Sorry for not blogging much over the last couple weeks . . . I’m still not happy blogging without uploading pics to scatter throughout the posts I write, and I’ve also been insanely busy . . .
Anyways, today in class we began working on demonstration speeches. I showed my students a video of me demonstrating how to do a demonstration speech (ha, mabye I should say “modeling”). The topic was ‘How to put nail polish on your finger nails.” Yes, that’s what I said, lol. (Other reasons I chose this video, of about 6 I did as models for previous courses where I’ve taught demo speeches, are that it wakes up the students and gets them paying attention, and it’s just plain funny to watch, lol.)
I explained to the students, cause they all thought the topic was ‘odd’ for a guy to be doing (hey, why the hell not?), that I’ve seen my sister, my mother, and girlfriends over the years all do their nails. After explaining how I was able to give instructions and do a demo speech on this topic, I decided to say one more thing–and stepped on a major cross-cultural ESL/EFL university classroom landmine . . .
I asked the class this question: How many of you have sisters? And how many of you have watched them paint their nails?
Yeah, let’s pause for a moment, and watch as Jason’s foot gets blown up straight into his mouth–lol.
If you haven’t caught on yet as to why this is a rather STUPID and culturally INSENSITIVE question to ask students . . . consider that I’m teaching in China. A country which has a one child policy . . .
Yeah! Nice one, buddy!
The students didn’t seem upset or mad or anything bad in terms of how they reacted. It was more like they all did a lightning-fast scan of the room to see who was dumb enough to admit their family had violated the policy (I won’t comment on whether anyone raised their hand or not). When they looked back at me it was with a kind of surreal are-you-actually-asking-us-that-question-look-in-their-eyes . . . and then I realized what I had done and quickly switched gears and refocused everyone onto another aspect of the demonstration speeches.
Even though Julianne and I have only been in China for about six weeks I thought it’d be interesting to write a bit here about taboo topics I’ve discovered so far . . . or at least topics that are culturally sensitive.
1. ‘Do you have any brothers or sisters?’
As I said before, one child policy . . .
2. ‘Do you like Japanese people/culture?’ Basically, anything to do with Japan.
There is a visceral reaction that has taken place every time anything/everything Japanese comes up in the conversations I’ve had with my students so far (bear in mind this is with one university, and in one region of China, and I’ve only been in-country six weeks). If you don’t know why some/many/all (?) Chinese people dislike/hate the Japanese this is one of the major reasons,
“The Nanking Massacre or Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, is a mass murder and war rape that occurred during the six-week period following the Japanese capture of the city of Nanjing (Nanking), the former capital of the Republic of China, on December 13, 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. During this period, hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers were murdered and 20,000–80,000 women were raped by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army.”
NOTE: This being said, I should qualify it, and problematize it, by saying that a few students I’ve spent a lot of time with have said to me that they like Japanese animation and comic books . . . so I think it’s safe to say that not everyone (and how the hell would I know considering there are 1.3 billion people here) dislikes the Japanese, and actually quite a few love Japanese culture and people. (You can see pics I took on my flickr page of an anime, comic book, and cosplay exhibition I went to in China.)
3. ‘I think basketball is boring.’
Basketball is a BIG DEAL in China. Every time I walk around campus after the regular lectures/classes have ended I can see many students and teachers playing basketball on massive multi-court fields. I’ve been asked several times now if I know so-and-so-player, and mentally wince when I have to say I don’t know who the person is talking about (I actually do think basketball is boring–lol.)
Anyways, I don’t usually make step on too many cross-cultural landmines in the classroom–but today’s was definitely a big one.
Luckily, I’ve spent enough time now teaching my students that they have a sense of who I am as a teacher, and as a person, and they knew it was just an honest mistake.