Saturday, September 29, 2007

Teacher's Day Eulogy

As I was going through the motion of another routineous day, I remembered very well that it was the Grand Teacher's Day when the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius was honored for his birthday. Didn't we use to get a day off and didn't we use to send cards to our teachers? Now it is not celebrated as a holiday although its significance remains on the calendar with a tiny mark next to the day.

So it was a work day for me on a day that was not publicly acknowledged anymore. I sat with my morning freshman psych. classes in an international conference which they were forced to attend. I felt like a nanny and many times I feel so in my current job. What was really funny was that the department sent a student worker to remind me of my duty to keep the students from skipping the event. The topic was music therapy and I doubted how many of them felt truly inspired at their age? Why did they call this an international conference anyway when the audience wasn't international at all?

At 3:30pm, my dear student Mr. Liu showed up to present a card to me. It was the third time in a roll that he did this and I, on seeing him outside of my office waiting, suppressed my tears. I really wanted to hug and thank him for remembering me on this day. For the first time in three years, I felt like a teacher who was truly appreciated by a student. I told him how special he was and he seemed embarrassed, not expecting this to come from me-a teacher. Taiwanese student may not be used to hearing compliments. But I ignored that and told him how much he had made my day.

On the card, he wrote, "dear teacher, I want to know if you are as pretty as ever, and I hope they are not killing you with this amount of work. I wish you are more beautiful each year. Thank you for being a part of my life." How can I not feel touched by sweet words like these? Mr. Liu certainly did not expect me to read the card in front of him. I answered each of his questions in the card and asked him to show me the secret of staying young and beautiful as we age.

There was this person in my life whom I owed thanks to on every Teacher's Day. It was my first English teacher Mr. Huang in junior high school. He gave me a key to the world by leading me to understand the north American cultures and language. He was not only a teacher, but a father figure to his young students by giving his love unconditionally. There I was, a sad girl searching for the meanings of life at the age of 13. I did not like school and doubted why I had to be imprisoned in a culture where my individualism was not valued. I wanted an outlet to a different life and found my escape in the world of English. I felt as if I was in a different world where I could be who I was, without having to abide by the rules of absurdity. It was a make-believe world where I temporarily relieved myself from the boredom of life.

Mr. Huang raised two children on his own after his wife had passed away. He would often come by and reach out to hold us, urging us to practice English with him. But we all ran away. Studying English for more than five hours a day was drilling to young teens. As much as I enjoyed learning it, I couldn't help join other students for a complaint from time to time.

It was when I was in college that I heard Mr. Huang had cancer and was very sick in the hospital. I was in shock and did not know what to do to cheer him up. I had not kept in touch with him although I was one of his favorite students. I was too scared to go see him. From other former classmates, I learned that he was not doing well. Several of them had visited him. And I, waited, and waited until one day I heard that he had passed away. I heard that he worked away typing the English practice sheets for his students on his sick bed, until the very last day of his life.

All these years, I felt like a coward because I was too afraid of death to visit Mr. Huang while he was still alive. I missed my chance of saying goodbye. Mostly, I miss him so much that I wish I could see him smiling with his cute buck teeth again. I know that he is in good hands with the Lord but I really miss him. I want to ask him to teach me to say the double "r" in Spanish, again and again. I would practice very hard until I get it right this time. And I would tell him that he is the best teacher that I've ever had, the most talented Asian teacher who rolled his tongue so well when speaking Spanish. I want to tell him that I was mimicking his ways in teaching my own English classes to teenagers when I was back in college, and I had done very well producing some excellent students who went on to shine in the world of the English language. Perhaps I've managed to keep his legacy?

I am writing this in memory of the one and only Mr. Huang from Concordia Middle School, for he inspired me to interact with another world that I found comfort in my early miserable teen years. I love you very much Mr. Huang. Can you see that I just got a card from a student? I wish you had an address that I can send my card to.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Beauty or Persecution?

Some say it is inhuman to treat women like this while others say these women and girls should be freed from wearing coils on the neck. I simply do not judge. There is nothing wrong in letting people do whatever they want to preserve their own cultures. Most of the long neck tribe live in the mountains of Mae Hong Son where they are widely spread out. This village we visited was only a "show case" where souvenir selling was a major activity.

Perhaps they took turns to man the exhibition booths. Perhaps they lived in the tents for a few days before other tribal women came in to take over the duties. I saw women caring for little ones, girls putting special make-ups on to attract visitors and mostly people persuading us to shop.

One of the visitors, a nurse, reached out to touch a little girl's neck, saying that she had suffered from an allergy to brass. I tried to stop her from doing that. It was an act of disrespect to me and I did not like that. This lady expressed her sympathy and swore that something needed to be done to "rescue" these women and girls from wearing the brass coils.

What right do we outsiders have to judge what is good for people from a different culture? Can we be forcing our values on them without understanding the history of their perceptions of beauty? On my return flight to Bangkok, I read that the Long Neck tribe actually welcomed the help from the government to draw their community together. The government's plan was to help with the housing and life subsidy by opening their community to visitors without charging a fee to enter. Of course it can be seen as a scheme to spruce up tourism. At the same time, it helps the villagers earn extra incomes to improve their lives in the mountain. It can be interpreted as enabling the sharing of the tribal cultures too. As long as a permission has been obtained from the tribe, or most of the people from the tribe, they can decide their own future.

But when I heard one of these women talking with a coarse voice and the little girl breathing hard as I sat beside her, I couldn't help wondering if that might have been the result from wearing this heavy metal..Would I change my position to become one of these "rescuer wanna be"s if more adverse facts were presented to me? I do not know what to think anymore.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Aka boys

Walking quietly up the hill with bamboo shoots in the bags, they made no sounds and I couldn't read their emotions. I spoke a simple Thai hello, had an urge to shop for the goods, but the ridiculous thought of carrying a bamboo shoot in a mountaineering trip stopped me. They didn't speak back. I posed beside them for a photo and oops, I didn't ask for their permission. But how would I know if they had granted me an okay for photo shooting? They didn't speak at all. I felt that I was taking advantage of their silence. How many bamboo shoots could they sell each day and who had sent them up here? I waived a good bye and walked to the car. They seemed to frown a little but perhaps it was just my illusion. I kept turning back to check on them, waiving my arm several times and there they were, standing still, looking at me. They did not move at all. I waived my final good bye before getting into the car, and finally one of them waived back. The gesture melted my heart at that moment. I wanted to make sure that they knew we were leaving and we weren't going back to buy those bamboo shoots. Weren't they supposed to be in school at this time of the day? Were they curious at us too as we were at them? What if I were born an Aka woman? Was this the way I would have raised my children and would I surrender to my fate?

For the rest of the clear day in northern Thailand, these boys' images stayed with me. I wondered what they did and where they went after our brief encounter.