Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Little Break From The Concrete

Stepping back from the main plot line, I have some abstractions and side comments to share from the internet cafe I finally found in the first free time we've really had (thanks to the school I teach at having midterms today, tomorrow and Friday).

First of all, in case the news got here first, OBAMA IS GOING TO BE PRESIDENT!!!

Not being in the U.S. for the last two months (or, more specifically, being in a bubble of rabid Obama supporters) has made my anxiety about the election a little remote. While I consciously knew McCain could win, the danger was theoretical. I didn't feel it in my gut. Still, I'm ohmygoodness so excited. We got to watch a little of the election coverage on broken-up live-streaming from and I saw both McCain's and Obama's speeches (or most of them, at least). I thought McCain's was really classy. In fact, I liked him far more during that speech than I did at any point during the campaign and I think he may have been more successful had he struck that conciliatory, hopeful tone during the campaign. Then again, I missed a lot of the campaign so take my opinion there with a grain of salt. (WITH a grain of salt? WORTH a grain of salt? I have the same problem with "speak my PIECE/PEACE..." Which is it?) Obama's speech was pretty good, too, although that was more broken up so it was harder to get the continuity. I did appreciate his story about the 106 year old woman, although I thought there was something in it that he could have hit a little ended a little flat for me. Still, I teared up while listening, and I know several other TBBers did, too. I think Obama will be great for a lot of reasons, but since I'm traveling I think I'll only touch on internationally relevant ones. Obama is going to be much, much better for our relationships with foreign governments than McCain would. McCain seems to have a 20th century view of the world, where America is the only superpower (since the USSR is gone) and where we can do what we want, generally succeed, and still have the respect of much of the world. We may get that respect back with Obama in office, but I think our superpower days are over and we have to accept that. It isn't really such a bad thing, is it? Additionally, many people I've met seem to think that the racial situation in America is stuck in the '50's. While it is far from perfect, I think we've made progress since then and electing an African American to the highest office in our country sends a message to the world about equality in the U.S. It feels weird for me even to mention that, because while I realize that we've never had a black president (or a female, or any other minority group at all, really), it doesn't feel impossible (and clearly, it isn't). I grew up in a liberal area in a liberal family with a lot of books for little kids telling me that I could grow up to be whatever I wanted to be. I came of voting age at a time when Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson and Barack Obama were all viable presidential candidates and that seemed totally normal. I'll take that to mean we're making a lot of progress. If having a woman and a minority battling it out for the Democratic nomination seems normal, if what I was focusing on was less that they were a female and a black man and more on their policies and, let's be honest, personalities, then maybe presidential races with four protestant white males are really becoming a thing of the past. Let's hope so. (Then again, I really liked John Edwards, so instead of hoping for the downfall of white males in politics, let's hope to move to a point where race and gender become moot because their distribution among politicians mirrors relatively fairly the population of our country).

Second, books. We're currently reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which is not an easy read, but seems pretty interesting so far. I'll get back to you on that. We have also just finished a lighter book called Three Cups of Tea. The story was fascinating and having read it, I'm glad I did, but I have to warn you that reading it was painful. It is just terribly written. I don't know how it ever got published. Where was the editor with the red pen? There are bad cliches ("Was the glass half full or half empty?"...referring to an actual glass and intending to be deeply metaphorical), overly sappy passages and some very awkward transitions, all of which I found incredibly frustrating. As I read, I felt they took me out of the story (and a lot of my margin notes attest to that...I have many and "ew" or "why would you write that?" scribbled on the side of the page), but having read the book, I remember the story fondly. It was pretty darn interesting despite the writer's best efforts to make me put the book down. I don't know if I recommend it or not. It depends on how picky you are about things like this...but even I am glad I read it.

Third, language and homestays. As you might have gathered, my homestay here in Kunming is less than spectacular and it's gotten me thinking about homestays in general. In Bua, it was awesome to be able to communicate with my family well enough to have discussions about politics, environmentalism and life in general. I learned a lot from living and conversing with Germania, Wilson and the other Tsachila. It was also really great to get to practice my Spanish. In Kunming, I am clearly not having those complex and fascinating conversations. I can barely say hello. (I am trying to learn, it's just not that easy!) Other TBBers can communicate, some well enough to have those discussions, but those discussions are always in English because being able to communicate means that the host family speaks some English and not that we speak Chinese. While it's great to have that sort of give an take with people from other cultures whatever the language, something about coming to their country and expecting them to speak our language sits wrong with me. China's government is convinced that English is an international language and so now makes it mandatory to teach English in schools. Still, I would much rather speak Chinese in China. I know I can't speak the language of every country I visit; that would be too much to ask, but for me, at least, it feels important to speak the language when doing a homestay. I'm coming into their home, benefitting from their hospitality and it feels like the least I could do would be to communicate, however badly, in their language.

Speaking of benefitting from their hospitality, I'm going to be late for dinner if I don't get home ASAP and that would be rather rude, something I try to avoid being. So I'm signing out for now. Keep me posted on all of your news.

With hope for our future,


McG said...

but prop 8 passed, as did a ban on gay couples adopting kids in arkansas, so clearly america isn't becoming as accepting as we think/hope. the prejudice is just shifting to a new demographic.

also, it's WITH and PIECE, in case that was really bothering you (which I'm sure it wasn't).

Anyway i'm glad you guys got ot see the speeches I thought they were incredible. Did you get any sense of the reaction from the Chinese side? Was there any reaction? Are tehre any English-language newspapers?

I think the Chinese government and schools are right in thinking that English is an international language, etc, but I also agree with you that it's respectful and probably more culturally enriching to be able to speak the native language when visiting a foreign country.

Staci said...

I read Three Cups of Tea, too. It took me forever to finish it (because of the reasons you mentioned), but the info was cool and it's encouraging the hear how one organization is making a difference in Pakistan.

It's great hearing the latest. I hope things improve with your homestay! It would be tough to not have any host siblings and virtually no ability to speak the language. Good luck with the teaching. And happy belated birthday!


Dr. Zeuss said...

All us gap year people are really lucky Obama won - people's attitudes toward us and Americans in general are going to be so much more positive due to having this bright shining light in there instead of another Bush equivalent.

Absolutely everyone on the campaign was in tears watching Obama's speech in the hotel room afterwards. Even dudes. Guys weren't even ashamed about it, it was just what you had to do.

I hope your homestay improves/am confident it will.