Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Questions answered.

Q. Um...what's going on?
A. Well, as it happens, I'm moving on April 9 to Tianjin, China, to teach English to humans aged 16-60 for a year.

Q. Why are you moving to China exactly?
A. That's a loaded question. First, I've always wanted to live abroad; one of my larger regrets from college (of which there are several, but not many) was not studying abroad. It's better late than never.

I have a minor in Asian Studies, and while that program was, for me, mostly focused on South Asia (India/Pakistan/Sri Lanka), I think some of the more survey-style courses I took will provide me with a general lens of understanding. Plus, as my tentative itinerary is to travel from Beijing to Lhasa and Kathmandu, and eventually into India for a modest tour of the country at the end of my year in China, I will "live what I've learned" after all. For a few days, at least.

Ultimately, I don't think I'll do too many "exciting things" in my life, and this is something I will cherish well into the early stages of Alzheimer's.

Plus, hi, it's China. Who doesn't want to go there? (Ok, besides every friend I have propositioned for a visit.)

Q. Aren't you going to miss us?
A. Well...yes. But, I'm a fairly solitary individual, for starters; being alone with 1 billion Chinese shouldn't be too much of a strain on my robust mental state. The communique I maintain with friends and family is largely by phone and E-mail--two resources to which I will continue to have access. Plus, people (mostly referring to my mother, who cries at least once every time I see her post-decision)! It's only a year! Settle down.

Q. Hey, you're all knowledgeable about postcolonialism and cultural imperialism and whatnot. Isn't this job flying in the face of all you believe in?
A. Sigh.

I have thought a lot about this. Because really, it seems like indoctrinating people, firsthand, into adhering to an ever-growing American cultural hegemony would create an ethical dilemma for me.

The rationale I have devised is the following: it's like pet ownership. I am against subjugating animals to being purposeless toys for human consumption. But the system is already in place, and has been for hundreds of years. Therefore, I will rescue a dog (Yuki) from the unpleasantness of a city shelter, not because I support systematic pet-keeping, but because I can "save" one animal's life from unpleasantness/death.

Similarly (sort of), I am against proselytizing the superiority of the English language/culture. But the system is already in place, and has been for hundreds of years. Therefore, I will teach English with cultural sensitivity and self-awareness, not because I support having some sort of Babel-like monolingual universe, but because I can "save" my students from the unpleasantness of having a teacher who purports his/her cultural background as somehow superior.

Q. How do you rationalize contributing to a society and economy in a country that does such horrible things?
A. This country does lots of horrible things as well. As many Iraqis have died in Iraq as Sudanians in Sudan, and that's only in the last five years. The US has, like China, funded wars under the table for years, providing Israel with weapons against the A-rabs, providing Afghanistan with weapons against Russia, not to mention lots of things in Africa.

On human rights: there is a supply and demand issue here. Us US of Americans don't want to buy goods for what they are intrinsically worth, so the Chinese government has seen this as an opportunity to make goods cheaper by not regulating labor in their country. Their economy prospers; we get to shop at H&M and Meijer. Fortunately, "we" haven't caught on to this system, so we can be xenophobic and "I hate China!" while continuing to allow American companies to outsource labor to China. It is a perfect system that will never end. Americans get cheap goods without making the connection between that and losing domestic manufacturing jobs; China gets to strengthen its economy and eventually take over the world.

In the US and other western countries, there is a Foucault-derived idea of the base/superstructure, in which the base is the real reason a nation/person does something, and the superstructure is the reason(s) offered to convince people that the base is the right thing. It seems like the PRC government doesn't offer a superstructure and therefore we hate them; the US and other Western governing bodies offer elegantly-constructed superstructures, but the base is the same.

The world is gray; it is neither black nor white.

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