Monday, April 19, 2004

Pride in the Name of Love/MLK
I can always count on the middle school three blocks west of the Lucky Number to rouse me - if even briefly - promptly at 7:45 a.m. , six days a week. That's when the martial music begins pumping, followed by about 10 minutes of strident sounding unintelligble announcements, exhorations and proclamations as the kids stand more or less at attention on the soccer field before finishing with jumping jacks stretching exercises and going to class.
Sometimes, I try to imagine what they are hearing.
"Valiant students, future enlightened scholars and ever-striving future cogs in the glorious Chinese organ. It is with great, unbounded joy that I proclaim a pep rally promptly at 16:43 to support our nation's ongoing struggle to liberate the Autonomous Region of Taiwan from rogue, separatist elements. Don't forget that tommorow is Young Pioneer Day so be sure to wear your cleanest red kerchiefs. Warmly welcome and greet substitute teacher-cadres in the following classes: calligraphy, flower arranging and fourth period Deng Xiaopeng Theory.
" And, Li Feng, please report to the headmaster's office for further re-education."
I mostly just groan, pull a sweat soaked pillow over my head and roll over.
But this morning after the usual aural clatter, I heard what sounded like English - more specifically, a young girl speaking English. It took me a little longer to figure out that it also sounded vaguely familiar.
..."my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream..."
Wha? Kicking aside a roach trap, I bounded to the kitchen in my torn racoon boxers and pitted Julian, California winery T-shirt window, grabbed my trusty counterfeit Soviet army bincolulars, scanned the school yard and saw her earnestly speaking, sans notes into a mic.
..."I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners..."
Yes, indeed. It was Martin Luther King's 1963 Washington, D.C. speech being clearly and expressively orated by what appeared to be a 12- or 13-year-old girl in 2004 Shenzhen, China.
I kept listening - half in disbelieve and mostly in a state of slight awe and puzzlement.
"Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!..."
I started clapping from the window. "And from Tienamen Square, too!" I shouted, though no one 19 floors below seemed to hear me.
..."we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Except for another round from me, there was no applause, but she bowed slightly, said something to a teacher who then took the mic and apparently told her schoolmates to form single file lines and return to their prevously scheduled lives
I had to share this with someone who could relate and as my enslaved non-English speaking cleaning lady wasn't handy, I immediately called recently arrived foreign barbarian pal, James, told him about it and asked if this was the anniversary of King's death. I knew it was in April and couldn't recall the day.
"I think it's April 4," he said. "But if they observed Pearl Harbor Day here it would probably be on Dec. 15."
"It was weird and wonderful," I said. "I have no idea of whether she knew what she was really saying."
"Yeah, there was probably a disconnect between the content and the comprehension," he said.
Later, I asked a couple Chinese coworkers what they knew of King and I Have a Dream.
They'd learned of him and the speech in school and had the basics down - one even said, not entirely unaccurately, that he "was regarded by some elements to be an enemy of the U.S. government" -- so thanks partially to J. Edgar Hoover, King's become a mythic figure in Sino school curriculum.
"But I think we know more about your country's famous people than you know of ours in your schools, right?" one asked.
I somewhat shamefacedly agreed and told him I'd start working on memorizing Mao's 1956 "Let a hundred flowers bloom and one hundred schools of thought contend" speech as soon as possible.

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