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Friday, March 16, 2007

On the Eve of St. Patrick

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day in China feels like celebrating your birthday in prison. It doesn't matter who you tell, it's not gonna get you any more drunk. No, strike that: it doesn't matter who you tell, because no one cares. I wished some student's "a nice weekend and a Happy St. Patrick's Day," and after ten minutes of deconstructing the words in the salutation, I was able to explain as far as "It's Irish ..." before they smiled, turned, and fled.

What this says about the Chinese and their appreciation of Irish culture is, in short, scathing.

For our Introduction to Western (read: English-speaking) Cultures course, Nicki and I have decided to show the rather contemporary The Queen. It may seem like an odd choice, but in reality this film can be incredibly educational (to the proper audience). How much do you know about China's prime minister? How about the relationship between Japan's emperor and it's elected parliament? Well, I'd guess about as much as Chinese students know about England's monarchy and parliament.

The world of references between East and West is staggering. The most casual callback to Rome, Latin languages, Christianity, things that anyone who has been through a Western education just naturally picks up ... none of that exists here. Instead, there are references to Chinese history (which, you know, is rather extensive), and with over five thousand (!) continuous years of that, it's easy to see why they have a tendency to look inward. They love history, especially their history.

So in a simple character-driven film like The Queen, all sorts of new things are presented to them. Royal etiquette/pomp and circumstance, men wearing kilts, the myriad of English newspapers, the atmosphere of 10 Downing Street, the election of Tony Blair, the function of the monarchy in modern England, hell, you can even get a sampling of the average Briton on the street with all the real footage used in the film. And it's all nicely wrapped in a bow of royalty, history, and tragedy, which the students love.

Other than that, this week has been a wash: I had some kind of mini-flu, which left me feeling like I was hit by a truck for three days. I barely made it through class on Tuesday, and just couldn't make it there on Wednesday or Thursday, which just means even more class to make up before the siblings arrive and we go gallivanting around China. But I feel fine now, and all symptoms (especially the damned fever) have disappeared. So it goes.

Well, Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone. I'll be the poor fool whimpering quietly in the corner of some oblivious Chinese restaurant, hoping my tears turn the beer green (or into Guinness).

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