Saturdays are my busiest days. Twelve hours spent in one of the schools, in rooms with dying Air-cons spitting out bursts of cold air into the dry, humid, desert-like air that is Wuhan’s furnace. Sounds unbearable, and it would be, if it weren’t for the refreshing moments of bliss that are blown upon me by all the beautiful people. Today, one of the passing seconds hit me like thunderstorm in a dry spell, and it poured upon me at the very end of the day, around 8pm, while teaching my class of 13-15 year old students.
“What’s the movie called?” Mac asks.
“Gang Related. G-A-N…” I start.
“Gay related? What? Teacher, what does that mean?” Mac turns to his friend Robert, and they raise their eyebrows in that certain amusement that preteen and teen boys find in everything.
“No,” I say. “Gang. N-G not Y. Who knows what a gang is?”
Their eyes dart for the answers until they surrender to silence, waiting with patience for me to feed them the answer.
“Anyone?” I prompt again.
“It’s a… It’s a bad…” Fly tries.
“的定义” Marvin interrupts, and the class choruses in echoing oh’s and ah’s.
“Good,” I confirm. “No Chinese, Marvin.” The girls giggle. “It’s a group of people who… who do what?” I continued.
“Do they do good things or bad things?”
Her eyes widen and she looks as if she’s just swallowed a gulp of air that was too big for her lungs.
“Correct, good job.” I give her a thumbs up.
“Oh, teacher! Teacher! Is it people who kill people?” Mac bounces in his seat. “They… they steal things… Probably break things… Maybe they steal… CARS!”
“Sometimes,” I nod my head. “We’re going to watch a clip from a show called Gang Related. Ready? I’ll ask you questions, you get it right, you get stickers.”
They straighten their backs, and lean forward at the word stickers.
“Close the lights!!!” They respond.
The clip begins and they zone in. I cup my hand around the speaker, pretending that the little iPad mini is adequate enough to fill the ears of seven teens, and wide enough to capture their curiosity.
“It’s like the Cinema!” Annie whispers.
I pause the clip every now and again, ask a question, and pull teeth to elicit ideas. They are in tune with the clip, laughing when the main character says “Don’t make it weird”, gasping when the bomb is put on the car, and flinching when a boy’s arm is broken. They seem insulted when I pause the show, ask for Javier’s back-story, reminding them that the clip is in English with English subtitles.
They hear little words but understand big ideas.
“Homie? What’s that?”
“He called him ‘Dude’!”
“Maybe he is in a good gang!”
But the moment that makes me forget to breathe is the moment when every single student stops, points, and yells “Zhongguo 中国!”
I stop, taking a moment to register what they were saying, double-taking the scene to make sure I hadn’t done something more controversial than I had intended.
But they said 中国.
There was a Chinese person in the scene.
I rolled the moment around in my mind, considering the implications the shock, surprise, and pure pleasure in their voices indicated, and these are my favorite conclusions that have been pended from the innocence of these moments.
Maybe we all have a need for identity.
But mostly, I think we all have a need for love.