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Foreigners in China
Written by Cool Han

When I came into Gabriel’s room, the first eye-catching thing was a shinning guitar lying on the sofa. Actually Gabriel is quite satisfied with this deal, for the high quality Korean made guitar cost him only 180 RMB. A former guitarist, drummer and composer who had established his own band years ago in his native and far-off island of Puerto Rico, Gabriel is now a university teacher in Beijing. It seems that our artist had fewer chances to get himself involved in music after shifting into an intellectual giving lectures on International Relations every day, so is the guitar a elegant decoration or not?

“No it’s not for decoration. I can play the guitar, but not as a specialist, just for fun and self-enjoyment. For me, music is always a way out, a way to express myself.”

Wearing a black turtle-neck sportswear, he looked like a normal college student. “Yes, to some extent I’m still a student now, for I am still finishing my online courses for another Master’s degree from Bilbao, Spain.” He nodded and smiled, like a child.

Then he moved away the guitar, sat down, folded his legs on the sofa, found himself a relaxed gesture and started to tell me his story. And I must admit, the three-hour ‘talk show’ proved that his strength not merely lies in teaching and music. He’s really a good story teller.

                                       Islander@SanJuan.PuertoRico
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Before he went to New York, where he got his first Master’s degree, Gabriel had been an islander. And the island is Puerto Rico, which in Spanish means a “rich port”.

When he first came to China and told others that he’s from Puerto Rico, people of different genders had totally different reactions. “Usually boys and guys would immediately talk about basketball, since Puerto Rico’s basketball team defeated the USA team a few years ago. And then they would ask me why Puerto Rico was such a cradle of beauties. You know, many Miss Universe Queens and Miss Universe Teens, such as Ingrid Rivera and Jennifer Rosado, are all from Puerto Rico. Girls and ladies typically regarded it as a perfect travel attraction. Sunshine, beach, tropical climate, everything that makes a perfect holiday resort are all there in Puerto Rico.”

There is a saying that we know what we are by knowing what we are not. Under this assumption, when Gabriel lived first 25 years of his life in Puerto Rico, he knew nothing about his homeland and himself. But it is obviously wrong. The fact is, even from a fairly young age, Gabriel had formed an international mindset and his own perspective towards his own country.

He should be more familiar with español (Spanish) than with English, I assumed, since Spanish is his mother tongue. He told me it is not very common to speak English in Puerto Rico though there is a bilingual school system in which English is taught since a young age. But he speaks fluent English all the time, without any influence of Spanish. That’s quite impressive. He confessed that his English was much better than that of the most people from Puerto Rico because he had always been eager to learn other languages. “The influence of Hollywood, American music and movies is huge on me.”

Gabriel’s mother, a senior journalist who worked for the most influential newspaper in his country, also broadened his horizons and shaped his character. “When I was young, mother always taught me to share what I had and be respectful of others. That’s the two things I never forget.” He does remember it clearly. For example, twenty years later in Beijing, at an internet café, he is capable of sharing his cookie with the stranger that is sitting next to him.

His cross-culture experience at a young age also included one little Chinese boy. “When I was young, my parents often took me to a Chinese restaurant which was run by a Chinese family. Gradually, the owner’s son and I became very good friends. We were of the same age and often played together. Psychoanalytically, probably because my experience with that boy was very good, so everything about China is good to me.”

After he got a BA degree at a catholic university in San Juan, the capital, he decided to leave home for New York. “I love my country, it is a beautiful tropical island and a great place to relax. But I had been living there for 25 years and I wanted to leave to see the world outside. ”

The culture of Puerto Rico is a mixture of Indian, Spanish and African traditions. And the political status of this country is a complicated and troublesome issue. So, are there any identity crises of individuals in this small island? “If you ask me how I identify myself, I will tell you, I always feel I’m Puerto Rican first, Caribbean first, Latinoamericano first. That’s how I feel culturally.” He answered me without any hesitation. That’s him, islander Gabriel.

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Gabriel had his reasons to go to New York. It is a trend in Puerto Rico that some young professionals and students leave their home to live, work and study at ‘the Big Apple’. As American citizens, the procedure is quite easy. “In legal terms, all Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the US, so there is a special relationship between the two, despite many political disagreements. US has been forcing Puerto Rico to become part of it, but in identity and origin we belong to a totally different culture. ”

Even in New York, he found he was not lonely culturally. “In New York there are also Puerto Rican communities. I saw so many people from my own country there, though they are now more or less assimilated by that city.”

Like a duck to water, he gently released himself from his tiny island, took a deep breath and submerged into the experience. It is New York, after all. People across the world rush to get there.

He studied International Relations at City University of New York (CUNY). As an organizer of the International Relations Society, he arranged activities, invited speakers to give lectures, kept the club going when the president left. He was also the assistant to the director of his department. “Quite busy, but I was also happy about my life there.”

He used to work at Rizzoli Bookstore in midtown Manhattan, an Italian bookstore, which is probably the premier art, design and architecture book store in the city. It is a classy place where celebrities prefer to go, so Gabriel was accustomed to seeing big names there. But one day when guitar legend Jimmy Page came in, his heart lost a beat. “Everyone who plays the guitar must know Jimmy Page, he’s such a guitar legend. I had a few words with him and asked him for his autograph. He’s really a humble person, very kind and easy-going.”


He lived in New York for almost three years, enjoyed the diversified culture atmosphere, but was still not satisfied. Maybe it was because he heard the voice of inner-self, or maybe it was the revival of his childhood dream, anyhow, he finally made the decision to come to China. He took a Chinese course learning Mandarin, and his thesis at CUNY was also about China. His reason for wanting to come to China was the same one given before leaving Puerto Rico: “I wanted to get to know more of the world.”

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Through the internet, Gabriel got a job teaching English in China. “The company which hired me told me to fly to Chongqing, but they didn’t tell me my work place was in Luzhou, Sichuan province. And the only thing I knew about Luzhou was its famed alcohol.” Finally he reached Naxi, a small district of Luzhou. It is a rural place with a river nearby, lots of green hills and very nice people. “I became quite popular since I was the only foreigner in town. Everyone in town would say ’hellooooo!’ to me when I walked around the town, even while I was shopping for groceries.

When we started talking about his students, his pace slowed down and his voice became tender. “I taught junior school students for about four months. I was the only foreign teacher so I taught 28 classes, 40 students in each. From Monday to Friday, I had no time to think about other things except teaching. But I really cherish the experience with my students there. They often visited me, we watched movies together, and they even taught me to cook Sichuan food. Until now we contact each other through emails frequently. I’m always thinking about going back to visit them. And I miss them so much.”

He traveled within Sichuan during his vacations and “saw some really beautiful Sichuan girls.” He liked the city Chengdu for its life pace and people’s lifestyle. He can’t forget the Sichuan food his students cooked for him. That is the calling for him to go back.

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Gabriel now teaches college students in Beijing. His students told me he’s a popular teacher. So what is his understanding of teaching? I’m curious. “Being a teacher, I hope that students are interested in what I’m telling them. At the same time, I’d like to give them enough space to present themselves and think critically. I can’t teach them what to think, but I can help them to be critical thinkers, to see the world in a different aspect. Actually all my students are smart and hard-working. Their Power Point presentations are far better than mine.” He is obviously proud of his students. From his expression I saw the dignity and merit of a good teacher.

He also has established a Spanish corner in the school, communicating with students using his mother tongue every week. He is busy teaching, studying, doing exercises and playing guitar. But if anyone asks him for help, he will immediately put away his things and listen to your request carefully. The most frequent sentence he uses is: “Tell me, is there anything I can help with?”

At the end of our talk, he was no longer my interviewee but my mentor and personal counselor. I told him my worries about the future. “Okay, for you, my recommendation is, first,…second,…then,…”

By the time I left, Gabriel told me one phrase: “Mi casa es tu casa.” In Spanish it means ‘my home is your home’. “Do come again, for it is your home now. And don’t hesitate to email me if you have any other questions. Do you know my email address?”(By Krokodil Han)

邮件!邮件!

    当我走进加百利的房间时,最先注意到的是倚在沙发上的一把精致吉他。原来加百利对这笔交易还很得意,因为这把品质上乘,韩国手工制造的吉他只花了他180块钱。多年前,在遥远的故乡波多黎各,他弹吉他,打鼓,作曲,还创建了自己的乐队。而现在,他在北京的一所大学里教书。由艺术家“转行”当了知识分子,每天讲的课都是国际关系,想必他现在没有太多时间在浸淫在音乐的世界中吧。那么,这把吉他会不会只是个装饰了呢?

    “这可不是装饰。我会弹吉他,但并不专业,只是自娱自乐罢了。对我而言,音乐永远都是表达自我的一种方式。”

    加百利穿着一件黑色套头运动衫,就像个普通的大学生一样。“对,在某种程度上我其实还是个学生,因为我现在正在完成另一个研究生学位的网上课程部分,在西班牙毕尔巴鄂市。”他笑着点点头,就像个孩子一样。

    随后他拿走了吉它,盘腿坐在沙发上,找到了一个舒服的姿势后,开始给我讲他自己的故事。我必须承认,这个三小时的“脱口秀”证明,他的才华不单单体现在教书和音乐上。事实上,他是个讲故事的高手。

新邮件来自:岛国居民

    在他去纽约取得第一个硕士学位之前,加百利是一个岛国居民,而这个小岛就是波多黎各,在西语里的意思是“富饶的港口”。

    当他第一次来到中国告诉别人他来自波多黎各时, 不同的人反应各异。“通常,男人和男孩子们会立刻跟我聊篮球,因为几年前波多黎各篮球队曾经打败过美国队。他们还会问我为什么波多黎各‘盛产’美女。要知道很多得过环球小姐桂冠的女孩子像英格丽德•倪薇拉和珍妮弗•罗萨多都是波多黎各人。女人们和女孩子一般都会把波多黎各看成是一处旅游胜地。阳光,海滩,热带气候,波多黎各满足所有成为度假胜地的条件。”

    有一句英文说“只有和不同文化背景里的人做过对比,我们才知道自己到底是怎样的人”。如果按这种逻辑,在波多黎各度过的生命中的前25年,加百利对自己的国家和他自己其实一无所知。但这个推理显然是错的。事实上,加百利在很小的时候就已经有了国际意识,对他的国家也有自己的看法。

    由于西班牙是他的母语,所以我猜他用西语应该更顺手。他告诉我,尽管双语教育的体系从很小就教孩子们学英语,但是在波多黎各大家并不怎么说英语。但是他的英语流畅纯熟,没有受到任何西语的影响。这给我留下了深刻的印象。他承认,和大多数波多黎各人相比,他的英语的确不错。这是因为,他一直都对学习其他语言怀有浓烈的兴趣。“好莱坞的电影,美国的音乐对我影响很深。”

    加百利的妈妈是资深记者,曾为波多黎各最具影响力的报纸工作。她帮加百利打开了视野,也塑造了他的性格。“在我小的时候,妈妈总是教育我要学会分享,还要尊重别人。这两点我一直铭记在心。”他的确没忘记。20年后在北京的咖啡馆里,他很乐意和邻座的陌生人分享自己的饼干。

    他的跨文化体验还包括了一个中国小男孩的交往。“在我小的时候,父母经常带我到一家中餐馆吃饭。渐渐地,我和店主的儿子,一个中国小男孩儿成了要好的朋友。我们一般大,经常在一块玩。也许从心理学的角度分析,由于我和那个小男孩的关系很好,所以对我来说关于中国的一切都很好。”

    在圣胡安的一家天主教大学读完本科后,他决定离开家到纽约读书。“我很爱自己的国家,风景优美,适宜度假。但我已经在那里生活了25年,所以我想离开,看看外面的世界。”

    波多黎各文化是印第安,西班牙和非洲文化传统的融合体。与此同时,这个国家的政治地位一直是个棘手的问题。那么,波多黎各人会不会有认同危机呢?“如果你问我是怎么认同自己的,我会告诉你,我首先是波多黎各人,加勒比人,拉丁美洲人。在文化认同上,我就是这样的感觉。”他的回答果断有力,没有任何犹豫。这就是加百利,一个岛国居民。

新邮件来自:都市潜行者

    去纽约,加百利有自己的理由。在波多黎各,年轻的自由职业者和学生离开家,到“大苹果”居住,生活和学习已经成为了一种潮流。由于他们都属于美国公民,所以程序很简单。“从法律上讲,所有的波多黎各人都是美国公民。波多黎各是美国的自治邦,所以两个国家间关系很特殊,尽管还有很多政治分歧。美国一直向波多黎各施压,想让它成为自己的一部分。但是在身份认同方面,我们属于一个完全不同的文化。”

    就是在纽约,他也发现自己并不孤独。“这里有很多波多黎各人的社区,我见到了很多自己的同胞,不过,他们或多或少都被纽约同化了。”

    他走出自己的小岛,深吸一口气,潜入都市生活的海洋,畅游自如。毕竟,这里是纽约。全世界的人都向往这里。

    他在纽约城市大学学习国际关系。作为国际关系协会的组织者,他安排活动,邀请学者作讲座,在协会的会长离开后依然维持这个团体的正常运作。他还是系主任的助理。“生活很忙碌,但是我在这里过得很开心。”

    加百利还在曼哈顿市中心的罗扎利书店工作过。那家意大利书店以经营艺术,设计和建筑方面的书籍而闻名。由于书店的品味不俗,很多名人大腕都乐意前往。加百利对这些名人的出入光顾习以为常。但是有一天,当具有传奇色彩的吉他手吉米•佩奇走进书店时,他感到心脏好像漏跳了一拍。“每个弹吉他的人肯定都知道吉米•佩奇,他真的是个传奇。我和他聊了几句,问他要了签名。他平易近人,亲切又随和。”

    加百利在纽约生活了近三年,十分欣赏这里多元的文化氛围,但还是有些不满足。也许这是因为他倾听到了内心深处的召唤,或者是那个儿时的梦又复苏了。不管怎样,他最终决定要来中国了。他上了一个学习普通话的课程班,在纽约城市大学的毕业论文也是关于中国的。想到中国来的理由和他当年离开波多黎各的理由一样:“我想对这世界了解更多。”

新邮件来自:老外在四川

    在网上,加百利找到了一份在中国教书的工作。“雇用我的公司要我飞到重庆,但是他们并没有告诉我实际工作的地方是泸州。对泸州,我只知道那里的酒很有名。”最终他抵达了泸州纳溪区。那是江边的小镇,山色青翠,民风淳朴。“我是那里唯一的外国人,所以很受欢迎。在街上散步的时候,每个人都跟我打招呼。就是在我上街买东西的时候,也是如此。”

    当我们开始他谈起他的学生时,他的语速慢了下来,声音也变得很轻柔。“我在一个中学教了四个月书。我是唯一的外教,所以要带28个班,每个班都有40来个学生。从周一到周五,我满脑子想的都是教书的事,没精力想别的。但我真的很珍视学生和我的感情。他们经常来找我玩,我们一块看电影,他们甚至还教我做四川菜。直到现在我们还通过电子邮件保持联系。我一直想回去看看他们,因为我真的很想他们。”

    利用假期的时间,他在四川游览了一番,“见识了一些真正的四川美女”;他喜欢成都这座城市,缓慢的生活节奏,闲适自如的生活哲学;他也忘不了学生们给他做的菜。这些都是来自远方的呼唤,吸引着他,有一天,再次回去。

新邮件来自:北京的好老师

    现在,加百利北京的大学里教书。他的学生告诉我他很受欢迎。那么,他对教书的理解是怎样的呢?我很好奇。“作为一个老师,我希望学生对我教给他们的知识感兴趣。与此同时,我也希望能给他们足够的空间展示自我,批判性地思考。我没法教给他们思考什么,但那我能帮助他们成为批判型的思考者,从不同的角度解读这个世界。实际上我的学生都很聪慧,又肯用功。他们利用幻灯片展示做出的演讲比我可专业多了。”很显然,他为自己学生感到骄傲。从他的表述中,我看到了一个好老师身上的品格和力量。

    他还在学校里创办了西语角,每个星期用母语和学生交流。他忙着教书,学习,做运动,弹吉他。但是如果有任何人向他求助,他都会立刻放下手头的事情,认真地听着你的请求。他最常说的一句话是:“告诉我,我能帮上你什么忙吗?”

    在采访的最后,他已经不是我采访的对象,而是成了我的良师和个人咨询师。我告诉他我对未来的忧虑,他说,“对你这种情况,我的建议是,首先,…其次,…然后,…”

     离开的时候,加百利告诉我一句话,在西语里的意思是,“我的家就是你的家。”“有空一定要再来,因为现在这里也是你的家了。如果还有什么别的问题,用电子邮件问我。你知道我的邮件地址吗?”(By Cool Han)

 

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