By Craig Funston
When it comes to working and playing, I wear many different hats, Let me see: writer, director, farmer, actor, and preacher. You may see “teacher” missing: Indeed it is, because after twenty-five years of being in a classroom setting in one form or the other, I have hung up the slate, so to speak.
I suppose “once a teacher, always a teacher” still holds, though. I find myself always teaching a word here, a concept there, even a little instruction on worldview here in this column.
Recently I found myself in Vancouver/Langley teaching (more like preaching, I suppose) a number of Bible messages to a large group of Chinese students. It was actually a bilingual church: While the old people had their sessions in Chinese, the young one had theirs in English—and that’s where I came in. (That would make at least one of the old person with the young people, wouldn’t it?)
I had to do the English-speaking part. My Chinese vernacular is limited to “chow mein,” “one ton soup,” and “chop suey.” Uhmm, thtat would make a great meal, but a terrible sermon.
I left all my Chinese jokes at home, of course. I never told the one about keeping “Wings” and “Wongs” out of the Chinese phone book, just in case someone might wing the wong the number. Nor did I talk about those “Chin” twins. Just wondering: Would that be a double chin?
These kids, so-called (ranging in ages from fifteen to past thirty), were just as smart and polite as I expected. They were mostly students (ranging from secondary to post-secondary), or running the whole gamut of professionals. Not a tradesman among them., mind you. I have been hanging out with young Chinese students and professionals for years, and these guys were no different from any others in that culture.
Now I’m sure you probably don’t give a rip about any sort of preaching gig I had, and I get it. Just like I don’t get off on hearing about someone’s drinking exploits, or sexual conquests. Fair enough.
So today’s column isn’t about faith, facts, or feelings. It’s about culture.
I was reminded at how similar, not different, we (English and Chinese) were when I was there. Age notwithstanding, I was reminded at how similar we were in terms of interests, feelings, needs, inter-personal issues, careers, and life itself.
In other words, the differences in the Chinese culture and the English culture are merely skin deep and mask for what we actually have in common. And for that matter, one can change the word “Chinese” with Afghani, Irish, or Peruvian, and my argument still holds true
I posit that we (= humans) are all the same underneath this cultural variation or facade. Adopt a child from any culture other than English, and that child grows up English. It simply replaces one set of cultural norms and quirks for another set.
I was amazed (actually, simply reminded) of how girls giggle and boys tease in all cultural contexts; how the urge to be impressive and cool crosses all cultural boundaries. These kids like their sports, Pokemon, styles, and sleeping in—just like any other normal kid.
I met my share of Hungs, Laws, and Woos over those recent six days, but they could have just as easily been Epps, Loewens, or Thiessens. Or MacAdams, McKinleys, or MaChines.
Okay, okay, I jest: not Machine.
Thus, I find culture a bittersweet concept. Much damage is done in the name of culture (far more than, say, skin colour or religion). Yet the good elements of culture are something to celebrate. An abuse of the cultural angle leads to nationalism, abuse, bigotry, and death. A balanced expression of culture is like the many flowers in a flower bed: Many flowers, but only one garden. And they’re on the surface, with different-sized roots.
Or another metaphor would be a carpet: It may be patterned or plain, shag or coarse, coloured or not. The key is that carpets are superficial and simply cover what is really there, namely, the floor underneath.
To further my metaphor, humanity is the floor and there’s only one floor.
I was enriched by being with those young people in Vancouver/Langley, and I welcome the opportunity to return someday. In superficial matters, we were different from each other (from the skin out); in the essential matters, namely, character, personality, and temperament, we were all the same.
By the way, I even met the Lee brothers—you know, Ugg Lee and Hard Lee.