10 September 2006

The First Amendment

I work with students who come from an educational background that does not encourage independent thinking. Schools use a state wide, teacher-centered, curriculum where students sit at desks all day and write down what the teacher says. Pair work, or group projects are not part of regular school learning. Knowing this, I am quite often surprised by the range of profound responses and expressions of deep understanding that I hear from some of my students. However, last week, while working on group opinions of various contentious statements, I was taken aback by the entire classes’ thinking.

One group of four students was given the topic, “it is sometimes all right for the government to censor newspapers, literature, and movies.” The assignment was to discuss their level of agreement or disagreement and then to present this to the class. The group concluded that they agreed one hundred percent with the statement. When we polled the rest of the class, their opinions were the same.

They backed up their point with arguments such as people could be negatively influenced by something that was written and therefore the government needed to protect the populace. An example was given about an erroneous newspaper article stating that gold prices would soon dramatically increase, resulting in people buying gold. Another example was that naked bodies and sex in cinema was offensive to Asian cultures.

Stepping lightly, I put forward the question that if censorship is justifiable, who would be the judge of what should or shouldn’t be allowed into the public domain? The government. I attempted a few more probing-thought questions, but got the same answers. Finally, I decided to simply tell them why the freedom of speech was one of my, if not the most, valued rights. What did I expect, a resounding, “Hey, we never thought of it that way! You have a point!”? No one jumped on my bandwagon.

I don’t think if I have ever before been so absolutely, totally, struck in the face with such an extreme case of cultural difference that I had not expected. I have always taken it for granted that everyone in the world believes in freedom of speech, and I was proven; resoundingly, I might add, wrong.

The insane amount of work I have been doing since getting back from my trip to the US, will no longer be, starting tomorrow. I will be working a four day week, having Wednesdays off. Not quite as spectacular as a three day weekend, but I really have no complaints. The two classes I have will require lots of extra hours, but hopefully it won’t feel like I am never able to catch my breath. And maybe I will stop using all that work as an excuse to not study my Vietnamese enough.

My language teacher still comes to my house twice a week, and we still have a lovely time, but I know I should be using the language more outside of class and doing a lot more homework. Having said that, I was in the HR office at work the other day, and understood almost the entirety of a phone conversation about what time the woman I needed to see was to return. It was simple, and I knew the purpose to the conversation before it was made, but still was pleased.

I blew off a lot of things this afternoon so that I could get a pedicure. I didn’t realize it would take about two hours, or I might not have gone. There are nail places on every block in the city, and even ladies with stools who will do your nails on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, even the ‘top’ salons are not to the standards I want. Mostly because nothing is sterilized and they don’t do your heals. But a new place opened up just down the street, so I thought I would give it a try.

Right away you know it is different because it has the ultra-modern, pedicure massage chairs. Even though I was there for all that time, I could never get the control panel to do the massaging I wanted. One has a choice of about seven different rubs and kneads and manipulations. Every time I tried to change it, I either ended up having the back recline like in a dentists’ chair, or moving the whole seat back so far that the woman working on my feet had to stop. I stopped messing with it and just leaned forward when the nerve-pinching part rolled over my back.

The biggest thrill, aside from getting my entire foot worked on, was that they had the cuticle/dead skin clippers stored in a jar of disinfectant. This is the first time I have seen that anywhere. They always tell you everything is disinfected in the US, but I never really see it done.

The actual pedicure was not top rate, but everything considered, they will have my business from now on.

It is now almost 8pm, Sunday evening, and I can no longer put off getting my class together for tomorrow. It is a new class, but I have done it so many times, that I shouldn’t need to spend much time.