Posts Tagged ‘china’

Our poetry and rap group started out with about 35 students.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t select everyone to perform in our final ceremony. 😦  Here I am in a picture with the infamous Dr. C (a.k.a Colleen) and the fabulous, the spectacular final group of Wuhan poets and rappers.

If you recall (or maybe not), in session 1 we focused on literary poetry.  In the sections below, I’ll go over some of the method to the madness of our Wuhan rap workshop.

Working Out the Kinks

Session 2 of the Wuhan Poetry and Rap Workshop was all about the beats and rhymes of urban poetry . . .  or rap, as it is widely known.  This was my first time doing a rap workshop for ELLs (English Language Learners), so I’ll go ahead and admit that I was kind of nervous.  I mean, I had a bunch of *great* ideas in my head, but theory and practice don’t always mesh so well, ya know.  So how did I deal with my uncertainties, you ask?  I experimented a bit with some of my regular classes during the day 🙂    In our regular English through American music culture class, we have a section on hip-hop where I cover the Nas song, “I Can”.   We talk briefly about issues of race, class and urban communities in the U.S. to give context to the social climate that inspired the song.

Establishing a Rapper Identity

James Paul Gee is an expert on sociocultural aspects of teaching and learning (Shouts to Gee, a beautiful mind).  I took a cue from him when he said that in order to actively participate as learners, students must feel that some part of their identity can mesh with the identity required to engage with the content.  In other words, I don’t want to learn science if I don’t feel that I fit in with the community of people who can be called scientists.  I knew that several of my students might have misgivings about seeing themselves as rappers, so that’s where we started – creating our rap identity.

I introduced myself as MC Free – unable to be confined, a lover of liberation and self-expression.  Okay, well it sounded “deep” to me at the time. 🙂   We talked about the rap alias or nickname and how central it is to the goal of expressing one’s individuality.  I showed a slide with some examples of rapper nicknames from the U.S. and yes, right here in China (of course!!).  We also explored the meaning of MC prefix and how it has faded as a popular convention in U.S.  hip-hop communities (but is thriving worldwide!!).  Here were some of my favorite nicknames that students chose in the rap workshop:

Big Ha Ha

MC Candy

Mr. Bullet

Dr. Smooth

MC Sleepy

The Rhyme Cipher

After a little background the hip-hop practice of doing Ciphers, we did our own rhyme Cipher.  The students learned how to follow a rhythm of 4 beats per line (or bar) and say one rhyming word on the first beat.   Like this  . . .  cat – 2- 3- 4, bat – 2 – 3- 4, etc.   After they got it with simple counting/clapping, I turned out a rap instrumental and put them to the test.  It helps for ELLs to prepare their rhyme lists in advance.   Then 8 students came to the front and had to say one rhyming word when it was their turn.   They got it on the first try.  It’s always fun to see who will be the last man/woman standing after the others get eliminated for running out of rhyming words.

Writing Your Own Bars

After the Cipher, it was clear that the students understood the basics of rhyme and the four-beat counts of hip-hop lines.  Cool.  So now we’re ready to write our own bars.  The goal was to write at least four bars.  Some students wrote as many as eight.   I guided them through the first two by showing my own simple example (don’t clown!):

My name is MC Free and I’m busy as a bee

If you’ve never heard of me, check your local magazine

Here are some examples of bars the students came up with:


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Because no visit to Wuhan is complete without a trip to the Hubei Province Museum and the Yellow Crane Tower . . .  we went.

Rather than type a bunch of text, I’ll let the pictures do the talking on this post.  In class, I’ve been teaching my students the saying – “A picture is worth a thousand words”.   I think these shots encapsulate that idea nicely.  What’s more, I’m sure there are some even more profound ways to express this same idea in Chinese.


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What does it mean to become “truly White”?  How can we begin conceive of it?  In a pyschosocial sense, I suppose one would have to consume, interpret and then perform selected aspects of  cultural “whiteness”.   But let’s put cultural understandings of “whiteness” aside for a second in order to look at the matter of becoming physically white.

In keeping with many of my experiences in China, this question confronted me completely by surprise. On a trip to the grocery store, I was looking for some lotion.  When I stumbled upon an aisle full of small, lotion-like bottles, I figured I had found what I was looking for.  What I found, though, was not lotion. It was skin whitening cream.  In fact, the aisle was filled with these lil lotion imposters. It was overwhelming . . . daunting . . . exhausting.

In several discussions about beauty with students, I’ve been told that mass mediated notions of beauty tend to revolve around features like big eyes, a thin physique and very white skin.  No one I spoke with claimed to be a user of these products, but their popularity is evident by the sheer volume of whitening creams that engulf the beauty aisles of some local stores.  I snapped a couple of pictures of some familiar brands – Garnier’s “True White” (as opposed to fake white???)  and Nivea’s “Silk White”.

In one of our music theme lessons, we ask students the question “What can music reflect about a society?”   Similarly, my trip to the grocery store begs the question “What do our beauty aisles reflect about our society?” Certainly, tastes and orientations toward standards of beauty vary in any society, including Chinese society.   Not everyone is a fan of skin whitening.  I am interested in learning more about who consumes these products in Chinese society and for what reasons (or perceived reasons)?

On the other hand, these dominant criteria play an important role in evaluating physical beauty, and even drawing boundaries around who is allowed to be considered Chinese.  The story of the young Shanghainese girl, Luo Jing (娄婧), comes to mind.  Luo Jing’s father was an African-American who was involved in an extramarital affair with her mother, a native Shanghainese woman.  Luo Jing speaks fluent Mandarin, and soared in a local singing competition.  The controversy surrounding her legitimacy as a Chinese girl grew in proportion to her success on the show.  I think her story is an important one because it disrupts common notions of Chinese beauty.  Put another way, the uproar surrounding Luo Jing’s claim to fame, glory and a Chinese identity highlights the staunch conflation of lighter skin and “true” Chinese beauty. An acknowledgment of this forces local and global societies to reflect on the value we give to skin color and why.  How can one be “truly white” or “truly Chinese”?

I’m including some of Luo Jing’s beautiful pictures in this post as well as a link to an English-language website that pulls selected news and comments from Chinese-language sites.  Please take this with a grain of salt as it represents  a narrow yet potent subset of views –  Luo Jing.

Oh, and in the end, I decided that I’d rather not buy any lotion.

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Finding hip-hop in Shanghai was relatively easy compared to finding it in Wuhan.  After chasing a couple of leads, I was just about ready to give up.  As resourceful as my students are, they are not big hip-hop fans.  Some of them didn’t even think that Wuhan had hip-hop.  This made it hard for them to help me in my persistent (and probably annoying) requests for someone to please help me find local hip-hop.   Angela Steele’s incredible work on hip-hop around China was the assurance I needed to know that hip-hop MUST exist in Wuhan.  Right???

On last Thursday evening, I was chillin in my PJs when I get a call from one of my students – “Hey, there’s a hip-hop benefit concert tonight.  Do you wanna go?”   After I got past my initial bafflement over how she could have possibly gotten my phone number, I savored this good news and accepted the invitation.

Let me say that my decision to go to this show was among the best I’d ever made.  Flows, camaraderie, energy and rhythmic delight stand out as memorable aspects of the performances.  In addition to the veteran, MC Big Dog, Wuhan has produced a new and energetic pair of rap crews – Deep Fire and Free Warz.  One thing is for sure, all parties involved are dedicated to the craft and know how to deliver a quality show.  Hospitality is also another one of their strong suits.  Shortly after we walked in, my student, Flora, initiated a chain of friendly introductions that felt more like meeting up with old friends rather than strangers.  My only regret was not bringing my better camera.

More to come (including video) from the Wuhan show.

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For the kids . .

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Last time I visited China, I was with my kiddo.  From what I could tell, most people that approached us (yes, approached!!) seemed to be mainly interested in her braids, her English skills, etc.  This time I’m traveling solo, and before arriving to China, I’m thinking “I’m sure nobody will care this time since I don’t have a cute lil 5 year old at my side”.    WRONG!!

It’s no secret that as a 6-foot tall Black woman wearing a sky high braided dread hairdo, I look a lot different than many people in China.  So far people have come up and asked to take pictures at least a few dozen times.  Others refuse to ask.  I just find them shamelessly surrounding me, snapping photos.  Sometimes I pull out my camera and return the favor.  Because it’s guaranteed to happen every single time I leave the hotel, it can be flattering and annoying at the same time.  Without a doubt, I’ll probably end up on renren.com (人人网)  – the Chinese version of Facebook.

Depending on my mood, sometimes I’m down for the picture-taking festival.  Other times, I just straight up gesture in a way that communicates a solid “no”.    Then, people started sending their kids to me.  I miss my own kids a lot, which makes it very hard to say no to all the little cuties who asked for pictures (some willingly and others coerced by parents).   It’s all good tho.  Anything for the kids . . .

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