My National Education in Mid-Air

Chip Tsao
Chip Tsao

Asia City Online    May 26, 2011

Hong Kong school children will soon be indoctrinated with a new ˇ§national education course,ˇ¨ an ideological curriculum initiated by the SAR government. Students will be tested on a wide range of questions that, according to a consultation paper circulated among schools, will include topics such as whether one should ˇ§feel proud of sharing the same sense of glory of Yao Ming,ˇ¨ ˇ§feel emotional at the hoisting of the national flag,ˇ¨ and ˇ§feel irritated or ashamed at being mistaken for Japanese while traveling abroad.ˇ¨

If I were a secondary school student, it wouldnˇ¦t be that difficult to remain honest to my conscience and scribble down some model answers. I would certainly feel proud of sharing the glory of Yao Ming, if only I could get a US green card like the famous basketball player. I could also be very emotional at the sight of a Chinese national flag, especially when Iˇ¦m haunted with the dark memories of those who died in the Great Leap Forward famine and Cultural Revolution.

As for feeling ˇ§ashamedˇ¨ for being mistaken for Japanese while traveling aboard, this is a difficult question. Five years ago I was on a Delta flight from Chicago to Vancouver. On board were about 100 passengers, mostly quiet and decent middle-class Caucasians, some of whom sat with a copy of The Economist or Richard Dawkins or the like in their hands. There was also a Chinese tour group from Guangdong, with about half a dozen crop-haired, middle-aged men and full LV-and-Hermes-equipped women. Their screeching conversation in Cantonese about their latest food and beverage experience had caused some heads in the front rows to turn around with raised eyebrows and even restrained angry looksˇXso much so I had to get a copy of Newsweek from the shelf on the cabin wall to distance myself from the embarrassing commotion.

As a black air steward toddled forward with a drink-serving trolley, a Chinese woman, marveled by the stature of the black steward, started guessing the size of his private parts. The crowd roared with thundering laughter, while a man suggested to his fellow countrywoman to approach the air steward boldly and ask for the price of a one-night-stand. ˇ§I bet he fucks better than your husband in Guangdong,ˇ¨ he blurted, ˇ§black devils give multiple orgasms.ˇ¨ A round of giggles followed the comment. ˇ§We helped them build railways during the 60s, itˇ¦s time they reciprocated us,ˇ¨ a man concluded. As the only other passenger on the flight who understood Cantonese, I was force-fed a sexual lecture in every anatomical detail of how a black man should hypothetically behave in bed, while the air-steward served the group with a confused smile.

I waited for an unbearable hour until the head-shaking passenger seated next to me asked if I came from Japan, and I nodded with relief. So if I were sitting with a ˇ§national educationˇ¨ exam paper, I would rather give up my score than tell the truth on that very last question.