IMAGINE ALL THE PEOPLE
This morning a five-stanza song brought me to tears while I was rocking gently in front of my students. I was somewhat hindered from full uninhibited participation in the music by the big klunky headphones I had on which were wired into the teacher’s console but that didn’t minimize my response to the lyrics and the melody. John Lennon’s “Imagine” has just as much message today as it did in 1971 when it was released. I had decided to interject a bit of Western culture into the class since the students had expressed a desire to learn more about American culture. Little do they know that Lennon wasn’t an American, but wouldn’t we all like to claim him, a true hero to us, who made up the rebel generation of the 1960s!
I guess there is no way the Nobel Committee could have accepted a nomination for him for a Peace Prize, considering all that LSD and such. But there I was watching my students get into the music and the lyrics. I am not sure how many of those words they actually understand but believe me they will have many more opportunities to hear that song because the teacher is into it!
I think of the line where Lennon writes: “imagine there’s no countries” and know that at least a few international barriers have come down since this crop of Peace Corps trainees have arrived at site and begun their soft diplomacy. It is exceedingly clear to me that on the human level there is very little separating us. I may be the only westerner living and working on this campus of 20,000 students but I feel accepted and welcomed. Even the street-sweeper who is at work early in the morning as I head to class on foot nods when I pass.
Among other things, Lennon can “imagine no possessions”. How much simplier can life get than the way of life in the village just across the street from where I live, just opposite the gate of the college! There where the bicycle man who sold me my used bike and rents out bikes for $.28/hour to the students so they can learn to ride, holds court and will tighten my brakes when the need comes.
Biking into this remaining old section you pass two fish ponds, a recycling storage area and several dirt paths past people’s homes with vegetables growing year-round in every patch of earth. You get deep enough into it and you will come to a few rudimentary places of commerce and several abandoned buildings. Yet one factory is still home to local workers although I have heard it will be moved soon.
Deep within this old town you will occasionally see a film being made for such settings are becoming rarer and rarer as China is transforming itself into a manufacturing giant. Farmland is rapidly being converted into city everywhere in China. Farmers are finding other ways to make ends meet.
There, at the heart of this old town is where I find tai chi at 8 in the morning on the old square opposite the other gate of the factory. While practicing there on a recent morning it was clear that ping pong and basketball also belong to that place. An older couple was involved in a leisurely game of ping pong, laughing at each other while chasing little white spheres. The younger set was shooting hoops and stretching their young bodies on the bars. I am one of two who arrive on a bicycle. I have to confess that I can make it through the sword play and the single fan, although I am most clumsy, but the double fans with the extra cloth hanging off the ends throw me for a loop. I need time in front of the training DVD before appearing in public again with two fans. You see, they are bright magenta and there is no hiding a freaky, tall, white-haired, foreign, fan dropper. From there my route back takes me past a most determined, more mature gardener working on her patch just across from the elderly gentleman’s cigarette stand. It seems they entertain each other while working.
I am still imagining “no possessions” living the Peace Corps lifestyle, but it’s hard. Shopping is fun; bargaining is the national sport and how can one resist when the “price is right”? And then there are the gifts! People like to give me gifts. I am convinced they have no idea how small a suitcase really is. So I will enjoy a few “possessions” during the interim and know that they will not be permanently mine. Lightening the load has been easy for me since retirement. But here it is even easier. Some of our most valued possessions aren’t really possessions at all: English language books, which get passed quickly from one volunteer to the next, films and episodes which one can borrow temporarily from the internet, and the rest of it which is consumable such as that rare bar of western chocolate or tin of flavored coffee.
Moments like this make it all worthwhile.