Monday, April 23, 2007

identity crisis

First I have to say that I am aware I have been tagged by Corey... and I have not yet come up with my list of 5 blogs. I have to think about that for a while... stay tuned...

I feel like I have so many updates. We got back from our trip to Shanghi last week. I was writing something about visiting schools and then the Virginia Tech shooting happened, and I was busy reading about the reactions both here and in the U.S. Over at Printculture we had an interesting discussion, started by S L Kim, and I tried to provide some context from here. That was difficult for many reasons -- partly because I have lived here for long enough that many things about this place have become invisible or just, somehow, logical to me. And it is always difficult to talk about race/ethnicity.

Anyway... Shanghai. We looked at two schools, one bilingual English/Chinese and one Korean. The Korean school was much cheaper (because it is a real Korean school funded by the Korean government, using the same standard textbooks, etc.) and similar to Aiden's current school in terms of curriculum and protocol, plus they do an hour of Chinese and an hour of English each day. The Korean school, Singaporean school, Taiwanese school, American school, and British school are all basically in the same place, near Hongqiao airport, which (I didn't realize) is quite far -- a good 40 minute bus ride. So he'd be spending a lot of time on the bus. The other school we looked at is Yew Cheng (I have to check the spelling but its close) which, location-wise, is much better. The facility is very nice. The teachers seem good and the kids are very international -- each class has quite a mix. Quite expensive. Each class has an English-speaking teacher and a Chinese-speaking teacher and they have something like 30% of the day doing Chinese.

Anyway, I was debating the pros and cons of these schools and my better half said, "If we're going to send him to Korean school we might as well stay in Korea and send him to Chinese lessons, or just come to Shanghai for the summer. What's the point of moving then?" He was right. Our goal is a linguistic and cultural one. So, to make a long story short, we decided to send him to local school. Perhaps a private local school, but a local school nonetheless. Shanghai actually has several local international schools -- these are Chinese schools with an international class, so the kids go into the international class first (like an ESL class), until they can join the regular class. I need to research more about which school, but basically the big decision is made. Local school. Chinese. (If anyone reading this has experience sending kids to school in Shanghai, or knows of a good Shanghai blogger, let me know!)

In the midst of this decision and all the cleaning, etc. at Aiden's school I'm writing a post for printculture about the ways in which sending Aiden to local school here has tied us into the social system in unexpected ways. At least -- I think that's what it is about. Still working on it. Even though all this cleaning stuff is a little annoying and more than a little amusing, I really have learned a lot from participating in the local school at that level, getting to know the moms, and being tied into the infrastructure of education here. I think I've learned more than Aiden has. Now I'm going to have to do it again....

Last week, though, something interesting happened. I was walking Aiden home from school along the river and trying to explain to him about "point of view." (The long story around this is I was doing some behavioral engineering, trying to prepare him for our move and for making new friends, by complimenting the way he is so good at making friends because he is good at seeing other people's points of view...anyway.) All the sudden he said, "Shh Mommy! Be quiet!" A man had been walking near us. As soon as the man was out of earshot Aiden said, "OK, you can talk now."

I was confused. What was that all about? He was already back into his game of not getting electrocuted by jumping over all the cracks and bumps in the sidewalk. I pressed him. "Why did you ask me to be quiet?" "Because you're speaking ENGLISH, Mommy. This is Korea!" I pressed him some more and got "It's embarrassing." But why is it embarrassing? He didn't want to talk about it. He wanted to talk about Darth Vader. I kept at him. "Because then they ask me, 'Are you American or are you Korean?"

Then I understood. I had created myself -- a kid who didn't fit in and was conscious of his difference. I didn't react that well. I tried to convince him he was special and tell him how envious other people are that he can speak English so well. I reminded him that his friends spend two hours a day in English hakwon while he plays. I told him that I would keep speaking English to him because that is my gift to him -- the languages that he is learning as a child, and that if you don't keep practicing a language you will forget it and have to painfully relearn it. I told him that his grandmother was born in Japan and no longer can speak Japanese, isn't that sad? He agreed that it was. I reminded him that people will ask him the same questions even if he doesn't speak English, just because of the way he looks. I made quite a sales pitch. I was more than a little upset about the whole thing. I wanted him to see the world the way I see it, conveniently forgetting how long it took me to get to this point.

Then I was talking to Emily later about the whole thing and she suggested that if I validated his feelings instead of trying to argue them away he would still, hopefully, keep telling me how he feels.

A few days later the same scene of being shushed happened again. The day after that Aiden was playing with his grandfather in the playground and some older kid kept saying, "Hey, aren't you American? Speak English! Say something in English!" I guess he was following Aiden around and pestering him. Aiden's kind of shy, he doesn't like being put on the spot like that, and his grandfather berated the kid. I told him later, "They are interested in you because you can speak two languages so easily. But you don't have to speak if you don't want to. Just tell him you don't want to and that's fine." Aiden's come up with his own tactic. When people ask him if he's American or Korean he says, "You don't need to know (몰라도돼)."

I have to think more clearly about how to handle this... I'm not ready for him to be embarrassed by me!


kate said...

Hmm, I wonder if this will one day happen to me (the embarrassment at speaking English thing.) I actually used to get embarrassed when I spoke to Pedro in English (maybe that's not the right word. Self-conscious?) but now it just feels totally natural, even when I'm yelling across the park or several feet ahead into the throng of parents and kids walking to school.

Cat said...

"You don't need to know." That's perfect! I love it.

Also, while I agree that it's important to validate his feelings and let him talk to you, I think it's also good for you to share your perspective--even if it's a bit over his head right now--so that he knows there's an alternate viewpoint. I'm sure by now he's probably aware that you are making a conscious effort to expose him to different languages. It's not just something you slipped into. But, he probably does hear from his peers that its 'different' or 'weird' and may need some reinforcement that there are some positives to being different, sometimes.

oreneta said...

Your post touched about a thousand nerves with me, and I don't know where to start. First of all, your kid is going to be embarassed about you wherever you are living, and it is not a function of culture or language or anything. One of my daughters has been embarassed about me since she was four, when we were still living in Canada and as much a local as it is possible to be.

My eldest, now 11 is all fired up about blending in with the rest of the kids, and we can never get it right, not in Toronto and not here. Partially because we, like you, are raising our kids intentionally differently, and partially because here we are the village freaks and there is nothing we can ever do about it.

Mostly we just keep talking about it, but I strongly feel that you should never allow yourself to be repressed about who you are in an attempt to blend in even if it is difficult for the kids. We will never blend in entirely, I think, and I think that this diversity is a good thing, and if we try to hard to blend, and to not show that we are different, it will make the kids ashamed of who they are, all of who they are...

sorry for the long comment, I could go on.......

annamatic said...

I remember a brief period when I was in elementary school, when I was embarrassed about my Mom and Grandma speaking Chinese to me in public. I was in a largely white neighborhood at the time, albeit culturally diverse NYC. It really was a short lived period, and I'm glad they didn't stop for the sake of a young girl's "wanting to fit in"; or I might have learned the wrong lessons from them about loving yourself for who you are, not what others think or assume of you.

Melissa said...

Two of my best friends live in Shanghai - but their daughter is only 6 months old. I'll email them and ask them what they know about the school situation, and then email you, if that's ok?

Have a good weekend!~

Melissa said...

Hi again. :)

I emailed my pals in Shanghai and I have a bit of information - as well as their email addresses - to give you but I'm not sure how I can email you. Maybe you could email me?

I'm: kingmurphy at gmail dot com

Take care!~

Corey said...

I'm horrible about finally getting around to reading my favorite blogs, yours included! And I'm horrible about telling people that I've tagged them... well, I guess since this is my first chance to do so, I don't have any experience. ANYWAY... perhaps because I am a hippy at heart, I figure, "ah, they'll eventually make their way to my blog and find out!" Hee hee. So, I am glad you noticed.

As for the rest of your entry, all I can say is, "Oh gosh yes, oh yes, what to do, what to do." In the end, I've been going through my own crazy identity crisis so I can't even think about anything but what *I* think of ME, let alone what my kids think. Well... to some degree or other. :-)