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interlude

In my evening class today, I asked the students if they knew what day it was.

A girl raised her hand.
“Today is sunny and a little cold.”

“Yeeees…” I said. “Good. That’s the weather. Now, what day is it?”

A boy in the back of the room raised his hand.
“Wednesday.”

“Good! Wednesday! And what date is it?”

Silence for a few seconds. Then another boy raised his hand hesitantly.
“September…the eleven?”

“Right, September 11th. Does anybody know what happened one year ago on September 11th?”

Silence all around.
Fine, I thought. Maybe they don’t know it in English. So I asked again in Chinese.
Silence.
“You really don’t know?”

They shook their heads no.

“Then never mind,” I said, and we learned about colours.

11 Comments

  1. meris ann wrote:

    Good. Maybe it’s better that they don’t know.
    If you ask me, knowing about September 11th has kind of turned into one, big, fucked up Pepsi commerical or something. We should definitely remember those who died and honour their memories, but…haven’t we been doing that every single day ever since it happened?
    Just you watch. In twenty years, American history books will spend more time explaining the events of 9/11 than they will explaining things like WWII, and the Civil War.

    Thursday, September 12, 2002 at 1:12 am | Permalink
  2. bonnie wrote:

    How old are these kids? Like 7 or 8 tops, right? I wonder in general how old a kid has to be to have been informed about such things. The high schoolers/college kids pretty much all know.

    Thursday, September 12, 2002 at 1:17 am | Permalink
  3. Bridget wrote:

    Well, there’s certainly a middle ground between the crash, voyeuristic, marketing-opportunity that the American media has made 9/11 into and not knowing about it at all. The fact that the American media fucks up just about everything it touches doesn’t make the tragedy any less real, or any less in need of commemoration. There are certain times when it’s necessary to remember more than every single day since it happened: the first anniversary is one of those days.

    I’m as cynical regarding the country as anyone else, Meris Ann, but it’s a bit of an overreaction to say that it’s going to be overdone to that extent. Educated, intelligent people are generally able to place Pearl Harbor within its appropriate context in WWII, and that’s probably the most apt parallel in recent memory.

    People express things as their culture allows them–the average person isn’t going to write a treatise or compose a symphony or write a book in memory or solidarity, so people seek an outlet, and that outlet is going to be defined by culture.

    In an unfortunate, perverted way, it’s rather liturgical. The liturgy exists to provide a context to say things when the individual fails to come up with anything appropriate. We don’t have a liturgical culture.

    We have an odd culture. It’s consumerist, and materialist, and mass-market, and clich?-but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the masses who attempt to express their sorrow/sympathy through that culture don’t genuinely experience that sorrow/sympathy.

    I’m not arguing for jingoism here. I’m not saying that you’ve got to run around with a flag and madly support the government if you want to avoid interrogation–I’m spending next weekend at a conference on the renewed need for conscientious objection. But let’s not get so bitter.

    “We should do X, but…” generally means, “We should stop doing X.” And maybe we have been remembering and honoring them every day since September 11, 2001, but–they’ve also been dead every day since September 11, 2001.

    I don’t know.

    Thursday, September 12, 2002 at 2:53 am | Permalink
  4. jane wrote:

    I’d say that they are too busy doing homework, and cramming for school to notice what is happening in the rest of the world. My little nephew just started second grade, and his bookbag feels like a ton of bricks.

    Friday, September 13, 2002 at 2:58 am | Permalink
  5. John wrote:

    Their ignorance of the subject certainly isn’t the result of lack of media coverage in China. I was living near Changchun (not too terribly far from Harbin) on 9/11/01 and it was all over TV, radio and print media. It just hasn’t been in their faces for the last 365 days like it has been in the US.

    Friday, September 13, 2002 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  6. Lindsay wrote:

    This will come off sounding harsh and cold, but not all countries and individuals were sympathetic to the US after September 11th. I’m sure most people felt a least a little something towards the people who were affected, BUT they, to put it bluntly, could have cared less.

    The US kills tens of thousands of people “for the good of others”. I don’t claim to know everything that’s going on right now, but I know the US has caused quite a number of people to die, specifically in the “troubled” countries. Not because they were guilty of any crime, but because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time or because the US was trying to bring down their government, etc.

    And considering the things many other countries have gone through, September 11th isn’t a big thing. No one deserves what happened, but some feel the US is a big hypocrite for not caring about others lives and only those of its own citizens, which is understandable…but not when they don’t understand why everyone else cares about THEIR own countries citizens. Like, “hey, you were bad, people died, your fault”, but when it happens to the US, it’s 100% someone elses fault.

    Nothing excuses what happened, but the US (I don’t mean the innocent unsuspecting people who died, but the government and a few others) is partially, if not very much, to blame for what happened.

    Friday, September 13, 2002 at 8:57 am | Permalink
  7. Lindsay wrote:

    I just realized that that has nothing to do with those kids you were talking about. So sorry.

    But yeah, little kids in China don’t usually watch the news or even care because they can’t relate or understand. But then again, other children around the world aren’t all that much better.

    Friday, September 13, 2002 at 8:59 am | Permalink
  8. Sarah wrote:

    I find that story oddly uplifting. If those kids don’t already know about 9/11, they’ll find out soon enough. No point telling them about it before they can understand it.

    Saturday, September 14, 2002 at 2:13 am | Permalink
  9. Brendan wrote:

    Bridget – I do agree with you that people are sincere in their grief.
    But do you really think that it’s the people who are expressing their grief through the networks? I mean, I think the only real democratic medium left is the ‘net, and even that isn’t truly open. At any rate, I wasn’t trying to rag on 9/11 coverage; I just thought this might be an interesting counterpoint to everyone else’s blog posts. And then of course “everyone else” went ahead and didn’t mention it, the bastards.

    Jane – you’re not kidding. Some of my students have cram-school classes every day – Sunday through Sunday. I can’t imagine would I would’ve done in their position, given the kind of student I always was.

    John – right you are. Most of the people I chatted with were at least aware that 9/11 existed. I wasn’t even trying to bring it up in conversation; they mentioned it themselves.

    Lindsay – hey, I’m on your side on this one. Registered Green. Tens of thousands of Iraqi kids die every year because of US sanctions; Cuban kids drink lye thinking that it’s lemonade because the US has blocked sales of soap. The US government is a bunch of shitheads and the War on Terrorism is a stupid idea. You’ll see no argument here.
    Does all of that make the US’s self-righteous rhetoric hypocritical? Sure. Does it lessen the extent of the 9/11 killings? No. Nor does it lessen the pathos.
    Anyway – it turns out that a lot of the students I was teaching did know, because some of them talked to me about it the next day; the kids I was teaching in this post were second-graders.

    Sarah – That’s kind of my opinion. In fact, I hadn’t planned to think about 9/11 at all this year until suddenly on the evening of 9/10, a Chinese friend asked me how I was going to spend the next day. It’s funny, the things that can make you homesick.

    Saturday, September 14, 2002 at 3:49 am | Permalink
  10. Katie wrote:

    Diner laughed at me when I went to school that day and I was in tears. (Other than her being freaky looking, I think this is why I always hated her)

    It was a fucking weird experience dude, nobody really…talked about it.

    The one thing: I got into a cab on the 12th to go hang w/ the Americans and before I even said “xi shi dao jie” he asked me if I had any family New York and if anyone was hurt and kept asking me if I was OK.

    I think that’s why I’m so weird on this whole thing anyway–besides the night that I spent with Nate and Tekla, I didn’t think about it all that much. Not to say I didn’t watch the news, but Chinese news is useless anyway.

    Saturday, September 14, 2002 at 7:33 am | Permalink
  11. lu wrote:

    middle school students probably would’ve learned about 9.11 in their Politics class. a friend of mine wrote to me that there was graffiti about 9.11 on the bathroom walls at her school

    Friday, January 17, 2003 at 6:01 am | Permalink

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