Teaching is in full swing now as I started my 3rd week of class today. All my students this semester are freshmen university level, and so far its been a really sweet gig! Each class I start them out with an ‘ice-breaker,’ and today’s was “If someone gave you one million dollars, what would you do with it?” It’s a simple enough question right? My morning class was a bunch of duds and I got very expected and typical answers like. “I’ll give the money to my parents and give them a happy life,” or “I would travel around the world and follow my dreams!” My afternoon class however, surprise d me with a few of their replies. The first girl replied that she would “donate all of the money to charity to help the poor.” This seems sort of cliche but not for China. The poor and homeless are often looked upon as simply a nuissance. Nobody pays them any mind, and generally speaking, the Chinese have a mostly family mindset, and others get left behind. Slowly there is becoming a stronger spirit of volunteerism, but it’s still not very prevalent.
Then another student spoke up and said something that really shocked me. He said, “I would use the money to destroy the education system in China, because they never give us any freedom!”
I was blown away. Where did that come from? I encourage my students to talk freely and express their opinions about the topics we are studying, although I didn’t think I could have swayed them so quickly. I’m inclined to believe he has had these thoughts for awhile, but where did they come from? Having said that, thinking and doing are two different things. 90% of my students still won’t speak a word of English unless you call on them to speak, so even in a free environment that this boy supposedly craves, he still won’t openly express himself. Maybe he is just not used to it yet.
I thought the antics were over, but then the very next girl said that she wanted to give all the money to mentally ill and handicapped people in China. Now again, this doesn’t sound all that unusual unless you’ve lived in this culture awhile. You will pretty much never see a person in a wheel chair or someone with a mental handicapped out in public here. Now it’s either because they don’t exist, or it’s taboo for them to be out in public. Having spent more than 2 years in China, I can only remember seeing one person with downs syndrome. The only mentally disabled I’ve seen have been beggars on the street, usually accompanied by someone helping them solicit funds. Statistically, there should be thousands if not millions of Chinese people with these disabilities. Later on in the same class we discussed cultural differences and the topic came up again. I posed the question, “what will the parents think or do if they have a child who has a mental disability?” Most of the classmates seemed to be in agreement that the parents would feel utterly dissappointed, and one wonders what ultimately happens to these children.
In order to gain a little perspective and withhold judgement or speculation, this is an exceptionally difficult situation with the added stress of the one-child policy China still has. That’s no excuse to retain this attitude, or to not love a child despite the potential hardships that lie ahead, but this still likely often occurs today. After a recent orphanage visit, these issues become true to life seeing dozens of babies, mostly with cleft pallets or some other physical disabilities, many of whom were left for dead. Again, this problem is compounded by the fact that many families simply cannot afford to pay for the expensive surgeries required, and difficult decisions are made.
A life is a life, and everyone has been given their life as a gift. But that’s just my opinion, and notÂ all cultures see it the same. What do you think?