Mongolian ponies…everywhere. Filly was amazed at how short they were, yet how sturdy. The ponies filled the school along with goats, snakes and monkeys. All of them studying something. Filly was soon to have a meeting with the school officials about what would be her schedule and what she would be teaching. Filly must always do what she was told and learn that nothing was done outside the chain of elders. Thus, the meeting about her was held between the auspicious and wise old horse who was the school president and the head of her team, the Texas Appaloosa Mare.
Filly watched as the meeting progressed through interpreter and was interested in the old goat that had been brought with them to the meeting who said nothing, but looked very sad and he stared at the Filly with an unusual look in his eye that she had not encountered before and just before she figured it out, found the Texas Mare had questions for the old goat.
It became painfully obvious from the conversation between the Texas Mare and the Old Goat that the school was forcing him into retirement in order to give Filly classes. He became very emotional when asked to express himself regarding this and his reasoning surprised both Filly and the Texas Mare.
When I arrived in China, the school year was already underway. The school had been lobbying Beijing for another foreign guest worker and when I became available, they were favored by Beijing with me.
The school immediately went about making arrangements for my arrival. Already on campus were the other members of my team, Mrs. Barbara Casteel from Dallas, Tx – a widow and former missionary second language teacher in Puerto Rico and Ann Roesner, a 30-year old woman from Missouri. These women had worked together in Wuhu for 1 year, left and returned to be working their second year. Also with them, but not part of the team was an English woman of Barbara’s age named Joan Waller.
Now, the Chinese at this school, not as used to foreigners as schools in big cities or trade towns who had much contact with foreigners assumed that they could just thrust me into Joan’s flat to live with her for the year as Ann and Barbara shared a flat. Their assumption was that all foreigners were alike, especially if their language was the same. This did not happen, as the women stood their ground.
After my arrival, the school decided to throw me into teaching immediately. To do that, a teacher already teaching would have to suffer what we in the states term ‘early retirement’. We, the foreign experts, did not see that one coming. Therefore, we were a little taken aback by the school wishing to hold a meeting with us.
Everything done in China is done by going up a chain of command. A youngster such as I was (although an adult in the US, by Chinese standards, I was very much a child…there people don’t seriously date or consider marriage until at least 30. This also helps keep the population minimized by limiting the years of a woman’s fertility.Â I would never have a say in anything I was to do.
So we sat down for the meeting and I noticed an older man tagging along and a bit behind with a very heavy countenance. But he stared at me unnervingly, almost with disdain in his eyes. I could not think what I had done to cause the weight of his look. Then Barbara, upon realizing what the school was about to do, asked to question the man. His outburst was quite emotional. The school was wishing to immediately place him on retirement to give me classes. Before the term was finished. But that wasn’t the most intriguing and shocking thing he would tell us.
‘It wouldn’t be so humiliating, except that I was to lose place to American Chinese girl. Who she think she is? Come over to tell us what to do, like she better than us?’
That took all of us aback. Me? An American born Chinese girl??
The meeting concluded with the decision that he would continue teaching until the end of term. At term end THEN I would take over classes. I would be teaching British History to English major sophomores (in English) – even more highly amusing to me that this task was given to the American when a British citizen was present -and then I would have 12 listening and speaking classes with about 100 students each who were all science and technology majors.
Until those classes started, I was to give American culture lectures in English once a week that would be open to all students and have question and answer sessions. Easy peasy, you’re thinking…HAH!
Well, here’s the deal…I had no textbooks. I would have to come up with my own curriculum and lesson plans. I had only a crude typewriter (it was before computers) and the office mimeograph machine which may or may not work. And I had about 8 weeks, wherein I would be allowed to use a Chinese library for resources…one I could not remove books from and neither could my students. I would be watched for what books I used and all materials would be reviewed for ‘content’. (Thank God for Joan Waller, her materials and her help when it came to British History!!)
My lectures would require me to perform things like Climb Every Mountain (a popular English song) and Country Roads (which I know the words to NOW!!) and answer questions such as who was a greater president–Abraham Lincoln or George Washington?
And underlying it all, was the new question for all of us teachers to ponder. Why had they thought I was an American-born Chinese girl??
The word for foreigner in Chinese is Wei Guo Ren. It literally translates to ‘Big Nose’. What we learned was a lesson in how race is viewed and prejudice. While we in America and Europe to some extent, are raised to automatically view and make determinations on a person’s skin tones, the Chinese look at the face, especially the eyes and bridge of the nose. We also learned a little about prejudice. The native born Chinese despise Foreign born Chinese coming to them in superior tones and telling them what to do as if they were children on the world scene. This also has to do a bit with the Foreign born Chinese’s acceptance of and use of foreigner’s and foreign ways….the entire reason for the Cultural Revolution in the first place. And I was at the center of it!
Filly went to her stall to begin preparing for all the work she was going to have to do. So many ponies, so little time. She also looked in the mirror and learned a little more about herself. Old Goat would have been proud.