By tuck 03 May 2003
While living in a new and foreign place, there’s a certain mysticism that shrouds the acquaintances I make. Take, for example, the woman who sweeps the dirt (off of the dirt) behind my building. If I was to attempt bringing her to America, I’m convinced that somewhere along the journey she would vanish. I visualize this happening in the same way that Marty McFly begins to fade away in BTTF. The sweeper-lady’s existence and reality is only there, behind my building; any displacement is misplacement and violates a time-and-place cosmic order. I’d even be surprised if she shows up in photos. She’d be in pictures whenever I looked, but as soon as I show someone from home, she’d be gone.
In addition to random people here, I also have difficulties imagining friends from my Beijing existence crossing over into my US life, my US world. After two years of sharing stories with Chinese pals while walking down shit-smelling, dusty, rotting-garbage roads around parts of Beijing, I’m somehow unable to imagine them someday in the passenger seat of my car in the US as we drive to a city. Again, these people belong to a segment of my reality that is non-transferable.
I remember posting on thraxil after a multi-month hiatus last year. I put up some (possibly shocking) pictures of me teaching English to a class of 6-year old Chinese children. A few months later I mentioned that I had introduced a tabletop, modified-for-purpose RPG to a high school class as a way of boosting student morale and motivation for getting into the technical grit of English grammar. It worked well; the students were less likely to err if each mistake made (per sentence) was a cost to their character (ranging from robots, to NBA stars, to Weiner dogs).
This school wasn’t one of Beijing’s 3-4 best, which means that the students are essentially doomed, regardless of aptitude, motivation or effort. For them, getting a real education or getting outside of China (if desired) is practically impossible. If they had the kind of money that would grant such freedom, they’d be at a different school. They’d already have a completely different life.
I grew somewhat fond of one student. She was incredibly free-thinking, ballsy, a little rough around the edges, underprivileged and essentially cool as hell. She was particularly keen on my stories describing expanses of clean woods, free roaming dogs, and the absence of people in my area of New Hampshire. She used to ask me questions:
“Are there animals in the woods?”
“Are they dangerous?”
“Only if very hungry.”
“Would they eat a person?”
While playing English-Class RPG, she was always asking for huge, open space. “Is there a field over there?” “Yes.” “I go to the field and explore.”
Her teachers repeatedly told her mom that she wasn’t destined for higher education (in China, this entire judgment is made on one’s middle school math aptitude)(Reason #189 to despise China’s system)), and should begin to consider what she wanted to do with her life that wouldn’t require college. This basically amounted to a sentence of stagnation and poverty.
I don’t know exactly when the idea came to me, but at some point last year I began thinking about how much she would enjoy seeing a place like New England, and parts of New Hampshire and Maine in particular. To us, people born and raised there, the landscape is commonplace and boring. We flock to cities (usually) to escape the drab spaciousness, and to be closer to other people and things. The key dynamics of rural life in New England consists of things like seasonal changes, the very occasional new restaurant or shop to check out, and home maintenance- very attractive perks for the elderly, yes, but for anyone with energy and motivation, it can suffocate. The dynamics of city residency, however, are infinite. Each day outside is full of surprise and newness. Just walking to work is guaranteed to be somewhat interesting. But for people who’ve only known “city”, getting out in the woods can have its own thrill. For these types, driving through certain areas is like visiting a park. Actually, most of the places of which I’m thinking are just uncared-for expanses bordered by forests between Here-and-there Maine, USA. Yet they beat the hell out of most parks, especially those in developing countries like China. Not only do you have to pay to visit these state-owned greeneries, you are also nearly always forbidden to trod freely about.
I managed to broker a $17,000 scholarship for this girl, Ma Su Shan (a.k.a. Susanna) to attend my old boarding school in Kents Hill, Maine. She’ll be the first Mainland Chinese student to attend there, and hopefully not the last.
I would have given anything to see the faces of her fucking psychologically abusive teachers once her family announced her acceptance abroad. I wish I could have stormed into the classroom to yank her away and load her into a limo in front of the school while all her teachers and classmates looked on in anger and confusion. We’d flip them off as we drove away.
While many other friends and acquaintances remain locked in this Beijing reality, to my own surreal awakening (she’s crossing over!), there is new globe-trotting renegade where once there never was, or, in her environment, never could be.
It’ll be fun to take her out for weekend trips to Boston and NYC. Hopefully friends will help add to her experience as well.
Anyway, it feels good to have been a part of this. And I needed to negate some bad karma from my youth anyway.