Yes. Compared to many Chinese students who were swallowed by worry and restricted by obligation, simple Shao Wei (the girl from Hainan) was beautifully alive and natural.
Among those influences keeping other students from feeling free and natural were the following:
1. Family obligation. Most parents don't allow their children the joy of learning how to swim - claiming it's too dangerous. And young children are dressed to look perfect, and, from a young age, a greater emphasis is placed on studying than playing.
Interestingly enough, Confucius said: "There is only one way to be affectionate toward one's parents: if a man, looking into his own heart, is not true to himself, he will not be affectionate towards his parents."
2. A tiring education. College students typically have thirty or more hours of classes a week, and during much of this time they're lectured to, or they recite words out of a textbook. As a result, many lose passion for their majors, and they're lazy in their free time. (Many only chose their majors as a result of what their college entry exam scores would allow them.) Many sleep in class.
I recently jotted down in my Book of Philosophy: "Students should seek knowledge. Teachers shouldn't seek to teach - perhaps. Students will truly learn from that which they seek out. They'll build their character. That which they're forced to learn is alien to them, and they can only recite it, without knowing it."
3. The conviction (among many girls) that they need to be unhealthily thin.
4. Cramped living conditions, and frequent noise from construction.
Confucius said: "Only after having peaceful repose can one begin to think."
It seemed that, by not allowing students to think on their own that much, Chinese education was preparing its students to be pawns who could work for others, rather than leaders. "Only those who are absolutely their true selves in this world can have pervading influence." - Tsesze, Confucius' disciple
I have found out, though, that many of my students dream big. When our class discussion topic is "your dream", many say they want to own their own companies.
My favorite such student was Yu Xiaoni, a girl with big, bright eyes and a happy, wedge-shaped smile, whom I selected to come to the front of the class. As she told about her dream and smiled, her chubby tongue kept flashing out of her mouth and licking her lips - so cutely! The next time I taught her class, I told her, "You stick your tongue out when you talk." She thought a second and said, "I disagree with you." I said, "Oh? Sorry." She said, "Mei shr." (It's nothing.) Then, she proceeded to stick her tongue out two more times during our conversation! Ha ha ...
A different girl - a tall volleyball player who'd given herself an English name of "Rectina", and who served as class monitor, a position that may help her get selected as her class's one new Communist Party Member - during an open discussion on "Chinese psychology", said she disagreed with the popular criticisms of her country's educational system. She opined that "pressure is good", and that it makes people stronger.
Maybe. But, I think pressure creates heartless leaders - not the kind of leaders who help beautify the world.
Speaking of leaders ...
the owner of a local construction company has deployed his forces to perform three or four construction jobs right next to my university apartment.
Sometimes, trucks dump truckloads of dirt on the road right in front of my window. "Where does all the dirt keep coming from?" said a female American neighbor, humorously.
Using a bulldozer, the construction company hauls the dirt past two sides of my apartment, up to the construction site. The grinding gears rattle my home - usually, from six to nine a.m.
I've asked my boss to get them to start later. But, his bosses (university administration) and the construction company share similar interests. He wasn't much help. So, I went and tried to talk to the construction workers. But, this didn't work well, because 1. My Chinese was feeble, and 2. They're taking orders from a guy who wasn't around.
Nevertheless, one late night while I was talking to the construction workers, they definitely understood and agreed that their bulldozer wouldn't pick up dirt before eight a.m. A happy ending.
But, two weeks later, due to other five a.m. construction noises, I endured four straight working days in which I was underslept and exhausted. Then, on Saturday, the bulldozer began at six a.m.
I rushed up to the construction site. The worker whom I'd had the agreement with shooed me away. I walked towards the construction company's office, which was certainly still closed, and two guards motioned for me to save my complaints and go home.
Okay. But, first, I expressed my anger. I kicked the aluminum door of their security booth. To my surprise, the door fell off its hinge. It fell to the ground, and the window shattered. We all kind of admired the damage for a second.
I hurried home. "Lai guo! Lai guo!" said the guards, trying to keep me there.
... (The end result of this story was that the unviersity gave me a second apartment, to sleep in. And I refused to pay for the broken door. A happy ending!)
Obviously, I needed to relax a little bit.
So, I went to the university's garden, where roses of many colors were flowering in early June:
The bright-ochre (pink) roses smelled like a lemon-scented, house-cleaning chemical.
The light-orange roses smelled like orange taffy.
the red roses - like black dew dripping off a rainforest cave; like the queen of a dark place, wearing scarlet
pink - like a nervous and innocent and optimistic High School girl, on her way to the Prom
peach/yellow-orange - like iced tea on a summer day, beside Lake Michigan
slightly pink, mostly white - like powder, on a donut or a woman's make-up cushion (this one was popular with ants)
sunny yellow - like a Colombian banana-and-milk juice
In addition to smelling the roses, I met a student who could teach me the martial art called tai chi. A peaceful guy, he said it was wrong of me to kick the construction company's door. The martial art called kung fu would be too dangerous in my possession.
So, we got to work learning the twenty-four beginning postures of tai chi. My student-teacher had translated the names of these postures, into things like: Cloud Hands, Part the Wild Horse's Mane, Hold the Lute, Crane Standing on One Leg, Grasp the Horse's Tail, etc.
My student-teacher's name was "Atomy". Like Rectina, he'd invented his English name. Other students have called themselves: Livn, Venry, Jorson, Retty, Movie, and Just Do It. And I've invented names for students: Tall, Caramel, Little Duck, etc. I wanted to call Yu Xiaoni (the girl who stuck out her tongue) "Lizard".
Atomy is a student who passionately majors in physics. I guess he really loves atoms. He also studies sociology an hour a day, in his spare time, and he went to Shanghai one weekend to visit the World Expo.
A light (in terms of weight) figure, he has pinkish-grayish-tan skin, beady eyes, beady glasses, and stubby bits of tiny hair. He's gentle, and, in some ways, he seems all spirit.
He taught me how to push the air with my hands and arms; kick the air with my feet; hug the air as if it were a ball; to move slowly and enjoy the postures.
Cloud Hands were perhaps the most difficult for me to do properly, as I had to swing both arms around in circles while stepping sideways. And, in the long run, I couldn't remember the details of more than a few postures. Atomy - a.k.a. Cai Yang - said there was a physical and mystical meaning behind tai chi which I couldn't understand.
Of course. But, even in just the second day we practiced tai chi, as each of our wrists were crossed and we two pushed the air side-by-side, I could feel the presence of a great energy quietly near us.