Some Poor Sap in a Big-Box Store (on mis-education & fear)

So there I was, looking for a little brainless recreation, a (slightly) guilty pleasure that doesn’t expand the horizons of my waistline. It was the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, which is about sports (and has lots of photos). I thought I’d be reading about football and basketball, and I was, but I wasn’t far into a profile on an NCAA hoopster I’d never heard of before I got slapped in the face with a frozen sociocultural mackerel.

Honest, I wasn’t planning on extracting any Higher Meaning from this piece. Luke Winn tells the story of Alan Williams, a master of one of the less glamourous aspects of basketball, rebounding. Snaring missed shots is deeply important to successful teams (and even more to unsuccessful ones, like the one I’m trying to coach these days), not to mention under-valued. I thought maybe I’d try to convince a few of my players to read his story and learn from his approach, with no great expectations or hopes even on that lukewarm front.

But then this chunk of backstory happened: Williams, as a nine-year-old, offers himself as a translator for a Hispanic man in a Toys “R” Us. (Deep prejudices leapt forward from the shadows: I used to call the place Toys “R” Satan when my kids were young, because it was a hellish place to take little boys. I swore I’d never enter one again, and so far I’m good, something like 23 straight years.) Alan Williams is black, and his parents are prominent in the legal and law enforcement communities of Phoenix, Arizona.

Continue Reading >>

The (Not Quite) Christmas (Late) Show*

*With Chinese Characteristics

While this all happened, I was scribbling in the dark, periodically shielding my eyes when the gyrating stage lights tried to blind me in my privileged-foreigner (?) front-row seat. For reasons benevolent and charming, some still unclear, and others only a little nauseating, my college puts on its “Christmas Show” on the second weekend in December. When Western universities were completing exams, we had one last bash before the grim final few weeks of term. Exams started yesterday; I have papers to mark and journals to read, but remembering this is more fun. Besides, it’s (barely!) still 2013. I’d missed the show in 2012, on some pretext. Hmm, and also the year before that. This was Chance the Last, and if I hadn’t gone, you wouldn’t be able to read this breathless blurt of hyper-opinionated Western bemusement, befuddlement, wonder and dismay at the spectacle that is a Chinese celebration of we’re-not-sure-what-but-you-must-have-a-great-time…

This is Part One, and a second blast will soon follow. Happy New Year.

Oh, the sparkles, the spangles, the balloons! Oh, the frilly clothing and the 38-yuan red high heels that it was the honour of the young women honoured to be conscripted as the honoured hostesses to buy! Oh, that song, again and still – China takes all the weariness of the post-Hallowe’en deluge of Christmas songs and sharpens it all to a fine point, a stabbing red-hot poker called “Jingle Bells” that plays on repeat. Here is the same version that has impaled me for weeks at the mall where I tutor overpaying English learners on Thursday nights, at one of the many cash-cow private Business English academies. Worse, it’s a rendition that is a sonic cheese-grater to the soft parts of the ears, apparently called “Jingo Be-yo”:

Jingo be-yo, jingo be-yo, jingo ah de whee

Oh wha funny tease to righ / Inna one-hoss oben slee…

[Surely to punish me for my impertinence, the McD’s where I’m hiding away for freedom from distraction and high-grade Author Fuel is playing a diabetes-inducing version of “Here Comes Santa Claus”, which at least has the virtue of not being the George Michaels classic “All I Want for Christmas is You”.]

The glittering MCs come to the fore, to great applause.

Continue Reading >>