Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Meaning of Valentine's Day

I had three cram school classes Friday, for ages 8, 12, and 15. In each class we talked about the meaning of Valentine's Day. Students' ideas were as follows:

Age 8:

Me: "Why do we have Valentine's Day? What is Valentine's Day for?"

Roomful of 8-year-olds makes kissy noises. This is so amusing to them, I doubt they absorbed much else of the lesson.

Age 12:

(after some discussion about what "romantic" means and the traditional meaning of Valentine's Day)

Me: ...Okay so Valentine's Day is for boyfriend-girlfriend, yes. But who else?

Cavey: Teacher!

Me: What?

Cavey: Boyfriend-boyfriend?

Me: Sure. But who else?

I was trying to steer the lesson toward celebrating friendship and family on Valentine's Day. But my admission that V-Day could be for boyfriend-boyfriend sent all 12-year-olds present into gales of shrieky laughter. Clearly, there is no Queer Eye or Perez Hilton of Taiwan. Ambiguously gay Anderson Cooper? Forget it.

My students are so excited about my preposterous statement, they begin chattering in Chinese.

Betty: In America... In America! I see...

Me: See what?

Students pow wow, trying to figure out how to tell me what has them so riled.

Teresa: Teacher this one.

Teresa holds a little electric Chinese-English dictionary up to my face. On occasion it has proved very useful when we reach conversational roadblocks, but not today: The word on the screen is "denaturation."

Me: Honestly, I don't know what that word means. I have no idea.

Teresa: Oh.

Betty: Teacher! In America ... On news ... I see a man he (she makes a snip-snip gesture with her fingers), and then he have a baby!

Everyone is giggling.

Me: Yes. That happened. But that is not what Valentine's Day is for.

Betty: Oh okay.

Age 15:

We got through the Valentine's spiel, no boyfriend-boyfriend complications.

Me: Does anyone have a girlfriend or a boyfriend? Or someone you like?

(Heads shake all around).

Emily: All we do is study. No time.

Me: How old do you have to be for your parents to let you date?

Two students say they don't know. Everyone else tells me 18 or 20. And they aren't embarrassed to say so. Sheesh, and I thought my parents were strict. Although, Taipei is such a safe city, kids have the run of it, I see groups of guys and girls out together often enough. So I doubt the average Taiwanese kid's teen years are a complete romantic wasteland.

And tonight James did the only thing he could to prove his affections: He took me to Yuma Southwestern Grill. And let tell me you - there was more cheese on our nachos than we've seen on any plate of food since we stepped off the plane. We split a half order of baby back ribs, and a sampler plate of fried calamari, buffalo wings and french fries, plus margaritas.

I'm full.

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