So it’s currently my third week here in Nanjing. Since I’ve last blogged about my adventures, I’ve finished teaching at Hongshan Migrant School, visited the Nanjing Massacre Memorial, and started working at Amity’s Home of Blessings.
The last day at the Hongshan Migrant School was definitely a bittersweet one. We had taught there for nine days, and just when we felt like the students had gotten the hang of things and we were really making progress, that’s when we had to leave. (The school was going to start preparing for their exams so we couldn’t teach there anymore.) At the end of our first grade class one of the girls came up to me and asked me in Chinese if we were going to be back tomorrow. Unfortunately, I had to tell her that that day was our last day. Then she asked me if I was going to be back next week, and again I replied no. She asked us if we had to go home to America, and I simply said yes. Then she just kind of stood there not knowing what to say. And honestly I didn’t know what to say either so I just said that it was nice to meet her and then I said goodbye. She said goodbye back to me as she looked down and walked back to her seat. I didn’t want to leave…. Also, from our last class of the day, I have this image ingrained in my mind. It’s an image of one of the girls I helped in that class waving goodbye to me through the window as Justin and I left the classroom for the last time. This girl sat in the back of the classroom, and sat in front of this boy who was the worst behaved in the class. One day when I had to discipline him, the girl turned around and said, ”Teacher can you translate the words on the board for me? I couldn’t hear before because he was talking.” So I helped her review a bit and she picked up the material pretty quickly. She was so sweet and smart. I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but that’s so difficult to do!
Hm, now to talk about the Nanjing Massacre Memorial. If you go to Nanjing, this place is a must visit. This place was the most significant for me out of all the places I’ve ever been to (in Nanjing and beyond). It commemorates all the people who were killed by the Japanese army in and around Nanjing during the Nanjing Massacre (also known as the Chinese Holocaust). During this time it is estimated that more than 300,000 civilians and unarmed soldiers were killed. The memorial displayed accounts from witness and survivors, photos, different artifacts from the time. Disturbing photos showed how no one was safe from the onslaught, not even the children, elderly, nuns, or people in the “safety zone”. Mass executions took place where civilians were shot with machine guns, stabbed with bayonets, or beheaded. Some fell into their graves from the force of the machine gun, other bodies were disposed of with fire. Corpses littered the streets and the rivers, cities were destroyed and burnt down, and the stench of burning human flesh reeked in the air. Just in the first month alone, approximately 20,000 cases of rape occurred. The site of the memorial was first placed in an outdoor area. But after a mass grave of 10,000 was discovered, the memorial was built at its current new location, in the ground, to show the corpses of the mass grave.
Amity had arranged for some IB students from the high school affiliated with Nanjing Normal University to accompany us during the visit. However, I found it really difficult to talk during this exhibit. My voice cracked a little every single time I tried to utter something. My heart felt heavier and heavier as I moved from exhibit to exhibit reading testimonies of survivors. I was too overwhelmed to say anything.
As a Chinese American I had often heard about the prejudices many Chinese had against the Japanese. Honestly I’m ashamed to admit that I never understood much about it until I went to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial. My parents had told me a little about the massacre, how the Chinese were attacked by the Japanese, but I had just thought that it wasn’t uncommon that civilians could also be hurt during a war. I had no idea that what they were speaking of entailed these atrocities, and to such an extent. Reading tale after tale, I was so filled with despair and anger, in absolute bewilderment that people could perform such horrible deeds.
Nevertheless, I was glad that the memorial didn’t tell a one-sided story. It also included accounts from Japanese soldiers who were disgusted by the acts their fellow soldiers committed. It’s always easily to blame others and stay bitter, but it really does take more to be able to see things holistically. In other words, I’m glad that the theme of the memorial was not anti-Japanese, but to show people the atrocities of the past so that it would not be repeated in the future. To quote John Rabe, the head of the Safety Zone in Nanjing during the massacre, this event was “forgivable, but unforgettable.” The memorial ended with a large, magnificent statue with the word “PEACE” underneath it, giving a glimmer of hope for the future.
(Not that I would have been in the mood to take photos anyways, but photos were only allowed outside the memorial, so as to show respect.)
Lastly, on Monday, the Haverford interns and I went to Amity’s Home of Blessings, a school for the mentally disabled. All of the people at the school were older than me, which I did not expect. In fact, some of the students looked to be as old or possibly older than my parents. It really made me wonder what the rest of their lives were going to be like and who was going to take care of them. Anyways, they were all really happy to see us. And for the first day we didn’t even do much; we helped them out with their arts and crafts, and then sat in the classroom to get accustomed to the people as well as their schedule. Then we talked to one of the teachers at the school and found out that their current English teacher was out so we volunteered to teach English in the mornings. So we’ll see how that goes tomorrow.
So that’s week 2 and the beginnings of week 3 in Nanjing. After this week I have about one more week then I’ll be heading off to Long’an (near Nanning) in the Guangxi Province. Until next time!