A couple of weeks ago, I taught my freshmen about western families, and one insistently outgoing student asked if I have any siblings.
I said yes, I have one.
Siblings aren’t as rare here as you might expect, despite 34 years of China’s (recently slightly relaxed) one-child policy – there are many legal exceptions, and many ways to bribe your way around the law. But my students’ interest was still piqued.
“Male or female?” asked Two Baby, the lead interrogator.
Yes, I have a student named Two Baby. (See my post about teaching and students’ wacky names.) She loves to ask me questions, which in itself is almost unheard of in a Chinese classroom, despite my constant appeals for students to speak up when they don’t understand something. Usually, Two Baby asks about obscure words she found in the dictionary, but sometimes her questions get a little bizarre (“What’s a black drag queen? Is it an offensive term?”) or a smidge personal (“Are you a lesbian? Do you have a boyfriend? Will you marry me?”). Anyway, I digress.
I told the class I have an older brother.
“OOOOOOHHH!” The group responded. At least the women did. They go wild at the mere mention of a white guy. Any response from the few male students in the room was entirely drowned out.
“Is he handsome?” One of the ladies asked.
I said yes.
“Is he married??”
I said yes.
“Ohhh!” They were visibly disappointed.
“I think that’s very frustrating!” said a sincere Two Baby.
I didn’t bother to tell them that, married or not, my handsome, homebody brother would not be caught dead in China. It didn’t matter. They asked me to bring a picture of him to the next class. I figured they would forget.
But they did not forget, and I had to listen to an argument I had assumed only parents of small children have to deal with:
“But you promisssssed!”
Maybe I’ve let them get too comfortable with me over the course of the semester.
Regardless, last week I snapped a picture of one of my brother’s wedding photos taped to my living room wall and set it as the background for my phone’s locked screen. The date covered his eyes perfectly, like I was accidentally censoring his identity, but I was not about to pass my phone around unlocked and let students look through the rest of my pictures. They may be cute, but they are sneaky bastards.
I showed them the phone; they went crazy. A few used their phones to take pictures of the half-censored, three-square-inch picture of a picture.
A good way to say a man is attractive in China is to call him shuài ge, literally “handsome brother.” The phrase used to remind me of some sort of Communist brother-in-arms, a sexy comrade. But now it just makes me think of the girls in the front row of my class, looking at my brother and jumping around in their seats, giggling like a bunch of 13-year-olds meeting Justin Bieber.
So congratulations are in order; to my own shuài ge, for being super hot in China. And, in fact, I’ll give myself a high-five too, for surviving my first wild semester as a real, live college teacher. Don’t be surprised if I introduce myself as Professor Ketti for the rest of my life.