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       Wednesday, August 16, 2006

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The Most Handsome American Professor in China

By Lonnie Hodge OMBW China Blog

My favorite living author is Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. His stories are to fiction as Frost's poems are to verse: perfect. A Marquez story came to mind today as I pondered the fate of a teaching colleague. "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" one of many greats to be found in a collection entitled Leaf Storm. The hit TV show Northern Exposure even ripped off the story's premise once for one of their most endearing episodes. In the tale, Marquez wrote about a small town that created an extraordinary mythology about a dead man who had washed up on its nearby shores. He tells us us how the town's creative contagion of extraordinary rumors about the decedent's life became quickly woven into the very history of the tiny village.

Dixie Chicks

In "real life' many folks went cross-eyed over the revelation that Richard Gere bathed his butt in Yak butter; Mel Gibson may never live down his drunken, post epiphany guttering's regarding Israel; and the Dixie Chicks are probably that glad tarring and feathering are pretty much a part of history.

We naturally tend see people in life's passing mirror as larger than they might appear. The only problem with this is we also tend to punish them for not living up to our unrealistic expectations or for alleged actions as fantastic as the lies that we created before them.

In a very small way I personally understand how contemporary human myths are created. I lived with a wonderfully gullible Irish mom who thought The Bruiser, The Crusher and other wrestlers were real. She often threw her shoes at the television image of "Mad Dog" Vashaun who was alleged to have bitten a man's ear off in the ring. And this year I was with Ms Yue when she saw King Kong in a movie theatre. She was mesmerized. Halfway through the flick she asked me if it was 假的 (jiade) "fake." I laughed before seeing the seriousness with which she had asked. I had forgotten that Yue Ying, a bright, capable woman, had grown up during the Cultural Revolution and had been governmentally shielded from the arts. King Kong was her first film and the freshness and greatness of the medium led her to trust it as authentic. I envied such innocence.

I was speaking at a conference many years ago in front of hundreds of health care professionals. It was the oldest running conference of its type in the U.S. and the keynote lineage was pretty impressive: The guest lecturer the year before me had been Albert Ellis the father of Rational-Emotive Therapy. To say I was nervous would be euphemistic, but all went well. A week later I had to return to the college for another purpose and was passed by a doctoral student who, upon seeing me, stopped dead in her tracks. She asked me if I was Lonnie Hodge "The Lonnie Hodge who did the conference?" I proudly claimed ownership of the name only to be set back into a lower orbit by: "You were bigger then."

And even the backpacking English teachers in Guangzhou are not immune to the fabulous: One of the teachers at a school near here was not asked to renew his contract this year because a student had posted, on the party monitored school bulletin board, that the teacher had "molested" her. In tracking down the truth I found that he had merely attended to her more than other students. He often asked her, because she had skills superior to others in the class, to sit near the front and ask questions. It was a comfort to him to have someone on which to rely as Chinese students can unnerve the best teachers with their reticence to speak in class. But, in a cultural where it is dangerous to stand out, she dealt with the discomfort of her fame by claiming molestation.

Idealization can be a trial for teachers new to a culture that swarms around foreigners with great curiosity and false praise. Early on it is difficult to deal with accolades like "You are so handsome," though the title is is often awarded to even the homeliest of expatriate teachers.

Yes, I am the handsomest, smartest, and most interesting teacher in China. But, I still leave my door open when female students come to practice for a speech contest; I still demand a certain personal space when I am interacting on breaks or outside of class; and I never single out students, especially women, for public praise. Teachers new to China would do well to follow my lead as it could cost them a job or reputation to do otherwise.

Yes, I admit that I enjoy the mythology. But, it is not my first time in the theatre.

Reprinted due to an error in the earlier posting

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posted by Lonnie at 12:27 AM  


CyberScribe said...

The Most Handsome American Professor in China?

8:05 AM  

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