“You were rude I think”

Sadly, there’s not much of a Fall season here, it goes straight from hot and humid to cold and rainy but these changing gingko trees in our school courtyard were a small reminder of the Fall I’m used to seeing.

Nov. 17th – In my last class of the day, I killed a bee. I had just started my lesson and a bee was flying around the classroom and I ignored it at first but then students started getting distracted by trying to “shoo” it out the window and then I became distracted because my students were distracted. I saw it land on the window pane and in a lightening moment, something in me resolved to get rid of the “problem”. I stopped talking, grabbed a nearby magazine, rolled it into a bat, smacked the bee dead on, it dropped like a pin on the window sill and I turned around expecting a cheer or clapping for my “heroic” effort. I did it! I solved the problem!

But instead of cheers, I saw surprised and silent faces. No claps. Just silence. Great, now I feel awkward. I decided to move on with my lesson. Later when students were writing English in their notebooks, I glanced at the window sill where the bee had dropped dead and noticed someone had laid it on a soft tissue and gently propped it up against the open window. It may sound silly but the sight of the dead bee laying on the tissue pricked my heart. I started to feel bad. I gently asked the student near the bee “What’re you going to do with the bee?” The look on the boy’s face was enough to make my heart drop a little. He was somber, looked straight ahead and said softly, “You were rude I think.” His words stung me more than the bee could. My eyes welled up a little bit and probably would’ve more if I weren’t in class. I explained how it was distracting the students and I didn’t want it to sting anyone, and because the boy said his English was poor, the girl in front of him translated for me. In the best English that she could, she also explained said that the bee wasn’t going to hurt us and if we don’t bother it then it won’t hurt us. She said all this with smile and ended with, “we understand you were trying to do something good for us, it’s okay, no care, no care.”

I thought about the boy in the black t-shirt and his words on the walk home and why I reacted the way I did. I realized he may have been Bhuddist and killing anything, even something that may be a nuisance, isn’t considered good. I felt a little embarrassed and ashamed. Embarrassed that in my western mindset, I had expected cheers and claps for my “efforts” and instead felt ashamed that I had killed something that was meaningful to some of my students, especially that one boy. I could chalk it up to misunderstandings, to things lost in translation but in that moment, I was very aware of my students’ and I’s cultural differences. I had forgotten that I am a guest in China. Sometimes, in the classroom and outside the classroom, it’s very easy to feel entitled because I speak English fluently, because I’m a foreigner, because I’m from America. I felt embarrassed that I did something which I thought would be helpful and best, was in fact not the best move and I think more than anything, might’ve lost respect with my students. I know by next week, they probably won’t even remember the incident and I’m sure they wouldn’t think less of me but it was a refresher that I am a guest in China and a reminder to see things from a different perspective.

This may be a silly story and not make sense to you, but it meant a lot to me today. Killing that bee was very humbling in a way.

The park near my apartment. Across the lake, older men were drinking tea and playing cards while others sit and fish on the bridge

On the bright side, today I found a nice new park near my apartment! I love discovering cool new places in my city. I’m trying to exercise more and if there’s any warm days left this year before the cold winter hits, I’m hoping to enjoy the outdoors at the new park 🙂

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