer is a hack and who gives a shit about Hollywood, anyway (oh wait, that's my friends) while they slave the day away in underpaid service jobs? I sure as hell hope not.

Anyway, I digress.

Another funny thing about my students is they all have English names that they got to choose. Most of them have typical names like Mike, Jennifer, Andy, Michelle--and I have a Vivian in each of my five classes. Some names are creative. I have girls called Ivan, Ice, Lemon and Red Moon. There's a girl who spells her name Eali, but pronounces it Ally. The other thing about choosing your own name is that you can change it at will. Between this semester and last, five of my students found more suitable names for themselves. And in one of my classes, when I passed out slips of paper and asked the students to write their English name on it, there was a boy who informed me that he didn't have an English name. I told he that using his real name was fine by me and by the time I made it around the room he had dubbed himself Chris.

This concept of creating a name for yourself intrigues me and now I am on a mission to find myself a suitable Chinese name. What most foreigners do is take a Chinese sounding version of the name they already have. The Chinese people I have encountered have suggested I do this as Maile sounds like Mei Li and that's easy 'cause Mei Li actually means something. It means "beautiful." I don't like thid at all as I feel like it places too many expectations on me. I would much rather have a name whose Chineseization closer resembles a word like "wheelbarrow" or "shoelace." But what I did learn today is that there is a Chinese word for cannon and the combination of "beautiful" with "dangerous weapon" I like very much.

This is Beautiful Dangerous Weapon, signing off. Sounds good, doesn't it?

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