Monday, March 26, 2012

Teaching Shakespeare in Chinese


Today while walking through the crosswalk in front of my new apartment, a little two door red mini came within inches of running over Rebekah. The guy just barely slowed down and rolled on through the pedestrian lane. Gripping my daughter's hand, we froze like wide-eyed deer before I let out a barrage of expletives that made the man slam on his breaks, at which time, he also cursed me out at the top of his lungs. All because he wouldn't stop, because he assumed we'd just be fine and get out of his way... he risked years in prison for vehicular manslaughter all for a moment of... ahhh... they'll just get out of my way.
At the restaurant it is lunch time and we are sitting. Nice place, swanky lamps and big curved wooden tables that look like they are cut out of bone. Behind me there is a table of 16 people. I count them. Screaming and hollering and carrying on...cursing, laughing...but they are saying nothing...they say, "You didn't know that? I knew that.." and "I can't believe you didn't know that..." Just ranting and frothing... the waiter is late bringing food and forgets part of our order...the group is just so loud, smacking their lips together and taking photographs and banging into our chairs. Finally, I have to say something. Very politely I just lean over and say, "Wow, you guys sure look like you're having fun?" To which one of them answers... "Of course we are, it's lunch time!"
Back at the apartment I am carrying a box of groceries and get to the elevator just as a large group passes me. There are five older men and some women and some younger guests showing them around. They get to the elevator and just stand there. I am totally blocked. I can't get to the button to signal I am there. I can't get around these people who are just standing in front of the elevator talking. They are doing nothing. Nothing. Just a big congregation blocking the elevator from being used... finally, I put the box down, squeeze through the crowd, hit the button, wait for the elevator to come down, pick up my box and then smash into a man standing bewildered in front of my open door. Completely and totally clueless.
The first thing I tell myself about teaching Shakespeare in Chinese is that they are not going to understand. Take compassion, empathy, and self-awareness and throw it out the window.
The next thing I tell myself is take metaphor and simile, paradigm and imagery, and leave it for the birds... because no one will care. No one studying, reading, watching, or participating will have any knowledge or desire to connect to these things.
Finally, the last thing I tell myself is that I must make the student go through the process anyway. That I have to make them try. That I have to force them. I have to assign a grade, create a punishment, threaten a penalty, cajole them into memorizing lines, adopting a character, push them on stage...and then... hope the rest takes care of itself.  All the while, I have no idea if it means anything to anyone but me.

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