Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Winnie could be better


A sick child is sitting next to me. Slumped over, with her head in her hands, she has not said one word to me. Winnie is someone I have empathized with from the start.
She has reminded me of me as a child. She is smart, but kind of awkward. She wants friends, but does not have the looks or the interests of a popular girl. Okay, that later is a bit different from me, but you know what I mean. She wears pink, but she does not live pink. She does not obsess over which princess to draw. She is the only kid in my kindergarten class who could read entirely internally, that has to say something.
She was also the worst of my kids at getting in a straight line. She would always stagger to the left or the right, not really paying attention. The other kids would eventually bite, and by the end, I could get a near perfect line, with Winnite wandering around. She could see through my games. She did not want constant hugs. In fact, she recoiled from potential hugs and only seemed to care about class when she needed to think. She enjoys math, and is never sure what to do during playtime.
She always had a lot of energy, so it is especially hard to see her now, slumped over as pathetic as she can manage to muster.
Right now I am only teaching two boys, Eason and Kevin. Kevin is very bright and learning English fast. Eason is not. Eason refuses to learn the most basic things, explained, yelled, spelled for him. Kevin has truly random roadblocks. He can do something complex, something simple, back and forth until some random task will throw him. Kevin eventually overcomes them, but Eason sticks with his roadblocks.
At least they both can say “I see a centipede!” When they see a centipede, and sometimes when they don’t. Now that is progress. That tidbit was from last week’s chapter, “I See a Bug!” This week we are delving into the thick content of “The Pet She Wants.”
I really, really, desperately wanted to do, “I’m not a Dinosaur,” but the chapter was just too weird. As much as I loved the idea of kids adamantly proclaiming that they were not prehistoric creatures, the chapter was too mixed in skill level. The book had a connect the dots with “A,B,C…” sandwiched between pages expertly detailing every single English contraction, “I would’ve been a dinosaur...” The sheets were something I could give fluent speakers, but seemed a bit much for a class where only half the students know how to answer “So how are you today?”
Not to ruin the end, but that question’s answer is “Fine.” What if the answer is not fine? What if I want to say “I am shitty today, how are you?” It bothers me that “How are you today?” has become a throw away question. That is a very personal question, a very intimate question. However, in the name of making chitchat, it has been reduced to being an inane thing to say when the conversation lags or is about to begin.
So now we pass it on to our children. I am learning “Ne hao ma?” which asks the same question. The response is “Hen hao,” I am very good. I consider myself lucky when a native even replies with that, let alone “I just misplaced my prosthetic limb.” For me, I don’t even know how to say, “My world is collapsing into the darkest reaches of a great abyss” or “If I had the option, I would like to have my appendix out right now.” On the other side, I don’t know how to say, “This land is of milk and honey, I now live in a constant ecstacy.”
It bothers me that when I ask “Ne hao ma?” to speakers, I am lucky to get a smile and a knod. I really want to know damn it. I don’t care if they answer in Chinese, and I don’t care if I don’t understand, seriously, “how the fuck are you?”
I know people who have protested the question itself. A somewhat crazy co-worker of mine insisted on not using it, and would sometimes reply with a “do you really care?” Yes, I really did care. Well, maybe not about him, but normally I care.
If all we have is the present. If the past is never going to change, and we can never know the future, then shouldn’t a question asking us to detail our present be a big deal? Hell, that should be the deal, the only deal. That question should be followed with careful diatribes, or perhaps improvised poems.
But that’s wrong, the answer is “Fine, thank you, how are you?”
I am okay. Winnie though, she could be better.

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