Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Carpe Diem at KFC, Peoples Republic style

It has finally happened - well - almost three months ago now; the first foreign fast food chain to arrive in my town. All the students knew the date and time of the opening ceremony, but in my defence, it was a good six weeks before I darkened its doors, and yesterday I weakened again. How can I explain the seduction? How can I reassure you that it is entirely out of character?

Usually I avoid the hundreds of photo snapping, han chinese tourists milling round the main entrance to the old town. I can choose any number of lanes which run down from the new town through quiet residential areas and converge on my home like bent prongs of a star. But yesterday after my morning class, I headed for the prime location of KFC, right next to the main entrance where new town meets old.

It was cold. Spring had snapped back to winter, just like that. But when I pushed through those red double doors it was uniformly warm. This being my third visit, I had refined my order: one cup of black coffee, one cup of hot milk (on the menu here), one empty cup, and one tiny bread roll, which if regarded as an unintended brioche is very dippable. I carry my tray upstairs feeling illicit and thrilling. Being a week-day morning, the place is almost empty. I sink into a booth ( a booth! with soft vinyl seats!) facing an extravagant expanse of glass which catches each pinch of sun. The toilets have doors, paper and mirrors. I briefly ponder the fact that despite my Calvinist upbringing I am just not the stuff that purists are made of , and then, sipping my self-made latte, I smugly pull out my fat wad of Dead Poet Society essays.

I showed the movie to my two English language classes last week. The response was electrifying, planets away from the impenetrable sophistication of most western university students. There were tears. It was a long movie, 128 minutes, so it went over the two 50 minute periods set for one lesson, the 10 minute dividing break, and then, as we were late getting it to start, covered the 20 minute mid-morning break. They didn't move. I was outside apologising clumsily to the computing lecturer and generally playing the foreign clown for his students as I guarded the door at my back. The sound was a growling noise ( chinese subtitle option essential); the room was a fridge (classrooms south of the Yangtze are deemed not to need heating), and half the curtains were gone so the picture required imagination, but they were all fixed on the screen.

I still love it, even after all these years, when in the final scene a very young Ethane Hawke ( looking like he'd never dream of cheating on Uma) stands on his desk in defiance of the furious, wrinkled old principal who has totally lost it and is ineffectually shouting up at him to 'SIT DOWN! SIT DOWN! SIT DOWN!'. My audience clapped as the credits started to roll and I rushed to whip the dvd off.

In KFC I settle in for a good two hours of slashing my red pen through essays on feudalism and revolution.
Seize the day.


Blogger adagio said...

This made for great reading Jacq. 'Dead Poets Society', playing to young Chinese students? Wow! Like a brick through a window. Wonderful. Congratulations. Were they ripe for it? The consequent essays must make facinating reading.
KFC in China: We have globalisation to thank for grasping tentacles such as this.

8:36 AM  
Blogger jacqueline b said...

Hi Ms A.
the longer I'm here, the less I see things in polarities like democracy and communism, more like capitalism and capitalism. I know I'm skewed, and there are vast differences which that comment glosses over...but I feel increasingly cynical about inferences that as foreigners our mission is to enlighten the brainwashed and oppressed. Anyway, it's an ongoing argument with myself...

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