Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Wisdom of The Simpsons

Below is another post relating my all-time favourite TV show to some life-experiences I've had.

When I was 14 and underperforming in school...underperforming is too weak a word, the kind of word that parents use to deflect talk of their problems. I was failing and frequently being called "a disaster" "a failure" "a fuck-up" from all directions.

In an attempt to get me focused on my studies, my parents first banned me from playing the guitar, then banned me from watching the Simpsons.

Of course I was angry, but this is just the kind of thing that would have happened in The Simpsons, and if it did, it wouldn't be portrayed judgmentally, but portrayed with equanimity.

Two such scenes from the Simpsons reflect my situation well. In the first, Homer and Marge are called in to meet Bart's school counselor, and when asked for his opinion the counselor declares "Bart needs to learn to be less of an individual and more of a faceless blob." In the other, Homer first meets Marge in a detention. When explaining why he is there, Homer says "they put me in detention for being me. I come here every day and be me, and they punish me for it."

Directly after graduating from my Bachelors, I took a summer job. It was a job in which some students make a lot of money, but most make a net loss. The company that ran this summer program were excellent at taking credit for the successes and dodging responsibility for the failures.

In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer gets sponsored by the Power Sauce Energy-Bar company to climb a mountain. When the company loses faith in Homer, they start looking for other people to blame. On reaching the top, Homer scraps the plan of planting a Powersauce flag on the top, and instead places a 'Simpsons' flag. For me, this symbolizes a rejection of the pseudo-collectivism that some companies cultivate for their own self-interest.

For the last three years, I've been working as a teacher. In an episode of the Simpsons where Lisa meets a particularly inspiring teacher, the teacher explains: "One day you'll miss your brother's antics. When your life takes you to far away places, places where your itelligence is an asset, not a liability. " I've always been aware that I'm a pawn in this education-system (same as I would be back home), but I've always striven for this level of connection with my students. As for the substance of what he says, "places where your intelligence is an asset, not a liability." The (as I then thought) exam-orientated, spirit-crushing, secondary schooling system I went through, was an innocent child compared to the one I'm working in now.

And the last scene I'd like to reference, Bart sits down with his fallen idol Krusty the Klown. Bart explains to the impoverished, crestfallen clown "My mom says God never closes a door without opening a window." Krusty prompty replies "No offence kid, but your mom's a dingbat." In Empire of Illusion Chris Hedges writes eloquently about how positive psychology can strangle creativity and moral autonomy. I also have experience of the tyranny of mindless optimism, and Krusty the Klown so eloquently defends my position here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Three Years in China

I got to China on 7th of May 2007. It's been an interesting three years. Below I've listed five of the most memorable moments.

1. Monster Face
The first year, I lived in a wealthy part of a coastal city called Huizhou. At the time, I lived in a dormitory with other westerners, and I'd started learning Chinese from scratch. China was a bewildering, exotic, unknowable place.
Needless to say, the teaching presented some challenges. In one lesson, I had to teach Kindergarten students the vocabulary: nose, eyes, mouth, ears. In order to do that I used a song called Monster Face, which climaxed with all of the boys making Monster Faces, and chasing the girls around the classroom: anarchy.

2. Children's Day 2008
Children's Day 2007 had been bad. Our Head Teacher had just died. I hadn't yet learned how to channel students' restlessness into positive energy, so had some pretty lousy lessons.
By the summer of 2008, I was teaching HIgh School in a village in Northern Guangdong. I was into my last lesson by the time I'
d been reminded that it was Children's Day.
Instead of proceeding with the prepared lesson, I let them play some party games. Not a vintage piece of educating, but something that allowed them to momentarily forget their (to us, unimaginable) exam pressure.

3. Singing on the Train
IN January of 2009, I traveled through the Guangdong province. On a train from Huizhou to Longchuan, my ticket was standing and the carriage was crowded. After 2 hours of idly looking at some song lyrics I was trying to memorize, a stocky Northerner asked me:
"What instrument's that you're carrying?"
"A guitar"
"Can you play us a song?"
SO after some persuasion, I played and sang a children's song called 让我们荡起双浆 “Let's Sway the Oars Together”

4. 5.12
On 12th of May 2009, in order to commemorate the wenchuan earthquake, I got together with a class from the music department of the University I was teaching in, to sing a song called 让世界充满爱 a 1986 song that is roughly the Chinese equivalent of "WE are the World."

5. Busking
As a Caucasian in China, it's always easy to get attention. BUt it's never easy to get attention for anything other than being a Caucasian,and all of the baggage that comes with it. So performing on the street must have been a much stranger experience for observers than it was for me.

我是2007年05月05号到中国的。 这三年真过得很奇怪。我写下5个很深的回忆。

第一 扮鬼脸

头一年我在惠州教了小学生。 那时候, 我住在外教的宿舍, 而且只懂一点中文, 所以我认识的中国人不多。那时候一切都有异国情调 。

本来教那里的学生确实很难, 但是他们有时候很搞笑。 有一节课, 当我教小一的学生nose, mouth, ears 那些单词,为了让他们记住, 我让了他们扮鬼脸。 课堂里的学生都扮鬼脸挺难忘。

第二 08年儿童节

07年的儿童节过得不好。 我们的校长刚去世了。 学校的气氛很不好。

08年暑假我在龙川的两所高中学校上班了, 儿童节晚上,我不给学生们上课, 我在课堂里, 让大家在教室里玩自己想玩的游戏。 这样确实不负责, 但是做高中学生能让人家失去童心。 那天晚上, 班上的学生能让他们一时忘记外面的压力

第三 火车上演唱

09年一月我在广东省旅游了。 我从惠州到龙川坐火车了。我的票是无坐的。 车很拥挤。 在我对面的一个北方人问了我“你的乐器是什么?”



我就边弹了边唱了 《让我们荡起双桨》

第四 5.12 的纪念日

在文理学院唱 《让世界充满爱》

第五 街头上表演

深圳这座城市能让人家失去想象力。 看我在街上应该会给人一个奇怪的感觉