One late summer evening before the sun went down, I was at dinner and had what appeared to be a glass of Chinese wine at an open air restaurant from across the campus. Children surrounded me. It was cooler now and all the neighborhood children were playing. One by one they came by my table pretending to ignore me. Once they realized that I didn’t bite, they made eye contact with me and squealed in surprise.
A university student saw that congress had formed at my table and we were all chatting amiably. I was trying to teach the children English and the children were trying to teach me Chinese. The student introduced herself and offered to translate for the children. Her name was Lucy and she was chemical engineering student at a university in Shanghai. Through Lucy, a little girl named Chi-Chi, asked me why my eyes were so blue.
I told Chi-Chi that my eyes were blue because of my beautiful mother. This made all the children laugh and my translator blush.
Later, Lucy and I talked about books while her mother sat at the table with us. And she invited me over for dinner with her family. Lucy’s family lived on campus because her father was a fine arts professor. Several days later I finally met her father. Mr. Yu presented me with a fan that he had hand-painted with a blood-red grape vine motif and Chinese calligraphy which roughly translated to “No pain, no gain.”
During a dinner of stir fried pork rinds and fried duck feet, I told Lucy about the books I would teach my students. She asked if I had ever read Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.
Apparently even this latest form of vampiric hysteria has infiltrated the heartland of China.
I had never read it, but I knew all about Twilight—that girls and adult women all over the U.S. and U.K. were baring their lovely necks to this book and movie. Then Lucy said something interesting. Now here is this little Chinese student telling me—a Western-educated English Professor of Literature—and for all she knew I could have been some depraved aristocrat from a castle in the Carpathian Mountains–“Maybe you should read Twilight so you can learn about women.”
“Maybe you should read it again so you can learn more about vampires,” I retorted. We laughed. But after dinner I mulled this conversation over and let it ferment in my mind. And that was how I got the idea to teach Twilight as part of next semester’s unit on Gothic Literature. I knew that some teachers in America were already teaching Twilight. And I knew that this book and film had already become popular here in China. So I promised my literature students that if they let me teach The Hobbit this semester, than I will teach more women authors next semester, as well as Twilight.
And that is the story of how a little elfin Chinese chemical engineering student inspired a giant American literature teacher how and what to teach his English students.