Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some Questions You Might Ask...

"The face of the moose is as sad as the face of Jesus." -Mary Oliver


What makes a good teacher?

What proceeds is one of my favorite lines of poetry introduced to me by my favorite college professor, with whom I had the distinct honor and great pleasure to speak via Skype a couple weeks ago for the undeserved period of half-an-hour. These adoring remarks are unseemly, as he informed me at that time that I am at the top of my game with my writing and that he reads these brief posts with pleasure. Having joined his profession as teacher and scholar somewhat lackadaisically in college and after college, but now in earnest, I nonetheless brown my nose, doff my cap, bow at the waist, kowtow and otherwise supplicate to this master, sensei, and emeritus professor because there is, in such deference, no matter how suspect and revolting, a larger lesson about education: Praise and encouragement, though not singularly, are essential ingredients to the success and progress of the student and novice as much as they are to the teacher and abbot.

This nugget alone might be enough to earn your collective and singular forgiveness for so indulging myself in these virtual pages, but there is a more important nugget still. Being a teacher of any slight ability, no matter how humble, meek, or mediocre, is sure to earn you the love, devotion, admiration, and respect of some number of your flock, though certainly not all of them and certainly for a wide variety of barely good and quite questionable reasons. (It is, doubtlessly, the same for celibate priests, fallen statesmen, rapacious captains of industry, and others who hold serious responsibilities.) To abuse these feelings of fidelity or to think that they have anything at all to do with your own abilities (rather than gifts and fortunes) is fallacious and hubris of severest proportion (ask Mr. John Edwards or the pious keepers of American public opinion). While I can promise you that these reflections are not at all meant for my professor's contemplation, because he has no pretenses or appearance of false modesty, I do think they are worth mentioning, because I am informed, rather darkly and all too regularly, by my direct superior that no small number of my peers and predecessors at this post have thought that the clapping and favor showered upon them by certain segments of their student population did rain down upon them as reward for their exemplary services and skills. 'Tis not likely the case. Furthermore, Chinese students are fairly required to respect and like their teachers, even foreign devils the likes of me.


How do you say "cheers" in Mandarin?

As this post may be the creative spawn of bai jiu's blacker characteristics (Chinese grain alcohol and the infamous, ubiquitous, cheap "white liquor" of the Middle Kingdom), I repeat here (early on) the last question of one of my high school classmates from her recent interrogatory. (We shall turn to some other questions you and she might ask, momentarily.)  I wish to dissect this rather simple question because it betrays her sophistication. She is aware that Mandarin is the language that a) I am slowly learning, b) is native to this city, and c) is predominantly spoken throughout China. Cantonese and many other languages indigenous to the 55 minorities here are also spoken across this diverse and expansive nation. There is no way to say, "Guzzle your alcohol" in some of these languages, because alcohol is verboten by devout Muslims, at the very least, and, as any reader of the newspapers knows, Uighurs figure among their number.

Due to the overwhelming, almost crushing hospitality of the Han (the 56th ethnic group of the People's Republic) upon every other nearby tribe and nation, lost or founded, in their vicinity, they nearly all comport, I am guessing, with the flavor of the Mandarin ejaculation, "Gan bei!", which means, literally, "dry the cup" or, loosely (so to speak), "bottoms up." You are, once everybody has a glass raised, meant to nick your friend's glasses and then throw back the fiery broth with gusto upon the utterance of these too frequent syllables.

A variety of resources from those who find themselves in the state I find myself tonight more regularly (I insist, in a rather Gertrudian fashion, that I am not under the influence) will allow you, my dear reader, to familiarize yourself with many variations of pronunciation and form for toasting your compadres the world over. Would be a wonderful world if such summer linguists and sunshine polyglots dedicated themselves to listing the various ways of saying "I am sorry" or even "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned" with the same Celtic passion that they have poured into these compilations. Alas, that is not the case and I do not wish to dwell upon it in my current state. Rather I wish to finish my exegesis of the drinking culture of northeastern China. Prosit!

The traditions around drinking here are enough to make the blue-blood in John McCardell's curled toes curdle. While there is no drinking age here, the way that you prove your manliness, twas 'splained to me by a Chinese reporter this eve in front of his girlfriend and mine, is to drink as much as you can. Such sporting is not just for manly men, though.

A woman here--petite and entirely Han in build and mostly in demeanor--will enter a bar, if a traditional Chinese woman can be guilty of this act in the first place, with a friend of hers and order a case of beer on her tab, as a gesture of friendship. While the beer is less potent than its American counterparts, to watch 24 bottles get imbibed between two slight girls is nothing short of remarkable. While this complete intoxication is less seldom the case (pun intended) and a great number of warm bottles (paid for, but unopened and, thankfully, not skunked) usually get left behind in the wake of such debauchery, they, like their shirtless male counterparts, drink their pi jiu (beer) and bai jiu (white liquor) accompanied by ornate plates of fruit whose centerpieces are, invariably, curlicues of watermelon rinds.  These girls, whether 12 apiece or something short of that, not infrequently find themselves fouling the sidewalks with splashes of hydrochloric acid, regurgitated fruit, and whatever else was swashing around just below the cardiac sphincter. Purged, they re-enter the establishment ready to resume their drinking. It is, while a big, boisterous and bold way of going about cementing a friendship, a foul and abusive practice that the Pentagon should exploit if it seeks to disrupt the social order here. No government decree nor any proclamation of a resident or alien lama or mullah is likely to put an end to this practice.

More questions you might ask will follow tomorrow, but I must go to bed like the early moon that God clipped from his opposable thumb earlier this week.