I had a midterm in my main class today; it was pretty easy. The only weird part was the question about Americans: “The ideal place for Americans to get together is a coffee shop, and the most natural way to pay is to split the bill. True or False?”
The two sections took the test at the same time, so the teacher had to go back and forth between two classrooms. This, of course, is the optimum cheating environment. The teacher even prefaced the test with some words about cheating, but it made absolutely no difference. The Russians talked out loud while she was away and merely brought it down to a clearly-audible whisper when she was present. The teacher did nothing, having fulfilled her obligation to warn against cheating but not desiring to actually do anything that might be unpopular. This seems very Chinese to me – concern for appearance over reality, or for the letter of the law over the spirit. For instance, today I read an article about the crackdown on pirated DVDs in Shanghai leading up to the Expo. Most sources say that the stores are just cutting their stores in half, letting the front serve as a facade for the DVD shop in the back. Most sources also say that the authorities know about this but that their efforts allow them to claim they’re doing everything possible to stop piracy.
I nearly died on my way back from lunch at West Gate. Just in the last few days, cars and buses have started stopping for pedestrians in the cross walk. This is way weird, and basically just results in mass confusion because no one can believe that the vehicles are actually stopping to let people walk. I like the way it used to be, like Frogger. At least it was predictable: there is no way in hell that car is going to yield to you, so walk with caution.
On the bus ride over to church for choir practice, I started wondering. How much money does it cost to make America handicap-friendly? By extension, how much money is China saving? For instance, every single bus in the Twin Cities’ Metro Transit system is equipped with a wheelchair lift; by contrast, not a single one in the Xiamen fleet is. I was thinking about how disproportionate this allocation of funds must be, but surprisingly felt pleased by it. We could probably save a lot of money/resources/time/hassle by ignoring the needs of the small percentage of people who need such assistance, but I guess at least in this case our democracy (and/or morals) save us from the tyranny of the majority. On a related note, I would like to ask a disabled American what they think of the accessibility of things in America? Obviously it’s more than China, but is it enough?
Choir practice so interesting to me – first of all, it’s a little weird being in the choir again instead of directing the choir, and then there’s the whole in-China aspect. Weekly Chinese-singing practice (a.k.a. “Mass”) has served me well these past 8 months. I’m way better at reading number-music than I was when I came; at least they make more sense to me than neumes (the original way of writing Gregorian chant). When we do warm-ups by sing all of the vowel sounds, it makes sense to me to pronounce “mo” as “mwoh” instead of “mo”. I automatically sing 的 as ‘di’ and 了as ‘liao’, instead of ‘de’ and ‘le’ (as they are pronounced in normal speech). I understand why they pronounce “cum” as “cuem” and even found myself singing “Maliya” instead of “Maria”! But there’s only so much I can fit in. I am, in nearly every sense of the word, the elephant in the room – the abnormally large one in the front row who, while no one overtly acknowledges it, doesn’t quite understand what’s going on all the time.
One of my favorite things about being in the choir is my Little Brother. I met him way back in December when I went to the church choir competition; we immediately struck it off over our shared love (more like, awareness) of the Timberwolves and Nickelback. He’s 17, I think, and I didn’t know his name (嘉晟, jiāshèng, or Jason) until today, so I just called him 弟弟, or Little Brother. (Side note: Holy crap, I’m old.) He is a choir director’s nightmare, as he has a really amazing voice, but . . . is a teenage boy. He likes to talk during practice, including English phrases that (while always appropriate for the situation at hand) were obviously learned from TV or movies. Basically, he reminds me of my entire tenor/bass section back home!
My other favorite thing about choir is singing (go figure). It’s my first chance to sing harmony in 8 months . . . seriously, how have I survived? Also, I just adore Latin; if it were an option, I probably would have preferred to study abroad in a Latin-speaking country! But seriously, Latin is not a dead language – it’s the language of the Universal Church. I always knew this, but rehearsing the Misa de Angelis with the choir of my church in China kind of has a way of driving the point home. The thing is, Latin was the only language of Catholicism for a long time, and even now it is used for important events (often in the form of chant).
I remember, back in my first year as the choir director at the TU Newman Center, when I suggested changing to Latin Mass parts for Lent. Some students objected on the basis that chant was unfamiliar to most students and might drive away those who come for the music. I wrote the following [excerpt from a longer email] in reply:
. . . Someday, all the students at the Newman Center are going to leave and they’re never going to sing the Senhor Tende [a setting of the Kyrie in Portuguese] again. Fr. Jovis [our Nigerian priest] has a good perspective on it because he’s not American. He’s not familiar with the parts we’re using now, but he knows the chant. It’s part of the catholicity of our Church, which students need to appreciate as much as they do the things that make Newman special, or they won’t continue past college because it’s "not the same" as it was in college.
I feel the same way now. Yes, I miss the music at Newman, but Mass is more than praise & worship hour, and I don’t come for the music. I’m glad for the things that make each church special, but I’m also glad for the things that make the Catholic Church catholic. Latin is one of those things. I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to study Gregorian Chant at Newman, and truly treasure this experience to sing it with my foster church. Latin may be a second language for all of us, but it’s the mother tongue of the Church.
Choir practice was the high point of my day, and it went downhill from there. On my way to the bus stop, as I was walking through the shady (literally and figuratively) construction site, I passed a man who stared at me. This happens all the time, so it’s not usually a big deal, but I usually glance over my shoulder a few seconds later to see if they’re still staring. Double-takes, triple-takes, crashing bicycles into nearby obstacles – all of this is rather commonplace. But this guy had halted in his tracks, cigarette dangling out of his slack-jawed mouth. Um, really? Is that really necessary? I keep walking, but take one more peek behind me – only to see that they man has changed course and is now following me. I was seriously sketched out by this point, so I started walking at a superhuman speed only possible with my insanely long legs, not daring to look behind me again until I had reached the busy area by the bus stop. Apparently I lost him (in a cloud of dust, quite possibly), but I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling. This was really only the second time I’ve ever felt unsafe in China, the other time also a case of being followed (by Smelly Man)
Continuing on the downward trajectory, LiuQin started talking to me on QQ once I arrived back home. I finally figured out what’s going on: I’m being used. Hardcore. Here it is, as far as I can figure out: Of the four sections with tickets for the ordination, only one is actually in the church; people in the other sections will watch the ceremony on TV. As space is limited, tickets to the main area have been reserved for the most important guests – bishops, priests, sisters, brothers, Fr. Cai’s family . . . and foreigners. Somehow, LiuQin got two tickets in the 5th row on the condition/premise that she would be sitting there with me, a foreigner. I didn’t figure this out until she basically said it: “Tickets for this are really scarce, but they set aside two tickets – one for you and one for me! So if you go, I can say you gave me the ticket, because you’re a foreigner.” My plans to join the choir or volunteer in some other fashion threw a wrench in this plan, which means she’s spent the last two days trying to convince me not to sing with the choir. Her attempts have ranged from “I don’t think they’ll actually allow you to join” to “The person in charge of the tickets thinks that it’s just better for you to be with me” to continually reminding me that the tickets are in the 5th row.
After repeating my desire to sing with the choir, she remembered me saying something about my Korean classmate who didn’t have a ticket. Apparently she’s not sure if using him will fly, because “Koreans look just like Chinese, everyone will think he’s Chinese!” Refer to second paragraph about concern for appearances over reality . . .
Not actually sure which is worse: being stalked or being used?