This past week, I started my first sessions with the students of St. Rose of Lima School in Hong Kong. We read the “Paper Menagerie”, a powerful and emotional tour-de-force from Harvard alum, Ken Liu. The story, which technically is a part of the hard-hitting science fiction genre, reads more like a fantasy-driven coming of age story. “The Paper Menagerie” traces the lives of Ken, his American father, and his mother, a woman from China. The mother possesses a special skill that allows her to breathe life into her origami constructions. She creates a tiger, a water buffalo, a shark, and other animals for her son to play with. However, once Ken comes of age, he reacts violently to his mixed heritage and faults his mom for her poor English, her inability to buy him nice American toys, and her “weird Chinese food.” As Ken continues to grow up, he drifts farther and farther from his Chinese roots and attempts to integrate into Western culture in any way shape or form he can find. Throughout this process, he learns what it means to lose something so fundamental to one’s heritage, and, with the help of his mother’s paper animals, begins the difficult journey of making amends.
The students I am teaching are absolutely incredible. I was worried about their English proficiency, however, they have proven to be remarkable thinkers and learners. For most of them, their English comprehension and speaking are near fluent. They approach the text with sensitivity and care, curiosity and eagerness. I continue to be amazed by their insights into the text and their eagerness to analyze and tackle the difficult themes raised by the story. We have discussed cultural hybridity and the tensions/impossibilities/violence raised by cultural integration, discrimination, and internalized racism. It’s been an absolute pleasure to hear these remarkably thoughtful discussions that simply arise through some simple questions.
In our first session, we spent the majority of our time discussing our lesson plans moving forward and introducing ourselves to one another. The students warmed up to the text and to one another very quickly. Our first activity, which we completed today, was to create photo collages that represented the themes of the passages we had read. The students loved the activity and came up with some great photo collages, which I’ve attached below.