My Own Private China

Speech From Last Year’s Alumni Induction

Good evening Fellows, TFC staff, local officials, and principals. It’s an honor to speak to you all tonight on behalf of Fellows. I’m going to try and somehow summarize a two year experience in about ten minutes. You might say that it’s too much information to fit into a short period of time. You can also say that to the people who wrote PEP curriclum.

We are here to celebrate and reflect on the past two years. You did it, and good riddance, I guess, because you are likely tired, with a few parasites in your system, lungs filled with cigarette smoke. What a relief, right? Many of you thought about leaving. A few actually followed through.

And here we are, the so-called “left behind”. I couldn’t help feeling like this from time to time, like the sad sack who wasn’t smart enough to take up a job at this or that prestigious consulting firm or teaching academy, who stubbornly did not run away from the stress. Who didn’t go home and work a job at ten times the pay.

But I’m still here, and so are you. And what the hell is our problem?

We have rationalize and justify why we came here in the first place, what kept us here, and why we’ve made many sacrifices in committing to this work and this mission.

You may still be here because you have enjoyed personal growth. You are leaving with a stronger sense of self, perhaps more confidence under pressure, better time management skills, what have you.

Or you are still here because you are proud of your students. They’ve grown up. They are coming to terms with some of the challenges that will soon be thrown their way.

Though I’m not up here to pat you on the back. Because you get to leave.

And the kids stay here, and they will grow up. They will continue to have amazing teachers, and great role models, and take on a meaningful life path irregardless of whatever you had hoped for them, or even what you have done for them.

Or they won’t. After all, our students are bound by an insane web of rules—social, political, economic—that keeps them on a path that they did not willingly choose. When I first came here, this was only theory. To see it play out in reality is often devastating.

This past week, crowds of first and second graders pounded constantly on my door. They kept asking me to stay in Ximu forever. Kids that age are insane. They think of adult life as this flat and reversible thing where decisions don’t have consequences and where nothing is permanent. When I told them that to leave was my plan all along, their faces went blank. And they fully expect me to change my mind and return next year, hopefully with more ukuleles and weird American music in hand.

The older students at Ximu had a better grip on it. We’ve celebrated our time together with a party and exchanged gifts. Their biggest concern, as one student told me, is that I’d forget about them.

I’ve been struggling with a question. Because, structurally, our Fellowship is not sustainable. We leave and pass on our knowledge to future Fellows. But at some future moment, there may be no more Fellows at the schools where we once taught.

On top of that, teaching is new to me, even still. I’m just learning how to break into that steel cage, the mind of a child. I’ve just recently been able to take on all of the roles demanded of me—teacher, counselor, mentor, school nurse, local entertainer—and as I sense myself slowly mastering the art of teaching, I leave.

And the kids stay here.

So here is my question: Where do we continue in the lives of our students? Or, rather: do we have the right to continue in the lives of our students?

My answer is a loud yes. Not because these children need us, or that they are helpless, starved of role models or some other nonsense. It’s because our short lives’ experience have shown that any human exchange, from a chance encounter in Hong Kong to a years long friendship, holds a potential to deepen and to expand. To enrich and to enlighten.

I remember a 25-hour train ride I took from Beijing to Shenzhen, standing room only. During Spring Festival. I’m not masochistic; I’m just dumb enough to think that saving 200 yuan is worth the trouble. In this case perhaps my only friend was my Kindle and Thoreau. Something felt right about reading about a man who enjoyed his solitude while getting constantly elbowed in the face. Thoreau definitely had his misanthropic moments, but he also scribbled this sentence out during one of his weeks at Walden Pond: ‘Our friends have no place in the graveyard.’

In the same way you don’t wish to see the deaths of the relationships you’ve built with the people sitting in this room, I wish you relationships with your former students that are very much alive. Relationships that do not simply reflect and feel nostalgic but build up and become stronger. And relationships where you realize that your friends are tracking you as much as you track them. They go to high school. You take up a new job, possibly a family. They hear your language skills improve, and theirs improve too. You express yourself in ways you could not when we were 24. They express themselves in ways they could not when they were 12.

I think it could be a really beautiful and wondrous thing.

Congratulations to Fellows for all of the great work of these past two years, to staff, and to every person who has made a difference. Thank you.


To incoming/prospective TFC fellows

3hours2burma:

Buy a kindle. Seriously, if you can afford it, do it. I don’t know what my sanity would suffer without it, especially since I don’t get internet anywhere except my office. So I read a lot now. My teammates agree.

Obviously, a lot of fellows get by perfectly fine without any sort of electronic reading device, but seriously consider the option of getting one. I find myself with nothing to do much more often now.

Or come pick up my books in Lincang.. I have about 17 books and I sure won’t be lugging them all to Beijing or the US. Titles vary from Song of Fire & Ice and the Great Transformation to Inherent Vice

Tons of Chinese history books (Mao, Yunnan, Ming Dynasty)!

A pretty crappy book about Li Ka-Shing!

Free books. This applies to 1st year Fellows, too.


On building cross-cultural relationships →

unapologetically-yellow:

ethnicnraunchy:

blackinasia:

unapologetically-yellow:

myownprivatechina:

unapologetically-yellow:

One of the (many) things TFC struggles with is building bonds between the Chinese and foreign fellows beyond teammates. Discussions of this have always focused on better cross-cultural events during Summer Institute (SI) and the language and cultural barrier. We never talk about the giant elephant…

This makes sense:

American privilege is the reason why most foreign fellows enter TFC and arrive to China without being able to speak functional Chinese.

This doesn’t:

White privilege is the reason why white fellows are beloved at their schools without having to work at it too much, and yet some always manage to fuck up it up despite the buffer their privilege affords them.

Can you go into detail? I haven’t heard too much of white Fellows “fucking it up” at their schools. Is there evidence to this happening?

In the last two years I’ve seen white, Chinese, and POC fellows do amazing things at their schools. And more often than not, they collaborated on projects: fundraising for clean water; extracurricular clubs/sports; the list goes on.

The white Fellows I’ve known and worked with over the years (I can’t speak for everyone) experience white privilege the second they show up. We try to understand it, work with our Chinese partners to learn more about it. And yes, we often take advantage of it. But most fellows work as hard as local teachers, keep the same responsibilities, and are part of the school culture. They insist to be given the same responsibilities given to local teachers. And they work their asses off.

You have a limited knowledge of what goes on at each school. So do I. You are making irresponsible accusations, especially when foreign and Chinese fellows are putting in extra hours on the weekends and after school to reach out to their students.

I’m confused why you feel confident enough with your Chinese language ability to insult those who are unable to speak as well as you do. What gives you the right to shit on them? If you have a problem with this, your anger should be directed at TFC’s recruiting practices, not the people who chose to come here.

Your comments dismiss the strong relationships that exist between Chinese, white, and POC fellows. Maybe you just don’t know about them. And if that’s the case, maybe you shouldn’t write about them.

-Chris

And no, Chinese fellows do have the language to talk about white privilege. This comes up all the time in Ximu. Chinese fellows may indeed have a better understanding of what white privilege in rural China actually looks like than what you’ve written on your blog.

Ah, interesting. Push-back. ‘Tis a pity that I cannot respond without sending the rumor mill into overdrive and without pointing out how this— it makes some valid critiques, and thank you for those—reeks of white privilege.

Perhaps the reason why what I’ve written has not only caught your attention but garnered this response is because it holds a mirror up to your white privilege and makes you uncomfortable?

Edit: Upon re-reading what I initially wrote…fuck it. People, I carefully word my shit FOR A PURPOSE. As how shit currently stands, there were no valid critiques.

Omg. White people please stop.

I’m a TFC fellow who will be going in about a month…I’m a POC. And I don’t functionally speak Chinese (?) Mandarin/Cantonese….I joined the program because I have first hand experience in both being within an unequal educational system and trying to help fix one, which is why I was chosen and why I’m going…I was apprehensive at first about the cultural/language barrier…but I know what it feels like to be in a society where people don’t/won’t appreciate my culture and language…I guess I’m just trying to say that every American fellow is different…and American privilege is not equally distributed….

1. Welcome to TFC!

2. Clarification: we are all the intersection of multiple identities. Because of intersectionality, our (lack of) racial, gender, and class privileges affects how we perceive and receive American privilege. American privilege is real: America has been exploiting the rest of the world for ages (and before America, the British Empire), and we as Americans benefit from that. 

3. Because we are the intersection of multiple identities, some are more salient than others depending on the context. When U and I are eating with a whole bunch of people from his school community, and the men always serve him first, me second, themselves third, and leave the local women to serve themselves, what’s going on? U is a man who looks obviously foreign. I’m a woman who if I didn’t tell them I was American, they wouldn’t know. But they serve me because I am still a bourgie American.

4. Welcome to TFC, and can’t wait to meet you in offline life! 

Perhaps it garnered my response because you made statements about other fellows without backing it up.

I’m not sure why you feel the need to insult your co-workers publicly. A few posts I’ve read on your blog refer to the inadequacy of other fellows’ skills/experience to your own. I’m not trying to silence you. I’m asking you to stop being disrespectful and unprofessional.

I hope this comes off less as a reflection of my privilege and more as anger with how you’ve portrayed the people with whom you work in a public forum. If it’s the former, then I guess there’s nothing I can say.

-Chris

Also, ethnicnraunchy, congrats on becoming a fellow! Feel free to reach out.


shainagoeschina:

3hours2burma:

“Call Me Maybe”, Chengguan Middle School style!

I’m so proud of my English Corner kids. The kids were so cute!

Check out my friend’s awesome music video she did at her school!

(Wow Chengguan looks nice…:O)

Awesome! We have Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” coming up, stay tuned.


Yellow Faced: On building cross-cultural relationships →

unapologetically-yellow:

One of the (many) things TFC struggles with is building bonds between the Chinese and foreign fellows beyond teammates. Discussions of this have always focused on better cross-cultural events during Summer Institute (SI) and the language and cultural barrier. We never talk about the giant elephant…

This makes sense:

American privilege is the reason why most foreign fellows enter TFC and arrive to China without being able to speak functional Chinese.

This doesn’t:

White privilege is the reason why white fellows are beloved at their schools without having to work at it too much, and yet some always manage to fuck up it up despite the buffer their privilege affords them. 

Can you go into detail? I haven’t heard too much of white Fellows “fucking it up” at their schools. Is there evidence to this happening?

In the last two years I’ve seen white, Chinese, and POC fellows do amazing things at their schools. And more often than not, they collaborated on projects: fundraising for clean water; extracurricular clubs/sports; the list goes on.

The white Fellows I’ve known and worked with over the years (I can’t speak for everyone) experience white privilege the second they show up. We try to understand it, work with our Chinese partners to learn more about it. And yes, we often take advantage of it. But most fellows work as hard as local teachers, keep the same duties, and are part of the school culture. They insist to be given the same responsibilities given to local teachers. And they work their asses off.

You have a limited knowledge of what goes on at each school. So do I. You are making irresponsible accusations, especially when foreign and Chinese fellows are putting in extra hours on the weekends and after school to reach out to their students. 

I’m confused why you feel confident enough with your Chinese language ability to insult those who are unable to speak as well as you do. What gives you the right to shit on them? If you have a problem with this, your anger should be directed at TFC’s recruiting practices, not the people who chose to come here.

Your comments dismiss the strong relationships that exist between Chinese, white, and POC fellows. Maybe you just don’t know about them. And if that’s the case, maybe you shouldn’t write about them.

-Chris

And no, Chinese fellows do have the language to talk about white privilege. This comes up all the time in Ximu. Chinese fellows may indeed have a better understanding of what white privilege in rural China actually looks like than what you’ve written on your blog.