Thankful

I’m doing Thanksgiving lessons this week, and so far it’s been successful. It’s divided into three main components: 1) The story of the first T-Gives (In which I am lauded with applause every time I write the characters for England [英国 ] and America [美国 ], two characters I learned my first semester in class. I’m not above fame-seeking.) 2) Teaching them the names of some traditional foods and then having them plan a Thanksgiving menu as a class (This has backfired on me. I teach right before lunch almost every day, so I skip from class to the cafeteria and then load up my tray to the brim. Basically, I’m looking like a stereotypical fatty fat from America to my coworkers. Welp.) 3) Teaching them what it means to be thankful and then having them write down what they are thankful for. It’s been going well so far, even my lower level classes are getting into it.

I had an awkward moment today though with component number 3. I was going around, making sure everyone was doing their work and checking their answers. (It’s so much fun to bust kids who aren’t doing their stuff. “Hey, guys! What are YOU thankful for?!?!?“) Making the rounds, one 8th grade boy eagerly waved me down grinning to show me his answer. I took the paper and read.
I thankful for 1BJ.
Now I’m annoyed. 8th graders are notorious for pushing the limits on what is acceptable in class. We all did it at that age. In a different class, I had them write sketches about finding bugs in a hotel room. Two boys presented a sketch about “fuck a chicken.” Not cool, guys.
So I glare at him and begin to tell him off. Why would you do this? Do you think it’s funny? I am a teacher, you need to show me respect. The kid looks back at me, a hurt expression in his eyes. “But, Mr. C,” he stammered, “he is my favorite.”
I looked at the paper again. I had misread.
I thankful for 1BJ LBJ.
He was trying to tell me that he was thankful for LeBron James. Not blowjobs, just his favorite basketball player who he idolized.
Oops.
Students: 1
Mr. C: -500

Min

I met Min on the streets of Hong Kong. Around twenty or so teachers had made the trek to the city to celebrate Hong Kong’s 2013 Pride Parade. Armed with individual bottles of wine, we joined in on the parade and marched through the city in support of the area’s LGBT community. The atmosphere could only be described as jubilant. 5,200 people joined us that day. While this number pales in comparison to the crowds that turn out in similar events in America, it was quite an accomplishment for Hong Kong. The area is notoriously conservative, decriminalizing consensual homosexual relationships as recently as 1991. At the first Pride Parade five years ago, barely 1,000 people attended.

As we were walking the streets, Min overheard my friends and I singing Lana Del Rey songs (Diet Mountain Dew, baby/New York City/Never was there ever a girl so pretty) and joined in with our impromptu choir. I began chatting with her. Following the usual first meeting in China comments (“Your Chinese is SO good! Especially for a white person!”) I asked her why she was marching today.

Min, aged 17, lived in Singapore with her grandmother. She moved to Hong Kong about a month ago for fear of being disowned once her grandmother discovered that she had a girlfriend. Her grandmother does not know that Min’s move is permanent, thinking she’s just traveling with friends. Min’s currently trying to find a job to save up money to bring her girlfriend over, but so far she’s been unsuccessful. Their only communication is via Facebook, but more often than not they end up bickering due to financial stress and the emotional toll all long distance relationships take.

But then Min looked up, and with a smile she stated:

That’s why I’m marching today. No matter how much we may fight now, I know that it’s worth it. I love her, and I want to be happy with her. I want everyone to be happy.

That hit me hard. While we had come to Hong Kong in support of equal rights, we had also come intending for a light-hearted and adventurous weekend (hence the individual bottles of wine). I had never thought about how differently it is for LGBT people over in different countries. Not that I don’t know that discrimination is rampant in other parts of the world, but I never really had considered the individiual. I’ve never been associated with anything other than unconditional support and love from friends and families, never once doubting who I am or what I’m capable of doing. Any obstacle I had overcome is immensely overshadowed by what she has had to endure.

I came to China to have my perspective challenged and my mind opened up by an entire country. All it took was one seventeen year-old girl.